Friday, April 18, 2014

Years of Living Impatiently with Showtime Series

nytimesNuclear energy plays a minor role in a minor online kerfluffle.

In the New York Times, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute (an environmental think tank with an interest in nuclear energy) complain that Showtime’s climate change series Years of Living Dangerously does not include solutions to climate change, only depictions of possible or real disaster. For them, it’s exactly the wrong message:

Still, environmental groups have known since 2000 that efforts to link climate change to natural disasters could backfire, after researchers at the Frameworks Institute studied public attitudes for its report “How to Talk About Global Warming.” Messages focused on extreme weather events, they found, made many Americans more likely to view climate change as an act of God — something to be weathered, not prevented.

Messaging is valuable, of course, but when it starts to diverge from the truth, then it becomes a hindrance to communication. Climate change has caused natural disasters, at least in the show’s reckoning. This is what the authors would prefer:

What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions. Climate advocates often do this, arguing that solar and wind can reduce emissions while strengthening the economy.

This is where the duo suggests nuclear energy can play a role, because “the rejection of technologies like nuclear and natural gas by environmental groups is most likely feeding the perception among many that climate change is being exaggerated.” 

bloombergWriter Eric Roston responded to this piece in Bloomberg with an almost willfully silly riposte:

The piece reads as if, say, when someone sneezes, the authors say gesundheit and then make the case for nuclear power.

I read Roston’s piece before the op-ed and was really surprised that the latter was so nuclear-lite. Roston also puts on a political monocle that seems notably unhelpful:

The problem on the left isn’t that some environmentalists oppose nuclear; it’s that they oppose nuclear, coal, oil and gas without explaining how all the refrigerators and air conditioning will still work (see blogs where environmentalists talk to themselves).

Let’s just note that if someone says gesundheit, Roston replies “politics.” Nordhaus and Shellenberger (and the TV show) avoid partisan labels. 

Roston does say this, which is true enough:

Not everyone is an alarmist because they talk about things that are alarming. And not everything is irresponsible because it’s good television.

Speaking of tautologies, no good television is irresponsible and no irresponsible television is good, so there’s that. Roston is right that disasters are more entertaining than solutions, but anything can be made interesting. Most disaster movies focus on solutions because finding them provides the drama.


But it’s all for naught. Roston incorporates comments that throw all these issues into irrelevance, at least for now:

Actually, solutions are on their way, said Joe Romm, one of two chief scientific advisors who worked on the project. Romm is founding editor of the influential blog, Upcoming episodes will show advances being made across a broad spectrum of topics -- carbon policy, renewable energy, deforestation, climate adaptation, the decline of U.S. coal, and big business, where young people are working with companies to increase clean energy and energy efficiency.

Roston, Shellenberg and Nordhaus must all be guys who want to know who killed Colonel Mustard in the first episode of a mystery series. Sometimes the pleasure is in the waiting, so let’s wait and see how Showtime does with climate change solutions before commenting further on it. Maybe someone will say gesundheit.

Oh, and “young people?” Thank goodness for that – oldsters have no role in big business, apparently.


Be sure to take a look at Tara’s review of Years of Living Dangerously a few posts below. She makes some of the same points as Shellenberg and Nordhaus (and cites their op-ed), but is not quite so sure something nuclear won’t happen in the remaining eight parts of the series. She even offers some useful advice to the producers.

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