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Friday
Jan272017

America's "alternative facts" on climate change

Okay, I think I get this "alternative facts" business:

Panels (A) and (B) show what it looks like when culturally diverse citizens use their knowledge of facts to do the best they can on a test of their “climate science literacy.”

In contrast, panels (C) and (D) show what it looks like when diverse citizens use their knowledge of fact to be a competent member of a cultural tribe.

Sadly, politics puts the question—who are you, whose side are you on—posed by  (C) and (D)

Fixing that is the greatest challenge that confronts the Liberal Republic of Science.

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Reader Comments (19)

I'm not sure if this qualifies as being about "alternative facts," but I think it could:


--snip--
On Monday, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who has previously praised Trump’s “stamina” and “conviction,” gave a floor speech in the House in which lauded the president, celebrating his many accomplishments. According to Smith, you may not be familiar with those accomplishments, because the media won’t tell you.

“Better to get your news directly from the president,” Smith said. “In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”
--snip--

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/27/14395978/donald-trump-lamar-smith

So, the head of the Space Science and Technology Committee speculates that the "only" way to get the "unvarnished truth" is directly from Trump. That is about as alternative factish as I think it is possible to get - from someone who is a thought and power leader in our government. Interesting mixture of scientific orientation and religious faith, to boot.

From the related, Vox, article:

--snip--
He is perhaps the paradigm representative of the tribal approach to epistemology that dominates on the far right today. Tribal epistemology evaluates facts, information, and narratives primarily on whether they are advantageous to the tribe in their war against the opposing tribe (in this case, liberals).
--snip--

Hmmm. Tribal epistemology. Seems to me that I've heard about a similar concept before. If only I could remember where....

So while I would question whether the attribute is more characteristic of "the right" any more than "the left," I would say - consistent with one of Dan's primary theses, that it is most prevalent among those who might be associated with the Space, Science, and Technology committee, and w/r/t my own thesis, I think it is more prevalent with those who have more at stake in their ideological orientation - as presumably would be the House Chairman of the Space, Science, and Technology committee.

If there is a pattern, I would say that such phenomena such as "tribal empistemology" has very recently taken a big jump institutionalization (if not prevalence in a more general sense), as it (IMO) is associated with strength, and relatedly, extremism" of ideological orientation - and what we have seen is a jump in both of those attributes among the politicians who are ascendant with this government (executive office and legislative branches) relative those recent, and perhaps for a very long time.

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

On further thought, it occurs to me that Smith's reference was specific to "the truth" about Trump's accomplishments - that "the unvarnished truth" might only come from Trump himself about his accomplishments. My first take was that combined with this:

–snip–
Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency who want to publish or present their scientific findings likely will need to have their work reviewed on a “case by case basis” before it can be disseminated, according to a spokesman for the agency’s transition team.
–snip–

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/25/511572169/epa-scientists-work-may-face-case-by-case-review-by-trump-team-official-says

Smith might also think that the only way to get the "unvarnished truth" from scientific arms of the government is after Trump's administration has reviewed and approved their research. I suppose it's possible that Smith's religious faith in Trump doesn't extend that far. Nonetheless, it is certainly interesting that someone empowered to play such an important role in influencing the nexus between science and government policy would be so out of touch with the workings of the human brain, and the human susceptibility to bias, to think that perhaps the only way to get the truth about Trump's accomplishments is from Trump himself.

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua--very disturbing. He is a cancer on govt science-communication

January 27, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Panels (A) and (B) show what it looks like when culturally diverse citizens use their knowledge of facts to do the best they can on a test of their “climate science literacy.”"

Panels A and B are what it looks like if you ask:

"According to newspaper astrologers, does the direction of the planets with respect to the constellations as seen from Earth affect your love life?"

...while panels C and D are what happens when you ask:

"Does the direction of the planets with respect to the constellations as seen from Earth affect your love life?"

We all know what astrologers believe. It's not lack of information or awareness. Many of us just think they're wrong. (But judging from the continuing popularity of astrologers, many don't. And of course, a lot of people who think astrology is bunk would probably not be able to cite or explain the scientific evidence proving it. They take it on faith, as a tribal thing.)

Likewise, we all know what 88% of climate scientists think, but half the population simply don't believe them. That doesn't tell you anything at all about why. I still don't see how you can hope to find out without asking them.


--

"Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency who want to publish or present their scientific findings likely will need to have their work reviewed on a “case by case basis” before it can be disseminated, according to a spokesman for the agency’s transition team."

That's how government science and climate science work. Everything you as part of your duties as a government employee is formally owned by the government, and you generally need the owner's permission to publish it. They can choose to give you an automatic permission, in advance, but they don't have to.

However, I expect you're talking about abuses of the process. However, these are nothing new, either.

In October 2015, staff of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (“Committee staff”) learned that DOE Management (“Management” or “senior officials”) removed Dr. Metting from federal service for allegedly providing too much information in response to questions posed by Committee staff during the October 2014 briefing. Eventually, Committee staff learned that Management ’s actions to remove Dr. Metting were, in part, retaliation against Dr. Metting because she refused to conform to the predetermined remarks and talking points designed by Management to undermine the advancement of H.R. 5544. After learning this disturbing information, the Committee launched a full investigation.

http://freebeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/2016-12-19-Final-Staff-Report-LDRR.pdf

A University of Colorado professor who’s been criticized for his writings about climate change has been caught up in WikiLeaks’ dump of emails involving John Podesta, campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.

http://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/27/wikileaks-exposes-liberal-groups-efforts-to-thwart-climate-writings-of-cus-roger-pielke-jr/

It's worldwide.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/02/french-weatherman-fired-for-promoting-book-sceptical-of-climate-change

And even applies in academic publishing, we are told.

Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted. Even this would be difficult.

http://di2.nu/foia/foia2011/mail/2151.txt

This is how things worked under Obama, too. When you work for any organisation, and may be seen publicly as speaking on behalf of that organisation, the organisation gets a say over what you say on its behalf. That's widely accepted, although it's not without its controversies.

A more difficult issue is when organisations constrain what their employees say speaking only for themselves, in their own time. If the connection with their employer becomes known, it can impact the company's reputation despite being formally separate, and companies have been known to fire employees for saying the wrong thing.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/5195714.stm

Or there are the employees fired for saying things perceived as racist or sexist.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/13/tim-hunt-forced-to-resign

This stuff goes on all the time. There's nothing at all unusual about Trump's administration in this regard. What's disturbing is when people only suddenly notice it when it's something they support that is being suppressed.

January 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

It strikes me that our communication issues are exemplified as much as anything by the simplistic binary nature of these polling questions and the similarly polarized yes/no nature of our approaches to the underlying issues ,when in fact many nuances and gray areas are actually involved.

We are at the crux of great environmental and socioeconomic change. The underlying question is:. "What kind of future are we going to have?". The first gut level response to that is: "Not one that leaves me out". Or, borrowing from a book title by Jaron Lanier: "Who Owns the Future?"

If we are going to get to a point that deeper issues can be discussed we need to frame queries in ways that allow more breadth of response.

January 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia. Weis

Both of the questions above have nuances that could cause a more science informed respondent to answer in a manner that actually indicates that they feel that more than a knee jerk answer is appropriate. And one that indicates that they have at least some vision of the kind of future that they're like to see.

Low lying coastal estuaries, if not replentished by subsequent flooding and sediment deposition, will subside. Quite a bit of coping could be done in the engineering manner employed by the Dutch. Or by relocating elaewhere. The current threat to places like New Orleans and South Florida has, IMHO, much more to do with real estate development policies and environmental degredation than it does climate change. These issues need to be addressed simultaneously.

Any power generation mechanism needs to be evaluated with a cradle to grave analysis of energy usage. Some manufacturing, construction and mining work needed to construct and maintain power generation methods can currently only be done with fossil fuel based methods. Depletion of non renewable or non recyclable use of other resources such as precious metals also needs to be evakuated. In the case of nuclear power waste disposal still has many unknowns and has yet to be effectively implemented.

Choice of power also has a big impact on future societal structures. Centralized or decentralized? Historically, early industry clustered along streams for water wheel driven power. And rivers for transportation. Coal made larger industrial centers and rail transport possible. The future could continue to need a highly centralized power grid system. And an ongoing strong and central III zed governmental structure. Or a more dispersed power structure that might decrease the need for centralized authority, or living patterns Nuclear offers a steady base load but it is not cyclable. This has advantages in supplying processes that are also not readily cyclable like a aluminum or steel potline, but also does not work well to balance renewables like wind or solar.

I don't think that it is "sad" that politics brings out answers that indicate differences in outlooks as to the kind of future that we want to have. What is discouraging to me is that we have information media outlets that are more likely to fan the flames of fake controversies than to help us to frame these discussions in ways that allow people to see linkages and discuss items in more detail. Which I believe would lead towards an ability to forge a common future.

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia. Weis

"Panels (A) and (B) show what it looks like when culturally diverse citizens use their knowledge of facts to do the best they can on a test of their “climate science literacy.”"

Panels A and B show what it looks like when you ask:

"According to newspaper astrologers, the directions of the planets as seen from Earth relative to the constellations affect your love life - True or False?"

Panels C and D show what happens when you ask:

"The directions of the planets as seen from Earth relative to the constellations affect your love life - True or False?"

It's not that anyone is ignorant of what newspaper astrologers, or the 88% majority of climate scientists think. It's that they don't think they're correct. (Although judging by the continuing popularity of newspaper horoscopes, it's not universal.)

Knowing that the people know what the subject matter experts believe doesn't tell you anything about why people disbelieve them.

--

"Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency who want to publish or present their scientific findings likely will need to have their work reviewed on a “case by case basis” before it can be disseminated, according to a spokesman for the agency’s transition team."

That's the way it's always been. If you're speaking on behalf of the government, the government gets a say in what you say on its behalf. When Obama was president, they published in support of Obama's policies. Anyone who tried to tweet links to climate scepticism on an official government channel would have been in trouble pretty quickly! Now Trump is president, and the Republicans in Congress and the Senate.

There's a long history of people being fired or disciplined by their employers for saying things they disagreed with. This has always happened. It's more disturbing that people only get disturbed by it when it's their own favoured views being suppressed.

"Both of the questions above have nuances that could cause a more science informed respondent to answer in a manner that actually indicates that they feel that more than a knee jerk answer is appropriate."

:-)

"Low lying coastal estuaries, if not replentished by subsequent flooding and sediment deposition, will subside."

I'm impressed! But why would flooding and sediment deposition stop?

"The current threat to places like New Orleans and South Florida has, IMHO, much more to do with real estate development policies and environmental degredation than it does climate change."

I'm very impressed!

"Depletion of non renewable or non recyclable use of other resources such as precious metals also needs to be evakuated."

Done. There's several books on the subject of resources (like Lomborg's 'The Skeptical Environmentalist') that cite, for example, the US Geological Survey's work on the topic. It was also the subject of the famous Simon-Ehrlich bet.

"In the case of nuclear power waste disposal still has many unknowns and has yet to be effectively implemented. "

True, but a method for burning nuclear waste from the previous generation of reactors to generate more power was developed by Argonne National Laboratory a couple of decades ago. The project got canned by Clinton for political reasons, and the need isn't sufficiently urgent yet, but we've got the technology.

" What is discouraging to me is that we have information media outlets that are more likely to fan the flames of fake controversies than to help us to frame these discussions in ways that allow people to see linkages and discuss items in more detail."

Sounds like an excellent idea!

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

If the left think there's a problem here they should direct their criticisms to the EPA who long ago rules that carbon dioxide is a "pollutant". I would not take any scientist seriously who said such a thing.

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark Pawelek

NiV:. As I tried to point out above, energy sourcing dictates societal structures. I is certainly technologically possible to use " breeder reactor" technologies to fuel nuclear power stations in a manner that would preclude the need for mining much new ore. But doing so would raise the danger of diversion to other uses such as weapons and thus require a tightly controlled high security centralized state to safely implement. An ElonMusk style system in which individuals and individual companies had their own solar collectors and battery backup would make those entries in some regions largely independent of a centralized grid or an active member of a shared system grid to which they might be a significant contributor as well as user.

Mark Pawlet:. Perhaps scientists need a better way to express the idea that any chemical constituent of an equilibrium has a concentration range within which other components of the system (biological life for example) can operate. Lots of chemicals are both needed to support life and also deadly at higher concentrations. Atmospheric CO2 is of course essential for life as we know it, and in the escalating concentrations now being experienced in Earth's atmosphere, a very disruptive driver of the greenhouse effect and thus global climate change.

I would note that IMHO, the Russians, with their vast swath of sub Arctic lands and and their Exxon allies planning Arctic drilling may actually view global warming as a good thing. Residents of sea level areas and central continental areas such as the US southwest where increasing drought is expected ought to have much more concern.

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia. Weis

Of general and related interest: did people see the NYT article this week, Navigating Climate Change in America's Heartland?

It's as if when you ask people what they -really- believe, it's not at all the same as what they in fact care about and want to know more about. Maybe we scientists/experts shouldn't be as concerned about peoples' professed beliefs. If they claim to disagree with us, but then seek and use the information that we make anyway, there hasn't really been any loss, has there?

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

Dan -

==> @Joshua--very disturbing. He is a cancer on govt science-communication. ==>

I was originally going to write that what I was posting about was "disturbing," but then as I thought about it, I questioned myself as to whether something that I see as so commonplace can also be disturbing - even if I see the institutionalization of such thinking into the mechanisms of power as potentially increasing in magnitude.

I questioned myself as to whether there is something disingenuous about describing something that I full expect to also be "disturbing." Maybe to do so would be engaging in hyperbole to make a point?

But then again, I am definitely disturbed by this kind of overt institutionalization of "alternative facts" - for what seems to me to be the sake of political expediency. No doubt, I have seen that many on the right, in fact see the current trend as a reduction in the institutionalization of "alternative facts" into the mechanisms of power.

So does that mean that in the end, my being "disturbed" just boils down to the uncomfortableness of having my "world view" challenged?

I like to think that isn't the answer, and that there is, in fact, some objective evidence to support my viewpoint - even if in my better self, other hand, I'd prefer that the evidence showed that my view isn't accurate because of the "disturbing" implications if it is true that "alternative facts" are gaining in their political power.

In that sense, I find that my reluctance to engage with my emotions of being "disturbed" are also, in a sense, a kind of hedging my bets. If indeed, my feeling of being "disturbed" is not based largely on reflective identity-protection, then I would have reason to not allow myself to believe the worst as the outcomes would be depressing on a scale that dwarfs the negativity I've felt in response to political outcomes that I've experienced over my lifetime.

I try to take the long view and see short term developments (such as the political outcomes of the Bush administration) in their appropriate scale - as essentially short-term "noise" amid the long term "signal." But recent developments have begun to shake the foundation of my confidence in that regard.

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

dypoon -

==> It's as if when you ask people what they -really- believe, it's not at all the same as what they in fact care about and want to know more about. ==>

Well isn't that one of Dan's major theses: asking what people "believe" tells you more about who they are than about what they know?

==> If they claim to disagree with us, but then seek and use the information that we make anyway, there hasn't really been any loss, has there? ==>

On one level, there hasn't.

But it would not be consistent with what we know about human nature to think that scientists would not react as if there was no loss to being called a "fraud" at at a personal level, even if the reaction to their scientific output reflected an acceptance of their findings.

Even beyond the personal level, however, I think that there is a "loss" at the societal level - if only in the sense of opportunity cost - to the institutionalization of a meme that the scientific community is "fraudulent" and not to be believed. Obviously, most of the people, who from a rhetorical (identity-protective) stance regularly call into question the collective wisdom of "consensus" scientific research, don't stop going to doctors and don't start chucking their computers out of the window. But in the long term, there may be in balance a negative net outcome from the deliberate creation and political exploitation of a disconnect between how people respond to scientists' output and what they say they "believe" about scientists output.

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"But doing so would raise the danger of diversion to other uses such as weapons and thus require a tightly controlled high security centralized state to safely implement."

That was also considered in the design. One of its principle advantages, it is claimed, is that it is extremely difficult to divert any Plutonium to bomb making because while it is running the process pollutes it with short-half-life highly radioactive isotopes that are extremely difficult and dangerous to remove. If you want to make a fission bomb, you wouldn't do it this way. (Arguably you could use it to make a conventional 'dirty' bomb, but then there are far easier and safer ways of doing that, too.) You don't need to use enriched Uranium to start it off, so you can't divert any from there, either. And running the full cycle to completion, the short-half-life isotopes decay within a few decades and the Plutonium is all reacted.

There's a particularly good description here: http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA378.html But there's lots of information on it on around the web.

However, if just the high-security states (Europe, the US, Australia) went nuclear, that would be be a good start. And China already has the bomb, so it had might as well.

"Perhaps scientists need a better way to express the idea that any chemical constituent of an equilibrium has a concentration range within which other components of the system (biological life for example) can operate."

Perhaps I can have a go at that...

There's a nice graph of the history of CO2 levels here: http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/PageMill_Images/image277.gif

For almost all of life's history, CO2 has been between 1000 and 5000 ppm. Shellfish such as corals, for example, evolved during the Cretaceous, during which co2 levels were between 1000 and 2000 ppm. The modern era has CO2 as a historic low, due largely to the formation of the Himalayas - so low, in fact, that it's on the verge of killing some of the plant species who are more dependent on CO2 than others.

Most plants work far more efficiently at the higher CO2 levels for which they evolved, which is why farmers often pump the big commercial greenhouses full of additional CO2. Warmth and CO2 makes the crops grow big and strong.

Does that work for you? :-)

"I would note that IMHO, the Russians, with their vast swath of sub Arctic lands and and their Exxon allies planning Arctic drilling may actually view global warming as a good thing."

That's unlikely, actually.

The average climatic temperature of the continental United States varies by about 30 C from its northern to southern border, about 1500 miles apart. So on average, a 1 C change in average temperature corresponds to about 50 miles travel north or south. The IPCC median prediction is about 3 C, which corresponds to 150 miles, although estimates based on empirical data rather than unvalidated models suggests about 1.2 C, or 60 miles.

A 60 mile shift in the border of the Arctic tundra would be significant locally, but not on the level you're talking about. Siberia would still be mostly frozen.

Most people almost everywhere would find it a good thing - up to a point. The biosphere is more productive and diverse near the equator than the poles. Crops grow better in warmer climates - just as they grow more in summer than in winter. Warmth is generally good for life. It's why people prefer to go on holiday to Florida rather than to Canada.

Given that the United States alone has already adapted to the whole of a 30 C range in temperature with no major issues, it's more a matter of moving things around than doing anything fundamentally new. In fact, it's not the total amount of change that matters, but its speed. If it happens over centuries, the movement needed will be so slow most people won't even notice it, and no special measures need be taken. If you got a 6 C shift in a couple of decades, as happened during the Younger Dryas (a sharp drop in temperature followed by a somewhat less sharp rise about 12000 years ago), more radical moves would be needed, that would be harder to adapt to. (Although note that every species alive today survived it.)

"Residents of sea level areas and central continental areas such as the US southwest where increasing drought is expected ought to have much more concern."

They should be concerned about that anyway, irrespective of AGW and CO2. There have been numerous periodic megadroughts dotted through the geological history of the US, and even in more recent history. Some reckon it's what finished off the Aztecs, for example. *Natural* climate change is a risk to take very, very seriously.

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,. Not the Aztecs, their demise was due to the Spanish. You are thinking of the Anizazi. The fact that it has been dry there before does not preclude dryness there that also occurs as a subset of global anthropogenic causes. But it does demonstrate that such changes can be dire.

I'm traveling and do the have time to get into a point by point analysis of your data above in detail, with appropriate links. Sure there can be multiple causes of global climate change, some of which are beyond our control. We are actually most interested in a relatively small time frame and a very small slice of possible atmospheric conditions to support our societies lifestyles in anything close to the manner in which we have become accustomed. Over geological time CO2 has varied considerably. Mostly without humans around.

Part of what makes anthropogenic climate change so difficult for humans to deal with is that the effects are quite unequally distributed. Crops need different growing conditions. Sure some crops can benefit from increased CO2. But not if there are also changes in such things as precipitation patterns and variability of first and last frosts. In many areas of the world mountain glaciers and snowfields serve as reservoirs that enable rivers to flow throughout the summer. A temperature rise even with the same amount of precipitation could be disastrous..

It is also true thay that despite our best efforts,situations beyond our control could arrise, a big volcanic eruption or asteroid hit are examples, that could make the whole effort to mitigate our own effects moot. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Nor does the fact that some humans may survive the changes and be in a position to adapt. This seems to be what the CEOs of fossil fuel companies are counting on. That they can profit by drilling for oil and they will come out ahead.

A wider choice would be to formulate policies that serve the greatest common good.

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia. Weis

"NiV,. Not the Aztecs, their demise was due to the Spanish. You are thinking of the Anizazi."

You're right. I was actually thinking of the Mayans, but the Anasazi are another good example.

"The fact that it has been dry there before does not preclude dryness there that also occurs as a subset of global anthropogenic causes."

True.

"Crops need different growing conditions. Sure some crops can benefit from increased CO2. But not if there are also changes in such things as precipitation patterns and variability of first and last frosts."

True. But the arrow of causality goes the other way around. Farmers look at the local weather patterns, and then pick a crop to match. They don't pick crops and then doggedly stick with them no matter what the weather does, all the way to ruin.

The point is that we have crops to suit a very wide range of climates from cold to warm, wet to dry. Most studies predicting agricultural disaster from climate change operate on the assumption that the crops planted are fixed. But if you tried to grow the same crop every place from the Mexican to the Canadian border, you wouldn't be surprised to find it didn't work out very well.

The climate changes all the time, and always has, as farmers know very well. They change their crops and methods to adapt. Determining the impact with adaptation of human-caused climate change, against the continuing background of natural climate change, is a much more complicated problem.

"It is also true thay that despite our best efforts,situations beyond our control could arrise, a big volcanic eruption or asteroid hit are examples, that could make the whole effort to mitigate our own effects moot. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try."

In itself, no. The issue is (ironically!) finite resources.

It's pretty easy to generate a very long list of potential world-threatening disasters. Alien invasion, plague, AI takeover, nuclear war, overpopulation, pesticides, a new ice age, solar flare, nearby supernova and gamma ray burst, zombie apocalypse, sharknado, return of the Elder Gods, the Last Trump, the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief,... There's no limit.

Each of them also has a very expensive proposed solution. And the advocates for each argue that the price is worth it "just in case".

It's a variant on Pascal's Wager. Pascal pointed out that if God exists then the difference between belief and disbelief is that between an eternity in heaven and an eternity in hell, while if there is no God then there is no more than a finite cost to belief. If the probability of God existing is non-zero (and it's hard to prove otherwise), then the infinite prize multiplied by the non-zero probability makes it a rational bet.

That works if there are only two possibilities under consideration. But what if we were to ask the same question about Tlaloc, Aztec God of Climate Change? Tlaloc demands many sacrifices, or it will no longer rain, the crops will die, and everyone will starve. It's not certain that Tlaloc actually exists, but given that the penalty if he does, and you choose not to believe, is the death and damnation of everyone, Pascal's reasoning makes sacrifices to Tlaloc the only rational option, too. And the same for all the other twenty one million gods.

If there's no cost to tackling climate change, then sure, why not? The problem is that the economic cost of the proposed solution turns out to be enormous. Fossil fuels underpin our technological civilisation, and the rise from poverty of the developing world. Abandoning them is theoretically possible, but it's going to cost deaths, and continued suffering for billions.

Now, it's no more right to consider only one side of the balance by considering only the economic costs and not the environmental costs, as it is to consider only the environmental ones and ignore the economic ones. I'm not saying we shouldn't take concern about the effect of CO2 seriously. But that doesn't allow us to abdicate the need to demand evidence of a high probability given that the cost of the proposed plan is in the trillions of dollars, and impacts the poorest people in the world most heavily.

In academia, it doesn't actually matter much if a result is wrong. Someone will publish a paper to correct it next year, probably, or more likely nobody will even read it if the topic is obscure enough. In industrial science, the price of a scientific error might be the loss of somebody's multi-million dollar investment, if you wind up digging the mine shaft in the wrong place, say. People spending a million dollars of their own money take scientific quality seriously, and are extremely unamused by sloppiness and avoidable errors. You get far stricter standards of calibration, documentation, and V&V. You can get audited, and be required to show your working, and what precautions you took against being wrong. When it's for trillions, how much stricter should those quality standards be?

I'm not saying don't do it. I'm saying that you need to adhere to the highest possible standards of scientific quality, transparency, and integrity when it is "the end of the world" at stake. Is that so unreasonable?

"This seems to be what the CEOs of fossil fuel companies are counting on. That they can profit by drilling for oil and they will come out ahead."

It's not their decision, It's ours.

CEOs make money by providing what people want. People want fossil fuels, so CEOs provide them. They make a profit doing it because we pay it to them, in exchange for the fossil fuels we buy. We collectively gain far more from having heat and light and transport than they do - more than 95% of the total economic benefits go to the public.

Consider what would happen if everyone who believed in anthropogenic climate change (some say more than 50% of the population) was tomorrow to take a pledge not to use fossil fuels any more. Suddenly, the oil companies would be producing far more than was needed, and the price would crash. They'd have to drop the price to near zero just to be able to sell any of it; to have any income at all. That would take all the profits out of the industry, it would instead become a loss maker.

By contrast, there would suddenly be a huge market for renewables. Supply falling short of demand, the price would skyrocket, and likewise the profits. Every energy supplier would jump on the bandwagon, after a slice of those profits. That would both motivate and fund a massive investment in renewables, and R&D in ways to do it cheaper. Gradually, as supply approached demand, prices would drop and a new equilibrium would be approached.

In this way, the market automatically supplies exactly what people want, in the quantities they want it, at a price they're willing to pay. Profits motivate people to make the changes required, and provide the cash influx needed to buy/build the new infrastructure. And the cost of the change is borne very precisely by the people who wanted it, the people it most benefits, while never exceeding the value they themselves get from the exchange (or they'd not buy it).

CEOs are paid by you their customers to provide you with what you actually want, not what you claim to want. And for this they are condemned. But in truth, whose is the guilt?

January 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Change can be disruptive.

CEOs are interested in making money using the tools available to them, the corporation they head and the politicians that they can influence. The reason that there is currently legislation before the Wyoming State legislature proposing that utilities be banned from using renewable energy despute the large amount of wind energy now being produced in Wyoming is because fossil fuel intrests are threatened by the fact that cheaper renewables could leave their assets stranded. Monopolies are powerful and can be very profitable. The idea that we have a functional free market is bogus. ( I gave links to the Wyoming issues in a comment on a previous post on this blog).

On climate change: it is important to note, as I am sure NiV actually realizes, that global warming temperature increases does not imply any uniformity of warming overall. In particular I would like to point out the importance of Atlantic ocean water temperatures on the functioning of marine circulation, the Gulf Stream in particular. The moderate climate of the UK is dependent on these flows. Rather perversely, driving the Gulf Stream beyond a tipping point due to anthropogenic climate change could cause a breakdown in this flow of warmer waters northwards. The net result could be to make the UK cooler. And possibly drier.

January 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia. Weis

"The reason that there is currently legislation before the Wyoming State legislature proposing that utilities be banned from using renewable energy despute the large amount of wind energy now being produced in Wyoming is because fossil fuel intrests are threatened by the fact that cheaper renewables could leave their assets stranded."

Legislation to ban competition simply because it's cheaper is something I'm very much against.

On the other hand, the only arguments I've previously seen for restricting renewables were to do with the impact of their variability and selective subsidies on the economic viability of fossil fuels. The issue was that fossil was cheaper than renewables, but because renewables had priority when they were producing, the fossil power stations had to increase and decrease their output at short notice, instead of providing a constant baseload as they were designed to, and this made them economically unviable. They had to be running constantly (what's called "spinning reserve") just in case they were suddenly needed, but without actually supplying any power to the grid, and therefore earning no income. So you wound up having to subsidise the fossil fuel power stations as well so they would continue to be available to supply power when the wind wasn't blowing. The perverse outcome was the result of the initial interference in the market, demanding that distributors use renewables when they were available, requiring further interference to correct.

Presumably that's not the sort of situation you're talking about?

"... as I am sure NiV actually realizes, that global warming temperature increases does not imply any uniformity of warming overall. [...] The net result could be to make the UK cooler. And possibly drier."

Oh, indeed. Such perverse and unexpected effects can happen. Consider the "green Sahara". This happened during the Holocene Optimum when temperatures were higher than they are today. The theory is that the greater heat difference between land and sea over the Indian Ocean drove a monsoon cycle over Northern Africa, as well as shifting the boundaries of the Hadley convection cell, causing heavy rain to fall on ancient Egypt. A warmer climate might cause North Africa to become green and fertile again.

Climate change at the local scale, where its effects are actually felt, is extremely unpredictable. It might be better, it might be worse. But then it might be anyway.

January 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

The fossil fuel industry has been enormously subsidized, as I've pointed outto NiV in previous comments and see no reason to re- hash here. Nor does it seem productive to rehash again the differences between regional climate patterns and global change or what the impacts that they might have on the common good for humans and overall global environments.

NiV can say he is opposed to anticompetitive legislation but is ignoring the many ways that the fossil fuel industry has blocked renewable investments which threaten them while ignoring their own subsidies.

Despite all thst, one of the most interesting phenomena is that renewables are managing to come out ahead despite those barriers. The utility co-op that includes Taos is in the process of paying 37 million dollars to their wholesale power provider, coal based TriState. Obviously not every community has the financial wherewithal to front load this cost. This means that expensive old coal fired plants could be left as stranded assets, something that I've also mentioned in previous comments.

In my opinion, sane policy development would need to encompass societal investments both in order to successfully launch the new technologies and also to ensure that those least able to afford it are not left holding the empty bag.

This is different than what NiV alludes to above. Currently third world areas do not need to follow the identical development path used by other nations previous ly. They can successfully leapfrog ahead as exemified by growing utilization of wireless and local techniques both for communications and energy.

February 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia. Weis

"The fossil fuel industry has been enormously subsidized, as I've pointed outto NiV in previous comments and see no reason to re- hash here."

Not as far as I know. Most of the examples I've seen being cited have been cases of dishonest accounting - listing tax breaks as "subsidies", for example, or counting the difference between what tax they pay and what the campaigners think they *ought* to pay as a subsidy.

"NiV can say he is opposed to anticompetitive legislation but is ignoring the many ways that the fossil fuel industry has blocked renewable investments which threaten them while ignoring their own subsidies."

I'm not ignoring them - I've just never come across a genuine case of it.

"Nor does it seem productive to rehash again the differences between regional climate patterns and global change or what the impacts that they might have on the common good for humans and overall global environments."

True. It's too obvious to need any discussion that only local climate can have an effect on individual humans.

"Despite all thst, one of the most interesting phenomena is that renewables are managing to come out ahead despite those barriers."

A 2010 study by Global Subsidies Initiative compared global relative subsidies of different energy sources. Results show that fossil fuels receive 0.8 US cents per kWh of energy they produce (although it should be noted that the estimate of fossil fuel subsidies applies only to consumer subsidies and only within non-OECD countries), nuclear energy receives 1.7 cents / kWh, renewable energy (excluding hydroelectricity) receives 5.0 cents / kWh and biofuels receive 5.1 cents / kWh in subsidies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_subsidies#Impact_of_fossil_fuel_subsidies

5.0 being bigger than 0.8 probably has a lot to do with why they come out 'ahead'. Although the interesting thing is that despite the 6x bigger subsidies directed towards renewables, fossil fuels still provide the majority of our energy.

When they can come out ahead without getting higher subsidies, I'd be all in favour of switching. For that matter, if you wanted to switch to nuclear, I'd be a lot more sympathetic amenable. It's more expensive than fossil - witness the 2x subsidy to compensate for that - but it's still the most practical, affordable, and scalable non-fossil source of energy we currently have. And if society reduced the level of regulation and public protest that nuclear evokes among the same environmentalists that are claiming we have to reduce CO2 emissions urgently, it would be a lot cheaper than it is.

I say, let's build 400 nuclear power stations, right in the middle of each big US city, right now during the next 5 years, with no protests, arguments, or delays. That would satisfy your requirement for urgent emissions reduction, would be a lot cheaper than renewables, doesn't have all the engineering problems arising from variability of supply, and (as the French demonstrated during the 1980s) is practically doable. Problem solved. Are you with me? Yes or no?

Because if you say 'no', I'd be inclined to think you're not taking it seriously.

"Currently third world areas do not need to follow the identical development path used by other nations previously."

I agree.

February 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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