Is Promotion Of Environmental Causes Bad For One's Mental And Physical Health?

Bill McKibben of stars in the latest Cancún blog plus video by Andy Revkin, with puzzling results.

  • Most interestingly, McKibben is adamantly dismissive of Andy’s concerns about an “energy challenge”, small stuff really when “whole freaking countries” are “washing away“, and “the planet right now is…disintegrating“. All of that doesn’t elicit much of a reaction from the dotEarth’s author. Does that mean Revkin fundamentally agrees with McKibben, also about statements such as “it is going to be a miserable century or an impossible one” and “the science is very clear“? I don’t think so.

Other questions:

  • If the underlying engine is “the science“, what are the scientific basis for choosing 350ppmv as the ultimate goal of any climate policy?
  • It’s also a mystery how a “long-distance climate campaigner” manages to be around Cancun rather than do the right thing, connect from afar in order to emit far less CO2 than “living strenously” implies. It would also make a lot of sense, given the lack of money keeps lamenting. What do we get instead? Latest news is a boat trip with a free dive out of Cancun, not exactly cheap stuff.
  • Finally, it’s great for McKibben to worry about the rest of the century, but by the look of it, he risks not being around for much of the rest of the century, looking quite old, tired, almost haunted (yes, Revkin _is_ older than McKibben). Is promotion of environmental causes bad for one’s mental and physical health?

ps Oh my…McKibben uses “that” WWII analogy again…Godwin’s Law alert! Godwin’s Law alert! Godwin’s Law alert! Godwin’s Law alert! Godwin’s Law alert!

pps “The most interesting thing about the pictures and everything from 350 is everybody in them almost is poor, black, brown, Asian, young“…are the Africans alright then? What about older Asians?

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For President Obama, Energy Is More Important Than Climate Change

(You can read previous blogs on similar topics here, here and here).

In “Can Obama Change the Climate?” (New York Review of Books, June 11, 2009) Bill McKibben has warm words for President Barack Obama, including the following

“Obama himself has continued to mention global warming at every turn, and in commendably strong terms”

I am afraid Mr McKibben is missing the point. During the first 6 months in office, President Obama has mentioned “global warming” almost exclusively as just one aspect of the “energy” issue.

Take for example the New York Times’ archives, where between January 1 and June 11 2009 there are:

  • 114 articles about President Obama speaking on “energy
  • 22 articles about him mentioning “global warming
  • 16 articles with the President of the United States talking about “global warming” and “energy

That is, only 6 articles are left when “global warming” appears without “energy“.

There are also 42 articles with President Obama talking on “climate change”: only 12 of which are not about “energy”.

Remarkably, the situation is more skewed when one visits the White House’s own website (

A search via Google on that website shows:

  • 3,260 pages with “Obama” and “energy
  • 68 pages with “Obama” and “global warming
  • the very same 68 pages with “Obama”, “global warming” and “energy

That is, 3,066 “Obama” pages talk of “energy” but not of “global warming”; and not even once “Obama” pages mention “global warming” but not “energy”.

Just out of curiosity: only 4 “Obama” pages talk of “climate change” but not of “energy”.

One can safely assume that for President Obama, global warming/climate change is a sideshow to the far, far bigger issue of the future of energy. Therefore, when and if a choice will have to be made between “energy” and “global warming”, in all likelihood the current US Administration will choose “energy”.

The (Un-)wisdom of Bill McKibben

If the Gods of Olympus subscribed to the New York Review of Books, they would surely be laughing hard after reading the unwitting ironies peppering Bill McKibben’s “Green Fantasia” review of Thomas L Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America”.

One wonders if Mr. McKibben will find a way to display less hubris, and more wisdom next time around.

I will focus here on what I see as the two most glaring examples: first of all, about Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and, in the words of Mr McKibben, “woke Friedman from his nap”.

At that point, Mr McKibben (who should have known better) implicity concedes Mr Friedman’s point: making a direct connection between Katrina, and human-induced Climate Change.

[Friedman:] “Have we introduced so much CO2 into nature’s operating system that we no longer know where nature stops and we start in shaping today’s weather”. [McKibben:] Well, indeed we have.

But no serious scientist will confirm that Katrina was caused by (anthropogenic) Climate Change. Within the IPCC itself, the question of “attribution” (how to identify the “signature” of Climate Change in the weather of today, rather than the climate in 15 or 20 years’ time) is still open, and no doubt we will hear more about it in the months leading to the December 2009 Copenhagen Conference.

After all, Katrina was a relatively average Category-3 hurricane when it struck the New Orleans area. And even if 2005 saw a record hurricane season, neither that nor the “duds” of 2006 and 2007 can be used as evidence for or against Climate Change.

In truth, Mr McKibben should have forcefully corrected Mr Friedman on Katrina, as it is extremely unwise to try to solve Climate Change, that he defines as the “most severe of our challenges”, starting from incorrect premises. In fact, by propagating the idea that New Orleans was destroyed by Climate Change, Mr McKibben and Mr Friedman help the real culprits “off the hook”, including the extreme lack of organization in the rescue efforts, of which FEMA’s now-legendary incompetence will forever be indicated as the most damning example.

Another point where Mr McKibben will surely regret his words, concerns “the largest story of the year, and indeed the dominant new trendline of our time”. Dire financial straits for the majority of the world’s economies, perhaps? No: “the sharply rising cost of oil”.

Evidently, Mr McKibben submitted the article long before Lehman Brothers went bust alongside the country of Iceland, before it became normal to hear of hundreds of billions of dollars being handled out to avoid a Depression-Mark II; and before the “cost of oil” sharply stumbled back to below $60 a barrel. No fault there.

The real irony is that Mr McKibben comments that Mr Friedman’s book is “out of date even before it’s published”: that is, exactly what McKibben’s article is. Images of motes and beams spring to mind…also, is it true that “we’re [possibly] starting to run out [of oil]”? Well, yes, it is possible. But as the precipituous fall in oil prices has shown, that was not the reason for barrels to be traded at more than $140 just a few weeks ago.

A final consideration on Mr McKibben’s polemic against Mr Friedman’s “optimism”, “the great imperative of the conventional wisdom”: the alternative to which is alas left unexplored.

Is Bill McKibben advocating “pessimism” by any chance? And what kind of pessimism, one asks? Obviously (or not?) McKibben is not the type to elicit apathy and desperation by advocating a frame of mind where everything we do is useless, because too little, and too late. Therefore: if “Global Warming, above all, should give one pause” (emphasis in the original), what is the next action (if there is any) after that pause has finished?

And by the way…the reason for Mr Friedman’s optimism can be found with a simple search in The New York Times archives, in the May 11, 2008 “Mother’s Day” column:

“But every time life knocked [my mother] down, she got up, dusted herself off and kept on marching forward, motivated by the saying that pessimists are usually right, optimists are usually wrong, but most great changes were made by optimists”

And so to you Bill McKibben…what would you rather be? “Usually right”, or able to “[make] great changes”?