The Party of Fiction  

Posted by Big Gav

The Nation has an article on global warming policy making by the party of fiction (or whatever you'd like to call institutionalised reality avoidance).

It's bad enough that science has taken a back seat to politics under the Bush Administration, but even more disturbing is the way some GOP lawmakers are trying to make science out of fiction.

Senate Environmental Committee chair James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who famously described global warming as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," turned to science fiction writer Michael Crichton for expert opinion during a set of hearings on climate change in late 2005.

Then, as the New York Times recently learned, President Bush invited Crichton to speak to a private audience at the White House last year about his techno-thriller State of Fear, in which a group of eco-terrorists undertake a phony global warming scheme to earn government grants. Someone who attended the event said President Bush and his guest "talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement."

If that wasn't enough to prove Crichton's science is sketchy at best, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists saw fit to give Crichton its 2006 Journalism Award, despite the book's appearance on the New York Times list of best fiction sellers. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration tries to muzzle real scientists, like James Hansen of NASA, who have spent their lives researching the threat of climate change and are telling us that earth is approaching a point of no return.

Politicians, however, can't be given all of the blame. In his new book The Winds of Change, journalist and author Eugene Linden describes the media's coverage of climate change as "timid and fitful," focusing too much of its effort on the dissenting opinion, despite the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community.


This dramatic shift among members of Bush's traditional base is significant, but public awareness will remain largely unchanged as long as the media continues to tell the same old "on the one hand, on the other" narrative on climate change.

"It speaks volumes that I was on The Daily Show," Linden said. "To get the message out, I go on a Comedy Central fake news show with a fake news anchor in order to talk about real things. It's kind of sad, but it's true."

But The Daily Show is a place for those serious about climate change to connect with the crucial demographic of 25- to 34-year-olds, who are tuned in to the realities of climate change.

At the risk of exceeding my tinfoil quota for the month, I liked this section of a post on RI today - in the same way that global warming activists are now reduced to going on comedy shows to raise awareness (which is itself a symptom of the phenomenon that to get real news you now need to watch a comedy show - which is a hallmark of a society in a state of political atrophy), some political analysis now gets done under the guise of tinfoil. Now while there is plenty of tinfoil that is largely deranged or just a low grade form of propaganda, I like the better quality stuff because it makes you think about how much truth (if any) there is in what is being theorised - which is how you should think about all the information you receive.
Whatever it is we do that gets labelled "conspiracy theory" needs to be interdisciplinary, because power, which is our real subject, is itself boundary-defying. Politics, we know, is a category of insufficent weight to account for the rulers of this world. "Deep Politics" is better, though while the depth may be right, the breadth is too narrow. Wherever there are means to power there will be attempts made by the already powerful to restrict access, reclassify knowledge and extend their own authority by secrecy and disinformation.

Energy Bulletin has posted a John Quiggin article from Crooked Timber on peak oil and how the real problem isn't that we don't have sufficient hydocarbons - its that we have too many. While I think he ignores the EROEI issue at the end of the day I'm tending to believe we are more likely to cook ourselves than we are to run out of fossil fuels - a lot of peak oil analysis seems to assume we won't take certain courses of action because of the environmental consequences - in spite of all historical evidence to the contrary. Which is why its better to push clean energy alternatives than it is to simply believe collapse is coming.
Suppose though, that availabilty of oil is going to decline to levels far below those of today. The question is, so what? A decline in the availability of oil would have a significant impact on various activities, but the availability and relative price of different goods change all the time. The increase in the cost of health care, for example, is much more significant than anything that has happened to oil or is likely to happen. Where do the Peak Oil crowed get their predictions of disaster?

The trick in the argument is to equate oil with fossil fuels in general. This is plausible enough for natural gas, which commonly occurs in the same places as oil, and is also in fairly limited supply. But the elephant in the corner in these arguments is coal. The US has enough easily accessible coal to supply hundreds of years of consumption at current rates, and the same is true of the rest of the world.

The Salon article mentions coal only a couple of times in passing. Yet coal and coal-fired electricity already compete directly with oil in all major uses except personal transport. If current oil prices are sustained for long, we can expect to see electricity displacing oil in home heating, and electrification of rail transport at the expense of diesel, reversing the trend of recent decades when diesel has been cheap. This is already happening.

As for cars, there are at least three well-established ways in which they could be fuelled by coal. First, there are electric cars. Second, there is coal liquefication, used on a large scale by South Africa in the sanctions period. Third, gasification could be used to replace liquid petroleum gas. All of these options have problems, but none are insurmountable given a high enough price; they might be competitive if oil stays above $60 a barrel long enough, and they would certainly be competitive at $150/barrel. Then there are more exotic options, like fuel cells using coal-based methanol.

The real problem with fossil fuels is not that we have too little but that we have too much. If we keep on burning them at current rates, we’ll cause highly damaging climate change. If we burned enough coal to run seriously short, we’d risk setting off a runaway greenhouse effect and making the planet uninhabitable. If Peak Oil is coming, it’s probably a good thing.

One final note on that - the "peak oil is good" concept is the same one noted by Thom Hartmann and Noam Chomsky.

To close, here's one more cyclone created wave photo - at Bronte, from the guys at AquaBumps. According to the Manly Hydrological survey wave height peaked at 8 metres.


I read that Quiggin post and thought his outlook a bit rosy, until he mentioned the problems that coal will have on global warming. That seems to be a trend, downplaying one issue, and then at the last moment rationalizing on some other point.

Peak oil resulting in 2 or 3% a year decline would be ideal. It would slow down "idiot growth", force things like ethanol to prove themselves in terms of energy return, etc.

No peak oil is a disaster.

Precipitous decline in oil (probably due to an artificial constraint) would be a disaster.


The depletion rate is the key and I don't have a strong feeling as to what that will be - maybe WHT can give us a number from his latest model.

The "peak oil is good" meme does rely on a relatively low depletion rate - enough to force us to do something meaningful but not enough to pull the rug from under our collective feet.

If we switch to coal we will just have Peak Coal in about 40 years.

As for the cyclone surf


40 years is long enough for everyone not to worry about it - its not like we didn't have 40 years warning about peak oil...

That surf is scary - I remember trying to get in the water last year during similar conditions (at a very sheltered beach) and just getting munched up.

I don't know if I can give a single number. Right about now, I feel like a surfer riding the crest. The way the modeling works, I can sustain a peak plateau for quite a while.


The uncertainty is a bit of a bitch really - which is why I've given up worrying about a near term peak - I just can't get a high enough level of confidence that we're there yet...

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