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The Rebranding of Global Warming (Demoting an exaggerated issue)

By Ken Maize -- May 14, 2012

“This may be less a rebranding than a full-scale retreat. The message that the climate is falling around mankind’s head … has failed to gain much political traction across the nation. In the process, the environmental movement has lost much of its luster and credibility.”

National environmental groups, conceding that global warming has lost much of its heat as a political issue, are now engaged in what the political online magazine Politico describes as a “rebranding.” Says Politico, “There’s been a change in climate for Washington’s greenhouse gang, and they’ve come to this conclusion: To win, they have to talk about other topics, like gas prices and kids choking on pollutants.”

For the power business, this could turn out to be a positive development. It might expunge carbon dioxide from the regulatory libretto and refocus the ongoing opera bouffe on familiar themes. Perhaps we can drop the self-reverential handwringing about “carbon footprint” and worry about real, tangible, legally defined nasties such as SOx, NOx, and rocks.

Full Retreat?

This may be less a rebranding than a full-scale retreat. The message that the climate is falling around mankind’s head, pushed by environmental groups and former Vice President Al Gore for more than a decade, has failed to gain much political traction across the nation. In the process, the environmental movement has lost much of its luster and credibility.

The first priority of the Obama administration and its Democratic majority in Congress after the 2008 presidential election—cap-and-trade legislation—not only failed, but crashed and burned around the heads of the Democratic Party. The regulatory overreach gave the Republicans the political equivalent of heat-seeking missiles, and the GOP has used these weapons to punish Democrats. Take a look at this graphic from the Gallup polling organization to see what has been happening to support for environmental causes.

Behind the Failure

Why did the political message of man-made global warming fail? Aside from the fundamental problems involved in an issue that contained at least as much hype, non sequitur, and unstated political agenda as it did science, the doctrine of manmade global warming has a serious message debility. It doesn’t connect directly to the lives of the people it is alleged to affect. Climate change—which is historically the rule and not exceptional—happens very slowly. People do not experience climate discretely, as they do their economic circumstances.

So the climate catastrophists tried to focus on things that average folks do experience. All they could come up with that touches most people is weather, which, as Mark Twain famously noted, is something that everybody talks about but nobody does anything about. People do experience it. So the message of why we need to stop producing carbon dioxide, a conventionally harmless, even necessary and life-giving gas, switched to preventing extreme weather. Every hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, drought, flood, and famine became living evidence of the malign hand of man on the climate, according to the green liturgy.

But that hasn’t worked, either, in large part because it is totally bogus. Blaming every extreme weather event on the handiwork of man vitiates any science that is behind global warming. In focusing on weather extremes, the environmental groups rendered their hypothesis of manmade global warming unfalsifiable. In short, it stopped being science and became faith, one that few Americans were prepared to accept.

Alarmist Reset

So it’s retreat, or rebranding, or whatever euphemism one might choose. You could also call it “back to basics,” in that the green groups say they are going to resume talking about asthma, public health, and the old messages of the pre-climate change days.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Heather Taylor told Politico, “We’re going to talk a lot about the health implications of dirty air.” American University public relations professor Matthew Nisbet, who advises green groups on messaging, wrote recently:

In a polarized America, if you are going to build support for candidates in the Midwest and other battleground states that will back legislation on climate change during the next Congress, you have to switch focus to emphasize public health and economic resilience, goals realized through incremental actions like eliminating coal plants and boosting fuel efficiency.

Politico described the new tactic as “a bit of bait and switch: Help elect global warming fighters by basing campaigns on kitchen-table issues.”

Less Politics Ahead?

Whatever the reason for the retreat, it is good news for those in the power industry who face persistent regulatory challenges to their operations. The move back to basics puts the regulatory debate back on common and familiar ground: real pollution, not the faux version represented by benign carbon dioxide.

It’s old whine in even older bottles. That’s probably a good thing for the regulatory debate.


Kennedy Maize is executive editor of MANAGING POWER magazine.


  1. Ken Maize: The Rebranding of Global Warming (Demoting an exaggerated issue) | JunkScience.com  

    […] MasterResource Share this:PrintEmailMoreStumbleUponTwitterFacebookDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Climate Change, Environmentalism and tagged climate fraud, climate hysteria, dioxycarbophobia, greenie obstructionists, misanthropy, weather superstition. Bookmark the permalink. ← Save the whales! Uh, oh never mind… […]


  2. rbradley  

    Ken Maize’s piece reminds me of this honest assessment from an ‘alarmist’ climate-change economist Severin Borenstein, (“Making the Wrong Case for Renewable Energy,” Bloomberg, February 13, 2012):

    “Advocates of renewable energy feel cornered by the gridlock in Congress and waning interest in climate change. But arguing that renewable energy is the best way to address economic or security concerns isn’t the way to prevail. It just focuses the debate on issues where fossil fuels are almost sure to win.”



  3. Andrew  

    “Whatever the reason for the retreat, it is good news for those in the power industry who face persistent regulatory challenges to their operations.”

    I must disagree. Read the articles again, and perhaps some of “Politics and the English Language” if necessary. The agenda is not changing, only the superficial appearance.


  4. Noblesse Oblige  

    You could have fooled me. The alarmists are more shrill and bizarre than before. Now everything that happens — every tornado, wildfire, dry spell, flood, thunderstorm, … whatever…. is made to fit the dogma. Warnings about apocolypse from the peripatetic Jim Hansen abound. Skeptics are guilty of crimes against humanity.

    We are watching the rebirth of astrology. Whatever works to further the agenda… which never changes.


  5. Parma John  

    I agree with Andrew. The problem here is that the enviro-Malthusians still come down to CO2 (life’s fertilizer for a greener world) as mortal sin.
    — CO2 = “dirty air”
    — CO2 = pollution
    — CO2 causes asthma
    — CO2 causes ozone depletion (and therefore cancer!)
    — CO2 causes overpopulation
    — CO2 kills all the cute animals but saves mosquitoes
    The Movement is still riding high with their masses of leave-it-in-the-ground Luddites drunk on their own failed rhetoric. This demon will not die through rebranding; it will simply rise again, phoenix wise, to take our breath away once more.


  6. Andrew  

    Parma John-You forgot that is also now said to cause obesity, so we’ll all be fat and it will be mostly everyone else at fault rather than ourselves as individuals. But we’ll be responsible for our neighbor’s obesity. And of course since we’ll all be paying for everybody’s health care, we’ll have a simultaneous reason to regulate people’s energy use and their diets!

    And so they shall do away with the entire concept of liberty, if we let them.


  7. David Appell  

    I think what’s more likely to happen is that the debate will keep swinging back and forth as surface warming waxes and wanes. The surface has warmed little in the last 10-15 years, so the public has come to believe warming isn’t a problem. Regression analysis says that’s mostly been due to back-to-back La Ninas, the first of which was especially strong. The second La Nina has now ended, and there are already signs that warming is picking up: GISS measured April 2012 as their 4th warmest April, as did UAH. RSS found the 6th warmest April. And the oceans continue to warm steadily, a clear indication of Earth’s energy imbalance.

    2011 was the warmest La Nina year yet, and an El Nino late this year or next could send temperatures soaring. After regression analysis (Foster and Rahmstorf, Env Res Lett v6 2011) there is an underlying warming of about 0.15 C/decade. But the public doesn’t tune into these relatively subtle arguments.

    But it may well be that that trend — not quite 2 F over a human lifetime — is too slow to provoke a visceral human reaction, at least at typical US latitudes and in typical US media. Or that by the time climate change becomes obvious it will be too late to avoid 2+ C warming, or even more. But if I were a fossil fuel advocate, I would be preparing my arguments to explain away a jump in warming if an El Nino appears, and also why a 2 F per lifetime warming isn’t a big problem.

    By the way, CO2 can be both a fertilizer and a pollutant at the same time — just like water.


  8. David Appell  

    Actually I was a little wrong about the length of the warming hiatus. There has been statistically significant surface warming over the last 15 years (GISS) of 0.08 C/decade, and statistically significant warming of the lower troposphere over the last 12 years (UAH) of 0.08 C/decade.


  9. Chris Lang  

    If your “free market” ideology requires disregard of settled science, it is on very shaky grounds.



  10. LMADster  

    The climate change crowd needs to rebrand their cause as “conservative” and act accordingly.

    As you say, the climate change crowd has bungled the sales jobs for a meaningful carbon tax by relying on shyster salesmen such as algore, Obama’s crony capitalism and ill-fated CAP and Trade and East Anglia University as well as conflating climate change with “social justice” and global income redistribution.

    There is a MUCH EASIER way to bring about a carbon tax but it requires the courage to step outside of their ideological cave and answer the following ideological questions:

    1) If the solution to too much CO2 in the air is to use less fossil fuels, why is NOT the solution to too much federal debt to use less government?

    2) If the optimal amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm (current=389 ppm) because that is the optimal concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere that life as we know most likely can continue, why is 18% of GDP (current =25% GDP) NOT the optimal size of the federal government since that is the size that most likely yields maximum economic growth?

    Get those two questions right and they will have Conservatives begging them for a carbon tax.

    Think about it. Progressives and Conservatives are actually making the same apocalyptic argument albeit on different issues. They both make good arguments for action. But the public is yawningly uninterested in AGW and unwilling to make the hard choices on America’s fiscal problems. Buying off the opposition is the American way.It’s time for progressives concerned about rising temperatures and conservatives concerned about rising federal debt to realize the obvious: they need to BUY each other off in order to effectively address their pet ideological concerns-there is no other way. This means trading, among other things, a carbon tax for a balanced budget amendment and a more limited government. This plan — the LMAD PLAN — is outlined at http://letsmakeadeal-thebook.com

    The LMAD PLAN BUYS OFF Liberals with much more than just a $600 billion carbon tax. It also adds fully-funded Healthcare for every American, a public option health insurance entity, and the implementation of tax schemes frequently advocated by Liberals such as a “sugar” tax and a value-added tax. The LMAD plan even grants overnight amnesty of 10 million illegal aliens.

    LMAD buys off Conservatives with much more than a balanced budget and limited government ; it permanently ends future illegal immigration, adds tort reform and completely replaces all taxes on production, labor, saving and investment with the new carbon tax, the value-added tax and the sugar tax.

    The LMAD plan even removes the burden of healthcare expenses from corporate balance sheets by ending our reliance on employer-provided health insurance.

    Wahla! Green tech, energy efficiency, green jobs, cleaner air WITHOUT costly government regs or Obama-instituted crony capitalism.


  11. Chip Knappenberger  

    David Appell #8,

    Check out my Cherry-picker’s Guide to Temperature Trends that I last updated at Master Resource about a year ago for a more complete picture of which time period and datasets to choose in order to make whatever point it is that anyone would like to make about the recent temperature history (and how that history compares with mean model projections). I think that the significance of the global warming “hiatus” is more that the observed global temperatures are warming at a slower rate than model projections, rather than that global warming has stopped completely.



  12. David Appell  

    Chip: Then, if you don’t want to analyze the data in different ways, how about just using all of it that is available for both temperature and CO2? I did that here:

    The result is a transient CO2 climate sensitivity of 2.1 C (GISS) and 2.2 C (UAH LT). The equilibrium CO2 climate sensitivity would be at least as large as this.

    The trends are 0.13 C/decade for both GISS and UAH LT.


  13. The Chicken Little Lobby Changes Tack « Monkey Wrenching America  

    […] (Kennedy Maize is executive editor of MANAGING POWER magazine. This piece originally appeared on the MasterResource Blog.) […]


  14. cknappenberger  

    David Appell (#12),

    Thanks for the link to your calculations which seem to yield a medium to low climate sensitivity. As you wrote in a previous post “Is a climate sensitivity of 2.0°C worrisome? That, too, is left as an exercise for the reader.”




  15. David Appell  

    But Chip, there is a difference between the “climate sensitivity,” which is after an equilibrium has been established, and “transient climate sensitivity.” The former is almost certainly greater than the latter (unless there are some negative feedbacks no one has yet foreseen), and could be significantly bigger.

    To be fair, my little calculation was very simplistic — for example, it attributes all warming to CO2, though other GHGs are emitted too, so all forcing can’t be assigned to CO2’s influence. And, of course, it ignores aerosols that might be dampening some warming at the moment. It’s just a toy calculation, worth whatever that’s worth.


  16. David Appell  

    PS: And I honestly don’t know if an average global surface warming of 2 C is dangerous or not. As you of course know, it’s a very complex question. That’s why I blog.


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