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better climate advocacy
The Climate Demagoguery of Vox Dot Com

“This is what climate change is doing to Iran” blares the headline of a Vox article containing dramatic images of Iran’s desiccated Lake Urmia, which has shrunk to 10 percent of its original size in a matter of decades. “Lake Urmia, in the mountains of northwestern Iran, was once a source of national pride and one of the country’s top tourism destinations,” writes Vox in the lede. “It’s emerging now as something else entirely: Iran’s most visible symbol of the damage being wrought by global climate change.”

Later on, the article pivots to criticizing U.S. Republican ignorance on climate change relative to the allegedly enlightened view of the Iranian mullahs. “Donald Trump and many of his fellow Republicans doubt the existence of climate change,” says Vox. “The clerical leaders of Iran, widely derided in the US as a backward theocracy, accept that climate change is real — and that concrete measures need to be taken to fight it.”

As James Hitchcock points out, there’s just one problem: The disappearance of Lake Urmia has very little to do with climate change. The overwhelming cause of the desiccation is the diversion of water for irrigation of farmland.

A recent paper by Iranian scientists dubs Lake Urmia’s woes “Aral Sea syndrome”—a reference to the lake between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that was almost entirely drained by Soviet efforts to irrigate the desert. Similarly, according to the paper, “drastic changes to [the health of Lake Urmia] are primarily consequences of aggressive regional water resources development plans, intensive agricultural activities, anthropogenic changes to the system, and upstream competition over water.” According to the Guardian, “the research undermines any notion of a crisis caused primarily by climate changes.”

Similarly, Scientific American recently asked a prominent Iranian botanist why the lake is receding. His answer: “The main reason is the extensive water use in the basin, which happened after 54 dams were constructed in the area. There are only eight permanent rivers, so there is no chance for running water to flow into the lake. There are also a lot of wells, which pump water from underground aquifers. These two pressures prevent water from accumulating in the basin.”

Now, climate change may affect efforts to restore water that has been diverted over the years. Vox cites a paper arguing that “under scenarios of moderate or intense climate change, the current plan will not be sufficient to protect the lake.”

But the impression conveyed by the article—that climate change (and apparently the American right’s ignorance of it) has played a leading role in wiping out a spectacular Iranian natural resource, despite the earnest efforts of the mullahs—is highly misleading. The tragic disappearance of lake Urmia is first and foremost a story about regional water mismanagement, with climate change only playing a role on the margins.

Stories like this one highlight the necessity of more responsible climate advocacy. Man-made climate change is real and must be addressed by public policy. But implausible mainstream media assertions that any and every undesirable change to the environment anywhere in the world can be pinned on troglodytic American conservatives do not do this cause any favors.

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  • f1b0nacc1

    You actually bothered to read anything on Vox?

    • Andrew Allison

      Or even anything about climate change (which as we all know causes warts and every other thing which ails mankind, er personkind)!

  • Anthony

    Ought Vox to be prejudiced because so many prefer fiction to fact (a pre-empirical world perhaps)? Information is neutral, interpretation rather than transmission carries… Arguments can be rebuked point by point if indeed there is more than a “verbal dispute” – stories like this highlight that we all may be intuitive politicians.

    • Jim__L

      Er, the point of this piece is that Vox was flat *wrong* about the facts. They took information that did NOT support their conclusion, and pretended that it DID.

      That was not “neutral information”. That is dishonesty.

      Vox *lied*.

      • Anthony And HPY.

        • Jim__L

          I’ll even include the relevant quote here — “Communicating badly and then acting smug when you’re misunderstood is not cleverness.”

          Just so we’re clear, smugly dropping links without comments is not cleverness either.

          I hope you learn that eventually.

          • Anthony

            Who and What are you? Key introspective queries beseeching an answer. For clarity, I told you “months” ago “every link” to your reply is connected to whatever you write (though you could certainly bypass as I do you) – HYP.

          • f1b0nacc1

            That one won’t learn….but it is hardly much of a surprise….after all, when all you have is smugness…

          • Anthony

            You can stay out of what does not concern you Scott – but six decades of resentment and subjective anguish can trigger low grade distaste exemplified @ the most meager opportunity to reveal invidious smallness.

          • f1b0nacc1

            When you post something publicly on a forum that I comment on, it becomes my business (as well as everyone else’s here), so I will stay in whenever I choose to. If you honestly believe that you have any sort of proprietary interest in your pathetic meanderings, then you are even more pompous than I thought.

            If you don’t care for my comments, you are invited to block me, but if not, then you are subject to my observations.

          • Anthony

            Cynicism and sourness are two personal attitudes my family insisted I avoid during my adolescence – their guidelines and instruction has followed me beneficially all my life!

            That said and briefly, Scott, two items: 1) my initial acquaintance (virtually) with you concerned a charged of “nonsense” to a comment upon your arrival at this site to which I subsequently cautioned you about “hedgehog” thinking; 2) from your inception, I’ve neither commented upon nor replied to what you write – and any time we virtually engage, Scott, it’s because you unilaterally result to unprovoked ad hominem distortion. Personally, Scott, even an open internet forum avails options – I choose as mine to stay ( in cyberspace) as far away (without malice) from your grade of interaction as probable. Be well young man (even @ 6 decades ).

          • Jim__L

            Your family would have done far better to warn you against hubris and intellectual snobbery.

          • Anthony

            They passed it along except they did not mislabel or wallow in self pity. Aside from my inheritance, three (3) more Common Cognitive Distortions above: Blaming, What If, and Inability to Disconfirm (6 of 12 in less than 50 words). And since you persist: HYP.

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