Saturday, March 2, 2013

Choking on Apathy

According to a new study, people the wide world over have suddenly stopped giving a damn about the filthy air they breathe and the contaminated water they drink. Concern levels are at their lowest in 20 years.  Smog, schmog. We are suffering, according to the New York Times, from a mass outbreak of Environmental Warning Fatigue (not to be confused with the Outrage Fatigue Syndrome I've discussed in recent posts.)

Hmmm. Isn't it ironic that the paper of record is publishing the results of a new study on Environmental Meh at the exact same time it decided to ditch its popular Green Blog, close on the heels of the trashing of its entire Environmental Desk? Like Kermit the Frog, the Gray Lady apparently does not find it easy being green. So she's just being mean.

First, the phenomenon of environmental brain fog. The reason I'm calling it brain fog is because people don't seem to be connecting pollution with climate change. From the GlobeScan report cited by the Times:

Asked how serious they consider each of six environmental problems to be—air pollution, water pollution, species loss, automobile emissions, fresh water shortages, and climate change—fewer people now consider them “very serious” than at any time since tracking began twenty years ago.

Climate change is the only exception, where concern was lower from 1998 to 2003 than it is now. Concern about air and water pollution, as well as biodiversity, is significantly below where it was even in the 1990s. Many of the sharpest falls have taken place in the past two years.
The study, the Times article and the discontinuation of its environmental coverage also conveniently coincide with the Friday night dump of the State Department's preliminary report on the environmental impact of the filth-producing Keystone tar sands pipeline. Hint: our corporate-controlled government says the free flow of one of most polluting substances on the planet will be minimal to non-existent. What a shock.

Also, as an aside -- while there is no evidence that the GlobeScan survey itself was skewed in any way, I think we have to be wary about the use to which it may be put by the moneyed elites. Will the Keystone XL pipeline boosters point to generalized public ennui as the perfect excuse to grant final approval over the protests of the increasingingly marginalized environmental groups? The company's corporate client roster has, after all, included such global heavy-hitters as Goldman Sachs, BP, Citigroup and Royal Dutch Shell. According to Wikipedia, it is a public research consultant which relies on "the wisdom of crowds". So far, I have been unable to discover on whose behalf they commissioned the survey on environmental ennui. But it'll be interesting to see how the PTBs put the findings to use (or misuse). 

Still, I give GlobeScan props for pointing out in a separate blogpost by Sam Mountford that global public apathy about the environment is closely tied to the global economic meltdown:

The timing of this fall in concern (in public concern about the environment) is no coincidence. The period since 2009 has witnessed the most sustained period of economic strife in most of the world’s major economies for the better part of a century. All our polling suggests that, while alarm about the economic situation and jobs has retreated from the stratospheric levels it reached in 2008, it has stabilized at a much higher level than before the crisis. The full ramifications of the banking collapses, ensuing government bailouts and cripplingly high levels of public indebtedness that have resulted have only slowly become apparent. And bluntly, for many citizens, these appear to pose a much clearer and more present threat to their well-being than environmental jeopardy, which for most people remains hidden from view.
Meanwhile, New York Times environmental blogger Andrew Revkin has written a scathing dirge on the demise of the Green Blog, adding that the paper will still blithely and profitably continue publishing its nine fashion, dining and lifestyle blogs, its four business blogs and its four or five technology blogs. He snarkily warns that if you care to complain to the Gray Bitch (my appellation, not his), you'd better make sure your subscription is up to date first. We can't have "you environmentalists" stealing valuable corporate information, y'know? It might put a microscopic dent in the bloated profits of the One Percent. It might poke a hole in the Fog of Bore.


Neil Gillespie said...

The paper of record has a relatively small audience, with an aging (and dying) demographic.

As for climate change, one benefit is rising sea levels. One day Karen you may have beach front property at your apartment, while Donald Trump’s place is submerged. (Hope you are on the second floor, just in case things go to far.) This is sarcasm, of course.

As for the Keystone pipeline, real Americans don’t care where their gasoline comes from, so long as it keeps flowing, and as cheaply as possible. And don’t mess with the American right to gas-n-go Karen, that could be seen as a seditious attack on NASCAR, a rock of civilization. Gas-n-go would be a constitutional right on par with the Second Amendment had our Founders known the internal combustion engine was in our future. And while the Times may have nine sports blogs, none are dedicated to the sport of driving stock cars really fast in a circle. Out of touch much, NYT? This is not sarcasm, unfortunately.

All this fits nicely with Revkin’s observation that the paper of record will publish and profit from its nine fashion, dining and lifestyle blogs, yada, yada, yada. And for some reason the Times still has a blog listed for the London 2012 Summer Olympics on its blog directory.

Generally the masses accept what the government tells them, that the air is okay to breathe, and the water is safe to drink. The air and water may not be perfect, BHO may say, but it’s good enough. The worriers and fusspots can buy air filtration devices and water purification systems, which fits nicely into the plans of corporations who manufacture and sell such devices and systems. Commentor Mike Roddy on Revkin’s piece sums it up, "It's not the reading public, but rather the advertisers who pay their bills."

And clearly some people, smokers, enjoy breathing dirty air, even after decades of health warnings. Go figure.

Fatalism may be undermining our society. The masses have to know that the American military empire is wreaking death and destruction worldwide, even if they can’t consciously admit it. We are, as a nation, purveyors of death in more ways that I can list, and have the highest reported incarceration rate of its own citizens.

In other "news" Holly Madison has plans to eat her placenta after giving birth, according to the Huffington Post. Will that morsel appear in the Gray Lady’s dining and lifestyle blogs?

If it all gets to be to much, just ask your doctor to ‘up the meds’. Or stop by Walmart for a bottle of $2.97 Oak Leaf vineyards chardonnay to take the edge off. (Walmart needs the business, I hear).

(and check out the Capital Ideas blog layout, look familiar?)

Pearl said...

Neil: a very good review of what we, or our progeny, will be facing in the future. I have to especially agree with the following in your comment:

All this fits nicely with Revkin's observation that the paper of record will publish and profit from its nine fashion, dining and lifestyle blogs, yada, yada, yada.

Last night I happened to read several life style, personal experience articles in the N.Y. times and the superficiality of it all was shocking to say nothing of the limited writing skills of the authors. It seems to me that lately, possibly due to some changes in personnel at the paper with loss of readers due to computer reading of their news, the content seems to becoming more in tune with the Hollywood style of so called culture. Along with ignoring the red flag signals of real trouble ahead as Karen pointed out, readers prefer to be titillated by the latest vapid escapades of the rich and shameless (as Denis called them).

I worry about how these sensational role models constantly covered in the media surrounding young people growing up in America will play out alongside the losses of a healthy environment, a decent educational system, adequate health care coverage and poor job prospects, among other things. It is not a very comforting feeling.

James F Traynor said...

I have watched this for years as a wildlife biologist and ecologist. It began my slide into the brotherhood of the shit- house rat. The wild success of the Reagen administration, followed by the horror of the Clintons then W and O, pretty much accomplished the rest - the topping to my madness. I suppose it's better than sitting naked on the lawn, playing with myself and babbling incoherently (not that I'm presently coherent).

Occasionally there are periods of lucidity: a snowy egret landing on the bow of my skiff; swallows, one by one, flying low over the water, in the dusk, in a seemingly endless string; a panther's print in everglades mud. Then relapse into the brotherhood. But surprisingly, and perhaps only another symptom of my mental condition, I still have hope, hope for the planet that it survives our species and moves on.

Valerie said...

I think it is the apathy of my fellow Americans and Australians that discourages me the most. Once again - I blame Obama - at least for the apathy in America. He took our hope - our faith that our country could swing back from the extremism, selfishness and corruption of the Bush/Cheney years - and dashed it by proving our own man at the top was for sale to the plutocracy as much as any Republican.

I find my peace of mind comes from helping people at a local level and being political with my purchases - where I buy, what I buy, what I don't consume or buy into -

Those in power very cleverly managed to get the average person to go along with their scheme by simply offering him or her cheap toys and mind-numbing television - Small tidbits to keep people distracted while they stole their democracy, their standard of living and their security.

Neil - another brilliant comment! And totally on the mark!

I agree - people want their stuff and to hell with the environment they are leaving their children. It is the ultimate selfishness.

Denis Neville said...

Is public apathy over climate change a result of deficits in comprehension? Is it because the public knows too little science to understand the evidence and to avoid being misled? Why are members of the public sharply and persistently divided on matters on which expert scientists largely agree? Are we divided about climate change because we don't understand the science behind it? If we knew more basic science and were more proficient in reasoning, would public consensus then match scientific consensus?

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests not. The American public is culturally divided on what "scientific consensus" is on climate change. As the public becomes more science literate, members belonging to opposing cultural groups become even more divided on the risks that climate change poses. "Cultural cognition" refers to the unconscious tendency of people to fit evidence of risk to positions that predominate in groups to which they belong.

“People with individualistic values, who have a strong attachment to commerce and industry, tend to be skeptical of claimed environmental risks, while people with egalitarian values, who resent economic inequality, tend to believe that commerce and industry harms the environment."

"The problem isn't that one side 'believes' science and another side 'distrusts' it." The more likely reason for the disparity "is that people tend to keep a biased score of what experts believe, counting a scientist as an 'expert' only when that scientist agrees with the position they find culturally congenial."

"What this study shows is that people with high science and math comprehension can think their way to conclusions that are better for them as individuals but are not necessarily better for society."

- ScienceDaily, “Public apathy over climate change unrelated to science literacy,”­ /releases/2012/05/120527153812.htm

Then what climate policy will win public support? What will it take to mobilize the public? How can the cultural divide be narrowed in the face of our existing massive propaganda juggernaut that exploits that divide?

James F Traynor said...

A discussion of climate change is really difficult without the mention of models, just what they are, their uses and misuses. Because they are, in my opinion, really the weakest links in the argument for global warming, they were the first attacked by legitimate professionals as well an apparently well funded set of contrarians. Climate change and its causes will be verified over time, as was the theory of tectonic movement, by the painstaking accrual of evidence well under way. Enough evidence now exists to convince the vast majority of the scientific community and a significant number of the educated public. But that is just the beginning of the battle.

spreadoption said...

Fascinating information about the climate change debate, Denis. Thanks. So, actually in this country it’s hardly a debate at all. I will see you as an expert only if I like you, only if you fit into my crowd, and even though I might be considered highly educated.

Is this a peculiarly American mindset? Given our history of defying international efforts, it would seem so. It looks to me like even China is more serious than we are.

Ultimately, it all gets back to leadership and here we have to blame Obama again. An intelligent guy with generalized ambition, grows up in Hawaii and Indonesia, outside mainstream America, discovers he has charisma, and gets invited to join a crowd of sociopaths considered highly successful in our society. These people then “think their way to conclusions that are better for them as individuals but are not necessarily better for society." There’s that saying, too, that a man will tend to believe what he gets paid to believe.

It’s the same fundamental problem with the economy.

So they've killed off our democracy… it seems capitalism is entering its end-stage… and our environment is going to finish us off. Well, this is a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Zee said...

On climate scientists and climate science, Part I

As one who has spent the better part of a lifetime working as a scientist, and with and around other scientists, I'd like to offer a couple of observations.

@spreadoption, remarking upon a study that @Denis cites, states: “ Fascinating information about the climate change debate, Denis. Thanks. So, actually in this country it’s hardly a debate at all. I will see you as an expert only if I like you, only if you fit into my crowd, and even though I might be considered highly educated.”

Well, that's true not only of the lay public—highly educated though they may be—but of the so-called “experts” themselves, viz., the climate change scientific community. And that's not just “in this country.” It's a global phenomenon

The general public has a perception of scientists as a collection of emotionless, totally objective pursuers of scientifc truth. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Scientists are human beings first—with all the selfish and emotional baggage that is attached to being human—and are objective pursuers of truth only as a distant second. Anyone who has ever attended a scientific meeting has seen the heated and emotional arguments amongst two or more scientists as they each interpret the same body of data to support their own pet hypotheses—which are 180 degrees apart—and in which they are invested not only professionally, but emotionally as well.

Scientists can be as petty and vain as anyone else on the planet, not to mention factional and outright conspiratorial in pushing their own agendas.

While I will concede that some eight different panels who investigated the notorious “Climategate E-mails” concluded that the fundamental climate science done by the various “e-mailers” was untainted, the fact remains that they conspired to manipulate the peer review and journal publication process. They pushed out editors of scientific journals out who dared to allow publication of contrarian observations and conclusions, and worked together to “boycott” these same journals insofar as they continued to publish contrarian views.

The emails [quoted in this article] will track how annoyance at the publication of a ‘contrary’ article in a journal develops into an attack on the editor, Chris de Freitas, an accomplished scientist. The attack includes a plot to see if they can get him sacked from his job at University of Auckland. Within the story, it is evident exactly what kind of ‘scientists’ the key authors are. The word 'scientist' applied to these people has denigrated the meaning of the word.”


Zee said...

On climate scientists and climate science, Part II

Now, New Zealand Climate Change--'Questioning the Concensus' is not exactly an unbiased source for analysis of the the Climategate E-Mails.

But consider another source, Judith Curry, a respected Georgia Tech climate scientist who is not at all skeptical about anthropogenic global warming, and who has also analyzed the Climategate E-Mails. The first article is really an introduction to Dr. Curry by Andrew Revkin—who seems to garner some respect in this forum—and the second article was actually written by Dr. Curry:

From the second article,

“...even if the hacked emails...end up to be much ado about nothing in the context of any actual misfeasance that impacts the climate data records, the damage to the public credibility of climate research is likely to be significant. In my opinion, there are two broader issues raised by these emails that are impeding the public credibility of climate research: lack of transparency in climate data, and “tribalism” in some segments of the climate research community that is impeding peer review and the assessment process.” is difficult to understand the continued circling of the wagons by some climate researchers with guns pointed at skeptical researchers by apparently trying to withhold data and other information of relevance to published research, thwart the peer review process, and keep papers out of assessment reports. Scientists are of course human, and short-term emotional responses to attacks and adversity are to be expected, but I am particularly concerned by this apparent systematic and continuing behavior from scientists that hold editorial positions, serve on important boards and committees and participate in the major assessment reports.”
(My bold emphasis.)

So if the general public relies upon whom they “like” when determining their views, well, so do the “experts” themselves. If you're not part of the right “tribe,” your views are somewhat likely to be shut out from ever getting a fair hearing in the scientific literature, no matter how intelligent and well-educated you are.

Is it any wonder that the public are becoming weary of the climate change debate?

Pearl said...

A follow up to a recent post in which I mentioned Obama's 'elite' friendships: via @nypostThe Obamas have a Jay-Z problem -

Karen Garcia said...

I wrote a couple of comments to times op-eds this evening.

First reply was to a Stever Rattner piece on the scammy JOBS Act. Rattner, a member of the centrist cult, conveniently fails to mention the origins its origins. I attempt to set him straight:

The JOBS Act was actually the brainchild of Forbes billionaire/AOL founder Steve Case, appointed by the president to lead the "Startup America Partnership" in 2011. He also enjoyed a plum spot on the in-house CEO lobby known as the White House Council on Jobs & Competiveness -- which, although it did nothing to create actual jobs in its two-year period of existence, clamored for the repeal of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, born in the wake of the Enron scandal.

The JOBs Act did in fact partially dismantle Sarbanes-Oxley by doing away with protecting unwary investors from deregulated internet start-ups. When he wrote about the almost-universal and enthusiastic embrace of the law by both the president and Congress, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi wrote, "Let's just say this is a dramatic step taken by Barack Obama. Nobody should have any illusions about where he stands on Wall Street corruption after this thing. Boss Tweed himself couldn't have done any worse."

Case himself was investigated but never prosecuted for his suspected role in the accounting fraud the hyped the doomed AOL-Time Warner merger.

The JOBs Act is crony capitalism writ large. Its very title proves that political cynicism is alive and well in the plutocratic states of America.




Next, in response to Krugman's piece on Republicans trying to privatize Medicaid:
Let's face it. This law might more aptly be called the Great Private Insurance Corporate Welfare Act. We'll be subsidizing businesses that put their bottom lines above the public welfare. And you can't really blame the insurance companies. They exist to make a profit. Making sick people well is something they brag about in TV commercials. Continuing to force us to pay through the nose in high deductibles and co-pays and claims denials will continue, ACA or no ACA.

We can argue about whether single payer was ever possible until the (cash) cows come home. But the totally gratuitous infiltration of the drug and insurance lobbies into the whole legislative process has been well documented. WellPoint exec Liz Fowler wrote the law for Max Baucus. Then she went to work at the White House to help implement it. And now she has spun back through proverbial revolving doors to lobby for Johnson & Johnson.

The Medicaid expansion part of the law is just crying out for privatization. Dollar signs dance in plutocratic heads. The whole law, after all, is predicated on the wants and needs of the medical industrial complex, and not the needs of actual people. That employers, corrupt Repellican governors and the donor class will game and subvert the law is a foregone conclusion.

More than 80% of Americans polled want Medicare for All. But since we don't have the money or the lobbyists necessary to purchase politicians, that sensible outcome will be one long, hard, sickening uphill slog.

Zee said...


The link that you provided to the article on public apathy relative to climate change seemed not to work. Does this one go to (effectively) the same place?

What I find fascinating about the article is the loaded conclusion that "What this study shows is that people with high science and math comprehension can think their way to conclusions that are better for them as individuals but are not necessarily better for society."

What the "conclusion" doesn't say, but overwhelmingly implies, is that those who place any value on individual responsibility and self-reliance as important elements of a successful society, are necessarily at odds with the best interests of society as a whole.

Or, to put it simply, what is good for individuals--no matter how many--could not possibly be good for society.

Hardly leaves room for discussion, does it?

Denis Neville said...

Bending the health care cost curve, Arkansas will use federal dollars to buy private insurance coverage, herding people into the open arms of the health insurance industry with US taxpayers paying the freight.

Health and Human Services has granted Arkansas a waiver to allow Medicaid dollars to be used to purchase private health plans in the state insurance exchange, even though they cost more money.

Medicaid is far more cost-effective than private insurance. It costs about twenty percent less than private insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that private plan coverage for people on the exchanges will cost about 50 percent more than Medicaid, with the difference averaging about $3,000 per individual. Three thousand per individual, covering 233,000 new patients, is $699 million.

But is it legal? If it is legal, can we handle it? What are the implications for all of us who don’t live in Arkansas?

This is on top of the absolutely massive windfall that Big Insurance has already won from Obamacare. Now, this is corporate welfare! More taxpayer free money will only further increase the political clout of the medical industrial complex.

Kat said...

Have you read the Time article that Krugman provided a link to? It is pretty amazing considering that they attack institutions such as MD Anderson. I imagine that they can kiss the three page spreads from cancer hospitals goodbye. The article is not an advocacy piece for single payer, but it is hard to come to any other conclusion but that medicare is the only one that can put a halt to the spiraling costs of medical care. Medicare is a far better negotiator of payments than private insurance companies. Private insurance companies are pretty inefficient. They take the lazy route-- raising the cost of their product and denying coverage to certain individuals while paying more to the medical industrial complex.

Zee said...


The Time article referenced by you and Paul Krugman is truly disgusting and outrageous, but not surprising to anyone who understands the sad story of "for-profit" healthcare insurance and medical care in this country.

Mrs. Zee was a "clinic manager" for many years for a major medical/hospital/insurance group here in New Mexico, so I got an inside view of the outrageous and completely opaque charging system myself.

(I also learned how we could occasionally save on our medical bills simply by leaning on our physicians to "code" our visits slightly differently than they originally--and more profitably--intended. Heck, half the time it was easy to go back and persuade the docs that they had originally "mis-coded" things, because sometimes they didn't full understand the proper codes themselves!)

That is why we have come to the conclusion that only a single-payer system can control health care costs in this country, something that needs to be done NOW if we are to survive and thrive economically.


It is equally outrageous and disgusting that a state should be given a waiver to use federal Medicaid funds to buy far less efficient and comprehensive private insurance policies for its Medicaid clients.

This is a complete and utter rip-off for both the taxpayer and the Medicaid "recipient!"