See below for update.
Andrew Revkin has a new kind of fan. These are fans that agree with much of what Revkin says, or at least feel comfortable in his community of commenters. These fans feel their views are substantiated by what they read in Revkin’s New York Times column, Dot Earth. They seem to be Libertarian, anti-environment, anti-science, pro-fossil fuel, and frankly, anti-green. Not just one or two of Andrew Revkin’s fans, but a bunch — with numbers possibly growing — are of this mind, and this is very disturbing. If we had the technology to transport these fans back in time and put them in a small room with Andy Revkin back in the days of the Bush administration, the room would melt down. They would not be his fans, and he would be shocked to be told that some day they will be.
Revkin still has his old fans, people who are actively and intentionally green, concerned about the environment, not willing to accept a world run by fossil fuel or other major environment-harming industrial interests. These are often activists, people who take seriously their individual responsibly to be good to the only planet we have, the Earth. And I’m sure there are many ways in which these more traditional Revkin-readers still fit with and relate to the folk singer and former New York Times journalist.
I’ve been noticing this for months. I speak with a green activist about climate change. The activist is very concerned about climate change due to human produced greenhouse gas pollution, can see the effects of it, worries about future generations that will be unspeakably harmed by it. Annoyed, the activist is, with deniers of climate change, deniers of the science, those who incorrectly say that even if it is real we can’t do anything about it, or should not, falsely claiming that curtailing fossil fuel use will be worse than using the Sun’s energy to fuel our lifestyle, or perniciously saying this simply can’t be done.
And right there in the middle of the conversation about how global warming is real, human caused, important, and fixable, and about how deniers of these things are truely some kind of bad guy, I’ll hear something about how Any Revkin is great. Writes great stuff. Says great stuff. And I’m sure that to a certain extent, taking a life long career into account, considering it all, this is true.
But then I look at Dot Earth, and I see two things. First is Andy Revkin’s tendency to occupy that space between serious concern about climate change and acceptance of consensus science on one hand, and questioning of the reality and importance of climate change, on the other. In other words, Andy likes to write, often, in the space between what deniers call “warmists” and what warmists call “deniers.”
There was a time, perhaps, one could argue, and many did, that there was a valid intersection between these space, an overlap, a place where an honest broker could be effective in shepherding those who might be antagonistic towards better solutions to our existential problems in a better direction. But that ship has sailed. There is plenty of room for variation in policy approaches to climate change. But there is absolutely zero room for considering the reality of climate change or its severity. We can honestly argue about thresholds, and which decade will see what severe effects, but we can no longer argue about the existence or overall seriousness of the problem. Within climate science, scientists argue over the relative importance of Arctic Warming vs. Pacific surface warm anomalies in relation to quasi-resonant Rossby waves, about the complex dynamics of transient climate sensitivity vis-a-vis positive feedbacks, or about the order in which to load variables into climate models running on supercomputers. But nobody, really, in climate science is arguing about any of the things that are being discussed in that space between consensus science and denial.
Except Andy and a few other people, and many who call themselves green, because they are honestly and honorably green or at least want to be green, see Andy in that space and think, well, if he’s there, maybe I should be there.
As the gaping maw between good climate science on one hand and pro-fossil fuel activism on the other has grown, almost everybody has moved to one side or another, most moving towards the science unless they have some motive to be on the side that we now understand is clearly wrong. Most green people have moved to the side that prefers to save the Earth and has little interest in saving the Koch Brothers. And as this tectonic event, this rifting, in perspective has happened, Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog has stayed in the widening valley, initially I assume because it seemed like the right place to be, and eventually remained there for reasons I would feel uncomfortable guessing at.
And today, I took a look into that rift to see what was in there and what I saw was disturbing.
Tony Dokoupil of MSNBC produced some commentary about how Dot Earth has degraded to little more than Andy Revkin’s hobby blog. He makes a number of points you can agree with or not, and Andy, much to his credit — he could have ignored this but chose not to — addresses those points. I have opinions and observations I could express about Dokoupil’s commentary and about Revkin’s response, but that is neither here nor there. What I would prefer to focus on is the nature and character of the supportive commentary, a subset of the folks who jumped in to say Andy’s doing it right. The new fans.
Following is a sampling of comments on this most recent post which give a flavor for what I’m talking about. Much of what is repeated below is discredited by current science or misrepresents science. For the most part it isn’t even very skilled denialism. The denialism part is not what bothers me. Well, science denialism bothers me, but that is not what I’m talking about here. What concerns me is the apparent comfort level found among those who really want us to do nothing to address climate change with the middle ground, the honest broker. What might have once been a true middle ground is now a place where the anti-science troops hunker down and from which they snipe, like the various demilitarized zones of past meatspace wars throughout the 20th century. It is a place that should not be groomed for use in the national paper of record, and especially on a green blog.
Laird Wilcox Kansas City is comfortable at Dot Earth and appreciates Andy’s approach:
What may bother some global warmists is that Dot Earth actually opens issues up to comment in an honest way. For ideologues, and especially dogmatic AGW warmists, this is anathema — it’s giving the hated demonic “other” a voice and allowing him a voice to undermine the group consensus that drives dogmatic causes and crusades to greater and greater levels of intolerance of opposition.
To allow skeptics and others who see issues with global warmist dogma that require reconsideration of basic premises, additional testing of claims and declarations, reanalysis of date and perhaps honest and unsparing consideration of what it is that they really fear from open and vigorous debate in the public domain. Why is it necessary that “denialists” are driven from web pages, comments sections of journals and newspapers as well as warmist meetings and conventions? I don’t this this happens because everybody is assured they are full of c**p but rather that they have cogent arguments worth considering.
This tendency to reject the hated “other” with broad campaigns of marginalization, vilification, stigmatization, stereotyping and name-calling is allowing public awareness of what the AGW warmist movement harbors in its ranks – deeply insecure believers drawn to the apocalyptic catastrophizing their movement demands and a deeply dark paranoia toward all who question the dogma, writ and scripture that supports it.
It’s own intolerance and extremism should give it away in normal times.
Trusted Commenter Kip Hansen implies a link between the Dot Earth approach and a well known scientist turned (sadly) denialist:
Dr. Judith Curry, in her opening remarks at the ” Circling the square: universities, the media, citizens and politics.” conference in Nottingham, England, concluded with this:
“In conclusion, my concern is that the scientific community is extremely confused about the policy process and too many climate scientists are irresponsibly shooting from the hip as issue advocates. Apart from the damage that this is doing at the interface between science and policy, the neglect and perversion of uncertainty is doing irreparable damage to the science and to the public trust of scientists.”
I would support the same statement, with the subject being Environmental Journalists, transmogrified to: (this is a paraphrased quote, with substitutions):
“….my (Kip Hansen’s) concern is that the environmental journalist community is extremely confused about the policy process and too many environmental journalists are irresponsibly shooting from the hip as issue advocates. Apart from the damage that this is doing at the interface between journalism and policy, the neglect and perversion of uncertainty is doing irreparable damage to journalism and to the public trust of environmental journalists.”
When journalists no longer question the pronouncements of advocates — political or scientific — then they fail at their sacred trust.
Has Andrew Revkin become *that* kind of journalist here at Dot Earth? Is he “just another advocate”?
If I understand correctly, part of the criticism from “Climate Hawks” is that YOU don’t take a strong stand. (For the record, NOT my criticism; im Gegenteil: a good journalist, like a good scientist, should not let his ideology cloud facts or data!). Nevertheless, they probably wonder why you’re not fighting in the trenches like Joe Romm or Susan Goldenberg.
Keep your balance, your open mind and vor allem: keep playing music!
and, in support of Andy Revkin,
it was Revkin himself who posted the criticism on his own blog. Revkin doesn’t make the silly statement that Dokoupil lacks a scientific background; indeed, none of Dokoupils’ arguments are remotely scientific – they are about Revkin’s attention being split between competing interests, his blog style, his interaction with commenters and hosted writers, and regaining his former gravitas: “… quite simply one of the very best reporters to ever push a green noun against a green verb in newsprint.”
Robert disagreed, but wmar has a response to that:
You forgot the most important part of the list:
The Data –
for that is what is primarily on Kip and Kurt’s ‘side’. When Andy notes this it is indeed refreshing and valuable.
Adrian O has a nice example of denial in response to Portia‘s quip “Man walks into a bar in the Kirabati Islands.
precisely mapped how Tarawa, the main atoll and the capital of Kiribati, has GROWN CONSIDERABLY in surface since 1940.
The study and a dozen others are quoted by the IPCC which mentions that out of ALL Pacific small islands measured, a large majority, 86%, are GROWING IN SURFACE or are stable.
IPCC concludes, in section 29.3.1. OBSERVED impacts on Island Coasts (2014)
Sea-level rise did not appear to be the primary control on
shoreline processes on these islands
So now that you see in detail that when measured the islands are NOT sinking, you have two alternatives
1) You are relieved. You were worried that islands are sinking, but now you know that careful maps and the IPCC show that that is not the case.
2) (sadly much more likely) You feel ambushed by right wing deniers, and you know better than to look at measurements, even official: you always choose propaganda, and think that measured reality is Satan. You want Andy’s blog closed.
This can happen in two cases.
a) You are totally uninterested in those islands, but you NEED to feel desperate in order to feel good about yourself, or
b) You are totally uninterested in those islands, but you have considerable gain if you seed despair, e.g. you have green investments, you are a green CEO, etc.
Denver and Kirbati are submerged.
I’m going to include a comment by Robert to address some of the issues above lest I be repeating a bad message:
i see we’re still not reading the material, AO. well, I’m here to help, though I do think that the masters of science generally do try and do their homework before spouting off.
1. Both the IPCC appendix and the unpublished study you cited agree on two things: a) sea levels generally continue to rise in the Pacific (and have risen approx. 200 mm. over the last 130 years).
2. The rises, together with other natural and “anthropogenic,” events, continue to change islands, reefs and atolls in ways that are not clearly understood.
3. Very generally speaking, Kiribati’s bigger islands have gained in area, while the smaller have lost area.
4. Some of this is wholly natural, in the sense that this sort of geography tends to move, shift, and change a fair amount.
5. However–and your authors are explicit about this–a large part of the reason that the larger islands have tended to grow is that more people live on them, and they’ve been building sea walls, retainers, dredges, etc. like crazy.
In brief, no, these islands don’t just sink. (Actually they don’t really sink at all; they get eroded away, the sea level rises, etc.) The processes involved are complex, just as they are with global warming.
However, the overall pattern is clear.
So read your own material, willya? And grow a sense of humor.
That there are denialist comments on Andy Revkin’s blog is not an issue at all. What he or his editors allow is entirely up to them. My position on blogging comments will be well known to my own readers. There can’t be hard and fast rules. It is entirely appropriate to exclude any and all trolls and at the same time it is entirely appropriate to allow their discussions. There is no free speech issue here (anyone who feels excluded from a given outlet can go get their own outlet). The problem, to reiterate but it probably needs to be said a couple of times, is that Andy Revkin’s approach to many of the climate related issues is to give service to positions that are simply untenable and, very likely, damaging.
Andrew Revkin is not a climate science denialist. But he is occupying a space where, given the evolution of this issue in recent years, few who understand the severity of the problem occupy any more, for good reason. So, as long as people are lining up to advise Andrew Revkin as to what he should do, I’ll add this. Take one of your feet off the dock or the boat, before you fall in!
Update Added June 25
In a response to my post, regarding my assertion that there is zero room for debate about the reality of climate change, Andy Revkin wrote, at Dot Earth:
“Zero room.” That’s scientific.
Yes, it is. There is zero room for debate when an issue has been pretty much settled. In science debate can come up anywhere, you never know, but for all practical purposes we do not debate if the Earth is hollow or solid or flat or round, or that germs cause many diseases, or that frogs reproduce as most other tetrapods do rather then spontaneously emerging from mud.
The Earth is warming. No room for debate there. Many factors affect global surface temperatures. Some are natural, some are human-caused. The sum of the natural effects does not produce the warming we see. The human effects have caused, over the last several decades, a certain amount of cooling (from aerosol pollutants) and a certain amount of warming (from greenhouse gas emissions and related positive feedbacks, and damage to Carbon sinks). So the warming trend is human caused. No room for debate there. Climate change is causing loss of life, damage to property, and threats to food production through drought and excessive rain. Sea levels can not possibly fail to rise over coming decades, wiping out coastal properties including human settlements, harbors, agricultural lands, etc. No room for debate on these effects. Killer heat waves have become more common and this will get much worse. No debate about that. Ocean acidification is happening and will get worse. This is not debated. There is some debate about how much we can adapt to some of these effects, but adaptation will be costly and there are limits. So, yes, there is some debate there. There is no debate that we need to keep the Carbon in the ground. There is some debate (but it is highly questionable) about the idea that we can get energy by releasing Carbon but at the same time use energy to un-release the Carbon. There are serious physical limitations to such an approach. There is a vibrant and real debate about which non-fossil-Carbon technologies we should use to produce energy, given the possible mix of technologies such as wind, PV solar, thermal solar, passive geothermal, tidal, hydro, and nuclear. That’s a real debate. There is real debate about pricing carbon or regulating energy production, about subsidies and incentives, etc.
So to repeat my original post, I said “… there is absolutely zero room for considering the reality of climate change or its severity.” Andy Revkin claimed that this is not true, that there is a debate. Until he said that I had not realized that Revkin was on the fence about the reality of climate change. I wrote “Andrew Revkin is not a climate science denialist,” but I have now been corrected. Apparently that is not true. This comes as an utter surprise to me.
And, in fact, I don’t believe it. I think his “that’s not scientific” argument was not well thought out, something of a knee-jerk reaction, in which you tell the person who seems to be disagreeing with you that they don’t know how to think rationally. (In fact, in his comments, he did that twice. Wrong both times.)
In the comments section (below) Andy wrote:
If you’d asked me about my comment policy and your concerns about my “fans” in that space I might have reminded you that comment contributors — as at most blogs — are a tiny subset of the overall readership. I find it puzzling that someone with scientific training would claim to detect significant trends in such a small and skewed sample (commenters tend to have lots of free time and strong opinions) and then use those “findings” to demean the work of someone whose second National Academy of Sciences Communication Award was for Dot Earth. It’s always imperfect. I don’t have enough time to vet all comments for factual content. Folks can feel free to dive into the conversations there or ignore them. They don’t even appear unless you click.
But I had written in my post “that there are denialist comments on Andy Revkin’s blog is not an issue at all. What he or his editors allow is entirely up to them. My position on blogging comments will be well known to my own readers. There can’t be hard and fast rules. It is entirely appropriate to exclude any and all trolls and at the same time it is entirely appropriate to allow their discussions.
I’m not talking about comments. As Andy and others have pointed out, denialist comments on Dot Earth get addressed by those who disagree. I often do the same thing on my blog.
The point I made in this (original) blog post is that Andy Revkin operates a forum that caters to a middle ground that has disappeared, and that feeding activity in this middle ground is counter-productive, demanding a cost we can’t afford to pay. That is my criticism. I further noted that this is important because of Andy’s cachet with the green community.
Susan Anderson (below) says:
Andy’s promotion of voices from the so-called middle has become a reliable indicator prompting people like me to, for example, look up the credentials and work of Martin Hoerling, Roger Pielke Jr., and a variety of others. I don’t remember if he promotes Lomborg.
Meanwhile, it is very sad, Andy is a fine writer, an excellent researcher, has a reputation deep and wide from his history (he turned around 2008), and is an attractive speaker who gets invited everywhere.
His less popular articles on local ecology and initiatives are more than fine, and it is sad that they are not given top billing by his audience, while the fight goes on … and on … and on … getting nowhere and encouraging apathy.
Well put, Susan.
Metzomagic (below) notes that Revkin brought some standard “middle of the road” questions to bear in his interview with Jeremy Shakun. Yes, he did, but if I was interviewing him I would have asked similar questions to give him an opportunity to address them, which he did. Indeed, Andy points out that the current change in surface temperatures is not so much as hockey stick but rather something much more serious and severe. (In thinking about an alternative to hockey stick to represent the shape of the time serious I keep coming back to various dentistry tools.) This makes me believe that Andy is is on board with the reality of and seriousness of climate change.
And that, really, is the problem as I see it. Andy has one foot on the dock, one foot on the boat, but he really wants to be on the dock. Questioning of the reality and importance of climate change, that boat won’t float. I think it is time for Any to just get himself fully and squarely on the dock.
Another update: This discussion continues with Andy Revkin’s new post: In Weighing Responses to Climate Change, Severity and Uncertainty Matter More than ‘Reality’