Monday, May 12, 2014

Robert J. Samuelson reminds us of his ignorance: Washington Post lets him do it

In an article that appeared in the Washington Post opinion section,  Robert J. Samuelson, who is already known for denying a link between climate-change deniers and the oil industry, again puts on the blinders that only come from an unwillingness to seek solutions. Samuelson tells us that climate-change is inevitable and that we have no solution.

Samuelson belongs to a class of pundit known as denier-deniers. They don't deny the existence of global warming; they deny that we can do anything about it. This means they deny that they are climate change deniers, but they embrace all the conclusions that deniers draw while claiming not to agree with them.

The original denier-denier was G.W. Bush. As President, Bush announced that he agreed with scientists that global warming existed but refused to adopt the Kyoto Protocols on CO2 emissions reductions because, among other things, the protocols were not fair to the US. Bush overlooked the greater progress made by the Europeans toward energy conservation. The Europeans had been moved to action by the oil embargo of 1979; the Americans had ignored it.

Bush and his supporters also complained about the lack of standards that applied to developing nations like India and China. The denier-deniers claimed that they were holding out for better and fairer standards. In the event, no other standards were proposed or approved by the Americans.

In his article, where his position is almost identical to Bush's in 2001, 13 years earlier, Samuelson made the claim that the technology does not exist to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He made the same claim in a Newsweek article in 2007. This claim is demonstrably false. The average passenger car in 2012 was 27% more efficient (mpg) than that produced in 2001. Much greater efficiencies are already possible but not yet implemented.  For example, people could be coaxed out of their SUVs (2012 avg. mpg. 23.5) into regular passenger vehicles with average mpg of 35.6, resulting in an efficiency improvement of approximately 50%.

A wind turbine in 2012 produced 15 times as much electricity as one produced in 1980; at times, wind energy accounts for 25% of the Texas energy grid. Solar electricity installation costs have fallen dramatically in recent years, but remain nearly twice as high as in Germany, showing that large cost reductions are possible with current technology.

I have two issues with the Washington Post publishing Samuelson's column on its opinion page. First, Samuelson claims that technology does not yet exist to solve global warming problems. But such technology does exist; if current technology does not solve the entire global warming problem, it can solve much of it. Since this is a fact, Samuelson's opinion is demonstrably false and the Post should explain this falsehood to its readers. Instead, the Post's editors permit Samuelson to make up his own facts.

Second, the Washington Post bills itself as a newspaper. As such, its articles, in order to be newsworthy, must contain new and important information. Samuelson's opinions have not changed since 2007. They are not new. The Post does not usually publish editorials from 7 years ago as if they contained new information. The Post permits Samuelson to publish this nonsense out of shear laziness.

There is a great deal to be said about improving technology to combat global warming. Samuelson has not said it, and the Post has not published it, at least not in this article.

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