columnist Nicholas Kristof’s occasional commentaries this summer
about Portland, Ore., left a lingering scent in the air—and it wasn’t
pretty. How has so much propaganda about the “Rose City” spread
Kristof’s misleading commentaries on our area cut
deeper with the knowledge that the award-winning writer is an Oregon native.
Kristof grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore. and in high school debate contests
faced Tillamook County’s Lars Larson.
On September 11, in his New York
Times column, Kristof wrote:
“With corpses on the streets of New Orleans,
we may have seen a glimpse of the future of climate change. …So
far, Mr. Bush has resisted serious action on global warming on the basis
that strong measures ‘would have wrecked our economy.’ …Tell
that to Portland, Ore. In early July, I wrote a column from Portland about
its pioneering efforts to cut greenhouse gases. New calculations had indicated
that it had cut total emissions from below the level of 1990–the
benchmark of the Kyoto Accord–even as nationally, emissions have
increased 13 percent. And Portland has been booming economically.”
So what’s wrong with Krisof’s commentary? Well,
everything. It was based on some foul emissions from the city of Portland,
but not from the usual sources.
Kristof bases his comments on a study conducted by Portland’s
Office of Sustainable Development (OSD). Bad idea. The report the city
issued/concocted declared that 2004 emissions of carbon dioxide in Multnomah
Country were at lower levels than 1990 emissions, putting Multnomah County
in compliance with Kyoto. Later the city would correct their initial report.
Their update showed that because of a faulty computer analysis Multnomah
County carbon dioxide levels in 2004 were actually above
1990 levels, not below.
But that didn’t stop the hype.
Jane Lubchenco, co-chair of the Governor’s Advisory
Group on Global Warming blissfully told the Oregonian:
“I know of no other city in the world that has lowered greenhouse
emissions at this level.”
Bad hype usually makes bad policy. Thankfully, John Charles
and Richard Page of the Cascade Policy Institute took a critical look
at the city’s study. They responded in an August 17 Oregonian
What Charles and Page corrected was not the slight computer
error made during the study but, instead, the overall methodology, which
Charles and Page showed to be not science, but propaganda. Their critique
“The OSD used gasoline sales in Multnomah County
to estimate vehicle miles traveled. By this logic, if everyone stopped
buying gas in Multnomah Country but continued to drive, OSD would conclude
that there are no CO2 emissions from cars in Portland. Clearly, that would
be false, so the methodology is inappropriate.
The number of gasoline dealers in Multnomah County
fell by about 26 percent during the 1990s, while they went up by 82 percent
in Clark County, 7 percent in Columbia County and 8 percent in Clackamas
County. In a complex metro region, people can buy their gas anywhere.
Metro’s own staff estimates that between 1990
and 2003, daily motorized travel went up 30 percent within the urbanized
portions of the tri-country region. That alone suggests that local C02
emissions went up, not down, during the period."
Knowing that more than 50,000 workers commute daily from
Washington County, and that more than 60,000 workers commute daily from
Clark to Multnomah, completes the farce that is the city’s study.
On September 8, Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder responded
to Charles and Page’s critique on the Oregonian
op-ed page by ignoring their analysis and instead questioning their motives.
“Their work reflects a national head-in-the-sand campaign to block
action in response to overwhelming scientific evidence that human generated
emissions of greenhouse gases are changing global climate.”
The paper’s headline piled on, “Think tank duo
attack the threat of a good example.”
Now what’s wrong with this on-going propaganda? Plenty.
First, global warming is a serious issue, particularly for
the Republican Party, the nation’s business party. Being on the
wrong side of the global warming debate would be one hulluva devastating
place for the GOP, both politically and environmentally. That’s
why Tony Blair’s consensus approach to this issue is appreciated.
If global warming is as serious as many believe, then reporting
on it must be de-politicized. News reports should be science-based and
bias free, not based on the foul emissions of political hacks and career
Earlier, in July, Kristof wrote about the difficulties of
the issue. “I’ve been torn about what to do about global warming…in
the past, economic models tended to discourage aggressive action on greenhouse
gases, because they indicated that the cost of curbing carbon emissions
could be extraordinarily high, amounting to perhaps 3 percent of GNP.
That’s where Portland’s experience is so crucial. It confirms
the suggestions of some economists that we can take initial steps against
global warming without economic disruptions.”
Apparently no one bothered to show Kristof the Portland
Business Alliance survey that counts the number of jobs lost in Portland’s
downtown core—from 110,000 jobs in 1990 down to 82,497 in 2004.
No one told him about Portland schools closing as families flee to the
Second, bureaucrats who make up these fantasy reports do
so to serve a political purpose. They must find a way to make the public
believe that the “smart growth” agenda is working, not failing.
Portland officials know this: if you have a national reputation for going
against the grain, you better make sure your vision is perceived as working,
not failing. Spreading that myth means getting a syndicated columnist
or two to assist.
Last month, David Brooks, a New
York Times columnist and colleague of Nicholas Kristof wrote about
the future of the city of New Orleans: “There are arguments about
what New Orleans should try to be, a smaller controlled-growth Portland
or a booming and spreading Houston.”
Now E. J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington
Post adds to the misleading propaganda: “Rep. Earl Blumenauer…is
evangelical in spreading Portland’s gospel of ‘livability’…the
idea that if governments plan right (and in cooperation with their citizens),
they can safeguard the environment, create more agreeable lives for families
and individuals, and let loose sustainable private-sector growth.
Well, Brooks is guilty of poor research, and Dionne apparently
confined his journalistic inquiries to dinner and drinks in the Pearl
District. But native son and national columnist Kristof should know better.
Though he uses Oregon mostly as a summer playground, he should have taken
time to investigate more thoroughly. When will one of these national writers
take a hard look at the Rose City’s real track record on progressive
politics—looking beyond the ephemeral fragrance of the rose to see
the dying plant beneath it?
BrainstormNW - Oct 2005