Eugene Linden
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Maddening Numbers

The way in which the media and policymakers are using the numbers on coronavirus approaches insanity. Most of the numbers published are about as credible as Trump’s estimates of the size of his inaugural crowd. Absolutely no one with any expertise believes that China has only 80,000 cases o...

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Deep Past
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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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The Alms Race
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Apes, Men, & Language
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Truly Bad Advice on Climate Change


Sunday April 13, 2014


 On Wednesday, April 9, the New York Times published one of the most exasperating op-eds I’ve yet read on climate change. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote that articles that link global warming to the rash of extreme weather events, hurt rather than help efforts to rouse the public to the scale of the threat by alienating conservatives. Instead they recommend focusing on how mitigation might make a better society, and on promoting nuclear power and geoengineering.
           

Where to begin! Let’s start with the fact that one reason conservatives have hardened their opposition even as the evidence that climate is changing has become overwhelming is that there has been an extremely well-funded campaign to spread confusion and disinformation on the issue going back to the 1990s. This is never mentioned in the op-ed.
The unmentioned campaign has been remarkably effective. National newspapers like the Wall Street Journal give discredited scientists and peddlers of specious arguments – e.g. that there has been no unusual rise in global temperatures -- a pulpit and a patina of legitimacy. If you accept the arguments of the deniers that those scientists who spread alarm about global warming are twisting the facts and have a self-interested agenda, then of course you are going to see items linking extreme weather to climate change as further proof of their perfidy.

But the absurdity of this op-ed really comes into focus if you accept its premise. Let’s say the scientific community and the media made a concerted effort to avoid linking disasters to climate change (actually they are already doing that – most of the articles and news items I’ve seen have stressed the uncertainties), what then? We Americans have proven time and again that we only act when there is an emergency, as for instance after 9/11 or the financial crash of 2008 (not that the reactions to either of these crises should be a model for how to respond to climate change). Without a sense of urgency Americans are going to continue to do what they’ve been doing since the threat first gained attention twenty-five years ago: nothing.

In the U.S., we are becoming more carbon efficient as companies and individuals become more cost-conscious and alternatives gain appeal. The problem is that climate is changing faster than this conservative-friendly transition. In effect, Nordhaus and Shellenberger are saying: Don’t acknowledge what is staring you in the face because it’s going to cause conservatives to stick their heads deeper into the sand. Thanks guys! 

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Short Take

A Glimmer of Hope in the Coronavirus News?

I’m usually the most apocalyptic guy in the room, but, maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope in the latest news on the coronavirus. If it’s been circulating in Washington state for several weeks, it’s probably also been circulating in a few other states for weeks as well. And if there hasn’t been a big spike in visits to emergency rooms with respiratory ailments (and I have not read about such), it may well be that the virus is already widely spread in the U.S., but not hitting Americans as hard as it has populations elsewhere. If this turns out to be the case, the difference might be that there are far fewer smokers in the U.S. than in China, South Korea, Japan and Italy, and that the air is far cleaner in American cities than in China’s. 

We’ll find out in the next few weeks whether Americans are better able to withstand the disease. There remain major unknowns about coronavirus; nor do we know how hard the virus will hit the elderly and infirm. Still, this latest news could be a positive. 



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