“La La La I Can’t Hear You” Comes Home to Haunt GOP, in the Election, and on Climate

November 12, 2012

When Al Jazeera and The American Conservative are in agreement that you have a problem, you probably have a problem.

The American Conservative:

But the problem wasn’t just that conservative media gave Romney supporters bad information. The people in conservative media also seem to have been fully taken in by the idea that Romney would win and would do so in decisive fashion, and the campaign came to believe its own propaganda, too. As York notes, Romney didn’t have a prepared concession speech. It apparently never occurred to his campaign that he would lose. That’s not so remarkable by itself, but it is just one part of the overall pattern of the Romney campaign and the conservative movement’s reaction to Obama. Romney spent years running against a fantasy record and campaigning on a series of gross distortions and falsehoods, and so it shouldn’t be too surprising that his campaign and his conservative media boosters didn’t have the firmest grip on political reality.

Al Jazeera:

After the election, a number of different people tweeted about a rather obvious connection – how the same people who didn’t believe the polls don’t believe global warming, either. There’s a further correlation here: On the polling side, the supposedly most liberally-biased pollsters actually came closest to hitting the mark, both in the Fordham analysis of national polls and a more sophisticated analysis of state polls by Emory political scientist Drew Linzer at his Votamatic website.

On the global warming side, a new study comparing climate models finds that those predicting the largest climate impacts by 2100 are the most accurate in modelling climate change that’s already occurred – specifically, humidity levels related to cloud formation. In short, the reality being denied in both cases is even worse than it first appears, so attempts to “compromise” or give conservatives “the benefit of the doubt” actually lead us further astray (since I first wrote this, David Roberts of Grist has written an excellent comparison of the twin delusions).

But there is more than just a correlation here. There is a common causal factor involved: Conservatives, trusting their guts, have created their own separate reality, with their own authorities, and their reasoning dominated by ideology, where certain sorts of facts simply cannot intrude. Election day was one of those rare moments in which the bubble they live inside collapsed.

Dave Roberts in Grist:

In the face of model projections like Silver’s, Jonah Goldberg said that “the soul … is not so easily number-crunched.” David Brooks warnedthat “experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior.” Joe Scarborough said “anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue.” Peggy Noonan said that “the vibrations are right” for a Romney win. All sorts of conservative pundits were convinced the Romney campaign just felt like a winner.

Empiricism won. It didn’t win because it’s a truer faith or a superior ideology. It won because it works. It is the best way humans have figured out to set aside their perceptual limitations and cognitive shortcomings, to get a clear view of what’s happening and what’s to come.

As it happens, there’s another issue in American politics where empiricists are forecasting the future and being ignored. Here’s what the Nate Silvers of climate science are up to:

Looking back at 10 years of atmospheric humidity data from NASA satellites, [John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research] examined two dozen of the world’s most sophisticated climate simulations. They found the simulations that most closely matched actual humidity measurements were also the ones that predicted the most extreme global warming.

In other words, by using real data, the scientists picked simulation winners and losers.

“The models at the higher end of temperature predictions uniformly did a better job,” Fasullo said. The simulations that fared worse — the ones predicting smaller temperature rises — “should be outright discounted,” he added.

The Washington Post spells out what that means:

That means the world could be in for a devastating increase of about eight degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, resulting in drastically higher seas, disappearing coastlines and more severe droughts, floods and other destructive weather.

13 Responses to ““La La La I Can’t Hear You” Comes Home to Haunt GOP, in the Election, and on Climate”

  1. An incredibly valuable analysis that deserves the widest circulation possible.

  2. MorinMoss Says:

    I’m afraid our conservative brothers have been suffering from a combination of Romnesia and Headupass Syndrome for quite some time.

  3. andrewfez Says:

    Then, the Los Angeles Times puts up this today:

    U.S. to become world’s largest oil producer before 2020, IEA says:

    The U.S. will become the world’s top producer of oil within five years, a net exporter of the fuel around 2030 and nearly self-sufficient in energy by 2035, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

    It’s a bold set of predictions for a nation that currently imports some 20% of its energy needs.

    Recently, however, an “energy renaissance” in the U.S. has caused a boost in oil, shale gas and bio-energy production due to new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fuel efficiency has improved in the transportation sector. The clean energy industry has seen an influx of solar and wind efforts.


    • andrewfez Says:

      But if the LA Times had gone past the first few paragraphs of the IEA’s report, they might have seen this:

      Our Efficient World Scenario shows how tackling the barriers to energy efficiency investment can unleash this potential and realise huge gains for energy security, economic growth and the environment. These gains are not based on achieving any major or unexpected technological breakthroughs, but just on taking actions to remove the barriers obstructing the implementation of energy efficiency measures that are economically viable. Successful action to this effect would have a major impact on global energy and climate trends, compared with the New Policies Scenario. The growth in global primary energy demand to 2035 would be halved. Oil demand would peak just before 2020 and would be almost 13 mb/d lower by 2035, a reduction equal to the current production of Russia and Norway combined, easing the pressure for new discoveries and development. Additional investment of $11.8 trillion (in year-2011 dollars) in more energy-efficient technologies would be more than offset by reduced fuel expenditures. The accrued resources would facilitate a gradual reorientation of the global economy, boosting cumulative economic output to 2035 by $18 trillion, with the biggest gross domestic product (GDP) gains in India, China, the United States and Europe. Universal access to modern energy would be easier to achieve and air quality improved, as emissions of local pollutants fall sharply. Energyrelated carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions would peak before 2020, with a decline thereafter consistent with a long-term temperature increase of 3 °C.

      We propose policy principles that can turn the Efficient World Scenario into reality……..


  4. If it is 8 degrees by 2100, it’s game over, so there’s a strong motivation for us all to go into la-la-land.

    Andrewfez – disinformation about energy these days is the norm. It’s not what is said – it’s how it’s said and what is left out. The U.S. actually imports 2/3 of its oil. The 80% figure is total energy production (coal and natural gas included). Oil by itself is a completely different story. Even if we managed to hit 11 mbpd in U.S. oil production (highly unlikely given depletion rates in conventional and the economics of fracked oil), we’d still need to import about 50% of it. As oil is depleting worldwide, it will become more and more expensive, and frankly – any country surpassing production in Saudi Arabia SHOULD send out major warning bells on that front, because it means that the country with the highest reserves in conventional (much easier to produce and much more profitable) oil can’t keep up with countries specializing in unconventional (the dirtiest and most expensive) oil.

    The L.A. Times article you mention is pro-FF spin meant to lull the country back to sleep. It’s downright treasonous in this stage in history. Rapid implementation of efficiency standards and reduced usage (via means like public transport) coupled with extremely heavy renewables replacement are the one and only hope at avoiding major economic and environmental chaos. But we’re too effing deceived as country to see this.

    • rayduray Says:


      Re: “The U.S. actually imports 2/3 of its oil.”

      Hold on. This was a true fact in 2007, but is not the case today. The best data I’ve come across lately indicates that the U.S. is currently importing about 45% of its daily crude oil consumption, looked at from the perspective of incorporating unconventional oil, gas liquids and refinery gain.

      The point is that there has been a dramatic shift in supply in the past five years that quite surprised me when I understood the changing nature of our oil supply.

      Stated another way, the Bakken play and the West Texas, OK, LA and East Texas fracking operations are all contributing substantial new supply to U.S. production.


    • andrewfez Says:

      Thanks for the replies guys. Just from my normal internet cruising over the year, i was under the impression that Saudi Arabia is now peaking, and Mexico was in decline (it’s possible my recollections are out of date though, concerning Mexico, with this fracking junk happening). Here’s a neat little oil production info page where you can make custom graphs of production time series:




      I had fun playing with it, though it doesn’t have any regression features, and it’s got lots, and lots of data, so it’s kinda hard to find stuff.

      Just by looking around the investment site, seekingalpha.com, and looking at fracking articles, it seems extremely hard to figure out yield projections for given sites/companies. The individual wells have production curves that have steep acceleration upwards, quick peaks, then pretty steep declines that evolve into long, low magnitude tails.

      One fella created a pretty good model that mimicked overall production, by adding up areas under curves, where the areas were (probably; been a while since i read the article) based on monthly production data, and start dates. Using his model, he could make projections, and found the place he was examining was on an unsustainable path. However, other knowledgeable investors pointed out that it’s hard to project production because the wells often get reclassified (renamed) for some purpose(s) I don’t remember. So an oil well, could get reclassified as a gas well, and vice versa at the will of its associated company.

      It seems the best thing to do is concentrate on efficiency heavily right now, and such will buy time until the renewables become so cheap that the business community as a whole can push back against the oil/gas/coal companies. One of the things on the CA ballot the other day was a deal where CA increased revenue by closing an out of state business loophole, and such will generate 500 million/yr for renewable investment for 5 years. It passed easily because a venture capital group made it clear that any opposition to it would be crushed by them. Not one oil/gas company spent money (directly) against it.

  5. Hi Ray,

    Up to 2011, anyway, the U.S. imports just above 4 billion barrels a year and produces just above 2 billion barrels a year.

    U.S. oil imports by year:

    U.S. oil production by year:

    I’ve seen the 45% figure before (CIA stats), but I’ve never seen a breakdown of how it is figured. I’m curious how much it accounts for NGLs, for instance – which really isn’t the same thing (most is used for areas outside the transport sector, and it’s being incorporated into a lot of the data lately to artificially boost the numbers). Regardless, we’re still talking about the difference between 2/3 import and 1/2 import. It’s a difference, yes, but it’s not a game changer.

    Total Bakken production is currently just above 650,000 bpd:

    Current U.S. oil production is just above 6,000,000 bpd:

    Current U.S. oil consumption is just above 19,000,000 bpd:

    By more guarded estimates, all U.S. tight oil (like the Bakken) will reach a high of 1,333,000 bpd by 2035:

    That’s good, but it’s still a minority percentage.

    What’s going on with energy stats these days are two things. One, over-hyping finds and new tech to make something seem very impressive. Yes, the Bakken is big. Yes, it helps towards current U.S. demand. But it’s still a small percentage of the total. There is a complete disregard for the big picture, and the end effect is to bring complacence about the issue to the public and the government. Two, there is little to no accounting for depletion rates. It’s largely ignored:

    Nevertheless, I’m planning to go to ASPO USA in a month, and I’ll be a bit more up to date by then:

    • rayduray Says:

      Hi Jim,

      I concur that statistics regarding the oil industry are becoming less easily understood as we find and employ more conventional crude oil substitutes such as NGLs.

      The 45% import dependence figure that you cite as being sourced to the CIA was something I read in a credible article at The Oil Drum blog which I regard as a pretty high quality and honest source. I was too lazy to go back and find the article. Sorry about that. 🙂

      Whatever the percentage happens to be today the broad trend is in place. The U.S. is relying more and more on its own odd assortment of new crude projects and less on imports than was the case a few years ago. I would have not predicted this even as late as 2008. I was a big fan of the ASPO analysis and I’m delighted to learn you’ll be attending one of their conferences. I look forward to your reporting from the conference, if you care to share your insights.

  6. Ray, I have a response about U.S. oil production, but it’s in moderation (as it has a ton of links).

    Andrewfez, right – the data is highly flexible when it comes to individual wells/companies/countries. The OPEC countries are the most notorious – one can hear they are nowhere near peak and then one can hear they are a few months away. I don’t think they’ve peaked yet, though. They’re in a plateau phase rate now, and it’s unclear as to whether it will go up, down, or remain for the time being.

    The real story in Saudi Arabia, though, is internal consumption, which is rising – exports will naturally drop as a result.

    Mexico definitely did peak (graph towards the end of the page here):

    Again, the only way out of this particular trap (and maintain a semblance of our current economy) is rapid efficiency standards and reduced usage coupled with aggressive replacement. As the economy is completely tied to energy (and especially oil), as there is no immediate technological or economically equal replacement to oil, and as the oil infrastructure will take decades to to a half century to replace, this is not an issue that will be handled smoothly by the free market. But as this isn’t even being discussed in any serious way, it’s not likely to happen before the problems start to pile up.

    We’ll see that in the rear-view mirror even if it’s completely ignored/denied/refuted by free market economists today.

    • rayduray Says:

      Hi Jim,

      Re: “Ray, I have a response about U.S. oil production, but it’s in moderation (as it has a ton of links).”

      I’ve discovered that two links in any one comment will post immediately. So my workaround when I want to post more URLs is to create additional comments.

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