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Mon, 2011-09-12 11:27Chris Mooney
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Memo to Rick Perry: Galileo Was a Liberal

Ever since the Republican presidential debate last week, science watchers have been shaking their heads over Rick Perry’s ridiculous invocation of Galileo Galilei to defend his denialist position on climate change.

Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” Perry said–presumably meaning to suggest that climate “skeptics,” too, will have their day in the sun (the sun that, thanks to Galileo, we know lies at the center of the solar system).

Not only is this junk history on Perry’s part. A more accurate analogy would liken today’s climate researchers to Galileo—delivering an inconvenient truth that some right wing ideologues (then and now) just can’t handle—and Perry to the Inquisition.

Let’s face it: In the context of his times, Galileo was a liberal. He was a fearless explorer of new knowledge, as well as a puckish challenger of assumed wisdom. He famously argued that science and religion don’t have to be in conflict—so long as religionists don’t insist on reading Scripture literally (as so many of Perry’s anti-evolutionist supporters today do).

So to find a conservative Texas governor, backed by the religious right, invoking this canonical questioner of authority is really precious.

But forget historical accuracy for a moment. Climate “skeptics” have long been invoking Galileo as their mascot, and the interesting question is why.

Wed, 2011-09-07 09:49Chris Mooney
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On Global Warming, the Tea Party is Worse than the GOP

There’s a fascinating new public opinion analysis out today from Anthony Leiserowitz and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. It looks at political divides and how they impact one’s views of the science, but with this new twist—Tea Partiers and Republicans are treated differently.

And look what results:

  • 53 percent of Republicans believe global warming is happening, but just 34 % of Tea Partiers.
  • 56 percent of Republicans, but 69 % of Tea Party members, say there is “a lot of disagreement” among scientists about whether global warming is happening.
  • Tea Party members are much more likely than Republicans (45 % to 20 %) to have heard of “ClimateGate.”
  • Staggering, but not surprising if you’ve been following my posts: “Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are ‘very well informed’ about global warming than the other groups,” according to the Yale study. “Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they ‘do not need any more information’ about global warming to make up their mind.”

In other words, Tea Party members are more extreme than Republicans in their rejection of the scientific consensus on global warming—simultaneously more wrong, and also more sure of themselves.

What’s up with that?

Wed, 2011-09-07 07:15Emma Pullman
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Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey on 'Ethical Oil' Ads

Dear Oprah,

I just don't know where to begin. 

I can't find my words because I respect you so much. You're a woman pioneer who has done much to advance the status of women globally. You've donated millions of dollars to various organizations, and have used your talk show to raise the profile of women's issues. Your philanthropy has funded projects like The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and Women for Women International. You've also used your celebrity to raise awareness of environmental causes, notably the efforts to rebuild the Gulf. 

That's why I'm so stumped right now by your choice to feature ads from EthicalOil.org on your television network. 

I'm all about the work that you do, but the logic of promoting tar sands oil by appealing to our desire for women's liberation, our desire to help protect women in despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia, is deeply flawed and misguided. 

Mon, 2011-08-29 20:17Emma Pullman
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New Infographic Shows how Keystone Pipelines are ‘Built to Spill’

TransCanada claims their pipelines are the safest in the continent. And the State Department seems inclined to agree having released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline last week. They find that the pipeline poses “no significant impacts” to the environment, and advise the project move forward.

So what about the 12 spills along the Keystone I line in its first year of operation? Since commencing operation in June of 2010, the Keystone I pipeline has suffered more spills than any other 1st year pipeline in U.S. history.

In addition to a nasty spill record, the proposed Keystone XL will cross one of the largest aquifers in the world – the Ogallala – which supplies drinking water to millions and provides 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation. Pipeline construction will also disrupt 20,782 acres, including 11,485 acres of native and modified grassland, rangeland and pastureland, and pipeline construction will threaten sensitive wildlife and aquatic species habitats.

According to the EPAcarbon emissions from tar sands crude are approximately 82% higher than the average crude refined in the U.S. Given the extremely toxic nature of tar sands bitumen and the fact that Keystone is TransCanada's first wholly owned pipeline in the U.S., it seems reasonable to look to TransCanada's performance with Keystone I for clues on how it would manage Keystone XL.

And the clues are telling.

Mon, 2011-08-29 07:30Chris Mooney
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Number One Lesson *Not* To Take Away from Hurricane Irene

I was watching CNN this morning. I don’t know why—except that it was on in the gym at the hotel where I’m staying.

Pretty soon, I was arguing with the screen.

A narrative is developing in the media that Hurricane Irene was somehow “overhyped,” that politicians “cried wolf,” and then the devastating damage that was forecast didn’t appear. Piers Morgan, tonight, will supposedly head up a segment called “Hurricane Hype.”

Never mind that there’s more than enough disaster imagery to keep the cable news channels on the story 24-7. And never mind that the storm killed at least 27 people and has caused an estimated $ 7 billion in U.S. damage.

Nevertheless, somehow Irene still wasn’t damaging enough, and so we’re going to hear about how politicians were covering their $#^@, scaring people when they didn’t have to.

Not only is this idiotic—it’s downright dangerous.

Thu, 2011-08-25 23:19Emma Pullman
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Breaking: State Department Calls Keystone XL Environmental Impact "Limited," Ignoring Evidence

The State Department just released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The 27-page document does not flag any significant environmental concerns. The EIS suggests that construction of the pipeline as proposed is preferable to alternatives considered, including: not building the pipeline, rerouting the proposed location, and transporting the oil through alternative means.

In typical agency beurocratic-speak, the main alternatives are described as such:

  • No Action Alternative – potential scenarios that could occur if the proposed Project is not built and operated;
  • System Alternatives − the use of other pipeline systems or other methods of providing Canadian crude oil to the Cushing tank farm and the Gulf Coast market;
  • Major Route Alternatives − other potential pipeline routes for transporting heavy crude oil from the U.S./Canada border to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast market.

None of the alternatives were considered by the State Department to be preferable to proposed construction.

Thu, 2011-08-25 07:31Chris Mooney
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Hurricane Irene, Climate Change, and the Need to Consider Worst Case Scenarios

In May of 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina, I wrote an article that nobody noticed. It was entitled “Thinking Big About Hurricanes: It’s Time to Get Serious About Saving New Orleans.” In it, I talked about how devastating a strong hurricane landfall could be to my home city:

In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it’s possible that only those crow’s nests [of lakefront houses] would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris.

Afterwards, the article was passed around furiously and I was hailed for having some sort of deep insight. I didn’t: The danger was staggeringly obvious and I was only channeling what many experts at the time knew.

Wed, 2011-08-24 05:00Steve Horn
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General Electric's Jim Cramer Heads to Midwest As Fracking Cheerleader

This article is cross-posted from the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch

Today, CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer’s “Invest in America” series will take the show to a seemingly unlikely locale, a place many would consider the middle of nowhere – North Dakota.

Why North Dakota? Four words: The Bakken Shale Formation.

Referred to as “Kuwait on the Prairie” by The New Yorker in an April 2011 feature story and located predominately in northwest North Dakota, the shale formation possesses a vast amount of both oil and methane gas, gathered via the notorious fracking process. Recognizing the economic opportunities that the formation would present to fossil fuel corporations, the U.S. Energy Information Administration penned a report in November 2006 titled “Technology-Based Oil and Natural Gas Plays: Shale Shock! Could There Be Billions in the Bakken?”, highlighting them in some depth.

Mon, 2011-08-22 13:05Richard Littlemore
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National Science Foundation vindicates Michael Mann

Carbon steel “hockey stick” stronger than ever

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of the Inspector General, having conducted a thorough review and investigation into all allegations of impropriety or scientific misconduct against Penn State University Prof. Michael Mann, has dismissed all of those allegations for lack of evidence and closed the case (attached and/or here).

As reported by Joe Romm at Climate Progress, Mann has been the target of a host of allegations and attacks, many arising out of the iconic status of a graph (inset) that he created in a 1998 paper with Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes, and others sourced in the emails that hackers stole in 2009 from the the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

As the NSF now reports, none of Mann’s critics ever showed the courage or conviction of actually laying a formal complaint before Penn State, where Mann is director of the Earth System Science Center. But the allegations were so prominent in the blogosphere and in mainstream media that the university took it upon itself to conduct an investigation. The NSF then reviewed Penn State’s exculpatory findings, duplicating some parts of the investigation in greater detail.

The result? No shred of evidence exists to impugn Mann’s work.

Mon, 2011-08-22 09:10Chris Mooney
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The Republican War on Science Returns

As author of the 2005 book The Republican War on ScienceI’ve watched recent developments in the presidential race with fascination.

It is not exactly news that many candidates on the GOP side take “war on science” positions, e.g., denying that global warming is human caused, or that human evolution explains who and what we are. Climate and evolution have long been the “big two” issues in the “war,” but I would expect that many of the GOP candidates reject modern scientific knowledge on a variety of other subjects as well. (Just ask them about, say, reproductive health and contraception.)

The standard “war on science” saga has droned on—usually in the background–for years and years. But somehow, it all exploded into political consciousness last week with Texas governor Rick Perry’s attacks on the integrity of climate researchers, and his claim that his own state teaches creationism–which if true would violate a Supreme Court ruling. (Actually, this is not state policy, though I suspect much creationism is being taught in many schools in Texas, in defiance of the law of the land.)

At that point, former Utah governor and outsider GOP candidate Jon Huntsman Tweeted some simple words, which ended up nevertheless serving as a shot heard round the political world:

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