Monthly Archives: October 2009

‘Marketplace’ Report Misses the Real Story on Coal

Yesterday’s Marketplace report does an excellent job of highlighting the social and political fissures occurring in West Virginia and nationally as the United States starts in earnest the transition to a clean-energy, low-carbon economy. What the story fails to adequately convey is just how many old-line energy producers have crossed the divide and embraced the reality and opportunity of capping and reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

Don Blankenship, who was quoted in the story,  is very much a minority voice in the coal industry. His company, Massey Energy,  is in fact not even among the top four coal producers nationally, much less internationally. His views on climate change are considered to be extreme even among the coal industry.

Better for Marketplace to highlight the work of Mike Morris of American Electric Power, among the nation’s largest electric utilities and the largest consumer of coal in the Western Hemisphere. Today, AEP is cutting the ribbon on a large demonstration of carbon capture and storage technology in West Virginia, a technology Blankenship dismisses out of hand. AEP is also investing in wind generation even as it works to keep coal relevant in a low-carbon economy.

Those of us who know Morris know he is no bleeding heart — he is as flinty as they come. Yet, in supporting national clean energy cap and trade carbon legislation, and in matching his advocacy with investments in low-carbon technology, he is demonstrating the kind of leadership that West Virginia and the nation need.

Marketplace should do a better job appreciating just how increasingly irrelevant folks like Blankenship are to the national conversation about our clean energy future.

Updated 11/2: Corrected to remove references to NPR. Marketplace is produced by American Public Media.

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EDF at Senate Hearings: Energy Bill Comes At Bargain Price

For the last three days, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works listened to some strong arguments in favor of climate legislation.

One of our favorite arguments came from our own Fred Krupp, president of EDF, who focused on the recent study from the EPA that confirms the low cost of the bill.

After conducting some serious qualitative analysis, the EPA found that the Senate bill is just as affordable as the House bill passed earlier this year. For the bargain price of $3 to $4 a month, the average American can look forward to a robust economy powered by new green jobs, energy independence (or at least a huge step in that direction) and a cleaner environment for his or her child and grandchild.  Here’s Fred’s written testimony [PDF].

Nat Keohane, EDF’s director of economic policy and analysis, also provided some great testimony on Wednesday. He detailed the impacts of the cap and trade legislation and also advocated on behalf of consumers — he made the point that energy savings need to find their way into the average American’s pocket rather than into the large coffers of utility company executives. Here’s Nat’s written testimony [PDF].

These hearings are further proof of the Senate’s growing momentum to further the climate debate. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) is pushing for the committee to begin considering amendents to her bill as early as next Tuesday. Although certain Republicans are balking at the fast pace, Boxer is confident that the bill has been thoroughly analyzed: More than 50 witnesses have been asked to submit their comments on the bill and Senate staffers have been scouring the 923-page document since its release.

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New Poll Shows 6 in 10 Americans Support Cap and Trade

As the battle over clean energy legislation heats up in the Senate, CNN has released a new poll showing that 60 percent of Americans support cap and trade.

CNN says the issue shows a huge generational divide. More than two-thirds of Americans under age 50 support cap and trade, but those 50 and older are split.

The poll shows three-quarters of Democrats back the idea, as do nearly sixty percent of Independents and about 4 in 10 Republicans.

Says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland:

Independents may not be red or blue, but they appear to be green.

CNN Poll: 6 in 10 back ‘cap and trade’

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Four Signs that Clean Energy Opponents are Getting Desperate

It’s no surprise that some opponents of clean energy legislation are fighting dirty. Big Polluters were always expected to use underhanded tactics, and they’ve managed to live up (or down) to the stereotype. But in the last week or so, the opposition’s pronouncements have veered from merely misleading to downright wacky.

We like to think it’s a sign of desperation triggered by the other side’s knowledge that they’re losing. However you want to interpret it, here are four quotes that will make your jaw drop:

Pennsylvania State Senator Daryl Metcalfe

As a veteran, I believe that any veteran lending their name to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change … is a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation! Remember Benedict Arnold before giving credibility to a veteran who uses their service as a means to promote a leftist agenda. Drill Baby Drill!!!

Senator Metcalfe wrote that about Operation Free, a group of decorated war veterans who are traveling the country to talk about the importance of energy independence to our national security. Operation Free pointed out that “the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the National Intelligence Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency have all decided that climate change is a security threat that must be dealt with seriously and honestly” – but Metcalfe still refuses to apologize.

Senator James Inhofe

There’s another secret person going with me. We’re going to have a team of three, a truth squad of three.

Senator Inhofe (R-OK) made that announcement on Bill Bennett’s radio show. (ThinkProgress has the clip) Inhofe had already announced that he would travel to Copenhagen to be a “one man truth-squad” during international climate change treaty negotiations. Now we know that John Barrasso is going with him and we’re anxiously awaiting the identity of the third “secret” climate change denier.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue

Members come and go all the damn time.

Donohue explains why a highly-publicized string of companies leaving the Chamber doesn’t bother him. Politico pointed out that rarely, if ever, have so many companies publicly left a business group over a policy disagreement.

Rush Limbaugh

This guy from The New York Times, if he really thinks that humanity is destroying the planet, humanity is destroying the climate, that human beings in their natural existence are going to cause the extinction of life on Earth — Andrew Revkin. Mr. Revkin, why don’t you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?

Limbaugh calls for the untimely demise of reporter Andy Revkin, who had the nerve to acknowledge that a rapidly increasing global population is one of the factors contributing to climate change. This hate-filled invective is par for the course for Limbaugh though, so this might not be a sign that the opposition is growing desperate. Either way, you can find a link to the comments on Media Matters.

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When Books Collide: Sloppy ‘Superfreakonomics’ Meets its Match in Lucid ‘Climate for Change’

This is a tale of serendipity.  About two brand-new books on climate, written independently, that mysteriously collide.

One of them, Superfreakonomics, manages – despite the fame and brilliance of its authors – to enthusiastically endorse two notorious misconceptions about climate science.

But here’s the serendipitous part.  Even though the authors of the second book, A Climate for Change, had never seen Superfreakonomics, they managed to write spot-on rebuttals on both points.

Freaknomics and its brand-new sequel

Unless you’ve been trapped in a bomb shelter the past few years, you’ve heard of Freakonomics, the best-selling book by a star economist (Steven Levitt) and his journalist co-author (Stephen Dubner).

Levitt, a professor at the University of Chicago, is a brilliant guy.  He’s already won a “best young economist” prize, which often foretells a future economics Nobel.  And Dubner is a gifted writer.

Freakonomics gave us colorful accounts of some of Prof. Levitt’s own quirky research.  Like his study of Japanese sumo wrestling records, which showed that top-rank wrestlers deliberately lose certain matches to help their opponents remain in the elite top tier.  Presumably in the hope that they’ll return the favor.

So far, so good.

Now our best-selling authors have written a sequel: SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.  Its official release date is Tuesday, October 20, 2009.

As you can guess from the title, one chapter is about climate change.  That chapter has been the subject of what diplomats would call a spirited debate over the past few days.  You can read the chapter for yourself (PDF, sorry, not the best quality).

What are people saying about the Superfreakonomics take on climate?

Well, here’s Professor Paul Krugman (who actually has a Nobel in Economics):

[T]here’s an average of one statement per page [in the Superfreakonomics chapter on climate] that’s either flatly untrue or deeply misleading.

The respected climate science blog,, says this about Superfreakonomics’ proposed fix to climate change:

the reasons why Levitt and Dubner like [their solution] so much are based on a misreading of the science, a misrepresentation of proposed solutions, and truly bizarre interpretations of how environmental problems have been dealt with in the past.

And here’s The New Republic’s Brad Plumer:

Levitt and Dubner just parachute into the field of climate science and offer some lazy punditry on the subject dressed up as ‘contrarianism.’  There’s no original research.  There’s nothing bold or explosive.  It’s just garden-variety ignorance.

Then there’s economist Brad DeLong:

I have a little unsolicited advice for Levitt and Dubner.  If I were them, I would abjectly apologize.

Statistical genius Nate Silver, of, says that

the chapter on climate science is by far the weakest material in either of the two Freakonomics books.

Not to mention the tireless Joe Romm of ClimateProgress:

New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and ‘patent nonsense.’

Meanwhile, an actual climate scientist writes A Climate for Change

While an economist and a journalist were busy writing Superfreakonomics, a real-life climate scientist and geoscience professor, Prof. Katharine Hayhoe, was writing A Climate for Change.  (Actually, co-authoring it with her husband, Andrew Farley, an evangelical pastor.)  It’s out on October 29, and you can order it here.

You may not know Hayhoe, but you should.  She’s an outstanding young climate scientist, so well-regarded that she was chosen to be a principal author of the recent report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.  And both she and her husband have golden pens.

A Climate for Change is designed to communicate to everyone with a special focus on people of faith – what they need to know about climate change.  In plain, crisp English.

Sloppy Superfreakonomics blunders mysteriously anticipated by brilliant climate scientist

Now for the serendipity.

Superfreak blunder #1:  “Carbon dioxide doesn’t necessarily warm the earth.”

Here’s what Levitt and Dubner say on p. 183 of Superfreakonomics:

“[C]hanges in carbon dioxide levels don’t necessarily mirror human activity.  Nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth:  ice-cap evidence shows that over the past several hundred thousand years, carbon dioxide levels have risen after a rise in temperature, not the other way around.”

That second sentence?  Though written by Levitt and Dubner, House Republican Joe Barton – a fervent climate change denier – often says the same thing.  Like the Superfreakonomics authors, Rep. Barton hasn’t done his homework.

But here’s the great part:  Hayhoe wrote the rebuttal without even seeing the Levitt/Dubner book.  Here’s your first sneak preview of A Climate for Change:

The Chicken or the Egg?”

“[Looking at the historic record, some people say that] [c]arbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are just following suit rather than leading the hand.  . . .”

Within this line of reasoning, there is a partial truth. So, first, let’s look at the true part.

Scientists believe that the last ice age ended thousands of years ago when Earth’s orbit shifted, altering the distribution of sunlight received by the earth. Temperatures rose a few degrees over several hundred years, with little or no change in greenhouse gases. So, as far as we can tell, it is indeed true that greenhouse gases have never initiated a climate warming before.

Now, for the rest of the truth. That initial temperature change caused by the sun was only one-third of the total temperature difference between that ice age and today. So what caused the rest of the warming?  The answer is:  carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

So the truth is that increases in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases have caused temperatures to increase in the past. And realizing this has many scientists worried.  If just a slight warming caused by the sun could be amplified threefold by natural carbon dioxide . . . way back then, what might happen today?”

So much for the chicken and the egg.  What about this claim from the Superfreakonomics authors:  “Nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth.”

Here’s what Hayhoe told me what I asked her about that today:  “That’s a complete non sequitur.  Carbon dioxide molecules absorb infrared, or heat, energy; this has been understood since the 1700s. And as far as we can tell from the data, carbon dioxide increases have always warmed the earth.  No exceptions.”

Superfreak blunder # 2:  “Global temperatures are now declining.”

On page 187 of Superfreakonomics, the authors say this:

“Then there’s this little discussed fact about global warming:  as the drumbeat of doom has grown louder over the past several years, the average global temperature reading over that time has in fact decreased.”

To call this claim “little discussed” is a bit strange.  The “global warming is over” claim is a staple of climate change deniers.  It’s a constant mantra on Fox News, among other places.  In fact, not long ago, anchor Laura Ingraham threw it at Hayhoe at the end of an interview on The O’Reilly Factor – while giving her no time to respond.

But the mantra is wrong.  And once again, Hayhoe managed to anticipate the Superfreakonomics mistake:

“No Cooling in Sight”

Despite the evidence for a warming trend from the global record, some still claim that global warming has slowed down, or that ‘it’s not much of a problem anymore,’ or even ‘It’s stopped.’  Talk of global cooling . . . has recently resurfaced.

It’s true that, if the sun alone were controlling our climate, there would be reason to suspect that we’re headed for a new ice age—eventually.  . . .

But today, we know the sun is not the only factor.  As we’ll discuss later, the idea that greenhouse gases are driving climate has been around for more than 150 years.  And this theory has been the subject of tens of thousands of scientific journal articles.

Even still, the notion of global cooling has recently resurfaced, and Figure 4 helps explain why.  This graph zooms in on global temperatures over the last fifty years.  The red line shows how temperatures have been rising from 1960 to 2010, while the blue line shows how you can use this same record to support an argument that the world actually cooled from 1998 to 2008.  Some carefully select these two data points to argue that climate change isn’t occurring.  Or they even claim that the world is cooling.

Graph - The Truth of Warming: No Cooling in Sight

It’s true that the blue line from 1998 to 2008 slopes downward.  At first glance, one might think this suggests that global warming is slowing down.  But climate change is about what is happening across decades and centuries.  It’s certainly not about the difference between two specifically selected years, [especially when 1998 was a strong El Nino year.]

The true change in global temperature—an undeniable warming—is seen by drawing a line across multiple decades. Here, we see 1960 to 2008, for example. . . .  These longer-term graphs accurately depict the warming trend we are experiencing, and illustrate the problem with selecting two individual years that are a decade apart, connecting the dots, and then arguing for global cooling.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

By now, you’ve figured out the moral of this little story:  if you want a clear, lucid explanation of climate change, the book you want is Professor Hayhoe’s A Climate for Change.

As for Superfreakonomics, let’s wait for the second edition and see if they can get their science right.

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Washington Post‘s Headline Got the Story Wrong

It must have been a late night for one of the headline writers at the Washington Post. That’s the best explanation we can think of for the seriously misleading headline on a generally balanced story by reporter Juliet Eilperin.

The story is about the testimony of the head of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, who appeared before a Senate energy panel yesterday.

The article points out that Elmendorf went out of his way to say the costs of shifting to clean energy would be “comparatively modest” and that his analysis didn’t even include the heavy cost of failing to take action to slow climate change.  He estimated a very small economic difference under the clean energy bill over a long period of time.

The headline writer summed it up this way: “Cap-and-Trade Would Slow Economy, CBO Chief Says.”

This is extremely misleading since many readers will interpret this to mean that economic growth would actually turn negative, which is absolutely NOT what Elmendorf said.

What he said (and what Eilperin reported) is what’s reflected in the CBO analysis – that the economy is expected to grow strongly and thrive whether we pass a carbon cap or not. If we do nothing, the American economy would reach $25 trillion by January 2030; if we pass a cap on carbon, it will reach the exact same size of $25 trillion by May of 2030 (and that’s a conservative estimate – we’d reach that between March and May). And, remember, that projection doesn’t include the economic benefits of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

What is confusing in the headline is that “economy slowing” has become shorthand for “panic, it’s a recession” — which is the opposite of what Elmendorf was talking about. What Elmendorf actually said is that a cap would “cut the nation’s gross domestic product … compared to ‘what it would otherwise have been.’” The CBO finding was that a carbon cap would cut GDP “0.25 to 0.75 percent” by the year 2020. Again, that’s a cut from what it would have otherwise reached without the policy — not a cut from where the economy stands now.

To put that in perspective, if you had to cut the Post article by the same amount, you’d need to edit out – three or four words. Or, to cut that headline proportionately you’d have to – lose half the “s” on the end of the last word. That’s a tiny amount, and certainly no reason to panic – unless you’re looking for a reason to panic so you can try to kill a clean energy bill.

Read more in EDF’s latest Climate Economics Brief, Or read the CBO report itself. And check out National Wildlife Federation’s comments on, as they call it, the Post‘s “scare headlines” — we’re flattered that they used an EDF graph to help make their case.

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