Monday, 5 August 2013

Update

The observant amongst you may have noted how this blog has been dormant for quite a while. That's because I've found gainful employment blogging over at Carbon Brief - who very kindly allow me to basically write on the same stuff, but make it much, much better.

Check it out. Please. In don't want to have to go back to doing this for free...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Not Such Happy News: What the Yale Report on The Potential Impact of Global Warming on the 2012 Presidential Election (also) means

Yesterday, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a fascinating report entitled The Potential Impact of Global Warming on the 2012 Presidential Election. The report outlined how the majority of 'undecided' voters' views on global warming were much more similar to those of voters who were likely to dent President Obama's chad come the election in six weeks time. The headlines from that report are (though I thoroughly recommend reading the original):
  • The number of 'undecided' voters who believe anthropogenic climate change is happening is much closer to the number of likely-Obama voters who think the same, than likely-Romney voters.
  • Global warming is a more important issue for those who are likely to vote for President Obama and 'undecideds' than it is for those who are likely to vote for Mitt Romney.
  • The saliency of global warming is actually fairly high in this election, with 55% of 'undecided' voters saying that global warming is 'one of several issues' that would affect their choice of President, compared to 69% of likely-Obama voters, and only 32% of likely-Romney voters who say the same.
  • Generally, the US electorate is open to more and new information on global warming, with 86% of 'undecided' voters, 70% of likely-Obama voters, and 66% of likely-Romney voters saying they need at least 'a little more information' about global warming.
This is all good news, seemingly. It means that President Obama is seen as the better choice (from a global warming activism perspective), and that undecided voters are more likely to vote for Obama than Romney, particularly when this decision is based on global warming considerations (which it seems to be at least partially). Furthermore, it shows that the electorate is open to learning more about global warming, with more education presuming greater support for action. The Yale Report, then, is suitably upbeat in its tone. However, there is another side to these findings that is worth exploring. Sadly, it is not all good news.

It depends where global warming is on that list of 'several' issues (and it's probably not that high)

The Yale Report states that voters in all three categories say that 'global warming' is "one of several issues" that would affect their candidate choice (see figure 1, below). Typically, though, the environment (and it's associated issues such as global warming) tend to come quite low in polls measuring which issues are most important to voters. In this Gallup poll, most Americans cite the candidates' economic plans, party, and perceptions of President Obama's nondescript performance over the past four years as reasons for voting for their preferred candidate, with environmental considerations not even making the list. And in this poll, the economy, budget deficit, healthcare, and immigration are all cited as 'important issues' to voters while (again) neither the environment nor global warming make the list. While these are only two polls, and I make no claims for them to be absolutely representative of all polls, they are also not anomalies. Simply put, while 'global warming' may be 'one of many issues' that decide people's vote, so are an awful lot of other issues, and these other issues are more likely to actually decide the individuals vote when push comes to shove. What the Yale Report finding actually tells us, then, is that if global warming were to be the deciding issue, then more of the undecided voters would vote for President Obama than Romney. This is fine, but it's not the same as undecided voters choosing President Obama just because they share similar views on global warming, and shouldn't be confused as such.

Figure 1: global warming as 'one of several issues' affecting voter choice


'Openess' to new information on global warming doesn't mean voters are likely to support action on global warming once they have this information

The Yale Report generally adopts a positive tone when discussing its finding on the 'openess' of the electorate to changing their views on global warming (see figure 2), and their receptiveness to new information on global warming (see figure 3). They seem to implicitly take this to mean that there is an information gap and see an opportunity to plug this gap with what would be (presumably - and this is a presumption as the report doesn't go into detail) 'good' information on global warming which (given the trends within the scientific and policy communities) is likely to support action on global warming. This isn't necessarily the case. While this is certainly one (not unfair) interpretation, there are also alternative interpretations that are less encouraging.

Figure 2: Voters likely to change their minds on global warming

Figure 3: Voters open to new information on global warming


Voters can change their mind both ways

The Yale Report says that 40% of 'undecided' voters say they could reasonably easily change their mind on global warming, with 36% of likely-Romney voters and 23% of likely-Obama voters agreeing. The Yale Report says that this means that "a large part of the electorate is receptive to learning more about this issue".  While it is perhaps promising that 36% of likely-Romney (read, likely-anti-action) voters may change their mind, it is actually discouraging that 40% of 'undecideds' may change their mind. Given the information that the Yale Report provides elsewhere, it seems these 40% of 'undecided' voters are currently more likely to support action on global warming (or at least not be overtly against such action). This means that if they changed their minds, this 40% (or at least a decent portion of) are more likely to join the 24% of likely-Romney voters who are very unlikely to change their minds and be against action on global warming. This goes all the more so for the 36% of likely-Romney voters, who may well join this 24% at the expense of the 39% of likely-Obama voters who are very unlikely to change their minds (and are most likely to support action on global warming).

Furthermore, it is actually worrying that 23% of of likely-Obama voters are open to changing their minds on global warming, unless this 23% happen to be the exact 23% of likely-Obama voters that believe global warming is down to natural variations (which the report doesn't say it is, and it seems unlikely to be). This means that a large chunk of those most likely to support action on global warming are actually very open to changing their minds from this position to a less action-oriented position. So, while there certainly is the opportunity to persuade and change some voters' minds on global warming, their minds are rife for change in both directions.


It depends what information voters are open to

According to the Yale Report, 70% of likely-Obama voters, 66% of likely-Romney voters, and 86% of 'undecided' voters want more information on global warming. The Yale Report says this "suggests that Americans across the political spectrum are receptive to new information on the topic – so long as communication efforts are effectively targeted and communicated in ways appropriate to the audience". The latter part of that quote is the most significant; the information needs to be 'targeted' and 'appropriate'. This statement needs clarification, but assuming it means that voters are most open to information which already aligns with their views in some way (as they generally are), then this 'new information' is either unlikely to change peoples minds on 'global warming' or entrench already-existing views. The crux of the issue is that 'information' on global warming comes in many and various forms: scientific research, opinion, spin, and genuine efforts at engagement on a complex and difficult issue all rub shoulders pertaining to 'inform' on global warming. This is often described as the 'politicisation' of the issue (an unfair moniker, in my view, but that's a topic for another day). The assumption of the Yale Report reads as though 'more information' is likely to lead to 'better education' which is often assumed to be a pre-cursor to supporting action on global warming. In fact, the opposite could be true: 'more information' could lead to greater polarisation, and a tendency towards stasis on the issue of global warming.


The Yale Report is the silver lining

So, while the Yale Report throws up some interesting findings, many of them with potentially promising outcomes from a standpoint of global warming activism, it is not all good news. For all the promise of the 'undecided' voters handing the election to the candidate more likely to act on global warming, there is another scenario in which those very voters may flip (or, indeed, flop) away from their current position supporting action to one of obstructivism. And this is before we even start to think about whether or not a second Obama term would actually deliver any tangible action on global warming. The Yale Report, then, is perhaps best seen as a silver lining to an otherwise grey cloud, not the other way around.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Mitt's family are out of this world: Romney's basic misunderstanding of how humans live on the planet Earth


Last night, Mitt Romney formally accepted the nomination as the Republican candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. This was not a rousing occasion. This was very much the crowning of a man no-one liked, but no-one hated enough (or was organised enough) to depose. While the winning candidate's acceptance speech is always full of nods to right of the party (“As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage. And I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion”), nods to the moderate swing voter (“I will not raise taxes on the middle class”), nods to their corporate backers (“by 2020, North America will be energy independent by taking full advantage of our oil and coal and gas and nuclear and renewables”), and nods to those demographic groups which seem to be rejecting them (in Romney’s case, all women – “women are more likely than men to start a business. They need a president who respects and understands what they do”), it also has that old-favourite: the illogical, ill-thought-out, purely populist, kicking-the-opposition, lowest-common-denominator barb. Here is my pick of last night’s speech:

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”


Wow.

This got rousing applause. From a man who fails to rouse pretty much anyone (or any thing. Ever). Well done, Mitt. With this sort of nonsense you may be alright yet. Here is a few reasons why that statement is ridiculous (with the caveat that it is, of course, not expected to be anything but).

1. President Obama didn’t exactly promise this

He promised a better engagement with the international bodies concerned with climate change. He promised to try and get climate change legislation through Congress (which Congress failed to pass). He promised to try and switch America’s energy focus from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to more climate-friendly renewable technologies. Now, I’m not saying he’s succeeded in doing all or any of these things. However, I’m pretty sure President Obama did not promise to stand on the East Coast with an oversized swirly-straw and drink-away all the excess sea-water flowing off the glaciers. The man may think of himself as a hero, but his bladder simply wouldn’t be able to stand that kind of sustained abuse. Even Obama would recognise this, I think. Likewise, I don’t think he ever promised the use of Air Force 1 to jet-over a ginormous bandage which Obama would personally apply to a gaping wound somewhere over an ill-defined South East Asian mining paradise. Maybe he did – maybe I wasn’t listening carefully enough – but I’m pretty sure he didn’t.

2. Obama didn’t promise one at the expense of promising the other, as Romney implies

I can’t remember President Obama mentioning at any point that he preferred trees to children (I mean, I can see the argument, but I don’t think he’s ever publicly stated it). Was there a point in his first state of the Union where he grabbed Inhofe by the collar and growled in his face “I don’t give a damn about little Jimmy, I’m going to save the beavers…” before skipping out arm-in-arm with Babs Boxer humming ‘The Birds and the Bees’ as they went? Maybe there was, but I reckon it’d be on YouTube by now. Good to have assurances Mitt won’t do this, though, I suppose. Sod the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees (or the moon up above and this thing called 'love', for that matter), Mitt, what about ME and MY FAMILY, ey, EY?!

3. These two things ARE NOT EXCLUSIVE

Finally, a basic understanding of the physical realm requires us to recognise that ‘I’, and therefore others (i.e. ‘my family’) inhabit the ‘planet’. We can be understood as ‘on’ or ‘in’ or ‘of’ it – it doesn’t really matter – either way, there is still a need for this ‘planet’ as the basis for a basic level of life-support. So, you know that oil and gas you were talking about drilling away at, Mitt? Yeah? That comes outta ‘the planet’, you see. You know that house you live in, Mitt? Yeah, that MASSIVE one in the nice part of town with the gold taps and butler. Yeah, that thing that has a pool and tennis courts and the needless ex-Marine watch guard which your family sometimes frequents. Yeah, that thing. That’s on ‘the planet’ too. No, no, I’m not kidding. I’m really not. Hey, you know how you care about your family, Mitt? And how you’re so proud of breeding, and how you want them to breed too (and then those little breed-ees to breed again, and so on)? Yeah, they’re called ‘future generations’, and they’re gonna need ‘the planet’ to live on/in/with as well. I know, I know. Get-outta-town, ey.

That is unless Mitt and his family live on another planet, of course. A theory which I’m finding increasingly conceivable…

Friday, 13 July 2012

Getting the rhetoric right on a US carbon tax: Four lessons to be learned from the cap-and-trade fiasco

It was revealed yesterday that a bi-partisan group of US policymakers have been meeting regularly since 2011 to discuss the way-forward on climate change. One of the items on the agenda: a carbon tax. While the details remain uncertain (the discussions are embargoed under ‘Chatham House Rules’), the fact that there is a public admission that this is being discussed represents a significant step as the US seeks alternatives to the ill-fated cap-and-trade legislation that got killed by the Senate in 2010. One thing that is clear, though, is that this time legislators must get the rhetoric right (a fact that is recognised by the group themselves with the carbon tax discussion coming under the agenda heading ‘Framing and selling a carbon pollution tax’). The rhetoric on the cap-and-trade legislation within Congress was, to be frank, a mess. Here, then, are four lessons that supporters of a carbon tax must learn from the cap-and-trade experience if they are to stand any chance of seeing it become a reality at any point in the near future.

1. Decide whether the legislation is an ‘international’ or ‘domestic’ policy

This seems like an odd place to start – taxes can only be levied within the remit of a nation, no? – but the same was true of the cap-and-trade legislation. Yet it still got bogged-down in the quagmire of international relations (to be polite) and international prejudices (to be less so). In the cap-and-trade debates, Members of Congress kept pointing to the need to act on climate change because of the US’ place as the largest historical emitter in the world, because doing so was for the ‘good of the planet’, and promising that a domestic market could eventually become a global market. At the same time as doing this, they insisted that the legislation was ‘not another Kyoto’ (the hugely unpopular international treaty). All this did was open up the legislation to the attacks of those who so resoundingly rejected the Kyoto Treaty back in 1997. Why should the US act if China and India aren’t going to? They said. How could the US expect to compete with these new burdens placed on their economy which others would not have to suffer? They protested. If this is an international issue, why isn’t the US trying to solve it with an international solution? They (not unfairly) pointed out. All in all, talking about the cap-and-trade legislation through reference to the international need for action on climate change simply confused the issue, and allowed a host of attacks based not on criticisms of the cap-and-trade policy per se, but on the type of policy approach that Congress was adopting. Any carbon tax legislation must, then, emphasise the domestic benefits of this domestic policy. There is no need (rhetorically) to link it to the international arena, so legislators shouldn’t.

2. Decide whether a carbon tax is an environmental, energy, or economic policy issue

The cap-and-trade legislation was promoted on a tripartite basis: it was good for the environment as it capped harmful emissions, would help the US transition to a greener energy mix by implicitly promoting the development of less carbon-intensive technology, and would boost the economy through opening up a new market in emissions trading. While there certainly are inherent linkages between all three of these policy areas when it comes to climate change, and the cap-and-trade legislation did indeed address each to the benefit of the others, rhetorically this strategy was doomed. The logic was that if they could sell the legislation in three ways, chances were that everyone would buy at least one. This logic was flawed. By linking the cap-and-trade legislation to each of these policy issues its supporters opened themselves up to attacks on three-fronts, each of which would have been hard enough to rebut on its own.

If the carbon tax is defined as an energy issue, then it will come under attack from the powerful energy lobbies (and their proxies in Congress). They will claim – as they did with the cap-and-trade legislation – that voluntary measures would be better suited to encouraging carbon-intensive industries to re-focus their investment on greener technologies and modes of production. Likewise, Members of Congress from states whose economies depend on carbon-intensive industries (such as coal-mining) will want guarantees and major concessions to be included in the legislation before they even consider supporting it. This is not an insurmountable obstacle, but it will be enough to overcome on its own, without the added complications of making it an environmental and economic issue as well.

If the carbon tax is communicated as an environmental issue, on the other hand, then the environmental effectiveness of the legislation (no matter its details) will be attacked. Just as opponents did with the cap-and-trade legislation, there will be claims that it is a costly, ineffective, and ultimately unnecessary burden to bear. Congressional supporters of the legislation will have to develop a robust defence of how the tax reflects environmental gains. Furthermore, they will have to develop clear and persuasive arguments as to why these environmental gains need to be made in the immediate; claiming that it is a long-term investment in the current economic climate simply won’t cut it (particularly if it is over hundreds of years). Both Congress and the public are impatient, they must see the potential for gains (of any sort) to be delivered quickly by the carbon tax. Otherwise, it is doomed from the start.

If the carbon tax is deemed an economic policy – which it almost certainly will be – it will be savaged by a Republican party whose USP for the coming election (and in all likelihood for many elections to come) is their determination to never introduce new taxes. Opponents to the cap-and-trade legislation were quick to label it a tax, and the Republicans won’t levy taxes on far less popular sources of revenue (such as banks, or the top 1% of earners), let alone their energy corporation bedfellows. It is possibly worth trying to label the carbon ‘tax’ as anything but, although the potential for this is already slipping away as public discussion perpetuates the use of the label.  They could call it an ‘emissions levy’, a ‘pollution penalty’, ‘a corporate down-payment for the future health of the nation’, or perhaps try to hide it in pseudo-technical terms (‘a fiscal mechanism for sustainable development based upon annual contributions from corporate stakeholders’, perhaps). Nonetheless, whatever they may try, it will probably become (or continue to be) known as a tax (‘carbon’ or ‘climate’) as opponents and reporters alike seek a concise branding for the policy. In spite of sophisticated arguments as to where each tax dollar goes to reduce the deficit (thus increasing the burden on the falling incomes of an ever-strained public), its label alone could be a carbon tax’s downfall.

3. Steer clear of arguments referencing the ethics behind action on climate change

When promoting the cap-and-trade legislation, there was much political posturing (particularly in the House, where a bill did pass) that Congress was acting ever-so honourably for the ‘future of our children and grandchildren’. The implication was that Congress was shouldering some short-term cost for the long-term health of the great nation. The problem is, right now, in the current economic climate, no one cares about their unborn and imagined relatives. Why should they, if paying the bills and feeding those mouths that are already present at the table is burden enough? Claims that a carbon tax (or any other policy, for that matter) are for the benefit of a vague future ‘other’ are only going to fall on deaf ears and suggest the further  detachment of the millionaire Members of Congress from the everyday concerns of the ordinary Joe Public. Furthermore, the US is currently so ideologically divided that to assume that any one Member of Congress’ ethics translates into some public cause for action is to misunderstand the increasing political polarisation underway at every level of the American polity. One liberal’s obligation is likely to be another Conservative’s unnecessary burden; whether it’s for the benefit of future generations or not. A carbon tax, then, is not an ethical or moral action - it is a good policy, period.

4. Emphasise the policy; avoid the science

The cap-and-trade legislation became, once again, a platform on which to put the science of climate change publicly on trial. In their determination to establish a robust defence of the legislation on all fronts, the supporters of cap-and-trade engaged – in painstaking detail – in a description of the scientific foundations of the legislation, graph by graph, figure by figure. Of course, the opposition did the same (with Senator James Inhofe particularly enjoying the opportunity) and found it wanting. Instead, any proposals for carbon tax legislation must do the opposite; ignore the science, stress the policy. The designers must abstract the policy from its scientific roots and stress the reasons for enacting it in purely policy terms; terms that the policymakers within Congress are actually qualified to evaluate rather than the poorly conducted pseudo-scientific review that took place in 2010. That is not to say that the policy should not be based on the best, soundest, most rigorous scientific (and economic) evaluation there is to date - of course it should. But when it comes to legislative debates on a carbon tax - and the rhetorically-driven stage that is the floor of both chambers of Congress - check the science at the door.

Passing any comprehensive climate change legislation in the US Congress has, to date, proved to be an impossible task. This does not mean it will always be so. The policy has to be based on the best evidence, the political context must be forgiving, and there must be a political figurehead willing to stake their future career on an issue that is neither particularly salient nor promises any short-term electoral gains. This context is difficult to engineer and unlikely to occur left to chance. Above all, though, supporters of a carbon tax must get the message right. On this front, as much as any other, they failed with the cap-and-trade legislation. If they learn the lessons of that fiasco maybe – just maybe – the US Congress may finally step up to the plate and enact legislation which makes real, tangible, and significant inroads on the path to reducing the emissions of the world's greatest emitter. We wait, once again, with bated breath.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

"An election to save the soul of America": Declinism and Identity in the Political Spectacle of the Republican Primaries

Below are the slides from my presentation of a paper written by Jo Tidy and myself entitled '"An election to save the soul of America": Declinism and Identity in the Political Spectacle of the Republican Primaries' delivered at the Joint BISA-ISA Annual Conference 2012, in Edinburgh.

Please give it a few moments to load... In the meantime, here's the link to the paper itself.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Academia, stressful? You bet! A response to Katie Beswick

This is my response to an article that appeared on the Guardian's 'Blogging Students' pages today putting forward the case for a more positive discourse on working in academia by Katie Beswick. While I sympathise with the intent of the article - the only thing that keeps me rolling out of bed on a daily basis is the underlying (if not always immediatly evident) knowledge that I do, in fact, love my job - some of the content was eye-wateringly simplistic. This would not concern me so much if it hadn't gained such traction. The accusation that students and/or those working in academia have it 'easy' is deliberately provocative, but also largely based on an ignorance of what these people do on a daily basis (in the same way that I honestly have no idea what a City Trader 'does', and i mean that in actual terms, not just as a metaphor for their 'contribution' to society). Nonetheless, here is a brief response to remind Katie Beswick why some of us in academia get a bit stressed out from time to time...

1. 'Making Knowledge'

She says that 'making knowledge' is an inherently exciting activity and that "whatever it is, you'll actually be changing the world". This is a dubious claim for a number of reasons. Firstly, what the heck is 'making knowledge' (or for that matter 'producing ideas')? I make arguments, I do my best to present a convincing theoretical and/or empirical basis for them, and then I throw them out into the academic ether to see what the response is. This is a terribly, hideously, painfully stressful thing to do at times. Firstly, there is the prospect of no-one (and sometimes, it really does seem to be no-one) agreeing with you (if it was a simple case of 'making' or 'producing' knowledge this wouldn't be such a problem - people would just look at what you've 'made' and walk on). Secondly, this 'production' is in your name only. If people hate it, they don't just hate the work, they hate the work you have done, and you alone are responsible for. That is an unbelievably stressful prospect. Unlike some other jobs there is often no 'team', no 'manager', no 'other' to share or shift the blame to. It is you; alone. Furthermore, in an academic setting, this work is often the product of many years of hard, rigorous, long, often quite mundane study. If it is then panned, you either have to do it again, work very hard indeed to change perceptions of it, or accept this and move on (and none of those options are particularly attractive). 


Finally, to say that it'll change the world is idealistic nonsense. The average number of times an academic work is referenced by another work (i'm fairly sure) is zero. So, worst of all, you've done all this and got no recognition for it at all; very often not externally, sometimes not even internally within your own institution. If extremely lucky, then it might catch on and you make make some headway and some people will love it and you'll be asked to film your own six-part BBC Series. But this is astronomically unlikely, and selling academic work on this basis to students or budding researchers is as unwise as it is untrue as it leads to doing work that you think 'people' will like, rather than work which could be world-changing but which will probably be ignored. Which leads me on to point 2...


2. "Vibrant workplace"

Even in a department where colleagues are friendly, peers are supportive, and students engaged, academic environments are rarely 'vibrant'. 'Scholarly' sometimes, yes, even intellectually engaging from time to time. But 'vibrant', not often (in my experience, anyway). The problem is that most academics are so specialised that conversations with anyone outside of that specialism is very hard; it's simply a different language. While the concept of academic authority is (not wrongly) being chipped-away so that students and peers question and critique on any manner of subjects that they may have little grounding in, ultimately the person who has spent 20 years reading and immersing themselves in the subject is likely to come out on top in any real intellectual sparring. To be honest, most of the time, they win by default, because no-one (other than their 'true' peers - specialists in the same extremely small field who are nowadays often based in various outposts across the world) has any idea what they're talking about anymore.


3. 'No clockwatching'

The problem with having no boss telling you to sit there until 5pm is that you are your own boss. This - and this may come as a surprise - is just as bad. In my experience, the greatest stress that can behold an academic or student is the feeling that they are doing or achieving nothing. Taking time out and going to get a coffee, or buy some milk from the cornershop, or visit an Apple store (as some would have it) rarely overcomes the overwhelming feeling of uselessness. Like Katie, I am also coming to the end of a four year PhD process and I can't tell you how many hours of that i've spent feeling guilty - i'd guess at least three-quarters of the time. Of course, the way to overcome this (in practical terms) is often to try to work as close to 'normal' hours as possible (something I do fairly religiously). But this means that you end up in this ridiculous situation where you are clockwatching because the little boss in your head won't let you finish yet. Facebook, The Onion, and (lets be honest) The Guardian, are just as likely to be seen on screens across academia at a quarter to five as they are in any other workplace. The clock is just as much a source of stress for students and academics alike as anywhere else, make no mistake.


4. 'Inspirational Colleagues'

Again, I have a lot of sympathy for this point. Many of my peers are indeed inspirational, and i've enjoyed many an hour listening to them talk about things that I have little or no knowledge of (sometimes at the end of the talk as much as at the beginning). But this point returns to the one above; academia is a hyper-specialised environment. While I thoroughly enjoy these little detours from my own work, that is precisely what they are; a long way round to returning to my own work. Occasionally in going to a free lecture or public event you'll find something that will help directly. Almost universally, you won't. These events are most useful as a way of disengaging your brain from the subject matter of your own work, while keeping it engaged in a mode that will allow you to return refreshed. While this is valuable and enjoyable, it also means that come the final twenty minutes of whatever event it is that you're at, you're normally thinking (rather stressfully) about the large, empty void where your thesis should be and how you're going to fill it anywhere near as convincingly as the speaker you've just enjoyed watching for the last forty minutes has. Knowing you're in the presence of greatness is often stifling  as much as it is invigorating (just ask the Irish football team).


And all of these above points haven't even come near the moist obvious, most significant, and most stressful point of all: the increasing managerialisation of the university sector and the huge growth in non-research and non-teaching responsibilities that go with it. 


So, yes Katie, I agree that "we need to move away from the narrative of stress and instead focus on the opportunities academia has to offer". However, we need to do it in a way that doesn't suggest to the outside world that all we're doing is having a ball. Academics and (good) students alike work tremendously hard, often for little reward or recognition. This, unfortunately, is the same for most people in gainful employment (academic or not). So maybe we should all just agree work is hard and instead of moving away from a 'narrative of stress', set about actually dealing with the inevitable stress that becomes all of us, much of the time.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Weird stuff Republican Congressmen say about climate change

I've spent many many hours in the past few years going through Congressional debates on climate change. One of the most striking things about these discursive set pieces is that, again and again, Republican Members of Congress show an admiral willingness to openly denigrate their political adversaries in a number of creative ways. Below, then, is a quick snapshot of some of my favourite demonstrations of this verbal creativity in which 'climate change' comes to symbolise much more than an environmental dispute, but an issue that serves to reveal the deepest, darkest underbelly of those who wish to act to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions...

Accusing environmental groups of hating capitalism, the free market, and America

Senator Inhofe, 108th Congress:

"I urge my colleagues to... reject approaches designed not to solve an environmental problem but to satisfy the ever-growing demand of environmental groups for money and for power and other extremists who simply do not like capitalism, free markets, and freedom. Climate alarmists see an opportunity here to tax the American people...such a course of action fits a particularly ideological agenda but is entirely unwarranted. It is my fervent hope Congress will reject prophets of doom who peddle propaganda masquerading as science in the name of saving the planet."

Senator Voinovich, 108th Congress:

"Our friends in the environmental community and their allies in Congress have hardened their positions on climate change to the point that voting for carbon caps—despite the tremendous negative impact such caps have on jobs, the poor, and our economy— has become a litmus test. In a word, this position is unreasonable. It is unreasonable that nothing other than capping carbon is acceptable. It is unreasonable that nothing other than forcing utilities to rely solely on natural gas to generate electricity and devastating our economy is acceptable. And, finally, it is unreasonable that nothing other than sending American jobs overseas and driving up energy costs for the poor and elderly on fixed income is acceptable."

"Extremists" who hate "capitalism, free markets, and freedom"? Brilliant! That's a one-two-three knockout right there! "Alarmists" simply looking to tax the hell out of everyone in the name of their "ideological agenda"? Hell yeah! Taxing people unfairly is like a bone to a dog to these people.  "Prophets of doom who peddle propaganda masquerading as science"? The rhythmic belt of this phrase is just astonishing! This would be a great Artist name/Album title combo: 'The Prophets of Doom, releasing their first studio album Propaganda Masquerading as Science in May 2012, available from all good record stores...' It makes Senator Voinovich's assertions that the "environmental community" only want to hurt the "poor and elderly" while "devastating the economy" seem tame in comparison. 

Accusing those who believe in a ‘consensus’ on climate change of politicising science

Senator Inhofe, 108th Congress:

"I believe it would be unconscionable to heed the alarmists’ cries for economic disarmament without subjecting these claims of doom to the scrutiny they deserve. Predictably, those who peddle fear do not want discussions of science. Hiding behind claims of ‘‘the science is settled,’’ they conjure ever more creative ways to market the myth. This is exactly what is wrong with how alarmists discuss this issue. Rather than joining me and those like me in a commitment to using the best, nonpoliticized science— whatever it finds—politically motivated groups… pander to our worst fears to drive their political agenda."

Representative Young, 107th Congress:

"We take a great deal upon ourselves saying it is our fault because of this global warming when, in reality, if we look at the past history of this earth, it was warm at one time, it was very, very cold at one time; and that was before mankind had anything to do with it. So before we jump off the cliff, let us understand one thing: we may not be as important as the gentleman thinks we are."

From the 'alarmist cries' from the 'peddlers of fear' attempting 'economic disarmament' to the nice, easy, objective 'nonpoliticized science' of himself, Senator Inhofe sure knows how to convince people he's the neutral one. I love how he uses the first two sentences to convince people that his opponents are evil, before calling for a more 'reasonable' approach. It's just semantic genuis. As for Representative Young, I love the different tact. Instead of bludgeoning his audience with claims of his superiority, he turns it on its head and accuses his opponents of being arrogant enough to believe their actions can effect something as big, great, and grand as 'the earth'. Humans are simply 'not that important' so lets wash our hands of this obscene idea of human causality.  


Comparing climate change regulation to Nazi ideology

Senator Inhofe, 108th Congress:

"At a press conference on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol, Russian Presidential Economic Advisor Andrei Illarionov made some comments about ideology that are nothing short of remarkable. Let me share with you what he says is driving the global warming debate. Illarionov stated: There have been examples in our fairly recent history of how a considerable portion of Europe was flooded with the brown Nazi ideology, the red Commie ideology that caused severe casualties and consequences for Europe and the entire world. Now there is a big likelihood that a considerable part of Europe has been flooded with another type, another color of ideology—[and he is speaking of global warming here—again, another type, another color of ideology]—but with very similar implications for European societies and human societies the world over. He also said that imposition of the Kyoto Protocol ‘‘would deal a powerful blow on the whole humanity similar to the one humanity experienced when Nazism and communism flourished.’’ And that was the chief economic advisor to Russian President Putin. The world has certainly turned on its head that [sic] we Americans must look to Russians for speaking out strongly against irrational authoritarian ideologies."

Now, this is one of the weirder comparisons Senator Inhofe has made. Climate change regulation as a thinly-veiled Nazi ideology? I know the words aren't originally his, but to have the cahunas to stand on the floor and essentially accuse the Minority Party of aligning themselves with Hitler...?! And then to point out that America has gone so far to pot that the Soviets are now protecting them from such a threat...?! Flabbergasting (and I don't use that term lightly).


Accusing those who want greenhouse gas regulation of hating freedom

Senator Craig, 108th Congress:

"When I decided to enter politics, I was guided by a deep belief in personal freedom—the maximum amount possible for the citizens of our Nation that is consistent with an orderly society. By freedom I mean the opportunity to achieve one’s true potential, whether as an individual, a community, or a business. Freedom spawns discovery and innovation and in turn discovery and innovation solve problems and create opportunities. Regulation is the antithesis of freedom. It certainly retards, if not completely extinguishes our natural desire to discover and be innovative, and yet, we, as a Nation, seem more and more inclined to willingly accept the form of a regulatory state."

Representative Rohrbacher, 110th Congress:

"The big lie their generation has been fed is that the environment is going the wrong way and that they have to give up their freedom, that we have to give up our national sovereignty, and that they have to give up their expectations of certain things in their life because the future is bleak because everything about the environment—the air, the water, the land—are all getting worse when, in fact, there has been tremendous progress made."

'Regulation is the antithesis of freedom', 'extinguishing' the desire to 'discover and be innovative'? It's a silly point so beautifully put in such a bizarre context that it is well deserving of it's place on this list. How can the 'Nation' sit back and let this 'regulatory state' encroach upon them? How can democratically-elected representatives sit and watch as 'true potential' is crushed? All because some people believe too much CO2 is bad for you... This delicate point is very much counterpoised by the melodrama that Representative Rohrbacher brings to the table. 'IT'S ALL GOING WRONG!', he accuses environmentalists of shouting, 'WE'RE ALL SCREWED UNLESS YOU STOP PLAYING PLAYSTATION AND ACCEPT THAT THE CHINESE ARE COMING!', he says we're being told. But, not to worry, he eventually assures us, 'tremendous' (if vague) 'progress' is being made.


Accusing environmentalists of fabricating the case for anthropogenic climate change

Representative Rohrbacher, 110th Congress:

"So what we need to do is to close our eyes, close our eyes and pretend that there are fewer polar bears. That’s the way to do it. That’s the way we should make policy, according to the scaremongers. But the case is not closed. The gnomes of climate theory are now coming up with self-serving explanations and verbal maneuvers. The first attempt to cover their tracks has been slow but ever so clever. The words ‘‘climate change’’ have now replaced the words ‘‘global warming.’’...But if they use the words ‘‘climate change,’’ how are we going to counteract their policy recommendations when now whatever happens to the climate, they can justify it based on climate change? Sorry, fellows. Do you really think the world and the United States is filled with morons? I mean, bait-and-switch is an old game, and we’ve seen it in car salesmen; and car salesmen, I might add, are paragons of virtue compared to this global warming crowd... Let us not let the alarmists take this country down the wrong path. Let’s let the children of this country and planet have the freedom and prosperity we enjoyed, and not give it away to hucksters who would frighten us into giving up our birthright in the name of saving the planet. Sounds noble, but it’s just a trick, a hoax. The greatest hoax of all."

There's simply so much going on here that is exciting! 'Close your eyes and pretend'? OK! 'Don't make policy according to scaremongers'? I don't remember that being in the Democrats' manifesto, but sure, lets not do that! Don't believe the 'Gnomes of climate theory' - or just never believe a Gnome...? Is the 'United States filled with morons'? Well, no, but then I didn't realise many of them had a habit of making policy based on scaremongering Gnomes... Environmentalists as 'car salesmen' - seems a clunky metaphor given the subject matter (cars-emissions-no...?), but let's go with it. They're 'hucksters', yeah! (What the heck is a 'husckster'?) I mean saving the planet you rely on for life may sound 'noble' (is that not maybe because it is...?), but who wants to be noble! Screw them! Oh, and it's a HOAX?! Well, why didn't you say so before! Lets go storm the nearest second-hand car retailer, or should that be gardencentre? Wait, i'm confused, who do we hate? Gnomes, car-salesmen, hucksters, or environmentalists? Where's Inhofe when you need him...

Accusing environmentalists of targeting children as a recruitment activity

Senator Inhofe, 110th Congress:

"...it is important to take note of our pop culture propaganda campaign aimed at children, the most vulnerable of all of us. In addition to Gore’s entry last year into Hollywood fictional disaster films, other celebrity figures have attempted to jump into the game. Hollywood activist Leonardo DiCaprio decided to toss objective scientific truth out the window in his new scarefest ‘‘The 11th Hour.’’ … DiCaprio said on May 20 of this year: I want the public to be very scared by what they see. I want them to see a very bleak future… Children are now the No. 1 target of the global warming fear campaign. DiCaprio announced his goal was to recruit young, eco-activists to the cause. ‘‘We need to get kids young,’’ he said, in a September 20 interview with USA Weekend… Unfortunately, children are hearing the scientifically unfounded doomsday message loudly and clearly. But the message kids are receiving is not a scientific one, it is a political message designed to create fear, nervousness, and ultimately recruit them to liberal activism."

Al Gore as a 'celebrity' who now makes 'Hollywood fictional disaster films'? Last I checked he was an ex-Vice President and long-serving Senator, but as career-switches go it's not completely infeasible, I guess. And Leo DiCaprio is getting in on the act now too? What the one who was in that film about the really dangerous icebergs? He wants us to save more of them?! That's insane! And he's targetting CHILDREN?! He wants our kids to be scared of an impending doom that will never (probably, possibly, maybe) come?! What a horrible chap. Particularly if he's trying to 'recruit them to liberal acitvism'. Now polar bears, icebergs, and eco-activism I can just about take, but 'liberal activism'... now that's just going too far!


All in all a fantastic effort all round, I hope you'll agree.