Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change

Apr 19, 2016

Photo credit: Andrew Sondern

By Eduardo Porter

Are liberals impairing our ability to combat climate change?

That may sound like a strange question, particularly to readers of The New York Times. Today conservatives are the ones decidedly blocking any effort by the United States to curb its emissions of greenhouse gases.

And yet even as progressive environmentalists wring their hands at the G.O.P.’s climate change denial, there are biases on the left that stray just as far from the scientific consensus.

“The left is turning anti-science,” Marc Andreessen, the creator of Netscape who as a venture capitalist has become one of the most prominent thinkers of Silicon Valley, told me not long ago.

He was reflecting broadly about science and technology. His concerns ranged from liberals’ fear of genetically modified organisms to their mistrust of technology’s displacement of workers in some industries. “San Francisco is an interesting case,” he noted. “The left has become reactionary.”

Still, liberal biases may be most dangerous in the context of climate change, the most significant scientific and technological challenge of our time. For starters, they stand against the only technology with an established track record of generating electricity at scale while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases: nuclear power.

Only 35 percent of Democrats, compared with 60 percent of Republicans, favor building more nuclear power plants, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.

It is the G.O.P. that is closer to the scientific consensus. According to a separate Pew poll of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 65 percent of scientists want more nuclear power too.

Ted Cruz’s argument that climate change is a hoax to justify a government takeover of the world is absurd. But Bernie Sanders’s argument that “toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit” might also be damaging.

Highlighting the left’s biases may seem like a pointless effort to apportion equal blame along ideological lines. But it is critical to understand how they have come into being. It suggests how difficult it will be to overcome our scientific and technological taboos.


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12 comments on “Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change

  • “The left is turning anti-science,”

    Ha, Ha, Ha!!!!

    The left has always been antiscience when their ideological bubble is being burst. I remember graduating with my degree in psychology just about the time of the innate resurgence. The left went crazy over the possibility that any human behavioral trait could have any other driver than social construction. I remember the blindsiding of E.O. Wilson by uber leftists and the insane reactions of college students who were taught the same BS I was taught about human behavior.

    From being told by a liberal nut bag neighbor that GMO’s melt cow’s stomachs to the constant nurture assumption of people rearing children around you one longs for the days of classical liberalism where science was respected regardless of your ideological bent.



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  • Ah, maybe this is a way for the Right to deal with global warming, get them to blame the Left: If you’d stop obstructing nuclear power, we wouldn’t have to keep on pumping the oil. It’s all YOUR fault.

    I’m reminded of an imaginary villain of the James Bond movie genre, whose evil plans are summed up by his slogan:

    “Only a Nuclear Winter can save us from Global Warming”.



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  • @OHooligan

    The left went crazy over the possibility that any human behavioral trait could have any other driver than social construction.

    I remember a similar reaction when the whole nature vs nurture debate came up in my education degree, I couldn’t understand why there was not some acknowledgement that both genes and upbringing where bound to play some role with culture acting on our specific brain wiring. I kept getting into trouble with grumpy sociology lectures when I’d argue about this they wanted to accept Tabula rasa as a fact.

    As for the rest of the article I’d agree with much of the criticism of the left in general, but not the specifics given here. If you can only get 65% of scientists to agree about an issue then that is a significant chunk who feel there are some other factors that might need to be worried about. Such as, poor reactor design or just plain expense when compared to alternatives like solar, wind and geothermal. I have read plenty of incorrect, loopy claims from those opposed to nuclear power, that there are loopy claims doesn’t invalidate the many legitimate concerns that many have. I can and am opposed to many forms of nuclear power but for example am not against all of it, I’d be delighted if they ever got fusion reactors working for example. Likewise with GM I have some legitimate concerns although I’m far from the radical nutty left on this. I’m in principle for GM provided stringent safeguards are met. He has made a very poor stab at one component of the left and tried to tar anyone who opposed to this as guilty of the same.



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  • GMOs deserve their bad reputation. The essential problem is, no matter how drastic the modification, the GMO companies say that testing in unnecessary.

    Klebsiella planticola is a micro-organism found on the roots of every plant species on earth. It helps them
    absorb nutrients. A company in Oregon decided to genetically modify the organism to produce alcohol from plant waste for biofuel, then sell the remaining sludge as fertiliser. By happenstance, Michael Holmes, a student needing a project for his PhD thesis, decided to test the new lifeform for toxicity and discovered that it killed any plant it touched by producing twenty times more alcohol on its roots than it could withstand. What looked like such a great green idea on paper turned out to be a bioweapon that could have killed all plant life on earth.

    The problem with GMOs, is they are like Pandora’s box. Once we release them into the environment, there is no way to take them back. We have to be cautious. We have to think about what will happen when those modified organisms escape the field. You have no right to contaminate other people’s strains. We have to think about what will happen when the new genes jump to other species.



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  • the left is mired in confusion about climate change because it is just as strongly in favour of consumerism and economic growth as the right
    conservation is the only way out of this quagmire
    waste not
    want not



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  • @OP – Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change

    I tend to avoid American political badge-label arguments, as these are usually a false dichotomy between the loony-left and the loony-right, with evidence based rationality, pretty much excluded from the debate!



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  • Roedy #4

    I’m really sorry to see this work used to attack GMOs.

    Myself I demand the ultimate in caution with regard to GMOs and complain most particularly of the threat of the business model and its erosion of biodiversity, the skills of local breeders of varieties working to solve local problems. Too often because a technology seems to offer a solution to a problem say vitamin deficiency, it does not make it the ideal way of solving the problem.

    But this accusation is not supported by peer reviewed papers.


    1. The Green Party incorrectly cited a paper that it has since discovered in a literature search does not exist. The paper was cited as Holmes M and E R Ingham (1999) Ecological effects of genetically engineered Klebsiella planticola released into agricultural soil with varying clay content, Applied Soil Ecology 3:394-399. The Green Party accepts that this reference is wrong and apologises to the Commission for misleading it.
    2. We would like to correct the statement in paragraph 39 on page 29 of our evidence that the genetically engineered bacterium has been approved for field testing. The Green Party accepts there are no records indicating that field testing approval was ever given. This has been confirmed to us by Professor Terri Lomax at Oregon State University.
    3. In addition, the Green Party would like to request that the Commission disregard the final sentence in paragraph 39, recognising that this statement goes beyond the published literature.
    4. The Green Party also would like to make clear in regard to the same paragraph, that the published literature shows that when a genetically engineered Klebsiella planticola was added to one particular type of soil with plants, plants unexpectedly died. The correct reference for this paragraph is MT Holmes, ER Ingham, JD Doyle, CS Hendricks “Effects of Klebsiella planticola SDF20 on soil biota and wheat growth in sandy soil” Applied Soil Ecology 11 (1999) 67-78.
    5. This is an example of an unanticipated effect from the introduction of a genetically engineered organism. It should be taken to say no more nor less that that. The Green Party does not believe the published research so far supports the further conclusion that the likely effect of allowing a field trial of the genetically engineered bacterium to go ahead would have been to destroy all terrestrial plants.
    6. Finally the Green Party would like to apologise to the Royal Commission for providing incorrect information in error, and thank them for allowing us to set the record straight.

    [signed]

    Jeanette Fitzsimons
    Co-leader of the Green Party

    This is not to say that the organism might not do harm, had it ever been approved, but so far the pandemic scenario has not been sufficiently explained, how an organism that kills its host in situ isn’t self checking like all such pathogens. It would have been absolutely a career defining paper to show the organism’s fatal transmission through linked vegetation like turf. Yet nothing.

    This isn’t the knockout argument it is presented as.



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  • For starters, they stand against the only technology with an
    established track record of generating electricity at scale while
    emitting virtually no greenhouse gases: nuclear power.

    Alright, fine, let’s have nuclear power because there’s no greenhouse gas problem.

    No problems of any kind….



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  • For starters, they stand against the only technology with an
    established track record of generating electricity at scale while
    emitting virtually no greenhouse gases: nuclear power.

    Only??

    .. . . And here’s the French Rance Tidal generation system which has been operating since the 1960s, and Hydro-electric plants throughout the world!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Norway
    Norway – Hydroelectricity – In 2008, hydroelectricity generated 141 terawatt-hours (TWh) and accounted for 98.5% of the national electricity demand. This was also 4.3 percent of the worldwide generated hydropower and according to the IEA, Norway ranked 6th for that year, behind China, Canada, Brazil, the United States and Russia.

    Norway: Hydro-electric:- 98.5% of the national electricity demand – and plans to export a surplus. – nuclear 0% !

    Let’s get real, and recognise a mix of generation systems is needed with matching to local potentials!



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  • @OP – Ted Cruz’s argument that climate change is a hoax to justify a government takeover of the world is absurd. But Bernie Sanders’s argument that “toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit” might also be damaging.

    This is of course a false dichotomy!

    To dismiss claims from ignoramuses that climate science is a hoax, is reasonable!

    To suggest that a reasonable debate can be had on nuclear power by cheerleading for it, or protesting against it per-se, is farcical!

    Maximising “toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants”, by selecting the worst and most dangerous systems, is a very bad idea, when less polluting and safer forms of nuclear power and other generation systems are available for development!



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  • You can certainly find people on the left who are adopt anti-scientific views (the basis of most anti-GMO opposition falls in that category). But the main complaints about nuclear power from liberals who are actually involved in energy policy aren’t anti-nuclear per se (though nuclear waste issues in the US are still in limbo); they are economic. Nuclear power plants aren’t being built in the US or even in France (which gets 70% of its electricity from existing nuclear power plants) because they are now too expensive to build: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_of_nuclear_power_plants

    That situation MIGHT change with the imposition of a carbon tax, and that’s a policy option that even conservative economists (who aren’t climate deniers) endorse.



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  • It seems that many administrations including liberal ones, but with notable absences from oily ones, are signing up to climate action:- albeit, rather little and rather late!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36098310

    The first significant step to putting the Paris Climate Agreement into practice will take place on Friday.

    Nearly 170 countries are expected to formally sign the deal at the UN, setting in motion events that could see the treaty operational within a year.

    The UN says the expected record turnout for the signing shows overwhelming global support for tackling rising temperatures.

    Despite the absence of President Obama, around 60 world leaders are expected here at UN headquarters, including French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Trudeau from Canada.

    But their signatures alone will not be enough to make the Paris agreement operational. The legal requirements mean that each country will have to go through a process of ratification. For some this will require nothing more than the assent of the political leader as in the example of the United States.

    The world’s top 10 emitters make up over 70% of total emissions!



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