How Climate Denial Derails Scientists

Scientists downplay findings to avoid "alarmist" stereotype. Rebuttals can reinforce deniers' claims.

Mostly, I recommend bypassing the climate “debate” altogether. There’s no actual debate so even debunking it gives it undeserved credence. But that’s just it: doubt and denial are more than just states of mind; their perpetuation is strategic. An eye dropper of doubt has proven more potent in stalling action on climate change than an ocean of scientific warnings.

Sometimes it’s good to call attention to this kind of strategy in order to undercut its power.

Because we do wind up wasting lots of time and energy on denial.

In my line of work, there’s even an obsession with measuring it. I’m talking about polling voters’ “belief” in climate change. John Oliver described this practice best: “It doesn’t matter! You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking if 15 is bigger than 5, or ‘do owls exist?’, or ‘are there hats?’…The only accurate way to report that 1 in 4 Americans are skeptical of global warming is to say that a poll finds that 1 in 4 Americans are wrong about something.”

Now there’s a study out that shows that climate change denial is taking a toll on scientists—and science.

First, scientists feel significant pressure to hold back. The study found that they often downplay future climate risks to avoid being labeled “alarmist” by vocal deniers. Read more »

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No Taxation Without (Proportional) Representation!

Explained with the aid of some tasty fruits and veggies.
Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

If you put your money in a vending machine and punched in the number for trail mix, but it instead gave you a pack of gum, would you use that vending machine again? Unfortunately, voting in North America is often not so different from this vending machine. In the United States, most voters vote Democrat, yet the Republicans control Congress. Voters ask for trail mix but keep getting gum. In Canada, about 35,000 Conservative voters can elect a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) to represent them, but it takes more than ten times as many—over half a million—Green voters to elect a single Green MP.

This is not how it’s supposed to work. Second US President John Adams believed the legislature “should be in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them. … [E]qual interest among the people should have equal interest in it.” In other words, the legislature should proportionally represent the people Read more »


How the Big Apple Boosted Small Donors

And how Seattle’s Honest Elections initiative could do it even better.
Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

In the Northwest, as across the United States, political giving is an elite affair, heavily concentrated among one percenters and residents of affluent, white neighborhoods. Even in Seattle, which has more campaign participation than most places, only 1.7 percent of adults made a contribution to any local candidate in the last municipal election, in 2013. Half of those people made contributions, to all candidates, of $100 or less.

Honest Elections Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program could change all that, though, multiplying the number of residents who give to campaigns and expanding the geography of contributors from isolated pockets to the whole city. Vouchers could be a huge boost for participatory democracy. Another day, I’ll lay out the specific case of Seattle, complete with maps and statistics. Today, I describe how public funding has transformed campaign giving in New York City.

In the Big Apple, candidates for state assembly and city council run in districts of similar size and in similarly competitive races. Candidates for state assembly raise money the old-fashioned way: dialing for dollars. Candidates for city council, in contrast, raise money through a system of public matching funds for small-dollar contributions. The first $175 of any resident’s gift is matched six-to-one with public funds. This one difference makes New York a fascinating natural experiment in how public campaign funds change politics. Read more »


How Shell Manipulates Washington State Politics

The Polar Pioneer isn’t the company’s only disruptive presence.
Shell's Polar Pioneer oil rig, incoming to Seattle Port's Terminal 5.

Shell's Polar Pioneer oil rig, incoming to Seattle Port's Terminal 5. (Photo by a friend of Sightline, used with permission.)

Yesterday afternoon, Shell Oil’s titanic drilling rig made its way into the Port of Seattle where it will undergo repairs before heading north to drill in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s north coast this summer. After local maritime company Foss inked a secretive lease with the Port  to repair two of Shell’s skyscraper-sized oil drilling rigs, the region has been embroiled in a raging controversy over the wisdom of allowing the second largest company in the world to use Seattle as a staging ground for Arctic oil drilling. Shell’s last run at Arctic oil was a signal failure when the company’s flagship Kulluk drilling rig ran aground near Alaska’s Kodiak Island. Shell plans to return to the precarious Arctic seas this summer for another try at tapping the oil reserves.

And in Skagit County, Shell has plans to build a large oil train facility at its Anacortes Refinery. After the county hearing examiner recently determined that the company should conduct a full environmental review of the project, Shell sued the county. The case will be heard this month. Read more »

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Weekend Reading 5/15/15

NW oil plans can be stopped, a new rideshare app, empathetic rats, and more.

We Can’t Fix Anything Until We Fix Democracy

Getting to the root of the problem.

A Sea Change for Weathercasters

Trusted messengers on climate and weather move from the denier camp.

Event: Oil Trains in Anacortes

Discussing the facts on oil trains in Skagit County.

Honest Elections Seattle Is Legal

Citizens United and all.

Weekend Reading 5/8/15

New crude-by-rail rules, how commuting affects social mobility, a birth control comedy sketch, and more.