Countertrend: Google, Economist Flee from Climate Reality

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The once-authoritative Economist news magazine has set fire to its credibility, again, by reporting that global warming has slowed to the point where one columnist argues that we should wait “a decade or two” before instituting any policy measures to ameliorate the threat. At the same time, Google, a company that advertises its corporate philosophy as “Do No Evil,” has decided to snuggle up to the climate change denial community, splashing money at the likes of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and the “think” tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

This kind of blithe disregard for fact or prudence was more in style a couple of years ago, when Denier-in-Chief George W. Bush was in the White House and Inhofe was Chair of the Republican-dominated Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. But how can you account for so irresponsible and reactionary a performance – from theoretically credible sources – in 2013?

One potential explanation is the loveable naivety of the scientific and environmental community – the kind of people who are always willing, in good faith, to join a conversation about a “climate-change slowdown.” The very phrase is like red meat to the Anthony Watts types who deny climate science as part of their business plan. Looking, for example, at the current state of Arctic sea ice and the predictions for the $60-trillion time bomb that will detonate as that ice disappears, any talk of such an actual slowdown is absurd.

There is a legitimate discussion to be had about where additional warmth has been going in the last couple of years. But seriously, the last time the world enjoyed a single month with temperatures below the average (since record-keeping began in 1880) was February 1985. Revelling in thoughts of a slowdown in the rate of change would be analagous to someone celebrating having reached terminal velocity after falling out of a plane: things are still very, very bad, but isn’t it nice that we have slowed the pace at which they are getting worse?

Well, no. As the insurance industry is only too eager to point out, the situation is already dire. Even if we had not loaded the atmosphere with enough carbon dioxide to keep the trend going for a century, this would be no time to chortle.

So, again, how could you account for purportedly reputable information sources coming so badly off the rails? There is no obvious explanation for the Economist. The story is poorly researched and the opinion both dumb and contrary to evidence.

For example, Economist writer Will Wilkinson writes that cutting carbon “would exact a terrible humanitarian price” in the developing world because of a concurrent – and, he says, inevitable – bump in the global economy. But, per the insurance statistics, climate-change related droughts and storms are already exacting a price – most horribly in the developing world – while a new report on the carbon tax in British Columbia shows that it has been effective at reducing carbon emissions while doing no damage whatever to the economy.

It seems Wilkinson is more enthusiastic to push the libertarian ideology of his Cato Institute colleagues than, say, reading any science or economics.

The problem at Google may be more obvious. On one hand, you have the people at Google who write slogans and, apparently, invest in carbon offsets – promoting a corporate policy that looks socially and environmentally responsible.

On the other, you have the amoral business types who just want to make friends with potential political allies and could care less about the social, political or environmental implications of their actions. The folks at SumOfUs and Forecast the Facts are among those who think that EVERYone at Google should be held accountable.

Certainly, as the principal nexus for web information, Google likely has an even greater responsibility than the Economist to stay on the right – which is to say, accurate – side of this conversation. They’ll be needing to undo a little evil to get back to that position.

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