Understanding Joseph Romm and Climate McCarthyism

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For those seeking to understand Joseph Romm, this post documents the climate blogger's practices as well as Breakthrough Institute's positions and efforts to elevate substantive issues.

May 7, 2008 | Lindsay Meisel,

Update 11/19/09

We have known for years that Joe Romm makes a habit of threatening the careers of journalists who write stories he does not like. He does so both publicly on his blog and privately in emails to their editors and employers.

In the past, Breakthrough Institute has only responded to Romm when he attacked us personally. But on November 4, 2009, we decided that enough was enough.

His attacks had created a chilling atmosphere for reporters, activists and academics alike. Romm uses McCarthyite tactics -- career intimidation, guilt by association, character assassination -- that contradict the core liberal value of tolerance for divergent viewpoints.

In response, we decided to stand-up to Romm's bullying directly. We have written a series on Climate McCarthyism: Part 1 is on Joe Romm's Intimidation Campaign. Part 2 is about how Joe Romm labels his opponents "global warming deniers." Part 3 is about The Hyper-Partisan Mind. And Part 4 is about The Headquarters in Washington.

To be clear, we don't agree with many of the people Romm attacks. But we strongly defend their right to express their opinions without having their reputations smeared and careers threatened.

Bullies can only thrive when they are supported by the establishment and when bystanders are too scared to stand up to them. Joe McCarthy's downfall started when CBS News' Edward Murrow challenged him on the air, and when the Army's chief legal counsel asked him at a Senate hearing, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Last week, while interviewing one of the Superfreakonomics authors, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart stood up against the climate of intolerance that Romm more than anyone has created. "I have been somewhat surprised by how angry people are," Stewart said, "because you don't deny global warming, or say that CO2 isn't a factor, but they feel you are betraying environmentalism? The world?...Why are people so angry about this? Why do they have to be so dogmatic?"

Stewart has stood up to the climate bullies. Will others? Stay tuned.

[Updated 8/5/09]

We have received several inquiries seeking to understand Joseph Romm of Climate Progress and his frequent public criticism of climate reporters and advocates, including the Breakthrough Institute. Many of these criticisms misrepresent our positions and include factually incorrect information. This post documents Romm's practices as well as Breakthrough Institute's positions and efforts to elevate substantive issues.

Since co-founding the Apollo Alliance in 2002, the Breakthrough Institute has believed that confronting the threat of climate change, securing the nation's energy future, and ensuring ongoing economic competitiveness all compel the rapid transition to clean and low-carbon energy sources. We are leading national advocates of major public investment to accelerate clean energy development and deployment, and we strongly advocate that the federal government invest at least $30 billion per year in the direct deployment of low-carbon energy sources, $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D, and $5 billion per year in clean energy demonstration projects. We believe these investments should be financed by a modest and steadily rising price on carbon emissions and supported by complementary policies addressing infrastructure, human capital and regulatory barriers.

Joseph Romm's criticisms of us are frequently unrelated to substance and consistently misrepresent our positions and intentions. For example, Romm falsely claims that we only support radical breakthroughs in technology driven by basic research and repeatedly ignores our advocacy for massive, direct investment to accelerate clean energy deployment. He also charges that we oppose a price on carbon, oppose environmental regulations, and are effectively part of the "anti-environmental," "anti-climate action," "global warming denial and delayer" movement. These claims are false and willful mischaracterizations.

Romm's practice of public attack and misrepresentation extends to several reputable climate reporters and advocates. Most recently, Romm accused Time Magazine's Bryan Walsh of plagiarism (he later changed the title from "plagiarism" to "cut-and-paste") for reporting on facts about clean energy investments in Asia, and has attacked the NYTimes' Andrew Revkin for reporting on facts and on individuals with whom Romm disagrees. Romm has also strongly criticized clean energy and climate advocacy groups for working to strengthen American climate and energy policy, including the Breakthrough Institute, Greenpeace, Energy Action Coalition, and James Hansen, one of the United States' leading climate scientists.

A growing number of independent media watchdogs and journalists are now criticizing Romm's behavior, including the Columbia Journalism Review, the Center for Environmental Journalism, and science journalist Keith Kloor. What follows is a documentation of Romm's practices as well as Breakthrough Institute's efforts to elevate substantive issues.

Understanding Romm's Efforts to Misrepresent Breakthrough

Romm Tries to Shut Down Climate Bill Debate by Attacking Breakthrough (May 2009): Joe Romm's attempt to shut down serious debate about the Waxman-Markey climate bill -- and his aggressive effort to attack and discredit those attempting to illuminate the bill's weaknesses, including reputable environmental activists and reporters -- should raise questions about his role as a credible and progressive climate advocate.

The Cap & Trade We Need (April 2009): Joe Romm claims that we oppose a price on carbon, oppose environmental regulations, and are effectively part of the fossil fuel "global warming denial machine." Unfortunately, ideological enforcers like Romm, who aim to shut down substantive policy debate, leave serious advocates ill prepared to navigate the difficult choices in the upcoming debate on climate legislation.

Anatomy of a Smear (May 2008): To get a sense at how the enforcers of climate orthodoxy on both left and right restrict the debate over solutions, witness the way Grist's David Roberts and Joe Romm of Center for American Progress worked with the right-wing Washington Times to attack Breakthrough Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, Jr.

What is Joe Romm Complaining About? (April 2008): Roger Pielke, Jr. ponders ad hominem attacks from someone who seems to share many of his views on energy policy. In complementary posts, Pielke takes Romm to task for focusing heavily on semantics rather than substance, fuzzy math, and incorrect analysis.

The Emerging Climate Fault Line (April 2008): Joe Romm has launched a set of attacks against Pielke et al, calling their analysis "a pointless and misleading if not outright dangerous commentary" and paints the scientists as "standard delayers" and "climate destroyers."

Misinformation Campaign (April 2008): Unable to respond with a well-reasoned defense of their policy agenda, a few angry environmentalists are leading a misinformation campaign.

The Green Politics of Personal Destruction: Deconstructing Joe Romm (April 2008): Ted Nordhaus examines the misinformation campaign Romm and others launched against Breakthrough and Roger Pielke, Jr. immediately after the publication of the Nature piece.

Elevating the Substance: Breakthrough Institute's Efforts to Create a Constructive Debate

An Open Letter to Joseph Romm (Oct 2008): In response to Michael and Ted's op-ed in the LA Times, Joe Romm criticized Michael, Ted and Breakthrough on his blog. This post is an open letter from Michael Shellenberger to Joe Romm.

Why We Can Disagree to Agree (Aug 2008): In a debate at the Cato Institute, Shellenberger and Nordhaus argue that liberals and conservatives don't need to agree about the seriousness of global warming. We can all embrace investment in energy infrastructure, technology, and education for reasons that have nothing to do with climate change.

Breakthroughs Depend on Learning While Doing (May 2008): In response to Joe Romm's latest post in the "breakthrough technology illusion," Jesse Jenkins clarifies how many breakthroughs in clean energy price and performance require not just research but also the deployment of technologies in the real world. Breakthroughs will be achieved less in the laboratory and more by learning while doing.

Joe Romm's Challenge (April 2008): Roger Pielke, Jr. responds to Joe Romm's challenge to back up the Nature piece claim to "shatter the notion that we have all the technology we need to deal with climate change."

Solar Energy Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (April 2008): In response to Romm's claim that solar technology doesn't require federal investment, Ted Nordhaus says Romm is being overoptimistic about the current state of solar power. "It's a great time to expand R&D, not contract it."

The Debate Gets Civil (April 2008):
Joe Romm finally apologizes for attacking Breakthrough as "delayers," and we move towards more productive debate.

The Wisdom of Investment in a World of Mounting Wedges (April 2008): In response to Romm's flawed wedge analysis, Ted Nordhaus writes about why it's a risky bet to count on current technology and currently proposed policies to meet the climate challenge.

Understanding Romm's Fallacies

Joe Romm's Strategy to Lose the Clean Energy Race (July 2009): In a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, Breakthrough urged Congress to fully fund the clean energy education initiative RE-ENERGYSE. Instead of substantively responding to this call, Joe Romm accused Breakthrough of attacking Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders. Romm also made several factually incorrect statements to muddle the discussion of Asia's clean energy investments. Here, Breakthrough sets the record straight.

Joe Romm Ignores Facts in Attacking Breakthrough Institute Op-Ed (July 2009): Breakthrough's comprehensive fact-check corrects Joe Romm's misleading and incorrect statements about Asia's investments in clean energy.

34 Nobel Prize Winners Write President Obama Urging Support for Clean Energy R&D (July 2009): Joe Romm continues to advocate for weakened federal climate legislation that would invest just $1 billion per year in clean energy R&D--going against the advice of 34 Nobel laureates who signed a letter urging Obama to invest at least $15 billion annually in clean energy R&D.

Is Joe Romm an Energy Challenge Denier? (April 2009): Romm continues to deny a wide body of expert consensus on energy innovation, including the positions of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and the International Energy Agency.

Steven Chu calls for $150 billion investment in "breakthrough" energy R&D (March 2009): Once again, Secretary of Energy Chu debunks Romm's views on energy technology, testifying before the U.S. Senate and calling for "breakthroughs in energy" technology, including major investments in "transformational research."

What's driving opinion on global warming? (March 2009): Michael Shellenberger responds to Romm's assertion that new climate polling data "must be due to the messaging and the media and the misinformers."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu: Honorary Breakthrough Fellow? (Feb 2009): Joe Romm consistently claims we have all the technologies we need to address climate change, attacking those calling for "breakthroughs" in energy technology as "climate delayers." In a conversation with reporters, Obama Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Steven Chu said solving global energy and climate challenges would require Nobel-level "breakthroughs" in at least three core energy technologies.

Despite claims, climate ranks low on public priorities (Oct 2008): Romm revealed multiple flawed assumptions in his latest attack, but one stood out above all the rest. Despite all the empirical evidence, Joseph Romm believes global warming is a high public priority. Romm and other greens will continue to peddle this false belief at their peril.

Arguing Both Sides at Climate Progress (Aug 2008): After attacking Roger Pielke for his analysis published in Nature, Joe Romm cites the same analysis as evidence in support of the idea that the IPCC scenarios have built in assumptions about aggressive reductions in carbon and energy intensities.

International Energy Agency Calls for Massive Clean Energy Technology Push (June 2008): In its major new Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 report, the International Energy Agency challenges Joe Romm's claims on energy technology, calling for technological breakthroughs in nearly every single one of its recommended technologies.

Romm Calls for Breakthroughs - By Another Name (May 2008): Lindsay Meisel examines Romm's piece in Salon, discovering that his analysis relies upon major improvements ("breakthroughs") in energy technology.

Adaptation and Public Investment: The Expert View (April 2008): Michael Shellenberger writes a letter to Joe Romm attempting to understand his opinion on climate adaptation and public investment in clean energy technology.

Romm versus Expert Consensus on Energy Technology (April 2008): Michael Shellenberger contrasts Romm's position -- that we don't need technology breakthroughs to stabilize emissions -- with that of energy experts.

We have known for years that Joe Romm makes a habit of threatening the careers of journalists who write stories he does not like. He does so both publicly on his blog and privately in emails to their editors and employers.

In the past, Breakthrough Institute has only responded to Romm when he attacked us personally. But on November 4, 2009, we decided that enough was enough.

His attacks had created a chilling atmosphere for reporters, activists and academics alike. Romm uses McCarthyite tactics -- career intimidation, guilt by association, character assassination -- that contradict the core liberal value of tolerance for divergent viewpoints.

In response, we decided to stand-up to Romm's bullying directly. We have written a series on Climate McCarthyism: Part 1 is on Joe Romm's Intimidation Campaign. Part 2 is about how Joe Romm labels his opponents "global warming deniers." Part 3 is about The Hyper-Partisan Mind. And Part 4 is about The Headquarters in Washington.

To be clear, we don't agree with many of the people Romm attacks. But we strongly defend their right to express their opinions without having their reputations smeared and careers threatened.

Bullies can only thrive when they are supported by the establishment and when bystanders are too scared to stand up to them. Joe McCarthy's downfall started when CBS News' Edward Murrow challenged him on the air, and when the Army's chief legal counsel asked him at a Senate hearing, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Last week, while interviewing one of the Superfreakonomics authors, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart stood up against the climate of intolerance that Romm more than anyone has created. "I have been somewhat surprised by how angry people are," Stewart said, "because you don't deny global warming, or say that CO2 isn't a factor, but they feel you are betraying environmentalism? The world?...Why are people so angry about this? Why do they have to be so dogmatic?"

Stewart has stood up to the climate bullies. Will others? Stay tuned.

[Updated 8/5/09]

We have received several inquiries seeking to understand Joseph Romm of Climate Progress and his frequent public criticism of climate reporters and advocates, including the Breakthrough Institute. Many of these criticisms misrepresent our positions and include factually incorrect information. This post documents Romm's practices as well as Breakthrough Institute's positions and efforts to elevate substantive issues.

Since co-founding the Apollo Alliance in 2002, the Breakthrough Institute has believed that confronting the threat of climate change, securing the nation's energy future, and ensuring ongoing economic competitiveness all compel the rapid transition to clean and low-carbon energy sources. We are leading national advocates of major public investment to accelerate clean energy development and deployment, and we strongly advocate that the federal government invest at least $30 billion per year in the direct deployment of low-carbon energy sources, $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D, and $5 billion per year in clean energy demonstration projects. We believe these investments should be financed by a modest and steadily rising price on carbon emissions and supported by complementary policies addressing infrastructure, human capital and regulatory barriers.

Joseph Romm's criticisms of us are frequently unrelated to substance and consistently misrepresent our positions and intentions. For example, Romm falsely claims that we only support radical breakthroughs in technology driven by basic research and repeatedly ignores our advocacy for massive, direct investment to accelerate clean energy deployment. He also charges that we oppose a price on carbon, oppose environmental regulations, and are effectively part of the "anti-environmental," "anti-climate action," "global warming denial and delayer" movement. These claims are false and willful mischaracterizations.

Romm's practice of public attack and misrepresentation extends to several reputable climate reporters and advocates. Most recently, Romm accused Time Magazine's Bryan Walsh of plagiarism (he later changed the title from "plagiarism" to "cut-and-paste") for reporting on facts about clean energy investments in Asia, and has attacked the NYTimes' Andrew Revkin for reporting on facts and on individuals with whom Romm disagrees. Romm has also strongly criticized clean energy and climate advocacy groups for working to strengthen American climate and energy policy, including the Breakthrough InstituteGreenpeaceEnergy Action Coalition, and James Hansen, one of the United States' leading climate scientists.

A growing number of independent media watchdogs and journalists are now criticizing Romm's behavior, including the Columbia Journalism Review, the Center for Environmental Journalism, and science journalist Keith Kloor. What follows is a documentation of Romm's practices as well as Breakthrough Institute's efforts to elevate substantive issues.

Understanding Romm's Efforts to Misrepresent Breakthrough 

Romm Tries to Shut Down Climate Bill Debate by Attacking Breakthrough (May 2009): Joe Romm's attempt to shut down serious debate about the Waxman-Markey climate bill -- and his aggressive effort to attack and discredit those attempting to illuminate the bill's weaknesses, including reputable environmental activists and reporters -- should raise questions about his role as a credible and progressive climate advocate.

The Cap & Trade We Need (April 2009): Joe Romm claims that we oppose a price on carbon, oppose environmental regulations, and are effectively part of the fossil fuel "global warming denial machine." Unfortunately, ideological enforcers like Romm, who aim to shut down substantive policy debate, leave serious advocates ill prepared to navigate the difficult choices in the upcoming debate on climate legislation.

Anatomy of a Smear (May 2008): To get a sense at how the enforcers of climate orthodoxy on both left and right restrict the debate over solutions, witness the way Grist's David Roberts and Joe Romm of Center for American Progress worked with the right-wing Washington Times to attack Breakthrough Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, Jr.

What is Joe Romm Complaining About? (April 2008): Roger Pielke, Jr. ponders ad hominem attacks from someone who seems to share many of his views on energy policy. In complementary posts, Pielke takes Romm to task for focusing heavily on semantics rather than substancefuzzy math, and incorrect analysis.

The Emerging Climate Fault Line (April 2008): Joe Romm has launched a set of attacks against Pielke et al, calling their analysis "a pointless and misleading if not outright dangerous commentary" and paints the scientists as "standard delayers" and "climate destroyers."

Misinformation Campaign (April 2008): Unable to respond with a well-reasoned defense of their policy agenda, a few angry environmentalists are leading a misinformation campaign.

The Green Politics of Personal Destruction: Deconstructing Joe Romm (April 2008): Ted Nordhaus examines the misinformation campaign Romm and others launched against Breakthrough and Roger Pielke, Jr. immediately after the publication of the Nature piece.

Elevating the Substance: Breakthrough Institute's Efforts to Create a Constructive Debate

An Open Letter to Joseph Romm (Oct 2008): In response to Michael and Ted's op-ed in the LA Times, Joe Romm criticized Michael, Ted and Breakthrough on his blog. This post is an open letter from Michael Shellenberger to Joe Romm.

Why We Can Disagree to Agree (Aug 2008): In a debate at the Cato Institute, Shellenberger and Nordhaus argue that liberals and conservatives don't need to agree about the seriousness of global warming. We can all embrace investment in energy infrastructure, technology, and education for reasons that have nothing to do with climate change.

Breakthroughs Depend on Learning While Doing (May 2008): In response to Joe Romm's latest post in the "breakthrough technology illusion," Jesse Jenkins clarifies how many breakthroughs in clean energy price and performance require not just research but also the deployment of technologies in the real world. Breakthroughs will be achieved less in the laboratory and more by learning while doing.

Joe Romm's Challenge (April 2008): Roger Pielke, Jr. responds to Joe Romm's challenge to back up the Nature piece claim to "shatter the notion that we have all the technology we need to deal with climate change."

Solar Energy Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (April 2008): In response to Romm's claim that solar technology doesn't require federal investment, Ted Nordhaus says Romm is being overoptimistic about the current state of solar power. "It's a great time to expand R&D, not contract it."

The Debate Gets Civil (April 2008):
Joe Romm finally apologizes for attacking Breakthrough as "delayers," and we move towards more productive debate.

The Wisdom of Investment in a World of Mounting Wedges (April 2008): In response to Romm's flawed wedge analysis, Ted Nordhaus writes about why it's a risky bet to count on current technology and currently proposed policies to meet the climate challenge.

Understanding Romm's Fallacies

Joe Romm's Strategy to Lose the Clean Energy Race (July 2009): In a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, Breakthrough urged Congress to fully fund the clean energy education initiative RE-ENERGYSE. Instead of substantively responding to this call, Joe Romm accused Breakthrough of attacking Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders. Romm also made several factually incorrect statements to muddle the discussion of Asia's clean energy investments. Here, Breakthrough sets the record straight.

Joe Romm Ignores Facts in Attacking Breakthrough Institute Op-Ed (July 2009): Breakthrough's comprehensive fact-check corrects Joe Romm's misleading and incorrect statements about Asia's investments in clean energy.

34 Nobel Prize Winners Write President Obama Urging Support for Clean Energy R&D (July 2009): Joe Romm continues to advocate for weakened federal climate legislation that would invest just $1 billion per year in clean energy R&D--going against the advice of 34 Nobel laureates who signed a letter urging Obama to invest at least $15 billion annually in clean energy R&D.

Is Joe Romm an Energy Challenge Denier? (April 2009): Romm continues to deny a wide body of expert consensus on energy innovation, including the positions of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and the International Energy Agency.

Steven Chu calls for $150 billion investment in "breakthrough" energy R&D (March 2009): Once again, Secretary of Energy Chu debunks Romm's views on energy technology, testifying before the U.S. Senate and calling for "breakthroughs in energy" technology, including major investments in "transformational research."

What's driving opinion on global warming? (March 2009): Michael Shellenberger responds to Romm's assertion that new climate polling data "must be due to the messaging and the media and the misinformers."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu: Honorary Breakthrough Fellow? (Feb 2009): Joe Romm consistently claims we have all the technologies we need to address climate change, attacking those calling for "breakthroughs" in energy technology as "climate delayers." In a conversation with reporters, Obama Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Steven Chu said solving global energy and climate challenges would require Nobel-level "breakthroughs" in at least three core energy technologies.

Despite claims, climate ranks low on public priorities (Oct 2008): Romm revealed multiple flawed assumptions in his latest attack, but one stood out above all the rest. Despite all the empirical evidence, Joseph Romm believes global warming is a high public priority. Romm and other greens will continue to peddle this false belief at their peril.

Arguing Both Sides at Climate Progress (Aug 2008): After attacking Roger Pielke for his analysis published in Nature, Joe Romm cites the same analysis as evidence in support of the idea that the IPCC scenarios have built in assumptions about aggressive reductions in carbon and energy intensities.

International Energy Agency Calls for Massive Clean Energy Technology Push (June 2008): In its major new Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 report, the International Energy Agency challenges Joe Romm's claims on energy technology, calling for technological breakthroughs in nearly every single one of its recommended technologies.

Romm Calls for Breakthroughs - By Another Name (May 2008): Lindsay Meisel examines Romm's piece in Salon, discovering that his analysis relies upon major improvements ("breakthroughs") in energy technology.

Adaptation and Public Investment: The Expert View (April 2008): Michael Shellenberger writes a letter to Joe Romm attempting to understand his opinion on climate adaptation and public investment in clean energy technology.

Romm versus Expert Consensus on Energy Technology (April 2008): Michael Shellenberger contrasts Romm's position -- that we don't need technology breakthroughs to stabilize emissions -- with that of energy experts.


Comments

I am dismayed at the needless vituperation directed at Dr. Hansen and now at BTI by Joe Romm. I used to comment at his site Climate Progress, until I found that my comments critical of Waxman-Markey's dubious offsets had been deleted. What comes to mind are the heavy-handed purges of dissident views under Mao.

Friendly fire casualties in the heat of political battle could be avoided with a little less personal investment in the issue. Aren't we all sincerely trying to come up with solutions?

Joe Romm believes that the solar technology we already know about, and biomass co-firing, can provide all the baseload power the world needs now and in the future. Therefore no more breakthroughs are needed. I happen to disagree, along with Dr. Steven Chu. But I respect the sincerity of his view. And I do see his point that "we need more studies" has been a frequent battlecry of the opponents of pollution control.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 06 17


I think Solar is ready for Primetime. When you have large companies embracing solar and other renewables, it's time. Look at what Google has done with Solar and combining it also with the Prius: http://greenenergytv.com/Watch.aspx?1077011807

JF

By Jacob on 2008 08 02


I read that Dr. James Hansen with NASA testified under oath in a courtroom last year that if we don't stabilize atmospheric carbon at 450 parts per million we risk ocean levels rising by 20 feet this century. I feel Hansen is a credible scientist. It's not hard to imagine a 20 foot sea level rise if you think about the 2 mile thick ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica that are melting quickly. Meanwhile the IPCC is warning of sea levels rising by 0.6 to 2 feet. Clearly it's a very conservative estimate.

By Justine on 2008 05 21


It's great to see the progress that is being made on many fronts in the Solar industry. I do agree, however, that the industry is not quite yet ready for prime time.

By David on 2008 05 20