Arquivo mensal: outubro 2010

>New documentary recounts bizarre climate changes seen by Inuit elders (Globe and Mail)

Globe and Mail – Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010

Imagine how this feels: The land and weather are turning erratic and dangerous. Warmer, unpredictable winds are coming from strange directions. Severe floods threaten to wash away towns. And native animals, the food supply, aren’t behaving as they used to, their bodies less capable in the changing climate.

Even stranger is the fact that the sun now appears to set many kilometres off its usual point on the horizon, and the stars are no longer where they should be. Is the Earth shifting on its axis, causing the very look of the sun and stars to change?

These are the drastic conditions Northern Canadians, whose lives depend from childhood on their knowledge of the most minute details of the Arctic land and skies, say they see all around them. These observations by Inuit elders are detailed in a groundbreaking new documentary, Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, by acclaimed Nunavut filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (The Fast Runner, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen) and environmental scientist Ian Mauro.

The documentary – screening at Toronto’s imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival this weekend and streaming live at – is the first to ask Inuit elders to describe the severe environmental changes in the Arctic they are seeing and to do so in their own language. The tone of the film is intimate. The elders aren’t trying to cross a language barrier, or even speak to the Southern scientific community. They’re simply imparting their expert knowledge and wisdom – and the result will undoubtedly cause controversy.

“Over the years, nobody has ever listened to these people. Every time [the discussion is] about global warming, about the Arctic warming, it’s scientists that go up there and do their work. And policy makers depend on these findings. Nobody ever really understands the people up there,” Kunuk says.

It quickly becomes clear that the film, which blends scenes of Inuit life with elders sharing their insights, is an invaluable document. The elders describe in precise detail how seal, for instance, a staple in their diet, are behaving troublingly due to the thinning ice, how warmer winds are changing the snow and ice banks, making overland navigation difficult, and how major floods are hitting communities.

Yet the elders talk about all this without anger, only a tinge of sadness. Kunuk says this is an Inuit characteristic, based on the belief that the world is forever changing, whether at the hand of man or through natural cycles. “We know for a fact that way up in the high Arctic, there are mummified tree trunks [showing that the Earth’s climate was once totally different]. Also, when Inuit hunters talk about animals, they always talk about cycles, everything goes in cycles. We just have to adapt to it.”

However, the faintest trace of anger does arise when the elders talk about polar bears. Contrary to what conservationists and scientists say, the elders interviewed in the film believe the polar-bear population is increasing. They say more bears finding their way into communities, and the animals are being traumatized by scientists, who are putting radio collars around the bears’ necks and doing other research that disturbs their natural life, usually spent in almost total isolation and silence.

Most startling for the filmmakers, though, was the Inuits’ belief that along with pollution and environmental changes, caused mainly by Southerners, the Earth has actually changed its tilt. The filmmakers kept hearing this theory in different communities. Perplexed, they contacted the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration for answers, but experts said this was impossible.

When the filmmakers presented some of their findings at the Copenhagen conference on climate change last year, the media picked up on these views of the Inuit subjects, film co-director Ian Mauro says, and alarm bells started to ring in the scientific community. “We had a litany of scientists come back to us, responding after seeing this news, saying, ‘This was great to be speaking to indigenous people about their views, but if you continue to perpetuate this fallacy that the Earth had tilted on its axis, [the Inuit] …. would lose all credibility.’ And so there was really this backlash by the scientific community.”

Still, the Inuit insist they see changes in the sun’s course and the position of the stars in the night sky. “These elders, when they were growing up, they were told to go out every morning, before having anything to eat. They were told to go out at the age of 5 every morning to observe the weather,” Kunuk says. “So when they started talking about the sun and the sunset, I was puzzled too. Everywhere I went, each community, I was getting the same answer: The sun does not settle where it used to. I mean, it [causes] alarm.”

The scientific explanation is that the warming Arctic air is causing temperature inversions, which in turn cause the light of the sunset to refract so that the sun appears to be setting a few kilometres off-kilter. “There is so much garbage in the air, it’s refraction that’s causing our elders to think our world has tilted,” Kunuk says.

But the filmmakers don’t include that scientific explanation in the film, nor any other comments from the scientific community. Instead, the film deals strictly with the elders’ observations and their belief that they have no control over climate change and they simply have to adapt.

“We have to. We have no choice,” Kunuk says, repeating the elders’ quiet words.

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change plays Toronto’s Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Ave., Saturday at 7 p.m., as part of the imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival. The film will be simultaneously streamed on

>‘Shrinking’ the Climate Problem (N.Y. Times)

October 28, 2010, 3:24 pm
‘Shrinking’ the Climate Problem

I’ve written here before about the substantial part of the climate challenge that isn’t out in the world of greenhouse gases and coal furnaces, but within the human mind.

Still, I was intrigued earlier this month when I heard from Renee Lertzman, a research fellow in humanities and sustainability at Portland State University, that she was speaking on “the myth of apathy,” the subject of a book she’s writing, at “Engaging With Climate Change: Psychoanalytic Perspectives,” a meeting of psychoanalysts and behavioral researchers in London.

In regarding the polarized, confused, paralyzed discourse around global warming for more than two decades (including my own focus on the field for so long), I’ve sometimes thought that Freud would have had a field day in this realm. Now his successors may be starting to dive in. (The photograph below is from the Freud Museum in London.)

Lertzman sent a link to the “Beyond the Couch” Web site of the Institute for Psychoanalysis, which held a fascinating list of talks at the meeting, including “Unconscious obstacles to caring for the planet,” “Engaging with the natural world and with human nature” and “Climate change denial in a perverse culture.”

I invited Lertzman to send a Dot Earth “post card,” which you can read below, followed by a brief set of followup questions and her replies:

I’ve just returned from speaking at the international headquarters of psychoanalysis, the Institute of Psychoanalysis, established in 1913 in London…. I imagine this was the first time eminent psychoanalysts, environmental professionals, activists and scholars have gathered within these hallowed halls to contemplate our current environmental predicaments. For two full days, almost two hundred people came together to “shrink” the climate change crisis….

Psychoanalysis may be most popularly known as an insular and esoteric relic of the Victorian era. However, it’s come a long way since Freud; this event ably demonstrated that psychoanalysis is an essential voice on these matters. At least it is, if we want to address the messiness of how the human mind can cope with such overwhelming issues.

What are the unconscious dimensions of climate change? Is it possible that anxiety and fear are profoundly impeding our abilities to respond proactively and creatively to our impending crises? How can we explain the inertia and paralysis on the part of both the public and our politicians?

While most psychological research on climate change is fixated on attitudes, behavior and cognition (i.e. barriers to action), psychoanalysis is mainly concerned with the ubiquity of the unconscious in everyday life. The concept of a “barrier” or “apathy” dissolves, as it’s assumed we all have conflict, ambivalence, contradictions — the bread and butter of psychoanalytic theory.

Topics ranged from consumption, identity and our disavowal of the human dependence on nature to issues of loss and mourning as we face a new relationship with oil, and the psychic complexities of inaction.

I was delighted to witness this historic event and the sense that finally, after much time, psychoanalysis was finally able to take stock of its environment and life outside of the consulting room. The psychoanalyst Hanna Segal wrote two decades ago about the insidious silence in the psychoanalytic community on political and social travesties.

Now it appears the silence may be breaking, and we can glean what we can from those whose work is about resistance to change, loss and mourning, anxiety and denial. We need these perspectives. I hope this signals a shift in the right direction.

I followed up with some questions:

Q: So what is the “myth of apathy” in the context of human reactions to the science pointing to a building risk from human-driven climate change?

A: The myth of apathy is the idea that apathy itself is a misleading and damaging concept, and tells us nothing about why people may find it difficult to take in, or respond to, human-driven climate change threats. The label of apathy presumes “what you see is what you get.”

Those working in psychotherapeutic fields know that nothing can be further from the truth. So reframing the myth of apathy presumes care and concern. The mantra in environmental sectors is, “We have to get people to care.” The “myth of apathy” presumes people do care but we need to consider how to support, channel and foster that care. This means investigating what may be complicating our creative and reparative impulses.

This includes recognizing that how we manage anxiety, particularly unconsciously, can lead to numbing, denial, projection (it’s all their problem), victimization (and I am not speaking of actual victims here) and so on. Psychoanalysts called this “splitting” — the ability to split up the world and our internal experiences so we don’t have to feel anxiety, pain or fear. If we leverage tools from the psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic disciplines — such as how to support people in facing the truth about ourselves and our lives without “splitting” — we begin to see that what we may need to be doing is attending primarily to anxiety and loss first and then figuring out how to change behavior, second.

At the moment, we seem to have it the other way around, and are focused mainly on engineering human behavior, without consideration of unconscious, affective dimensions of these extremely challenging and often frightening problems. We need both: attention to “barriers” to action, and acute sensitivity to what may be happening emotionally that makes this so difficult. A psychoanalytic perspective places these dimensions in the foreground, and assumes that if we get to the root of the matter, behavior change will follow. Psychological work in this area, while important, continues to focus on conscious dimensions and behavioral change.

Q: Were there any powerful take-home points from the session on unconscious obstacles?

A: The most powerful take-home points were John Keene’s comments concerning anxieties when faced with actual limitations that climate change and other serious environmental issues present (i.e. our exploitation of non-renewable resources). Keene joins this up with how humans behave in groups, and how groups function to help manage our anxieties. Keene noted, “Many commentators are surprised at how difficult humans find it to change their behavior on the basis of sensible advice or of learning from experience. Facts are troublesome – stories and ideologies are easier.”

We often turn to others in social settings for stories and ideologies to help manage anxieties and seek comforting answers. Keene contends, “While thinking is hard enough for an individual in quiet contemplation, thinking clearly and acting in a group setting generates anxiety roughly in proportion to the size of the group. Here the individual is exposed to the risks of shame and criticism, isolation, fears of loss of one’s identity or at worst losing one’s mind. Our moral functions (super–ego functions), which push us to act in accordance with our ideals, and guard us from self-harm, operate largely out of awareness but become conscious as the voice of conscience or a sense of anxiety or alarm.”

Keene continues, “As I have suggested there is a universal tendency in group life for individuals groups and cultures to find people, structures and ideologies into which they can project their responsibilities in order to return to a childlike state. The cultural expectations that we grow in are the medium in which our individual super-egos swim and develop. As the world economy and its dominant business models drive the present surge towards growth with increasing pressure on the earth’s resources, this is probably the place to start to look at hope for the recovery of the world patient.”

All of this speaks to the fact that guilt, blame and moralizing don’t get us very far; that groups can actually hinder constructive environmental action; and that anxiety may be the largest unconscious obstacle to action (which is the theme of my work as well).

Q: What was your reaction to the session on climate denial in a perverse culture? what was the nature of the “perversion”?

A: “Perversion” here means something entirely different from what we commonly think of as perverse (i.e. “perverted”) — and is apt for thinking about how our culture is responding to human-driven climate change material. Paul Hoggett discussed how perversity (as a psychoanalytic concept) is a form of cultural behavior that functions in preventing coming to terms with loss — where outright rejection of reality becomes tenable. It is related to denial, but more insidious as a mode of conduct that is pervasive in corporate culture and particularly the financial institutions.

Hoggett drew on Susan Long’s work, The Perverse Organization and Its Seven Deadly Sins, as it applies to how we are dealing with climate change. The “sins” include prioritizing individual pleasures, instrumental relationships, and the collusion of others in the denial of reality. This is considered “perverse” behavior and has become normalized in our culture. At its essence it is an avoidance of reality on a massive scale, and an indulgence in omnipotent fantasies in order to avoid any sense of loss or sacrifice. Less clear is the antidote to a perverse culture — but we can imagine it relates in part to the support of intrinsic values, constructive group discussions and a recognition of the problem.

Q: My sense is that real action to change course on trends that matter (energy choices, balancing engineered and ecological systems) will only come if humans move away from “woe is me” and “shame on you” in considering environmental challenges and look inward for the source of problems — and solutions. Does your work, and the discussion at this meeting, reinforce or challenge that view?

A: These perspectives certainly reinforce the notion that we must look “inward” for the source of the problems: how we got into this situation in the first place, what sorts of mental, emotional, social and cultural forces shape our relations with nature, and what may be impeding our capacities for creative, reparative responses. A psychoanalytic view accepts that taking a moralizing or punitive tone supports the super-ego — our internalized task master — which leads usually to outright rebellion, and doesn’t get us very far. The same goes for using scare and alarm tactics.

My work, and the views reflected at this meeting, advocate both acknowledging the frightening or difficult aspects of these issues, and finding techniques to help people tap into our huge creative capacities. It’s a solutions approach but recognizes the emotional aspects of how we get to solutions. Our technological innovations require “engagement” — and “engagement” is about our emotional and affective investments in the world. The British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote about our capacity for concern as the basis of an ethics; that we have these capacities but they are fostered through creativity (and what he calls “play”).

So yes, it’s about looking inward with as much compassion as we can muster. Think of the therapist and the patient; does the therapist admonish the patient? Or provide support for facing the difficult truth? And then setting about finding creative avenues for action and collective responses.

>Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun (N.Y. Times)

October 25, 2010

BLUE GAP, Ariz. — For decades, coal has been an economic lifeline for the Navajos, even as mining and power plant emissions dulled the blue skies and sullied the waters of their sprawling reservation.

But today there are stirrings of rebellion. Seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to their traditional values, many Navajos are calling for a future built instead on solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses.

“At some point we have to wean ourselves,” Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, said of coal as he sat on the dirt floor of his family’s hogan, a traditional circular dwelling.

Mr. Tulley, who is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Mr. Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket.

With nearly 300,000 members, the Navajo Nation is the country’s largest tribe, according to Census Bureau estimates, and it has the biggest reservation. Coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the reservation and on lands shared with the Hopi provide about 1,500 jobs and more than a third of the tribe’s annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

At the grass-roots level, the internal movement advocating a retreat from coal is both a reaction to the environmental damage and the health consequences of mining — water loss and contamination, smog and soot pollution — and a reconsideration of centuries-old tenets.

In Navajo culture, some spiritual guides say, digging up the earth to retrieve resources like coal and uranium (which the reservation also produced until health issues led to a ban in 2005) is tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land.

“As medicine people, we don’t extract resources,” said Anthony Lee Sr., president of the Diné Hataalii Association, a group of about 100 healers known as medicine men and women.

But the shift is also prompted by economic realities. Tribal leaders say the Navajo Nation’s income from coal has dwindled 15 percent to 20 percent in recent years as federal and state pollution regulations have imposed costly restrictions and lessened the demand for mining.

Two coal mines on the reservation have shut down in the last five years. One of them, the Black Mesa mine, ceased operations because the owners of the power plant it fed in Laughlin, Nev., chose to close the plant in 2005 rather than spend $1.2 billion on retrofitting it to meet pollution controls required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Early this month, the E.P.A. signaled that it would require an Arizona utility to install $717 million in emission controls at another site on the reservation, the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, describing it as the highest emitter of nitrous oxide of any power plant in the nation. It is also weighing costly new rules for the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.

And states that rely on Navajo coal, like California, are increasingly imposing greenhouse gas emissions standards and requiring renewable energy purchases, banning or restricting the use of coal for electricity.

So even as they seek higher royalties and new markets for their vast coal reserves, tribal officials say they are working to draft the tribe’s first comprehensive energy policy and are gradually turning to casinos, renewable energy projects and other sources for income.

This year the tribal government approved a wind farm to be built west of Flagstaff, Ariz., to power up to 20,000 homes in the region. Last year, the tribal legislative council also created a Navajo Green Economy Commission to promote environmentally friendly jobs and businesses.

“We need to create our own businesses and control our destiny,” said Ben Shelly, the Navajo Nation vice president, who is now running for president against Lynda Lovejoy, a state senator in New Mexico and Mr. Tulley’s running mate.

That message is gaining traction among Navajos who have reaped few benefits from coal or who feel that their health has suffered because of it.

Curtis Yazzie, 43, for example, lives in northeastern Arizona without running water or electricity in a log cabin just a stone’s throw from the Kayenta mine.

Tribal officials, who say some families live so remotely that it would cost too much to run power lines to their homes, have begun bringing hybrid solar and wind power to some of the estimated 18,000 homes on the reservation without electricity. But Mr. Yazzie says that air and water pollution, not electricity, are his first concerns.

“Quite a few of my relatives have made a good living working for the coal mine, but a lot of them are beginning to have health problems,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to affect me.”

One of those relatives is Daniel Benally, 73, who says he lives with shortness of breath after working for the Black Mesa mine in the same area for 35 years as a heavy equipment operator. Coal provided for his family, including 15 children from two marriages, but he said he now believed that the job was not worth the health and environmental problems.

“There’s no equity between benefit and damage,” he said in Navajo through a translator.

About 600 mine, pipeline and power plant jobs were affected when the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada and Peabody’s Black Mesa mine shut down.

But that also meant that Peabody stopped drawing water from the local aquifer for the coal slurry carried by an underground pipeline to the power plant — a victory for Navajo and national environmental groups active in the area, like the Sierra Club.

Studies have shown serious declines in the water levels of the Navajo aquifer after decades of massive pumping for coal slurry operations. And the E.P.A. has singled out the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Generating Station as two of the largest air polluters in the country, affecting visibility in 27 of the area’s “most pristine and precious natural areas,” including the Grand Canyon.

The regional E.P.A. director, Jared Blumenfeld, said the plants were the nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 emitters of nitrogen oxides, which form fine particulates resulting in cases of asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks and premature deaths.

Environmentalists are now advocating for a more diversified Navajo economy and trying to push power plants to invest in wind and solar projects.

“It’s a new day for the Navajo people,” said Lori Goodman, an official with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, a group founded 22 years ago by Mr. Tulley. “We can’t be trashing the land anymore.”

Both presidential candidates in the Navajo election have made the pursuit of cleaner energy a campaign theme, but significant hurdles remain, including that Indian tribes, as sovereign entities, are not eligible for tax credits that help finance renewable energy projects elsewhere.

And replacing coal revenue would not be easy. The mining jobs that remain, which pay union wages, are still precious on a reservation where unemployment is estimated at 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Mining on Black Mesa,” Peabody officials said in a statement, “has generated $12 billion in direct and implied economic benefits over the past 40 years, created thousands of jobs, sent thousands of students to college and restored lands to a condition that is as much as 20 times more productive than native range.”

They added, “Renewables won’t come close to matching the scale of these benefits.”

But many Navajos see the waning of coal as inevitable and are already looking ahead. Some residents and communities are joining together or pairing with outside companies to pursue small-scale renewable energy projects on their own.

Wahleah Johns, a member of the new Navajo Green Economy Commission, is studying the feasibility of a small solar project on reclaimed mining lands with two associates. In the meantime, she uses solar panels as a consciousness-raising tool.

“How can we utilize reclamation lands?” she said to Mr. Yazzie during a recent visit as they held their young daughters in his living room. “Maybe we can use them for solar panels to generate electricity for Los Angeles, to transform something that’s been devastating for our land and water into something that can generate revenue for your family, for your kids.”
Mr. Yazzie, who lives with his wife, three children and two brothers, said he liked the idea. “Once Peabody takes all the coal out, it’ll be gone,” he said. “Solar would be long-term. Solar and wind, we don’t have a problem with. It’s pretty windy out here.”

>A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Disinformation Campaign On Climate Change

By DONALD A BROWN on October 24, 2010 11:43 PM
Climate Ethics

I Introduction.

This post examines the question of whether some US companies are guilty of a new kind of vicious crime against humanity that the world has yet to classify. This post is not meant to be a polemic but a call for serious engaged reflection about deeply irresponsible corporate-sponsored programs that have potentially profound harsh effects upon tens of millions of people living around the world, countless millions of future generations, and the ecological systems on which life depends.

II. Corporate Disinformation Campaign

Although there is an important role for skepticism in science, for almost thirty years some corporations have supported a disinformation campaign about climate change science that has been spreading untruths and distortions about climate science. Several recent books document how this disinformation campaign began in the1980s including a book by Orkeses and Conway, Merchants of Doubt.(Orkeskes and Conway, 2010)

Although it may be reasonable to be somewhat skeptical about climate change models, some corporate sponsored participants in the climate change disinformation campaign have been spreading deeply misleading distortions about the science of climate change. These untruths are not based upon reasonable skepticism but outright falsification and distortions of climate change science. These claims have included assertions that that the science of climate change that is the foundation for calls to action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been completely “debunked” and that there is no evidence of human causation of recent observed warming. Reasonable skepticism cannot make these claims or others frequently being made by the well-financed climate change disinformation campaign.

Given that there are thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies that support the consensus view on the dangers of continuing to emit increasing levels of greenhouse gases, that Academy of Sciences around the world have issued statements in support of the consensus view articulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , there are virtually no peer-reviewed scientific articles that prove beyond reasonable doubt that observed warming is naturally caused, that there are a huge number of attribution, fingerprinting, and analyses of isotopes of greenhouse gases that are appearing in the atmosphere that point to human causation, that the basic physics of exactly what happens when greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere in terms of absorbing and reradiating heat has been understood for over 150 years, claims that the science of climate change have been completely “debunked” and that there is no evidence of human causation are patently false. These claims do not represent reasonable skepticism but utter distortion about a body of evidence that the world needs to understand to protect itself from huge potential harms.

On October 21, 2010, the John Broder of the New York Times,, reported, that “the fossil fuel industries have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it. According the New York Times article, the fossil fuel industry has ” created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global-warming studies, paid for rallies and Web sites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”

Without doubt those telling others that there is no danger heading their way have a special moral responsibility to be extraordinarily careful about such claims. For instance, if someone tells a child laying on a railroad tracks that they can lie there all day because there is no train coming and has never checked to see if a train is actually coming would be obviously guilty of reprehensible behavior.

Disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily if not criminally irresponsible because the consensus scientific view of climate change is based upon strong evidence that climate change harms:

(1) are already being experienced by tens of thousands in the world;

(2) will be experienced in the future by millions of people from greenhouse gas emissions that have already been emitted but not yet felt due to lags in the climate system; and,

(3) will increase dramatically in the future unless GHG emissions are dramatically reduced from existing global emissions levels.

These harms include deaths and harms from droughts, floods, heat, storm related damages, rising oceans, heat impacts on agriculture, loss of animals that are dependent upon for substance purposes, social disputes caused by diminishing resources, sickness from a variety of diseases, the inability to rely upon traditional sources of food, the inability to use property that people depend upon to conduct their life including houses or sleds in cold places, the destruction of water supplies, and the inability to live where has lived to sustain life. In fact, the very existence of some small island nations is threatened by climate change

As long as there is any chance that climate change could create this type of destruction, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that these harms are not yet fully proven, disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily morally reprehensible if it leads to non-action in reducing climate change’s threat when action is indispensable to preventing harm. In fact how to deal with uncertainty in climate change science is an ethical issue, not only a scientific matter, because in the case of climate change:

• If you wait until all the uncertainties are resolved it is likely to be too late to prevent catastrophic climate change.
• The longer one waits to take action, the more difficult it is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of climate change at safe levels.
• Those most vulnerable to climate change include some of the poorest people in the world and they have not consented to be put at risk in the face of uncertainty.

The October 21 New York Times article mentioned above concludes that some US corporate sponsored activities are helping elect politicians that have been influenced by the most irresponsible climate change scientific skeptical arguments. These corporations are clearly doing this because they see climate change greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies as adversely affecting their financial interests. This fact leads to even greater moral culpability for American corporations because their behavior is as offensive as if the person who tells the child train that no train is coming when they don’t actually know whether a train is on its way makes money by misinforming the child.

The October 21rst New York Times article concludes that the oil, coal and utility industries have collectively spent $500 million just since the beginning of 2009 to lobby against legislation to address climate change and to defeat candidates who support actions to reduce the threat of climate change. It would be one thing for an American corporation to act irresponsibly in a way that leads to harm to Americans, but because of climate change’s global scope, American corporation’s have been involved in behavior that likely will harm tens of millions of people around the world. Clearly this is a new type of crime against humanity. Skepticism in science is not bad, but skeptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible skepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from skeptics could lead to great harm. For this reason, this disinformation campaign being funded by some American corporations is some kind of new crime against humanity.

III. Conclusion

The international community does not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.

By :

Donald A. Brown,
Associate Professor,
Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law
Penn State University


Broder, John, (2010) “Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith” New York Times, October 21, 2009,,
Oreskes, Naiomi, and Erik. Conway, 2010, Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth On Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming Bloosmbury Press, New York

Luxo místico e riqueza marcam a estética do cangaço (Fapesp)

A cor que invadiu o sertão

Edição Impressa 176 – Outobro 2010

© reproduções do livro estrela de couro – A estética do cangaço
Corisco, um dos cangaceiros mais vaidosos

“Olê, mulher rendeira/ olê, mulher rendá/ tu me ensina a fazer renda/ que eu te ensino a namorar”, diz a canção-símbolo do cangaço. Sobre moda, Lampião e seus homens tinham pouco a aprender e muito a ensinar. Vestiam-se de forma colorida, cobertos por adornos de ouro e, como bons sertanejos, sabiam confeccionar toda a sorte de objetos e vestimentas sem que por isso se questionasse sua virilidade: o “rei do cangaço” costurava suas roupas e a de seus afilhados e bordava à máquina com perfeição, orgulhando-se da sua habilidade. “O bando de Lampião, sobretudo nos anos 1930, possuía preocupações estéticas mais frequentes e profundas que as do homem urbano moderno”, afirma o historiador Frederico Pernambucano de Mello, pesquisador da Fundação Joaquim Nabuco e autor do livro Estrela de couro: a estética do cangaço (Escrituras, 258 páginas, R$ 150), com 300 fotos históricas e 160 reproduções de objetos de uso pessoal dos cangaceiros, muitos pertencentes ao próprio autor. Tamanho apuro visual, pleno de detalhes nas coisas mais cotidianas (cães com coleiras trabalhadas em prata!), servia como proteção ao mau-olhado, instrumento de hierarquia interna, tinha funcionalidade militar e era um poderoso instrumento de propaganda junto às populações pobres, que se admiravam diante de todo aquele luxo, cor e brilho. Era também uma forma de arte que o cangaceiro carregava no seu corpo.

“Havia orgulho em tudo aquilo, um esforço para que se pudesse chegar ao anseio de beleza de cada um dos cabras. Era notável ainda um desprezo sistemático pela ocultação da figura, atitude oposta à de quem se considera criminoso”, explica. “Morando num meio cinzento e pobre, o cangaceiro vestiu-se de cor e riqueza, satisfazendo seu anseio de arte e conforto místico. Era como se os mais esquivos habitantes do cinzento se levantassem contra o despotismo da ausência de cor na caa­tinga e proclamassem a folia de tons e de contrastes.” Em vez de procurar camuflagem, os cangaceiros desenvolveram uma estética brilhante e ostensiva com roupas adornadas de espelhos, moedas, metais, botões e recortes multicores que, paradoxalmente, os tornavam alvo fácil até no escuro. “Todos armados de mosquetões, usando trajes bizarramente adornados, entram cantando suas canções de guerra, como se estivessem em plena e diabólica folia carnavalesca”, escreveu o Diário de Notícias, de Salvador, em 1929. “Ainda que o fascínio pelo cangaço tenha existido sempre, fomentado pela literatura de cordel, Lampião soube jogar com todos os registros do visual para ‘magnificar’ a sua vida e transmitir a imagem de um bandido rico e poderoso. Foi o primeiro cangaceiro a cuidar de sua estética, usando modos de comunicação modernos que não faziam parte da sua cultura original, como a imprensa e a fotografia”, explica a historiadora francesa Élise Grunspan-Jasmin, autora de Lampião: senhor do sertão (Edusp).

Após terem seu visual cantado pelo cordel, a fotografia, ao chegar ao sertão na primeira década do século passado, fez a delícia do cangaço. “Essa existência criminal parece ter sido criada para caber numa fotografia, tamanho o cuidado do cangaceiro com o visual, com a imponência e a riqueza do traje guerreiro”, avalia Pernambucano. “As vestimentas dos bandidos foram sendo incrementadas até se tornarem quase fantasias. Esse era um dos aspectos da extrema vaidade daqueles bandoleiros”, observa o historiador Luiz Bernardo Pericás, autor de Os cangaceiros: ensaio de interpretação histórica (Boitempo, 320 páginas, R$ 54). O homem do cangaço era um orgulhoso que se esmerava no traje, até o final, como se pode ver na célebre foto das cabeças de Lampião e seus homens ao lado de seus chapéus: “Dentre os treze, não há dois iguais, tão ricos em tema e valor material quanto o do chefe, prova da imponência da estética, cuja afetação exagerada adjetivou o cangaço em sua etapa final, quando se chegou a incrustar alianças de ouro na boca das armas”, nota Pernambucano. “Havia uma estética rica que conferia uma ‘blindagem mística’ ao cangaceiro, satisfeito com a sua beleza e ainda seguro em meio a uma suposta inviolabilidade.” A ponto de contaminar as roupas dos policiais, que copiaram suas vestimentas, e mudar o foco da guerra. “O contágio inelutável dá a força dessa estética e evidencia a existência de outra luta, travada em paralelo, no plano da representação simbólica. A vingança estética do cangaço contra a eliminação militar se dá quando o ícone principal de sua simbologia se transforma na marca do Nordeste: a meia-lua com estrela do chapéu de Lampião.”

Bandidos – Estimulando essa “gana de ostentação” estava a própria essência política do cangaço. “Os cangaceiros não admitiam ser comparados ou confundidos com bandidos comuns, uma ofensa imperdoável. Viam-se como atores sociais distintos, na mesma estatura dos ‘coronéis’”, explica Pericás. O que lhes permitia usar e abusar dos figurinos: orgulhosos de si mesmos, tinham ainda um gosto pelas patentes militares, promovendo “cabras” a postos de hierarquia militar e considerando membros de seus efetivos como “soldados”. “Observe que todo grupo militar preza os símbolos, as insígnias, as representações de poder. Lembra-se do Brejnev com medalhas que não cabiam no peito no tempo da Rússia soviética? Sujeito inteligentíssimo, Lampião fez da costura e do bordado um critério a mais de promoção e status no seio do bando e ele mesmo costurava as vestimentas de seu bando. Saber prepará-los e conferi-los a seus homens era uma grande vantagem”, salienta Pernambucano. “Não se chama o boi batendo na perneira”, dizia o “rei”, consciente da necessidade de uma política de afagos interna para amenizar a disciplina de que não abria mão. “A estética era uma ferramenta para infundir o orgulho do irredentismo cangaceiro nos recrutas de modo quase instantâneo. Antes desse recurso estético, imagino que essa inoculação devesse ser lenta.”

© reproduções do livro estrela de couro – A estética do cangaço
Cantil decorado e, ao lado, bornal florido

Patrões – “Os bandos de cangaceiros eram estruturas hierarquizadas com claras distinções entre as lideranças e a ‘arraia-miúda’, sem voz de comando em posição claramente subordinada aos chefes. Muitos consideravam os líderes do cangaço como ‘patrões’. E esses comandantes se viam assim, quase como os coronéis, com os quais mantinham boas relações, colocando-se em posição igualitária aos potentados rurais”, afirma Pericás. Na contramão do senso comum, os comandantes cangaceiros eram de famílias tradicionais e relativas posses. Lampião, por exemplo, pertencia à classe dos proprietários de terra e ele próprio foi um criador de gado. Por isso o cangaço não foi, diz o pesquisador, uma luta para reconstruir ou modificar a ordem social sertaneja tradicional, como preconizado por boa parte da literatura sobre o fenômeno. “Eles não lutavam para manter ou mudar nenhuma ordem política, mas para defender seus próprios interesses mediante o uso da violência, indistinta e indiscriminada. Os bandidos procuravam, sim, manter vínculos com os protetores poderosos, o que podia resultar, inclusive, em agressões contra o seu próprio povo”, diz Pericás. Nesse sentido, a famosa justificativa da adesão ao cangaço por motivos de disputas sociais ou vinganças familiares deve ser vista com desconfiança. “Os cangaceiros diziam-se vítimas, obrigados a entrar na luta por honra, mas isso era, na maior parte dos casos, um ‘escudo ético’, um argumento para convencer as populações pobres de que eram movidos por questões elevadas, se diferenciando dos bandidos comuns, o que não era real.” Lampião nunca viu como prioridade ajudar os necessitados. “Em geral, guardavam o dinheiro grande e davam alguns tostões aos pobres e às igrejas. E sempre faziam questão de que isso fosse divulgado para criar uma imagem positiva junto ao povo.”

Na prática, o comportamento dos cangaceiros era parecido com o dos coronéis, que agiam de forma paternalista com aqueles que eram considerados “seus” pobres. “Eles não eram bandidos sociais e se pode mesmo dizer que sua presença foi um obstáculo a um protesto social mais significativo. Apesar disso, como um executor independente da raiva silenciosa da pobreza rural, o cangaceiro tinha o apelo popular de um agente superior. A sua violência era um gesto admirado de afirmação psíquica na ausência de justiça e mudança positiva”, acredita a historiadora Linda Lewin, da Universidade da Califórnia, autora de The oligarchical limitations of social banditry in Brazil. Câmara Cascudo já notara que “o sertanejo não admira o criminoso, mas o homem valente”. “O cangaço pode ser visto como uma continuidade do ambiente violento do sertão, onde era comum que paisanos carregassem e usassem armas no cotidiano, pautando sua vida em questões morais, de honra e prestígio”, diz Pericás. Os cangaceiros construíram a imagem de indivíduos injustiçados que haviam ingressado na criminalidade por bons motivos. Mas, se eram violentos, o mesmo pode ser dito dos soldados que os perseguiam. “A população que sofria violências das volantes se voltava para os bandoleiros como uma resposta ou por vê-los em contraposição aos ‘agentes da lei’”, analisa Pericás.

© Reprodução do livro Estrela de couro – a estética do cangaço
Jabiracas de tecido inglês, de Lampião

“Com seus trajes inconfundíveis e nada tendentes à ocultação, se sentiam investidos de um mandato mais antigo, havido por mais legítimo que a própria lei, esta, a seus olhos, uma intrusão litorânea sobre os domínios rurais”, completa Pernambucano. Os cangaceiros supriram a falta de poder institucionalizado no sertão. “Eles seriam os fiéis da balança em muitos casos, sendo um poder paralelo, mais fluido e inconsistente, mas que tinha apelo para as massas rurais”, diz Pericás. Com o tempo, porém, o cangaço se revelou um negócio, o “Cangaço S/A”, como o descreve Pernambucano. “Era uma ‘profissão’, um ‘meio de vida’. Os bandidos estavam equidistantes do ‘povo’ e dos mandões, ainda que com maior proximidade das elites rurais”, concorda Pericás. Como eram “independentes”, tinham sua imagem dissociada diretamente dos coronéis. “Não sendo empregados de ninguém, eram de certo modo autônomos, tirando das camadas mais ricas e dos governos o monopólio da violência. Mas é sempre bom lembrar que a maioria da população sertaneja, apesar da miséria, da exploração, da falta de emprego e das secas, não ingressou no cangaço.” Segundo o pesquisador, um dos motivos para a longevidade da “boa” recordação dos cangaceiros seria sua contraposição à ordem instituída. “Os policiais representavam o governo, mas usavam a farda para transgredir. Assim, parte dessa sociedade se voltou para os cangaceiros e viu neles o oposto, ou seja, aqueles que lutavam contra a ordem.” Suas atividades crimi­nosas, então, eram justificadas no quadro maior da luta entre os dois “partidos”: cangaço e polícia.

Politicamente “reabilitados” e bem vistos, permitiam-se o luxo da ostentação, que se iniciava pelos chapéus, cujas abas levantadas podiam chegar aos 20 cm de raio anular, uma hipérbole em relação ao modelo original dos vaqueiros, de abas viradas, mas curtas. “Experimentei o chapéu de Lampião no Instituto Histórico e Geográfico de Alagoas: o pescoço bambeou. Tanto peso ornamental não teria nada a ver com funcionalidade militar, mas com valores bem mais sutis”, conta Pernambucano. O objeto tem cerca de 70 peças de ouro, entre moedas, medalhas e outros adereços, o que levou um repórter da época a defini-lo como “verdadeira exposição numismática”. O chapéu era o ponto de concentração dos adendos simbólicos que caracterizam o traje do cangaceiro.

© reproduções do livro estrela de couro – A estética do cangaço
Chapéu de couro do rei do cangaço (à esq.) e conjunto de bornais

Amuletos – Coisas comuns eram transformadas em amuletos que, além de reforçar a hierarquia, viravam símbolos de uma crença mística. “A blindagem mística se traduziu nos muitos signos (estrela de davi, flor de lis, signo de salomão e outros) e na profusão do seu uso em todos os ângulos das vestimentas, o que dividia a atenção com o puro anseio estético, a se mesclar a este, conferindo utilitarismo à fusão, pela força de dar vida à crença tradicional numa suposta inviolabilidade em meio a riscos extremos.” Mas não se iluda o espectador ao pensar que os bandos eram “escolas móveis de superstição”. “O grosso da cabroeira, muito jovem, entre os 16 e os 23 anos, pautava-se pela lei da imitação, sem consciência daquilo de que se servia. O chefe usava? Basta.” As mulheres seguiam as modas de perto, mas de forma distinta. “Com alguns traços de valquíria e quase nenhum da amazona, a matuta que se engajou no cangaço jamais adotou o chapéu de couro, coisa de homem. A elas ficou reservado uma cobertura de feltro, de aba média, e a colocação, sobre a cabeça, de toalha ou lenço”, conta Pernambucano. O mesmo se dava com os punhais que podiam chegar a 80 cm para os homens (o tamanho limite era o do punhal de Lampião, que não poderia ser superado), mas não passavam dos 37 cm no caso das mulheres.

© Reprodução do livro Estrela de couro – a estética do cangaço
Facão com cabo de gavião, de Lampião

As armas brancas, aliás, são paradigmas na vestimenta do cangaceiro. Com função militar quase morta após o advento da espingarda de repetição, os punhais serviam no ritual letal do sangramento nordestino ou como símbolo de status. “Era usado orgulhosamente sobre o abdome, à vista de todos, aço da melhor qualidade europeia com cabo decorado de prata. Desfrutável ao primeiro olhar. Ou à primeira fotografia.” O punhal de Zé Baiano, presente de Lampião, foi avaliado em mais de 1 conto de réis, preço de uma casa. Outros símbolos de prestígio eram a bandoleira, correia para segurar a espingarda no ombro, e a cartucheira trespassada, essa uma necessidade nascida de se prover um adicional de munição: 150 cartuchos de fuzil Mauser presos com enfeites de ouro. Era comum, porém, que as volantes, cientes do prestígio de seu uso, mirassem em quem portasse uma dessas. A seu lado, iam os cantis, decorados com esmero, um espaço surpreendente de arte de projeção. Como as luvas a que, nota Pernambucano, o cangaceiro, no fausto dos anos 1930, juntou um bordado colorido. O lugar privilegiado das cores, porém, eram os bornais, cuja policromia levou um jornalista a descrever os cangaceiros como “ornamentados e ataviados de cores berrantes que mais pareciam fantasiados para um carnaval”. Visíveis por todos os ângulos, os bornais eram responsáveis por mais de dois terços desse “porre de cores”, o resto ficando por conta do lenço de pescoço, a jabiraca, com que também se coava o líquido extraído de plantas da caatinga. “Nela, nada de nós, mas puxadas as duas pontas para a frente, em paralelo, o cangaceiro ia colecionando alianças de ouro, tomando-se como rico quando formava o cartucho. Houve quem tivesse mais de 30 alianças no pescoço”, conta. Viajando por Sergipe, em 1929, Lampião teve os “apetrechos” pesados numa balança de armazém: 29 quilos sem as armas. No total, o peso carregado no calor tórrido da caatinga podia chegar a quase 40 quilos.

Místico – Com menos aprumo, a vestimenta contagiou os policiais. “A sedução da indumentária dos cangaceiros arrebatava pelo funcional, pelo estético e pelo místico. A volante se mimetizou a tal ponto que dela não restou imagem própria”, diz Pernambucano. Para desespero das autoridades, que se sentiam derrotadas também no simbólico. “Cumpre que se adote a proibição de fardamentos exóticos, de berloques, estrelas, punhais alongados e outros exageros notoriamente conhecidos, porque a impressão se faz no cérebro rude e, à primeira oportunidade, o chapéu de couro cobre a testa e o rifle pende a tiracolo”, alertava um relatório oficial. Curiosamente, nota o pesquisador, pintores como Portinari ou Vicente do Rego Monteiro não souberam captar o luxo e o colorido dessa estética em suas reproduções do cangaço, optando, ideologicamente, por uma visão monocromática opaca, para ressaltar o aspecto social do fenômeno, à custa da fidelidade ao real. “Não é exagero dizer que ainda está por surgir, na pintura ou no cinema, quem consiga combinar o ethos e o ethnos dessas comunidades para retratá-las”, avalia Pernambucano. “O cangaço foi o último movimento a viver ‘sem lei nem rei’ em nossos dias, após varar cinco séculos de história. E o último a fazê-lo com tanto orgulho, com tanta cor, com tanta festa e com uma herança visual tão significativa.” Como, aliás, já diziam os versos de Mulher rendeira: “O fuzil de Lampião/ tem cinco laços de fita/ No lugar em que ele habita/ não falta moça bonita”.

Manifesto em defesa do Conselho de Comunicação Social e da democracia no Ceará

As entidades abaixo assinadas manifestam publicamente seu total apoio à criação do Conselho de Comunicação Social do Estado do Ceará e repudia, de forma veemente, as tentativas de setores conservadores da sociedade de desqualificar a decisão da Assembleia Legislativa do Estado de propor ao governador Cid Gomes (PSB) a criação de um órgão que possibilitará a efetiva participação da sociedade cearense na criação de políticas públicas em comunicação do Estado.

Um Conselho tem como finalidade principal servir de instrumento para garantir a participação popular, o controle social e a gestão democrática das políticas e dos serviços públicos, envolvendo o planejamento e o acompanhamento da execução destas políticas e serviços públicos. Hoje, existem conselhos municipais, estaduais e nacionais, nas mais diversas áreas, seja na Educação, na Saúde, na Assistência Social, entre outros. Um Conselho de Comunicação Social é, assim como os demais Conselhos, um espaço para que a sociedade civil, em conjunto com o poder público, tenha o direito a participar ativamente na formulação de políticas públicas e a repensar os modelos que hoje estão instituídos.

Longe de ser uma tentativa de censura ou de cerceamento à liberdade de imprensa, como tenta fazer crer a grande mídia (nada mais que uma dúzia de famílias) e seus prepostos, o Conselho é uma reivindicação histórica dos movimentos sociais, organizações da sociedade civil, jornalistas brasileiros e setores progressistas do empresariado que atuam pela democratização da comunicação no Brasil e não uma construção de partido político A ou B. E mais, falta com a verdade quem diz ser inconstitucional o Conselho de Comunicação, pois este está previsto na Constituição, no Artigo 224, que diz “Para os efeitos do disposto neste capítulo, o Congresso Nacional instituirá, como seu órgão auxiliar, o Conselho de Comunicação Social, na forma da lei”, com direito a criação de órgãos correlatos nos estados, a exemplo dos demais conselhos nacionais.

Uma das 672 propostas democraticamente aprovadas pelos milhares de delegados e delegadas da sociedade civil empresarial, não-empresarial e do poder público, participantes da 1ª Conferência Nacional de Comunicação (Confecom), os Conselhos de Comunicação Social são a possibilidade concreta de a sociedade se manifestar contra arbitrariedades e abusos cometidos pelos veículos, cuja programação é contaminada por interesses comerciais, que muitas vezes violam a legislação vigente e desrespeitam os direitos e a dignidade da pessoa humana.

A desfaçatez com que o baronato da mídia e seus asseclas manipulam a opinião pública, na tentativa de camuflar a defesa de interesses econômicos e políticos que contrariam a responsabilidade social dos meios de comunicação e o interesse público, merece o mais amplo repúdio do povo brasileiro. Eles desrespeitam um princípio básico do jornalismo, que é ouvir diferentes versões dos acontecimentos, além de fugir do debate factual, plantando informação.

É chegada à hora de a sociedade dar um basta à manipulação da informação, se unindo aos trabalhadores, consumidores, produtores e difusores progressistas na defesa da criação, pelo poder público, dos Conselhos de Comunicação Social. Somente assim, o povo cearense evitará que o Governo do Estado sucumba à covarde pressão de radiodifusores e proprietários de veículos impressos que ainda acreditam na chantagem e na distorção da verdade como instrumento de barganha política.

Que venham os Conselhos de Comunicação Social, para garantir à sociedade brasileira o direito à informação plural, a liberdade de manifestação de pensamento, criação, e a consolidação da democracia nos meios de comunicação.

Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas – FENAJ

Sindicato dos Jornalistas Proissionais no Estado do Ceará – Sindjorce

Fórum Nacional pela Democratização da Comunicação – FNDC

Instituto de Juventude Contemporânea – IJC

Associação Brasileira de Rádios Comunitárias – Abraço-CE

Centro de Defesa da Criança e do Adolescente do Ceará – Cedeca-CE




Associação Comunitária do Bairro Monte Castelo


Agência de Informação Frei Tito para América Latina – Adital


Fábrica de Imagens – ações educativas em cidadania e gênero (Fortaleza CE)

Rede de Adolescentes e Jovens Comunicadores e Comunicadoras do Brasil

Sindicato dos Operadores de Turismo do Ceará

Rede de Jovens do Nordeste

Cia. de Teatro Arte Amiga

Cia Tesouro Nordestino

Pastoral da Juventude do Canindezinho – PJ

Grupo Vida e Arte

Centro Cultural de Arte Capoeira na veia

Associação Zumbi Capoeira

Grupo Pensar Lutar e Cia. de Teatro arte amiga

Tesouro Nordestino

Pastoral da juventude (canindezinho)

Coral Vida e Arte

Futsal Caça e Pesca

Centro Cultural de Arte Capoeira na veia

Associação Zumbi Capoeira (Pirambu)

Grupo Pensar Lutar e Vencer (Pastoral da Juventude Maraponga)

Grupo Tapa (Temos amor pela arte)

Espaço Solidário (ESSO)

Juventude Negra Kalunga

Terreiro Capoeira

Grêmio estudantil Juventude Ativa

Vidas e Vozes da Juventude

Juventude Atitude (CDI)

Cine Rua

Centro de Apoio a Vida

Grupo Aprendizes de Papel

Grupo Budega Chic

‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback (N.Y. Times)

A vacant lot on East 110th Street in New York in 1952: the study of urban blight has long been influenced by political fashions.

Published: October 17, 2010

For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his office at Harvard in 1971. George Tames/The New York Times.

The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration, introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty” to the public in a startling 1965 report. Although Moynihan didn’t coin the phrase (that distinction belongs to the anthropologist Oscar Lewis), his description of the urban black family as caught in an inescapable “tangle of pathology” of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency was seen as attributing self-perpetuating moral deficiencies to black people, as if blaming them for their own misfortune.

Moynihan’s analysis never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers, whose arguments ultimately succeeded when President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1996 “ending welfare as we know it.” But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word “culture” became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.

Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly about you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.

“We’ve finally reached the stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at Princeton who has argued that Moynihan was unfairly maligned.

The old debate has shaped the new. Last month Princeton and the Brookings Institution released a collection of papers on unmarried parents, a subject, it noted, that became off-limits after the Moynihan report. At the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, attendees discussed the resurgence of scholarship on culture. And in Washington last spring, social scientists participated in a Congressional briefing on culture and poverty linked to a special issue of The Annals, the journal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

“Culture is back on the poverty research agenda,” the introduction declares, acknowledging that it should never have been removed.

The topic has generated interest on Capitol Hill because so much of the research intersects with policy debates. Views of the cultural roots of poverty “play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues,” Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, noted at the briefing.

This surge of academic research also comes as the percentage of Americans living in poverty hit a 15-year high: one in seven, or 44 million.

With these studies come many new and varied definitions of culture, but they all differ from the ’60s-era model in these crucial respects: Today, social scientists are rejecting the notion of a monolithic and unchanging culture of poverty. And they attribute destructive attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation.

To Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, culture is best understood as “shared understandings.”

“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?

As part of a large research project in Chicago, Professor Sampson walked through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped, addressed envelopes to see how many people would pick up an apparently lost letter and mail it, a sign that looking out for others is part of the community’s culture.

In some neighborhoods, like Grand Boulevard, where the notorious Robert Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were mailed; in others researchers received more than half of the letters back. Income levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said, but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and disorder.

The shared perception of a neighborhood — is it on the rise or stagnant? — does a better job of predicting a community’s future than the actual level of poverty, he said.

William Julius Wilson, whose pioneering work boldly confronted ghetto life while focusing on economic explanations for persistent poverty, defines culture as the way “individuals in a community develop an understanding of how the world works and make decisions based on that understanding.”

For some young black men, Professor Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, said, the world works like this: “If you don’t develop a tough demeanor, you won’t survive. If you have access to weapons, you get them, and if you get into a fight, you have to use them.”

Seeking to recapture the topic from economists, sociologists have ventured into poor neighborhoods to delve deeper into the attitudes of residents. Their results have challenged some common assumptions, like the belief that poor mothers remain single because they don’t value marriage.

In Philadelphia, for example, low-income mothers told the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas that they thought marriage was profoundly important, even sacred, but doubted that their partners were “marriage material.” Their results have prompted some lawmakers and poverty experts to conclude that programs that promote marriage without changing economic and social conditions are unlikely to work.

A Chicago mother and child in 1997 at the notorious Robert Taylor Homes, since demolished. Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times.

Mario Luis Small, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and an editor of The Annals’ special issue, tried to figure out why some New York City mothers with children in day care developed networks of support while others did not. As he explained in his 2009 book, “Unanticipated Gains,” the answer did not depend on income or ethnicity, but rather the rules of the day-care institution. Centers that held frequent field trips, organized parents’ associations and had pick-up and drop-off procedures created more opportunities for parents to connect.

Younger academics like Professor Small, 35, attributed the upswing in cultural explanations to a “new generation of scholars without the baggage of that debate.”

Scholars like Professor Wilson, 74, who have tilled the field much longer, mentioned the development of more sophisticated data and analytical tools. He said he felt compelled to look more closely at culture after the publication of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s controversial 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” which attributed African-Americans’ lower I.Q. scores to genetics.

The authors claimed to have taken family background into account, Professor Wilson said, but “they had not captured the cumulative effects of living in poor, racially segregated neighborhoods.”

He added, “I realized we needed a comprehensive measure of the environment, that we must consider structural and cultural forces.”

He mentioned a study by Professor Sampson, 54, that found that growing up in areas where violence limits socializing outside the family and where parents haven’t attended college stunts verbal ability, lowering I.Q. scores by as much as six points, the equivalent of missing more than a year in school.

Changes outside campuses have made conversation about the cultural roots of poverty easier than it was in the ’60s. Divorce, living together without marrying, and single motherhood are now commonplace. At the same time prominent African-Americans have begun to speak out on the subject. In 2004 the comedian Bill Cosby made headlines when he criticized poor blacks for “not parenting” and dropping out of school. President Obama, who was abandoned by his father, has repeatedly talked about “responsible fatherhood.”

Conservatives also deserve credit, said Kay S. Hymowitz, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, for their sustained focus on family values and marriage even when cultural explanations were disparaged.

Still, worries about blaming the victim persist. Policy makers and the public still tend to view poverty through one of two competing lenses, Michèle Lamont, another editor of the special issue of The Annals, said: “Are the poor poor because they are lazy, or are the poor poor because they are a victim of the markets?”

So even now some sociologists avoid words like “values” and “morals” or reject the idea that, as The Annals put it, “a group’s culture is more or less coherent.” Watered-down definitions of culture, Ms. Hymowitz complained, reduce some of the new work to “sociological pablum.”

“If anthropologists had come away from doing field work in New Guinea concluding ‘everyone’s different,’ but sometimes people help each other out,” she wrote in an e-mail, “there would be no field of anthropology — and no word culture for cultural sociologists to bend to their will.”

Fuzzy definitions or not, culture is back. This prompted mock surprise from Rep. Woolsey at last spring’s Congressional briefing: “What a concept. Values, norms, beliefs play very important roles in the way people meet the challenges of poverty.”

>Dilema entre preservação e desenvolvimento é constante na história brasileira (FAPESP)

>Humanidades | Ecologia
Entre o homem e a natureza

Carlos Haag
Edição Impressa 176 – Outobro 2010

Queimada: problemas desde a colônia. © ALBERTO CÉSAR ARAÚJO/Agência Estado.

O projeto do novo Código Florestal, aprovado em agosto pela comissão especial da Câmara dos Deputados, deverá ser votado no Congresso após as eleições, sob críticas de cientistas e ambientalistas, para os quais a sua homologação causará impactos graves na biodiversidade e nos serviços ecossistêmicos em razão das reduções significativas nas áreas de preservação permanentes (APP) e da anistia a desmatamentos feitos até 2008. A polêmica ambiental mais recente tem raízes antigas: o dilema entre preservação da natureza e desenvolvimento econômico é tema de discussões no país desde os tempos da colônia. Um pouco posterior é a dificuldade de se fazer uma parceria entre Estado e sociedade para uma solução equilibrada. “No Brasil há um padrão histórico: as preocupações com o meio ambiente, em geral, resultaram da atuação de grupos de cientistas, intelectuais e funcionários públicos que, por meio de suas inserções no Executivo, procuraram influenciar as decisões dos governantes em favor da valorização da natureza”, explica o historiador José Luiz de Andrade Franco, da Universidade de Brasília, autor de Proteção à natureza e identidade nacional no Brasil (Fiocruz). “Por isso, o andamento das políticas de proteção à natureza sempre dependeu mais de ligações com governos e apenas secundariamente do eco que as pessoas preocupadas com as questões ambientais alcançam na sociedade”, avalia.

Foi assim com o Código Florestal original, criado em 1934 por Getúlio Vargas, fruto de articulações de um grupo de pesquisadores do Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro (MNRJ), que, usando a sua influência junto a círculos do poder, defendeu a intervenção de um Estado forte para garantir, por meio de leis, o equilíbrio entre progresso e patrimônio natural. A legislação, que colocava limites ao direito de propriedade em nome da conservação, protegendo áreas florestais, foi revista em 1965 durante a ditadura militar. Pela primeira vez o código será revisto em uma sociedade democrática e aberta ao debate com a opinião pública. Colheremos melhores frutos do que no passado? “Os protetores da natureza dos anos 1920-1940, que geraram a legislação, eram a favor de um Estado forte, mas tinham propostas de transformação social e ambiental bastante renovadoras. Os conservacionistas dos anos 1960-1980 não estavam na vanguarda do questionamento político do regime militar, mas tinham preocupações com a natureza ainda muito distantes do itinerário político das esquerdas”, lembra Franco. “Hoje os ambientalistas mais preocupados com as questões sociais têm uma postura bastante antropocêntrica, deixando, muitas vezes, as questões urgentíssimas da biodiversidade na sombra.” Segundo o pesquisador, sociedade e Estado, no Brasil, ainda são hegemonicamente desenvolvimentistas. “O sucesso a médio e longo prazo do ambientalismo está na sua capacidade de reverter essa disposição de promover o crescimento econômico a qualquer custo.” Para o pesquisador, não é de estranhar que esses protetores da natureza do passado tenham sido quase esquecidos na corrente forte do desenvolvimentismo que prevaleceu no país da década de 1940 em diante. “Surpreende, sim, que eles tenham sido esquecidos pelos ambientalistas brasileiros, ‘científicos’ e ‘sociais’, que, a partir dos anos 1980, emergiram como atores relevantes na ciência, no ativismo, na mídia e nos movimentos sociais.”

Franco chama esses protetores de “a segunda geração de conservacionistas” brasileiros, intelectuais que, entre os anos 1920 e 1940, cobraram do Executivo a manutenção de um vínculo orgânico entre natureza e sociedade, porque, afirmavam, defender a natureza era uma forma de construir a nossa nacionalidade. Eram, na sua maioria, cientistas do MNRJ: Alberto José Sampaio (1881-1946), Armando Magalhães Correa (1889-1944), Cândido de Mello Leitão (1886-1948) e Carlos Frederico Hoehne (1882-1959). A tendência desses círculos intelectuais, como característico na história ambiental nacional, foi integrar-se ao Estado para reclamar das autoridades um comportamento mais racional dos agentes econômicos privados. “Havia entre eles a convicção de sua responsabilidade na construção da identidade nacional e na organização das instituições do Estado”, observa Franco. A série de códigos ambientais decretados pelo governo Vargas, somada à criação dos primeiros parques nacionais, indica o relativo sucesso alcançado por eles. “Eles acreditavam que a intervenção autoritária de Vargas iria resolver os conflitos e a competição injusta. A partir disso, pensavam, um novo homem se ligaria à natureza e aos outros homens”, analisa a historiadora Regina Horta Duarte, da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, autora do artigo “Pássaros e cientistas no Brasil”. Para colocar em prática suas teorias eles criaram sociedades públicas para proteção da natureza: Sociedade dos Amigos das Árvores, Sociedade dos Amigos do Museu Nacional, Sociedade dos Amigos da Flora Brasílica, entre outras.

A iniciativa mais ambiciosa dessas organizações foi a Primeira Conferência Brasileira de Proteção à Natureza, realizada em 1934, com o apoio do regime varguista, que acabara de criar o Código Florestal, o Código de Caça e Pesca e a Lei sobre Expedições Científicas. A Constituição de 1934 também incluía um artigo sobre o papel dos governos federal e estaduais na proteção das “belezas naturais”. O ciclo de palestras foi aberto com a leitura de “Natureza”, do poeta alemão Goethe. “Uma evidência da importância dada pelos participantes à percepção estética do mundo natural. Por essa visão, a natureza deveria ser admirada, cuidada e transformada num jardim”, conta Franco. “Essa influência romântica, porém, nunca descartou a possibilidade do uso econômico da natureza e a necessidade de renovar fontes esgotadas sempre era lembrada. Além de ser um ‘jardim’, o mundo natural era percebido como indústria. Daí as várias propostas da criação de ‘berçários de árvores’, que eram, ao mesmo tempo, jardins e áreas de produção de madeira em larga escala.” Os organizadores da conferência estavam atualizados sobre a ação dos protetores da natureza de outros países. Conheciam a fundo a experiência americana e o debate entre os preservacionistas de John Muir, que defendiam a contemplação estética da natureza, e os conservacionistas liderados por Guif­ford Pinchot, que acreditavam na exploração racional de recursos naturais. As duas correntes ganharam seu espaço na Presidência de Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), o que resultou no crescimento do Parque Yosemite e na criação de várias reservas e mais cinco novos parques nacionais.

Mas o que dividia os americanos era consenso no Brasil e não havia ingenuidade no grupo, apesar da combinação que faziam de romantismo, ciência e nacionalismo. “Naquele momento, os conceitos de proteção, conservação e preservação eram intercambiáveis. Para os cientistas, a natureza deveria ser protegida, tanto como conjunto de recursos produtivos a ser explorado racionalmente pelas gerações futuras, quanto como diversidade biológica, objeto de ciência e contemplação estética.” Argumentos utilitários coexistiam em harmonia com estéticos, e tudo era parte de um projeto maior da união entre natureza e nacionalidade. “As metáforas que eles usaram para representar a sociedade brasileira convergiam com as imagens do ideário político varguista”, nota Franco. “Essa forma de proteger a natureza estava em sintonia com o projeto de Estado corporativista de Vargas e essa convergência ajudou a elevar o status institucional adquirido por um número de propostas relacionadas à proteção ambiental e ao controle público e privado dos recursos naturais”, analisa o pesquisador. “Antes da revolução de 1930, a descentralização política fortaleceu o controle das elites regionais, incentivando a exploração extrema de recursos naturais. A destruição das florestas era agravada pelas ferrovias que, na definição de Euclides da Cunha, eram ‘fazedoras de desertos’”, observa o historiador José Augusto Pádua, da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro e autor de Um sopro de destruição: pensamento político e crítica ambiental no Brasil escravista (Zahar).

Em 1915, o jurista e filósofo Alberto Torres (1865-1917) alertou para a situação: “Os brasileiros são, todos, estrangeiros em sua terra, a qual não aprendem a explorar sem destruir”. “Ele foi o primeiro brasileiro a usar o termo conservação como se empregava nos EUA, incluindo-o na sua proposta de uma nova Constituição. Suas ideias iram influenciar os cientistas do MNRJ”, observa Franco. Apesar do prestígio de intelectuais como Torres, as ações políticas concretas foram nulas. “Mesmo com o apoio do presidente Epitácio Pessoa, que confessava o seu incômodo pelo fato de o Brasil ser o único país de grandes florestas sem um Código Florestal, a legislação continuou omissa”, lembra Pádua. É possível, então, imaginar o impacto da ação dos protetores da natureza quando, poucos anos depois do código e poucos meses antes da nova Constituição de 1937, que elevou os bens naturais à categoria de patrimônio público, foi decretada a criação do Parque Nacional de Itatiaia. A ditadura estado-novista iria criar, até 1939, mais outros dois parques: o da Serra dos Órgãos, no Rio, e o do Iguaçu, no Paraná.

“Mas nos anos seguintes a ação governamental para a preservação mostraria seus limites claros, com orçamentos ínfimos para órgãos florestais, precariedade da fiscalização e ausência de uma participação efetiva da sociedade civil. A fundação de parques nacionais não privilegiou ecossistemas de grande biodiversidade, mas áreas próximas a centros urbanos, como Itatiaia ou serra dos Órgãos, ou estratégicas, como Iguaçu”, nota Regina Horta. “A preservação patrimonial era realmente importante nos projetos do governo Vargas. Mas, além de seu simbolismo cultural e político, a natureza, para além dos parques, era principalmente vista como fonte de riquezas exploráveis para o desenvolvimento econômico, e os projetos industrializantes ganharam o comprometimento do Estado Novo.”

“A ideologia do crescimento a qualquer custo sempre retirou a importância dos temas ambientais. Só hoje temos uma situação potencialmente nova, em que a união entre um Estado poderoso e uma esfera pública mais dinâmica pode criar uma verdadeira política de gestão sustentável da natureza”, nota Pádua. Segundo o pesquisador, há uma continuidade dos problemas ambientais desde a colônia, como queimadas, desflorestamento e degradação dos solos e das águas, mas, ao mesmo tempo, houve muita reflexão sobre essas questões, desde o século XVIII. Basta lembrar que em 1876 o engenheiro e líder abolicionista André Rebouças já pedia a criação de parques nacionais, pois “a geração atual não pode fazer melhor doação às gerações vindouras do que reservar intactas, livres do ferro e do fogo, as belas ilhas do Araguaia e do Paraná”. Para Rebouças, a razão do descaso com a natureza era a escravidão, hipótese também defendida pelo abolicionista Joaquim Nabuco, para quem era preciso o uso econômico racional da natureza brasileira. “Eles procuraram estabelecer uma relação causal entre escravismo e práticas predatórias. A combinação entre a abundância de trabalho cativo, barato, e uma fronteira aberta para a ocupação de novas terras teria estimulado uma ação extensiva e descuidada na produção rural, baseada no avanço das queimadas, deixando terras degradadas e abandonadas”, explica Pádua. Para esses intelectuais, a devastação ambiental não era o “preço do progresso”, mas o “preço do atraso”, resultado da permanência de práticas rudimentares de exploração da terra.

Devastação: preço do atraso, e não do progresso. © Agência Estado.

Nisso ambos eram herdeiros da preocupação ambiental iluminista de José Bonifácio, um fisiocrata egresso da Universidade de Coimbra, a primeira instituição, já no século XVIII, a formar intelectuais que refutavam a exploração descuidada dos recursos naturais da colônia. “Destruir matos virgens, nos quais a natureza ofertou com mão pródiga as mais preciosas madeiras do mundo, e sem causa, como se tem praticado no Brasil, é extravagância insofrível, crime horrendo e grande insulto. Que defesa produziremos no tribunal da Razão quando os nossos netos nos acusarem de fatos tão culposos?”, escreveu o futuro Patriarca da Independência em 1819. “É preciso lembrar a riqueza do debate intelectual sobre temas ecológicos no país; e em alguns momentos, como no século XIX, ele foi um dos mais intensos do mundo, apesar da pobreza dos resultados. O que ‘relativiza’ o papel dos EUA e da Europa na gênese da preocupação ambiental moderna”, explica Pádua. A análise da história ambiental transforma a contribuição dos intelectuais dos séculos XIX e meados do XX em algo surpreendentemente atual. “Eles não eram ambientalistas no sentido moderno, mas in­cluíam os temas da destruição do mundo natural no debate sobre o futuro do país como um todo, relacionando-os com traços estruturais da sociedade, como, por exemplo, o escravismo. Guardadas as diferenças de contexto, é disso que precisamos hoje: incluir a dimensão ambiental no centro do debate sobre o futuro do Brasil e da humanidade.” O Código Florestal do século XXI agradece as lições do passado.

>’Science as the Enemy’: The Traveling Salesmen of Climate Skepticism (Spiegel)

By Cordula Meyer

A handful of US scientists have made names for themselves by casting doubt on global warming research. In the past, the same people have also downplayed the dangers of passive smoking, acid rain and the ozone hole. In all cases, the tactics are the same: Spread doubt and claim it’s too soon to take action.

Photo: Manhattan by night: The skeptics are accused of having links to energy companies.

With his sonorous voice, Fred Singer, 86, sounded like a grandfather explaining the obvious to a dim-witted child. “Nature, not human activity, rules the climate,” the American physicist told a discussion attended by members of the German parliament for the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) three weeks ago.

Marie-Luise Dött, the environmental policy spokeswoman for the parliamentary group of Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), also attended Singer’s presentation. She said afterwards that it was “extremely illuminating.” She later backpedaled, saying that her comments had been quoted out of context, and that of course she supports an ambitious climate protection policy — just like Chancellor Merkel.

Merkel, as it happens, was precisely the person Singer was trying to reach. “Our problem is not the climate. Our problem is politicians, who want to save the climate. They are the real problem,” he says. “My hope is that Merkel, who is not stupid, will see the light,” says Singer, who has since left for Paris. Noting that he liked the results of his talks, he adds: “I think I achieved something.”

Salesman of Skepticism

Singer is a traveling salesman of sorts for those who question climate change. On this year’s summer tour, he gave speeches to politicians in Rome, Paris and the Israeli port city of Haifa. Paul Friedhoff, the economic policy spokesman of the FDP’s parliamentary group, had invited him to Berlin. Singer and the FDP get along famously. The American scientist had already presented his contrary theories on the climate to FDP politicians at the Institute for Free Enterprise, a Berlin-based free-market think tank, last December.

Singer is one of the most influential deniers of climate change worldwide. In his world, respected climatologists are vilified as liars, people who are masquerading as environmentalists while, in reality, having only one goal in mind: to introduce socialism. Singer wants to save the world from this horror. For some, the fact that he made a name for himself as a brilliant atmospheric physicist after World War II lends weight to his words.

Born in Vienna, Singer fled to the United States in 1940 and soon became part of an elite group fighting the Cold War on the science front. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Singer continued his struggle — mostly against environmentalists, and always against any form of regulation.

Whether it was the hole in the ozone layer, acid rain or climate change, Singer always had something critical to say, and he always knew better than the experts in their respective fields. But in doing so he strayed far away from the disciplines in which he himself was trained. For example, his testimony aided the tobacco lobby in its battle with health policy experts.

‘Science as the Enemy’

The Arlington, Virginia-based Marshall Institute took an approach very similar to Singer’s. Founded in 1984, its initial mission was to champion then US President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), better known as “Star Wars.” After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the founders abruptly transformed their institute into a stronghold for deniers of environmental problems.

“The skeptics thought, if you give up economic freedom, it will lead to losing political freedom. That was the underlying ideological current,” says Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied Singer’s methods. As scientists uncovered more and more environmental problems, the skeptics “began to see science as the enemy.”

Oreskes is referring to only a handful of scientists and lobbyists, and yet they have managed to convince many ordinary people — and even some US presidents — that science is deeply divided over the causes of climate change. Former President George H.W. Bush even referred to the physicists at the Marshall Institute as “my scientists.”

Whatever the issue, Singer and his cohorts have always used the same basic argument: that the scientific community is still in disagreement and that scientists don’t have enough information. For instance, they say that genetics could be responsible for the cancers of people exposed to secondhand smoke, volcanoes for the hole in the ozone layer and the sun for climate change.

Cruel Nature

It almost seems as if Singer were trying to disguise himself as one of the people he is fighting. With his corduroy trousers, long white hair and a fish fossil hanging from a leather band around his neck, he comes across as an amiable old environmentalist. But the image he paints of nature is not at all friendly. “Nature is much to be feared, very cruel and very dangerous,” he says.

At conferences, Singer likes to introduce himself as a representative of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). As impressive as this title sounds, the NIPCC is nothing but a collection of like-minded scientists Singer has gathered around himself. A German meteorologist in the group, Gerd Weber, has worked for the German Coal Association on and off for the last 25 years.

According to a US study, 97 percent of all climatologists worldwide assume that greenhouse gases produced by humans are warming the Earth. Nevertheless, one third of Germans and 40 percent of Americans doubt that the Earth is getting warmer. And many people are convinced that climatologists are divided into two opposing camps on the issue — which is untrue.

So how is it that people like Singer have been so effective in shaping public opinion?

Part 2: Experience Gained Defending Big Tobacco

Many scientists do not sufficiently explain the results of their research. Some climatologists have also been arrogant or have refused to turn over their data to critics. Some overlook inconsistencies or conjure up exaggerated horror scenarios that are not always backed by science. For example, sloppy work was responsible for a prediction in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that all Himalayan glaciers would have melted by 2035. It was a grotesque mistake that plunged the IPCC into a credibility crisis.

Singer and his fellow combatants take advantage of such mistakes and utilize their experiences defending the tobacco industry. For decades, Big Tobacco managed to cast doubt on the idea that smoking kills. An internal document produced by tobacco maker Brown & Williamson states: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.”

In 1993, tobacco executives handed around a document titled “Bad Science — A Resource Book.” In the manual, PR professionals explain how to discredit inconvenient scientific results by labeling them “junk.” For example, the manual suggested pointing out that “too often science is manipulated to fulfill a political agenda.” According to the document: “Proposals that seek to improve indoor air quality by singling out tobacco smoke only enable bad science to become a poor excuse for enacting new laws and jeopardizing individual liberties.”

‘Junk Science’

In 1993, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published what was then the most comprehensive study on the effects of tobacco smoke on health, which stated that exposure to secondhand smoke was responsible for about 3,000 deaths a year in the United States. Singer promptly called it “junk science.” He warned that the EPA scientists were secretly pursuing a communist agenda. “If we do not carefully delineate the government’s role in regulating … dangers, there is essentially no limit to how much government can ultimately control our lives,” Singer wrote.

Reacting to the EPA study, the Philip Morris tobacco company spearheaded the establishment of “The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition” (TASSC). Its goal was to raise doubts about the risks of passive smoking and climate change, and its message was to be targeted at journalists — but only those with regional newspapers. Its express goal was “to avoid cynical reporters from major media.”

Singer, Marshall Institute founder Fred Seitz and Patrick Michaels, who is now one of the best known climate change skeptics, were all advisers to TASSC.

Not Proven

The Reagan administration also appointed Singer to a task force on acid rain. In that group, Singer insisted that it was too early to take action and that it hadn’t even been proven yet that sulfur emissions were in fact the cause. He also said that some plants even benefited from acid rain.

After acid rain, Singer turned his attention to a new topic: the “ozone scare.” Once again, he applied the same argumentative pattern, noting that although it was correct that the ozone concentration in the stratosphere was declining, the effect was only local. Besides, he added, it wasn’t clear yet whether chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from aerosol cans were even responsible for ozone depletion.

As recently as 1994, Singer claimed that evidence “suggested that stratospheric chlorine comes mostly from natural sources.” Testifying before the US Congress in 1996, he said there was “no scientific consensus on ozone depletion or its consequences” — even though in 1995 the Nobel Prize had been awarded to three chemists who had demonstrated the influence of CFCs on the ozone layer.

The Usual Suspects

Multinational oil companies also soon adopted the tried-and-true strategies of disinformation. Once again, lobbying groups were formed that were designed to look as scientific as possible. First there was the Global Climate Coalition, and then ExxonMobil established the Global Climate Science Team. One of its members was lobbyist Myron Ebell. Another one was a veteran of the TASCC tobacco lobby who already knew the ropes. According to a 1998 Global Climate Science Team memo: “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science.”

It soon looked as though there were a broad coalition opposing the science of climate change, supported by organizations like the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Heartland Institute and the Center for Science and Public Policy. In reality, these names were often little more than a front for the same handful of questionable scientists — and Exxon funded the whole illusion to the tune of millions of dollars.

It was an excellent investment.

In 2001, the administration of then-President George W. Bush reneged on previous climate commitments. After that, the head of the US delegation to the Kyoto negotiations met with the oil lobbyists from the Global Climate Coalition to thank them for their expertise, saying that President Bush had “rejected Kyoto in part based on input from you.”

Singer’s comrade-in-arms Patrick Michaels waged a particularly sharp-tongued campaign against the phalanx of climatologists. One of his books is called: “The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air about Global Warming.” Michaels has managed to turn doubt into a lucrative business. The German Coal Association paid him a hefty fee for a study in the 1990s, and a US electric utility once donated $100,000 to his PR firm.

Inconsistent Arguments

Both Michaels and Ebell are members of the Cooler Heads Coalition. Unlike Singer and Seitz, they are not anti-communist crusaders from the Cold War era, but smooth communicators. Ebell, a historian, argues that life was not as comfortable for human beings in the Earth’s cold phases than in the warm ones. Besides, he adds, there are many indications that we are at the beginning of a cooling period.

The professional skeptics tend to use inconsistent arguments. Sometimes they say that there is no global warming. At other times, they point out that while global warming does exist, it is not the result of human activity. Some climate change deniers even concede that man could do something about the problem, but that it isn’t really much of a problem. There is only one common theme to all of their prognoses: Do nothing. Wait. We need more research.

People like Ebell cannot simply be dismissed as cranks. He has been called to testify before Congress eight times, and he unabashedly crows about his contacts at the White House, saying: “We knew whom to call.”

Ebell faces more of an uphill battle in Europe. In his experience, he says, Europe is controlled by elites who — unlike ordinary people — happen to believe in climate change.

Einstein on a Talk Show

But Fred Singer is doing his best to change that. He has joined forces with the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE). The impressive-sounding name, however, is little more than a P.O. box address in the eastern German city of Jena. The group’s president, Holger Thuss, is a local politician with the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the respected Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and an adviser to Chancellor Merkel on climate-related issues, says he has no objection to sharing ideas with the EIKE, as long as its representatives can stick to the rules of scientific practice. But he refuses to join EIKE representatives in a political panel discussion, noting that this is precisely what the group hopes to achieve, namely to create the impression among laypeople that experts are discussing the issues on a level playing field.

Ultimately, says Schellnhuber, science has become so complicated that large segments of the population can no longer keep up. The climate skeptics, on the other hand, are satisfied with “a desire for simple truths,” Schellnhuber says.

This is precisely the secret of their success, according to Schellnhuber, and unfortunately no amount of public debate can change that. “Imagine Einstein having to defend the theory of relativity on a German TV talk show,” he says. “He wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.”

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

>52 Percent of Americans Flunk Climate 101 (NY Times)

Green: Science
October 14, 2010, 4:25 pm

A new study by researchers at Yale University suggests that Americans’ knowledge of climate science is limited and scattershot, with some understanding of basic issues like the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming and some singular misconceptions as well.

For instance, more than two-thirds of those surveyed believe that reducing toxic waste or banning aerosol spray cans will curb climate change. And 43 percent believe that “if we stopped punching holes in the ozone layer with rockets, it would reduce global warming,” the survey’s authors write.

Overall, just 1 in 10 of those surveyed said they were “very well informed” about climate change and 45 percent said they were not very worried or not at all worried about it.

If letter grades were given by the survey’s authors (based on absolute scores, not grading on the curve), 1 percent would have received an A, 7 percent a B, 15 percent a C, 25 percent a D and 52 percent an F.

Researchers said that the results “reflect the unorganized and sometimes contradictory fragments of information Americans have absorbed from the mass media and other sources.”

“Most people don’t need to know about climate change in their daily life, thus it is not surprising that they have devoted little effort to learning these details,” they write.

Some of the findings seemed mutually exclusive. For instance, the researchers note that an online survey conducted by Knowledge Networks this summer shows that, despite a blast of negative publicity about controversial e-mails to and from climate scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia, large majorities of Americans trust scientists (72 percent) and scientific institutions (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 78 percent, National Science Foundation 74 percent) to provide accurate information on the subject.

Three-quarters say they want more information on the issue, but 45 percent say they are not very or not at all worried about it.

But climate skeptics have made some specific inroads. As the report’s authors found, 42 percent of those surveyed “incorrectly believe that since scientists can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance, they can’t possibly predict the climate of the future.” More than a third (37 percent) think climate models are too unreliable to predict the climate of the future. And one-third believe, incorrectly, that most scientists in the 1970s were predicting an ice age.

The interlacing of knowledge and ignorance was a hallmark of the study. About 73 percent of Americans understand, correctly, that the current climate is not colder than ever before. But 55 percent believe, incorrectly, that the Earth’s climate is now hotter than it has ever been before, and about two-thirds believe, incorrectly, that the climate has always oscillated gradually between eras of warmth and eras of cold.

About 57 percent of Americans have both heard of the greenhouse effect and understand how it works. But one-third believe that because the climate “has changed naturally in the past, humans are not the cause of global warming today.”

About 45 percent understand that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat, but only a quarter know that methane does the same. And more than half think, incorrectly, that aerosol cans, volcanic eruptions or the space program contribute to climate change.

Slightly more than half understand that energy in fossil fuels comes from photosynthesis by plants over millions of years; just 29 percent understand that the sun was the ultimate source of energy in these fuels. Almost half say that fossil fuels are the fossilized remains of dinosaurs.

Three-quarters of those polled had heard nothing about coral bleaching or ocean acidification.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the spottiness of the participants’ knowledge, most said they needed a lot more, some more, or a little more information on the subject (25 percent, 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively.)

The authors — Anthony Leiserowitz and Nicholas Smith of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications and Jennifer R. Marlon of the Geography Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison — conclude that widespread misconceptions “lead some people to doubt that climate change is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks.”

“Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making about this issue in a democratic society,” they write.

* * *

Find the original Yale report here.

>Do the IPCC use alarmist language?

By James Wight
Thursday, 14 October, 2010 – 06:42 AM

Graham Wayne has recently written rebuttals to “The IPCC consensus is phony” and “IPCC is alarmist”. But, you might say, that’s only half the story – do the IPCC present their conclusions in an alarmist way? There are many different ways you might look at this, but one of the more important ones is how the IPCC present probabilities (or “likelihoods”).

Thinking about probability does not come intuitively to the human mind. Our assessment of a risk often depends on how the probability is presented.

Suppose you are about to get on a plane and a reliable source tells you that there is a 1% chance that the plane will crash during your flight. Do you still want to get on the plane? I’m guessing you’d be having second thoughts about it.

What if the probability of a crash is 1 in 20? 1 in 10? 1 in 3? You’d probably run away screaming.

I’ll get to the point of all this shortly, but please bear with me and consider the following quote from the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4):

“It is very unlikely that [Atlantic Ocean circulation] will undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century.” [Source]

Are you alarmed yet? Is this an example of the IPCC using alarmist language in reporting its conclusions?

To answer this question, you first have to understand what the IPCC are trying to say. In the introduction to the AR4 Synthesis Report, there is a detailed description of how uncertainty is treated in IPCC reports, and I don’t think the public appreciates just how un-alarmist it is. A 1% chance scarcely rates a mention: anything with such a low probability is described as “exceptionally unlikely”. A probability of 1 in 20 is considered to be “extremely unlikely”; 1 in 10 is “very unlikely”, and even 1 in 3 is still “unlikely”. Conversely, 2 in 3 is “likely”, 9 in 10 is “very likely”, 19 in 20 is “extremely likely”, and 99% is “virtually certain”.

So if you asked the IPCC to do a report on your plane trip, and the probability of a crash was smaller than 1 in 10, about half a decade later they’d get back to you with something like: “It is very unlikely that this plane will crash.” (Except that it would probably be a lot wordier than that.)

And when the IPCC says an abrupt transition in Atlantic Ocean circulation is “very unlikely”, they mean the same thing: the chance is less than 1 in 10. Yet you’re probably not running away screaming.

Most of the IPCC’s main conclusions are given a high degree of likelihood. Probably the most quoted sentence from the entire AR4 is:

“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” [Source]

Translation: the likelihood that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming is greater than 9 in 10.

Another important conclusion (though not particularly new to the AR4) is this:

“[T]he equilibrium global mean [surface air temperature] warming for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), or ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’, is likely to lie in the range 2°C to 4.5°C, with a most likely value of about 3°C. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is very likely larger than 1.5°C.” [Source]

Translation: the chances are 2 out of 3 that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will warm the planet by between 2 and 4.5 degrees; 9 out of 10 that it will be more than 1.5 degrees.

One more IPCC quote:

“It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.” [Source]

That is, the chances of more extreme weather are higher than 9 in 10. If you’re thinking that wilder weather is not exactly as serious as a plane crash, then consider that over 20 million people have been affected by the 2010 Pakistan floods. This sort of extreme weather event will become more frequent with global warming. Do we, does humanity, really want to get on this plane?

The IPCC are not alarmist in their conclusions, and they are no more alarmist in the way they report their conclusions.

>Políticas públicas para mudanças climáticas (FAPESP)


Por Fabio Reynol, de Campinas (SP)

Agência FAPESP – Se o Estado de São Paulo fosse um país estaria em 39º no ranking das nações que mais emitem dióxido de carbono (CO2) na atmosfera. Em 2003, foram 83 milhões de toneladas do gás, praticamente um quarto do montante brasileiro.

Esses números lançam ao estado um enorme desafio para reduzir as emissões e já estimularam a implantação de várias políticas públicas, entre as quais a ativação do Conselho Estadual de Mudanças Climáticas, ocorrida na sexta-feira (15/10).

O tema foi tratado em mesa durante o fórum “Mudanças Climáticas Globais – Desafios e oportunidades de pesquisa”, realizado na Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) nos dias 14 e 15 de outubro. A mesa teve a participação do diretor-presidente da Companhia Ambiental do Estado de São Paulo (Cetesb), Fernando Rei, do diretor científico da FAPESP, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, e do diretor do Instituto de Estudos Avançados da Faculdade de Economia e Administração da USP, Jacques Marcovitch.

“As emissões de CO2 em São Paulo são tímidas em relação aos países desenvolvidos, mas, ao se considerar o índice de ocupação do solo, são emissões superiores à média nacional”, disse Rei.

O executivo fez um histórico das políticas públicas paulistas desde o Programa Estadual de Mudanças Climáticas do Estado de São Paulo (Proclima), lançado em 1995, e destacou a participação paulista em organizações internacionais de estados subnacionais, que englobam regiões internas de países como estados e províncias. “São Paulo é copresidente pela segunda vez da rede de Governos Regionais para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável”, destacou.

O Conselho Estadual de Mudanças Climáticas estava previsto na Lei Estadual 13.798, assinada em novembro de 2009, e possui uma estrutura tripartite: um terço de representantes do governo estadual, um terço vindo de governos municipais e um terço de membros da sociedade civil.

São Paulo também iniciou o Registro Público de Emissões a fim de identificar, por setores e por empresas, os maiores emissores de gases de efeito estufa. Todas essas medidas têm como objetivo tentar alcançar uma redução de 20% do CO2 emitido até o ano de 2020 em relação aos valores de 2005, meta que o Estado se comprometeu a cumprir.

“Trata-se de um objetivo extremamente difícil e que exigirá a participação da sociedade civil”, salientou Rei. No ano de 2005, São Paulo lançou na atmosfera 122 milhões de toneladas de CO2, o que significa que em 2020 poderia lançar até 98 milhões de toneladas, de acordo com a meta.

A tarefa é ainda mais complexa ao considerar que São Paulo já substituiu quase a metade das fontes energéticas de origem fóssil para fontes renováveis na última década, como ressaltou Brito Cruz. “Cerca de 60% do consumo de energia do estado era de origem fóssil e hoje esse índice é de apenas 33%”, disse.

O diretor científico da FAPESP focou na contribuição que a ciência deu ao longo da história à questão do clima, desde o matemático francês Jean Jacques Baptiste Fourier, que em 1827 publicou um artigo no qual concebeu o conceito de efeito estufa, até as experiências do norte-americano Charles Kelling, que de 1957 a 1972 escalou periodicamente o vulcão inativo Mauna Loa, no Havaí, para coletar amostras de ar e medir o teor de carbono da atmosfera.

“Foram pesquisas que pareciam inúteis em suas épocas e que hoje se mostram extremamente pertinentes em relação aos problemas que estamos enfrentando”, disse, destacando que o Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) foi criado pela Organização das Nações Unidas para que as lideranças políticas pudessem entender a produção científica a respeito do clima.

Brito Cruz também apresentou os principais pontos abordados pelo Programa FAPESP de Pesquisa sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais (PFPMCG), que tem procurado intensificar a produção científica nacional no clima e conta com projetos em andamento em áreas como agronomia, química, geociências, demografia e economia.

“Não queremos apenas aumentar a quantidade dos trabalhos científicos, mas também a sua qualidade para que ganhem visibilidade internacional”, disse. Nesse sentido, a FAPESP financiou a compra de um supercomputador em parceria com a Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos (Finep) do Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia.

A máquina está sendo instalada no Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) em Cachoeira Paulista (SP) e será dedicada a processar modelos de simulação do clima.

O supercomputador deverá colocar o Brasil entre os maiores do mundo em investigação do clima e poderá processar modelos que contemplem os sistemas climáticos nacionais, como a Floresta Amazônica, a Mata Atlântica e o Cerrado.

Além do computador, Brito Cruz anunciou que a FAPESP também está financiando a compra de um barco e de um navio oceanográfico que deverão auxiliar pesquisas sobre a temperatura, acidificação e nível dos oceanos, entre outras pesquisas.

Aprimorar incentivos e aumentar sanções

Marcovitch falou sobre os impactos econômicos e a participação do setor empresarial no esforço para mitigar as mudanças climáticas. O professor, que foi reitor da USP entre 1997 e 2001, afirmou que é preciso respeitar o tempo de ação de cada ator social para que o esforço conjunto funcione.

“As pautas de cada um são diferentes: membros do governo enfatizam o poder, cientistas se pautam na busca pela verdade, empresas focam no resultado e a sociedade civil trabalha com valores. É preciso enxergar isso para haver o diálogo e avançar”, disse.

No caso do setor empresarial, Marcovitch defende políticas públicas que promovam incentivos mais eficientes para as companhias que participarem e, ao mesmo tempo, sanções mais rigorosas para aquelas que não quiserem colaborar.

Por fim, o pesquisador apresentou partes do Estudo Econômico das Mudanças Climáticas no Brasil, que coordenou junto a 11 instituições.

O trabalho procurou identificar as vulnerabilidades que a economia e a sociedade brasileira possuem em relação às alterações do clima. “Os países que promoveram os maiores saltos da civilização foram os mais ousados e que enfrentaram grandes desafios, a área do clima é um deles”, disse.

>On Climate Models, the Case For Living with Uncertainty

Yale Environment 360
05 Oct 2010: Analysis

As climate science advances, predictions about the extent of future warming and its effects are likely to become less — not more — precise. That may make it more difficult to convince the public of the reality of climate change, but it hardly diminishes the urgency of taking action.

by Fred Pearce

I think I can predict right now the headlines that will follow publication of the next report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due in 2013. “Climate scientists back off predicting rate of warming: ‘The more we know the less we can be sure of,’ says UN panel.”

That is almost bound to be the drift if two-time IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth and others are right about what is happening to the new generation of climate models. And with public trust in climate science on the slide after the various scandals of the past year over e-mails and a mistaken forecast of Himalayan ice loss, it hardly seems likely scientists will be treated kindly.

It may not matter much who is in charge at the IPCC by then: Whether or not current chairman Rajendra Pachauri keeps his job, the reception will be rough. And if climate negotiators have still failed to do a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which lapses at the end of 2012, the fallout will not be pretty, either diplomatically or climatically.

Clearly, concerns about how climate scientists handle complex issues of scientific uncertainty are set to escalate. They were highlighted in a report about IPCC procedures published in late August in response to growing criticism about IPCC errors. The report highlighted distortions and exaggerations in IPCC reports, many of which involved not correctly representing uncertainty about specific predictions.

“The latest climate modeling runs are trying to deal with a range of factors not dealt with in the past.”

But efforts to rectify the problems in the next IPCC climate-science assessment (AR5) are likely to further shake public confidence in the reliability of IPCC climate forecasts.

Last January, Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., published a little-noticed commentary in Nature online. Headlined “More Knowledge, Less Certainty,” it warned that “the uncertainty in AR5’s predictions and projections will be much greater than in previous IPCC reports.” He added that “this could present a major problem for public understanding of climate change.” He can say that again.

This plays out most obviously in the critical estimate of how much warming is likely between 1990, the baseline year for most IPCC work, and 2100. The current AR4 report says it will be between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius (3 to 7 degrees F). But the betting is now that the range offered next time will be wider, especially at the top end.

The public has a simple view about scientific uncertainty. It can accept that science doesn’t have all the answers, and that scientists try to encapsulate those uncertainties with devices like error bars and estimates of statistical significance. What even the wisest heads will have trouble with, though, is the notion that greater understanding results in wider errors bars than before.

Trenberth explained in his Nature commentary why a widening is all but certain. “While our knowledge of certain factors [responsible for climate change] does increase,” he wrote, “so does our understanding of factors we previously did not account for or even recognize.” The trouble is this sounds dangerously like what Donald Rumsfeld, in the midst of the chaos of the Iraq War, famously called “unknown unknowns.” I would guess that the IPCC will have even less luck than he did in explaining what it means by this.

The latest climate modeling runs are trying to come to grips with a range of factors ignored or only sketchily dealt with in the past. The most troubling is the role of clouds. Clouds have always been recognized as a ticking timebomb in climate models, because nobody can work out whether warming will change them in a way that amplifies or moderates warming — still less how much. And their influence could be very large. “Clouds remain one of the largest uncertainties in the climate system’s response to temperature changes,” says Bruce Wielicki, a scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center who is investigating the impact of clouds on the Earth’s energy budget.

An added problem in understanding clouds is the role of aerosols from industrial smogs, which dramatically influence the radiation properties of clouds. “Aerosols are a mess,” says Thomas Charlock, a senior scientist at the Langley Research Center and co-investigator in a NASA project known as Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES). “We don’t know how much is out there. We just can’t estimate their influence with calculations alone.”

“Despite much handwringing, the IPCC has never worked out how to make sense of uncertainty.”

Trenberth noted in Nature, “Because different groups are using relatively new techniques for incorporating aerosol effects into the models, the spread of results will probably be much larger than before.”

A second problem for forecasting is the potential for warming to either enhance or destabilize existing natural sinks of carbon dioxide and methane in soils, forests, permafrost, and beneath the ocean. Again these could slow warming through negative feedbacks or — more likely, according to recent assessments — speed up warming, perhaps rather suddenly as the planetary system crosses critical thresholds.

The next models will be working hard to take these factors into better account. Whether they go as far as some preliminary runs published in 2005, which suggested potential warming of 10 degrees C (18 degrees F) or more is not clear. Of course, uncertainty is to be expected, given the range of potential feedbacks that have to be taken into account. But it is going to be hard to explain why, when you put more and better information into climate models, they do not home in on a more precise answer.

Yet it will be more honest, says Leonard Smith, a mathematician and statistician at the University of Oxford, England, who warns about the “naive realism” of past climate modeling. In the past, he says, models have been “over-interpreted and misinterpreted. We need to drop the pretense that they are nearly perfect. They are getting better. But as we change our predictions, how do we maintain the credibility of the science?”

The only logical conclusion for a confused and increasingly wary public may be that if the error bars were wrong before, they cannot be trusted now. If they do not in some way encapsulate the “unknowns,” what purpose do they have?

Despite much handwringing, the IPCC has never worked out how to make sense of uncertainty. Take the progress of those errors bars in assessing warming between 1990 and 2100.

The panel’s first assessment, published back in 1990, predicted a warming of 3 degrees C by 2100, with no error bars. The second assessment, in 1995, suggested a warming of between 1 and 3.5 degrees C. The third, in 2001, widened the bars to project a warming of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C. The fourth assessment in 2007 contracted them again, from 1.8 to 4.0 degrees C. I don’t think the public will be so understanding if they are widened again, but that now seems likely.

Trenberth is nobody’s idea of someone anxious to rock the IPCC boat. He is an IPCC insider, having been lead author on key chapters in both 2001 and 2007, and recently appointed as a review editor for AR5. Back in 2005 he made waves by directly linking Hurricane Katrina to global warming. But in the past couple of years he has taken a growing interest in highlighting uncertainties in the climate science.

Late last year, bloggers investigating the “climategate” emails highlighted a message he sent to colleagues in which he said it was a “travesty” that scientists could not explain cool years like 2008. His point, made earlier in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Stability, was that “it is not a sufficient explanation to say that a cool year is due to natural variability.” Such explanations, he said, “do not provide the physical mechanisms involved.” He wanted scientists to do better.

“Trenberth questioned if the IPCC wouldn’t be better off getting out of the prediction business.”

In his Nature commentary, Trenberth wondered aloud whether the IPCC wouldn’t be better off getting out of the prediction business. “Performing cutting edge science in public could easily lead to misinterpretation,” he wrote. But the lesson of climategate is that efforts to keep such discussion away from the public have a habit of backfiring spectacularly.

All scientific assessments have to grapple with how to present uncertainties. Inevitably they make compromises between the desire to convey complexity and the need to impart clear and understandable messages to a wider public. But the IPCC is caught on a particular dilemma because its founding purpose, in the late 1980s, was to reach consensus on climate science and report back to the world in a form that would allow momentous decisions to be taken. So the IPCC has always been under pressure to try to find consensus even where none exists. And critics argue that that has sometimes compromised its assessments of uncertainty.

The last assessment was replete with terms like “extremely likely” and “high confidence.” Critics charged that they often lacked credibility. And last August’s blue-chip review of the IPCC’s performance, by the InterAcademy Council, seemed to side with the critics.

The council’s chairman, Harold Shapiro of Princeton, said existing IPCC guidelines on presenting uncertainty “have not been consistently followed.” In particular, its analysis of the likely impacts of climate change “contains many statements that were assigned high confidence but for which there is little evidence.” The predictions were not plucked from the air. But the charge against the IPCC is that its authors did not always correctly portray the uncertainty surrounding the predictions or present alternative scenarios.

“We need to get used to greater uncertainty in imagining exactly how climate change will play out.”

The most notorious failure was the claim that the Himalayan glaciers could all have melted by 2035. This was an egregious error resulting from cut-and-pasting a non-peer reviewed claim from a report by a non-governmental organization. So was a claim that 55 percent of the Netherlands lies below sea level. But other errors were failures to articulate uncertainties. The study highlighted a claim that even a mild loss of rainfall over the Amazon could destroy 40 percent of the rainforest, though only one modeling study has predicted this.

Another headline claim in the report, in a chapter on Africa, was that “projected reductions in [crop] yield in some countries could be as much as 50 percent by 2020.” The only source was an 11-page paper by a Moroccan named Ali Agoumi that covered only three of Africa’s 53 countries (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) and had not gone through peer review. It simply asserted that “studies on the future of vital agriculture in the region have shown… deficient yields from rain-based agriculture of up to 50 percent during the 2000-2020 period.” No studies were named. And even Agoumi did not claim the changes were necessarily caused by climate change. In fact, harvests in North Africa already differ by 50 percent or more from one year to the next, depending on rainfall. In other words, Agoumi’s paper said nothing at all about how climate change might or might not change farm yields across Africa. None of this was conveyed by the report.

In general, the InterAcademy Council’s report noted a tendency to “emphasise the negative impacts of climate change,” many of which were “not supported sufficiently in the literature, not put into perspective, or not expressed clearly.” Efforts to eliminate these failings will necessarily widen the error bars on a range of predictions in the next assessment.

We are all — authors and readers of IPCC reports alike — going to have to get used to greater caution in IPCC reports and greater uncertainty in imagining exactly how climate change will play out. This is probably healthy. It is certainly more honest. But it in no way undermines the case that we are already observing ample evidence that the world is on the threshold of profound and potentially catastrophic warming. And it in no way undermines the urgent need to do something to halt the forces behind the warming.

Some argue that scientific uncertainty should make us refrain from action to slow climate change. The more rational response, given the scale of what we could face, is the precise opposite.

POSTED ON 05 Oct 2010 IN Biodiversity Climate Climate Policy & Politics Science & Technology Australia

>As the World Burns (The New Yorker)

The Political Scene

How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change.

by Ryan Lizza October 11, 2010

Lindsey Graham, Joseph Lieberman, and John Kerry each sought a kind of redemption through climate-change legislation.

On April 20, 2010, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman, along with three aides, visited Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, at the White House. The legislators had spent seven months writing a comprehensive bill that promised to transform the nation’s approach to energy and climate change, and they were planning a press conference in six days to unveil their work.

Kerry, of Massachusetts, Graham, of South Carolina, and Lieberman, of Connecticut, had become known on Capitol Hill as the Three Amigos, for the Steve Martin comedy in which three unemployed actors stumble their way into defending a Mexican village from an armed gang. All had powerful personal motivations to make the initiative work. Kerry, who has been a senator for twenty-five years and has a long record of launching major investigations, had never written a landmark law. Lieberman, an Independent who had endorsed John McCain for President, had deeply irritated his liberal colleagues by helping the Republicans weaken Obama’s health-care bill. Graham, a Republican, had a reputation as a Senate maverick—but not one who actually got things done. This bill offered the chance for all three men to transform their reputations.

The senators had cobbled together an unusual coalition of environmentalists and industries to support a bill that would shift the economy away from carbon consumption and toward environmentally sound sources of energy. They had the support both of the major green groups and of the biggest polluters. No previous climate-change legislation had come so far. Now they needed the full support of the White House.

The senators sat around the conference table in the corner of Emanuel’s office. In addition to the chief of staff, they were joined by David Axelrod, the President’s political adviser, and Carol Browner, the assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. Lieberman introduced his aide, Danielle Rosengarten, to Emanuel.

“Rosengarten working for Lieberman,” Emanuel said. “Shocker!”

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman knew that Obama’s advisers disagreed about climate-change legislation. Browner was passionate about the issue, but she didn’t have much influence. Axelrod, though influential, was not particularly committed. Emanuel prized victory above all, and he made it clear that, if there weren’t sixty votes to pass the bill in the Senate, the White House would not expend much effort on the matter. The Democrats had fifty-nine members in their caucus, but several would oppose the bill.

“You’ve had all these conversations, you’ve been talking with industry,” Emanuel said. “How many Republicans did you bring on?”

Kerry, the de-facto leader of the triumvirate, assured him that there were five Republicans prepared to vote for the bill. One of them, Lindsey Graham, was sitting at the table. Kerry listed four more: Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, and George LeMieux. With five Republicans, getting sixty votes would be relatively easy. The Obama White House and the Three Amigos would be known for having passed a bill that would fundamentally change the American economy and slow the emission of gases that are causing the inexorable, and potentially catastrophic, warming of the planet.

The Senate coalition that introduced the bill started to form in early 2009, when Lieberman instructed Rosengarten to work with the office of John McCain, Lieberman’s longtime partner on the issue. As the newest member of Lieberman’s staff, she was in charge of his climate portfolio, and Lieberman made a simple and oft-repeated demand: “Get me in the room.”

Lieberman had worked on climate change since the nineteen-eighties, and in recent years he had introduced three global-warming bills. He also had long been interested in a pollution-control mechanism called cap-and-trade. The government would set an over-all limit on emissions and auction off permission slips that individual polluters could then buy and sell.

By late January, 2009, the details of the Lieberman-McCain bill had been almost entirely worked out, and Lieberman began showing it to other Senate offices in anticipation of a February press conference. The goal was to be the centrist alternative to a separate effort, initiated by Barbara Boxer, a liberal from California and the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

But the negotiations stalled as the bill moved forward. In Arizona, a right-wing radio host and former congressman, J. D. Hayworth, announced that he was considering challenging McCain in the primary. McCain had never faced a serious primary opponent for his Senate seat, and now he was going to have to defend his position on global warming to hard-core conservative voters. The Republican Party had grown increasingly hostile to the science of global warming and to cap-and-trade, associating the latter with a tax on energy and more government regulation. Sponsoring the bill wasn’t going to help McCain defeat an opponent to his right.

By the end of February, McCain was starting to back away from his commitment to Lieberman. At first, he insisted that he and Lieberman announce a set of climate-change “principles” instead of a bill. Then, three days before a scheduled press conference to announce those principles, the two senators had a heated conversation on the Senate floor. Lieberman turned and walked away. “That’s it,” he told an aide. “He can’t do it this year.”

In Barack Obama’s primary-campaign victory speech, in St. Paul, Minnesota, he said that his election would be a historical turning point on two pressing issues: health care and climate change. “We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick,” he said. “When the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” During the campaign, he often argued that climate change was an essential part of a national energy strategy. “Energy we have to deal with today,” Obama said in a debate with McCain. “Health care is priority No. 2.”

After the election, Obama decided to work on both issues simultaneously. Representative Henry Waxman moved climate change through the House, while Max Baucus, of Montana, moved health care in the Senate. “The plan was to throw two things against the wall, and see which one looks more promising,” a senior Administration official said. Obama, in a February, 2009, address to Congress, said, “To truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution.”

In March of 2009, a senior White House official outlined a strategy for a “grand bargain,” in which Democrats would capitulate to Republicans on some long-cherished environmental beliefs in exchange for a cap on carbon emissions. “You need to have something like T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore holding hands,” the White House official told me. In exchange for setting a cap on emissions, Democrats would agree to an increase in the production of natural gas (the only thing that Pickens, the Texas oil-and-gas billionaire, cared about), nuclear power, and offshore oil. If Republicans didn’t respond to the proposed deals, the White House could push them to the table by making a threat through the Environmental Protection Agency, which had recently been granted power to regulate carbon, just as it regulates many other air pollutants.

The strategy had risks, including the possibility that expanded drilling off America’s coast could lead to a dangerous spill. But Browner, the head of the E.P.A. for eight years under Clinton, seemed to think the odds of that were limited. “Carol Browner says the fact of the matter is that the technology is so good that after Katrina there was less spillage from those platforms than the amount you spill in a year filling up your car with gasoline,” the White House official said. “So, given that, she says realistically you could expand offshore drilling.”

The day after the confrontation with McCain, Lieberman met with Browner in his office to discuss strategy. Perhaps sensing that Boxer would have a hard time gaining Republican support, Browner assured Lieberman that he would be “absolutely central” to passing a climate bill. Lieberman was flattered. As Waxman moved cap-and-trade through the House that spring and summer and Boxer prepared to write her version of the bill, Lieberman and his aides met with forty senators or their staffs, to assess their concerns and to develop ideas about his role in Browner’s strategy.

Lieberman knew that the issue was almost as much regional as ideological. When he went to lobby Evan Bayh, of Indiana, Bayh held up a map of the United States showing, in varying shades of red, the percentage of electricity that each state derived from burning coal, the main source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. The more coal used, the redder the state and the more it would be affected by a cap on carbon. The Northeast, the West Coast, and the upper Northwest of the country were pale. But the broad middle of the country—Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois—was crimson. (Indiana, for example, derives ninety-four per cent of its electricity from coal). “Every time Senator Lieberman would open his mouth, Bayh would show him the map,” a Lieberman aide said.

It often took some work to figure out what, above all else, each senator cared about. In Senate parlance, this is known as the “top ask,” and after every meeting Rosengarten compiled a list for Lieberman. The top ask of Senator Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, was to insure that incentives given to farmers for emissions-reducing projects—known as “offsets”—would be decided in part by the U.S.D.A., and not just the E.P.A. “Ultimately, farmers aren’t crazy about letting hippies tell them how to make money,” Rosengarten said. Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, told Lieberman that she had a major oil refiner in her state—Murphy Oil—and she wanted to make sure that any cap-and-trade bill protected it.

Lieberman knew that he would need a Republican for every Democrat he lost. Like the White House, he concluded that significant subsidies for the nuclear-power industry could win Republican support. Lieberman coaxed nine Republicans into forming a group to write nuclear legislation that could be merged with whatever climate bill emerged from Boxer’s committee. By not automatically resisting everything connected to Obama, these senators risked angering Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader and architect of the strategy to oppose every part of Obama’s agenda, and the Tea Party movement, which seemed to be gaining power every day. The senators also knew, however, that they could exercise enormous influence on the legislation—and that their top asks would be granted.

George Voinovich, of Ohio, told both Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, and Lieberman that the right nuclear language could win his vote, so Lieberman used a nuclear bill that Voinovich’s staff was drafting as the framework for the group. Lindsey Graham, who grew up in Central, South Carolina, near a nuclear plant, wanted tax incentives and loan guarantees to help the nuclear industry.

Meanwhile, the House bill, known as Waxman-Markey (for Edward J. Markey, of Massachusetts), passed on June 26, 2009, by a vote of 219-212. Eight Republicans supported it. But there were omens for the Senate. The White House and Waxman spent the final days before the vote negotiating with members of the House representing two crucial interest groups: coal and agriculture. Despite cutting generous deals, they ended up with only limited support. Worse, several members who had promised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi their votes reneged. One of them, Ciro Rodriguez, of Texas, ducked into the chamber, quickly cast a no vote, and then sprinted out. Anthony Weiner, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of Pelosi’s whips, chased after him, yelling, “Ciro! Ciro!”

As the scene unfolded on the floor, Rosengarten and other Senate aides watched from the gallery. Rosengarten turned to a colleague and said, “Now it’s our turn. We’ve got to go pass this thing in the Senate.”

When the Obama era began, John Kerry was looking for a new political identity. Like Lieberman, he had a strained relationship with the new President. Kerry had been scheduled to endorse Obama the day after Obama’s presumed victory in the New Hampshire primary. But Obama lost, and that night he nervously called Kerry and asked, “Are you still on board?” Kerry said he was. “Ninety-nine per cent of politicians would have walked away at that moment, because our odds of winning the primaries were quite low,” Dan Pfeiffer, now Obama’s communications director, told me in a 2008 interview. “It was a huge moment.” Kerry and his aides believed that, if Obama was the President, Kerry’s endorsement would give him the inside track in the competition for the job as Secretary of State. But Obama passed him over.

Kerry, as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, could help steer the Administration’s foreign policy, but he wanted to play a big role in shaping Obama’s domestic agenda. In 2007, he had written a book about environmental activism, “This Moment on Earth,” and the issue was a rare one in which the junior senator from Massachusetts had a deeper interest than the senior senator, Ted Kennedy. For most of their quarter century together in the Senate, Kennedy was the legislator (the Americans with Disabilities Act, State Children’s Health Insurance Program, No Child Left Behind), and Kerry was the investigator (P.O.W.s in Vietnam, B.C.C.I., Iran-Contra). Now that could change. “This was Kerry’s opportunity to prove that he could be in a major, really historic piece of legislation,” Lieberman said.

At first, Kerry joined forces with Barbara Boxer, and spent months trying to find a Republican co-sponsor for her bill, which was almost a carbon copy of Waxman-Markey. In August, Rosengarten was eating lunch with Kerry’s climate-policy aide, Kathleen Frangione, at Sonoma, a Capitol Hill wine bar. Rosengarten said she had spent hours working on the nuclear legislation with Graham’s policy aide, Matthew Rimkunas, and she was shocked by something he had recently told her: Graham would have backed a climate-change bill that Lieberman had co-sponsored in 2007 if it had included the language supportive of nuclear power that they had just worked out. Kerry and Graham had to talk. Perhaps Kerry could split off from Boxer and try to work with Graham on a bipartisan bill.

Within days, Kerry and Graham were meeting in Kerry’s office to negotiate the language of a Times Op-Ed piece announcing their partnership. As they talked, Kerry suddenly found himself having to reassess his convictions on oil drilling, nuclear energy, and environmental regulations with someone he barely knew and whom he had reason not to like. In 2004, Graham had gratuitously told the Times that Kerry “has no charisma” and “doesn’t relate well to average people.” But the two men agreed that their eventual bill would have to help the nuclear industry and expand oil drilling. As they wrote the article, Graham introduced a third issue: revoking the E.P.A.’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Kerry was furious, but he eventually relented. The Op-Ed would include language signalling to insiders that E.P.A. authority would be curtailed: “Industry needs the certainty that comes with congressional action.”

The article ran on October 11th. The next day, Graham was holding a town-hall meeting in the gym of a high school in Greenville, South Carolina. His constituents were not happy. One man accused him of “making a pact with the Devil.” Another shouted, “No principled compromise!” One audience member asked, “Why do you think it’s necessary to get in bed with people like John Kerry?” Graham, dressed in a blue blazer and khakis, paced the floor, explaining that there were only forty Republicans in the Senate, which meant that he had to work with the sixty Democrats. A man in the bleachers shouted, “You’re a traitor, Mr. Graham! You’ve betrayed this nation and you’ve betrayed this state!”

Soon afterward, Graham called Lieberman. He was concerned that Kerry might drag him too far to the left, and he knew that Lieberman, a close friend with whom he had travelled during McCain’s Presidential campaign, could serve as a moderating force. Graham may not have remembered that Kerry and Lieberman had, according to a Senate aide, “a tense personal relationship.” (Lieberman and Kerry ran against each other for President in 2004. In 2006, Kerry endorsed and campaigned for Lieberman’s Democratic opponent in his Senate race.) “I’m happy to try and negotiate a bill with Kerry,” Graham told Lieberman. “But I really want you in the room.”

On October 28, 2009, Graham was eating dinner at the Capital Grille, an expense-account steakhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue, with Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Rick Davis, a Republican consultant who had managed McCain’s two Presidential campaigns. The E.D.F., virtually alone among green groups in trying to form bonds with Republicans, prides itself on being the most politically sophisticated environmental organization in Washington. Krupp, who has short gray hair and a Brooks Brothers look that announces his disdain for hemp-wearing environmental activists, had helped to educate McCain on climate change, and the two men became close. Now he wanted to do the same for Graham. He called Davis, who was an E.D.F. board member, and arranged the dinner.

Graham came to the issue strictly as a dealmaker. He saw the Democrats’ interest in capping carbon emissions as an opportunity to boost the nuclear industry and to expand oil drilling. But now Krupp explained the basics of global-warming science and policy: how carbon trading worked, how farmers could use offsets to earn an income from growing trees, and how different lobbyists would affect the debate. Krupp told Graham that the crucial feature of the policy was the hard cap on emissions. The House bill required American carbon emissions to be seventeen per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. As long as that number held, environmentalists would show flexibility on most other issues. The dinner lasted three hours. The next day, Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman held their first meeting as the triumvirate that became known to everyone following the debate as K.G.L.

Heckled at home, Graham began to enjoy a new life as a Beltway macher. “Every lobbyist working on the issue wanted time with him, because suddenly it became clear that he could be the central person in the process,” Krupp recalled. All sectors of the economy would be affected by putting a price on carbon, and Graham’s campaign account started to grow. In 2009, he raised nothing from the electric-utility PACs and just fourteen thousand four hundred and fifty dollars from all PACs. In the first quarter of 2010 alone, the utilities sent him forty-nine thousand dollars. Krupp introduced Graham to donors in New York connected to the E.D.F. On December 7th, Julian Robertson, an E.D.F. board member and a hedge-fund billionaire, hosted Graham at a small gathering in his Manhattan apartment. Some New York guests gave money directly to Graham’s campaign account. Others, at Krupp’s suggestion, donated to a new group called South Carolina Conservatives for Energy Independence, which ran ads praising Graham in his home state.

For years, Graham had lived in McCain’s shadow. But, as the rebellious politics of 2010 transformed McCain into a harsh partisan, Graham adopted McCain’s old identity as the Senate’s happy moderate. To Graham’s delight, on December 23rd Time posted an online article headlined “LINDSEY GRAHAM: NEW GOP MAVERICK IN THE SENATE.” The photograph showed Graham standing at a lectern with Lieberman and Kerry.

McCain, worried about his reëlection, had been throwing rocks from the sidelines as the cap-and-trade debate progressed. When Waxman-Markey passed, he Tweeted that it was a “1400 page monstrosity.” A month after K.G.L. was formed, McCain told Politico, “Their start has been horrendous. Obviously, they’re going nowhere.” After the Time piece appeared, he was enraged. Graham told colleagues that McCain had called him and yelled at him, incensed that he was stealing the maverick mantle. “After that Graham story came out, McCain completely stopped talking to me,” Jay Newton-Small, the author of the Time piece, said.

Other Republican colleagues taunted Graham. “Hey, Lindsey,” they would ask, “how many times have you talked to Rahm today?,” and the criticisms in South Carolina became more intense. But Graham gave every indication to Lieberman and Kerry that he could deal with the pressure. He wasn’t up for reëlection until 2014, and his conversations with them, and with Krupp, the White House, and the Manhattan environmentalists, seemed to be having an impact. At a climate-change conference in South Carolina on January 5, 2010, Graham started to sound a little like Al Gore. “I have come to conclude that greenhouse gases and carbon pollution” are “not a good thing,” Graham said. He insisted that nobody could convince him that “all the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day in and day out,” could be “a good thing for your children and the future of the planet.” Environmentalists swooned. “Graham was the most inspirational part of that triumvirate throughout the fall and winter,” Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said. “He was advocating for strong action on climate change from an ethical and a moral perspective.”

But, back in Washington, Graham warned Lieberman and Kerry that they needed to get as far as they could in negotiating the bill “before Fox News got wind of the fact that this was a serious process,” one of the people involved in the negotiations said. “He would say, ‘The second they focus on us, it’s gonna be all cap-and-tax all the time, and it’s gonna become just a disaster for me on the airwaves. We have to move this along as quickly as possible.’ ”

In early December of 2009, Lieberman’s office approached Jay Heimbach, the White House official in charge of monitoring the Senate climate debate. For Obama, health care had become the legislation that stuck to the wall. As a consequence of the long debate over that issue, climate change became, according to a senior White House official, Obama’s “stepchild.” Carol Browner had just three aides working directly for her. “Hey, change the entire economy, and here are three staffers to do it!” a former Lieberman adviser noted bitterly. “It’s a bit of a joke.” Heimbach attended meetings with the K.G.L. staffers but almost never expressed a policy preference or revealed White House thinking. “It’s a drum circle,” one Senate aide lamented. “They come by, ‘How are you feeling? Where do you think the votes are? What do you think we should do?’ It’s never ‘Here’s the plan, here’s what we’re doing.’ ”

Lieberman’s office proposed to Heimbach that the first element of the bill to negotiate was the language about oil drilling. Lieberman and Graham believed it would send a clear message to Republicans and moderate Democrats that there were parts of the bill they would support. Heimbach favored doing anything to attract Republicans, and, though he wouldn’t take any specific actions, he generally supported the strategy.

Graham asked Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, to write the drilling language. Murkowski was up for reëlection and would soon be facing a primary against a Sarah Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Her price for considering a climate-change bill with John Kerry’s name attached to it was high: she handed over a set of ideas for drastically expanding drilling, which included a provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies. Democrats had spent decades protecting ANWR, and even Graham didn’t support drilling there. But he passed the Murkowski language on to his colleagues to see how they would react.

The K.G.L. coalition had two theories about how to win over Republicans and moderate Democrats. One was to negotiate directly with them and offer them something specific for their support. After a year of that method, the coalition had one Republican, and its next most likely target wanted to drill in ANWR. Other Republicans were slipping away. Shortly before Thanksgiving, George LeMieux, of Florida, approached Graham in the Senate gym and expressed interest in joining K.G.L. “Let me teach you something about this town,” Graham told him. “You can’t come that easy.” Graham was trying to give the new senator some advice, according to aides involved with the negotiations: LeMieux would be foolish to join the effort without extracting something for himself.

But LeMieux didn’t have the chance to try that, as he soon became another casualty of Republican primary politics. He had been appointed by the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, who was then running in a tight Republican primary for the seat against another Tea Party favorite, Marco Rubio. LeMieux couldn’t do anything that would complicate Crist’s life. In a private meeting with the three senators in December, he told them that he couldn’t publicly associate himself with the bill. But, according to someone who was present, he added, “My heart’s with you.”

As for Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican from Maine, who was known for stringing Democrats along for months with vague promises of joining their legislative efforts, she seemed to have a new demand every time Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman sat down with her. She also made it clear that granting her wishes—everything from exempting home heating oil from greenhouse-gas regulations and permanently protecting Georges Bank, a Maine fishery, from drilling—would not guarantee her support. She had used similar tactics to win concessions in Obama’s health-care bill, which she eventually voted against. “She would always say that she was interested in working on it,” a person involved in the negotiations said, “but she would never say she was with us.”

Another prospect was Susan Collins, the other Republican from Maine. She was the co-sponsor of a separate climate bill, with Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington. Their bill, known as “cap-and-dividend”—the government would cap carbon emissions and use revenue from polluters to compensate taxpayers for energy-rate hikes—gained some environmental support. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman believed that the bill was unworkable and was stealing valuable attention from their effort. They spent months trying to figure out how to kill it and win over Collins. Eventually, Graham and Lieberman’s offices devised a ruse: they would adopt a crucial part of the Cantwell-Collins bill on market regulation in the official bill. Then they would quietly swap it out as the legislation made its way to the Senate floor. Collins, however, never budged.

The second theory about how to win the Republicans’ support was to go straight to their industry backers. If the oil companies and the nuclear industry and the utilities could be persuaded to support the legislation, then they would lobby Republicans. Rosengarten called the strategy “If you build it, they will come.” This was the strategy Obama used to pass health care. He sent his toughest political operatives—like Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina—to cut deals with the pharmaceutical industry and hospitals, which at key points refrained from attacking the bill. (The pharmaceutical industry actually ran ads thanking Harry Reid for passing the bill.) In early 2010, K.G.L. shifted its focus from the Senate to industry.

On January 20, 2010, the three senators sat down in Kerry’s office with Tom Donohue, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, perhaps the most influential interest group in Washington. Donohue, who has headed the Chamber since 1997, had in that period helped kill several attempts to pass climate-change legislation.

In most K.G.L. meetings, Kerry led off with some lengthy remarks. “He opened every meeting we had with a ten- to thirty-minute monologue on climate change,” one of the aides involved said. “Just whatever was on his mind. There were slight variations. But never did the variations depend on the person we were meeting with.”

That day, Kerry had something specific to offer: preëmption from carbon being regulated by the E.P.A. under the Clean Air Act, with few strings attached. Kerry asked Donohue if that was enough to get the Chamber to the table. “We’ll start working with you guys right now,” Donohue said. It was a promising beginning. Soon afterward, Rosengarten and two of Donohue’s lobbyists worked out the legislative text on preëmption. The Chamber was allowed to write the language of its top ask into the bill. It turned out that working with Washington interest groups was far simpler than dealing with Republican senators navigating a populist conservative uprising.

Three weeks later, Kerry and some aides were in his office discussing the progress of their bill. Someone mentioned T. Boone Pickens, the author of the so-called Pickens Plan, an energy-independence proposal centered on enormous government subsidies for natural gas, which is abundant, cleaner-burning than other fossil fuels, and sold by a Pickens-controlled corporation at some two hundred natural-gas fuelling stations across North America. Back in 2004, Pickens had helped to fund the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that ran a sleazy—and inaccurate—ad campaign proclaiming, among other things, that Kerry had lied about the circumstances that led to his Bronze Star and Purple Hearts.

Kerry had an inspiration. “I’m going to call T. Boone,” he said. Frangione was surprised. “You really want to call that guy?” she asked. Kerry told an aide to get Pickens on the phone. Minutes later, Kerry was inviting Pickens to Washington to talk. Rosengarten, who watched Kerry make the call, thought it was “a show of extraordinary leadership.” The following week, Pickens and Kerry sat in two upholstered chairs in the Senator’s office. Between them loomed a giant model of Kerry’s Vietnam swift boat. Kerry walked Pickens through the components of the bill that he and his colleagues were writing, but Pickens seemed uninterested. He had just one request: include in the climate legislation parts of a bill that Pickens had written, called the Natural Gas Act, a series of tax incentives to encourage the use of natural-gas vehicles and the installation of natural-gas fuelling stations. In exchange, Pickens would publicly endorse the bill. At the end of the meeting, the Senator shook hands with the man who had probably cost him the Presidency. Afterward, staffers in one of the K.G.L. offices started telling a joke: “What do you call a climate bill that gives Pickens everything he ever dreamed of?” “A Boonedoggle!”

The hardest choices involved the oil industry, which, by powering our transportation, is responsible for almost a third of all carbon emissions in the U.S. Under Waxman-Markey, oil companies would have to buy government permission slips, known as allowances, to cover all the greenhouse gases emitted by cars, trucks, and other vehicles. The oil companies argued that having to buy permits on the carbon market, where the price fluctuated daily, would wreck America’s fragile domestic refining industry. Instead, three major oil refiners—Shell, B.P., and ConocoPhillips—proposed that they pay a fee based on the total number of gallons of gasoline they sold linked to the average price of carbon over the previous three months. The oil companies called the idea “a linked fee.”

On March 23rd, the three senators met to discuss the linked fee, which they had been arguing about for weeks. The environmental community and the White House, which rarely weighed in on its policy preferences, thought the linked fee was disastrous because it would inevitably be labelled a “gas tax.” At one meeting, Joe Aldy, a staffer on Obama’s National Economic Council, advised Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman’s staffers to kill it. According to a person involved in the negotiations, Kerry told his colleagues that the Democrats might lose their congressional majority over the issue. But Lieberman, who had first proposed the linked fee, and Graham supported it.

Kerry, despite his hesitations, wanted the oil companies, which had already spent millions attacking Waxman-Markey, to support his bill. So the senators proposed a deal: the oil companies would get the policy they desired if they agreed to a ceasefire. According to someone present, Kerry told his colleagues at the March meeting, “Shell, B.P., and Conoco are going to need to silence the rest of the industry.” The deal was specific. The ceasefire would last from the day of the bill’s introduction until the E.P.A. released its economic analysis of the legislation, approximately six weeks later. Afterward, the industry could say whatever it wanted. “This was the grand bargain that we struck with the refiners,” one of the people involved said. “We would work with them to engineer this separate mechanism in exchange for the American Petroleum Institute being quiet. They would not run ads, they would not lobby members of Congress, and they would not refer to our bill as a carbon tax.” At another meeting, the three senators and the heads of the three oil companies discussed a phrase they could all use to market the policy: a “fee on polluters.”

On March 31st, Obama announced that large portions of U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean, and off the East Coast—from the mid-Atlantic to central Florida—would be newly available for oil and gas drilling. Two days later, he said, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.” From the outside, it looked as if the Obama Administration were coördinating closely with Democrats in the Senate. Republicans and the oil industry wanted more domestic drilling, and Obama had just given it to them. He seemed to be delivering on the grand bargain that his aides had talked about at the start of the Administration.

But there had been no communication with the senators actually writing the bill, and they felt betrayed. When Graham’s energy staffer learned of the announcement, the night before, he was “apoplectic,” according to a colleague. The group had dispensed with the idea of drilling in ANWR, but it was prepared to open up vast portions of the Gulf and the East Coast. Obama had now given away what the senators were planning to trade.

This was the third time that the White House had blundered. In February, the President’s budget proposal included $54.5 billion in new nuclear loan guarantees. Graham was also trying to use the promise of more loan guarantees to lure Republicans to the bill, but now the White House had simply handed the money over. Later that month, a group of eight moderate Democrats sent the E.P.A. a letter asking the agency to slow down its plans to regulate carbon, and the agency promised to delay any implementation until 2011. Again, that was a promise Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman wanted to negotiate with their colleagues. Obama had served the dessert before the children even promised to eat their spinach. Graham was the only Republican negotiating on the climate bill, and now he had virtually nothing left to take to his Republican colleagues.

But the Administration had grown wary of cutting the kind of deals that the senators needed to pass cap-and-trade. The long and brutal health-care fight had caused a rift in the White House over legislative strategy. One camp, led by Phil Schiliro, Obama’s top congressional liaison, was composed of former congressional aides who argued that Obama needed to insert himself in the legislative process if he was going to pass the ambitious agenda that he had campaigned on. The other group, led by David Axelrod, believed that being closely associated with the messiness of congressional horse-trading was destroying Obama’s reputation.

“We ran as an outsider and then decided to be an insider to get things done,” a senior White House official said. According to the official, Schiliro and the insiders argued, “You’ve got to own Congress,” while Axelrod and the outsiders argued, “Fuck whatever Congress wants, we’re not for them.” The official added, “We probably did lose part of our brand. Obama turned into exactly what we promised ourselves he wasn’t going to be, which is the leader of parliament. We became the majority leader of both houses, and we ceded the Presidency.” Schiliro’s side won the debate over how the White House should approach health care, but in 2010, when the Senate took up cap-and-trade, Axelrod’s side was ascendant. Emanuel, for example, called Reid’s office in March and suggested that the Senate abandon cap-and-trade in favor of a modest bill that would simply require utilities to generate more electricity from clean sources.

In early April, according to two K.G.L. aides, someone at the Congressional Budget Office told Kerry that its economists, when analyzing the bill, would describe the linked fee as a tax. After learning that, the three senators met with lobbyists for the big oil firms, and Kerry offered a new proposal: the refiners would have to buy permits, but the government would sell them at a stable price outside the regular trading system. This arrangement would make no economic difference to consumers: the oil companies would pass the costs on to drivers whether they paid a linked fee or bought special permits. But Kerry thought that the phraseology could determine whether the bill survived or died. The refiners surprised everyone by readily agreeing to the new terms. The linked fee was dead, and so, it seemed, was the threat of Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman’s bill being brought down by opponents attacking it as a gas tax.

Two days later, on April 15th, Emanuel and Browner hosted a group of prominent environmentalists at the White House for an 11 A.M. meeting. For weeks, the linked fee had been a hot topic among Washington climate-change geeks. Now the two groups that hated the policy the most were in the same room. According to people at the meeting, the White House aides and some of the environmentalists, including Carl Pope, the chairman of the Sierra Club, expressed their contempt for the linked fee: even if it was a fine idea on the merits, it was political poison. The White House aides and the environmentalists either didn’t know that the fee had been dropped from the bill or didn’t think the change was significant. The meeting lasted about thirty minutes.

Just after noon, Rimkunas, Graham’s climate-policy adviser, sent Rosengarten an e-mail. The subject was “Go to Fox website and look at gas tax article asap.” She clicked on “WH Opposes Higher Gas Taxes Floated by S.C. GOP Sen. Graham in Emerging Senate Energy Bill.” The White House double-crossed us, she thought. The report, by Major Garrett, then the Fox News White House correspondent, cited “senior administration sources” and said that the “Obama White House opposes a move in the Senate, led by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, to raise federal gasoline taxes within still-developing legislation to reduce green house gas emissions.” Including two updates to his original story, Garrett used the word “tax” thirty-four times.

“This is horrific,” Rosengarten e-mailed Rimkunas.

“It needs to be fixed,” he responded. “Never seen lg this pissed.”

“We’re calling Schiliro and getting the WH to publicly correct.”

Graham was “screaming profanities,” one of the K.G.L. staffers said. In addition to climate change, he was working with Democrats on immigration and on resolving the status of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. He was one of only nine Republicans to vote for Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. Now Obama aides were accusing him of backing a gas tax, which wasn’t his idea and wasn’t even in the draft bill. Worst of all, the leakers went to Fox News, a move which they knew would cause Graham the most damage. He called one of his policy advisers that day and asked, “Did you see what they just did to me?” The adviser said, “It made him question, ‘Do they really want to get this done or are they just posturing here? Because why would they do something like this if they wanted to get it done?’ It was more than an attempt to kill the idea. It was also an attempt to tag him with the idea, and, if you want him to be an ally on the issue, why would you do that?” Graham’s legislative director, Jennifer Olson, argued that he should withdraw from K.G.L. that day.

Kerry called Browner and yelled, “It wasn’t his idea!” He added, “It’s not a gas tax. You’ve got to defend our guy. We’ve been negotiating in good faith, and how can you go and turn on him like this?” After talking to Graham, Lieberman walked into the office of his legislative director, Todd Stein. “If we don’t fix this,” the Senator said, “this could be the death of the bill.”

On April 17th, two days after the Fox story, an activist named William Gheen, speaking at a Tea Party event in Greenville, South Carolina, told the crowd, “I’m a tolerant person. I don’t care about your private life, Lindsey, but as our U.S. senator I need to figure out why you’re trying to sell out your own countrymen, and I need to make sure you being gay isn’t it.” The question, with its false assertion that Graham is gay, turned into a viral video on the Web. Then Newt Gingrich’s group, American Solutions, whose largest donors include coal and electric-utility interests, began targeting Graham with a flurry of online articles about the “Kerry-Graham-Lieberman gas tax bill.” That week, the group launched a campaign in South Carolina urging conservatives to call Graham’s office “and ask him not to introduce new gas taxes.”

Kerry and Lieberman spent hours alone with Graham, trying to placate him. They forced the White House to issue a statement, which said that “the Senators don’t support a gas tax.” Graham had talked to Emanuel and was satisfied that the chief of staff wasn’t the source of the leak. Eventually, the people involved believed that they had mollified him. By the time Graham showed up at the conference table in Emanuel’s White House office on April 20th, he had calmed down. But, if he was going to suffer a ferocious backlash back home, he needed the White House to be as committed as he was. He was not encouraged when Axelrod, speaking about Democrats in Congress, noted, “The horse has been ridden hard this year and just wants to go back to the barn.”

That evening, hours after the meeting ended, a bubble of methane gas blasted out of a well of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, in the Gulf of Mexico, setting the rig on fire and killing eleven men. At the time, it seemed like a tragic accident, far away and of little consequence.

Kerry and Lieberman were desperate to accommodate Graham’s every request. The dynamics within the group changed. Aides marvelled at how Kerry and Lieberman would walk down the hallway with their arms around each other, while Lieberman and Graham’s relationship was tested by Graham’s escalating demands. The day after the White House meeting, the three senators and their aides gathered to discuss the status of the bill.

After the Fox News leak, a rumor had circulated that Congress wouldn’t pass a highway bill because of the Lindsey Graham gas-tax hike; Graham had to appease truckers in South Carolina. Now he insisted on eight billion dollars for the Highway Trust Fund, saying it was his price for staying. Frangione, Kerry’s aide, was “heartbroken,” a colleague said. It was an enormous amount of money within the confines of the bill, and spending anything on highways increased greenhouse-gas emissions. “Senator, please, just give me five minutes,” Rosengarten told Graham. “I’ll find your eight billion!” She and another Lieberman aide retrieved a spreadsheet they used to track all the spending and revenues in the bill. They fiddled with some numbers and—presto!—Graham had his money. (Later that day, Lieberman figured that, if they were going to spend eight billion dollars on highways, he might as well get some credit, too. He called the American Trucking Association to tell its officials the good news. They responded that they wanted twice that amount.)

Kerry, Lieberman, and their aides needed to keep Graham satisfied for five more days. If they persuaded him to attend the press conference unveiling the bill, he wouldn’t be able to turn back. All the other pieces were falling into place. The legislators met with the Chamber of Commerce to be sure that it would support the bill. Donohue, the Chamber president, said that he wouldn’t stand up with them at the press conference but that the Chamber wouldn’t oppose them, either.

There was just one more deal to make. The Edison Electric Institute represents the biggest electric utilities, and its president, Thomas Kuhn, was another grandee in Republican circles. The E.E.I. already had almost everything it wanted: preëmption, nuclear loan guarantees, an assurance that the cost of carbon would never rise above a certain level, and billions of dollars’ worth of free allowances through 2030 to help smooth the transition into the program. Now the E.E.I. had two new requests: it wanted a billion dollars more in free allowances, and it wanted the start date of the cap-and-trade regime pushed back from 2012 to 2015.

Within minutes, the senators had agreed to almost everything that Kuhn and his lobbyists were asking for. Their three staffers were dumbfounded. The K.G.L. side huddled near a water cooler and the aides staged a mini-rebellion against their bosses. “We were, like, ‘I can’t believe you just gave them all of that! You’ve got to be kidding, this can’t be the deal!’ ” one of them said. “And they were, like, ‘Well, we did it!’ You can’t put that amount of allowances on the table and take it back. You’ve dangled it. The baby’s already eating the candy.” In return for the candy, Kuhn promised that the E.E.I. would provide “a very supportive statement” when the bill was released.

In Lieberman’s office, staffers likened the E.E.I. meeting to the song “Dayenu,” which means “It would have been enough for us,” and is sung at Passover to celebrate the miraculous things God did for the Jews. “If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them—Dayenu! If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols—Dayenu!” Rosengarten imagined an E.E.I.-specific version of the song: “If they had given us the nuclear title, but not the cost collar, Dayenu! If they had given us the cost collar, but not pushed back the start date, Dayenu!” But at least the bill was essentially finished.

What became known as the Dayenu meeting took place on Thursday, April 22nd, Earth Day. A few hours before the meeting, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had sunk to the bottom of the Gulf. The spill began to spread; soon it would show signs of becoming one of the worst environmental disasters in history. Then, suddenly, there was a new problem: Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said that he wanted to pass immigration reform before the climate-change bill. It was a cynical ploy. Everyone in the Senate knew that there was no immigration bill. Reid was in a tough reëlection, and immigration activists, influential in his home state of Nevada, were pressuring him.

Senior aides at the White House were shocked by Reid’s statement. “We were doing well until Reid gave a speech and said it was immigration first. News to us!” a senior Administration official said. “It was kind of like, ‘Whoa, what do we do now? Where did that come from?’ ” Reid’s office seemed to be embarking on a rogue operation. In a three-day period, Reid’s office and unnamed Senate Democrats leaked to Roll Call, The Hill, the Associated Press, Politico, and the Wall Street Journal that the phantom immigration bill would be considered before the climate bill. Graham once again said that he felt betrayed. “This comes out of left field,” he told reporters. “I’m working as earnestly as I can to craft climate and energy independence, clean air and jobs, and now we’re being told that we’re going to immigration. This destroys the ability to do something on energy and climate.”

Graham didn’t tell the press that immigration was mostly just an excuse for his anger. That day, he had urged Reid to release a statement supporting the modified linked fee that Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman had used in negotiating with the refiners. Reid’s office greeted the request with suspicion. Reid and Graham didn’t trust each other. Reid’s aides thought the Republican leadership was trying to trick Reid into supporting something that sounded like a gas tax. The fact that Kerry and Lieberman were also supporters of the proposal did little to allay Reid’s fears. His aides drafted a pro-forma statement for Graham that promised simply that Reid would review the legislation. Graham dismissed the statement as meaningless. During one phone call, Graham shouted some vulgarities at Reid and the line went dead. The Majority Leader had hung up the phone.

At 10 P.M. the next day, Rimkunas sent Rosengarten an e-mail. They had worked together for seven months on the bill. Rosengarten had postponed her honeymoon—twice—to finish the project. They had travelled to Copenhagen together for the international climate conference and often teamed up to oppose Kerry’s office during internal debates. “Sorry buddy” is all the e-mail said. It was devastating. “Matt’s e-mail was a life low point,” she said. “It was actually soul-crushing.”

The next morning, a Saturday, Graham abandoned the talks. Lieberman was observing Shabbat and thus couldn’t work, use electrical devices, or talk on the phone. When his aides explained what was happening, he invoked a Talmudic exception allowing an Orthodox Jew to violate the Shabbat commandments “for the good of the community.” Kerry was in Massachusetts and immediately flew to Washington. The two men spent the morning trying to persuade Graham to stay. At about noon, Graham had a final conversation with Reid, who had nothing more to offer. Graham was out. He wrote a statement, and Olson, his legislative director, e-mailed a copy to Lieberman’s office. The public statement cited immigration as the issue, but attached was a note from Olson explaining that Graham was never going to receive the cover he needed from Reid on how they dealt with the oil refiners.

Rosengarten got the message on her BlackBerry while she was on the phone with Pickens’s policy people, who had no idea about the unfolding drama and wanted to make sure that their natural-gas goodies had survived the final draft of the bill. K.G.L., perhaps the last best chance to deal with global warming in the Obama era, was officially dead. As she read Graham’s definitive goodbye letter, tears streamed down her face.

By the end of April, about sixty thousand barrels of oil a day were flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. To many environmentalists, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe was a potential turning point, a disaster that might resurrect the climate legislation. But in Washington the oil spill had the opposite effect. Kerry and Lieberman were left sponsoring a bill with a sweeping expansion of offshore drilling at a moment when the newspapers were filled with photographs of birds soaking in oil. Even worse, the lone Republican, who had written the oil-drilling section to appeal to his Republican colleagues, was gone. The White House’s “grand bargain” of oil drilling in exchange for a cap on carbon had backfired spectacularly.

For three months, a period of record-high temperatures in Washington, what was now called the Kerry-Lieberman bill was debated and discussed as if it were a viable piece of legislation, but no Republican stepped forward to support it. During one speech in early June, Obama said that he knew “the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.” He never found them, and he didn’t appear to be looking very hard.

Kerry and Lieberman abandoned their attempt to cap the emissions of the oil industry and heavy manufacturers and pared the bill back so that it would cover only the utility industry. The E.E.I. wanted even more if utilities were to be the only guinea pigs for cap-and-trade. This time, the electric companies demanded regulatory relief from non-greenhouse-gas emissions, like mercury and other poisons, as well as more free allowances. Kerry refused to discuss those pollutants, but, in what was probably the nadir of the twenty-month effort, he responded, “Well, what if we gave you more time to comply and decreased the rigor of the reduction targets?” The cap was supposed to be sacrosanct, but Kerry had put it on the table. As a participant said afterward, “The poster child of this bill is its seventeen-per-cent-reduction target. It’s the President’s position in Copenhagen. It’s equal to the House bill.” Now Kerry was saying they could go lower.

As hopes for any kind of bill faded, Kerry and Lieberman kept fighting. They met with Olympia Snowe, who, like Tantalus’ fruit tree, always seemed to be almost within their grasp. She had started talking to them about the utility-only bill, and the two senators begged her to allow them to mention her name publicly to reporters. “Can we please just say that you’re willing to have a conversation about options?” Kerry asked. “No, do not say that,” Snowe responded. Still, Kerry could not resist telling reporters that day, “Even this morning, Senator Lieberman and I had a meeting with one Republican who has indicated a willingness to begin working towards something.”

Meanwhile, there was someone who, like Snowe, was in favor of the bill but was not prepared to do more: Barack Obama. After the K.G.L. failure, environmentalists and congressional aides who work on climate change were critical of the White House. Many of them believe that Obama made an epic blunder by not pursuing climate change first when he was sworn into office. The stimulus failed to reduce unemployment to an acceptable level. The health-care law, while significant, only raised the percentage of people with insurance from eighty-five per cent to ninety-five per cent. Meanwhile, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already above the level that scientists say risks causing runaway global warming. According to the argument, Obama was correct when he said during the campaign that placing a price on carbon in order to transform the economy and begin the process of halting climate change was his more pressing priority.

No diagnosis of the failure of Obama to tackle climate change would be complete without taking into account public opinion. In January, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the importance of twenty-one issues. Climate change came in last. After winning the fight over health care, another issue for which polling showed lukewarm support, Obama moved on to the safer issue of financial regulatory reform.

In September, I asked Al Gore why he thought climate legislation had failed. He cited several reasons, including Republican partisanship, which had prevented moderates from becoming part of the coalition in favor of the bill. The Great Recession made the effort even more difficult, he added. “The forces wedded to the old patterns still have enough influence that they were able to use the fear of the economic downturn as a way of slowing the progress toward this big transition that we have to make.”

A third explanation pinpointed how Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman approached the issue. “The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level,” Gore said. “And it’s to the point where it’s virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change.”

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman were not alone in their belief that transforming the economy required coöperation, rather than confrontation, with industry. American Presidents who have attempted large-scale economic transformation have always had their efforts tempered—and sometimes neutered—by powerful economic interests. Obama knew that, too, and his Administration had led the effort to find workable compromises in the case of the bank bailouts, health-care legislation, and Wall Street reform. But on climate change Obama grew timid and gave up, leaving the dysfunctional Senate to figure out the issue on its own.

As the Senate debate expired this summer, a longtime environmental lobbyist told me that he believed the “real tragedy” surrounding the issue was that Obama understood it profoundly. “I believe Barack Obama understands that fifty years from now no one’s going to know about health care,” the lobbyist said. “Economic historians will know that we had a recession at this time. Everybody is going to be thinking about whether Barack Obama was the James Buchanan of climate change.” ♦

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Biosemiotics: Searching for meanings in a meadow (New Scientist)

23 August 2010 by Liz Else

Are signs and meanings just as vital to living things as enzymes and tissues? Liz Else investigates a science in the making

In your own world, enwrapped in myriad others (Image: WestEnd61/Rex Features)

In your own world, enwrapped in myriad others (Image: WestEnd61/Rex Features)

EVERY so often, something shows up on the New Scientist radar that we just can’t identify easily. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a brand new type of flying machine that we are going to have to study closely?

That was our reaction when we first heard about a small conference held in June at the philosophy department of the Portuguese Catholic University in Braga. There, a group of biologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, information technologists and other scholars from all over the world gathered to discuss some revolutionary ideas for developing the hitherto obscure field of biosemiotics.

Unlike most revolutionaries, it soon became clear that this group’s goal was not to overturn the established order. They don’t attack the current way of doing science- they see its value plainly- but they do believe that for biology to become a more fully explanatory science, it needs a more encompassing framework. This framework needs to be able to explain an under-studied aspect of all living organisms: the capacity to navigate their environments through the processing of signs.

Biology, of course, already concerns itself with information: cell signalling, the genetic code, pheromones and human language, for example. What biosemiotics aims to do is to weave these disparate strands into a single coherent theory of biological meaning.

At first glance, the group seems to have chosen an unfortunate and incomprehensible name for its activity- semiotics is the study of signs and symbols that is most commonly associated with linguistic philosophers such as Ferdinand de Saussure. “Biosemiotics”, then, might sound like the name of some arcane mix of biological science and linguistic philosophy. Luckily, though, the true message of biosemiotics is clear: we may do better to stop thinking about the biological world solely in terms of its physical and chemical properties, but see it also as a world made up of biological signs and “meanings”.

One of the nascent field’s leading lights, Donald Favareau of the National University of Singapore, provides a definition on the group’s website. “Biosemiotics is the study of the myriad forms of communications… observable both within and between living systems. It is thus the study of representation, meaning, sense, and the biological significance of sign processes- from intracellular signalling processes to animal display behaviour to human… artefacts such as language and abstract symbolic thought.”

To get a better sense of what this means, it is best to go back to the field’s roots. Biosemiotics traces its earliest influences to the independent efforts of an Estonian-born biologist in the early 20th century and an American philosopher of the 19th century, who wrote much of his work hidden in an attic to avoid his creditors.

Estonian-born Jakob von Uexküll was an animal physiologist whose 1934 book A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A picture book of invisible worlds – and later works – inspired Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen, who then went on to win a Nobel prize in 1973 for their studies in animal behaviour, or ethology.

Von Uexküll wrote: “If we stand before a meadow covered with flowers, full of buzzing bees, fluttering butterflies, darting dragonflies, grasshoppers jumping over blades of grass, mice scurrying, and snails crawling about, we would be inclined to ask ourselves the unintended question: Does the meadow present the same view to the eyes of so many various animals as it does to ours?”

“Does the meadow present the same view to so many animals as it does to ours?”

He thought that a naive person would intuitively answer that it is the same meadow to every eye. Physical scientists, he thought, would see all the animals in the meadow as “mere mechanisms, steered here and there by physical and chemical agents, the meadow consists of a confusion of light waves and air vibrations… which operate the various objects in it”.

For von Uexküll, both views were wrong. Each creature in the meadow lived in “its own world filled with the perceptions which it alone knows”, and it was in accordance with that experiential world – and not the entirety of the whole, unseen but physically existing world – that the creature had to coordinate its actions to eat, flee, mate and sustain itself.

For some animals, that subjective perceptual universe, or Umwelt, as von Uexküll called it, writing in German, is narrow. He describes the umwelt of a tick which sits “motionless on the tip of a branch until a mammal passes below it. The smell of the butyric acid awakens it and it lets itself fall. It lands on the coat of its prey, through which it burrows to reach and pierce the warm skin… The pursuit of this simple meaning rule constitutes almost the whole of the tick’s life.” By reacting only to the single odorant of sweat, the tick reduces the countless characteristics of the world of host animals to a simple common denominator in its own world.

So von Uexküll’s meadow is alive with myriad perceptual worlds, with each one, for each species, evolving within, and functioning as, a different web of meaning. To understand why animals are organised the way they are, and why they act on the world as they do, he explained: “Meaning is the guiding star that biology must follow.”

Von Uexküll’s pioneering sensation-action “feedback-cycle” model for explaining the mechanics of biological meaning was revolutionary for its time. Indeed, it anticipated by many decades the science of cybernetics, which studies systems of control. But his model is now considered too mechanical and simplistic by most biosemioticians. To build what they hope might be a more scientifically fertile model, many of them base their understanding on the semiotic logic of the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.

Peirce was born in 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Harvard University. Peirce junior was a brilliant but rebellious student, who suffered from both neuralgia and depression. Known today as the father of the philosophical school of pragmatism, as a student Peirce made the serious mistake of angering his chemistry professor, who went on to become president of Harvard. During a life-long feud, he ensured that Peirce never gained a permanent post at any university.

For the 55 years after he graduated, Peirce wrote scientific and philosophic dictionary and encyclopaedia entries to support himself and his ongoing studies, which included producing the world’s first photometric star catalogue at Harvard Astronomical Observatory and working as a geodesist for the US Coastal Service. It was a difficult life: he was often without heat and food, and was kept alive thanks to the kindness of his brother, neighbours and benefactors, including his closest friend and admirer, the psychologist William James.

Peirce’s work in logic, mathematics and philosophy ran to an astonishing 60,000 pages. Much of this has been discovered and re-examined only recently, giving rise to the vigorous field of Peircean studies. He saw logic as a formal doctrine of signs, and his theory of signs is important in modern biosemiotics.

Most of us naively conceive of a “sign” as standing for something concrete: a red traffic light for most of us simply means “stop”. In other words, the two things – a sign and its meaning – are directly connected in a sign relationship. Peirce, however, saw a sign as representing a relation between three things.

Take the everyday example given by Jesper Hoffmeyer, a biochemist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a leader in biosemiotics, in his book Signs of Meaning in the Universe. Suppose a child breaks out in a rash of red spots and is taken to the doctor by his mother. For the mother, the spots are a sign that her child is sick. The doctor knows they mean that the child has measles. As Peirce put it in its most general form: “a sign is something which stands to someone, for something, in some respect”. The red spots are not automatically something which is a sign of measles to anyone, but only to “someone”, in this case the doctor.

Piece saw all signs as involving a triadic relation: the sign “vehicle” (the red spots); the “object” to which the sign-bearer refers (measles); and the “interpretant”, the system that allows the realisation of the sign-object relation to take place (the doctor’s thinking) and that acts accordingly upon that relation.

He wanted to investigate and uncover the complex logic by which “in every scientific intelligence, one sign gives birth to another, and especially one thought brings forth another”. His insight was to see that even the simplest sign must be considered as a triadic relation, in which the sign vehicle, object and interpreting system all play ineliminable parts – an insight biosemioticians believe science would do well to explore more fully.

This realisation led Peirce away from devising linear chains of logic that relied on just two factors, to the construction of a “sign” logic that is an endlessly branching, multidimensional network. Although Peirce’s work is theoretical, there are clear parallels between von Uexküll’s model of the meadow, filled with different meanings, interpreted by the different biological systems of different creatures, and Peirce’s model of the sign as ultimately a kind of relation that living agents adopt towards things for the accomplishment of various ends and actions.

When Peirce wrote, he was thinking primarily of signs as relations that enable human thought to effectively understand the world. Accordingly, his logic has recently been applied in efforts to understand the origins of human language that reject the idea that language appeared either as a lucky accident that endowed humans with a universal grammar- as posited by the linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky – or as a by-product of an enlarged brain.

Instead, researchers such as Terrence Deacon, a biological anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, have used Peirce’s sign logic to explain how language may have arisen as an evolutionary consequence of pre-linguistic symbolic activity.

But biosemiotics applies the idea of signs and signalling much more widely than just the analysis of human language. Take these sentences from a recent “Perspectives” article in Science magazine: “Living cells are complex systems that are constantly making decisions in response to internal or external signals. Among the most notable carriers of information are… enzymes that receive inputs from cell surface or internal receptors and determine what actions should be taken in response…” (Science, vol 328, p 983).

The broadest scope

Words like “signals”, “information” and “inputs” litter the biology literature. But all of these usages are metaphorical. What biosemioticians really want is an analysis which goes further, says Charbel El-Hani, a biologist at the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil. “The importance of going beyond metaphor and really building a theory of information is underlined by the reiterated claim that biology is a science of information,” El-Hani told New Scientist.

“What biosemioticians really want is an analysis which goes beyond metaphor”

The scope envisioned for the new field is therefore truly broad: a viewpoint which connects everything from biomolecular networks sending signals that control cell behaviour to animal behaviour and human language. That is the agreed goal, but the scientists and philosophers involved each bring their own uniquely interdisciplinary perspective, and so do not always agree on the best way forward. It is safe to say that this new science is very much in ferment.

To get a feel for this, New Scientist asked a range of thinkers attending the Braga conference to explain how they saw the field. More than 20 responded. The wildly different roads they have travelled to reach biosemiotics, and the different areas to which they wanted to apply it, were evident in their responses.

Favareau came to biosemiotics as a result of “growing discontent with the inability of cognitive neuroscience to explain the reality of experiential ‘meaning’ at the same level that it was so successful in, and manifestly committed to, explaining the mechanics of the electrochemical transmission events by which such meanings are asserted (without explanation) to be produced”.

For Gerard Battail, an information theorist at Télécom ParisTech in France, it is the fact that mainstream biology, while loosely using a vocabulary borrowed from communication theory- “pathways”, “codes” and the like- “remains basically concerned with the flow of matter and energy into and between living entities, failing to recognise [that] the information flow is at least as important”.

Frederik Stjernfelt of Aarhus University in Denmark echoes El-Hani: “Notions such as ‘information’, ‘message’, ‘representation’, ‘code’, ‘signal’, ‘cue’, ‘communication’ and ‘sign’ crop up all over biology,” he says. He points out, however, that while the use of such terms is apparently unavoidable in explaining the workings of living systems, rarely, if ever, are such concepts explicitly defined as technical terms. His version of biosemiotics sees this as an explanatory blind spot that should be taken seriously.

“If not, the danger is that biology is trapped in a dualism where all organic communication, from cells to apes, are claimed to be describable as simple physiochemical causes only- while, on the other hand, full intentional meaning is a specifically human privilege. How could such a thing have developed phylogenetically, if not from simpler semiotic processes in biology?” asks Stjernfelt.

Kalevi Kull at the University of Tartu in Estonia stays closer to von Uexküll. “Biology has studied how organisms and living communities are built. But it is no less important to understand what such living systems know, in a broad sense; that is, what they remember (what agent-object sign relations are biologically preserved), what they recognise (what distinctions they are capable and not capable of), what signs they explore (how they communicate, make meanings and use signs) and so on. These questions are all about how different living systems perceive the world, how they model the world, what experience motivates what actions, based on those perceptions.”

These answers and many more are just a taste of how biosemiotics is shaping up. As Favareau explains, we must remember that it is still a “proto-science- closer to a very lively debate between scientists about what such a future science will have to explain about biological meaning, and how it will do so, than it is to a fully realised science with a common terminology and a settled methodology”.

The founders are open to new ideas. “If one truly recognises the need for something like biosemiotics, then one owes it to science to apply one’s best thought and effort to the task,” writes Favareau in the introduction to a recently released anthology Essential Readings in Biosemiotics (Springer, 2009).

Marcello Barbieri, a molecular biologist at the University of Ferrara in Italy, another key figure, echoes Favareau. He brings yet another perspective to the field – a “code model” that he has applied to the genetic code, splicing and other cellular codes. “Nothing is settled yet in biosemiotics,” he says. “Everything is on the move, and the exploration of the scientifically new continent of ‘meaning’ has just begun.” Watch this space.

“The exploration of the scientifically new continent of ‘meaning’ has just begun”


To learn more about biosemiotics and its history, download a free pdf of the first chapter of Donald Favareau’s Essential Readings in Biosemiotics at, courtesy of Springer Science publishers and Donald Favarea.

"Selvagens" no museu (Pesquisa FAPESP)

“Selvagens” no museu
Há 128 anos, grupos de índios eram expostos na Exposição antropológica brasileira
Neldson Marcolin

Edição Impressa 175 – Setembro 2010

O dia 29 de julho de 1882 prometia ser diferente na cidade do Rio de Janeiro. O feriado e os fogos de artifício anunciavam o aniversário de 36 anos da princesa Isabel e convidavam para um evento raro na cidade. Naquele dia o Museu Nacional abriu a Exposição antropológica brasileira com a presença das principais personalidades da sociedade carioca e de toda a Corte. Além da princesa, o imperador dom Pedro II e a imperatriz Teresa Cristina visitaram a exposição, amplamente coberta pela imprensa. Também participaram da cerimônia de inauguração alguns índios Botocudo – de Goiás e do Espírito Santo – e Xerente – de Minas Gerais. A diferença é que os indígenas foram trazidos para serem expostos, e não para visitá-la.

© museu nacional

Capa da revista com desenho de índia Botocudo

O evento de 1882 foi um dos acontecimentos científicos mais importantes do final do século XIX no Brasil. Mostras semelhantes às do Rio estavam em voga em outros países da América Latina, Europa e nos Estados Unidos. O desejo de popularizar a ciência, as polêmicas sobre a teoria da evolução proposta por Charles Darwin, o anseio de conhecer o passado do Brasil e o fascínio provocado pelos índios motivaram o diretor do Museu Nacional, Ladislau Netto, a organizar a exposição. As coleções foram dispostas em oito salas que ganharam nomes em homenagem a figuras da história e da ciência: Vaz de Caminha, Léry, Rodrigues Ferreira, Hartt, Lund, Martius, Gabriel Soares e Anchieta. Todos escreveram relatos que ajudavam a tornar conhecido o Brasil de períodos anteriores, desde a descoberta da nova terra no século XVI. As oito salas mostravam peças arqueológicas descobertas no país, como restos humanos fossilizados, conchas de sambaquis e objetos indígenas de etnias diferentes. Também foi editada a Revista da Exposição Anthropologica Brazileira, com artigos que tentavam dar um significado científico ao conjunto apresentado no museu.

© museu nacional

Objetos de rituais usados pelos índios Mahué

Os “selvagens”, como eram chamados, faziam parte da exposição em grupos vivos, compondo um cenário que simulava seu cotidiano. Os artigos da revista, dirigida por Mello Moraes Filho e escritos por especialistas brasileiros, sempre se referiam aos indígenas como representantes dos mais primitivos estágios da evolução humana em contraposição aos evoluídos homens brancos caucasianos. O evento era uma oportunidade para observá-los como se fossem fósseis vivos, na argumentação tão científica quanto possível para aquele período. As medidas dos índios, sua forma muscular, o formato do crânio, os hábitos sociais e morais foram analisados e comparados com mestiços e brancos. “Era uma antropologia física, completamente diferente da antropologia do século XX”, diz o biólogo Charbel Niño El-Hani, coordenador do Grupo de Pesquisa em História, Filosofia e Ensino de Ciências Biológicas da Universidade Federal da Bahia, que estudou o tema. “Havia um olhar sobre os indígenas diferente do que viria a ter Claude Lévi-Strauss várias décadas depois.”

© museu nacional

Ilustração de índio Tembé

A ideia do índio como fóssil vivo era considerada útil para estudar o passado do homem no Brasil e não causava a mesma repulsa provocada hoje, avalia a historiadora Márcia Ferraz, do Centro Simão Mathias de Estudos de História da Ciência da Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (Cesima/PUC-SP).“Aquela era a forma como se fazia ciência em todo o mundo, não só no Brasil”, explica Márcia. Os critérios científicos utilizados eram os da história natural, e não aqueles que as ciências sociais viriam a usar mais tarde.

A exposição ficou em cartaz durante três meses e foi considerada bem-sucedida por ter atraído mais de mil visitantes e causado alguma repercussão internacional. “Quem a visitou, no entanto, foi apenas a pequena elite do Rio daquele tempo, que era alfabetizada e interessada pelas novidades científicas”, conclui El-Hani.