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This item was posted on March 3, 2009, and it was categorized as Andrew Revkin, Climate Change, Climate change policy, Environmental journalism, Global Warming, Global warming skeptics, blogging.
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After weeks of blogging it out with perfervid advocates on both side of the climate policy debate, I feel as if I’ve been slogging through a thorn thicket growing in quicksand. But in the past two days, at least I’ve gained a little insight, thanks to the writing of some of my colleagues.

First came a post by Michael Zimmerman, director of the Center for the Humanities and Arts here at the University of Colorado. His thoughtful and revealing article on Prometheus, “Coal Trains, Death Camps, and Recent Anti-Modernism”, is an intelligent antidote to the emotionalism and extremism I’ve been encountering.

Then John Fleck posted a stirring defense of one of the pioneers of modern-day science writing, Walter Sullivan, whose reputation has been terribly besmirched by George Will. Sullivan was one of my heroes as a young science writer. My postings on climate change here and on other blogs in some ways owe a lot to the journalistic legacy I feel I’ve inherited from Sullivan.

Next came a post from Keith Kloor at his Collide-a-Scape blog. Kloor compares the attacks on Andrew Revkin (including Michael Tobis’s characterization of him as “evil”) to the pummeling meted out by environmentalists to William Cronon. As Kloor describes it, Cronon was attacked for his heretical idea that wilderness is human construct. And he concludes that in the climate debate, Andrew Revkin and Roger Pielke, Jr. have committed blasphemy against the “Church of Al Gore.” 

And then today, I came across a book review by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times that pretty much sums up my impressions of some of the bloggers in this climate debate. Here’s the first paragraph: 

“Nearly all the characters in Zoë Heller’s ambitious new novel, “The Believers,” are true believers. Though each chooses a different vehicle of worship — socialism, liberal humanism, orthodox Judaism or the New Age gospel of self-improvement — they are all in thrall to their own certainty, self-righteous about their own beliefs and contemptuous of anyone dimwitted enough to disagree. They are also believers in their own mythologies: the roles in which they have been cast by their parents or children or followers, the personas they have had thrust upon them and have, over the years, internalized as their own. Zeal is their default setting; sanctimony, their favorite defense.”
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This thing has 12 Comments

  1. Michael E. Zimmerman
    Posted March 3, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    That is a GREAT quotation from The Believers, Tom. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
    In INTEGRAL ECOLOGY, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and I use the term “methodological hegemony” to refer to the tendency to believer that only one’s OWN method will characterize and resolve a given problem. For instance, the economist might say: “You just have to get the incentives right!” World-view hegemony is even more widespread, since just about everyone has a world-view, even if it is inarticulate.
    And here I think of one of Buddhism’s major admonitions: Avoid attachment to views! Otherwise, such suffering ensues!

  2. Posted March 3, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Tom: Like you, I feel somewhat sullied for having followed so intensely the discussions on this Will/Revkin/Gore et. al imbroglio over past two weeks. Your 11th-hour “save” here — more precisely that of those you point to above — may or may not make it all worthwhile. Few if anyone emerge from this long-winded diatribe enlarged. Thank goodness that climate change is the quintessential “generational” challenge, and the past two weeks’ exchanges won’t likely impede whatever serious progress can be made in addressing the challenges and communicating effectively about them. Is it over now? Time to turn the page? I hope so, but I’m not optimistic. Bud Ward

  3. Posted March 3, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink


    Thanks for these comments. But I’m not sure I agree that this exercise has not been worthwhile. After hearing a marvelous guest-speaker in my class , John Tomasic of the Center for Independent Media, who spoke about his experiences with citizen journalism, I’m inclined to take a broader and more positive view.

    During the discussion in class, I commented that the true believers on climate change have seemed wholly entrenched in their own impregnable citadels, girded against ideas they disagree with and righteously content that they and they alone are the guardians of truth. Both Tomasic and my colleague, Nabil Echchaibi, pointed out that this really was not true at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Without the energetic blogging of Keith Kloor, John Fleck, Carl Zimmer, Michael Zimmerman, Roger Pielke, Jr., Andy Revkin, et al, the readers of Joe Romm, Brad Johnson, Michael Tobis, et al, might never have been exposed to a different point of view. And now they really HAVE been exposed to different ideas.

    I realize now that my citadel analogy is completely wrong. I have in fact gone over there (to Wonkroom, Climateprogress, Climateaudit, etc.), and they have come over here — in droves, actually. (My page views are through the roof.) Yes, I crawled back home exhausted and bloodied, but that doesn’t mean it was ultimately a waste of time.

    Imagine if moderate, thoughtful bloggers just gave up and failed to counter such patent nonsense as Tobis’s accusation that Revkin had committed “evil”; or Romm’s 8,000-word-and-still-running screed about an 800-word story; or Brad Johnson’s defamatory comments about Roger Pielke, Jr.’s alleged “ties to right-wing corporate America.” Many will argue that countering them gives Tobis, Romm, Johnson, et al more of a platform to advance further nonsense. But I think the damage that results from their assertions going uncountered is greater than the harm caused by whatever magnification of their messages we afford them.

    Yes, it was much easier in some ways when we worked under the “we report, you decide” model of Journalism 1.0. But this is the age of Journalism 2.0, which is all about non-linearity and interaction. To ignore this is to turn our backs on where public communication has been careening, like it or not. We can either try to shape it, or sulk back to our own citadels.

    And in the long run, I’m just going to have to take it on faith that a messy, exhausting, seemingly pointless battle of ideas is better than no battle at all.

  4. Posted March 3, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    And a quick response, Tom. I certainly agree there are diamonds in those hills of rhetoric and, in some cases, hate over the past two weeks. Finding them has been a delight, as you’ve noted. A bloody ugly process, for sure, and perhaps — just perhaps — worth the effort in the end, albeit in only incremental ways, as is the case with so much else with this danged issue. Thanks for pointing the high beams to the occasional gems in this morass. Now…back to all the other work that has gone awaiting.

  5. Posted March 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I started the day with a book review. Now I’m going to end it the same way, with reference to Jay Winik’s review of “Scandal & Civility” by Marcus Daniel in the Wall Street Journal. The book is a detailed study of the American press in the 1790s. After reading Winik’s review, I’m thinking that the blogosphere may be rough and tumble today, but it’s nothing compared to what my journalistic forbears were involved in.

    During the period after the Revolutionary War, “fiercely contending political parties” rose up, Winik writes. That combined with geopolitical intrigues involving the British and the French, and a bitterly divided country meant that “the very survival of the nation was at risk.” (Okay, this is starting to sound uncomfortably familiar.)

    Winik continues: “And what role did newspapers play? A profound one. As Mr. Daniel amply shows, they stoked debate, with abandon as well as with a mean-spiritedness and partisan passion that make today’s scuffles seem tame by comparison.”

    After reading Winik’s description of the book, I came away thinking that today’s bloggers sound very much like the newspaper journalists of yesteryear. For more details, check out the review. It puts the Will v Gore v Revkin v Pielke kerfuffle into perspective.

  6. Steve Bloom
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Not a speck of criticism or concern re RP Jr., Tom? It’s as if the unique (for someone in his role) response he’s engendered from numerous scientists over a course of years somehow just flew down from Olympus, unbidden.

    Just for the record, several journalist bloggers weighed in with criticism of the Revkin story, e.g. Chris Mooney and James Hrynyshyn. That they did so points up just what an aberration it was relative to Andy’s body of work. I suspect he got the message. OTOH it’s entirely possible that an editor was at fault, and that Andy had to throw in the Gore material to get the Will story approved. If so, he should have stuck to blogging about it.

    The Zimmerman post seems to be on hiatus, BTW. Did he really use it to go after Hansen?

  7. Posted March 4, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Hi Steve,

    I have to admit to exhaustion on this issue, so I’m not sure I’ll say anything coherent right now, but I’ll try….

    I have been reacting primarily to the tone of what was said about both Andy and Roger, and the attitude of the people who said it. Perhaps I should be more critical than I am of my colleagues. I’ll let others judge. But I don’t think calling Andy “evil” accomplishes anything. Nor do I think defaming Roger Pielke, Jr. by implying his research is a crock because of his alleged “ties to right wing corporate America” is ethical or advances the ball. If you’ve got a problem with what Andy wrote, and Roger’s role in the climate change debates, fine. State your case. Use some evidence. Be rational and reasonable. But also try to remain open to other arguments. You might learn something. And most important, keep your eyes on advancing the ball, not tearing people down for the sake of vein-popping, blogospheric ego gratification.

    But what do I know? I’m a naive old fogey of an ink-stained wretch (who at 53 can nonetheless run a mile in 5:30 at altitude — wow, I finally found a way to brag about that!) who doesn’t seem to understand that our children’s future is at stake. I know, I know, I need to stop tut tutting, get over this desire for decorum and decency and get with the damn program. My goodness, this is the blogosphere. What was I thinking?!

  8. Posted March 5, 2009 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    I think Thinks Break has the antidote
    to the Zimmerman post you recommended.

  9. Thom
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Tom Yulsman wrote, “Perhaps I should be more critical than I am of my colleagues.”

    Tom, that should have been your pull quote.

  10. Posted March 6, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for digging these up! I wouldn’t have known where to find the Fleck and Kloor posts, and they’re very educational.

  11. Posted March 6, 2009 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps you should update your post wrt Prof. Zimmerman’s imagination of what Hansen said? Do you perhaps, by some majic, understand why people blew up at such behavior on Zimmerman’s part? Do you understand why, by leaving your story uncorrected you perpetuate a false story?

    The Kloor post was a crock. Koor told a long fairy tale about Cronon so he could bash Michael Tobis and Al Gore, but when challenged by Steve Bloom, begged off that he was “not really interested in rehashing the particulars of the Cronon/wilderness debate”. If he was not really interested, why did he discuss it at length. If Koor’s understanding of Cronon was nonsense, that means his understanding of Tobis is also nonsense. Eli can live with that.

    The real story here, as has been said, is how did what Tobis wrote make it’s way from the comments in In It For the Gold (that’s sarcastic in case you have not figured it out) to Prometheus to Mark Morano to Drudge to Glenn Beck, and who was editing, omitting and pushing what to whom in general.

    A real reporter would be working their way up that tree.

    You might also ask Prof. Zimmerman who fed him the information about what Hansen was supposed to have said.

  12. Thom
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Rabett: “The real story here, as has been said, is how did what Tobis wrote make it’s way from the comments in In It For the Gold (that’s sarcastic in case you have not figured it out) to Prometheus to Mark Morano to Drudge to Glenn Beck, and who was editing, omitting and pushing what to whom in general.”

    In yet another example of a right-wing, manufactured story Roger Pielke Jr. is there.

    Rabett: “A real reporter would be working their way up that tree.”

    Mr. Yulsman, wanna’ give this project the old college try? This time, don’t bury your lead.

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  1. Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

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