Truthiness strikes the Post again … revisited

Last week, Washington Post subscribers awoke to an Outlook section dominated by a disingenuous article by Bjorn Lomborg.  This morning, the front-page of this influential opinion section is graced with a truthiness piece on urban heat islands:  Hot World? Blame Cities.

The article, basically, asserts that suburbia is getting unfairly singled out re Global Warming as, due to the Urban Heat Island effect, one can open one’s windows in suburbia for cooling more easily than in a city.  And, that our focus should be on making sprawl more environmentally friendly, not on reducing sprawl.

How many errors and omissions can we count in this article?  The list is, well, perhaps endless.

At the core, there are two basic misleading points due to their near total omission from this disingenous and deceitful screed:

  • Urban dwellers have, writ large, much smaller CO2 footprints than people living in suburbs.
  • There are ways to reduce the heat island effect, that would also contribute to reducing Global Warming.

Not discussed, in any serious way, is why suburbia is such a problem: the relative pollution / CO2 burden of suburban vs city dwellers?  Want to seriously lower your carbon footprint as an American?  Move to New York City, which has lower carbon footprints than any American suburb that I know of.

And, what is a key gap in the discussion?   Why not talk about how to reduce the urban heat island affect? For example:

    For example:

  • Green / Reflective Roofs
  • Renewable power systems in the city
  • Geothermal heating/cooling systems (reducing waste heat from air conditioning into the air)
  • Pedestrian zones
  • Electrified transport

Let’s just use one small example, Green Roofing. From Hot World? Blame Cities., this insightful paragraph.

Low-density areas, on the other hand, lend themselves to much less expensive and more environmentally friendly ways of reducing heat. It often takes nothing more than double-paned windows to reduce the energy consumption of a two- or three-story house. Shade can bring it down even further: A nice maple can cool a two-story house, but it can’t quite do the same for a 10-story apartment building.

Wow. True. A maple tree might not do much to cool a 10-story apartment building.  But, well, how about a green roof? Well we don’t even need to leave the Washington Post‘s pages for some better information. Topping Off, for the Environment, published in the Post just a few weeks ago, spoke specifically to the value of green roofing.

The green roof can offer many benefits. The plants — and the dirt and gravel that hold them — filter rainwater and some of its pollutants. The plants produce oxygen that can help clean the air. They could help reduce the building’s heating and cooling costs, acting as a form of insulation. And they could lessen the “heat island effect,” in which buildings warm up so much that they heat the surroundings

Measures like green roofs and the others I listed won’t eliminate the urban heat island effect, but they can have a real impact in reducing it.

Oh, but they do cover this a skeptic might emphasize.  From Hot World? Blame Cities:

This is not to say that big buildings can’t be made more energy efficient by using new techniques, such as high-tech skin designs, special construction materials to reduce energy consumption, green roofs and passive cooling. But one big problem is that making large buildings green also makes them much more expensive, so that they’re less and less affordable for middle-class and working-class families.

Oh my Gawd, those greeny things increase costs!!!!  Well, several points:  should we be talking about the cost to buy or the actual cost to own. It is, often, cheaper to buy the thing that won’t last as long or which will use more energy.  Cheaper to buy but far more expensive to open. And, increasingly, “green” builders are finding out that it can actually even be less expensive to build a green building (using passive solar in the design, for example, could mean fewer lights, less electrical work, smaller heating/cooling systems to buy/install, etc).  “Much more expensive” is a phrase either derived from ignorance or designed to exploit others’ ignorance to denigrate the potential for smarter cities.

This confusion as to the issues of cost-to-buy vs cost-to-own are frequent and, well, often used by those seeking to inhibit change for a better future.  

This article is greatly frustrating. Virtually every sentence merits visiting and analysis.  Analysis that the average Post reader (including Congressional staff …) simply is not prepared to do on a Sunday morning.  The truthiness of its misleading nature is angering, frustrating, exascerbating …

Publishing Truthiness: the new Post tradition?

One has to wonder what is going on in the Washington Post editorial page leadership.  We have had years of mendacious and delusional editorials related to Iraq. There has been a seeming unwillingness to take on the corruption of the current Administration. This year, there have been gratuitous attacks on Al Gore, etc … And, now, two weeks in a row, front page publication in Outlook of opinion pieces that seek to foster following of dangerous paths on Global Warming, to inhibit meaningful action toward a Prosperous, Climate Friendly Society.  Pieces shrouded in seeming reasonableness, presenting facts and ‘true’ statements that could be the truth but certainly are not truthful.  

Truthiness: The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.

Origin: Stephen Colbert, “The Colbert Report,” 2005

How does the Post‘s leadership handle challenges to the truthiness that grace its pages?  Well, for example, Lomborg engendered an excellent response (Cooler Heads and Climate Change) that was published only on line, not on the front cover of the Outlook section.  Well, one could say that they did at least that. When Outlook published an attack piece on Al Gore, based on an utterly false statement, the Post could not see its way to publishing a single letter or OPED response to the truthiness gracing its pages.  

The Post is comfortable, it seems, with publishing truthiness and reserving facts and reality-based conceptions to the on-line comments section. As of the moment of this diary, “Hot World” has 24 comments, many of which are truly excellent.  And, well, many of these are worth reading:

dhan0007 wrote: I cannot believe such idiots who have no knowledge of science or logic write articles on global warming on the Post. Might as well call it Fox News. …. Mind bogglingly stupidity!

Well, perhaps the only thing to object to here would be that 0007 wrote “Fox” and not “Faux” …

useastcoastguy: It’s a shame that the authors of “Hot World” don’t have a basic understanding of comparative analysis. Of course, cities are warmer and produce pollution. That’s not the issue. Rather, the issue is what form of land use contributes less to warming and pollution. Such a comparison is complex, not lending itself to quickie essays in newspapers. Alas, here’s a quickie reply: with greater density, transit-oriented development, and mixed use (commercial, office, and residential within walking distance), warming and pollution are less than the alternatives of traditional suburbs or traditional office-packed central cities – although obviously there is a need to reduce polluting energy-creation and more.

That is a devastatingly accurate and decisive ‘quickie reply’.  

B2O2: “Here is a perfect case in point of the collateral damage associated with the Washington Post’s recent decision to sacrifice its reputation for the benefit of its industry advertising accounts, by hosting virtually nothing but fringe climate change skeptics and their ilk for months on end.”

This starts a multi-page response to the article.  Another commentator points to one of the author’s history in this field.

spike3905 wrote:  Kotkin is a long time apologist for sprawl. The fact the people are starting to move back to the cities to avoid traffic congestion and enjoy the benefits of an urban lifestyle is obviously driving him crazy. So in defense of his beloved ‘burbs he decides to demonize cities by claiming the heat island effect is contributing to global warming. There are two obvious flaws in his logic. First, there is no reason that the greening of cities can’t reduce the heat island effect. Second, the supposed benefits of the shady burbs might materialize if people didn’t have to drive anywhere. But they do and the long distances and low densities of the exurbs will continue to produce tons of CO2. At the same time, the location efficiency of the city permits many people to get where they’re going by walking, by biking and by transit. Kotkin is on the wrong side of all the trends and he’s finding it hard to accept that he’s been wrong for a long time about the value of our cities.

But, well, this might be my favorite because we need reminders that people like this actually do exist:

12thgenamerican: the other thing is that you (u.n.) won’t be removing my GOD given rights in the u.s.a. even if man is causing global warming. i would rather die by fire than by slow torture at the hands of a socialist regime.

What is the Post up to?

Lomborg one week, this now.  Is Inhofe going to have the front cover of Outlook next week?

Bracketing the Gore/IPCC Nobel Peace prize with two trash pieces in Outlook does the Post and its readership a real disservice.

Ask yourself:  Are you doing
your part to


Are you ready
  to do your part?


* For another perspective, see mem from somerville’s diary last evening


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