Reverse engineering Ross Douthat

by John Quiggin on June 26, 2014

Responding to the latest attempt to breathe some life into the zombie of “reform conservatism”, Matt Yglesias noted a revealing silence on climate change. As he observed

The thought process that ended with this approach is easy enough to understand. Whether climate change is a massive conspiracy orchestrated by Al Gore, 99 percent of scientists, and a dazzling array of foreign governments or a genuine problem is hotly debated inside the conservative movement. Whether or not fossil-fuel producers should be hampered in their activities by regulatory concern about pollution, by contrast, is not controversial. For smart, up-and-coming conservatives to mention climate change, they would have to pick a side on the controversial issue. Do they sound like rubes by siding with the conspiracy theorists, or do they alienate the rubes by acknowledging the basic facts and the coming up with some other reason to favor inaction? The optimal choice is not to choose.

I made much the same point a year ago in response to Ramesh Ponnuru’s <a href=””http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/349428/missing-point-conservative-reform”>plaintive observation that “To be a good reformer [in liberal eyes] a conservative has to agree that the vast bulk of conservatives are insane.”

In this NYT piece, Ross Douthat tries to respond to Yglesias. He ends up both confirming the point regarding climate change and illustrating the true nature of reform conservatism.

Since Douthat can’t refute Yglesias’ point about the craziness of the Republican base, he doesn’t try. Rather, he dismisses the point as “silly” and moves straight to his own apologia for lining up with the crazies. This is rather challenging. As Douthat admits, its not long since Republicans like John McCain were on the sane side of this debate. And it’s not as if the recent evidence (that is, the evidence coming from science rather than the rightwing parallel universe) has changed anything.

Still, Douthat tries desperately to claim that, in following his party where it leads, he is merely responding to the changed circumstances of the post-2008 economic slump. Supposedly, a relatively modest slowdown in economic growth means that it is now imperative to do nothing about climate change.

The best way to understand Douthat’s piece is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained minimization problem The objective is to minimize the craziness he needs to embrace, subject to the constraint that he must end up in line with the denialist conspiracy theorists who dominate the base. The best approach is to combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation, with the rosiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.

This is “reform conservatism” in a nutshell. The Republican party is a coalition of crazies, racists and plutocrats. But there is a political requirement to talk about policy in a way that is not obviously crazy, racist or pro-rich. The task of conservative1 intellectuals is to square this circle.


  1. Corey Robin would say that this has always been the true function of conservatism. I’m more inclined to believe that a genuinely conservative approach to politics has some potential merit, not realized in actually existing conservatism. 

{ 134 comments }

1

Mike Furlan 06.26.14 at 11:07 pm

Why waste time reading Douthat?

When crossing a pasture for the first time, a city kid might step in a cowpat. But now, we should all know to just walk around them.

2

Bloix 06.26.14 at 11:21 pm

“The best way to understand Douthat’s piece is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained minimization problem.”

This is just wonderful – not merely as a description of Douthat, but of just about everything that politicians say.

The thing is, Douthat is not a politician. He’s supposed to be a journalist. You could say that one definition of “hack” is “a journalist who views his job as solving constrained minimization problems.”

3

Thornton Hall 06.26.14 at 11:29 pm

Take Robin’s definition of the function of conservative and then add two post war phenomena: the adoption of “objectivity” defined as “telling both sides of every story” as the criterion for good professional journalism, and the quotability of political science professors who imagine voters are ideological. The almost certain result is the Tea Party control of the GOP.

4

Sandwichman 06.26.14 at 11:40 pm

“The task of conservative intellectuals is to square this circle.”

The task of conservative intellectuals is to get paid and to justify their existence to those who pay them. Enough said.

5

Matt 06.26.14 at 11:46 pm

The best way to understand Douthat’s career is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained maximization problem. The objective is to maximize the craziness he can give the imprimatur of “even the liberal New York Times says,” subject to the constraint that he cannot make claims that are easily falsified in the realm of fact. The best approach is to opine rightwardly on questions of values, like what Russell’s Teapot the Bible Ross Douthat says about contraception. Or argue that mainstream economic discount models of future climate damage, which say that century-hence future persons are worth about 2/3 of a person, are actually not discounting the future enough.

6

derrida derider 06.27.14 at 12:01 am

The best approach [for conservatives] is to combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation, with the rosiest projections of the implications of doing nothing..

True, and a strong point in a strong post. But one thing I find mildly irritating is the number of greens who see the whole issue as primarily a great stick to beat capitalism with, and who therefore combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation with the gloomiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.

To achieve action to fix the problem it would be far better to combine the LEAST inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation with the gloomiest projections of the implications of doing nothing. Apart from political pragmatism (“scare ‘em then offer a painless solution”) this has the virtue that such estimates tend anyway to have the most economic credibility.

7

Sandwichman 06.27.14 at 12:23 am

“To achieve action to fix the problem…”

It is unduly optimistic to conceive of it as a problem that can be fixed by action. At best, it is a condition that could be better endured and managed if it was acknowledged. Cost/benefit estimates aren’t going to help because they simply deflect the discourse onto inappropriate metaphors. This isn’t a bookkeeping exercise. If it was, the cost/benefit analysis would be superfluous because the solution would be patently obvious.

8

JML 06.27.14 at 12:27 am

Human nature is to react to consequences, not to potentials. Very little will be done on climate change until are severe.

But I do like this post: it summarizes the conservative conundrm nicely: how to side with the crazies in a way that sounds rational?

I have a dirty secret: I read WND.com pretty regularly. I’ve been banned from posting, of course, but I come back because if I want to know what the next Rebuplican meme is going to be, it will be trial ballooned on WND weeks before it is trial ballooned on FOX.

What that says is that the GOP ideology is largely driven by hate and fear. How can you embrace that and be rational?

9

Bruce Wilder 06.27.14 at 12:47 am

To achieve action to fix the problem it would be far better to combine the LEAST inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation with the gloomiest projections of the implications of doing nothing. Apart from political pragmatism (“scare ‘em then offer a painless solution”) this has the virtue that such estimates tend anyway to have the most economic credibility.

That’s clearly the political and economic thinking of someone like Krugman, but I tend to think Sandwichman is right about the “economic credibility” of cost-benefit analysis as a framework for the coinciding problems of climate change, peak oil, overpopulation and ecological collapse. It is simply the wrong framework; it mischaracterizes as a discretely solvable problem as a pervasive and continuing condition that will have to be acknowledged and managed.

The least credible economic assessments are the ones that seek to minimize the mitigation costs by estimating them as a small hit to projected GDP growth, thus simultaneously conceding the conservative case that mitigating climate change (and addressing the coincident problems) will cost economic growth and mischaracterizing the challenge of global limits facing the world.

10

MPAVictoria 06.27.14 at 12:48 am

“I read WND.com pretty regularly. I’ve been banned from posting, of course, but I come back because if I want to know what the next Rebuplican meme is going to be, it will be trial ballooned on WND weeks before it is trial ballooned on FOX.”

I read Red State for the same reason! It is a good way to see what the most dedicated part of the republican base is thinking.
/I actually think it would do a lot of leftists some good to read these people. We would get less talk of alliances and cooperation with the racist nutbars I think.

11

Thornton Hall 06.27.14 at 12:57 am

@10 I actually think Red State is our best hope for restoring two party democracy! If Erickson gets his wish and the Tea baggers form their own party… That would be a lot faster that the slow demise of the GOP.

12

Atticus Dogsbody 06.27.14 at 1:37 am

But now, we should all know to just walk around them.

No. We wait for them to dry and then start a war.

13

MPAVictoria 06.27.14 at 1:38 am

@11
I hope you are right but last i checked Erik was still banning anyone promoting a third party. He complains a lot though….

14

bad Jim 06.27.14 at 5:40 am

Galbraith: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Almost any conservative intellectual qualifies as a stupid person’s idea of a smart person, because the sole criterion is not being smart, but conforming to orthodoxy.

Climate change is a great example, as is evolution, since neither question is controversial within the scientific community, but both are anathema to conservatives. It’s perhaps to the credit of the soi-disant conservative intelligentsia that they don’t dilate on the conspiratorial underpinnings of the scientific consensus on those issues, but we can’t consider anyone intellectually honest who claims that there’s something to be said for both sides.

15

godoggo 06.27.14 at 6:22 am

I don’t understand what you mean by “dilate.”

16

Tim Worstall 06.27.14 at 7:48 am

“To achieve action to fix the problem it would be far better to combine the LEAST inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation with the gloomiest projections of the implications of doing nothing. Apart from political pragmatism (“scare ‘em then offer a painless solution”) this has the virtue that such estimates tend anyway to have the most economic credibility.”

This has puzzled me since forever. For example, we know from Stern that an $80 a tonne CO2-e (that number’s too high but let’s run with it) emissions tax is the solution. That’s around 70 cents on a US gallon of gas: and we’re done and dusted as far as automobiles are concerned. Make it revenue neutral by reducing other taxes.

I find it very difficult indeed to understand why various of the environmentalists aren’t putting it in such simple terms.

17

Bruce Wilder 06.27.14 at 8:18 am

Who is to be persuaded by putting it in such simple terms?

18

bad Jim 06.27.14 at 9:17 am

15: “dilate, 2: to expatiate”

The example of our wars ought to convince anyone that cost is not the issue. Perhaps the main problem with any environmental issue is that few of us can countenance the possibility that we might be guilty. Odd as it may seem, “I can’t be wrong” is the default stance for adults as well as infants.

Our pitch ought to be more along the lines of “Here’s one weird trick to reduce your electric bill” than “Stop killing baby seals.”

19

John Quiggin 06.27.14 at 9:38 am

“An $80./tonne carbon tax. I find it very difficult indeed to understand why various of the environmentalists aren’t putting it in such simple terms.”

I have put it in such simple terms (in fact, I think $50 would be enough) http://johnquiggin.com/2011/06/02/why-the-global-carbon-price-should-probably-be-around-50tonne-nerdywonkish-but-not-too-difficult-i-hope/

But it has no impact on the right, who have (as you are directly aware) turned the embrace of lunatic conspiracy theories into a test of tribal affiliation.

20

SamChevre 06.27.14 at 9:57 am

That’s around 70 cents on a US gallon of gas…

More critically, it’s about $0.08 a kilowatt-hour on coal-powered electricity–that’s about the full generated-and-distributed cost of power in the less-expensive US states now. Doubling power costs is a fairly big deal. (Particularly for manufacturing; I think doing anything about climate change would be much easier to sell if it didn’t lead to “and close down even more domestic manufacturing.”)

(My basic test for “are you worth listening to on climate change” is “are you talking about electricity rather than transport?”)

21

SamChevre 06.27.14 at 10:07 am

Not certain why my comment went to moderation: the short version is “the big cost impact is on electricity, not gasoline.”

22

MPAVictoria 06.27.14 at 10:37 am

@19
Exactly! I have had family friends tell my that it is all a conspiracy by liberal scientists trying to justify their jobs. If you really believe that than any price, even $0.70 a gallon on gasoline, is too much.

23

Brett Bellmore 06.27.14 at 10:39 am

“the adoption of “objectivity” defined as “telling both sides of every story” as the criterion for good professional journalism,”

Telling both sides of every story isn’t a definition of objectivity. It’s a work-around to deal with the fact that people are, generally speaking, incapable of being objective about anything they actually care about. So that the alternative to an inflexible rule that you mindlessly tell both sides of every story isn’t objectively telling the true side of the story.

It’s only telling your own side of the story.

And who needs journalists doing that, when you’ve got editorial writers to handle that work?

Mind you, American journalists have never been very good about telling “both” sides of the story. (Let alone dealing with stories where n>2!) They were merely, in the days before the internet, better at interdicting any side of the story they agreed not to tell.

Now they’ve lost the capacity to hide the parts of the story they don’t want told. Preference falsification is becoming ever more difficult to induce. That everyone doesn’t really agree with this or that is becoming obvious. And, this makes only telling one side of the story to an audience that knows damned well there are other sides even less tenable.

I guess this must all be very frustrating to people who see concealing all sides of a story but their own as a legitimate way to win arguments.

24

soru 06.27.14 at 10:40 am

I find it very difficult indeed to understand why various of the environmentalists aren’t putting it in such simple terms.

Because at least one definition of an environmentalist is someone who doesn’t believe that to be true. And there certainly are people who have personal or religious investment in the idea that climate change is not a discretely solvable problem, but a pervasive and continuing condition. People who would feel they had somehow ‘lost’ if some californian startup, incentivised by a carbon tax, demonstrated a way of producing non-polluting energy at half the cost of coal.

And it’s kind of regrettable that there is no obvious word that describes such people while leaving out ‘people who believe mainstream climate science is not entirely a vast conspiracy’, or vice versa. It’s kind of if the word ‘criminologist’ was used both for people who wanted to ban guns and abolish prison, and for anyone who judged a bullet to the head had negative implications for life expectancy…

25

P O'Neill 06.27.14 at 11:38 am

26

LizardBreath 06.27.14 at 12:14 pm

And there certainly are people who have personal or religious investment in the idea that climate change is not a discretely solvable problem, but a pervasive and continuing condition. People who would feel they had somehow ‘lost’ if some californian startup, incentivised by a carbon tax, demonstrated a way of producing non-polluting energy at half the cost of coal.

Seriously? I mean, if the claim is that such people exist, then yes, there are also people who believe that they’re teapots, but are people who would be disappointed by the development of cheap, practical, nonpolluting renewable energy actually politically significant ? I don’t believe they are, but I may have missed something.

27

Barry 06.27.14 at 12:40 pm

derrida derider 06.27.14 at 12:01 am

” True, and a strong point in a strong post. But one thing I find mildly irritating is the number of greens who see the whole issue as primarily a great stick to beat capitalism with, and who therefore combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation with the gloomiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.”

Bull. What number of greens think this? What political power and influence do they have?

28

Barry 06.27.14 at 12:45 pm

Tim Worstall 06.27.14 at 7:48 am

” This has puzzled me since forever. For example, we know from Stern that an $80 a tonne CO2-e (that number’s too high but let’s run with it) emissions tax is the solution. That’s around 70 cents on a US gallon of gas: and we’re done and dusted as far as automobiles are concerned. Make it revenue neutral by reducing other taxes.”

Sorry, what does ‘done and dusted’ mean? Actually, what does your comment mean?

29

Barry 06.27.14 at 12:54 pm

Brett: “I guess this must all be very frustrating to people who see concealing all sides of a story but their own as a legitimate way to win arguments.”

No, it’s frustrating to people who understand the scientific method.

30

Ed 06.27.14 at 1:16 pm

This is yet another issue where the liberal position IS the conservative position. The thoughtful conservative take on climate change is that increased carbon emissions is changing the atmosphere in ways that will be really inconvenient, but with some additional regulations we can fix it.

The radical position is that unless the industrial revolution is essentially rolled back, the increased pollution generated by industrialization combined with the population explosion will change the atmosphere in a way to make the planet uninhabitable.

If you don’t want to go there, you are probably better off convincing yourself that increased carbon emissions have no effect on the atmosphere, or are beneficial.

As Ran Prieur noted once, the left saying the house is on fire, but its only a little fire, and if we allow the sprinkler system to operate it will take care of it. The right is running around screaming “the house is on fire! Pour gasoline on it!”

31

Thornton Hall 06.27.14 at 2:06 pm

@23 I think I agree with most of what you are saying. But your comment about the value of news vs opinion makes me wonder if you endorse the bizarrely circumscribed ontology of post-war journalism that has room for objective hard news, news analysis (updated with charts and graphs in the Internet age) and opinion. This modern philosophy excludes the possibility of Nellie Bly, Upton Sinclair or even Joseph Pulitzer.

My central thesis about how objective journalism destroyed American democracy contrasts the unobjective news of the progressive era with the post-war professionalism and notes the ease with which outside actors can game the new system. The two vulnerabilities are the rule that every story has exactly two sides and the distinction between Almanac facts and news facts.

The hacker of objective journalism first recognizes that for professional journalists there are Almanac Facts and News Facts. Almanac Facts, like the population of Pittsburg or the weather conditions at the time of an event, are “common knowledge” and don’t need to be sourced, while News Facts are debatable and need to be sourced. A journalist’s job is to discover News Facts and he wins points by collecting scoops. Thus, the talent valued above all others is the ability to find and cultivate sources. Paul Woodward and David Broder demonstrate perfectly that such a talent is mutually exclusive with the ability to think critically about anything.

The game for William F Buckley and everyone who has followed has been clear: work to assign Almanac Fact status to falsehoods that serve your own interests and insist that there are two valid sides to “stories” that are actually one-sided Almanac facts.

The brilliance of Buckley was realizing that if political debates between parties representing different interests were reframed as ideological debates between philosophies representing two equally valid world views, then it would be impossible for journalists to move inconvenient truths from the realm of news to the set of Almanac facts. As long as there is “a legitimate debate about the size and scope of government” then journalists are required by the rules that they wrote for themselves and have internalized as guides to how a reporter should function in order to be the living embodiment of the First Amendment and a vital player in democracy, to dutifully balance every quote that explains that we have the worst health care in the developed world with a quote that we have the best.

As if this state of affairs weren’t bad enough, enter political scientists willing to provide the quotation about “the legitimate scope.. Blah, blah, blah” and willing to frame every piece if polling data as falling in the liberal to conservative spectrum. When the data indicated that voters have interests and identities but not ideologies, some academics are willing to introduce epicycles and retrograde motion in the form of notions like “ideologically conservative but operationally liberal”. This does nothing to advance our understanding of people who have a strong identity as a “hard working white American, not a lazy black person” who nonetheless has an interest in feeding himself when he can no longer work, but it does get you quoted on television and in the newspaper. Even better, folks who see the problems in society are flattered to learn that their insights are part of a system of ideas classified as “liberal”.

Once Reaganists allied themselves with direct mail scam artists, it was only a matter of time until our political discourse became a shouting match between the reality-based community and a cabal of grifters and sociopaths getting rich telling poor whites comforting lies.

My blog post about the mutually reinforcing triumvirate of wrong is here:
http://thorntonhalldesign.com/philosophy/2014/6/18/big-idea-breakthrough-wrongness-feedback-across-endeavors

32

Anderson 06.27.14 at 3:33 pm

” I’m more inclined to believe that a genuinely conservative approach to politics has some potential merit”

Never mind Douthat; let’s see the Quiggin post on the merits of a genuinely conservative politics.

33

dn 06.27.14 at 3:41 pm

Anderson @32: Hear, hear!

34

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 06.27.14 at 4:07 pm

The Republican party is a coalition of crazies, racists and plutocrats.

I’d say this has been increasingly true since Barry Goldwater ran for President.
~

35

Anderson 06.27.14 at 4:12 pm

34: Goldwater helped bring in the crazies, and Nixon reaped the racists whom LBJ alienated.

36

parse 06.27.14 at 4:34 pm

Why waste time reading Douthat?

Why waste time asking why bloggers waste time reading Douthat? If it’s because it gives you the opportunity to make a moderately amusing comparison to stepping in cow shit, OK; otherwise, hasn’t this been asked and answered a hundred times on this very blog?

37

louis 06.27.14 at 4:49 pm

@20
“it’s about $0.08 a kilowatt-hour on coal-powered electricity–that’s about the full generated-and-distributed cost of power in the less-expensive US states now. Doubling power costs is a fairly big deal. “

To quibble, no states are at $0.08, and many get by with rates already more than double that. (http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a)

More importantly, you assume that there will be no substitution to lower carbon fuels (which may be more expensive before the carbon tax, but cheaper afterwards), and no decrease in the price of coal as demand for the commodity falls.
Also if there’s any elasticity to demand, then part of the impact will be felt in lower consumption rather than a 100% passthru of the price increase.

38

Bruce Wilder 06.27.14 at 4:58 pm

People who would feel they had somehow ‘lost’ if some californian startup, incentivised by a carbon tax, demonstrated a way of producing non-polluting energy at half the cost of coal.

A perpetual motion machine and a pony would get my vote. But, there has to be a pony.

There is a significant part of the left that is just delusional as the denialist right, embracing “non-polluting” energy miracles that will save us from all serious difficulty.

If we are to organize ourselves to respond to the mess we have created with our industrial revolution, and save civilization, we are going to have to agree to disagree about a lot of things. Differences of worldview are not going away.

I understand why someone living in the ex-urbs dependent in every aspect of life on cheap gas is going to resist the idea that simply raising the price of gas is going to “solve” “the” problem. For him it is going to exacerbate a whole lot of daily problems he is barely able to handle now. Insisting on the simplicity of a carbon tax is not going to persuade him, and it shouldn’t.

There is a collective action problem, and it will require collective action on a massive scale to solve. Getting the political log rolling started requires that we jettison “simple” as simplistic, and plan a good deal more of an economy that not depend on cheap gas or tech miracles.

39

CJColucci 06.27.14 at 5:00 pm

There actually is a point, I think, to bemoaning the attention paid to the likes of Douthat. Remember when William Irvingson Kristol held the chunk of NY Times Op-Ed real estate now held by Douthat? What did him in wasn’t that he was Wrong About Everything (TM), but that he didn’t generate sufficient buzz. Good or bad buzz wouldn’t have mattered, just buzz. For some reason, even though most sentient beings would have liked nothing more than to slap that smarmy grin off his face, he didn’t generate much response. Just William Irvingson being Wrong About Something again. When his contract expired, he went away. We should have done it with Brooks, but it’s too late. Maybe it’s not too late with Douthat, though there’s something about him that makes it harder to resist slapping him and saying “Go away kid, the grown-ups are talking.”

40

Thornton Hall 06.27.14 at 5:14 pm

@38 I get the idea, and it certainly applies to poisonous Coulter, but I think that maybe a misreading of what happened to Kristol. I think he got dropped because he consistently phoned it in. Sure he was wrong, but he wasn’t wrong in the inimitable Bill Kristol fashion that at every sentence has you screaming “I know you know that’s false and you know I know that’s false and do you have a genuine bone in your body god damn you!!!”

Consistently he just started with a false thesis and followed it with 800 words of mush.

That sort of column doesn’t end up in the most-emailed and doesn’t generate clicks and it doesn’t generate anger.

Douthat with his genuine Catholicism is able to generate lines that make people go, “Yes/no, exactly right/wrong!!” in every column.

41

MPAVictoria 06.27.14 at 5:16 pm

#38

Okay even if you are right about why Bill Kristol left the NYT and how to get rid of Douthat I hardly think that a (insightful and well reasoned) blog post on Crooked Timber is going to factor into it in any meaningful way.

42

MPAVictoria 06.27.14 at 5:29 pm

“Douthat with his genuine Catholicism is able to generate lines that make people go, “Yes/no, exactly right/wrong!!” in every column.”

Yeah I got to admit that he does that to me…

/Though I am apparently an easy mark.

43

Ze Kraggash 06.27.14 at 5:58 pm

Yglesias describes conservatives as climate change denialists. Douthat calls him ‘silly’, and positions himself as a climate change skeptic, accusing his opponents of being climate change alarmists. I don’t know enough about the conservative movement to make a nuanced judgement, but but as a debating strategy Douthat’s response sounds fine.

44

Matt 06.27.14 at 6:11 pm

More critically, it’s about $0.08 a kilowatt-hour on coal-powered electricity–that’s about the full generated-and-distributed cost of power in the less-expensive US states now. Doubling power costs is a fairly big deal. (Particularly for manufacturing; I think doing anything about climate change would be much easier to sell if it didn’t lead to “and close down even more domestic manufacturing.”)

Perhaps surprisingly, industrial electricity consumers pay more in China than in low-cost US states even though the Chinese generation mix is much dirtier. Certain electricity-intensive goods like refined silicon can be produced more cheaply in the US than in China. Until the last couple of years when the US and China got into solar-related trade fights and slapped tariffs on each other, the value of refined solar silicon exported from the US to China almost exactly balanced the value of finished solar modules exported from China to the US. Even now that US silicon faces tariffs of at least 53% I understand that Chinese manufacturers still import a fair amount.

“What about the manufacturing” in this context has always seemed like a better argument for environmental tariffs on imports than for doing nothing. “We’re going to impose an $80/ton CO2-equivalent tariff on imports to match our domestic rules, and unless importers provide appropriate transparency about the production process we’ll assume the worst about how things were made” seems like the way to go if you worry that jobs/pollution will just be outsourced by tighter domestic regulations.

Maybe that would be illegal under current interpretations of trade treaties. I don’t know. I do know that the USA regularly ignores unfavorable rulings about its international trade practices, and international law more generally, so as long as it’s going to be an 800 pound gorilla run amok, let’s have it run amok for good for once.

45

John Quiggin 06.27.14 at 6:14 pm

Anderson @32 Here’s a discussion of conservatism from a few years back and here’s my first response to Corey’s book.

http://johnquiggin.com/2012/01/01/conservatives-and-reactionaries/#more-10322

http://johnquiggin.com/2007/07/26/another-word-for-wednesday-repost-conservative/

The main point is that the standard political implications of terms like “progressive” and “conservative” depend on the assumption that history inevitably flows towards the left. The etymological derivation of “conservative” would imply a personal sceptical of radical and programmatic change, regardless of direction – this kind of thinking is usually associated with Burke but Corey makes a strong case that Burke was in fact a common-or-garden reactionary. Oakeshott seems like a more plausible candidate.

A (long-lived) conservative in this sense would have opposed (or sought to moderate and slow down) the New Deal at the time, but defended it against the radical right attacks that began with Reagan. It’s an open question whether there are any actual candidates for this category in intellectual terms.

46

John Quiggin 06.27.14 at 6:15 pm

@Matt The general view is that border tariffs based on unpriced CO2 content are, at least in principle, consistent with trade rules.

47

Anderson 06.27.14 at 6:21 pm

45: “A (long-lived) conservative in this sense would have opposed (or sought to moderate and slow down) the New Deal at the time, but defended it against the radical right attacks that began with Reagan”

Leaving aside “Reagan,” that sounds like Eisenhower — our last conservative president?

Skepticism of radical & programmatic change sounds like the American mainstream to me, but of course that scarcely refutes your definition.

48

MPAVictoria 06.27.14 at 6:37 pm

“It’s an open question whether there are any actual candidates for this category in intellectual terms.”

Certainly there are no high profile ones that I can think of.

49

Anderson 06.27.14 at 6:37 pm

Re: Quiggin’s interesting example that conservatives worthy of the name should’ve supported the existence of trade unions in the 1970s+ (I assume reform would’ve been kosher), my American sense of things is that the “conservatives” can & do always keep looking back far enough and identifying everything after ___ (1933, if not earlier) as the aberration they are trying to fix. Which just helps keep the term meaningless, indistinguishable from “radical.”

If we can agree that “conservatism” was a response to 1789 And All That, then possibly the best thing is to agree that it’s about as outdated as “Jacobite.” Understanding today’s politics is even more difficult with outdated labels like conservative, liberal, progressive ….

50

J Thomas 06.27.14 at 6:37 pm

#43

Yglesias describes conservatives as climate change denialists. Douthat calls him ‘silly’, and positions himself as a climate change skeptic, accusing his opponents of being climate change alarmists.

That was a good tactic 10 years ago, when the data was less clear. But at this point to be a skeptic you pretty much have to deny that climate science is real. You can say it’s a giant conspiracy to falsify the evidence….

And to say the data isn’t alarming you pretty much have to deny it.

The boundary between evidence and wishful fantasy has gotten a lot clearer these days.

Because science.

51

Thornton Hall 06.27.14 at 6:59 pm

@JQ 45. If all that is true, shouldn’t you be laying into the latest Pew Report on “ideological polarization” instead of the random rationalizations of Douthat? I mean, it’s your blog, but…

52

john c. halasz 06.27.14 at 7:48 pm

This flow chart is worth some examination:

http://8020vision.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/LLNL_Energy_Use.jpg

Note that out of the 99 quadrillion BTUs in raw energy input 57 quads end up a “rejected”, i.e. doing no useful work of any sort. Then note That 40 quads of raw input into electricity generation results in just 12.7 quads of electric output, and since 3 quads of that is hydro, wind and solar, which is presumably already electricity, the overall conversion efficiency of thermal generation is even less than the overall 31-32% efficiency. Then look at the transport sector, almost all petroleum based. 27 quads of raw energy input results in just 7 quads of transport work. Those two sectors account for over 2/3 of all energy input and yield less than 20 quads of work output, accounting for 47 quads out of the 57 quads of energy waste. Electrifying land transport and replace thermal generation (nukes and fossil fuels) with non-thermal methods could probably reduce the overall waste in half or more, but to do so would probably require 20 quads or so of alternative electric generation, (since there is no such thing a perfect 100% conversion).

53

Ron 06.27.14 at 8:00 pm

How come these conservative geniuses never think that the relatively modest slowdown in economic growth means that it is now imperative to do nothing about the deficit. Oh that’s right, that would be actually solving a problem instead of exacerbating one.

54

John Quiggin 06.27.14 at 8:34 pm

Almost any radical ideology can be justified with reference to a mythical past state eg Luther wanted to restore the purity of the early church, lots of C19 English radicals claimed to be throwing off the Norman yoke and restoring Anglo-Saxon democracy etc.

55

John Quiggin 06.27.14 at 8:38 pm

Thornton @51 All in good time. But the existence of reasonable conservatives is a critical assumption of centrists, enabling them to split the difference between right and elft. Conversely, the only reason the right tolerates “reform conservatives” is because they help to maintain the illusions of centrists. So, a critique of Douthat is, in essence, a critique of centrism.

56

Thornton Hall 06.27.14 at 9:28 pm

JQ @55 I think I follow. I’ve certainly thought that one line of argument is to expose the logical impossibility of “reform conservatives”, but they do sort of take care of it themselves. I think there’s a funny bit to be written about the impossibility of being David Brooks. When you read about his good Jewish boy upbringing and think about the fact that at some deep personal level he really does want to get things “right” if slightly over generalized. That effort made him stand somewhat apart and got him his current gig, but if he continues to try (he’s never really gotten that close) he will write himself out of a paycheck. So he’s either got to write laughably contorted nonsense, give up a core piece of his identity, or pray to god the GOP magically rediscovers reality.

But really my question is: why pick at the symptoms when the framing is so wrong? Americans with competing interests want democracy to sort out their conflicting wants and develop pragmatic solutions. It’s not centerist: some of the interests are in extreme opposition. But Pew and others sort pragmatic Americans into ideological camps. As long as things are misframed in this way there will be calls for moderation. But we don’t need moderation, we need the discourse to describe a battle of interests instead of a battle of ideologies. And voters have zero power to change the framing.

57

Dan 06.27.14 at 9:54 pm

@30 “As Ran Prieur noted once, the left saying the house is on fire, but its only a little fire, and if we allow the sprinkler system to operate it will take care of it. The right is running around screaming “the house is on fire! Pour gasoline on it!””

I think that’s a bad analogy of the conservative response. I’d say it is more accurately categorized along the following spectrum:

- fire does not exist
- the house is incapable of catching fire
- the house *could* be on fire, but isn’t
- the house is on fire, but that just happens sometimes and it’ll run out of fuel before any serious damage occurs
- gasoline prevents fires

58

Patrick C 06.27.14 at 11:09 pm

59

Robert W. 06.27.14 at 11:26 pm

8 cents is the generated *and distributed* cost. One wouldn’t think the distribution cost would change much if at all if you replace coal with something else, say natural gas. Solar panels are around $1/w these days with a 25 year life That means a theoretical 1w panel in an location that gets 5 hours of sun 250 days per year for 25 years will generate 31kwh/$ swapping numerator and denominator we get $0.03/kwh. Of course for rooftop solar, the mounting and inverters currently cost at least as much as the panels, so call it $0.09/kwh. That’s still pretty competitive with coal and one would assume that the prices would drop dramatically with standardization and mass deployment, particularly for new construction. Obviously not every location is suitable, and you still need some alternate source at night, but there is little reason to believe that a mass conversion to solar would dramatically increase electricity costs.

60

Bruce Wilder 06.27.14 at 11:27 pm

.. . we don’t need moderation, we need the discourse to describe a battle of interests instead of a battle of ideologies. And voters have zero power to change the framing.

Power flows from organization, and there’s very little in the way of mass-membership organization. The battle of interests is primarily a matter of class warfare, in which a very few, very well-organized (which to say, well-financed) battle a great many, who have no means to fight back.

I read Ross Douthat’s column and saw a retread of Brad DeLong meditating on the Stern Review seven or eight years ago, complete with the extended analogy of buying an insurance policy. So, John Quiggin’s take on the political theatre — that Douthat functions to keep the centrist pretense of reasonable conservatives alive — seems about right. Part of the pretense is that centrists are pragmatic and not simply corrupt.

Conservatives and reactionaries — especially reactionaries — get a lot of mileage out of not really engaging with liberals and progressives. I’m not sure what liberals and progressives get out of dismissing them as denialists. It doesn’t seem any more effective than engaging them on pseudo-issues like the size and scope of government.

The right-wing delusion is not that climate change is not happening, but that they, the rich, will be able to completely buy their way out of its consequences, putting all the risks and serious costs on the little people. They imagine technical advances and adaptations, which, as rich people, they will be able to afford, and the people, who cannot afford the adaptations will suffer, and in their suffering reduce resource consumption and excess population. It’s an ugly vision, and it will never have completely truthful advocates for that reason, but I don’t think that the “science” of climate change dictates anything more than the suspicion that there’s a limit to that strategy, that confined to the same earth as their victims, they risk impoverishing themselves. But, as long as they maintain the difference in status, they may not care all that much. It’s in countering that argument that the greater challenge lies. And, it is not just a matter of making the case for a global socialism: we will not completely overcome the challenges of global limits — we will adapt, and the adaptations will tend to make the underlying problem worse. Devising a course of wise discrimination toward managing limits and processing a very slow-moving feedback is going to be confusing and difficult in the long run.

61

MPAVictoria 06.27.14 at 11:33 pm

“The right-wing delusion is not that climate change is not happening”

From my experience that is indeed the delusion of many on the right wing. Take a look at the commenters on any right wing website. Red State specifically has tons of examples.

Of course I agree with you that lots of those at the top know climate change is occurring and are planning to buy their way out of any problems that arise.

62

JRLRC 06.27.14 at 11:37 pm

63

Fred Brack 06.28.14 at 12:04 am

As I’ve been saying since the Tea Party summer of 2010, the Republican Party has become the toxic-waste dump of American politics. Climate-change deniers are just one ingredient in this fetid dump. There are also Birthers, Gold Bugs, neo-Confederates, neo-secessionists, Patriots, bigots of all stripes, creationists, Tenthers, 9/11 Truthers, Militias, gun nuts, Nativists, and on and on and on. Fringers all, but together they comprise a sizable portion of the Republican base that the plutocrats who own and operate the party absolutely need in order to win any election whatsoever. So they must be placated, or at least not overtly dissed.

Reformicons face the same dilemma as Republican pluotocrats: How to cleanse the party of its off-putting toxic sludge without killing off the party as an electoral force by splitting it into the Plutocrat Party and the Know Nothing Whatsoever Party.

I understand my toxic-waste-dump metaphor sounds snarky and crude, unworthy of serious discussion. But I maintain it captures the reality and explains why so many voters who previously identified themselves as Republicans now prefer to call themselves independents. Increasingly the Republican Party gives off a stench.

64

Robert Waldmann 06.28.14 at 12:06 am

Is there a conservative Re “A (long-lived) conservative in this sense would have opposed (or sought to moderate and slow down) the New Deal at the time, but defended it against the radical right attacks that began with Reagan. It’s an open question whether there are any actual candidates for this category in intellectual terms.”

I have a candidate George H W Bush Sr. He opposed US recognition of the PRC at the time. As President he didn’t really seem all that interested in anything except good relations between the USA and the PRC (until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait anyway). My source for both claims is “something I read in The New Republic back before 1990″. He voted against the 1964 civil rights act and had quotas uh goals down to the second decimal place for female, hispanic and African American hires in his administration (and he signed the civil rights restoration act).

The power of conservatism is very clear if you compare countries. I live in Rome. Only crazy extremists argue that employment should be at will or that the article of the Italian constitution which made the concordat between Mussolini and Pius XII constitution should be repealed. Only Umberto Bossi has argued that freedom of speech implies freedom to villify the President of the Republic (a crime here and boring old baldy can in theory have me prosecuted for what I just typed). No one dares suggest that people don’t have a right to health (note a right to health, not a right to health care). When I moved here, I found myself insanely ultra right wing and insanely ultra left wing (now I’m just known as the guy who starts screaming if anyone mentions George no H W Bush Jr ( no one has yet dared check my reaction to “Cheney” )).

65

Bruce Wilder 06.28.14 at 12:12 am

JRLRC @ 60

In Krugman’s economics, there’s only intermittently an explicit acknowledgement that the politics of macro policy is a struggle over income distribution — Thornton Hall’s battle of interests. Krugman’s default view is that policymakers are simply making a mistake, and if only they would listen to him explain it all . . .

Ross Douthat’s line is always about income distribution. Upward re-distribution of income is what “conservative” means in practice. Douthat, in pushing the narrative that “we” cannot afford carbon emissions restraint, is also pushing a narrative that says environmental devastation is the price of prosperity, and he pushes that line because it implies a skewing of income distribution, as the costs of fossil-fueled “prosperity” are externalized.

66

Bruce Wilder 06.28.14 at 12:30 am

Fred Brack @ 61

Do you think the evolution of the Republican Party into a fringe of obstreperous radicals and crazies has anything to do with the shifts of the Democratic Party toward the right on policy? Actual conservatives have a conservative Party in power and they are getting the policies they want, for the most part, without the inconvenience of an effective liberal or progressive Party criticizing or stirring up trouble. The crazy show put on by the Republicans is tactically effective, as it provides a cover story for conservative policy choices, as “practical” compromises, or politically constrained determination to “do something” even if it is minimal, especially if it is minimal in a way that advances a conservative narrative.

67

Bruce Wilder 06.28.14 at 12:34 am

MPAVictoria @ 59

I don’t imagine that it is in the nature of resentment to make much sense, or to be concerned with making sense. They are scary in a herd, though, aren’t they?

68

PJW 06.28.14 at 1:03 am

That’s a helluva litany, Fred Brack. Nicely done.

69

Phil Koop 06.28.14 at 1:15 am

So what you’re saying is, where the base favors “intelligent design”, the reformers substitute differential evolution.

70

J Thomas 06.28.14 at 3:19 am

#63

…Republican Party has become the toxic-waste dump of American politics. Climate-change deniers are just one ingredient in this fetid dump. There are also Birthers, Gold Bugs, neo-Confederates, neo-secessionists, Patriots, bigots of all stripes, creationists, Tenthers, 9/11 Truthers, Militias, gun nuts, Nativists, and on and on and on.

Where did all these guys come from? Were they there all along or were a lot of them created recently?

If they were there all along, were they disenfranchised before? They’re a big fraction of the GOP today. Back in the days when the GOP was largely somebody else, what were these guys doing? Did they just not vote because they thought the near-Left GOP was hardly any better than the far-Left Democrats?

71

Ze Kraggash 06.28.14 at 7:08 am

J Thomas: “But at this point to be a skeptic you pretty much have to deny that climate science is real.”

Can’t you see the difference between cartoonish “massive conspiracy orchestrated by Al Gore” and pointing out to significant uncertainty in predictions of the impact combined with the lack of consensus on solutions?

Of course you’d be right to classify the former as crazy talk, but as you expand your definition of craziness to the latter, you may become vulnerable to accusations of hysteria yourself.

72

soru 06.28.14 at 9:38 am

@71: perhaps. But in terms of narrative, what’s the prototypical _conservative_ approach to a threat of uncertain extent? Against which not only the cost of the fight in uncertain, but victory itself could be in doubt?

What would Reagaan, Churchill, Gandalf, do?

‘Those pointy-headed policy wonks with their spreadsheets _say_ we can pump another 25, perhaps 30, trillion tons before anything _really_ bad happens. Should we trust them? Because _I_ was brought up with tales of a wrathful God, and He did not answer arrogance and sin with indifference.”

But that line doesn’t lead to the desired policy, so they have to go with the crazy.

73

John Quiggin 06.28.14 at 9:51 am

@71 The uncertainties about impact go in the wrong direction for your argument. The more uncertainty, the greater the risk of catastrophe. And among people who take the conclusions of science seriously, there’s no disagreement about the need for substantial mitigation, only about the best way to get there

Your comment is just a reiteration of the Douthat exercise in reaching crazy conclusions while minimizing the amount of outright craziness needed to get there.

74

John Quiggin 06.28.14 at 9:56 am

@70 Several things have been going on to work this change. First, crazies and (particularly) racists have left the Dems and joined the Repubs, most obviously in the South, but elsewhere as well. Second, cognitive consistency and confirmation bias made Repubs more crazy than they used to be on climate change, evolution etc. Third, the right wing information bubble means lots of people believe crazy things simply because they have never been exposed to any information that would contradict them.

75

John Quiggin 06.28.14 at 9:57 am

Also, what Fred said. Sane people with generally rightwing views now call themselves Independents.

76

gianni 06.28.14 at 10:14 am

@74, “the right wing information bubble… “
Sometimes this reads to me as a throwaway jab at how terrible things like Fox news and the like are.

But sometimes I think that this is really where a lot of these more recent changes stem from. I interact with people (not frequently, but often enough,) who are legitimately convinced of certain things which are in my mind so demonstrably false that I cannot believe that they are being serious. But lo and behold I find, upon deeper inspection, that popular new sources and opinion makers are spouting the same false truths.

There was a lot of hand-wringing and public worrying a number of years ago about the changing landscape of media in the internet age. Informational products specially packaged and marketed for specific consumers, catering to their ideological tastes. The death of public facts as niche markets are spoon-fed the news and analysis that caters to their priors, all of it thoroughly vetted in focus group studies and using big data analysis on consumers’ preferences and backgrounds.

It all sounded like a lot of chicken little silliness. But now I am not so sure. And I think it calls forth another question as to how much the left is susceptible to the same, whether we are on a similar trajectory, etc etc.

77

Ze Kraggash 06.28.14 at 10:33 am

I’m just questioning this debating method. Associating someone sounding more or less reasonable with their side’s crazy extremists. It’s common, and it can go in either direction.

78

MPAVictoria 06.28.14 at 12:34 pm

“Associating someone sounding more or less reasonable with their side’s crazy extremists. It’s common, and it can go in either direction.”

I think the disagreement here is what constitutes reasonable.

79

Sancho 06.28.14 at 12:38 pm

The key point is that the left’s extremists are kept at the extreme. We don’t have Hillary Clinton demanding trigger warnings on everything and insisting that gender pronouns be banned by law.

The right, however, has mainstreamed extremism. Any preposterous anti-government conspiracy theory that can be found out there on the internet is also a talking point for respected conservative politicians and commentators.

80

Thornton Hall 06.28.14 at 5:05 pm

@70 and 74: I think JQ is right. The percentage of wackos (serious racists, John Birchers, devoted Ayn Randians, etc.) has remained constant, but realignment has put them all in one party. Another factor is the Internet. There is a phenomenon where the smartest wacko in the country can create the best non-racist sounding argument for why Obama is a foreigner and then everyone can agree on the talking point because of chain emails and websites like Redstate. The meme theory is a good way to look at how crazy nonsense uses the Internet to evolve into some really good crazy nonsense built for survival.

@60 and 61: Politics isn’t just interests, it’s also identity. If you look at a list of things the average Tea Party member claims to believe, it’s basically inconsistent with functioning as an independent adult in the world. There’s really no way they can believe all that nonsense. This is where identity kicks in, and it’s related to Bruce’s point about resentment. If you call yourself “conservative” that means you identify yourself as someone who believes things that liberal elitists claim to be false. To get into the club you have to claim to believe so much crazy stuff that you couldn’t get through a dinner party of non-Tea Baggers. It’s like the (totally fake) idea that gang initiation might include killing someone randomly: membership in the gang requires you to prove that you don’t value innocent lives as much as you value the gang. Membership in the conservative tribe requires you to prove that the tribe is more important than truth.

That’s why Krugman is on his best ground when he talks about “tribal dogma”.

81

Thornton Hall 06.28.14 at 5:14 pm

@76 I thing the right wing information bubble has less to do with the media and more to do with geography. There are tons of suburban Republicans who rub shoulders with Democrats and hold sane “conservative” views. I think the majority of Tea Party people and conservative extremists of all sorts live in rural communities where the 250 people they see every day for their entire lives agree with them on everything.

82

The Temporary Name 06.28.14 at 5:19 pm

It all sounded like a lot of chicken little silliness. But now I am not so sure. And I think it calls forth another question as to how much the left is susceptible to the same, whether we are on a similar trajectory, etc etc.

Of course, if there’s an outlet for it. Right now there isn’t radio and TV in North America to guide leftists to their myths. The spread of those myths via text apparently only occurs in people without influence.

83

Thornton Hall 06.28.14 at 5:20 pm

@63 The Know Nothing Whatsoevers would be quite fitting as the original Know Nothings played a role in the demise of the Whigs. I honestly thing the fastest way between where we are and a functioning two party democracy is for the GOP to go the way of the Whigs. Reform seems structurally impossible given Citizens United and the fact that primaries are made up of the most dedicated voters.

84

MPAVictoria 06.28.14 at 9:48 pm

85

J Thomas 06.28.14 at 11:01 pm

#71

Can’t you see the difference between cartoonish “massive conspiracy orchestrated by Al Gore” and pointing out to significant uncertainty in predictions of the impact combined with the lack of consensus on solutions?

Your problem is that your second stand is obsolete.

Here is an analogy. Imagine that it’s sometime before 9/11, and some people are arguing that Al Qaeda is a serious threat and because of it we need to make air travel far more difficult, curtail civil liberties, torture suspects, spend hundreds of billions of dollars on security, and prepare to invade foreign nations that are probably harboring AQ, etc. It would be reasonable at that point to be cautious. AQ had bombed some embassies and they had made a failed attempt at WTC, they looked like bad customers but probably not something to get all bent out of shape about. We ought to take reasonable precautions but no need to get hysterical about it.

Now imagine that — again before 9/11 — the CIA and Mossad came out with proof that AQ had at least 10 and likely as many as 50 nukes. And right about that time AQ announced that yes, they had nukes which they had smuggled into the USA and they were deciding when and where to explode them but they definitely would set them off in US cities.

And imagine at that point that liberals argued that it might not be a real problem, that we don’t know how big the nukes are — they might be 10-megaton nukes but they might be little tiny things no bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And there might be only 10 of them. And anyway the people who want to take great big expensive action don’t agree about what strategy is best, they have a variety of different ideas and they’re talking about doing everything at once because they say it’s so serious. So there’s really no evidence that we need to do anything….

At that point, this argument is crazier than the people who say AQ doesn’t have any nukes and it’s all a government conspiracy. Those people make sense once you assume it’s all lies. The people who say we shouldn’t do anything because we don’t have proof that AQ really means it so maybe the threat isn’t real, are just plain insane.

It’s that way with climate change. 10 years ago it made sense that the evidence wasn’t clear, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, let’s wait and get better evidence before we take drastic action that might not be necessary. But we got better evidence. Now you have to argue that we don’t know in detail exactly how the catastrophe will play out and we don’t know in detail just how horrendous a catastrophe it will be. It’s crazy talk.

86

Passing By 06.29.14 at 2:32 am

“Where did all these guys come from? Were they there all along or were a lot of them created recently?” — J Thomas (#63)

Short answer: Communism.

So long as the Soviet Union was [seen as] an existential threat, the right-wing nut jobs focused on anti-communism. Everything else fitted into the overall theme. And full-throttle crazy got a semi-respectful hearing because it came with a veneer of anti-communism.

Fluoridating the water supply was a communist plot. Dwight Eisenhower was a communist agent. Soviet agents in Washington “lost” China to the Reds. Only subversives would even consider recognizing the Beijing regime. Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues in the civil-rights movement were Communist agitators. Walter Reuther, head of the auto workers (UAW), was a Communist dupe. Etc. Etc.

In that world, the only form of lunacy that went too far was frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Semitism. After the Third Reich, nobody “respectable” wanted to get too close to that particular brand of crazy. (Although its advocates did their best to hop onto the anti-communist bandwagon … after all, Marx was a Jew.)

Then the USSR collapsed, China turned to state capitalism [or whatever], etc. Deprived of a credible threat, the anti-communist alliance of convenience started to fray. Each of the various flavors of right-wing nut jobs started to pursue their own obsessions. After twenty years, we’ve a whole garden of exotic creatures.

87

Thornton Hall 06.29.14 at 3:34 am

@86 that makes a ton of sense. It of course explains the language used to attack Obama. It also explains the constant assumption that liberals are ideological and have some grand end state that they are driving at. The idea that it’s an empirical question as to which problems can be solved by government is simply rejected, “admit it, you just want government to control everything.” If a liberal proposed a universal basic income using language plagiarized from Hayek, he gets called a “communist” by people who claim to believe in Austrian Economics.

88

Fred Brack 06.29.14 at 3:44 am

@86 Excellent explanation. But there’s more. A black president, Hispanic immigration and consequent White Panic (or White Resentment); Ron Paul; the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decision … all these, especially White Panic, fueled the rise of the fringers. But perhaps the most powerful force was the Great Recession and its consequent free-floating anxiety. Remember how much the perceived National Debt Crisis fueled the Tea Party in 2010? Observe also the consequences of the Great Recession and its long tail on European politics.

89

Jerry Vinokurov 06.29.14 at 4:56 pm

There’s really no way they can believe all that nonsense.

I beg to differ. In the sage words of Mozart, “believing and shitting are two very different things.” They can happily believe all sorts of lunacies because they don’t act on them, but don’t doubt that these beliefs are real.

90

Ze Kraggash 06.29.14 at 6:49 pm

J Thomas: “Your problem is that your second stand is obsolete.”

I don’t have any stands. I was trying to point to the difference between something completely crazy and something that you feel is worth typing 5 paragraphs to refute. QED.

91

J Thomas 06.29.14 at 8:20 pm

#90

I don’t have any stands.

Sorry, I misunderstood you. When you went to some length to argue that a stand which is completely batshit insane is not crazy, I interpreted that as you taking that stand.

I was trying to point to the difference between something completely crazy and something that you feel is worth typing 5 paragraphs to refute. QED.

The crazy idea that looks superficially reasonable is worth some refutation.

Here, I’ll try to do it shorter.

Imagine that right after 9/11 somebody said “We need to completely ignore Al Qaeda because maybe then they’ll go away and never bother us again.” Given the 9/11 evidence would that seem like a good approach?

Arguing that we still don’t know enough about climate change to do anything about it yet, is a whole lot crazier. Because for all we knew, maybe if we completely ignored AQ they might go away.

“Even our beset experts don’t really know what AQ will do next, and they don’t know how many trained agents AQ has. The experts even disagree about how best to guard our airlines. We should do nothing until we have a much better idea what we’re up against. Maybe in another ten to twenty years.”

92

John Quiggin 06.30.14 at 1:06 pm

J Thomas, I will definitely use that analogy

93

MPAVictoria 06.30.14 at 1:48 pm

“Even our beset experts don’t really know what AQ will do next, and they don’t know how many trained agents AQ has. The experts even disagree about how best to guard our airlines. We should do nothing until we have a much better idea what we’re up against. Maybe in another ten to twenty years.”

+1!

94

Ze Kraggash 06.30.14 at 3:06 pm

The Al Qaeda metaphor really does sound alarmist. I have no expertise in the matter, so it might very well be accurate, but it sure sounds alarmist and manipulative.

95

J Thomas 06.30.14 at 4:45 pm

I have no expertise in the matter, so it might very well be accurate, but it sure sounds alarmist and manipulative.

At this point you have two choices. You can say the scientists are lying conspirators, or you can be alarmed.

The idea that we don’t know enough to tell whether we should be alarmed or not has been overtaken by events. It is no longer rational.

96

paul 06.30.14 at 10:04 pm

Wow. I haven’t been following because foregone results, but I had no idea that the cost of carbon taxation was so small. You’re talking less than most US utilities’ current price-increase plans for the coming decade, or about the size of the seasonal swing in gas prices in the worst case. (And after market-clearing effects, of course, much less). It’s enough to support the idea that the problem really is entirely about carbon-industry profits. (Which of course suggests an entirely different way of addressing the problem.)

97

Ze Kraggash 07.01.14 at 6:28 am

“At this point you have two choices. You can say the scientists are lying conspirators, or you can be alarmed.”

I am alarmed. But dragging Al Qaeda and 9/11 into this is a completely different sort of science. That too is alarming, in it’s own way. It brings to mind agitated people demanding to nuke Mecca.

98

J Thomas 07.01.14 at 6:44 am

Ze, sure, there are lots of bad choices available. Ignoring the problem is not the only disastrous option. But ignoring the problem is one of the disastrous options.

99

Ze Kraggash 07.01.14 at 7:21 am

Douthat doesn’t reject science, and that puts him at the table of non-crazy people, the skeptic’s corner. That is a weak, but not obviously irrational (as you admitted) position. When you dismiss it as sheer craziness, it makes you look a little less rational yourself. But I already said that.

100

Bruce Wilder 07.01.14 at 8:24 am

I would at least entertain the possibility that Douthat’s position is one of disguised intransigence. The intransigence is political action in favor of catastrophe. The disguise doesn’t make that policy choice any less crazy.

101

J Thomas 07.01.14 at 4:41 pm

Douthat doesn’t reject science, and that puts him at the table of non-crazy people, the skeptic’s corner. That is a weak, but not obviously irrational (as you admitted) position.

Ten years ago it wasn’t irrational.

Now, to do that one you have to say “I don’t reject science. I understand science better than the scientists, and I can confidently say that they don’t understand the situation well enough to claim there’s any serious problem. Maybe someday we’ll get evidence that there’s a problem, but I have studied the issue carefully and I know that the scientists who say there is a serious problem are wrong.

“I’m not ant-science. It’s because I’m better at science than the scientists that I am skeptical of their data.”

This is a sane, rational position to take if you in fact are better at science than the scientists.

When you dismiss it as sheer craziness, it makes you look a little less rational yourself. But I already said that.

Yes you did, and you repeated it which shows you haven’t learned better since the first time.

Perhaps it would be interesting to consider the question — what is a good way to judge how well you judge other people’s rationality? I say that when you argue in favor of Douthat, it makes you look less competent yourself. It calls into question your ability to judge who’s rational.

It’s not irrational to say the existing plan can’t work because the USA is not the only holdout, so we shouldn’t do anything to help make it work. It might be true that international cooperation would fail even if the USA encouraged cooperation instead of the reverse.

But it’s crazy to say we don’t need to do anything. “Let’s spend our efforts getting rich in the short run, and then in 10 or 20 years maybe we’ll feel rich enough to come up with a plan.”

Why would you expect that to work any better with climate change than with Al Qaeda?

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Ze Kraggash 07.01.14 at 7:51 pm

Your Al Qaeda analogy has so many flaws, I don’t know where to start. One is the timeframe. You make it sound urgent, and that’s fine, but in the climate situation urgency is not a matter of days or weeks. You wouldn’t want to demand a response to Al Qaeda within seconds after the 9/11 incident.

“But it’s crazy to say we don’t need to do anything.”

It is, but he’s only saying he doesn’t want to do anything right now, at this moment. A matter of priorities. I suppose his priorities are misjudged. You can tell him that. Instead you’re dismissing him as a crazy person. A layman like me might think: this guy must be obsessed, probably a greenpeace radical.

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MPAVictoria 07.01.14 at 8:01 pm

“Instead you’re dismissing him as a crazy person. A layman like me might think: this guy must be obsessed, probably a greenpeace radical.”

Question, why are you spending so much effort defending this person? Are you a climate “skeptic”?

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J Thomas 07.01.14 at 8:23 pm

Ze Kraggash, I am tempted to say we simply live in different worlds and there is no way to reconcile the differences.

But then I remembered that you said you were ignorant about the facts.

Following up my analogy, imagine somebody who was out of communication on 9/11 and days after, who got back in touch around 9/18 and couldn’t understand why everybody had gone crazy.

“So OK, there was a terrorist incident, so what? It isn’t such a big deal, we don’t have to do anything about it. Eventually the police will track down the criminals and bring them to justice.”

You think of it as something that can take care of itself, that we can begin dealing with it sometime in the indefinite future, because you don’t know.

It isn’t that you’re crazy or trying to fool people, it’s just that you don’t know what you’re talking about and you have firm opinions about what’s reasonable based on your lack of knowledge.

See, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.

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Ogden Wernstrom 07.01.14 at 11:30 pm

I really like the Al Qaeda (Then and Now) – Global Warming (Then and Now) analogy, but I suspect it is too complex for the Know Nothing Whatsoevers. If it can’t be chanted at a Tea Party protest, it’s probably too complex to penetrate the shield.

Now, I wish there were some kind of Al Qaeda analogy that could be applied the the “Clinton-was-warned-about-Benghazi” noise machine.

106

Ze Kraggash 07.02.14 at 7:31 am

“It isn’t that you’re crazy or trying to fool people, it’s just that you don’t know what you’re talking about and you have firm opinions about what’s reasonable based on your lack of knowledge.”

Great, this is a breakthrough, this is exactly what I was talking about.

Now it’s just a matter of you sharing your knowledge and convincing all those non-crazy-less-knowledgeable. You know, instead of preaching to the quire and ridiculing the rest as insane.

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J Thomas 07.02.14 at 1:00 pm

#106

i>Now it’s just a matter of you sharing your knowledge and convincing all those non-crazy-less-knowledgeable.

You want me to explain climate science to your satisfaction in blog comments. No, I pass.

This is not a question for amateur debate night. If you are anti-science, you can say you think the scientists are lying. If you are not anti-science then you’re on desperate ground. If you say that current proposals are not effective enough then it’s time to come up with something better. Doing nothing because you don’t like the other guy’s plan is crazy.

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Ze Kraggash 07.02.14 at 5:03 pm

This is not about me, I’m not asking for explanations. If (I can’t imagine why) it’s still not clear: I’m asking for more tolerance, less arrogance. I’m saying that arrogance may harm the cause.

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MPAVictoria 07.02.14 at 5:12 pm

First- ” If (I can’t imagine why) it’s still not clear”
Very next sentence- ” I’m asking for more tolerance, less arrogance.”

The cognitive dissonance… It burns.

110

Bruce Wilder 07.02.14 at 5:39 pm

preaching to the quire

misspellings due to homonyms (there’s probably a word for that) are pretty common, but “quire”!? A quire is either “four sheets of paper or parchment folded to form eight leaves, as in medieval manuscripts” or one-twentieth of a ream (24 or 25 sheets). Who has “quire” in their head, ahead of “choir”? Sure, “reign” for “rein” or “your” for “you’re”, I understand. But, where does “quire” pop in? These are the little mysteries that crop up on CT, crowding out more mundane questions, like how someone can meander through our advertising-saturated economy and culture and think advertising has little or no effect?

111

Ze Kraggash 07.02.14 at 6:00 pm

Don’t be such a quirmujon.

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The Temporary Name 07.02.14 at 6:08 pm

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J Thomas 07.02.14 at 6:19 pm

This is not about me, I’m not asking for explanations.

You keep posing as somebody who arrogantly asserts that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Then you explain that it isn’t you, you’re just channelling somebody else. But when you pose as that person I respond to that person.

It isn’t about you, so why do you keep inserting yourself into this conversation between me and whoever you’re channelling, when it does not involve you?

I’m asking for more tolerance, less arrogance. I’m saying that arrogance may harm the cause.

Why do you care about harming the cause, when you are opposed to it?

Yes, it would be humble for me to accept that lies are as good as truth and that the opinions of ignorant or malicious people should bear just as much weight as science. But acting like a liberal does not help anything. When I accept that you people’s lies are as good as science, the immediate response is a claim that they’re better than science, that they are right and science is wrong. It does no good to be humble when I am opposed by people who have no ethics, who will do anything at all to win.

I have no expertise in the matter, so it might very well be accurate, but it sure sounds alarmist and manipulative.

Either get the expertise, or decide who to trust. If you announce that the scientists are wrong, you are anti-science. If you do trust the scientists, then you are wrong to argue that alarm is not appropriate. Unless you are ignoring them.

“I’m not anti-science, I’ve just completely ignored what it says. That gives me the right to say the problem is something we can ignore indefinitely until someday we might get around to doing something about it, if in the future we find out it is a real problem.”

This is not a respectable approach. No, I don’t respect it and I should not tolerate it.

I think the best response to this sort of thing is to first politely show why it is bogus. And then if they persist, describe it with no regard for their feelings, showing everybody that they are being stupid, or crazy, or deceitful. So that others will be less likely to copy them. I have not done that with you because I am a nice guy and it’s hard for me to do that sort of thing.

So I have gone back and forth with you as if your bullshit was somehow defensible.

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J Thomas 07.02.14 at 6:33 pm

Sure, “reign” for “rein” or “your” for “you’re”, I understand. But, where does “quire” pop in?

I got some sort of sense of it, which I later analyzed as
quag mire
quagmire
quire

But that’s just me.

115

Alex 07.02.14 at 6:40 pm

I thought it was spelled quire when I was in one.

116

Ze Kraggash 07.02.14 at 6:42 pm

You keep saying you’re a nice guy, but you stopped being nice a couple of rounds ago. About the same time as you began saying that you’re a nice guy. Sorry if I’ve caused you discomfort.

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J Thomas 07.02.14 at 10:57 pm

Ze Kraggash, you haven’t seen me when I’m not being a nice guy.

No particular discomfort, I got over getting queasy about bad logic when I first started teaching math, before I started paying any attention to politics.

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ZM 07.02.14 at 11:13 pm

I have a few thoughts on the OP and some of the earlier comments in this thread. I am quite busy but wanted to respond to this thread. I will write it all as one comment, I have tried to write my thoughts as succinctly and simply as possible, I hope you do not find it too lengthy, it is just there was a great deal to comment on, and I have left much out.

Regarding the OP
On the choice and use of words and the use of words to deny an I-Thou relationship with others.
I would like to suggest that it is better not to use some words — like ‘crazy’ and ‘tribal’ but also others — in derogatory ways, even if you do not mean the terms literally, or use them against a person or people you wish to deplore for other unstated reasons to add to the case against them. I am sure I have been guilty of the same, and am sorry for it. These words refer to groups of people who have, among others, historically been classified into groups by practitioners of dominant Western disciplines and professions who applied ontological and epistemological conditions that privileged some modes of being and knowing over others. Such classificatory terms have been used historically by many figures to deny some people the I-Thou, or Subject-Subject, relationship, and instead have denoted the people classified as such to the status of objects and employed the Subject-object (I-you [plural]) relationship instead. Many deplorable things were written and done assisted by this rhetorical method – such as colonialism, experimentations, eugenics, as well as day to day practices of intentional or unintentional marginalisation and social exclusion etc. At a time of exacerbated social tensions within states and between states, and when violence has become normalised as a social weapon by the powerful, it it especially important not to use de-personifying terms in such ways. What Ruskin wrote on the matter applies to all creatures, including humans – ‘You must either make a tool of the creature or a man of him. You cannot make both.’

2. On trust in scientific practitioners and institutions.
With regard to a lack of trust in scientific practitioners and the institution of science, given the history of what we now call the sciences (I understand science simply meant knowledge before some time) this is not unreasonable, albeit most unfortunate in our present situation with anthropogenic climate change, extinctions, and other terrible consequences of our unsustainable practices. Some scientists or scientific bodies have done wrong in a variety of ways, intentionally or unintentionally, sometimes due to, knowingly or unknowingly, failing to explore the wide range of consequences, social and environmental, of their formulas or inventions. Such bad consequences, other than those I mentioned above, are: our great numbers of, and awful and diverse kinds of weaponry; our invention and use of toxic pesticides and defoliants; past colonial and present economic instrumentalism; unethical experiments on people and animals, and so on. Some scientists have also made dubious reports about matters, or facilitated dubious enterprises and industries. Taking things on a case by case basis, however, I do not think this history justifies profound doubt with regard to the scholarship on anthropogenic climate change. The anthropologist Bruno Latour (whose community of research is the scientific community) writes of a climate scientist telling an industrialist in a conference ‘if people don’t trust the institution of science, we’re in serious trouble’, but Latour questions in his book ‘who still has confidence in institutions today?’(An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. Latour also remarks that the industrialist had put the professor in an epistemological bind by ‘talking about waiting to act until they had achieved total certainty’ which is not possible in an unreplicable experiment such as humans changing the world’s climate while climate scientists take measurements and try to convince us we ought to do otherwise.

3. Re: Derrida Derider on combining gloomiest anthropogenic climate change projections with lowest cost estimates — ‘“scare ‘em then offer a painless solution”’… ‘such estimates tend anyway to have the most economic credibility.’
On the inappropriateness of using, from a wide range of estimates, the highest in one field and the lowest in the other field, for rhetorical purposes and political gain, and, How this encourages distrust in the scientific and mathematical disciplines and professions.
While one does not know that the highest estimate in one field will not be accompanied by the lowest estimate in the other field, it is far from necessarily being the case that that would certainly happen. Selectively taking and using certain parts of wide estimates in this way for rhetorical purposes is rightly to be frowned on. I am very sorry indeed that people who do not trust climate science as it is might read of these kind of rhetorical strategies and, accordingly, find even less reason to trust in what the genuine scientists are finding. Further, although you state ‘such estimates tend anyway to have the most economic credibility’ I have read very credible accounts that are of the view that adequate global action on anthropogenic climate change is not commensurable with continued economic growth in countries currently having disproportionate economic might and few people in absolute poverty and destitution. Additionally, there are other related consequences of our unsustainable practices that we are also ethically impelled to respond to – plant and animal extinctions without precedent in human history, the accumulation of polluting unwanted goods left in the land or washed into the sea, as well as terrible poverty, insecurity, and awful working conditions etc. If you care to refer me to such a scholarly paper, I would be very interested to read a credible economic account of how we may adequately respond to these socio-physical problems in a timely manner and in a way that is commensurate with both economic growth (adjusted for inflation) as it is currently understood, and social justice. If the mathematics in any paper you might suggest are very complicated or sophisticated, I will find someone to assist me in breaking the mathematics down to look at what is being said by them in relation to the physical and social.

4. Re: Sandwichman on the lack of ‘patently obvious’ solutions.
On the physical solutions to remedy anthropogenic climate change.
The physical solutions to remedy anthropogenic climate change are: far more conservative use of natural living or other beings (‘resources’) in human production and exchange; far more efficient use of the above when they are used; 100% renewable energy for stationary and transport energy — with as many recyclable components and as few toxic components as is possible with current engineering knowledge, with the goal of moving to 100% recyclable and non-toxic; reuse goods and recycle goods; manage the decomposition of all unwanted things, currently classified as ‘waste’, to minimise and ultimately nullify the release of greenhouse gasses; greatly reducing or (preferentially) wholly discontinuing the practice of animal farming for human use; reforest the vast areas now used for grazing or the intensive farming of animals; minimising and ultimately discontinuing the use of artificial fertiliser that releases nitrous oxide in horticulture; replace artificial fertiliser with forms of bio-‘waste’ to replenish the soil to ensure adequate crop yields to feed the current human population. These are the basic responses that are due. I understand there is currently a need to educate more students and professionals globally in particular academic fields that are vital in developing the requisite applied knowledge and practices.

5. Re: Tim Worstall on what we ‘know’ from Stern, and, On excise and the use of commodities.
On what we do not know from Stern – How Stern’s most recent paper states it’s limitations.
Stern’s working paper, available online, states: ‘we use DICE to provide an initial illustration….all of the analysis [in the paper] is conducted with a high pure-time discount rate, notwithstanding its problematic ethical foundations.’ ‘Doing so would, according to the [DICE] model, keep the expected atmospheric stock of carbon dioxide to a maximum of c. 425-500ppm….This paper is only a preliminary investigation, whose purpose was to illustrate or sketch the consequences of relaxing assumptions that have limited plausibility and possibly large effects on policy conclusions. We have, for instance, restricted our attention…’ Stern concludes: ‘As [Nordhaus’ model] is expanded and different perspectives are brought in, including the possibility of major loss of life from climate change, then we would suggest the arguments for strong action will look still stronger.’
On excise and the use of commodities.
“That’s around 70 cents on a US gallon of gas: and we’re done and dusted as far as automobiles are concerned.”
Adding a 70 cents excise to a gallon of fuel will not in and of itself halt anthropogenic climate change. In Australia our current excise on petrol is AU$1.44 per gallon, and it has not accomplished a great shift away from petrol fueled automobile use nor the building of adequate public transport infrastructure, nor the design and implementation of walkable or cycleable neighbourhoods with near places of work. In Australia it is generally considered less difficult to address stationary energy transformation than transport energy from a technical perspective, particularly long haul transport.

6. John Quiggin on radicals and ‘mythical past states.’
On the necessity of historical detail.
Like economics and scientific writing, so far as I understand them, it is important to look at history and other writings with regard to their detail. It is quite historical that the Norman Conquest of England resulted in a great many changes – both in law and in society generally. The court was moved from Winchester to Westminster, the Normans applied laws of ‘villainy’ to peasants, they were very ‘acquisitive’, and they pushed for codification and uniformity of law over all England. The Norman changes were contested, by a number of people of various sorts and for different ends, and English retains a legal tradition of codified and uncodified law co-existing today.
On the necessity of stating who and what you are indicating.
I am not certain which radicals or which past conditions you are referring to in this comment. Many different people write about historical periods, and in many different forms of writing. Covering more time than the 19th C, there is a great deal of difference between, say, John Dee, and William Morris, and what they did needs to be taken into account when reading their works, for instance, John Dee’s reputation has been rehabilitated in the 20thC, despite his involvement in Court intrigue to convince Elizabeth I that colonising the Americas was necessary for Engalnd’s national economic needs, and his use of lies about history to achieve support for this end, with regard to the English claim to the Americas vis a vis the Spanish.

119

Lee A. Arnold 07.02.14 at 11:14 pm

Here is all you need to know about the climate in one minute exactly. Climate wobbles:

120

Lee A. Arnold 07.02.14 at 11:21 pm

One of the first big problems likely from climate change is barely spoken about by climatologists. We could get unpredicted heat spikes that destroy food crops worldwide for a year or two. Things might go back to the “normal” upward trend after that, i.e. food might be growable after that, but it will hardly matter. A year of two without agriculture would probably end civilization as we know it.

121

J Thomas 07.03.14 at 11:02 am

Lee, that’s an important thing, but it’s one of many. Climate scientists try to quantify things, and the ones they already work on are hard to manage. They can’t possibly predict variation in temperatures when it’s so hard to predict temperatures. And temperature is only one of the changing variables.

Plants grow faster when there’s more CO2 available, except when Liebig’s Law stops them. Currently there’s an estimated 390 billion tons of carbon in the world’s biomass. Fossil fuels that are already burned amount to around 280 billion tons of carbon, with about twice that much remaining. If we burn it all, eventually it will mostly go into biomass, tripling the amount of life. The last time there was this much carbon available, mammals had not evolved yet. Neither had angiosperms. There were insects with a 3-foot wingspan wandering among the club mosses.

We just plain do not know what to expect. We are betting it will be something we can adapt to.

122

Lee A. Arnold 07.03.14 at 2:54 pm

J Thomas #121″ “They can’t possibly predict variation… We just plain do not know what to expect.”

This is true in the sense of precise prediction. It is almost certainly false, in the sense of general principles which have been observed about complex systems of very different kinds. Inductive systems theory. “Stability” is a description of a state regime of fairly low volatility. When forced, these systems exhibit increased variation and oscillation until they settle into a new “stable” regime.

We may now expect increased climate variation and volatility, just like putting a pan of water on to boil. You don’t know where in the pan the first bubble will appear, but you know it will boil. Similarly, we already know what is going to happen. We don’t know when the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles will reappear, but climate skeptics should be encouraged to GO LOOK THEM UP. (If they are able to read, that is…) Temperatures can bounce 10 degrees Centigrade in 10 years.

“an important thing, but it’s one of many… We are betting it will be something we can adapt to.”

That is not what I wrote, and we should jettison the sentimentality. I wrote that crop-destroying heat spikes are one of the FIRST big problems likely (within a few more decades) and it doesn’t MATTER how much CO2 plants can suck up, an agricultural economy will not be sustainable under these temperature conditions. Most world food crops are already maxed out on the number of hot days they can withstand without reducing productivity.

The last time the N. Hemisphere was this warm, in the 12th century CE, (the so-called “medieval warming period”), the western U.S. was a sand-dune desert stretching from Mexico up through Saskatchewan. That is the century the Anasazi disappeared. Has any of these skeptical dunces calculated the cost of irrigating the entire Western half of the United States? (Ans.: not one).

It was immediately followed by the “Little Ice Age” — What caused this? Ans.: We don’t know. Does this mean, “We just plain do not know what to expect”? Ans.: What?!

Perhaps the Little Ice Age was was precipitated out of the Medieval Warming Period by increased rainfall in the N. Atlantic region combined with a shift in the polar vortex that caused longer periods before snowmelt, thus increased albedo and cooling? I.e. volatility? Because that is what appears to be happening now, increased volatility. We had a previous touch of this in the 1930s, another touch in the 1970′s.

Here are the current GISS surface temp graphs. The general trend is upward. Ideally, we need it to go downward for about 100 years. That is not happening.
http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/

123

J Thomas 07.03.14 at 9:08 pm

Lee, your analysis depends on the assumption that this time will be like previous tims. But we are in a part of the phase space that the earth has never seen before. The last time we had this much carbon available, the ecosystems were quite different and the continents were in different places.

We are in no position to be sure that Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles will happen. Something similar might happen, or something different enough to deserve a different name.

Yes, a great big agricultural collapse is plausible, especially if our agribusiness entities are not very good at adapting. It’s a plausible danger.

Anybody who’s reassured by the general lack of scientific certainty about all this, is an utter idiot.

124

Soru 07.03.14 at 9:31 pm

There are varying meanings of the word _prediction_.

Pick the right one, and you can say that what happens when you release a bull in a china shop cannot possibly be predicted…

125

Lee A. Arnold 07.03.14 at 10:15 pm

J Thomas #123: “Lee, your analysis depends on the assumption that this time will be like previous times.”

That is a willful misreading. I just finished writing that complex systems are NOT precisely predictable and the only thing we know with reasonable certainty is that under forcing their oscillations increase until a new stable phase space is reached, or there is a crash. Mill’s canons of inductive reasoning are all you get in circumstances like these. It is foolish not to look at identifiable episodes of oscillations and see if there are analogies to the present circumstances. The planet Venus, on the edge of the Goldilocks zone, has an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, is entirely covered in clouds, and is almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface. 200 years ago, they had a thriving oil-based economy and a Republican Party.

By the way, a sudden heat spike that crashes agriculture for a year or two will NOT be fixed by agribusiness entities that are “good at adapting”. There will be panic and mayhem. The first thing we will be forced to do is eat all the skeptics. Most of them are kind of slow and fat, so they will be easy to catch and cook.

126

bob mcmanus 07.03.14 at 11:13 pm

There will be panic and mayhem. The first thing we will be forced to do is eat all the skeptics. Most of them are kind of slow and fat, so they will be easy to catch and cook.

Now you are talking language I can understand.

But do we really want to wait until the apocalypse? Why? Why would we be more justified then than now? Would the millions, or billions dead, somehow redeem our rage and violence?

127

Collin Street 07.03.14 at 11:21 pm

> The first thing we will be forced to do is eat all the skeptics.

Of course, being proactive here would lead to better outcomes: load-shedding is probably the most effective way to bring down CO2 emissions.

[proof-by-construction that climate change is solvable...]

128

ZM 07.04.14 at 12:02 am

“Crop destroying heat spikes are one of the FIRST big problems likely (within a few more decades) “

Very unfortunately, and of great concern, I understand that defense people see the drought and failure of crops in 2010 – that, if I remember rightly, led to reduced export of grain to the Middle East, and a sharp increase in the cost of food there which, as I understand it, was the trigger point for the ‘Arab Spring’ -as being the first major crop failure as a result of climate change. I would think that if that is the case, it would be best that the countries of the world organise adequate food supplies for all countries in the case of further droughts and major crop failures. I understand some defense thinking in relation to these crises occurring is that the military officers of all countries are duty bound to ensure human security above all else. I would expect this to be hotly contested by those who wish to continue the national security, or allied security, paradigms in the field.

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bob mcmanus 07.04.14 at 12:09 am

128: Exactly

We will have depressions, wars, revolutions and social disorder long long before we see the more overt effects of global warming. The oligarchs ain’t dumb (or can but intelligence), and if we can see it coming, they certainly will be a step or two ahead of us.

Arnold’s slow fat deniers are already planning and arranging to eat Arnold.

130

bob mcmanus 07.04.14 at 12:28 am

Two reasons why most political analysis on the web is useless.

1) You believe the assholes tell the truth…ever.

2)By their truthful words ye shall know they’re dumbshits. Right. Kochs are idiots

Rumsfield (? don’t care):”The Iraqis will welcome us with flowers. I believe it, I do, I do.”
Liberals:” “Rumsfield believed the Iraqis would greet us with flowers! What an idiot!”

This is the history now.

The people that matter are lying, they know AGW is true and coming bigtime. It is a complete waste of time trying to refute their lies rather than trying to understand why they are lying or simply pre-empting their evil plans.

This, to me, is the Marxism. Waste of time refuting the neo-classical paradigm. Just tell the worker her boss wants to eat her alive, and offer her an option.

131

J Thomas 07.04.14 at 12:29 am

I just finished writing that complex systems are NOT precisely predictable and the only thing we know with reasonable certainty is that under forcing their oscillations increase until a new stable phase space is reached, or there is a crash.

Well, yes, that much is predictable.

It is foolish not to look at identifiable episodes of oscillations and see if there are analogies to the present circumstances.

There’s no harm in trying, and it might do a lot of good.

By the way, a sudden heat spike that crashes agriculture for a year or two will NOT be fixed by agribusiness entities that are “good at adapting”.

Yes, that’s true too.
http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-41/
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2008-05-01-usda-food-supply_N.htm

It would be possible for the USA to keep a year’s worth of food stored, but it would be expensive and so we don’t want to. We used to keep considerable food stored up until Reagan’s time, and it might be that the tremendous rush of prosperity that Reagan presided over was partly due to his stopping that wasteful process. Or … not.

132

Lee A. Arnold 07.04.14 at 2:29 am

Actually it is not that expensive (a Reagan official is hardly a good witness here) and I would strongly advocate that the U.S. should return to stockpiling at least a year, maybe two years of food.

GDP growth in Reagan’s years is usually attributed to explosion of government debt after the Volker recession
http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/GFDEGDQ188S
plus the first financial bubble in our recent series of continuous financial bubbles: savings and loans.

133

J Thomas 07.04.14 at 6:39 am

Actually it is not that expensive (a Reagan official is hardly a good witness here) and I would strongly advocate that the U.S. should return to stockpiling at least a year, maybe two years of food.

I agree, although as food prices rise it gets more expensive. Of course, food prices rise partly because we finally have an agriculture that’s reasonably successful at not producing too much.

GDP growth in Reagan’s years is usually attributed to explosion of government debt after the Volker recession
http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/GFDEGDQ188S
plus the first financial bubble in our recent series of continuous financial bubbles: savings and loans.

I was being sarcastic. I doubt there’s a way to do that about this sort of thing and keep it clear that I don’t mean it. Maybe I should give that up.

Before Reagan,when real GDP grew 4%, fossil fuel use grew 4%. It was possible for the economy to grow when we simply did more-of-the-same. From Reagan on, fossil fuel prices have varied in a big way and profitability of energy-intensive industries is hostage to that. So much of our growth has been in things that do not use much energy — financial services, legal, internet, etc. Real GDP growth that depends on innovation has been sporadic, as has growth that depends on fuel.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.04.14 at 5:37 pm

J Thomas #133: “Real GDP growth that depends on innovation has been sporadic…”

I would think it more likely that this component of GDP growth has been smooth, not sporadic, once the business (and personal productivity) applications of desktop computers, internet etc. started to appear (though there was a bit of a time lag). Of course, some of the GDP effect may be negative, because do-it-yourselfers are enabled too, and this disintermediates professional incomes. If you can save a nickel by doing it yourself, why hire somebody else?

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