Monday, April 09, 2007

Shortcuts Along The Information "Superhighway": You Too Can Be an Expert, or Just Feel Like One.

I think the lesson I've learned from doing this blog is that answers to questions about major news items are readily available if you are willing to look for them and if you know how to evaluate sources. You don't have to be an expert, or even following a particular news cycle with great attention, to find out more than what the "mainstream" media has to offer.
For example, the first big piece of news I read in the corporate media this morning was the Washington Post story on the problems of Kyoto's "Cap and Trade"efforts to reduce carbon emissions as practiced in the EU. It lays out the idea that the plan is pushing energy prices in the EU so high that even "green" companies can't survive. I found it curious that the paper would be so critical of a policy to reduce carbon emissions, and that it would use the "too expensive" claim that is so important to global warming naysayers. I also found it interesting that the paper reported that companies were able to get around climate regulations by buying products made in developing countries who weren't part of the Kyoto treaty, given the American press's general dismissal of such arguments in other contexts as being against "free trade." As Europeans have long argued, it will be hard to get developing countries to agree to participate in international cap and trade agreements when the world's biggest polluter continues to opt out.
So, I wondered what else had been said about it. The Guardian printed a rather differentstory on the problems with Cap and Trade earlier in the week. According to them, the problem with the "cap and trade scheme" is that large companies have figured out how to get around the system, but they also quote environmental organizations, who say that the second phase, which will "squeeze" more, will be better. Indeed,it has led big companies from polluting countries to "squeal" - to the delight of these environmentalists. US Steel, for instance, is suing over Slovakian allocations. That would suggest that the "cap and trade" policy is working at least a little bit. Then, I learned that a large group of American CEOs had earlier this year, been lobbying the Bush admin. to do a similar "cap and trade" plan.
The support for such a plan by major CEOs made me suspicious again. Finally, by searching "Kyoto too little too late" I found this article on Alternet which calls for "cap and tax" over "cap and trade," and includes a reference to a new book by George Monbiot called Heat which denounces the "trading" part, (ie, buying Carbon offets) as akin to buying absolution from sin in the Middle Ages.
So, in a bit more than an hour I found liberal, conservative, and left critiques of the Kyoto protocol and was able to sort them out.
The problem is, of course, that many people take the common-sense claims of corporate media without skepticism so they don't bother to look up other sources. I find this hard to understand in an age of such intense skepticism. However, if you think about it for 1/2 a minute, you'll realize that a lot of the skeptical impulse has already been channeled into futilty by a host of corporate spin-meisters. The thing that annoys me most about these wacko conspiracy theories is that researching things from "alien abductions" to "the Freemasons" and the great effort of the government to "regulate us to death" with carbon emissions caps, provides the experience of asking probing questions, and hunting up things on the internet (ie doing research). However, without a simple standard for evaluating their sources, lots of people are getting off the superhighway at the exit that says "Willy Wonka's Cognigive Rest Stop Up-Ahead - Don't Criticize, Just Supersize...the Only limitation is your Imagination!"

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