Sunday, April 26, 2015

Franzen attacks Audubon's attempt to do something about climate, withholds info that he's on the board of competing organization

There have been repeated attempts to find a "Third Way" between doing something about climate change versus not doing much. They haven't worked. Now in comes Jonathan Franzen with another rambling take that isn't denialist but insists that people not deal with climate change except to the extent it involves things he personally cares about, like tropical habitat protection. He also disses National Audubon, repeatedly.

As Dave Roberts says, it's really bad, intellectually empty, and factually wrong (tho it does have some interesting stories about people not named Jonathan Franzen who are doing some helpful things for the planet). Roberts' description of people having a Climate Thing hangup is potentially helpful, but I think it may more be that many people just have a Thing. For Franzen it's helping birds immediately, for some technophiles it's pushing nuclear power, for Naomi Klein it's fighting capitalism* - and either climate change must serve that Thing or climate change must be secondary to that Thing. He's got a round hole and that better be a round peg coming its way, or he'll muddle to a reason why it should be round.

Joe Romm has the corrections to Franzen, and he also calls out the issue that hasn't had enough emphasis:
Yarnold was especially annoyed with the New Yorker for running this extended attack on Audubon supposedly neglecting bird conservation in favor of climate change without bothering to mention that Franzen sits on the fund-raising Board of Directors for the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), which Yarnold calls “a group that views itself as a competitor to Audubon.”

According to its website, “ABC is the only U.S.-based group with a major focus on bird habitat conservation throughout the entire Americas.” I know you probably thought the National Audubon Society — with its motto “Protecting Birds and Their Habitats” — did that, too. Such is avian eco-politics today.

In making his case that the National Audubon Society has lost its way, Franzen does explain that “I gave my support to the focused work of the American Bird Conservancy and local Audubon societies.”

Here is where things get very hypocritical — because there’s something much worse than the New Yorker not mentioning Franzen is on the board of ABC. Franzen never mentions that the conservation-focused bird group he is on the Board of … wait for it … also has a major effort to combat climate change! Indeed, ABC’s webpage devoted to “Threats to Birds – Global Warming” explains that “ABC has conducted research in conjunction with partners to ascertain what the ongoing and potential future threats are to birds from rising global temperatures, and has published reports detailing the concerns that have been revealed.”
Definitely read the whole thing. While this isn't a financial conflict of interest, I think it should have been disclosed. I'm also curious if Franzen has connections to the various projects he praises in the piece.

I'll add just one Franzen paragraph for the refuse pile:

But climate change is seductive to organizations that want to be taken seriously. Besides being a ready-made meme, it’s usefully imponderable: while peer-reviewed scientific estimates put the annual American death toll of birds from collisions and from outdoor cats at more than three billion, no individual bird death can be definitively attributed to climate change (since local and short-term weather patterns have nonlinear causes). Although you could demonstrably save the lives of the birds now colliding with your windows or being killed by your cats, reducing your carbon footprint even to zero saves nothing. Declaring climate change bad for birds is therefore the opposite of controversial. To demand a ban on lead ammunition (lead poisoning is the foremost cause of California condor deaths) would alienate hunters. To take an aggressive stand against the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs (the real reason that the red knot, a shorebird, had to be put on the list of threatened U.S. species this winter) might embarrass the Obama Administration, whose director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, in announcing the listing, laid the blame for the red knot’s decline primarily on “climate change,” a politically more palatable culprit. Climate change is everyone’s fault—in other words, no one’s. We can all feel good about deploring it.
Well, that makes no sense. The difficulty attaching identifiable harm to climate change in light of random weather that might have had the same effect anyway makes climate change even harder to use, not easier to use. It isn't impossible to attach that harm by the way, and Franzen also makes the typical mistake of saying that if you can't identify with certainty any specific incident as caused by your GHG emissions, then harm generally cannot be attributed to your emissions.

And as for FWS and the red knot, just read what FWS has to say:
The rufa subspecies of the red knot now will receive protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the Service announced today. “Unfortunately, this hearty shorebird is no match for the effects of widespread emerging challenges like climate change and coastal development, coupled with the historic impacts of horseshoe crab overharvesting, which have sharply reduced its population in recent decades,” said Service Director Dan Ashe.
The article shouldn't have been published.

*Might be unfair to Klein - I've read a lot about her most recent arguments but haven't read the book. Seems though that it's just what I read from her before.