Weinberg: cause of global warming “kinda does matter”

A post about Sarah Palin’s denial of the human roots of global climate change generated a back-and-forth between World War 4 Report editor Bill Weinberg and an Anonymous Reader. It was turning into something of a distraction in the original item, so it now gets its own page (just in case anyone is actually paying attention). Here’s the latest installment:

public transportation

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/05/2008 – 07:10.

The reason I’m asking about plans is that there’s plenty of empty posturing on these issues. Whether it’s a deliberate delaying tactic or not, that’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Pretty much everyone pretends to be against poverty for example… but there’s a world of difference between those who have no plan or a plan that won’t work (trickle-down and whatnot) and those who have a plan that actually adresses the issue (land reform, labor issues, taxes, social entitlements and so on). And then there are the utopian solutions that actually purport to solve the problem.

I’m not asking you to come up with a utopian plan: I would rather hear about a more practical solution. Sometimes there are no such solutions however.
But if you no have no plan at all, if you don’t know what to do about the problem, then talking about how much climate change we are commited to is a waste of time. Once we have agreed on how much, what do you propose we do? We’d have a consensual goal and no way to achieve it. I would have thought that his has been done enough times in internaional conferences by now.
If the problem was an easy one, this approach would be reasonable. But this is a hard problem, and a global one to boot… no society has ever managed to solve that kind of a problem as far as I know. Assuming that someone else will come up with a plan that works just in time is a recipe for latching on to some self-serving boondoggle or power grab that some fast talker is going to put forward.

Now, as to what you proposed… light rail makes sense although resurrecting a century-old way of going about it doesn’t. It’s not a replacement for a comprehensive transportation plan or even a comprehensive rail plan however.
But destroying roads? People are relying on many (some are superfluous I guess) of these roads now, right? Rail isn’t going to replace all of them and they would be quite useful to build and maintain a rail/electricity infrastructure as well.

I assume you were kidding but it bears repeating that friendly, local, primitive subsistence economies can only sustain so many people (depending on the region) and that climate change would affect many such local economies down the road.

The worst thing about the kind of stuff you propose is that, unless if was adopted globally, it would only delay the burning of fossil fuels.

Mitigation can be done at a local as well as at a global level. The really good mitigation solutions are hard but there are plenty of easy ones too.

I don’t care about Palin but I didn’t see any denial in those quotes above. Maybe she’s a denier trying to cover up her position… I don’t know and I don’t care. But it seems to me she’s saying the same thing you did earlier: we need to do something so let’s cut down pollution. That is inadequate when she says it and inadequate when you say it. It’s better than nothing but let’s not pretend it’s going to make much of a difference.

As to “unhabitable”, your poor source thankfully does not support the assertion. Yes, it sounds really ugly. Yes, there are many risks and uncertainties ahead but pretending it’s the end of the world isn’t helping. Take a good look at them instead. There’s a wikipedia article on the P-T boundary. WP has many problems but it’s much more informative and less sensationalistic than some mainstream rag.

To which Bill Weinberg responds:

Oh, spare me. If you equivocate on the clear cause of climate change you are never going to be able to come up with a meaningful “plan” to address it. If you don’t see denial in Palin’s quote it can only be because you are in it (denial, that is). Light rail is in no sense outmoded as an effective means of transportation, especially for the coastal urban corridors where the big majority of the USA’s fossil fuels get burned. I stand behind the word “uninhabitable” (as does most of the scientific community), and I’ll take the much-villified “mainstream media” over Wackypedia any day. Are we finished yet?

  1. denial of what? don’t bother…
    Up until now, I had only heard right-wingers argue that certainty with regards to causes was a pre-requisite for action. I guess the talking points change with new information.

    I remain convinced that those who keep talking about causes, whatever their political persuasion, are more or less consciously intent on delaying any action.

    Sorry for clicking on an intriguing comment title in the sidebar.

    This is indeed over. At least I got my own page out of it.

    1. What don’t you get?
      It isn’t a “right-wing” position to acknowledge that you have to understand the cause of a problem to figure out the way to address it. Equivocation on fossil fuels being behind climate change is what will delay (meaningful) action! Sheesh!

  2. The Rapture a Self Fulfilling Prophesy?
    The rapture belief combined with political power is a dangerous combination. Why care about the future, global warming? It is all going to end so we can take what we want do what we with no worries. I wonder what ms. Palin would say. I would love to ask her.

  3. my 2c
    As much as I could decipher the anonymous post:

    > friendly, local, primitive subsistence economies

    Local subsistence economies are a good idea. ‘Primitive’? Why primitive? Light rail? There are no silver bullets but firing as many of them as possible is a step in the right direction. Post car culture is going to be a shock to the US but it’s coming. If it’s cold turkey the hardship on the populace will be severe. Everything should be done ASAP. Is industrialism the only cause of global warming? Unclear. Does it play a major role? Very likely. Should we do everything possible now to stop the bleeding (OK, emissions)? Obviously yes. Should we elect a beauty queen, oil company apologist, drill crazy dirty Alaskan politician and future Penthouse centerfold Vice President? Your mileage may vary.

    > I’ll take the much-villified “mainstream media” over Wackypedia any day

    An unjustified bias. Wikipedia’s all over the map on hot button topics but one of the cool things about real science is that the same numbers come out no matter who puts them in or what they want to see. Wikipedia’s fine when it comes to real science, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for the mainstream media which constantly presents a false equivalence between real science and sectarian pseudo-science in the interest of equal reporting. Sorry, the world isn’t flat (you hear me Friedman?!?), Intelligent Design is a buzz word for Christian Right political control not a serious argument with established falsifiable scientific method, there is no credible dispute about industrialisms effects on the global climate despite what you might read in Time magazine or see on the BBC.

    History, despite the best efforts of many to just report the ‘facts’, is not a hard science. It can be a set of agreed upon lies. And so wikipedia is overrun with spin doctors. You won’t find them in the hard science sections because mathematics knows no ideology or human masters (despite attempts to legislate pi)

    1. Wikipedia sucks
      Given Wikipedia’s free-for-all ethic, how long before the Christian science-falsifiers corrupt it too? Nobody’s minding the store there. At least the much-vilified “MSM” has editors! (I know, how old-fashioned.) BTW, BBC was a really bad example. You should have said Fox.

      As for Wikipedia’s history, it’s really bad, but the problem is less ideological axe-grinding than sheer sloppiness. An (unpublished, of course) letter I sent to the New York Times (with links added):

      17 June 2006

      To the Editor:

      It was vindicating to see a story on the problems with Wikipedia on the front page of the New York Times June 17. Wikipedia calls itself the “online encyclopedia,” but it is to a real encyclopedia as carob is to chocolate, or (more to the point) as bloggery is to journalism.

      Relying on Wikipedia for quick fact-checking (although never for real research), I have found numerous errors. But one example: the entry on Gen. Philip Sheridan states that the Wounded Knee massacre was committed in his 1868-9 Winter Campaign against the Plains Indians. It actually happened in 1890, two years after his death, and some 20 years after his Indian campaigns. The anonymous entry writer likely meant the Washita River massacre of 1868, which was not mentioned.

      I don’t trust Wikipedia. The project is too hubristic, and it seems like nobody is minding the shop. I am alarmed by reports from friends in academia that students are footnoting to Wikipedia entries in their papers. The Internet, endlessly touted as an “information revolution,” is actually accelerating the dumbing-down of our culture.


      Bill Weinberg

      Since I wrote the letter, someone seems to have removed the erroneous Wounded Knee reference from the Philip Sheridan entry, but there is still no reference to the Washita River. More from an e-mail I sent to friends a while back slugged “Wikipedia sucks”:

      They actually had TWO different entries for Imam Moussa al-Kadhim under two different alternative spellings, NOT cross-referenced, and containing conflicting information. He was the critical seventh Shi’ite imam whose death occasioned the Ismaili schism—and there was but the sketchiest info about him. Yet, if you notice, Wikipedia has got a whole sub-section entitled “Wookiepedia” with pages and pages of worthless pseudo-information about the smallest minutia of the Star Wars universe!

      Why does anybody take stupid fucking Wikipedia seriously?!?!


      1. Wikipedia rulez
        Yeah let’s go back to whoever owns a printing press and has access to all the worlds books. That sure worked out well. I for one cannot afford thousands of dollars in expensive bio science dictionaries (and no they are not all available in public libraries). At my finger tips I get generally good descriptions of obscure biology, mathematics and physics concepts. As there is nothing remotely sectarian or ideological about any of this, the information can be trusted. Especially as I am only using the information as a science tourist. Were I intending to use it for more then personal education, I’d cross check.

        If, instead of ranting, you’d gone in and edited the entries then the information would have been correct. Which would have taken 1/10th the time it took to write your generic (unpublished, of course) self righteous letter to the editor. Now maybe some kid would have put a generic ‘Mr T’ reference in but, given the articles you cited, that’s doubtful.

        We’ve heard your argument that the internet is dumbing down journalism and still wonder if giving the world access to ww4report, which otherwise might run occasionally in The Shadow, is making your point. The culture of illiteracy in the United States started with Television. There’s no evidence that the net has accelerated this. The argument can be made that the MSM was complicit.

        “SMASH WIKIPEDIA!!!!” Because free speech matters less then having anointed gatekeepers for information. If you don’t like wikipedia, then DON’T READ IT. If you take information from it without fact checking, you’re being foolish. College professors seem to be in agreement that it should only be used as a place to start research.

        “At least the much-vilified “MSM” has editors!”

        The MSM has a false equivalence that gives paid political hacking an equal platform with real science and uses it’s so called objectivity as a smokescreen. See: Global warming, Intelligent Design, papermoon wingnuts, LHC end-of-the-world comic books – you can probably add numerous political and historical examples. Unlike the BBC, Wikipedia doesn’t claim to be minding the store. In fact, it doesn’t claim anything. There are projects afoot to improve on the model (basically adding editors). Until then, stop wasting energy complaining and wishing for a non-existent past golden age.

        1. gatekeepers?
          I like Steve Wishnia’s definition of the word gatekeeper: “media professional who refuses to give print space or air time to my wingnut theories.” I say we need more and better gatekeepers.

          I share your criticism of the MSM’s “false equivalence” pathology. This is due precisely to an abdication of their gatekeeping responsibilities.

          I felt my time was better spent warning others away from Wikipedia than fixing one error I happened to find out of a doubtless gazillion.

          You are starting to sound on this question a bit like Anonymous Coward did re. global warming. Television started dumbing down our culture—no question. The Internet greatly accelerated the process. As I told him: If you have smoker’s hack, you’ve probably already damaged your lungs, but it would be pretty absurd to use that as an excuse to keep smoking.

          My “golden age” was not non-existent. Journalism was far more informative, in-depth, serious and literate a generation ago than it is today. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this deterioration coincided with the hypertrophy of the Net.

          1. Wishnia rulez
            I’m with Steve on that definition.
            I don’t know what the solution to the MSM “false equivalence” pathology is. Keep calling them on it and hope some of them take a stand.

            I see no evidence that “The Internet greatly accelerated the process.” I’d be interested in evidence as opposed to opinion. I also see no evidence that the internet has mitigated the continuing decline of American literacy. While it seems the net does tend to ween some off TV, it remains to be seen if this leads them anywhere other than generic gossip social networking or passive entertainment. Somehow I doubt it.

            > Journalism was far more informative, in-depth, serious and literate a generation ago than it is today.

            As usual I blame TV. The net did destroy the newspaper revenue model but television had long been ruining the audience.

            And I usually point out, though you discount this, without the net ww4report and dailykos would not exist and that Virginian election would not have swung around ‘macaca’ on youtube. kos raises money, ww4 calls out the idiot left, youtube means Tina Fey has 100x the audience and the stranglehold of the networks on visual satire is crumbling.
            So we make the best of it.

            1. None are so blind…
              JG, with all due respect, journalism standards took their big nosedive along with the general decline of the print media industry over the past 15 years of the Internet revolution. If you had been trying to survive as a journalist during this period (as I have been) you would have a better appreciation of this.

              1. too close to home?
                I’m not denying that standards of journalism have been declining, probably since the 70s. I say it’s TV, you say it’s the net. These are opinions. I don’t see the curve increase with the world wide web, IMHO the damage was mostly done by then; the deliterization (I know it’s not a word) of the US. The decline you may have perceived in the 90s, to me, is attributable to a couple of generations of non readers moving into ‘adulthood’, some into positions of power in publishing. The damage was already done earlier. See: Reagan vs Carter, for one. An illiterate election, one of many.

                Your perception may be influenced by “trying to survive as a journalist”, not necessarily giving you less perspective, but influenced. You do conveniently ignore my argument about the rise and influence of the blogs, including yours. (Though I too hate the word.) Novelists, musicians, show business lawyers, we all belong to a previous century. That’s what it’s like. There’s always going to be musicians and journalists and novelists (I could do without show biz lawyers) but it’s not going to be the same as it was.

                And … it doesn’t matter. It’s not a question of putting the genie back in the bottle, there’s no longer a bottle (with apologies to John Perry Barlow) This is the hand that’s been dealt so … forward.

                1. I never denied that the web has its lures.
                  Of course it does. That’s how the pathology works. But the big deterioration began in the mid-90s and greatly accelerated this decade. The ’70s were the (relative) golden age.

                  1. TV ruined the editors
                    The deterioration you’re talking about might be attributed to people who grew up on 60s, 70s and 80s TV reaching positions of power and crafting product for their peers. The journalism of the 70s was being shepherded by people who had come of age during what is probably the high water mark of American literacy – post WWII. (I’m too young?!? to opt in on whether that was a golden age though respect due Woodward / Bernstein)

                    By 1990 you had ingenue editors for whom culture was MTV and sitcoms. Can you see the difference between a publishing industry run by people who admire Hemingway and people who zone out in front of MTV or 80s sitcoms? You can’t have a vibrant writing industry with generations that don’t respect reading running magazines for people who don’t read in a culture of fast food ideas and products.

                    I’m not saying the web has helped anything (yet – if ever). I just think the damage was already done.

                    Video killed the editorial star

                    1. Blogs ate your brain
                      I don’t deny that’s a factor, but I also don’t think it is a coincidence that the decline of journalism has paralleled the hypertrophy of the web. Remember, the first TV generation came of age in the ’50s, not the ’80s.

                    2. bitterness clouds your vision
                      > ’50s, not the ’80s.

                      Critical mass. Television gradually becomes more and more pervasive in the culture (see: Vietnam, for instance)

                      You also miss that, while the internet was all over traditional media in the mid 90s, the actual mass of the population wasn’t actually on the web until the end of the decade at the earliest.

                      Your argument has everything to do with your personal experience and very little to do with objective observation. And is irrelevant bitterness.

                    3. Pronoia clouds yours
                      You still seem to be infected with Gingrich-era techno-utopianism. I would say that my “personal experience” is entirely relevant.

                    4. nasty again, the last resort
                      > Gingrich-era techno-utopianism

                      Watch your mouth. Don’t forget, we hippies perfected the internet. Your personal experience is all you bring up. Try being more open minded to other people’s opinions. More people might read your blog.

                    5. Empiricism
                      Well, if “personal experience” includes opening the newspaper and finding it eviscerated, as I did today…yeah, I guess so. The New York Times Metro Section disappears as of today, to be replaced by a reduced subdivision of Section A. I’ve relied on the Metro Section for local news since Newsday’s city edition folded several years back. 15 years ago, Newsday was winning Pulitzers for its international coverage. Then it dropped its international staff and just ran AP copy. Then it dropped its city staff as well. When they stopped carrying Brenda Starr, I stopped buying it, after 20 years of reading it loyally every day. For years, when the Village Voice cost a buck, it was so loaded with good journalism that I shelled out for it every week. Now that it is free, it is so devoid of content that I don’t even bother to pick it up. The Nation has virtually abandoned journalism for talking-head wonkdom. The Oakland Tribune, which was a great muckraking hometown newspaper when I hung in the Bay Area in the ’80s, is today almost on the level of the New York Post. The Brooklyn neighborhood weeklies have been bought by Murdoch and are rapidly headed in the same direction. But this must all be an hallucination of my doom-and-gloom imagination, right? Pass the prozac…

                    6. arguing in the margins.
                      This thread has gotten unreadable by being pushed to the margins (physically by the page layout, thematically? perhaps)

                      Look, nobody is arguing about the decline / demise of good print journalism. The Voice is a joke, the LA Times is a shell of its former self. The NY Press, which started as a joke, isn’t even a joke now. I can’t discuss The Nation as I never read it. I don’t read the NY Times anymore. But … what we were arguing about is the timeline.

                      To reiterate: I blame television and a generation of tv zombies that was raised by a generation of tv zombies taking control of print media. You, as far as I can tell, don’t necessarily disagree (correct me) but you also blame the rise of the web. From my perspective, the damage was already done, the web came along at the end of the decline. Don’t forget, the web only started reaching a majority in the last ten years.

                      There’s actually an interesting book (how old fashioned) in the decline of print journalism and I’m sure one is being written somewhere so I’ll be curious to see if the book’s any good.

                      As for doom and gloom? Hunger is a great educator. The US is going to be getting smarter in the near future.

    2. local vs. complex

      I used the word “primitive” because Bill (jokingly?) spoke of destroying roads.

      In and out of itself, destroying useful things willy-nilly would be a step in the direction of a more primitive way of life.

      In addition, complex economies need some scale. An extensive division of labour requires not only a large food surplus from the agricultural sector but also a large number of participants and therefore a large physical extant. Destroying means of communication and transport undermines that.

      Roads and even cars have their uses beyond the car culture.

      Sorry for being so hard to decipher.
      If Bill wasn’t so hung up on his black and white worldview and his ideological touchlines, I’d take the whole blame for him missing the point.

      1. “primitivism” vs. localism
        I am not a “primitivist” of the John Zerzan variety, but I am definitely a localist and decentralist of the Leopold Kohr and Vandana Shiva variety. I wasn’t joking about abandoning (not “destroying”) the interstate system (not all “roads”), but I was also advocating development of alternative “means of communication and transport.” Are you paying attention, or just interested in scoring points?