How can we convince rightwingers to accept climate science …

by John Quiggin on August 22, 2014

… persuade them to stop being rightwingers[1]

(This is a cross-post from my blog)

I have a piece in (Australian magazine) Inside Story arguing that the various efforts to “frame” the evidence on climate change, and the policy implications, in a way that will appeal to those on the political right are all doomed. Whether or not it was historically inevitable, anti-science denialism is now a core component of rightwing tribal identity in both Australia and the US. The only hope for sustained progress on climate policy is a combination of demography and defection that will create a pro-science majority.

With my characteristic optimism, I extract a bright side from all of this. This has three components
(a) The intellectual collapse of the right has already proved politically costly, and these costs will increase over time
(b) The cost of climate stabilization has turned out to be so low that even a delay of 5-10 years won’t render it unmanageable.
(c) The benefits in terms of the possibility of implementing progressive policies such as redistribution away from the 1 per cent will more than offset the extra costs of the delay in dealing with climate change.

I expect lots of commenters here will disagree with one or more of these, so feel free to have your say.

fn1. Or, in the case of young people, not to start.

{ 587 comments }

1

David 08.22.14 at 1:30 am

Could not agree more. It 100% to do with right wing posturing against economic reform, and 0% to do with intellectual discourse.

2

Anarcissie 08.22.14 at 1:35 am

Since the Right is the side of power and authority, and since most proposals to deal with the scientific predictions of climate change involve strong exertions of power and authority and do not propose extinction of capitalism and the class system, appealing to the Right ought to be a snap. Maybe it has already happened, but there is more than one Right.

3

Plume 08.22.14 at 2:09 am

The right is the side of power and authority, and its dominance is deeply depressing. I bumped into a geography of right-wing dominance over at bookforum and it’s not pretty (electoral maps). It points to a sort of clearing house of political geography as well:

http://www.electoralgeography.com/new/en/

4

David 08.22.14 at 2:14 am

Anarcissie, the Right will oppose any usage of the collective action power of the government to curb corporate action. Their opposition to reform in the face of climate change is not even slightly surprising.

5

David 08.22.14 at 2:16 am

And once the ”Establishment” successfully portrays industrial reform as egghead treehugging communists looking to take away your rights, they can get the Tea Party ressentiment driven Right to mindlessly back them.

6

cassander 08.22.14 at 2:43 am

Denial of science is not core to right wing identity. We like our cell phones and penicillin just fine. What we reject is progressive campaigns to remake society on the basis of “science” that just happens to coincide with left wing political goals. How quick you are to forget that prohibition, eugenics, lysenkoism, high rise housing projects, single use zoning, and the many other failed progressive experiments that were also the product of then cutting edge science….

7

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 2:46 am

We like our cell phones and penicillin just fine. What we reject is progressive campaigns to remake society on the basis of “science” that just happens to coincide with left wing political goals.

Does it hurt to be this stupid?

Wait, what am I asking, of course it doesn’t. I mean, it doesn’t hurt you which is all that matters.

8

David 08.22.14 at 3:01 am

Remember when 97 percent of geneticists were in favor of Lysenkoism?

9

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 3:20 am

I love that “single-use zoning” gets trotted out as a comparison to climate science. Of course in the right-wing scientifically ignorant mind a quasi-technical approach to land management cooked up by managerial types in the early 20th century before social science was being done with any sort of rigor is equivalent to a thoroughly peer-reviewed and battle-tested theory grounded in basic physics that we know is correct. After all, there were probably some eggheaded liberal professors involved in both of those along the way somewhere!

It’s probably a good thing global warming denial bingo is not a drinking game or I’d be dead.

10

Anarcissie 08.22.14 at 3:21 am

Clearly, government policy is made by elites — the ruling class — and when it is deemed important, it is then styled to meet the tastes of various segments of the public to get them in line. The fact that different directions, or no direction, have been given to the stylists of the ‘Left’, the ‘Middle-of-the-Road’, and the ‘Right’ indicates that the elites do not think it is necessary, at present anyway, to obtain unanimity, but as with abortion, Gay rights, race, guns, and so on, see culture-related conflict between the proles as more useful. (It distracts the proles from thinking about the economy, for instance.) I assume the r.c. can summon good scientific advice if they want it, so either they don’t believe anything urgently needs to be done at the moment, or they have plans to control and benefit from the predicted catastrophes, or they are thinking ‘in the long run, you’re dead.’ In any case, until the stylists of the ‘Right’ are activated, or the catastrophes actually begin, one cannot expect to change a lot of rightists’ minds.

11

Dr. Hilarius 08.22.14 at 3:37 am

Denial of science has nothing to do with rejecting the fruits of science. Creationists freely use modern medicine. Homophobes are fine with neuroscience except when it suggests that homosexuality is innate. Racists accept the reality of DNA until it shows they have an African ancestor. Then it’s all left-wing conspiracy time.

12

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 3:46 am

I assume the r.c. can summon good scientific advice if they want it, so either they don’t believe anything urgently needs to be done at the moment, or they have plans to control and benefit from the predicted catastrophes, or they are thinking ‘in the long run, you’re dead.’

That last one is very prevalent among some people. I’ve tried talking about this to some members of my immediate family; after patiently boring through the shell of scientific denial (these are educated people who are, at least in principle, willing to listen to the merits of the argument) it finally came down to “well, I’ll be long gone when the shit hits the fan.” Oh, well, when you put it that way…

The major problem with getting people to take this seriously is that the change is slow. Fractions of degrees over the course of decades (but accelerating, of course). So no one thinks that they will be the ones to live with the consequences, even though we already are living with them (c.f. the California drought, which my family complains about incessantly). The sad fact is they’re probably right, in a horrible way: the people who really bear the brunt of global warming will be the people who had least to do with it, namely, the bottom third of the world’s population.

13

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 3:47 am

Creationists freely use modern medicine.

Some don’t. Would that more of them had the courage of their convictions!

14

Doctor Science 08.22.14 at 3:57 am

It’s actually very easy — or at least straightforward.

All you have to do is convince Rupert Murdoch. Once that’s done, almost everyone else will follow.

Right-wingers place great weight on tribal identification and loyalty. They also have great respect for authority. If you can convince a few key authorities, the ones who control the tribal ID machine, the rest will turn on a *dime*.

15

Bruce Wilder 08.22.14 at 3:58 am

I think one ought to consider that the ruling class, though no smarter on average than average folks, pay more attention and look farther ahead. I’m sure Cheney knew the Peak Oil hypothesis quite thoroughly as head of Halliburton and had data on Saudi and Iraqi potential to make his thinking concrete.

I will admit that cassander is right about me: I do think climate change, peak oil, ocean ecology collapse, and various resource limits and tragedies of the commons unfolding on the horizon do lead me to think the best course would be a fairly socialist one: plan out a sustainable future — one where we are using maybe a 1/5th of our present energy — and build out the infrastructure that can manage a decent life for as many people as possible while doing what we can to reduce the world population in the very long run.

But, the ruling class — what do they think? I don’t imagine they’re going to be forthcoming about that. And, presumably, it varies quite a bit, even if it doesn’t commonly extend to my socialist, activist government cum public agencies vision.

I don’t imagine many rich people are actually in denial, though maybe — the rich people I know personally are pretty stupid about politics. I would think a common instinct would be some combination of:
1. something will turn up, be invented to rescue us, and I will probably invest in it and make money;
2. various ways will turn up to allow us to adapt to a changing climate — capitalism is infinitely adaptable, and I, or my heirs, can afford to cope with whatever comes.
Therefore, there’s no reason to panic. Why are these hysterical leftists always panicking?

The reality is that most rich people are rich, partly because they are very good at keeping the profit and socializing the losses. They put the costs off on some one else: pollution they do not want to pay to contain is the community’s problem; a loan they cannot afford to repay is a reason for a government bailout; the best cure for high unemployment is a lower wage — you just can’t get good help these days for $12/hour!

They don’t really care if sea level rise will eventually drown a hundred million Bangladeshis, who never benefited at all from the industrial revolution. If temperatures rise, I imagine them thinking that they will be able to buy some clever gadjets and turn up the air conditioning, and other people, somewhere else, will bear the brunt. And, it just makes no sense to socialize the project — why should rich people, the creators of our industrial wonderfulness, have to pay for ragtag Bangladeshis, who rarely did anything except, maybe, sew a few shirts?

In time, I can see these attitudes evolving into conceiving the problem as a zero-sum game, where the carrying capacity of the earth can support, say, 1 billion in 1st world comfort, but we’ve got 7 or 8 billion on the planet, so the problem is how to wean the 7 or 8 billion from their claim on resources.

We’re getting a small taste of that attitude in the enthusiasm for austerity. The lower half of the income distribution in the U.S. is seeing a steady decline in their incomes. And, the hot Silicon Valley thing is the “sharing economy”.

The politics is not going to be about atmospheric chemistry. The politics is going to be about who gets to continue to be rich, and how rich is going to be played, in a world where there’s not enough to go around and life is getting rougher and ruder.

16

Joshua Holmes 08.22.14 at 4:04 am

(b) The cost of climate stabilization has turned out to be so low that even a delay of 5-10 years won’t render it unmanageable.

What CO2 ppm concentration represents stabilization? From what I’ve read, stabilization requires a CO2 concentration of ~350 ppm, a 50 ppm reduction. This means a near-in-time worldwide end to fossil fuel production & consumption, dairy and beef ranching, wet rice production, and deforestation, plus a massive global CO2 sequestration program. How exactly will this be cheap?

17

ZM 08.22.14 at 4:09 am

Joshua Holmes,
I haven’t heard about wet-rice production needing to end before – I wouldn’t dispute it but could you give a reference so I can read about it? How would rice be grown in tropical lands instead?

18

Luke 08.22.14 at 4:10 am

Weird that eugenics is always one of the things trotted out to prove The Eternal Evil of the Left. Even Pinker does it. I mean, ok, Eugenics often had pretty broad-based support, but in what way were the theorists of ‘racial science’ and so forth progressive?

Fun fact: I’ve just learned that occultist, pan-German proto-Nazi chauvinist, Teutonic knight and professional lunatic Lanz von Liebenfels used to argue for what he called ‘men’s rights’, which would make him a pretty fine contender for coining the term.

19

Doctor Science 08.22.14 at 4:20 am

Bruce Wilder:

My (admittedly limited) observation is that the American ruling class is itself firmly inside the Murdoch News bubble. If they think of themselves as deep thinkers, it’s the WSJ; if they’re “men of the people”, Fox News. Either way, it’s the same thing: Murdoch-engineered epistemic closure.

The Romney campaign was the perfect illustration of this: talking to his fellow wealthy, Romney repeated the same memes about “the 47%” that any prole can get on FoxNews. And he thought he was going to win, too — because that’s what the prolefeed told him.

The American wealthy have more money, duh, and more connections that money brings them. But they have no greater insight or foresight than any other members of their tribe, because it’s *all* coming from the same source.

The real trick would be driving a wedge between the Murdoch-verse and the Kochs. The Kochs are a trifle smarter than the average right-wing bear, and they personally profit from industries that put carbon in the air. In their case, I think it’s basic human self-admiration that makes them opposed to climate science:

a) If climate scientists are right, I’m doing something awful.
b) I’m a good person and would never doing anything awful.
c) Climate scientists can’t be right.

But conceivably Murdoch/Ailes, having less amour-propre on this particular line, could change their minds, program the Wurlitzer with a different tune, and Bob’s your climate-change uncle.

20

Luke 08.22.14 at 4:36 am

Insert Debord quote about the loss of historical knowledge in the Spectacle’s ‘eternal present’ leaving even the ruling class incapable of strategic thought.

Bruce has a point, though, in that the people pushing denial are largely insulated from the consequences. This doensn’t necessarily imply malice, but it does mean that (1) feedback leading to policy change will never arrive (until it arrives in the form of many very cross poor people) and (2) plausible agnosticism is easy as well as convenient.

21

toofunny 08.22.14 at 4:47 am

“The intellectual collapse of the right has already proved politically costly, and these costs will increase over time”

Pure projection.

It is the Left that is in a state of intellectual collapse, and, most pointedly, not just in the area of the “Climate Science” con game either.

What a obtuse and risible assertion.

Moreover, it is both pathetic and comic that your psuedo science fails and is exposed for what it is, and you claim that the so called “right” is scientifically ignorant. This is a complete left wing fantasy. One gathers that your understanding of “Conservatives” comes from the New York Times or Hollywood rather than any real contact with conservatives. (Hint: there are a great many conservatives working practically in real science and engineering disciplines.)

Throughout the entire last century the left was riddled with pseudo-science, while the “right” (which generally means anyone on not on the far left) have been the ones pursuing real science and engineering. This sort of Left wing delusion about somehow “holding the high ground” in the Scienes against benighted “rightists” is quite an old one, and one straight out of the propaganda mills of the ComIntern and Moscow Central. Few things could be farther from the truth than this lie.

Your (received) opinions, for that is all they are, are riddled with error and delusion.

Your bias so clearly show that you are not even up to a sophomore level in reason or debate, let alone anything approaching science. Not once do you address the real issues at hand in even a rational manner, let alone a “scientific” one. It is all politics, demagoguery , vituperation and the the most puerile sort of daydreaming and back patting. It is absolutely comic the level of “scientific understanding” so many of today’s leftists claim. In fact, this so called “scientific inclination” the average Leftist clings to has little to do with any sort of profound, real and actually understanding of science, practical, philosophical and historical, at all–they could not get through even an undergraduate degree at a first rate school in the real sciences (e.g., Physics or Chemistry, and most certainly not “Climate Science”); an actual and real history class would challenge them for this simple fact that the real history of the world (and with it Science) is completely at odds with their idiotic cant .

What they really mean when they say that they are “on the side of science” is that they watch “science programs” on PBS, like to look at NASA photos, bob their heads up and down when the peer pressure is on, and somehow conflate all that posturing and havering about “science” with the pursuit of real and actual scientific inquiry. It all adds up to a weird sort of parody of dimly felt religious impulses carried out in a political mode. All this is clearly shown by the fact that so-called “climate science” has become a grim joke outside of leftist political and academic circles. It is not just wrong, it is not just bad science–in fact not really science at all–it is fraud, and its perpetrators are behaving exactly as hustler do when called out.

The sad thing is that if you keep at this you will take down the public’s respect for science along with your failed ideology. The Establishment Left as embodied by the Democrat Party does not care one lick about “science” other than the money and the constituencies it can get out of it. Support these vipers and soon you will find that the scientific community has been soo corrupted that the public regard them as they do any other Democrat special interest group–think of the teacher’s unions.

So called “Climate science” is just another one of their scams. That you cannot see there merely demonstrates you intellectual and moral bankruptcy, and, most pointedly, that you have not the foggiest notion of what real science is about.

“Intellectual collapse” indeed. Too Funny.

22

Rich Puchalsky 08.22.14 at 4:53 am

The benefits to any living member of the ruling class from e.g. part-ownership of oil firms are reasonably predicted to be far greater than the disbenefits from climate change that will affect them in their lifetimes. Denialism is sociopathically rational for them.

For right-wingers not in the ruling class, their whole identity is bound up with the desire to punish poor and/or minority people. They want global warming to happen as a means towards this end.

23

David J. Littleboy 08.22.14 at 5:29 am

I think that the right wing mindset on climate change is that someone else is going to get hurt so “we” don’t have to do anything about it. They really don’t care if sea levels rise, as long is they are rich and can move inland. And since doing something about it would come out of their pockets, doing something about climate change is socialism.

Which is to say, it looks to me that the whole climate change denial bit is just for the fun of it. They think that they’ll survive and everyone else will be hurt, and they think that that’s just fine. So they basically want climate change to happen, or at least are perfectly happy if it does. So the whole point of denying climate is to make the liberals go crazy and enjoy watching them squawk and scream.

Really. You guys just don’t get it how purely evil the right wing is.

24

Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 5:42 am

If we first get a cooling episode in line with the Dansgaard-Oescher cycles, that could empower the rightwing denialists to further delay CO2 mitigation, and after that, the return upswing in heat spikes might be more extreme, indeed enough to destroy food crops, and then murderous mayhem would follow immediately.

But on the whole I agree, and I have been arguing for years that the right, and libertarians, never had intellectual coherence on two issues, 1. inequality and 2. complex systems predictability.

On the second one, although they were able to vaguely apprehend the notion of imprecisely-predictable complexity in regard to the market system (via Hayek), they unfortunately were never able to grant the same thing to non-human systems, e.g. to wildlife ecosystems, as well as to a climate system that is mild enough for agricultural civilization. These things are even more fragile than human systems, and deserve the application of the precautionary principle.

25

John Quiggin 08.22.14 at 5:46 am

I just retrieved #21 from moderation. I promise I didn’t write it myself.

26

bad Jim 08.22.14 at 6:01 am

I don’t think there’s much point to speculating about what very rich people think. I’ve met a few of them; some were very bright and some were idiots.

As for the general public, I think Doctor Science has it about right: too many reject any sort of environmentalism (or feminism for that matter) because they perceive it as personal criticism. They think of us as nags trying to make them feel guilty and force lifestyle changes upon them.

There’s also a general tendency to treat any question, including scientific issues, as a matter of authority, which is why climate scientists are accused of misbehavior and Al Gore is called a hypocrite. It’s all a matter of opinion, so the legitimacy of the advocates is of paramount importance. For many, the Bible is the only credible reference, and reliance is placed on God’s promise to Noah that He won’t do that again (not that He’s promising we won’t screw things up).

27

Soru 08.22.14 at 7:13 am

Interesting thing about Murdoch is that on climate change he seems to have been more convinced by his own paper’s output than a driver of it.

I suppose that it is natural he would read most of what he owns, and if propaganda didn’t convince people who read that much of it, it wouldn’t be much use.

28

derrida derider 08.22.14 at 7:22 am

Most of us enjoy having our prejudices confirmed, so I enjoyed John’s point (b) – that fixing the climate will cost us peanuts in the scheme of things. That’s what I’ve long thought, and it’s actually what many economists (including John) who’ve studied the question have told us for years.

OTOH I can see the comment thread is developing into a pile-on against denialist trolls – boooring. The chance of getting a good CTer internecine stoush is being lost (where’s dsquared when you need him? Bloody globetrotting hippy). Let me see now:

Those greenies who preach the apocalypse and who declare that it can only be averted by us all repenting in sackcloth and ashes of our consumerism, rather than by some quick technical fix, may be right about other sustainability problems (though personally I’d not bet on it). They are clearly wrong about carbon emissions. We do not need to radically change our lifestyles to fix this particular environmental issue – which is fortunate, as the political prospects for a voluntary radical change in lifestyles for billions of people are a lot bleaker than those for a carbon price.

A combination of fairly modest conservation and a slow shift to renewable sources for electricity will do the job. Far the least painful way to assure both of these is to put an effective price on emissions. Prices done properly harness human greed to socially useful ends – and greed abideth forever. Regulation and directed investment have their place, and if we were facing immediate catastrophe would have a bigger role, but they really are very expensive. It is the carbon price that will do the heavy lifting in the long run.

29

bad Jim 08.22.14 at 7:34 am

Apropos of the retrieved comment, here’s a taste of how “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” might read had it been written by Ayn Rand:

“I refuse to allow you to live in the world of the mediocre,” Harry said, eyes flashing flint and fire. “You are the only acceptable mate for me. I will hold you in my arms in front of our peers at the Yule Ball. Reconcile yourself to your fate, and wear something red or purple.”

30

guthrie 08.22.14 at 9:07 am

Toofunny reminds me of the repeated canard used by online arguers, to wit, that lefties are anti-technology. I point out that wind turbines and funky solar power stations are new modern developing forms of technology, and some lefties are in favour of nuclear power. Usually they move onto a different topic after that.

And of course from a left wing point of view the establishment Democrats aren’t left wing at all, they’re centre right, as for instance is New Labour economic policy.

31

Scott Martens 08.22.14 at 9:47 am

I have my doubts about (b) and (c), and the terrible thing is that while, in the long run, standing firmly on the belief that something is not true as it becomes more and more obviously true is a massive loser, I think you underestimate the power of ignorance.

As for framing climate change for the right, you did miss a few really awful possibilities based on the near certainty that the costs will not be born by the well-off of the developed world:

1. Climate change is God’s punishment for Muslims.
2. Climate change is proof that white people are favoured by evolution. (Double-whammy on that one, since it would help conservatives accept modern biology.)
3. Climate change will move more labour into properly conservative trades like agriculture, since decreased farm productivity means shifting labour out of other marginal areas into raising food.
4. Climate change will enable palearctic states (i.e., white western states) to resume their customary displacement of aboriginals, who have been reduced to marginal subarctic lands that might now become productive. It’s the wild west all over again!

32

Brett Bellmore 08.22.14 at 10:03 am

“If we first get a cooling episode in line with the Dansgaard-Oescher cycles, that could empower the rightwing denialists to further delay CO2 mitigation,”

Ok, let me ask a serious question: If the climate models justifying CO2 mitigation are predicting warming, and instead we get cooling, why would this NOT rationally lead to discrediting the climate models? Are the models supposed to trump actual observations? That’s not my understanding of how science works.

But the left response to the “pause” has been some combination of, “Pause? There isn’t any pause!”, “It’s just noise.”, and “We’ve already fixed the models to account for it, and see no reason to wait another 15-20 years to see if we fixed them correctly.”

Mostly the 1st, actually, outside of real climate scientists.

Now, b), that’s a pretty common observation among ‘deniers': Technology is improving all the time, it’s reasonable to wait for actual confirmation, for models to actually correctly predict observations, because our power to apply corrective action, or to adapt to what we can’t correct, is getting better all the time.

We don’t see the freaking hurry. Let science work in the NORMAL way, where prediction is king, and “prediction” means you make a prediction concerning things that haven’t happened yet, and then wait to see if the prediction comes true before assuming you’re right.

33

ZM 08.22.14 at 11:56 am

Brett Bellmore: “…and then wait to see if the prediction comes true before assuming you’re right.”

“Professor Le Quéré said…”The Copenhagen conference next month is in my opinion the last chance to stabilise climate at C above pre-industrial levels in a smooth and organised way,” ….”If the agreement is too weak, or the commitments not respected, it is not 2.5C or 3C we will get: it’s 5C or 6C – that is the path we’re on. The timescales here are extremely tight for what is needed to stabilise the climate at C,” she said.”

Just how dangerous [6 degrees of warming] was signalled in 2007 by the science writer Mark Lynas, who combed all the available scientific research to construct a picture of a world with temperatures three times higher than the danger limit.
His verdict was that a rise in temperatures of this magnitude “would catapult the planet into an extreme greenhouse state not seen for nearly 100 million years, when dinosaurs grazed on polar rainforests and deserts reached into the heart of Europe”.
He said: “It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles.””

Really Brett? ….

34

Trader Joe 08.22.14 at 12:21 pm

I’ve always found it quite convincing that some of the biggest corporate advocates behind warming and climate science are the insurance companies. Lloyd’s of London and MunichRe (among others) are big advocates of climate science and have sponsored numerous studies (and not the self serving kind).

Normally we think of insurance companies as the conservative of the conservative, but considering they are the ones that will pay at least some of the bills for failure to act – its interesting that they see their interests as on the side of science and mitigation.

35

Ed 08.22.14 at 12:37 pm

There are two types of climate change denial.

Climate change theory holds that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the athmosphere changes the atmosphere, primarily through heating it, in ways that are bad for humans. The implication is that climate change is an existential crisis. If you put enough CO2 into the atmosphere, it will change to the point where it is incompatible with human existence (among other things, positive feedback loops will be triggered). Since scientists started warning about this in the late 1980s, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased (mostly due to Chinese industrialization though the reasons are irrelevant to my argument) and there is no prospect of their decreasing in the next couple of decades.

One form of denial, associated with the Right, is to deny that increased levels of CO2 have a negative effect on the atmosphere for humans. I’ve not run into right wingers making the argument that carbon levels have not increased, but they tend to say that temperaturs have not increased, or at least that there is no connection with increased carbon levels and temperature changes. There are varient and associated arguments, such as carbon levels do cause increased temperatures, but the carbon levels are being caused by something other than industrial activity such as volcanoes, and I’ve seen some arguments that industrial civilization is too important to wind down that we will have to live with the atmospheric changes, or that the atmospheric changes are positive.

Nevertheless, the “classic” denialist argument is fairly straightforward. We do not have to reduce carbon levels since adding more CO2 to the atmosphere doesn’t have any bad effects, and you can’t prove that it does.

The second form of denial is found on the center-left and is subtler. This is to essentially agree with the science but deny the implications. Changes in the atmosphere will trigger unpleasant effects such as rising sea levels (this actually means more and stronger hurricanes and tsunamis), but do not threaten human existence. This is actually more intellectually incoherent than the right wing form of denial, since governments and industry are increasing, not reducing CO2 levels. The more subtle form of denial assumes that carbon levels will just stop increasing at some point. But if nothing is done to actually decrease them, carbon will just continue to build up and the effects will get worse, and the changes needed to get the problem under control will be more drastic.

I think what lies behind both forms of denial is the guilty awareness that the last big trick of industrial civilization, other than the contemporaneous moon landings, was to use fossil fuels to underwrite an increase in global population from two billion in 1937 to seven billion and counting. Reducing industrial activity to even pre-World War II levels implies being unable to adequately feed most people alive today! This is really, really depressing, almost to the point of being unable to function normally if you really digest this. So everyone prefers not to digest this. Everyone picks one of the two versions of denial, based on their tribal loyalties.

As for the elites, they are gambling that Something will turn up and save the situation, probably a new technology, possibly the theory turns out to be incorrect after all, rather than attempt to deindustrialize and run the risk of global famine, pestilence, etc.

36

Joseph Ratliff 08.22.14 at 12:59 pm

I agree with this approach to start, but add one thing … stop calling them “rightwingers.”

Name-calling just harms the argument you’re trying to make.

“The right,” “the left,” “rightwingers,” “leftwhatevers,” etc… are meaningless to the substance of the argument being made.

37

Barry 08.22.14 at 1:46 pm

Bad Jim: “For many, the Bible is the only credible reference, and reliance is placed on God’s promise to Noah that He won’t do that again (not that He’s promising we won’t screw things up).”

Has there been a politician who said such things who (a) didn’t have a pocket full of bribe money from the carbon industry and (b) who ever spouted Bible verses when those verses supported liberal causes?

(and, of course, in the Bible God promised to never destroy the world with water; nothing was said about f*cking it up quite a bit)

38

Anarcissie 08.22.14 at 2:19 pm

Joseph Ratliff 08.22.14 at 12:59 pm @ 35 — I think ‘Left’, ‘Right’, etc., are reasonably meaningful. However, we live in times when most large-scale organized politics is authoritarian, including that of those who call themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’, and the main disagreements in public discourse are about which authority to obey and whether to feel sorry for poor people or just step on them (or both). The social structure is basically unquestioned. So I guess you are correct.

Doctor Science 08.22.14 at 4:20 am @ 19 — Powerful people do not tell the less powerful what they actually think, believe, know, plan, and do, because knowledge is power, and power is not given away freely, or the person who possessed it will possess it no longer. However, bits of truth may be mixed in the prolefeed for flavor; irritatingly, just because Fox News or the The New York Times publishes something, you can’t know for sure that it’s a lie.

39

Luke 08.22.14 at 2:43 pm

Following on from Lee at 24: I used to be puzzled by the hostility of so many libertarians (i.e. every one I have encountered) to environmental concerns. You’d think it fits in with the whole ‘we’re really just warm and cuddly hippies who believe in freedom’ spiel.

I’ve come to think that, ‘tribalism’ aside (and, OK, Rothbard et al. were definately on the far right), free market fundamentalists of any sort cannot accept environmental problems (if they truly think a ‘minimal’ state increases social utility) on pain of becoming apostates. If unrestrained capitalism leads to environmental catastrophe, then clearly it just won’t do. Thus: there are no environmental problems, and they’re not so bad anyway. I suppose you could be a free-market environmentalist if you were willing to believe that global warming is caused by the state distorting markets, but you don’t see much of this (until the USSR comes up, at which point the litany of denunciation must include the ritual invocation of deformed natural landscapes).

So: euthenise the Friedmanites? Failing that, reforming electoral systems so that they actually represent the interests of the population might not be a terrible idea.

Regarding denialism in general: Houston Stewart Chamberlian and his millieu were actively hostile to academic science. Granted, they were on the fringes, but crazies like Chamberlian and Hanns Hoerbiger were certainly influential on Hitler and others on the far right.

40

Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 2:50 pm

Brett Bellmore #32: “Ok, let me ask a serious question: If the climate models justifying CO2 mitigation are predicting warming, and instead we get cooling, why would this NOT rationally lead to discrediting the climate models? Are the models supposed to trump actual observations? That’s not my understanding of how science works.”

The serious answer is, science worked the same way in gravitational theory. Astronomers precdited where the planets should be, but they were a little off. These discrepancies in predicted planetary positions didn’t discredit the Newtonian model. The problem led to the discovery of other, more distant planets that perturb the paths of the inner planets.

Similarly, climatology is on a solid foundation which has not been refuted. The underlying basis of climate science is solid physics and chemistry. It goes this way: As we increase greenhouse gas concentrations, the earth’s “energy flux” increases. What this means is, the amount of time LENGTHENS in which the radiation is bounced around in the atmosphere (because it is bounced around between the additional greenhouse gas molecules), before the energy is re-released to outer space.

So, at any one moment, there is MORE energy than previously. This energy MUST manifest itself in one of several forms: as hotter heat energy, as faster kinetic energy (more or faster wind, then shifting water currents).

The heat energy can be in the air, in the land, or in the oceans. The present “pause” in surface temperatures is matched by an increase in ocean temperatures: for some reason (perhaps a shifting ocean current, going nearer to a heated land mass) more of the heat is going there.

If we have a cooling trend, it will NOT be because the earth’s energy flux from additional greenhouse gases is decreasing, it is just that the energy will be sunk somewhere else for a while — or else, the incoming solar radiation will be deflected by another reason for a while (for example, due to shifts in the polar vortex, caused by shifts in wind patterns, which in turn might cause longer northern winters and increased albedo, or reflectivity from ice).

So that circumstance would be incorporated into the climate models. (It is worth noting that, so far, the present pause is WITHIN the current models’ error bars.)

But a cooling trend wouldn’t eliminate the danger. In fact it would probably make it worse. The heat trend which follows the cooling trend would be further intensified, because it would start out from the higher baseline of additional greenhouse gases.

To restate it, the increase in earth’s energy flux from greenhouse gases would tend to increase the variance and the possible extremes of climate effects, going either way on the thermometer. It may also dampen it for a while, but only for a while. This increase in extremes is a fairly common result observed in other complex systems.

And we also have paleo evidence. We already know that the Dansgaard-Oescher cycles were happening before the brief 12,000-year lull in which our agricultural civilization developed. We know that temperatures swung, very fast: sometimes by as much as 10 degrees C. over ten years. (over 17 degrees F.)

We cannot conduct an agricultural civilization under those conditions, or worse.

But it WILL be possible to adjust the climate models, if there is anyone left to do it !

P.S. However, this doesn’t mean that a cooling trend is about to start. The pause in surface temperatures is not heading downwards, unfortunately. It keeps sticking at around the same level. This is not good at all, because if it starts UPWARD again, it might be in sudden big jumps, and we may start to see annual heat spikes that, combined with droughts, destroy food crops much sooner than anyone has anticipated.

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Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 2:59 pm

I agree with this approach to start, but add one thing … stop calling them “rightwingers.”

Global warming sure is a problem but what’s really important here are the delicate feelings of ignoramuses and scientific illiterates!

I’m glad JQ let #21 through because (assuming it’s genuine and not an elaborate piece of Poe’s law performance art) it’s a perfect illustration of the mentality of the anti-science crowd. Since everything must be subordinated to the preordained conclusion, all evidence against the conclusion is magically transmuted into evidence for it. That’s how you wind up with the “climate scientists don’t attend real universities or major in real subjects” canard (because CalTech, Berkeley, Stanford, Michigan, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and others are fake schools where no one learns anything or majors in anything except How To Destroy Capitalism). The fact that the overwhelming majority of actual scientists with expertise in the matter agree on the consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations is evidence that science has become corrupted (no actual mechanism or logic beyond “mean scientists disagreeing with me” is ever offered in support of this). And so on.

Although you can get a little bit of mileage by pressing people on all these points, it’s like poking water: it’ll yield in one place and reform just as quickly elsewhere. The real problem is not just tribal affiliation, but the fact that conservatives are fundamentally skeptical of knowledge-claims in principle. I once had the delightful experience of trying to explain to a hardcore Catholic how we know what we know about the Big Bang (an area of my expertise). It was a bit like trying to teach a language to someone who didn’t recognize the concept of grammar; theoretically possible, but not likely to succeed without superhuman effort. The very idea that multiple lines of evidence can converge to provide us with information about stuff that happened in the distant past was absolutely incredible to this person. For them it was “turtles all the way down” except instead of “turtles” it was “God” and beyond that, well, who can really know anything?

And that’s how it goes in the global warming debate. Scratch deep enough and you find that the denialist crew doesn’t accept any of the basic epistemic standards that drive work in the actual scientific community. Show them one line of evidence and the goalposts move to some other invented problem. You’re constantly playing whack-a-mole with nonsense objections like Brett’s above. It’s pretty obvious that he doesn’t care about the actual answer to his question, because if he did he could just Google it like a normal person. The entire denialist enterprise is either high level grift by those who probably know better but don’t care, or low-level obstinacy by people whose only real interest is spiting liberals. Engaging with them is a pointless waste of time because they’re not committed to any recognizable project of truth-searching.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 3:00 pm

Luke #38: “…free market fundamentalists of any sort cannot accept environmental problems (if they truly think a ‘minimal’ state increases social utility) on pain of becoming apostates. If unrestrained capitalism leads to environmental catastrophe, then clearly it just won’t do.”

It is almost a perfect correlation in the very few scientists who question the dangers of climate change.

Despite the assertions in comment #21, that scientists are usually on the right, we find from the opinion polls that the opposite is true, and that very few scientists self-identify as rightwing conservatives. And the ones that do so, seem to be ignorant of economics.

I keep going back to Richard Lindzen’s assertions, in his speech to the Heartland Institute, that climate change alarmism is a left-wing plot to control our lives. This illustrates a core problem of rightwing scientific acceptance which needs to be properly brought out and identified: that one of the sciences it is ignorant of, is economics.

John Quiggin writes in his Inside Story article, “Carefully demonstrating that the cost of fixing the problem will use a trivially small share of national income goes nowhere.” But note in addition that the right wing also thinks that government can never do things better than the market, and thinks that printing money always leads to inflation. These sentiments seem to be all of a piece: a hard-money, anti-government psychology in which any planning (beyond individual market entrepreneurialism) must be faulty by definition.

If rightwing tribalism is a quasi-religious, “in-group” response to risk perception, then fear of one’s own “apostasy” is exactly the correct description.

43

cassander 08.22.14 at 3:02 pm

@david

>Remember when 97 percent of geneticists were in favor of Lysenkoism?

Certainly 97% of the scientists in the USSR were in favor of it….

@jerry

>I love that “single-use zoning” gets trotted out as a comparison to climate science. Of course in the right-wing scientifically ignorant mind a quasi-technical approach to land management cooked up by managerial types in the early 20th century before social science was being done with any sort of rigor is equivalent to a thoroughly peer-reviewed and battle-tested theory grounded in basic physics that we know is correct. After all, there were probably some eggheaded liberal professors involved in both of those along the way somewhere!

So you admit that the system you are suggesting we trust has failed before, yet you insist we should trust it again, because this time we’ve ironed out all the flaws? I would say I was surprised, but I’m not. I expect nothing less from intellectual movement who fell for Communism in the USSR, until it turned bad, and then in china, until it turned bad, and then cuba, and vietnam, and so on. progressives have been singing the song of “this time we’re sure” for more than a century now, completely sure each time, yet continually getting it wrong. what will it take for you to learn that the world is more complicated than your formulas indicate?

44

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 3:11 pm

So you admit that the system you are suggesting we trust has failed before, yet you insist we should trust it again, because this time we’ve ironed out all the flaws? I would say I was surprised, but I’m not. I expect nothing less from intellectual movement who fell for Communism in the USSR, until it turned bad, and then in china, until it turned bad, and then cuba, and vietnam, and so on. progressives have been singing the song of “this time we’re sure” for more than a century now, completely sure each time, yet continually getting it wrong. what will it take for you to learn that the world is more complicated than your formulas indicate?

What I’m saying, in the simplest possible language, is that you are a fucking idiot who does not understand how science functions. You literally wrote that because someone at some point was wrong about a thing, we shouldn’t trust other people to not be wrong about a totally different thing. That’s how stupid and brazen you are, that you believe this and are unashamed to state so in public. This isn’t even thinking; it’s a sort of facsimile of thought that appears to hang together for just the briefest moment assuming no one with any actual intelligence glances at it for too long.

You don’t care about science, or truth, or history, or anything at all besides coming in here and trolling people who disagree with you. You have not the slightest shred of basic intellectual honesty. You’re the perfect example of someone who can be dismissed out of hand because you don’t even accept the shared metatheoretical principles of scientific enterprise.

45

AcademicLurker 08.22.14 at 3:14 pm

Despite the assertions in comment #21, that scientists are usually on the right, we find from the opinion polls that the opposite is true, and that very few scientists self-identify as rightwing conservatives.

I recall reading somewhere that this is a trend that got going in the 90s and basically never stopped. In 1990, there was no particular difference in political leanings between the population of scientists and the general population, but over the last 20+ years, scientists have become more and more likely identify as left leaning, or at least as aggressively not right leaning.

The amount of reality denial you have to engage in in order to be a conservative in good standing has grown so great that it’s just too hard to do it while also being in the studying reality business.

When I decided on a career as a research scientist back in the early 90s, it never crossed my mind that I was making a political decision; at least in the straightforward partisan sense of “political”. Today, the political commitment involved is obvious.

Others have already answered 32 but I’ll just add my voice to the chorus: you clearly have no idea how science actually works.

46

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 3:14 pm

Certainly 97% of the scientists in the USSR were in favor of it….

Oh look, you lied again, you worthless fucking liar.

47

J Thomas 08.22.14 at 3:20 pm

#42 Cassander

So you admit that the system you are suggesting we trust has failed before, yet you insist we should trust it again, because this time we’ve ironed out all the flaws?

Do you have children under the age of 13? If not, could you borrow some?

Try playing this card game with them. It will teach you about how science works. There’s a possibility that if you play it with your friends none of you will figure it out, because your thinking might be set too firm in anti-inductive thinking. But watch the kids, and see how they do it. It’s well worth learning. This is something that can help your thinking in your daily life, and some people can use it to good effect in their jobs, etc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleusis_%28card_game%29

48

Bruce Baugh 08.22.14 at 3:26 pm

I grew up around Caltech and JPL in the ’70s, and there were a lot of Republican voters then, part of the general Southern California right-wing technocratic wing – the older ones had been big Goldwater boosters and the younger ones liked all the Reagan stuff about unfettering industry to Go Do Stuff. It took decades for the Republican Party to be consistently and vigorously enough anti-science to push them away, but the Republicans managed it.

49

TM 08.22.14 at 3:26 pm

cassander going full-scale bat-shit crazy denial. Whatever.

Luke 38, the hostility of right-wing libertarians to environmental concerns is no puzzle at all. Taking externalities and market failure seriously completely undermines their world view. There is no way to prevent pollution if the self-interest of economic actors is believed to be paramount and collective action to restrain individual polluters is considered as tyranny.

50

mpowell 08.22.14 at 3:29 pm

I would disagree that you can get reasonable information from google on climate change very easily any more. 5 years ago, maybe somewhat. But now you get a lot of disinformation from both sides. Denialists and doomsayers both. The problem is there is a range on both sides from obvious bullshit to people who can actually make a credible sounding argument. And without having expertise it’s difficult to get to credible science. There are just too many people out there writing with an agenda now as opposed to a time when there were some obvious wackos and then a bunch of people who might disagree, but were actually trying to find out the right answer to an important question.

51

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 3:35 pm

I would disagree that you can get reasonable information from google on climate change very easily any more.

http://www.realclimate.org

You’re welcome.

52

TM 08.22.14 at 3:42 pm

mpowell, when you google climate change the first hits are as follows: EPA, wikipedia, The Guardian, NYT, NASA, IPCC. I don’t see why any reasonable person of good will should find it difficult to find credible climate change information online. And it is simply not true that you need a lot of expertise to understand the underlying mechanisms and judge the plausibility of factual claims – High School physics can get you a long way. The greenhouse effect is quite easy to explain and understand, certainly no more difficult than other scientific theories that we take for granted and rely on every day.

53

DaveL 08.22.14 at 3:44 pm

Lee Arnold: John Quiggin writes in his Inside Story article, “Carefully demonstrating that the cost of fixing the problem will use a trivially small share of national income goes nowhere.”

One reason it goes nowhere is that even if true, it ignores all the other nations who also have to decide to fix the problem, and ignores the fact that many of those nations want to develop themselves to first world levels of GDP per capita, and at the moment burning a lot of coal is the easiest way to do that.

I think assertions like Quiggin’s, which you quote approvingly, completely underestimate the difficulty of the problem. We need every possible source of non-carbon-based energy on board (yes, including nuclear, bete noire of the left), carbon taxation, new science (large scale sequestration, for example), and changes in public and governmental attitudes. None of these will be easy. The airy pronouncements that “solar, wind, and biofuels” will save us with little or no effort except in voting out conservative governments is a fantasy almost as dangerous as that AGW isn’t happening.

(By the way, the “pause” appears likely to be happening because a lot of the extra heat has been going into warming the ocean. Yes, the air temperature rise has slowed down. The ocean temperature rise has not.)

54

Toby 08.22.14 at 3:45 pm

toofunny,

The “intellectuals” of the right work in think-tanks, fancily called Institutes, where they produce reports as required by their rich donors.

The Heartland Institute is the key one in climate change.

A few years ago, Dr Richard Muller of Berkely puled together a team (including a Nobel prizewinner) to re-analyse the temperature records, prompted by “concerns” in blogs like Watts Up With That. Watts even announced, after a visit to Berkely, he would accept Muller’s results “no matter what they were”.

That declaration did not even survive for a few hours after Muller’s announcement that his team’s results confirmed those of NASA and of Britain’s Hadley Centre. In fact, he praised those bodies for their work.

Within days the word was out on the usual blogs, and in the think-tanks, that Muller was no longer “one of us”, but had long since sold out to the scientific establishment. His results were mainly ignored, they received little or no critical evaluation from Muller’s erstwhile allies. He was simply declared non grata, and not a single member of the denial movement even did a moment’s critical self-examination (it seems) over the whole affair.

That is fairly commonplace. Another example was the 2012 Arctic Ice Record Minimum – deniers who had been proclaiming “ice recovery” did not pause for an instant to re-evaluate their assumptions. Now, they are repeating themselves and chorusing “recovery” again.

Scientific?

55

Trader Joe 08.22.14 at 3:45 pm

Its too hard to find data
Its too hard to vote
Its too expensive
Its too hard to care
Gee math is tough
When does the new American Idol season start?

56

Rakesh 08.22.14 at 3:53 pm

Interesting here is the critical reception of Nate Silver’s featuring Roger Pielke, Jr.

57

Rich Puchalsky 08.22.14 at 3:57 pm

“The entire denialist enterprise is either high level grift by those who probably know better but don’t care, or low-level obstinacy by people whose only real interest is spiting liberals”

It’s not obstinacy. Their only sense of self-worth is in being a step above a class of others. There’s a real sense in which asking them to accept global climate change science means asking them to accept that they should stop hating black people, and they can’t do that and still salvage anything from the wreckage of their lives.

Progress is going to happen, basically, from non-Anglo countries. The real question for us is not “why do we have a right wing”, because we always have. The question is why the center can no longer keep the right in check when it comes to basic civilizational preservation.

58

cassander 08.22.14 at 4:08 pm

@ Jerry

>at some point was wrong about a thing, we shouldn’t trust other people to not be wrong

Yes, I would think that this principle is obvious. Produce a person, or a system, that is never wrong, and I will happily trust it. Until then, though, why on earth should I not be skeptical when someone asks me to spend trillions of dollars on his pet project? extraordinary claims, extraordinary evidence….

@ Jthomas

>It will teach you about how science works.

Again, you equate “agreeing with the progressive line on climate” to “belief in science.” I have plenty of faith in science, I believe firmly in empiricism. But to accept that because “science” has been going for a long time every present conclusion is has is correct is one of the most unscientific questions i have ever heard. I have no doubt that, over time, climate science will move, in general, towards truth. Of course, science can lose truth, my favorite example is stomach ulcers, which modern medicine forgot were caused by bacteria for several decades, but I suppose you prefer not to think about that. That said, even if you accept everything that climate scientists say at the moment, and I accept most of it, it does not follow that we should therefore spend trillions of dollars remaking the world in ways that progressives just happened to want before climate science became an issue.

@ Toby

>The “intellectuals” of the right work in think-tanks, fancily called Institutes, where they produce reports as required by their rich donors.

And greenpeace is out there encouraging people to write reports saying that climate change isn’t a big deal? is the NAACP encouraging studies that prove that racism is no longer a big deal? Even if I accept the silly notion that there is some nefarious group called “the rich” out to suppress climate science, do you really think that their opposition has no axes to grind?

59

Anarcissie 08.22.14 at 4:22 pm

TM 08.22.14 at 3:42 pm:
‘High School physics can get you a long way.

However, the Earth is reputed to be a complex system — somewhat more complex, I’ve heard, than the average high school physics problem. Indeed, it seems any factual debate about climate change results in an indeterminately long succession of facts; there is no phenomenon which cannot be succeeded by another that seems to modify or contradict it.

So things are going to be acted out. In Miami, much of which is not very elevated, sea levels are rising. There are a lot of ‘right-wingers’ in the Miami area, and a lot of them own land or businesses which will be underwater if the trend continues, so it is going to be interesting to see how the acting-out of the conflict between physical fact and ideology and fable proceeds there.

60

Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 4:22 pm

Yes, I would think that this principle is obvious. Produce a person, or a system, that is never wrong, and I will happily trust it.

I like it when you continue to post things that demonstrate your utter inability to comprehend what science is and how it works.

61

Plume 08.22.14 at 4:30 pm

Agendas. Hmmm. Follow the money. There is no extra money to be made by telling the truth about pollution and its effects. But there is a ton of money to be made by denying that it’s a problem. The world is overwhelmingly controlled by capitalists, primarily very rich capitalists. The right has this bizarre notion that the money and power rests in the hands of non-profits like Greenpeace, or that there is some ultra-wealthy cabal of “progressives” who want to cut their own throats by pushing for higher taxes, strict measures to improve the environment, etc. etc.

The incentive arrow points toward those who lie about and deny the destructive capacity of the capitalist system, its far greater propensity to produce catastrophic levels of waste and pollution, dislocation, endless crises. Those who point this out have nothing to gain, materially, other than the fact that if their science is taken seriously, we all might survive on this earth beyond what is now likely. That likely doomsday is all too real, if we don’t heed the warnings of scientists.

The World Wildlife Fund, for instance, says that by 2030, we will need two entire earths to meet resource demands. And if everyone lived like average — again, average — Americans, we would need four. This, obviously, can’t go on. The richest 20% now consume 85% of all those resources. It’s self-evidently the case that if the bottom 80% manages even a slight increase in their consumption rates, the earth will go full “tilt” in just that realm . . . which, of course, doesn’t even factor in the resultant massive increase in more pollution and more waste, which will reduce the resource pool even more. A never ending downward spiral into scarcity. Scarcity of clean water, safe food, arable lands, temperate zones, geography without violent storms, famine, drought, floods, etc. etc.

Again, follow the money. Who has the incentive to deny that all of this is happening? The MNCs that create the vast majority of pollution and seek to extract and corner the markets on our dwindling resources.

62

Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 4:31 pm

DaveL #52: “One reason it goes nowhere is that even if true, it ignores all the other nations who also have to decide to fix the problem, and ignores the fact that many of those nations want to develop themselves to first world levels of GDP per capita, and at the moment burning a lot of coal is the easiest way to do that.”

I don’t think this matters. The whole globe doesn’t have to do it all at the same time. If the developed nations, even one or two of them, go to cleaner economies, the rest will soon follow suit. Opinion polls in almost every country show that 70% or more think the climate is a serious problem. If one nation decides not to, a green tariff can be put on its exports.

I also agree with John Quiggin that in fact it looks like it is going to be a lot cheaper than expected (until quite recently), so the other countries will adopt the new technologies for economic reasons. This is due for example to the new results in materials science, where computation and nanotechnology are leading to materials with better properties than anyone expected, including PV cells of much better efficiency and lower cost.

63

Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 4:35 pm

Cassander #42: “So you admit that the system you are suggesting we trust has failed before, yet you insist we should trust it again, because this time we’ve ironed out all the flaws?”

This goes for some results in the market system, too.

It makes no sense to argue for anything other than in favor of a mixed economy.

64

Barry 08.22.14 at 4:44 pm

Cassander: “And greenpeace is out there encouraging people to write reports saying that climate change isn’t a big deal? is the NAACP encouraging studies that prove that racism is no longer a big deal? Even if I accept the silly notion that there is some nefarious group called “the rich” out to suppress climate science, do you really think that their opposition has no axes to grind?”

The difference which you seem to miss is that science doesn’t live in such ‘institutes’. Outside of those institutes, global warming denialism is probably as prevalent as clinical schizophrenia, while global warming evidence is as prevalent as caffeine.

65

Thornton Hall 08.22.14 at 4:44 pm

Apropos of @38
I think economics as an academic pursuit deserves 75% of the blame for climate denial. The ongoing disaster that is Reaganist dogma is the inevitable consequence of allowing privilidged white men to proclaim knowledge of how the economy works without an empirical check. Sure Keynes was a good guy, but eventually the dark side will have it’s day. In 1980 there was no strong scientific tradition that could pronounce supply-side stupid and wrong. Meanwhile, liberals like SWL and PK tell us the value of economic story telling. Indeed. You don’t need to explain its power to the Reaganists.

66

Brett Bellmore 08.22.14 at 4:44 pm

“Similarly, climatology is on a solid foundation which has not been refuted.”

Absolutely true, and there is no question that, all else being equal, an increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase temperatures. The only questions are, “How much?”, and “Is all else equal?” THOSE are the important questions, and they’re the open questions. There’s no use pretending they’re settled science.

Look, if I set up a kinematic model of a pendulum, and it doesn’t predict the pendulum swinging back after a period, instead of continuing in a straight line, the model is garbage.

You can’t use climate cycles as a defense of why your model didn’t predict the right temperatures; If you set up a model of climate, and the various climate cycles don’t fall out of it, you haven’t got a good model. A good model should track climate cycles without having to have them patched in, in an ad hoc manner.

The models didn’t predict the pause. It is, barely, within the 95% error bar for many of them. But it’s rather troubling that virtually all of the models are on the same side of the actual climate behavior, rather than being clustered around it. That suggests that they all share some common flaw.

I want to see models that can actually replicate the behavior of the climate, instead of all agreeing on producing something different from what the planet is doing. Apparently I’m a “science denier” for expecting this.

If that makes somebody a “science denier”, I’ll wear the label proudly.

67

Rich Puchalsky 08.22.14 at 4:47 pm

“And greenpeace is out there encouraging people to write reports saying that climate change isn’t a big deal? is the NAACP encouraging studies that prove that racism is no longer a big deal?”

There’s the tell, right there.

68

Thornton Hall 08.22.14 at 4:54 pm

And, of course, there is still no scientific tradition w/ academic economics. My latest way of understanding it is this: Newton famously stood on the shoulders of Tyco Brahe, but economics skipped ahead and went straight to Newton. Within the field, even the strongest critiques point back only as far as Kepler. Nobody, nobody who gets a big professorship anyway, wants to do the dirty work of recording the location of every single celestial body, night after night for a lifetime. A bunch of big headed Newtons with narrow shoulders: not a bad physical description of the Chicago boys.

69

TM 08.22.14 at 4:57 pm

58: “Indeed, it seems any factual debate about climate change results in an indeterminately long succession of facts;”

That’s just not true. The basic facts are three, easily grasped, and uncontroversial:
(1) The temperature of the earth is essentially determined by thermodynamic balance between incoming and outgoing radiation. If more comes in than goes out, temperature will rise until balance is restored. You need to grasp the laws of energy to understand that.
(2) CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas, the amount of radiation sent back from the earth into space. This is an uncontroversial experimental fact.
(3) Since industrialization, the CO2 content of the atmosphere has increased significantly.

You only need to go further if you want to talk about specific time frames and geographic regions. Lay people don’t need to get concerned with such details although experts of course make whole careers around studying such details in excruciating … detail. As an analogy, the Newton laws of gravitation are similarly simple but calculating a moon landing is not. The fact that experts need complicated mathematical tools, software etc. doesn’t mean that the basics of how a moon landing works are inaccessible to lay people.

70

David 08.22.14 at 4:59 pm

Can I take it from Bellmore’s series of comments that Rightists are now pushing an outwardly more conciliatory “wait and see before action” line than the vitriolic denialism that has been standard for the last 30 years?

71

Jim Harrison 08.22.14 at 5:00 pm

My take is that the most likely outcome will neither be a cheap and satisfactory solution to the problem or a photogenic apocalypse but a long period of troubles, including political instability. I agree that drastic or tremendously expensive measures aren’t required; but aside from the fact that quite a bit of warming is already built in whatever we do, the ideological and economic interests that oppose doing anything have a significant leverage and will continue to delay and weaken mitigation for a long time.

In the last great climate crisis, the Little Ice Age, different societies responded to the droughts, floods, and famines in different ways. Some states (Poland, Spain) essentially collapsed while others (France, Japan, Britain) strengthened central authority to cope with disorders resulting from environmental stress. My guess is that climate change will lead to similar outcomes in our era, though, obviously, climate change doesn’t fully explain 17th Century absolutism and if techno-totalitarianism triumphs in the 21st Century, it won’t just be because of too much CO2.

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Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 5:02 pm

Or you could just read about what actual climatologists are doing! As usual, the horse must be led to the water, though I cannot make him drink: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/12/the-global-temperature-jigsaw/

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Plume 08.22.14 at 5:04 pm

Brett,

Do you deny that we’ve lost massive numbers of species to pollution? Do you deny that ecosystems are being destroyed at an alarming rate, that coral reefs are dying, disrupting the chain of being in our oceans, etc. etc.? Rain forests disappearing, glaciers melting at alarming rates, etc. etc. This isn’t about “models” predicting things. This is all visible to the naked eye.

We know the planet is warming, and we know that pollution is causing this and all sorts of other disasters. People who study bird migrations know this. Farmers know this. Coffee growers have moved their operations to higher elevations to escape increased temps. Wine growers have done the same.

It’s far worse than just a red herring to dismiss the science because of imperfect modeling, and it’s the epitome of intellectual cowardice.

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Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 5:10 pm

Which, by the way, let me just say a word about how incorrigibly lazy these people are. It’s like, oh, I have a theory, and it is my theory too, yes it is, about how climate science should work. Did you bother to cross-check that with how it actually does work? Did you bother to compare your spur-of-the-moment conjecture about why global warming is totally fake with the existing literature to see if your “concerns” have been addressed? No, of course you didn’t. It’s all “wicked scientists this” and “socialism that” and you can’t be bothered to spend a fraction of the time you waste complaining about these people on the internet to do just a tiny bit of reading. Protip: lots of smart people are working on these legitimately difficult questions. It’s highly unlikely that the criticism you dug out of your navel this morning has escaped the attention of actual scientists who do this for a living.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 5:12 pm

Brett Bellmore: #65: “You can’t use climate cycles as a defense of why your model didn’t predict the right temperatures; If you set up a model of climate, and the various climate cycles don’t fall out of it, you haven’t got a good model… I want to see models that can actually replicate the behavior of the climate, instead of all agreeing on producing something different from what the planet is doing. Apparently I’m a “science denier” for expecting this.”

If early astronomers found planetary positions to be off their predictions, did they have a bad model? No, they “patched it in an ad hoc manner”. The climate models will be improved too.

You are a “science denier” if you think either of three very different things: 1. That the temperature increase will be benign (regardless of the math model); or 2. That any climate model, now or in the future, will be perfectly predictive; or 3. That changing away from fossil fuels will create economic catastrophe.

Because: 1. We have never forced any kind of complex system continuously without a catastrophe; 2. No complex system has been perfectly predictable, due to N-body computation problems and emergence of new properties; and 3. The economy has creative actors (humans) and the calculations of cost NEVER include the benefits, benefits from economic growth and from avoiding the environmental externalities.

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Plume 08.22.14 at 5:14 pm

Brett,

I want to see models that can actually replicate the behavior of the climate, instead of all agreeing on producing something different from what the planet is doing. Apparently I’m a “science denier” for expecting this.

It’s not about models or predictions. We’ve already seen the damage from pollution and climate change. It’s with us right now.

(I have a post in moderation with several links to prove this, but have probably gone over the link limit.)

Bird migrations have already been seriously altered. Coffee growers have moved to higher elevations to escape the increased heat. Wine growers have moved locations for the same reasons. Our coral reefs are dying. Our rainforests are disappearing. Glaciers are melting at record rates. Farmers are experiencing record droughts, floods, storms and destruction of their crops. The evidence is overwhelming that right now, not in some computer-generated model of the future, pollution has caused irreparable damage, and there is no way to spin that to say none of this matters, or that it won’t get worse. Population growth alone will make it worse, and that’s not even factoring in developing nations increased consumerism and resource usage, etc. etc.

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J Thomas 08.22.14 at 5:18 pm

#57 Cassander

“It will teach you about how science works.”

Again, you equate “agreeing with the progressive line on climate” to “belief in science.” I have plenty of faith in science, I believe firmly in empiricism.

No, you completely missed the point. I’m not interested in whether you have faith in science or whether you believe in empiricism. The way you write, you prove that you do not understand how to do scientific reasoning. You just don’t get it, faith or not.

This card game can actually teach how to do that. You make your own hypotheses about how the cards will go, and you test them, and the one who can do that the most efficiently wins the game.

It isn’t about climate science or which scientists to believe. It’s a way you can train yourself to learn a new kind of thinking — something that can be very useful to you even apart from not embarrassing yourself in silly blog debates.

It’s a fun game and you can teach your children how to do it even if you think you’re already the best. It’s worth doing.

I’m not suggesting it to make fun of you. (I am making fun of you a little, since it’s like you’re walking around with your pants around your ankles and you haven’t noticed. But that’s separate.) I seriously recommend this game to you and to everybody else. It’s fun. It teaches a skill that we all ought to practice, and we may not be as good at it as we think we are.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 5:36 pm

David #69: “Can I take it from Bellmore’s series of comments that Rightists are now pushing an outwardly more conciliatory “wait and see before action” line than the vitriolic denialism that has been standard for the last 30 years?”

It could be, but note that it has always been their fallback position. As Thornton Hall pointed out in #64 and I pointed out in #61, it is related to the ignorance of economics. Now it is easily transmuted into a line about how “we must wait and see, because it could harm the economy”. Listen to their old speeches on YouTube; they usually include an argument about how climate stabilization will harm the economy. Richard Lindzen at the Heartland Institute. For another example, Christopher Monckton, not a scientist, always ends on this. Bjorn Lomborg went on about using the money instead to help the poor people, as if we cannot do both things at once! Rightwing pseudo-economics has been a constant in the climate skeptics’ presentations, going back many years.

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Plume 08.22.14 at 5:46 pm

It’s interesting to compare the 1% solution advocated by Cheney in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, with the right’s stance on climate change. Cheney said that if there was even a 1 in 100 chance that Hussein might have WMD, we needed to invade. But when it comes to the damage we know is happening right now, due to pollution, and its inevitable increase, we’re supposed to just “wait and see.”

To break that comparison down further. Acting on that 1 in 100 assumption about Hussein involved knowing in advance that large numbers of civilians and American soldiers would die, and that billions or trillions of dollars would be spent. OTOH, acting to reduce pollution levels now will save lives, not end them, and the money spent will create new jobs and generate more economic activity, not less.

The right cheered on the invasion of Iraq. The right either denies climate change altogether or says we need to wait and see. On those two issues and everything else, listening to the right means more death and destruction.

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Joshua Holmes 08.22.14 at 5:48 pm

ZM at 17,

IPCC 7.4.1: Methane (2007), http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch7s7-4-1.html.

The second largest anthropogenic source of methane emissions (~25%) is rice agriculture. (Ranching is the largest source, at ~45%.) Rice paddies drown weeds and pests, which decay into CO2 and CH4. CH4 is a much more powerful GHG than CO2, but it breaks down after a decade. Unfortunately, it breaks down into CO2.

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Joshua Holmes 08.22.14 at 6:09 pm

Luke at 38,

I suppose you could be a free-market environmentalist if you were willing to believe that global warming is caused by the state distorting markets, but you don’t see much of this…

You’re right, and you should see quite a bit of this. I consider myself a libertarian, and I’m baffled how little analysis has been done on the deep market distortions that prop up fossil fuel production and consumption. The US has spent at least $9 trillion on the Persian Gulf since 1975 (in today’s dollars). Not one cent has come from taxes on oil. How is this not a fantastically enormous subsidy and a gross market distortion?

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Ogden Wernstrom 08.22.14 at 6:17 pm

toofunny @21, you forgot the colon following the words “Pure projection”.

Aside from that, thank you for giving us an insight into how victimized you feel. In order to feel better, I suggest that you stay away from reading this blog – at least until you reach the bargaining stage. Maybe longer.

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js. 08.22.14 at 6:22 pm

@ Jerry

>at some point was wrong about a thing, we shouldn’t trust other people to not be wrong

Yes, I would think that this principle is obvious. Produce a person, or a system, that is never wrong, and I will happily trust it.

I believe firmly in empiricism.

These two things were written by the same commenter a mere paragraph apart. Amazing!

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John B 08.22.14 at 6:24 pm

I have read some suggestions that U.S. rightwingers’ intransigence on global warming results partly from Dominion Theology, a belief based on Genesis 1:26 that God gave man the earth to do with what he likes (and also, God promised there wouldn’t be another Flood).

http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/the-green-dragon-slayers-how-the-religious-right-and-the-corporate-right-are-joining-fo

I can’t say if this is true and obviously it can’t be the whole story. But just because it sounds totally insane does not mean it’s false.

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J Thomas 08.22.14 at 6:26 pm

The basic facts are three, easily grasped, and uncontroversial:
(1) The temperature of the earth is essentially determined by thermodynamic balance between incoming and outgoing radiation. If more comes in than goes out, temperature will rise until balance is restored. You need to grasp the laws of energy to understand that.
(2) CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas, the amount of radiation sent back from the earth into space. This is an uncontroversial experimental fact.
(3) Since industrialization, the CO2 content of the atmosphere has increased significantly.

That’s enough to figure the earth is warming and will continue to warm. Then there are questions like whether it’s warming fast enough to matter, and whether we were about to have an ice age that this will prevent, etc. It seems silly to hope that we were about to have an opposite catastrophe that will just cancel out the one we’re doing to ourselves, but it might be possible until we find out it isn’t possible.

The case that burning fossil fuels will give us temperature changes is pretty straightforward. And if we have really good photoelectric stuff then we can reduce or stop burning coal for electricity, and that will help. With lots of cheap electricity we can do lots of things, we don’t have to burn so much oil for transportation etc. But that does not apply in wartime. In wartime we burn as much fossil fuel as we think it will take to win the war. And it does not apply at all unless we choose it. If we get cheap electricity then we don’t have to burn oil nearly so fast, petrochemicals get cheap, we can make a whole lot more plastics cheap and burn them when we’re done with them…. Unless we specifically choose not to use fossil fuels, then when they get cheaper we will use more of them.

Recently people started talking like we can avoid the catastrophe. We can reduce our fossil-fuel burning. But there’s another catastrophe waiting for us that people don’t talk about. We have already burned as much fossil carbon as there is in our whole biosphere. That carbon will eventually leave the air and wind up inside living things. Suppose we had twice as much life, how would that change the world?

Imagine a Monopoly game where everybody starts off with twice as much money. Would that change the game? You know it would. Some strategies would become unworkable, some new ones could work. Twice as much life. Weeds that grow faster than ever before. Insects that chow down on the weeds and whatever they can eat. With more CO2 in the oceans, the balance between calcium skeletons and silica skeletons will be shifted. Could we get a whole lot more diatoms? Would that have much effect on the oceans?

The game would change on land too. When there’s more life, you can expect different winners. I can’t say much about what to expect because I don’t think there’s any way for anybody to know.

There’s every reason to expect trouble, though if things change slowly enough we can probably adapt one way or another. If we burn all the fossil fuels that’s something like 3 times the world biomass. I can’t expect people to take the problem seriously. It’s hard to document, and look how hard it is to get people to take the temperature stuff seriously, which is so much more obvious.

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AcademicLurker 08.22.14 at 6:27 pm

But just because it sounds totally insane does not mean it’s false.

Sad to think how widely applicable that statement is to developments over the last 15 years.

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James Wimberley 08.22.14 at 6:30 pm

DaveL in #52
Slightly off-topic but it’s a real and important issue.

Back in the day, everybody assumed the costs of effective mitigation were horrendous, so there was a very large free-rider problem. For a single country, why incur great costs for action which will be ineffective if there’s no assurance that others will chip in and make it effective? Conversely if others are going to take effective and costly action, why bother joining in? The whole UN process from Kyoto onwards has been crafted to find a solution to this problem, through a binding, universal and effective global treaty. It has failed, as the task is impossible.

Very fortunately the free-rider problem has gone away. With the new data that the net costs of effective 450 ppm mitigation are negligible, there is no reason to wait for others. The boat is sinking, start bailing. Your chances will be slightly better if you do, so you might as well. The new environment makes it much easier to assemble a coalition of the willing. Who cares if Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia sit it out? We can pressure them later on to join in.

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Plume 08.22.14 at 6:47 pm

John B @81,

This article points to related issues regarding Dominionists, and pulls in Austrian Economics, Ron Paul, Gary North and Palin to boot:

Better Dead Than Fed

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Srsly Dad Y 08.22.14 at 6:49 pm

Lee Arnold @76: It amazes me (tho’ it shouldn’t) that one of the biggest conservative pseudo-truths that was drummed into us unsuspecting students in the 1980s — “If you tax something, you’ll get less of it” — which seemed so cute as an attack on income taxes, seems to have vanished from the conservative repertoire when the topic is replacing payroll taxes with CO2 taxes. Suddenly it’s, hold on, a what tax?, it’s complicated, war on coal, gas prices, think of the nice things you can do with income taxes, yadda yadda.

90

John Quiggin 08.22.14 at 8:02 pm

As regards the free rider problem, the biggest obstacles to action haven’t been small countries freeloading on others but big countries (US, China and India) which regard themselves as too big and important to be bound by a global agreement that would constrain their domestic policies.

As mentioned above, the benefit-cost ratio is so high that, for these countries, unilateral climate mitigation would be beneficial, regardless of what others did. More precisely, the less is done by others, the greater the marginal costs of emissions, and the greater the private benefit from unilateral action.

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John Quiggin 08.22.14 at 8:04 pm

On “rightwingers”, I thought about spelling out “libertarians and conservatives”, but these terms are even more problematic. So, I’d have to say something like “(propertarian) libertarians, market liberals and the reactionaries who are usually described as conservatives” which would be both clumsy and even more annoying to those I’m describing.

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ZM 08.22.14 at 8:38 pm

Ed,
“Reducing industrial activity to even pre-World War II levels implies being unable to adequately feed most people alive today! “

I think this assertion is wrong, I have not see it asserted anywhere.

pasture should be reforested, land used for grain farming for pasteur animals can be used for additional farming or reforestation if too much, farming should not use artificial fertilisers emitting nitrous oxide, human waste should be treated and used for fertiliser, food and green waste should not be treated as rubbish and should be used to help soil also, agricultural machinery needs to be electrified, more labor in agriculture may be needed.

Transport of food should be lessened where possible (current human geographies mean food couldn’t be produced all locally I think ), and monoculture reduced because it is not good for soil, and cash crops for nutrient poor food like coffee and sugar could also be converted if there was not enough land for food farming.

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giovanni da procida 08.22.14 at 9:24 pm

JThomas @85,

Perhaps I’m missing something, but the issue of the extra carbon dioxide going into biomass seems to me to be a small issue, mostly because it is a very slow process. About half of yearly oxygen production (and thus CO2 uptake) occurs in the oceans, where hetreotrophic processes are pretty tightly coupled to phytoplankton growth, so extra carbon that is fixed is likely to either get eaten and converted to respiration, or to sink into the deep ocean, where it is sequestered on long term time scales. The other thing to remember, is that oceanic phytoplankton are generally not carbon limited- their access to nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, and silica (for diatoms) is generally what is limiting their growth. The major effects of CO2 on the ocean lie in the changing acidity and increasing temperatures.

I’m not as familiar with terrestrial growth dynamics, but again water, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. are likely to be limiting growth to a greater degree than CO2 concentrations. The effects from changing temperature and water availability patterns are going to swamp any effects from increased photosynthesis. Ideally, we should want plants to take up more CO2, because then it’s locked up in biomass, not in the atmosphere. It also looks like terrestrial plants at higher CO2 devote a higher ratio of their biomass in roots compared to leaves. If these plants generate more biomass, and insects also increase, much of the carbon will be blown off as CO2 during respiration- transfer efficiency up food webs tends to be small, and so any accretion of additional biomass from fossil carbon is likely to be very slow.

Perhaps I’m missing your point, and I’d be grateful if you could tell me how I am doing so, but I do think that the potential for turning that fossil carbon into biomass is a much smaller deal than temperature change, and probably on balance a good thing.

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Bruce Wilder 08.22.14 at 9:39 pm

(b) The cost of climate stabilization has turned out to be so low that even a delay of 5-10 years won’t render it unmanageable.

(c) The benefits in terms of the possibility of implementing progressive policies such as redistribution away from the 1 per cent will more than offset the extra costs of the delay in dealing with climate change.

Could someone, please, attack this optimism head-on?

I’m going to try, but I could use a lot of help.

The only way I can make sense of b) is that we are talking about replacing infrastructure over periods long enough that they coincide with the replacement of the infrastructure, so, arguably the increment to adapt may be a small amount relative to output/income. But, how that analysis is compatible with a delay of a decade, I fail to see. If you pile up the costs of infrastructure renewal over a period as long as a decade, you’re getting into some serious resource requirements, serious enough to reduce current consumption.

In the U.S., at least, we’ve been disinvesting at an accelerating pace for a quite a while; cashing out is what the mega-rich do for a living now, leaving everyone else to eat dirt in what is becoming a third-world country. To go from net disinvestment to major investment on an accelerated schedule to make up for a lost decade would be a considerable shock to the system. It’s maybe what we need to do — I’m only objecting to the minimizing incorporated into the “optimism”: shifting gears on this scale would be an event equivalent in scale to the Great Depression or a World War, maybe bigger.

The entire energy basis of the global economy has to be changed radically and completely by 2050 or so. Even if most infrastructure has a 30-40 year life, so that the increment over replacement wouldn’t be huge, we’ve gotten used to not replacing, taking out a reverse mortgage and spending the money on groceries and cable tv. We’re like the homeowner, who has not maintained his house, because he couldn’t afford the cash outlays, and now he can foresee the day it collapses from termites and water damage and cracked foundations and a furnace that doesn’t work properly, and he still doesn’t have the cash. Mr. Potter up the street has the cash to buy the land and put up a rental shack, and that’s what he’ll do, assuming Jimmy Stewart isn’t resurrected.

Maybe I’m missing the economics (b) and maybe I’m missing the politics (c), but I’m not seeing how either gets done, without enough general panic to, politically, wrest political control from the ruling class of Fox-News Mr. Potters, and motivate a consensus permitting a major investment in (public goods) infrastructure.

I guess most of the CT commentariat is ready to hear a rant against the capitalist Mr. Potters/ David Koch’s. You all know the rhyme: fill in the blank.

It’s a little harder, I expect, to question the economics of b), which aren’t really spelled out explicitly, but seem to be premised on . . . well, I’m not sure what the premises are.

Let me try a couple of possibilities: A modest carbon-price and the rest will take care of itself? Really?!? Any sane person believes that? I’m not sure which leaves me more incredulous — the politics or the economics. Where’s the political coalition to support a meaningful carbon-price and sustain it, when the bills start coming in for Mr. Potter or Mr. Koch? And, on the economics, do we will really credit gross substitution with such magical power? Can a carbon price knock the industrial revolution out of its well-worn groove?

This is taking the economist’s Hayekian fantasy of a market economy near general equilibrium in price, able to adjust allocational efficiency smoothly, way too seriously. The economy has never worked that way — there’s always been huge, purposeful planned efforts to build out public infrastructure and drive down the path of increasing returns, where those can be found. That’s what we need now — a vision of how we’re going to design the infrastructure that replaces the infrastructure we’ve got (at modest incremental cost, of course) and leaves our posterity (or ourselves, for the younger among us) in a place worth being, and able to cope. Optimism of the kind proposed by the OP just seems likely to get in the way of developing a political vision and consensus to guide the build-out of an economy structured around using a lot less energy and getting that energy from other than fossil fuels.

Or, is this techno-optimism? The idea we will never face any hard choices as we run still further toward the open end of the bridge to nowhere that we have cantilevered off the cliff marking the limit of the earth’s carrying capacity? Solar power is going to be cheaper than oil or coal ever were, and those solar breeder farms will be up real soon now. Energy problem solved, then we can worry about to grow enough food in the desert of California’s Central Valley or the Central Plains after the Ogallala goes dry, or harvest fish from acidic oceans, poisoned by our last efforts at drawing oil and natural gas from deep-water wells.

We need to panic, because panic is how we catalyze political choice, particularly political choice at the socialist / public planning for the common good end of the continuum. We need panic, because we need something very like revolution to get what needs to be done, in the long-term process of getting done.

And, if anyone thinks the free rider problem has just gone away on its own . . . well, we need harder, more disciplined thinking than that. Even if the technological options are getting better and more appealing, they still have to become political options, anchored to people’s understanding of their private and common interests, and we are a long way from completing the political process phase change in good order. (Please refer to the disinvestment mania driving income inequality, referenced earlier in this rant.)

OK, tell me why I’m completely wrong, tell me why civilization is not sliding down a rocky, broken cliff into a dark age.

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cassander 08.22.14 at 9:56 pm

@Jthomas

>No, you completely missed the point. I’m not interested in whether you have faith in science or whether you believe in empiricism. The way you write, you prove that you do not understand how to do scientific reasoning. You just don’t get it, faith or not.

Your apparent belief that people cannot disagree with you without being idiots tells does you no credit. It’s especially the case since I have already conceded that I happen to agree with most of the standard story of climate science, that it has gotten a lot warmer and that people burning carbon are largely the reason why. Yet since I don’t immediately thereafter leap to “and therefore we should implement the progressive agenda” you castigate me not as mistaken, not even as ignorant, but as someone who does not even understand inductive reasoning. Frankly, your narrowness of vision is embarrassing.

@lee arnold

3. That changing away from fossil fuels will create economic catastrophe.

Changing away from fossil fuels would cost tens of trillions of dollars, full stop. That, by definition, is an economic catastrophe. Every dollar spent making that transition is a dollar that cannot be spent on something else that people would like more. You are asking people to throw away tens of trillions of dollars in accumulated capital and potential future earning on the basis of extremely dubious computer projections of future climate. Even ignoring that this will almost certainly have disproportionate effects on poorer countries less able to afford green tech, this is an enormous act of faith.

@Srsly Dad Y

>?that one of the biggest conservative pseudo-truths that was drummed into us unsuspecting students in the 1980s

First, is it a truth or not? you can’t argue that conservatives were lying about the effect of taxes in the 80s, then lying again by saying the opposite today.

Second, I know relatively few conservatives who are opposed to a carbon tax in principle, what they are opposed to is higher taxes, period. Do you want to know how to crush conservatives on the climate issue? It’s easy. Put forth a proposal that enacts a giant carbon tax, but cuts income and payroll taxes by slightly more, a few percent. Then every democrat in the country can run around talking about how they want to save the climate and cut your taxes, but the mean republicans would rather protect the oil companies and the rich. You’d blow the republicans out of the water. But funnily enough, I know very few progressives who are interested in that method. They want to address climate change, it seems, but not if it means cutting taxes.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.22.14 at 9:59 pm

“In the U.S., at least, we’ve been disinvesting at an accelerating pace for a quite a while; cashing out is what the mega-rich do for a living now, leaving everyone else to eat dirt in what is becoming a third-world country.”

The global climate doesn’t care which countries are third-world. “Civilization” isn’t sliding down into a dark age. Only the U.S. is.

It will literally be cheaper for the Chinese to use solar PV than it will be for them to burn coal. They will sell solar panels to everyone else. The U.S. will be as dysfunctional as always but it won’t matter.

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Bruce Wilder 08.22.14 at 10:20 pm

Brett Bellmore: Look, if I set up a kinematic model of a pendulum, and it doesn’t predict the pendulum swinging back after a period, instead of continuing in a straight line, the model is garbage.

In a model of a pendulum, the pendulum swings back, if the force of the wire holding the weight and the negative feedback of friction combine to bring the pendulum swinging back.

In climate and weather and ecology models, there are positive feedbacks as well as negative feedbacks. As a positive forcing like increasing CO2 and methane in the atmosphere is applied, it would be analogous to applying more than usual force to the pendulum weight to set it into motion. If you apply a small force to setting a pendulum into motion, it swings in a nice, predictable path, well-regulated by negative feedback that gradually slows it down. If you apply a large enough force, even if the wire holds, the weight may bounce around chaotically, before settling back into the characteristic swing we expect of a pendulum. If the wire breaks from sufficient force, the weight goes bouncing across the floor or breaks a window.

As I understand it, what climate scientists have been saying is that the forcing represented by increased CO2 in the atmosphere is large enough to get not the nice swing of the pendulum, but the chaos the happens when you set a pendulum in motion with too much force.

A model of a pendulum swinging in its characteristic way in response to a modest push is relatively easy to construct. If that model tells you that a push of a given magnitude is possibly enough to break the wire, it’s not going to predict the path of the weight across the floor or out the window. That failure to predict chaos shouldn’t encourage skeptical complacency.

The summary point of the great diversity of climate models is that we are heading toward chaos. The scientists know this, and they are trying to identify what breaks the wire, and whether the weight bounces across the floor or goes flying out the window. Those are huge challenges, but the climate is going toward chaos, whether we can model its path to chaos, or not.

The well-grounded fear is that a positive forcing as large as we are giving the climate (and the ecologies of the earth — let’s not forget where we live) may engender positive feedbacks that amplify and accelerate the processes set in motion by the change in atmospheric chemistry.

Nobody who understands any of this is looking at the global thermometer and wondering about the temperature rising as the primary indicator of trouble — on average, over the whole globe, the rise in temperature is tiny anyway — at low elevations even in the temperate regions, still almost imperceptible. Sensible people are watching the arctic sea ice cover shrink, severe drought develop, methane stream into the atmosphere, glaciers melt, ocean currents stall, coral bleach out, die-offs, etc. This isn’t a wire and weight swinging into the smooth motion of a pendulum; this is a whip, and even if the movements at the handle end of the whip seem modest enough — a few degrees Celsius — the movements at the business end may well describe a powerful shift to punishingly chaotic conditions. This is what we need to act to prevent, not predict before we act.

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Bruce Wilder 08.22.14 at 10:22 pm

and gravity — just a typo, you pedants

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Bruce Wilder 08.22.14 at 10:25 pm

Rich Puchalsky: It will literally be cheaper for the Chinese to use solar PV than it will be for them to burn coal.

I hope that turns out to be true.

I don’t see how it possibly could be . . . and that’s why I worry that the optimistic Left is more delusional and unscientific than the denialist Right.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 10:34 pm

Cassander #95: “Changing away from fossil fuels would cost tens of trillions of dollars, full stop. … Every dollar spent making that transition is a dollar that cannot be spent on something else that people would like more. You are asking people to throw away tens of trillions of dollars in accumulated capital and potential future earning…”

Every bit of this is either misdirection or nonsense. You shouldn’t go around costing anything without the benefits; dollars spent on the transition would not disappear, they would then be spent on something else; capital depreciates and needs to be replaced anyway, etc.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.22.14 at 10:36 pm

Cassander #95: “Put forth a proposal that enacts a giant carbon tax, but cuts income and payroll taxes by slightly more, a few percent… funnily enough, I know very few progressives who are interested in that method. They want to address climate change, it seems, but not if it means cutting taxes.”

Funnily enough, this is originally Al Gore’s proposal.

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John Quiggin 08.22.14 at 10:42 pm

#95 “carbon tax, but cuts income tax” This was exactly what was done by the Labor government in Australia, and the conservatives here have just repealed the carbon tax and tried to claw back as much as possible of the compensation.

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Jerry Vinokurov 08.22.14 at 11:02 pm

Ironically, a system as simple as the double pendulum will exhibit fundamentally unpredictable behavior such that a singular trajectory is literally impossible to project indefinitely into the future with any finite amount of computational power.

104

cassander 08.22.14 at 11:17 pm

@ Lee Arnold

>Every bit of this is either misdirection or nonsense. You shouldn’t go around costing anything without the benefits; dollars spent on the transition would not disappear, they would then be spent on something else; capital depreciates and needs to be replaced anyway, etc.

If you want to phase out carbon powered stuff over the next several decades, I’m onboard. Unfortunately, what I keep hearing is an “apollo program for green energy” and “if we don’t act in the next 5 years, we’ll reach a tipping point.” Perhaps I don’t hang out at the right places, but I don’t see a lot of interest in gradual phase out on the left. I see a desire for massive replacement as soon as possible, which involves enormous short term expense. As for gore, if that was his proposal, good for him, but he seems not to have had much impact on his party.

@John Quiggin

I know nothing about australian politics, but some brief reading on their method does not seem to indicate that there were any offsetting tax cuts to go along with the carbon tax. a brief look at the australian budgets. shows that tax collection increased from about 330 billion to 350, between fy 2012 and 13, though only about 3.6 billion of that increase was the carbon tax. and next year, revenues are expected to be over than 400 billion, despite the repeal of the carbon tax. At only 1% of revenues, I feel safe calling it small beans.

http://www.budget.gov.au/2011-12/content/fbo/html/part_1.htm
http://www.budget.gov.au/2012-13/content/fbo/html/part_1.htm
http://www.budget.gov.au/2014-15/content/overview/html/overview_30.htm

105

Brett Bellmore 08.22.14 at 11:24 pm

“The summary point of the great diversity of climate models is that we are heading toward chaos.”

The summary point of that great diversity being clustered all off to one side of the actual climate behavior, instead of around it, is that the models may be heading towards chaos, but they’re not heading the same way the CLIMATE is.

106

John Quiggin 08.22.14 at 11:28 pm

@104 “I know nothing about australian politics” You would have done well to stop there, rather than giving a further demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Here are the details

http://www.grantthornton.com.au/Issues-and-Challenges/Carbon_Scheme/Compensation.asp

107

cassander 08.22.14 at 11:46 pm

@John Quiggin

And yet, income tax receipts went up about 5% the year after the tax was imposed, and tax expenditures remain below the figure projected pre-carbon tax. Twiddling a bit around the edges does not make a tax hike a tax cut, it just makes it a slightly smaller tax hike.

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john c. halasz 08.22.14 at 11:50 pm

O.K. My $.02 worth. I also don’t understand why the economic problems are cheap or easily resolvable. How effective are mainstream broadly neo-classical economic models at prediction, especially over long time horizons, (though even, as we’ve seen, over quite short horizons)? And what underwrites the expectation of basically “linear” trend growth, which presumably underwrites the assumption that the costs of transformation will be minimal as a % of merely projected future GDP, (especially when a primary input to such growth, exogenous energy, will be rising in cost and decreasing in physical efficiency)? And not only are the economic “shocks” likely to be unpredictable and discontinuous rather than “linear”, but all the more, so the environmental and resource shocks too? So why should we rely on some simplistic “cost/benefit” analysis, when neither the costs, nor the benefits are readily identifiable, let alone quantifiable? ISTM that the insurance argument is much more economically important: that the greater the risks and uncertainties involved, the higher the economic “value” of insurance.

The problem doesn’t simply reduce either to replacing our current sources of energy, (just as AGW is not the only environmental, ecological or resource crisis we confront, only their intensification, rather than their supercession). It’s also a matter of replacing our energy using/consuming capital stocks and infrastructure, which is less a matter of an economics based on “market” transactions, than a matter of production economics, (with fatefully long-lived investments). Further, a large part of our current productive capital and infrastructure will have to have their “value” destroyed, and not just in physical terms, but in terms of the huge pile of financial “asset” claims laid on top of the physical stock and technical know-how. At the same time, a vast amount of new investment will have to occur, (together with a transformation of a lot of our ways of doing business, such as our current fossil fuel and chemical intensive industrialized agriculture), which far exceeds, given the time horizons involved, “normal” rates of economic depreciation. So though a carbon tax-and-rebate scheme is a necessary first step, it is far from sufficient, based on the “magic” of markets. A good deal of public investment, publicly guided indicative industrial policy, and public policy with respect to demand management, employment and income distribution would be required. If one still wants to call that “capitalism” or insist that it is “socialism”, that’s all fine by me, but the functional constraints will make themselves felt willy-nilly, or else we’ll just be running of a cliff.

But then conventional energy sources are already in decline. The EROEI of petroleum is currently put between 20 to 15. For NG it’s 15. Even coal has declined to about 40. (Don’t ask about nukes). So, on the one hand, it’s crucial that we use the remaining reserves of conventional energy, (both in GHG terms and in EROEI terms), to build out a fully renewable system, while, on the other, if we don’t do so, we will be caught in an energy “trap”, whereby declining availability of energy resources will no longer be sufficient to do the “work” of building out any alternative system of production and use. In the meantime, proposals like carbon capture or thorium reactors, are untried or non-existent, likely to prove “vapor-ware”. We should only rely on existing technical means or near reaches. And if we don’t make “wise” investment decisions collectively, but rather continue to rely on business-as-usual, then the result will be vast amounts of stranded, long-lived sunk-cost investments, and global depression and collapse. On the other hand, renewable energy systems, which means largely electricity, (wind, solar, hydro, connected with a “smart grid”), have this common characteristic: high up-front investment costs and low maintenance costs with large long-term pay-offs. Such a “hurdle rate” is something that only governments have the fiscal resources and time-horizons to manage. Capitalist oligopolies, as rent-seeking “organisms”, have neither the incentives, nor the financial capacities, nor the coordination to achieve such investments. Even leaving aside their current “interests”.

I have no idea where Bruce Wilder comes up with his 80% reduction figure. However, it’s worth studying this flow chart of the U.S. energy system:

https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/energy/energy_archive/energy_flow_2013/2013USEnergy.png

Given the size of the U.S. economy, I would guess total global energy production/consumption is prolly between 350-400 quads. But note where the largest proportion of energy waste occurs. In thermal methods of electrical production (fossil fuels and nukes) and in petroleum powered transport. If thermal methods of electricity generation were replaced by non-thermal renewable methods and if land transport were converted to electrical urban mass transit and electric trains, then easily half the waste energy could be eliminated from that picture. (Further, if the number of vehicles annually purchased in the U.S. could be reduced by 12 million, at 270 bn joules per vehicle, that would reduce the embedded energy consumption by 3 quads, not to mention other resource requirements. even if much of the manufacturing occurs abroad, for U.S. consumption demand).

Further, it would surely help if current conventional “Western” systems of energy and resource production and consumption were not simply transferred to the “developing” world, or chained into the current neo-liberal global regime, but rather if systems could be designed and implemented to meet their actual needs and requirements, which leap-frog the “Western” models.

I have no idea what the politics, let alone the political-economy, of all this amounts to, but I wouldn’t be naively optimistic.

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Collin Street 08.22.14 at 11:55 pm

Right wing activists are all, without exception, significantly disturbed.

You cannot usefully argue with a stupid person who is unaware of their stupidity. They are not open to the possibility of error on their part, and they cannot see their mistakes even when clearly pointed out. Effort spent trying to persuade them that they are in error is essentially entirely wasted.

Far, far better to spend it convincing the rest of the population of a need for action wrt disturbed people whose mental problems manifest in how they see the world working and how they articulate these views. As a public-health issue, essentially depoliticised.

[widespread internet use means essentially everyone deals with severely disturbed right-wingers on a pretty regular basis: the marketing problem is more getting people to link these incidents together in one "right-wingers are all crazy" theme than as "many right-wingers are crazy". Everyone knows the latter.]

110

ZM 08.23.14 at 12:26 am

John c halasz

” I also don’t understand why the economic problems are cheap or easily resolvable”

I don’t think they really are. The IPCC technical report states the economists’ estimates that say they are low cost :

1. Rely on ‘idealistic’ (ie unrealistic and unlikely) scenarios
2. Rely on ‘optimistic’ (ie unproven and not practicable)
3. Rely on unfair and cruel discounting
4. Assume global consumption over the century grows between 4 and 10 x what it is now (despite current consumption already causing huge environmental problems)
5. Use 450ppm carbon equivalent as the goal rather than 350ppm (the latter is considered safe by many scientists and the former a politically convenient amount leaving action to some time in the future)

Also the Australian Climate Authority report uses General Equilibrium theory in its modelling, which Professor Quiggin has elsewhere said is not realistic /correct – so then this economic modelling is not based on sound assumptions.

111

ZM 08.23.14 at 12:28 am

2. Should be ‘rely on ‘optimistic’ (ie unproven and not practicable) future technologies’

Sorry

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Layman 08.23.14 at 12:47 am

Brett Belmore, are there subjects you’re not an expert on? You strike me as a sort of modern Velikovsky…

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ZM 08.23.14 at 1:36 am

Thanks Joshua Holmes @80 – I had not come across that problem with wet rice agriculture before – that seems quite a big problem given rice is such a staple.

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Limericky Dicky 08.23.14 at 1:51 am

That rant, for Bruce (a scant excuse.)

It’s getting hotter and hotter
Mr. Potter
What a fucking rotter!

(You all know the rhyme: it’s no capital crime)

The firth’s become a loch
David Koch
Filth! Moloch!

(You all know the rhyme: every man of every clime)

That ice cap, it’ll list
What price, capitalist?
Destroy! Get pissed!

(You all know the rhyme: from ridiculous to sublime)

Raise all yachts on a permanent cruise
The animals perishing in ones and twos
Thanks, Fox News
J’accuse
Thought that you were clever when you lit the fuse

(You all know the rhyme: out of

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John Quiggin 08.23.14 at 1:59 am

@110 There are too many errors here to respond to all of them in a comments box, but the most glaring is the point about discounting. Lower discount rates improve the benefit-cost ratio of early mitigation action, the opposite of what you are suggesting.

And you appear to have got confused about who is saying what. The IPCC (AR5, WG3, technical summary) is the source of the reports you say it is attacking. Who, in your view are “the economists” criticised by the IPCC authors (many of whom are economists).

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J Thomas 08.23.14 at 2:02 am

#93 giovanni da procida

Perhaps I’m missing something, but the issue of the extra carbon dioxide going into biomass seems to me to be a small issue, mostly because it is a very slow process.

Let me first state my big point. I’ll start out with an analogy.

Americans used to believe that any large nuclear war would create enough fallout to kill everybody in the world. But then at one point there was a claim that we could attack the USSR and get away with it. We had many tiny warheads that could hit precisely, we could eliminate the USSR second-strike capability without creating enough radioactivity to hurt the USA at all.

But then some science-types thought that maybe a big nuclear war would burn enough carbon to make so much smoke it would affect world-wide weather for a year or two. A strike on the USSR that burned a lot of cities or forests would affect the USA that way. The generals had not thought about that at all. After considerable effort their think-tanks concluded that there could be such an effect, but depending on what time of year the USA attacked, the effect could be minimized. Therefore it was safe after all for the USA to make a first strike. They hadn’t thought of any other bad result, and the scientists hadn’t thought of any other bad result, so that proved there was no other bad result.

I’m concerned about similar thinking concerning fossil fuels. CO2 in the atmosphere provably results in a greenhouse effect. Too much of that is bad. But then we get the idea that if we can keep the greenhouse effect from being too bad then the problem is solved. We haven’t even thought much about the other problems because we’ve been so focused on this one.

About half of yearly oxygen production (and thus CO2 uptake) occurs in the oceans [....] The other thing to remember, is that oceanic phytoplankton are generally not carbon limited- their access to nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, and silica (for diatoms) is generally what is limiting their growth.

So on first thought we can expect the fraction of CO2 uptake by the oceans to drop, because it’s limited by other things while more of terrestrial plants are not strictly limited by other things.

Or maybe there are a few kinds of rare algae that are limited by CO2, which might become much more common than they are now. It’s hard to predict what tremendously complicated ecosystems will do when you put them into unprecedented circumstances. (You can predict disruptions, but it’s hard to predict just how they’ll go.)

The major effects of CO2 on the ocean lie in the changing acidity and increasing temperatures.

Yes. Ecosystem change that is hard to predict.

I’m not as familiar with terrestrial growth dynamics, but again water, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. are likely to be limiting growth to a greater degree than CO2 concentrations.

I’m not sure that applies this time. If extra CO2 allows easier photosynthesis, extra energy allows more nitrogen fixation, more water pumping, maybe more phosphorus transport and retention, etc. It can’t completely overcome other limits, but it can push against them. Sometimes limiting factors are hard limits, and sometimes there’s a degree of substitution.

And the plants that have the most use for extra carbon will get a competitive advantage, which would change things.

Perhaps I’m missing your point, and I’d be grateful if you could tell me how I am doing so, but I do think that the potential for turning that fossil carbon into biomass is a much smaller deal than temperature change, and probably on balance a good thing.

You could easily be right. Certainly a 6 degree surface temperature increase would be a great big deal. I can’t prove that extra biomass would be a great big deal, it involves too many unknowns. Possibly on balance it might be a good thing for humans, I don’t know enough to prove it wouldn’t.

I guess I just feel conservative. It seems obviously conservative: Don’t make giant irreversible changes to your only planet’s ecosystem until you’re sure they’ll work out. It bothers me to hear people talk like we can just handle the temperature issue and then the problem is solved. When there are multiple other effects that are likely to have big effects, but that are harder to predict than temperature.

117

john c. halasz 08.23.14 at 2:10 am

“Lower discount rates improve the benefit-cost ratio of early mitigation action, the opposite of what you are suggesting.”

I missed where the suggestion occurred, though your point is “theoretically” correct. And the subsequent bit about methane emissions is incorrect. But then who is exactly saying what, JQ?

118

Lee A. Arnold 08.23.14 at 2:15 am

Brett Bellmore #105: “…they’re not heading the same way the CLIMATE is.”

Are you so sure? After this study, another study showed that the HadCRUT4 data greatly underestimates the warming since 1997 due to data gaps in the polar regions and Africa, and it was found, by including satellite measurements for these areas, that there has been almost NO PAUSE in the temperature increase:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/qj.2297/abstract

119

J Thomas 08.23.14 at 2:20 am

#95 Cassander

“No, you completely missed the point. I’m not interested in whether you have faith in science or whether you believe in empiricism. The way you write, you prove that you do not understand how to do scientific reasoning. You just don’t get it, faith or not.”

Your apparent belief that people cannot disagree with you without being idiots tells does you no credit. It’s especially the case since I have already conceded that I happen to agree with most of the standard story of climate science, that it has gotten a lot warmer and that people burning carbon are largely the reason why.

It isn’t about agreement about climate science. It’s about your methods of reasoning.

You just don’t get it. I don’t think it would be useful to argue with you about whether you get it, because you don’t get it and you wouldn’t understand the reasoning. I’m not interested in compromising with you about climate goals, I’m interested in you learning inductive reasoning.

Play the game. It’s fun and it’s good for you. I think you’ll get it, with experience. It’s a card game, it isn’t political at all.

120

Thornton Hall 08.23.14 at 2:41 am

@95 this proves my point that the field of economics bears a lot of the blame for in action on climate:

Changing away from fossil fuels would cost tens of trillions of dollars, full stop. That, by definition, is an economic catastrophe. Every dollar spent making that transition is a dollar that cannot be spent on something else that people would like more.

By definition, if a democracy says something is a good way to spend money, then, by definition, it is a bad way to spend money. Who gave these psychopaths license to dictate moral philosophy? You did, JQ! By failing the test of humility, the entire academy bears the blame.

121

Lee A. Arnold 08.23.14 at 2:41 am

Cassander #104: “Unfortunately, what I keep hearing…”

Unfortunately, what you keep hearing, has nothing to do with what I wrote. And your objection could be wrong. Even in a time span shorter than “several decades”, changing away from fossil fuels need not create an economic catastrophe. Quite the reverse. It could be a spur to jobs and growth for a lot more people, and improve the long-term GDP trend.

122

Thornton Hall 08.23.14 at 2:41 am

Goddam blockquotes! Last graf is me.

123

ZM 08.23.14 at 2:41 am

John Quiggin,

“you appear to have got confused about who is saying what. The IPCC (AR5, WG3, technical summary) is the source of the reports you say it is attacking. Who, in your view are “the economists” criticised by the IPCC authors (many of whom are economists).”

The IPCC technical summary said they looked at 900 scenarios*** for mitigation produced around the world:

“As part of this assessment, about 900 mitigation scenarios (out of more than 1200 total scenarios) have been collected from integrated modelling research groups from around the world [Box TS.7]. These scenarios have been constructed to reach a range of atmospheric CO2eq concentrations and cumulative GHG emissions levels under very different assumptions about energy demands, international cooperation, technology, the contributions of CO2 and other forcing agents, as well as the degree by which concentrations peak and decline during the century (concentration overshoot) [Box TS.8]. No multi‐ model comparison study and only a limited number of individual studies have explored pathways to atmospheric concentrations of below 430 ppm CO2eq by 2100 ” p. 23

*** the technical summary does not list the 900 scenarios because it is a summary – I expect the whole lengthy IPCC report would list the 900 scenarios and their authors. I am not going to cut and paste the authors of 900 scenarios here because that would be too long a comment, although I suppose I could do so if someone requested.

“@110 There are too many errors here to respond to all of them in a comments box, but the most glaring is the point about discounting. Lower discount rates improve the benefit-cost ratio of early mitigation action, the opposite of what you are suggesting.”

What are the errors? I just summed up the technical summary’s report on the matter of economists making low cost estimates ***

***except for my comment about general equilibrium theory in models which I figured out myself reading the climate authority’s report, but the technical summary says the scenarios rely on ‘well functioning markets’ which people here say are an economists’ fiction.
The technical summary further says on the limits of economists’ models:
Many integrated models are based on the rational choice paradigm for decision making, excluding the consideration of some behavioural factors. Scenarios from these models capture only some of the dimensions of development pathways that are relevant to mitigation options, often only minimally treating issues such as distributional impacts of mitigation actions and consistency with broader development goals. In addition, the models in this assessment do not effectively account for the interactions between mitigation, adaptation, and climate impacts. For these reasons, mitigation has been assessed independently from climate impacts. Finally, and most fundamentally, integrated models are simplified, stylized, numerical approaches for representing enormously complex physical and social systems, and scenarios from these models are based on uncertain projections about key events and drivers over often century‐ long timescales. ” p. 23

This is the technical summary on my five key points:

1.Rely on ‘idealistic’ (ie unrealistic and unlikely) scenarios:
“Substantially higher cost estimates have been obtained based on assumptions about less idealized policy implementations “

2. Rely on ‘optimistic’ (ie unproven and not practicable) future technologies:
“Substantially higher cost estimates have been obtained based on assumptions about… limits on technology availability”
“Many models in recent model intercomparisons could not produce scenarios reaching atmospheric concentrations between 430 and 480 ppm CO2eq by 2100 with broadly pessimistic assumptions about key mitigation technologies.”

3. Rely on unfair and cruel discounting
“The chief reason for social discounting (favouring present people over future people) is that commodities have ‘diminishing marginal benefit’ and per capita income is expected to increase over time. Diminishing marginal benefit means that the value of extra commodities to society declines as people become better off. If economies continue to grow, people who live later in time will on average be better off—possess more commodities—than people who live earlier . The faster the growth and the greater the degree of diminishing marginal benefit, the greater should be the discount rate on commodities….
Some authors have argued, in addition, that the present generation of people should give less weight to later people’s wellbeing just because they are more remote in time. This factor would add to the social discount rate on commodities.”

4. Assume global consumption over the century grows between 4 and 10 x what it is now (despite current consumption already causing huge environmental problems)
“studies assume increases in consumption from four‐fold to over ten‐fold over the century without mitigation”

5. 5. Use 450ppm carbon equivalent as the goal rather than 350ppm (the latter is considered safe by many scientists and the former a politically convenient amount leaving action to some time in the future)
“Mitigation scenarios point to a range of technological and behavioral measures that would allow the world’s societies to follow emissions pathways compatible with atmospheric concentration levels between about 450 ppm CO2eq to more than 750 ppm CO2eq by 2100″

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john c. halasz 08.23.14 at 2:44 am

@118:

Good for you, Lee A., if you are referring to the report/study I think you are, carefully calibrating surface temp. measures with satellite data, equally calibrated, to fill in the gaps. If anyone cares to follow the scientific news on AGW, here is the place to go, rather than randomly searching the tubz:

http://www.realclimate.org/

125

giovanni da procida 08.23.14 at 2:53 am

JThomas @116

Thanks for your response. I get your point regarding not knowing what we don’t know, but I still think your concerns are not terribly realistic. I am assuming that you are talking about

I agree with you to the extent that I think it is foolish to just focus on temperature. Ocean acidification is going to be a huge problem. I guess I just don’t see the likelihood of great biomass increases in the system I’m most familiar with (the open ocean) and given the choice between fossil carbon in the air and bound up in biomass, I’d much rather have it in biomass. Again, if I’m missing something crucial, I would be most grateful if you would point it out.

ps- scientific papers for any of the above quoted facts available on request.

126

Lee A. Arnold 08.23.14 at 2:55 am

John C. Halasz — It just occurred to me that if it is verified that there has been no pause in surface temp, and it is also verified that there still has been an increase in the rate of ocean temp, then that means that the planet is warming up a lot FASTER than most people now believe.

127

giovanni da procida 08.23.14 at 2:57 am

JThomas @116

(Sorry for double post: I am an HTML idiot)

Thanks for your response. I get your point regarding not knowing what we don’t know, but I still think your concerns are not terribly realistic. I am assuming that you are talking about

“So on first thought we can expect the fraction of CO2 uptake by the oceans to drop, because it’s limited by other things while more of terrestrial plants are not strictly limited by other things.

Or maybe there are a few kinds of rare algae that are limited by CO2, which might become much more common than they are now. It’s hard to predict what tremendously complicated ecosystems will do when you put them into unprecedented circumstances. (You can predict disruptions, but it’s hard to predict just how they’ll go.”

Yes, but CO2 uptake by seawater is driven by equilibrium with the atmosphere. So as CO2 in the atmosphere goes up, it continues to go into seawater. Now, the amount of that CO2 then taken up by biological processes may not keep pace with land plants, but the ocean will continue to take up carbon as long as it is being released into the air.

Many forms of algae actually are CO2 limited, or rather would be if they were relieved from other limitations. Concentrations of bioavailable nitrogen and phosphorus in large swathes of the pacific ocean, are at concentrations of ~tens of nanomoles per liter, and this is likely to be exacerbated by increased stratification of oceans due to warming of the upper mixed layer. So yes, there may be rare algae that are currently principally limited by CO2, but for them to become much more common they would nee to somehow avoid being limited by low concentrations of N,P,Fe, Si, etc., also be able to avoid predation- currently the most common algal cell in most open ocean waters is Prochlorococcus which appears to turn over (i.e. be grazed) about once per day (and divide about once per day), and somehow not sink into the dark ocean.

So I understand your point about not being able to predict the results of ecosystem disruption, but I feel pretty confident in saying that rapid biomass accumulation (the fossil carbon in the air greatly increasing the biota of the sunlit zone of the ocean on a time scale of years) is exceedingly unlikely to happen.

I can’t comment on the terrestrial issue further except to say that even plants that benefit most from increased carbon are likely to fall victim to Liebig’s law of the minimum.

“It seems obviously conservative: Don’t make giant irreversible changes to your only planet’s ecosystem until you’re sure they’ll work out. It bothers me to hear people talk like we can just handle the temperature issue and then the problem is solved. When there are multiple other effects that are likely to have big effects, but that are harder to predict than temperature.”

I agree with you to the extent that I think it is foolish to just focus on temperature. Ocean acidification is going to be a huge problem. I guess I just don’t see the likelihood of great biomass increases in the system I’m most familiar with (the open ocean) and given the choice between fossil carbon in the air and bound up in biomass, I’d much rather have it in biomass. Again, if I’m missing something crucial, I would be most grateful if you would point it out.

ps- scientific papers for any of the above quoted facts available on request.

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J Thomas 08.23.14 at 3:06 am

#125

I agree with you to the extent that I think it is foolish to just focus on temperature. Ocean acidification is going to be a huge problem. I guess I just don’t see the likelihood of great biomass increases in the system I’m most familiar with (the open ocean) and given the choice between fossil carbon in the air and bound up in biomass, I’d much rather have it in biomass.

You’d rather the devil you don’t know than the devil you do. I tend to agree.

We have strong reason to expect horrible results from lots of fossil carbon in the air, while we have no way to predict the results from lots of extra carbon in biomass except that there would be large effects.

And if it takes hundreds of years for it to happen then we could figure it isn’t our problem. Let future generations worry about it. If we are heading toward ecosystems without much place for humans in them, if it’s slow then we have a long time to find answers and it isn’t our problem this generation at all.

I can’t give you scientific papers predicting how fast biomass would increase or predicting the indirect effects of it. I have no idea how to do that research and I don’t know of anybody else who knows how to do it.

I’m glad to hear that you are confident it won’t be a big problem. Your prediction about that is probably better than mine. What confidence would you give it? Would you say that from what you know you are 90% sure that it will not be much of a problem? 99%? 99.9%?

129

ZM 08.23.14 at 3:29 am

John Quiggin,
I think I see what you mean about unfair discount rates – that if the authors of the scenarios did use fair discount rates the recommendations following would support more action on climate change. But the technical summary does not say how many, if any , of the authors of the scenarios used fair discount rates – it only notes a practice of unfair discounting.

John c halasz,
When you say the methane emissions bit is incorrect – do you mean the emissions of wet rice farming? I only just heard this claim, I do it know how accurate it is supposed to be – but if accurate it seems like quite a problem.

J Thomas,

Tim Worstall apparently blogged about extra carbon being good for plant growth, but I do not think it so simple. Because there will be extra droughts and changing weather patterns etc that are not good for plant growth, or benefits some plants over others – thus upsetting ecological balances. And also changing temperatures can make trees not be overall storers of carbon but emitters:

“Global warming could cut the rate at which trees in tropical rainforests grow by as much as half, according to more than two decades’ worth of data from forests in Panama and Malaysia. The effect — so far largely overlooked by climate modellers — could severely erode or even remove the ability of tropical rainforests to remove carbon dioxide from the air as they grow.

Some scientists and environmentalists have suggested that, given the way carbon dioxide spurs plant growth, tropical forests could in time come to act as a sink, offsetting some of the man-made carbon dioxide build-up.

That optimism will have to be reassessed, though, if photosynthesis becomes less productive in the tropics. The trends measured by Feeley suggest that entire tropical regions might become net emitters of carbon dioxide, rather than storage vessels for it. “The Amazon basin as a whole could become a carbon source,” Feeley says.”
http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070806/full/news070806-13.html

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john c. halasz 08.23.14 at 3:58 am

@129:

Methane is a huge issue and most catastrophic scenarios involve run-a-way methane feed-back loops. Currently about 40% of climate “forcings” are attributed to methane. However, conventionally estimated, only about 1/3 of methane emissions are considered “natural” and 2/3 are considered humanly induced, though interacting with the natural environment. The main source of “natural” methane are wet-lands, though wet-lands contribute essential “environmental services”, aside from their own peculiar ecologies, especially with respect to water cleaning, if not flood control. So rice farming is considered a human source of methane emissions, as a kind of artificial wet-land, (though there are drier forms of rice cultivation, such as what is being promoted in India and elsewhere as the “system of rice intensification” SRI). But by conventional estimates, the main sources of human induced methane emissions are fossil fuel extraction, NG, coal, and oil, which account for 1/3, (though that is probably an underestimate), followed by grass-eating ungulates, cows and sheep, at about 2/7, and so on down the list. Rice farming is about 1/10 of the human induced total.

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J Thomas 08.23.14 at 4:02 am

#127

I’ll ask you to humor me. I know almost nothing about your specialty, and I enjoy trying to think things out from first principles. I want to think about this, and if you respond I’ll be interested, if you don’t reply I won’t assume it means you agree or disagree or anything in particular.

Concentrations of bioavailable nitrogen and phosphorus in large swathes of the pacific ocean, are at concentrations of ~tens of nanomoles per liter, and this is likely to be exacerbated by increased stratification of oceans due to warming of the upper mixed layer. So yes, there may be rare algae that are currently principally limited by CO2, but for them to become much more common they would nee to somehow avoid being limited by low concentrations of N,P,Fe, Si, etc.

OK. I’ll imagine that one thing, say iron, is so much more limiting than anything else that adding that would make a big difference. So double the iron and maybe double the algae. Add one mole, 56 grams, spread out sufficiently, and that doubles the iron in 10^8 liters of seawater. Assume only the top liter matters, that’s 10^4 x 10 cm, Oh. one square kilometer of ocean surface. Hardly anything.

But wait! The important number isn’t the amount of iron left in the seawater. The algae absorb iron as fast as they can and still double every day. If they put more of their effort into collecting iron against the gradient then they grow slower because they don’t have as many resources left to grow with. If they put less effort into collecting iron then they grow slower because they don’t have enough iron. The number of algae is the number that can get enough iron while reducing what’s left to 10’s of nanomoles. How much biomass of algae we’d get depends on how much they need to collect to grow at that rate, not from how much they can’t get. I can’t tell how much they’d grow from how much they can’t have. The maximum extra growth would be the amount of iron in a single cell, times the amount of iron added.

Looking back, it wasn’t iron you had at tens of nanomoles anyway. Oh well.

Anyway, you point out that stratification would make it harder for them to get iron from below. There wouldn’t be any algae or animals that go down to where there are more needed minerals and bring them up, right? And if things changed that still wouldn’t happen.

I can imagine iron getting out into the pacific from volcanic smoke, or giant forest fires. But that would be occasional transient things, not a change in equilibrium.

OK, I can’t think of any way that more minerals would get to the ocean surface. If anything, less would. So areas that don’t have much life wouldn’t get more.

Extra CO2 might result in different algae getting common. From the CO2 available for photosynthesis, and probably more important the acidity, etc. The different small animals that eat the algae might concentrate poisons to make themselves unattractive to larger predators, except for the ones that can handle those poisons. We could get big ecosystem changes even without increased biomass. But those areas of the ocean don’t matter all that much to humans anyway, right? They can get changed around and we won’t much care.

So the areas of ocean that don’t have much life wouldn’t matter much, except that the seawater absorbs CO2.

132

J Thomas 08.23.14 at 4:16 am

#129 ZM

Tim Worstall apparently blogged about extra carbon being good for plant growth, but I do not think it so simple. Because there will be extra droughts and changing weather patterns etc that are not good for plant growth, or benefits some plants over others – thus upsetting ecological balances. And also changing temperatures can make trees not be overall storers of carbon but emitters:

Agreed, it isn’t that simple. Sure, we can expect extra CO2 to benefit some plants over others and upset ecological balances. Tropical forests may decline, or some of them might possibly find a way to spread north. Formerly temperate areas may get more growth, and some areas that still seem temperate may also.

People who ignorantly write about this assume it will be good for humans. Like, they assume our crops will grow faster. It’s possible. And if say kudzu grows faster still, we can learn to eat kudzu. And if it’s jimson weed that grows and spreads the fastest? Maybe we can create genetically engineered viruses that will preferentially attack it.

I expect problems in the long run. We didn’t evolve with that much carbon in the ecosystem. There hasn’t been this much carbon for a long time. We might wind up with lots of ecosystems that are not suited for humans to survive in. That’s OK if we maintain our technology and plentiful energy sources, but we don’t have a long history of doing that.

133

cassander 08.23.14 at 4:54 am

> It could be a spur to jobs and growth for a lot more people, and improve the long-term GDP trend.

Classic case of the broken windows fallacy. You can also make jobs by paying some people to dig holes and others to fill them, that doesn’t mean you should. if the non-carbon using goods were more desirable than the carbon using ones, people would switch on their own. if you admit that you need to force them, then you are admitting that they will be getting a choice that they would not prefer. hence less overall utility. Now, I’ll grant that there is some room to speed things up pushing people towards options that they might “prefer” in the cosmic sense but aren’t aware (e.g. that solar cell on your roof will cost 5 grand now but save 50 over the life of the house), but those efforts are, by definition, marginal.

134

John Quiggin 08.23.14 at 5:46 am

To clarify in advance, I am not interested in debating Brett Bellmore: he is an object of inquiry, rather than a participant. Rather, I’m interested in where he gets his “facts”. In this case, it appears to be a standard piece of cherrypicking, using a hot year (1990 and 1998 are the standard picks, to make subsequent warming look lower). Here’s an example

http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2013/09/is-climate-disinformer-ross-mckitrick.html

135

Charles S 08.23.14 at 6:52 am

While realclimate.org used to be the best place for finding climate information, I’ve found http://www.skepticalscience.com to be more useful lately. The organization around answering specific denialist claims is very efficient and effective. Also, their blog is much more active.

Also, they had this interesting blog post that responds to Brent’s claim about all climate models clustering above the actual recent surface temperature record:
http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-models-accurate-when-reflecting-natural-cycles.html

Climate models don’t attempt to accurately predict the ENSO cycle (although they do produce ENSO cycles, their phase alignment with the actual ENSO cycle is random), so they produce pauses and jumps at different points than the actual climate. However, if we select the climate models that happen to have ENSO cycles in phase with the real world, then the short term predictions of the climate models line up well with the surface temperature “pause”.

136

Omega Centauri 08.23.14 at 4:10 pm

I think John’s (b) is a bit problematic.
Sure, I agree that a significant energy transition wouldn’t cost us the farm, and would indeed have net benefits, but we will still be left with the long term consequences of the slug of caron we added before we finished (or even began at meaningful scale) the transition. Your wording for (b) implies we can fix the mess we created, as well as stop contributing to the mess.

And we have the significant issue of stranded investment in things that produce or consume fossil fuels. This has to be largely written off, and this will create quite a drag on the valuations of equity markets. I don’t think the global economy can easily accomodate this shock.

137

Lee A. Arnold 08.23.14 at 4:14 pm

Cassander #133: “Classic case of the broken windows fallacy… if you need to force them, then you are admitting that they will be getting a choice that they would not prefer. hence less overall utility. … some room to speed things up pushing people towards options that they might “prefer” in the cosmic sense but aren’t aware…but those efforts are, by definition, marginal.”

Classic case of grasping at straws. Once again, your objections to my comment have nothing to do with my comment, and once again, they are curiously misleading on the merits. Are these misapplications due to right-wing tribalism, or are you from the Blog Comment Management Dept. of the oil lobby?

1. New employment due to technological change is NOT the broken windows fallacy.

2. In a separate matter, digging holes and refilling them is not a fallacy in the short-term treatment of underemployment, a.k.a. “secular stagnation”.

Indeed, “digging holes and refilling them” is a precise analogy to the federal government’s “quantitative easing” and the “term facilities” that exchanged good paper for bad paper that is to be used as collateral in the interbank repo markets, thus preserving the entire structure of private asset ownership by individuals, and thus preventing a complete breakdown of the economy. An even more perfect analogy, because it allows the financial elite to just stand in place, while little happens to increase incomes in the nonfinancial economy.

And “marginal efforts, by definition” — yet utterly, completely crucial to asset owners such as the likes of the Koch Bros, who otherwise would have been in bankruptcy court for 20 years, or out on the street.

3. On the topic of forcing people, and so on, and on and on, this is more libertarian silliness. Most people are choosing to change — the opinion polls about climate are already pretty clear on that — and the remainder will be forced by the market to change. Because the market forces people too.

4. But the big conceptual problem here is your elision of the roots of utility. Consumer satisfaction may arise from many choices: by doing something for the planet, by hoping to avoid climate disaster, by driving cleaner automobiles, by putting the oil executives out of business, as well as by going to the store to get a candy bar. The things which give people satisfaction are vast, multifarious, changing. That is why economics stops here, and declares consumer preferences to be outside its immediate purview, saying, “preferences are exogenous”.

138

Peter Dorman 08.23.14 at 5:06 pm

I really have to take issue with the claim that the costs of carbon policy (when we finally implement it) will be minimal. In every instance I’ve seen costs are estimated for programs that fall *way* short of achieving IPCC targets and take into account the necessity (political and ethical) for developed countries to assume the greater share of the carbon reduction burden. We see all sorts of scenarios for achieving target X in 2050, but this hardly assures meeting an intertemporal CO2 budget constraint that gets close to stabilization at +2º C.

For more discussion, see my series The Road From Carbonville, especially entry 11, Done right, climate policy can be nearly costless.

139

Wallace Stevens 08.23.14 at 7:04 pm

I think that the primary reason why the Right is sceptical about climate change is because any realistic solution will involve government intervention, of many kinds, on a very large scale. For reasons that I don’t need to explain to this audience, the Right likes smaller, small, or even non-existent government. Since most people are not experts in climate science, since no scientific question is ever completely settled in absolute terms, and since for any scientific proposition you can usually find a credentialed doubter somewhere, it’s not that hard for the Right to conclude, without feeling like scientifically illiterate bumpkins, that the whole thing is crap–a Trojan horse bearing BIG government.

So: people who are not scientific experts in the field in question feel free to draw conclusions that suit their sympathies. But the ‘people’ in my previous sentence could just as easily be on the Left as on the Right. The facts of climate change play, rhapsodically, to many of the sympathies of the Left: finally, a contradiction of capitalism we can believe in!, anti-consumerism, anti-materialism, more regulation and planning, etc. The facts are what they are, of course. But I’m not sure that many people on the Left are asking a lot of questions when the facts dovetail so beautifully with everything they hold dear. (Also, have you noticed how post-modern types who usually can’t bring themselves to write the F word, ‘facts’, without scare quotes suddenly go all nineteenth century and positivist when the topic is climate change?)

I have been carrying out an interesting, but non-scientific survey over the last year or so. If someone criticises climate science, I ask them what they think of GMO foods, and vice versa. If someone expresses concern about GMO foods, I ask them what they think about climate change, and vice versa. So far, I have found that the twain never meet–even though, for a reasonably well informed, non-expert, busy with his or her life, who has to form an opinion based on the usual media sources, the bona fides of climate change and GMO are the same. (NOTE: I am speaking here only about the physiological and environmental questions around GMO foods–the science of GMO and whether GMO foods are safe–and not about the economic, moral and ethical questions concerning patent rights and monopoly ownership of organisms. We might believe that GMO foods are perfectly safe and still have very serious and legitimate concerns about the morality of certain aspects of the GMO industry today.)

140

Plume 08.23.14 at 7:16 pm

Science is telling us something very important, outside of climate change. One of the reasons why the right won’t ever be convinced by anything we say is that they very possibly are hard-wired to disbelieve — as we on the left quite possibly have our own hard-wiring in place.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called “Open Peer Commentary”: An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it, and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics.

That’s a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics—upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).

Of course, I wish they’d stop dealing with just two camps, liberal and conservative, when there are far more political stances than A to B . . . . but that’s a side issue.

141

Plume 08.23.14 at 7:17 pm

142

Ed 08.23.14 at 7:54 pm

” pasture should be reforested, land used for grain farming for pasteur animals can be used for additional farming or reforestation if too much, farming should not use artificial fertilisers emitting nitrous oxide, human waste should be treated and used for fertiliser, food and green waste should not be treated as rubbish and should be used to help soil also, agricultural machinery needs to be electrified, more labor in agriculture may be needed.”

“Transport of food should be lessened where possible (current human geographies mean food couldn’t be produced all locally I think ), and monoculture reduced because it is not good for soil, and cash crops for nutrient poor food like coffee and sugar could also be converted if there was not enough land for food farming.”

As a thought experiment, suppose these things had been done after World War 2, instead of the historical carbon intensive green revolution. Would there still have been a five billion person increase in the world’s population?

143

James Wimberley 08.23.14 at 8:07 pm

Stop press: China cut its coal consumption in the first half of 2014. Not the growth rate, the absolute amount. The source is Greenpeace, but using official statistics. The reason is very a large trend multi-decadal shift in the composition of output away from energy-intensive heavy industry: Chinese pig iron production is now flat. Australian and American coal exporters mus be having one of those delightful moments when the moving finger writes mene mene tekel upharsin on the wall.

144

Metatone 08.23.14 at 8:33 pm

@Plume and others.

The main Murdoch scions all believe in GW.
SKY TV is heading for low carbon business practice.

So perhaps if the old fella steps down?

145

Anarcissie 08.23.14 at 11:03 pm

Wallace Stevens 08.23.14 at 7:04 pm @ 139 –
‘I think that the primary reason why the Right is sceptical about climate change is because any realistic solution will involve government intervention, of many kinds, on a very large scale. For reasons that I don’t need to explain to this audience, the Right likes smaller, small, or even non-existent government. …’

The ‘Right’, generally speaking, does not like smaller, small, or even non-existent government; it likes a different kind of government, and especially a different kind of state, where state means the assemblage of things that government creates and maintains, including for example private corporations or traditional patriarchal families.

To manipulate rightists into supporting action against climate change, one would merely have to characterize the action as a military, patriotic, racial, business, and-or religious necessity. But the boss media will not permit the switch until their masters tell them to.

146

ZM 08.23.14 at 11:16 pm

Wallace Stevens: “The facts of climate change play, rhapsodically, to many of the sympathies of the Left…more regulation and planning”

Wallace Stevens: “Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, The maker’s rage to order words of the sea, Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, And of ourselves and of our origins, In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.”

147

ZM 08.23.14 at 11:18 pm

Ed,
You would have to get a good many scientists to work on that thought experiment, I cannot imagine such a great complex thing in my head at breakfast.

148

john c. halasz 08.23.14 at 11:19 pm

@146:

:-)

149

Wallace Stevens 08.24.14 at 12:16 am

Yes, ZM @146, well done!

150

Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 12:50 am

@139 you make a point that I made here in a past thread. In that instance, the tribal response was rather quick.

151

Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 12:57 am

@145 I think this is exactly right, and I think it pretty thoroughly undermines the consensus discussed @140. Every one of the studies I’ve looked at puts significant weight (sometime half the score) of someone’s political position as how they answer the question: Are you liberal or conservative? But when the research is not about the genetic basis for political bias, it proves conclusively that the word “conservative” is used as self identification by five different (indeed, mutually incompatible) world views.

I have no doubt that the consensus (if there is one) is totally wrong.

152

John Quiggin 08.24.14 at 1:36 am

The comparison between GMOs and climate change is a false equivalence. It’s true that people who reject findings of mainstream science regarding the safety of consuming GM foods accept the science of climate change and vice versa. But the first group are a small minority of the left (along with a bunch of fairly apolitical New Age types), while the second dominate the political right.

http://crookedtimber.org/2014/04/21/tu-quoque/

153

Anarcissie 08.24.14 at 2:59 am

Climate change is a positive assertion based on material evidence (or at least, that is what people who seem to know what they are talking about tell me). The safety of GMOs is a negative assertion based on a supposed lack of evidence, a very different thing. In both cases we can expect that both the evidence and the interpretations of the evidence will be filtered or skewed by important stakeholders. I have encountered a number of people who were simultaneously skeptical of both climate change and the safety of GMOs, and used to argue regularly with a co-worker who was a true believer in both, so I am doubtful of the universality of the exclusion principle proposed here. Few are troubled by the maintenance of contradictory beliefs in any case.

154

Plume 08.24.14 at 3:51 am

Wallace Stevens, IMHO, was the greatest American poet of the 20th century, and he deserves his work to be formatted correctly. Since this forum does not have a preview feature, or allow editing once we post, I apologize in advance if this fails:

From The Idea of Order at Key West

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

155

ZM 08.24.14 at 3:53 am

Wallace Stevens and Thornton Hall,

Why are you trying to oblige people who trust climate science to support industrial genetic engineering?

I do not support making nuclear weapons – however this does not mean nuclear weapons making is not a science. Because I trust mainstream climate science I am in no way obligated to therefore support every devil may care scientist’s endeavours.

156

Keith 08.24.14 at 4:27 am

Never mind the right, persuade Piers Corbyn!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Corbyn

157

Wallace Stevens 08.24.14 at 4:29 am

John Quiggin @152: As I said, mine was an un-scientific survey based on people I happened to meet–including, now, ZM @ 155. (Thanks for that, ZM!). But do you have any proper survey evidence that shows that belief in climate change, and rejection of GM foods, are not positively correlated? You may be right. I may have just stumbled across an unrepresentative sample. But I don’t see anything in 152, or in the earlier post, that contradicts the pattern that I have seen. Are we able to move beyond anecdotes and “I know someone who…”?

(Just so there is no misunderstanding, I believe that climate change is real and caused by human activity; I also have no concerns about GM foods.)

158

ZM 08.24.14 at 4:40 am

I did not say I disputed short term studies on the safety of ge foods for consumption.

My safety concerns are on the long term effects of ge on ecosystems – longitudinal studies have not been done.

I also do not support ge for moral reasons – there is not a natural scarcity of biodiversity meaning humans should intervene to create more biodiversity. Human activity is decreasing existing biodiversity and causing the extinction of species. We should protect existing life forms not genetically engineering new patented life forms for profit.

The issues of inadequate nutrition in poor countries can be resolved through ceasing animal farming and growing more food crops for humans instead, and by ensuring proper fair distribution of foods, less food waste, and less cash crops.

159

bad Jim 08.24.14 at 5:11 am

Wallace Stevens, you may want to consider whether your sample has any other characteristics in common which might cause these attitudes to be coupled. Within the scientific community they are not. Neil Tyson, perhaps our most visible scientific spokesman, has been eloquent in espousing the reality of climate change and deriding fear of GMO’s.

I’m not accusing you of erecting a ‘both sides do it’ straw man, but we’ve seen that particular straw man before. (As a peace offering, here’s a recent New Yorker piece on GMO’s, via Mike the Mad Biologist)

160

john c. halasz 08.24.14 at 5:58 am

Not that I credit that neo-liberal rag too much, but you might want also to consider this alternative view of the status of corporate science and GMOs:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/02/10/a-valuable-reputation

161

John Quiggin 08.24.14 at 5:59 am

@Wallace: The number you want to look at is the likelihood that someone who accepts mainstream climate science will also reject mainstream science on GM foods. Among people who are politically active in a significant way, this likelihood is very low, simply because the proportion of all politically active people pushing a strong anti-GM line on food safety grounds is very small.

162

John Quiggin 08.24.14 at 6:05 am

@160 The reference to Steven Milloy certainly rings alarm bells. But perhaps you should spell out what you mean by “corporate science”. Do you mean research conducted by corporations regarding the safety of their own products (as in the article), or something broader eg any research that produces findings favorable to corporations? The evidence on the safety of GM foods does not rest on Monsanto research

http://boingboing.net/2013/06/20/independently-funded-studies-o.html

163

bad Jim 08.24.14 at 6:30 am

Just for fun, one of the funniest comic strips I’ve ever read, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal on a chemical-free drink.

164

john c. halasz 08.24.14 at 6:44 am

JQ @162:

As that particular article illustrates, the funding and the career prospects of legitimate scientists are threatened and lopsided when they go against established corporate interests. IOW the other side of scientific research issues is being intimidated and suppressed, and so, we often, as an informed public, don’t know about the balance at issue. The idea that scientific research is a public good or a common pool resource is being eclipsed, contrary to the rather naive and confused conceptions of scientific “rationality” among some CT commenters. (One of the confusions being between scientific research and technological applications. Gene splicing is a perfectly valid research technique and GMOs is a generic term; but the larger issues both environmentally and economically are obscured by that conflation and the failure to focus on specific technological applications.)

BTW I have no idea who Steve Milloy is, nor how that reference was invoked.

165

Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 10:09 am

I think the different ideas about “cost” in the context of climate change and GM crops is quite interesting. In the climate change debate, all economists are agreed that action has “costs”. But this means one of two things, one of which is likely false and one of which is not a “cost” because it is not a loss. Somehow, economists know that by telling power companies to engage in economic activity, this will lower the total amount of economic activity. The certainty of this is generally defended by a willfully slanderous misreading of Adam Smith. The other so-called “cost” is the freedom lost to someone who must spend his dollar employing a solar panel manufacturer and not on what he wants like, whatever. But if I want to spend my money buying clean electricity I currently don’t have that freedom now. And how is a democracy less free when it democratically makes decisions about how money should be spent? If a Democracy solving problems in an open and democratic way that benefits everyone can count as a loss of freedom, then one of those two words has lost its meaning.

On the other hand, what are the “costs” of GM crops? We are told that they cost biodiversity. But is that self-evidently a cost? How many dead humans is a random insect species worth? Do we ask elite Americans that question or the dead child? If there are other, slower ways to feed the world, again the savings are valued by a tiny minority of people who don’t, in the alternative, incur any of the human suffering of food shortages.

I think there is a challenge for the anti-GM people to translate the abstract biodiversity to human morality in terms of human suffering.

166

giovanni da procida 08.24.14 at 10:26 am

JThomas @ 131

Believe me, I’m not humoring you at all; I’m very much enjoying the discussion. I hope this response isn’t too late.

There is one large issue I didn’t bring up earlier, which is is that in general, across the ocean, algal cells (and marine phytoplankton in general) tend to follow the Redfield ratio: 106 Carbon: 16 Nitrogen : 1 Phosphorus. This does change in specific cases (and can vary greatly, but there is some upper limit: cells need enough P for RNA and DNA after all), but organic matter in the ocean tends to average out at this balance (diatoms tend to have silica in proportion to nitrogen. Iron and other elements are in lower proportion). So in order to fix more carbon your algal cells need more N and P. If nitrogen fixation increases under higher CO2 concentrations (because nitrogen fixation is energetically expensive) then you have your extra N, but you still need more P. This may not be a problem in coastal regions, where upwelling of deep water and runoff from land make these nutrients available, but coastal margins are a small fraction of the ocean. Even though there is less nutrients and less photosynthesis in the open ocean, because they make up such a large proportion of the total ocean, they are responsible for much of ocean carbon fixation, because the sum of lots of small numbers is greater than the sum of a few big numbers. So the regions of the ocean with less life matter a great deal.

But let’s take your iron example for a second: imagine that iron is limiting is some zone of the ocean, and changing climate doubles the dust deposition in that region (As you correctly surmise, iron comes from outside the ocean, as dust blown off of deserts, for example). Let us also assume that iron fits into the Redfield ratio at 160 C: 16N: 1P: 0.1 Fe for this location. Doubling iron can only double carbon if there was (more or less) a double helping of P and of N. Parenthetically, this is why the big oceanographic iron addition experiments done in the past have not led to greater sequestration of carbon, because even when the iron limitation is relaxed, you soon run up against the next limiting nutrient. So again, for the large open ocean regions that drive the biologically mediated cycling of carbon and oxygen (because of their extent, not because the speed of the microbial community metabolism) it’s going to be very hard to add significantly more biomass, because of the difficulty of supplying nutrients. Even if biomass is added, some fraction of biomass in the surface sunlit ocean (say top 100 meters) already sinks to the dark ocean. We know this is so, because that is what feeds the deep ocean. So increased algal biomass -> increased grazer biomass -> more fecal pellets falling through the ocean.

Experiments in labs, using model algal organisms, tend to suggest that increasing CO2 concentrations will increase rates of nitrogen or carbon fixation. But when experiments are conducted at sea, with the entire microbial plankton assemblage, they tend not to show any measurable effect from increased CO2.

“Extra CO2 might result in different algae getting common. From the CO2 available for photosynthesis, and probably more important the acidity, etc. The different small animals that eat the algae might concentrate poisons to make themselves unattractive to larger predators, except for the ones that can handle those poisons. We could get big ecosystem changes even without increased biomass. But those areas of the ocean don’t matter all that much to humans anyway, right? They can get changed around and we won’t much care.

I think we’ll absolutely see ecosystem changes in the ocean- we’re seeing them already. The biomass distribution will shift. There’s studies showing increases in salps (jellylike organisms) compared to krill, for example in the southern ocean. This is due to changes in temperature, I think, rather than acidity. There’s also been change in coral cover all across the Pacific- coral is being replaced by (large) algae, likely due to combinations of human impact, changing temperature, and acidity.

So I am in absolute agreement with you that the extra carbon added to the ocean is going to have a major detrimental effect on the ocean. Community composition will change, but I think you will see the effect mostly as a shift in the biomass distribution, rather than an increase in the amount of total biomass. To go back to your percentage question (@128), the chance that the ocean will be negatively impacted isn’t a chance- it’s already happening. The chance that we will see large amounts of extra biomass added to the ocean? Ballpark and hand-waving guess is that the chance of more than a 10% increase in total biomass in the sunlit ocean: less than 25%. The chance that any added biomass is not detrimental to us? I’m going to say something like 95%. The things I can think of would be if that extra biomass went into greater and more numerous blooms of toxic dinoflagellates, for example. But I think that any added biomass in the ocean is much more likely to be respired my microbes and small grazers or to sink below the sunlit zone, where it will be out of reach of the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Now, a terrestrial ecologist or biogeochemist, or agronomist may have a 180 degree opinion with respect to biomass accretion on land. My expertise (such as it is) is only valid in the ocean. Thanks for the opportunity to think about this stuff out loud. Let me know if I’ve said something that doesn’t make sense or isn’t logical.

167

ZM 08.24.14 at 11:20 am

Thornton Hall,

“On the other hand, what are the “costs” of GM crops? We are told that they cost biodiversity. But is that self-evidently a cost? How many dead humans is a random insect species worth? Do we ask elite Americans that question or the dead child? “

Do you ask yourself that Thornton Hall when you choose whether to buy a coffee/beer or donate the money to aid? How about when shopping for consumer goods? How about when deciding on whether to take a vacation?

Or is it just a device to justify GM yet again in another thread jack on an OP on climate change?

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 11:24 am

On the other hand, what are the “costs” of GM crops? We are told that they cost biodiversity. But is that self-evidently a cost?

We already lost most of the biodiversity when we planted giant tracts of monoculture. The result of that is that every so many years we get a crop failure and prices go up and our agribusiness industry makes more money than usual. The only biodiversity problem I see from GM crops is that wind-pollinated GM crops will pollinate heritage crops too. But that was almost as true of the monocultures that weren’t GM.

Anything else? Well, there’s the Roundup issue. By creating monocultures that are roundup-ready we make it cheaper to spray herbicides that kill weeds. In many cases this probably increases yield because the crops get all the fertilizer etc that weeds don’t get, and all the water, and all the sunlight. It reduces costs because it doesn’t take as much plowing to kill off the weeds that would otherwise grow. (Sometimes extra plants can actually increase yield. But if farmers believed that they would plant the other plants themselves.) So roundup reduces the biodiversity of weeds growing in cropland and near cropland. This is only a problem if we cultivate too much land that the diverse plants could survive in, not leaving them enough space to survive. The herbicides might be causing problems on a large scale. But it isn’t obvious how we can test which of our big environmental issues might be caused by herbicides because we don’t have a control group where we aren’t using them upstream. We do have some lab studies that say it might not be an issue, though.

How many dead humans is a random insect species worth?

You have the question backward. How many extinctions is the 8 billionth child worth?

People don’t like to think on that scale. But try. Each generation the crop of humanity must be replaced. We are a species like other species, throughout our prehistory and history we have created more children than can reproduce before they die, and the surplus dying off allows our continued evolution. We can slow down our evolution if we are willing to control our population and require that mostly each child born has two children in a lifetime. So far we have not been willing to do that at all.

If humanity continues to live in societies that advance in science, eventually we will understand how genomes work, and how they fit into environments. We will be able to read the genomes of species and get a sense of the climates they evolved in. We will learn how to design ecosystems that fit our needs. At that time, each species with proven survival in a real ecosystem will be invaluable. Worth at least trillions of dollars, though monetary value is not really a usable scale for such things.

Against that value, say that for one extinction we could have 50 extra poor children survive in 2015. Their survival makes it that much harder for their neighbors to survive. And then the population will decline (not unlikely during their lives).

A fraction of the rare mainland species were once common in ecosystems that mostly don’t exist today. They are a wealth we don’t know how to use today, but they are the main resource we can hand down to future generations. We are mining away the fossil fuels, the phosphates, the best iron ore. We are releasing large amounts of lead, arsenic, radium, etc into the environment that used to be safely locked up underground. We are damaging the groundwater lots of places. We are ignorantly fucking around with the genomes of our agricultural plants and animals. “Biodiversity” is most of what they’ll have to work with. You want to compare the marginal value of one more surviving species versus the marginal value of one more human? A lot of people were raised wrong, and they would choose the wrong answer on that.

But biodiversity is not particularly a GM question.

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ZM 08.24.14 at 11:53 am

J Thomas,
“But biodiversity is not particularly a GM question.”

I think we should protect what is left of our natural biodiversity and not invent new life forms for profit with ge. Many existing plants and animals are threatened.

While I would overall ideally prefer a more natural world – there is no hope of that in my life – the best hope is to retain as much naturalness as we currently have to pass on to future generations, (albeit at this point of time much is not especially natural when compared with past times).

there was a late Middle Ages/renaissance public debate on grafting and I think some sorts of human plant breeding like types of carnations called gilyvors – as being wrong because it was un natural – grafted trees were called ympe trees. Anyway, since the renaissance the argument that natural selection for plant reproduction is better was lost and now for fruit trees we rely to a great extent on grafting with a few wildings here and there on the sides of roads or in backyards.

I do hope people in the future do not have to rely on ge crops because of our decisions like now we rely on grafting because of our forefathers’ decisions. Grafting has definitely decreased biodiversity, but I cannot imagine a scenario of all the world’s orchards returning to doing without grafting for the sake of being natural.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 11:57 am

You want to compare the marginal value of one more surviving species versus the marginal value of one more human?

No. You do.

I don’t understand what values exist separate from human experience. Were the five or six mass extinctions in earth history morally bad? Is the answer no because they were slow? Because they weren’t caused by organisms (false in some cases), because they were natural? Morality makes no sense absent human agency.

So if morality exists because of humanity, how can it possibly be true that there is some moral good caused by an increase in human suffering that has no human upside?

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ZM 08.24.14 at 12:08 pm

Thornton Hall,

Although I note you did not answer my last question about your abiding concern for the world’s poor, I will answer your last question on humans being morally in the wrong for causing past extinctions.

The past extinctions were very unfortunate for all the poor creatures that died and could not leave heirs. Although some did leave heirs and continued life on Earth. However,humans were not responsible for any of those past extinctions (surely you cannot be claiming humans were?). Therefore it follows we were not morally responsible for them – obviously We can only be morally responsible for extinctions we cause, not for ones we did not cause in past epochs.

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Wallace Stevens 08.24.14 at 12:16 pm

John Quiggin @161 says: “Among people who are politically active in a significant way, this likelihood is very low, simply because the proportion of all politically active people pushing a strong anti-GM line on food safety grounds is very small.”

First, I was not actually concerned with “people who are politically active,” whether in “a significant way” or not. I was talking about people that I met with whom the topic of climate change or GMO came up. I found, in my admittedly unscientific method, that doubts about GMO and belief climate change seemed to form a set. These were also people that I would classify as being liberal or left.

I myself hesitate to draw any strong conclusions from my “research,” given the biases inherent in my method. But you don’t sound like you are on any firmer ground–even if we focus more narrowly on “politically active people” instead of “folks” (if I can be permitted to sound presidential for a moment) “that Wallace meets.” For example, how are you defining, and then identifying, the “politically active people” that form the denominator of your “very small” proportion? And by what means have you determined that they are not against GM foods? This doesn’t sound like statistically valid survey work, though it wouldn’t surprise me if some exists.

The issue that we are debating is not just a quibble–it is central to the question you raised in the beginning: “How can we get right wingers to accept climate science?” I think that this is bound up with the question of how people–left or right–form opinions under significant time and information constraints.

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 1:12 pm

#166 giovanni da procida

… in general, across the ocean, algal cells (and marine phytoplankton in general) tend to follow the Redfield ratio: 106 Carbon: 16 Nitrogen : 1 Phosphorus. This does change in specific cases (and can vary greatly, but there is some upper limit: cells need enough P for RNA and DNA after all), but organic matter in the ocean tends to average out at this balance (diatoms tend to have silica in proportion to nitrogen. Iron and other elements are in lower proportion).

The oceans don’t provide algae with what they need in the proper proportions, so they must extract it. They must spend part of their energy on transport. They must create transport proteins that sit in their cell membranes and grab stuff against a gradient. I know almost nothing about plant cells, but it’s plausible to me that they should arrange some sort of movement of water through the cell wall so they can get exposed to stuff faster than just diffusion. If they for example absorb water all over but eject it in one particular place, or they might arrange a sort of peristaltic pump that moves water across the cell membrane. They should try to put depleted water someplace they won’t be exposed to it again. Motile cells go to places they haven’t already absorbed the goodies from.

They will build transport proteins in the ratio they need to get enough of everything. If the ratio of stuff in the seawater changes, they can change their ratio of transport proteins within limits. But if one thing is in too short supply, they can make most of their transport proteins grab that, and it’s still limiting. There’s nothing they can do. If it’s iron, and they spend one ATP to grab one iron atom, and they get essentially every single atom they contact, and they have say 70% of the cell membrane surface area devoted to that so they get essentially every iron atom that reaches the surface, they’re stuck.

Then say there was more iron relative to everything else than there used to be. Collecting iron still costs one ATP per atom. They can reduce the iron transport proteins from 70% to say 40%, and increase the amount of other transport proteins. Or rather, increase the amount of everything else in proportion, not just other transport. What the cell has gained is the reduced cost of making iron transport protein, and and nothing else! Why didn’t I think of it that way before? I feel so stupid….

So if there is more CO2 available, it costs algae less to grab it. And that’s the only benefit they get. It surely cost them a lot less before to grab CO2 than iron, so it makes very little difference. (Although they grabbed a lot more CO2 than iron, say 1600 times as much, so it could add up.)

However, plants use CO2 products to store energy and to build structures. An algae that builds extra polysaccharide structures has slightly less disadvantage if CO2 is cheaper. That could make a subtle difference.

So I am in absolute agreement with you that the extra carbon added to the ocean is going to have a major detrimental effect on the ocean. Community composition will change, but I think you will see the effect mostly as a shift in the biomass distribution, rather than an increase in the amount of total biomass.

I’m going to speculate that the minerals might not be depleted at their maximum rate. Like, trying to to be too gross about it, some species might tend to have fecal pellets that are kind of liquidy and squooshy and part of them get mixed into the water before the rest of them sink. Some small ones might get eaten before they sink. Some kinds, depending on diet, might develop gas bubbles that tend to bring them back up before they sink too far.

And when the species distribution changes, that might change. We might wind up with less biomass if we accidentally get fecal pellets that sink more reliably.

I like to think about this sort of thing, and make up imaginary systems that make sense even though I don’t have data. Kind of like an economist. Large parts of the ocean are basicly deserts, because whenever they manage to collect the minerals they need pretty quickly somebody shits them away. There are various ways that could be improved. Like, a predator whose guts created shit that floated long enough for its minerals to get mined, would benefit itself and everybody else. But it would not get a competitive advantage — it wouldn’t benefit itself more than its competitors. So if that happens, it’s only by accident.

Similarly, if some organism down where there is a lot of mineral wealth were to send some of it up. Say, a little bubble that carried mineral stuff with it. Maybe a little oil bubble, that wouldn’t rise as fast as a gas but it wouldn’t expand as much as it rose. Carrying stuff that the bottom-dweller can’t use, the shit of the shit. It reaches the top, fertilizes the algae, and soon many more fecal pellets come down in return. Wealth for everybody! But the low species that did that, and also the individuals of that species that did it more, would not benefit more than others — the fecal pellets would fall like the gentle rain on everybody. So it would happen only by accident.

Tremendous wealth available to everybody. But it doesn’t happen. Because nobody gets a competitive advantage by making it happen. There ought to be a lesson in that somewhere.

And if while the ecology is getting changed around, it does happen by accident? Then the oceans might blossom! Until another accidental change makes it stop happening.

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 1:24 pm

#170 Thornton Hall

So if morality exists because of humanity, how can it possibly be true that there is some moral good caused by an increase in human suffering that has no human upside?

I guess my comment was too long and you didn’t read it.

I am optimistic that humanity can continue to have a technological civilization.

If that’s so, then we will learn how to manipulate the genetics of other organisms *effectively*. We will learn how to create ecosystems that work well for us.

When that time comes, species that have survived in known environments will be *wealth*. They will be a giant part of the wealth humanity has, considering what we today are doing to our other kinds of wealth.

I am definitely not talking about avoiding extinction for other species as having no human upside. Exploitable species will be worth far more than gold.

Now suppose that we can temporarily increase the human population to 8 billion and it will cost us half the species. Say we can maintain that population size for one generation and then it falls.

How much have we reduced human suffering to have a billion extra people who do not succeed in reproducing themselves?

How many species — the wealth of the future — is that worth permanently losing?

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 1:43 pm

#169 ZM

I think we should protect what is left of our natural biodiversity and not invent new life forms for profit with ge. Many existing plants and animals are threatened.

If we invent new life forms that outcompete existing species in the national parks and uncultivated land, that’s potentially a giant problem. Right now we have the giant problem that invading natural species from elsewhere are outcompeting existing species, and it isn’t clear what we can do about it except try to disassemble the global economy before it’s too late.

But I don’t hear about GE crops escaping into the wild and outcompeting things there. Our GE crops mostly can’t survive without intensive human intervention. The problem is that we are using too much of the land and not leaving enough left over for untampered species to survive in. This problem got a lot worse in the Reagan years when Butz tried to get corn farmers to maximize corn production regardless of the economy’s demand. We’ve been looking for new uses for corn ever since, while we continue to grow more pretty much as fast as we can.

Unless you’re a vegetarian, it’s efficient to raise some ruminants to eat cellulose that humans can’t digest. (Unless you think you need to burn it for energy, or bury it to make humus, or compost it.) It is not efficient to feed corn to ruminants. It may be efficient to raise pigs etc on surplus food and waste, and slaughter the excess among them whenever the surplus is reduced. It is not efficient to grow a lot of corn to feed to a lot of pigs. (Consumers might like that, but let them pay the full costs. Don’t subsidize their preferences.)

We could feed the world population on less land than we use now, and also keep 4 or 5 years’ stockpile of stored food. It would be a conservative thing to do. In the old sense of conservative meaning “try not to take undue risks”.

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ZM 08.24.14 at 1:45 pm

J Thomas,

Except no body does need to die as a consequence of not genetically engineering life forms. Thornton Hall just adds this claim to climate change threads for rhetorical purposes for reasons known only to himself.

People dying from hunger or suffering from inadequate wholesome food is not caused by a lack of genetically engineered plants and animals.

It is caused by people using farm land for animals kept to be eaten or for dairy instead of growing wholesome grains, fruits and vegetables; by growing unwholesome foods or substances like sugar and tobacco; and by inequitably over supplying wealthy countries and demographics with food while undersupplying poor countries and demographics with food.

People are not suffering from hunger because we have inadequate food plants for goodness’ sake, but because of selfish human choices.

I heard a man from the weather bureau talk last year as part of a panel on Australia at 4 degrees if warming. He had to answer a question on whether he thought people would make the choice to limit climate change to a still reasonably safe level. His reply was that people in wealthy countries are selfish and do not presently choose to make changes in their lives and political systems for the sake of the world’s poor and hungry and ill treated people – he said since we do not care enough to act about poor unfortunate people living right now he thought it unlikely we will care enough to make changes to limit climate change for the young and the as yet unborn.

That was certainly a gloomy thing to hear.

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ZM 08.24.14 at 1:49 pm

J Thomas,

That last comment I wrote was written before I saw your last comment.

“We could feed the world population on less land than we use now, and also keep 4 or 5 years’ stockpile of stored food. It would be a conservative thing to do. In the old sense of conservative meaning “try not to take undue risks”.”

Yes, I think this would be a better approach than genetic engineering.

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Layman 08.24.14 at 1:50 pm

Thornton Hall @ 170

“So if morality exists because of humanity, how can it possibly be true that there is some moral good caused by an increase in human suffering that has no human upside?”

This is a very good question, perhaps too good a question. Some humans kill elephants and exchange their tusks for money, effecting a transfer of wealth from richer to poorer and thereby reducing human suffering. Which in your view is moral – that they be permitted to do this, or that they be prevented from doing this? Preventing it will surely increase human suffering and produce no human upside, don’t you agree?

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 2:02 pm

@178 I don’t agree for two reasons. There is a human upside to visiting Africa and seeing animals. Two, there is money to be made selling tourism, and that money can be generated indefinitely as long as elephants aren’t hunted to extinction.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 2:07 pm

@ZM I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but Wallace Stevens brought up GM crops, not me. So the reasons are known to at least two of us.

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Layman 08.24.14 at 2:29 pm

@179

But the elephants are dying out anyway, as a result of habitat loss, so it isn’t the case that the revenue from tourism will always be there. In which case some calculation is called for, weighing the human gain from ivory trafficking vs tourism for long as each might last, and I don’t think you’ve done that calculation.

It seems to me one can always come up with an argument for a human upside, if one is inclined to favor the proposition. As you have done here. So your proposed rule may not actually settle the matter at all.

On the other hand, I’ve actually been around elephants, and I propose that it’s simply immoral to kill them to make decorative items from their teeth; not for any reasons having to do with human suffering, but for reasons having to do with elephant suffering. I imagine you’d agree if you met a few. So there’s something more wrong with your proposal.

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 2:49 pm

“We could feed the world population on less land than we use now, and also keep 4 or 5 years’ stockpile of stored food. It would be a conservative thing to do. In the old sense of conservative meaning “try not to take undue risks”.”

Yes, I think this would be a better approach than genetic engineering.

It’s an approach that’s mostly independent of genetic engineering.

The big problem with genetic engineering in general is that we don’t know the risks. And when we put too much of our efforts into a very few varieties of GM food, the risks are magnified.

Keeping a stockpile of food to deal with the unexpected seems like just plain common sense, it would be true even if we weren’t taking extra GM risks. But it has a cost. If you depend on free markets to do that, they mostly won’t because putting assets into preparation for uncommon problems is not reliable, and also they profit from shortages. The obvious alternative is to buy insurance that will pay in money for food shortages. People who can’t afford food insurance can die, or the government can pay for them.

There’s a possibility that the details of the way GM techniques are done now, might cause some big problem. Small-scale studies have not shown any problems like that, unless you believe the alarmists who say that some problems have been covered up. There’s a possibility that we could get some giant catastrophe from some detail of GM methods that nobody predicted. But I don’t know any theoretical reason to expect that, without knowing the tiny details of how it’s done in practice. If we didn’t have various other catastrophes breathing down our necks I’d say to be cautious about using it large-scale for a few decades while we look for problems. That would be conservative. But we figure we can’t afford to do that.

In the long run we will probably mostly be better off without giant-scale monoculture. We could plant little patches of this and that, and design ways to harvest them efficiently. For some things we might do better without plowing but just sort of punch the seeds we want into the ground. Build more topsoil, and the rewards may be bigger from letting the best-adapted ground cover stay there than trying to keep it dead. That sort of thing needs to be adapted gradually too, in case it has hidden traps.

One good sign — the USA is gradually pricing beef out of reach of the middle class. US beef consumption is down 10% from the high in 2007. Prices are up more like 25% since then. But beef production is only down about 4% because we have doubled exports. We now export nearly 2.6 billion pounds of beef per year, despite international concerns that political pressure has mostly gotten rid of BSE testing of US beef, and physicians are encouraged not to report human cases here.

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mattski 08.24.14 at 2:55 pm

I propose that it’s simply immoral to kill them to make decorative items from their teeth; not for any reasons having to do with human suffering, but for reasons having to do with elephant suffering.

Yes, but the part that is immoral is the part concerning humans. It’s immoral to inflict needless suffering on animals because we like animals and it hurts us to see them suffer, or to see them disappear.

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Layman 08.24.14 at 3:10 pm

“Yes, but the part that is immoral is the part concerning humans. It’s immoral to inflict needless suffering on animals because we like animals and it hurts us to see them suffer, or to see them disappear.”

I disagree. Saying that humans can distinguish right from wrong is not the same thing as saying humans invented right and wrong. It is the latter notion which allows humans to invent rationales (e.g. Subhumanity) justifying abuse of others. If the measure of morality is simply whether it makes us feel good or bad, I think we’re in deep trouble. It is wrong to cause needless suffering, but the wrong part is the needless suffering, not how we feel about it.

And, there’s evidence elephants are themselves moral actors, which makes it worse.

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mattski 08.24.14 at 3:16 pm

It is wrong to cause needless suffering, but the wrong part is the needless suffering, not how we feel about it.

Are those two different things?

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mattski 08.24.14 at 3:19 pm

Btw, Layman, this is a great discussion to have and I hope my comments are received in a light hearted way.

Now, let’s take this: If the measure of morality is simply whether it makes us feel good or bad, I think we’re in deep trouble.

This is worth some contemplation. I think when we get to the bottom of morality it is precisely about how it makes us feel.

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Anarcissie 08.24.14 at 3:21 pm

Yes, I feel differently about the needless suffering of others, especially non-human others, than I do about my own, and in this I suspect I have a whole lot of company.

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Layman 08.24.14 at 3:31 pm

mattski @ 185, 186

“Are those two different things?”

I think so. The former establishes that it is the suffering of others which is to be avoided – that is, the consequences to them – while the latter focuses only on one’s own suffering, the consequences to self. If the inhibition is in the self, then it can be permissible for one to harm others as long as one doesn’t feel badly about it.

“I think when we get to the bottom of morality it is precisely about how it makes us feel.”

‘How it makes us feel’ is a form of self-interest. I’m sure most people function this way – that they are morally governed by their own self-interest – but that doesn’t in practice lead to moral behavior, does it?

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 3:53 pm

I propose that it’s simply immoral to kill them to make decorative items from their teeth; not for any reasons having to do with human suffering, but for reasons having to do with elephant suffering.

I want to suggest a more important concern.

Whatever you do in your life, after you’re gone there will be lots of human beings who mostly don’t remember you and they’ll go on doing whatever they choose. In that context almost everything you do is mostly irrelevant. In 100 years nobody will remember, nobody will know, nobody will care. Likely as not somebody will do something that mostly cancels out what you did.

But if you participate in driving some species extinct, that matters. Here’s something that otherwise will be present in the world for the indefinite future, probably until somebody else kills them all. It might evolve into something new and important. And you make sure it stops, that it isn’t in the world any more, that nobody ever again gets to see one or interact with one. Gone forever, because of you.

Say you do something that gets somebody really upset, they get angry, they suffer. Maybe you even give them physical pain, say you torture them slowly to death as so many millions of humans have been tortured over the centuries. You shouldn’t do that. But it isn’t that big a deal in the long run. If you kill ten million humans or fifty million, there are plenty more where those came from. Not that it’s OK, but it isn’t like extinction.

But if you participate in getting half a million elephants killed then they’re all gone.

One elephant death is a whole lot more important than one human death. Not because of human suffering or elephant suffering — everybody suffers — but because humans are so very much easier to replace.

Of course that’s just my opinion. You have the right to choose whatever ethics you want for yourself, not like there’s any right or wrong apart from what people choose to accept.

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afeman 08.24.14 at 4:03 pm

Also, have you noticed how post-modern types who usually can’t bring themselves to write the F word, ‘facts’, without scare quotes suddenly go all nineteenth century and positivist when the topic is climate change?

Actually I find the pomo sorts who haven’t moved on are happy to aid the confusionists — some links and discussion here:

http://physicsfocus.org/philip-moriarty-circling-the-square/
http://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/sts-vs-physics/

Judith Curry, Roger Pielke Jr., and Daniel Sarewitz love this stuff. Interestingly, the latter two are associated with the Breakthrough Institute, as is Bruno Latour. Maybe he’s having third thoughts?

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mattski 08.24.14 at 4:27 pm

‘How it makes us feel’ is a form of self-interest.

Yes. But there isn’t any higher authority. If you behave well because someone else told you to then you aren’t really responsible for your actions, you don’t fully understand why you’re following orders except that you’re subordinate and someone else is the authority on ‘how I should behave.’

So, the best appeal to moral behavior is its effect on the feelings of ME, the actor. I treat you well because at the deepest level I don’t like suffering and I don’t distinguish between myself and others because my awareness tells me that others experience suffering and joy just like I do. Our conscience is proof of this. In the fullness of time I suffer for treating others badly. (Granted, some people are so mangled by ill-fortune that their consciences are almost irretrievably buried…)

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Bruce Wilder 08.24.14 at 4:43 pm

J Thomas @ 189

. . . say you torture them slowly to death as so many millions of humans have been tortured over the centuries. You shouldn’t do that. But it isn’t that big a deal in the long run. If you kill ten million humans or fifty million, there are plenty more where those came from.

Lovely to know you have such well-though-out ethical commitments.

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Bruce Wilder 08.24.14 at 4:47 pm

J Thomas: physicians are encouraged not to report human cases here [of BSE]

You have a cite?

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Layman 08.24.14 at 4:47 pm

“I treat you well because at the deepest level I don’t like suffering and I don’t distinguish between myself and others because my awareness tells me that others experience suffering and joy just like I do. “

I agree with this, but what you’re saying is not that you treat others well because it makes you feel good; it’s that you treat others well because you know it makes them feel good. You’re aware of their suffering and seek to alleviate it, or at least to avoid causing it.

That argues in favor of my point, that it is the suffering of the other, not our own feelings, which defines whether the behavior is moral. In the elephant example, killing elephants for tusks is wrong because it causes elephants to suffer needlessly, not because we like elephants or have empathy for them. Those things help us know about the suffering, but it’s the suffering itself that is the evil.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 4:52 pm

I think the issue gets wildly confused the second you start talking about the suffering of individual animals. I think a perfectly workable moral system can say that animal suffering is to be avoided without ascribing animals the same rights as moral agents.

When you talk about an individual poacher and an individual elephant, there are circumstances where either killing or not killing is the moral thing to do.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 4:54 pm

By the way, please don’t conflate my views with the self-sealing arguments for ethical egotism. That was my view in high school. Not now.

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Bruce Wilder 08.24.14 at 4:58 pm

I’d like to suggest that humans are social animals, with a moral sensibility, but we do invent morality in the sense of ethics and law as part of organizing our societies. It may be useful, at times, to think in terms of transcendental concepts that seem in retrospect to guide the development of ethics and law, but the developments themselves are a product of social experience and organization, in which enlightened self-interest, informed by experience, observation and historical memory plays an important part. Moreover, the essential element of ethical self-discipline, in which we choose deliberately and with foresight of theoretical consequences, rather than mercurially and impulsively, rests on social organization, socialization and teaching. Its embedded in parenting, of course, but parenting itself is embedded in larger social organization, like religion and a paternalistic government interested in and prescribing imperatives to promote and protect various members of society.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 4:58 pm

J Thomas: you need to update your beliefs about nutrition. The food pyramid of the 80s was almost perfectly wrong. Pricing high quality protein high causes obesity. There’s no argument that it doesn’t.

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Bruce Wilder 08.24.14 at 5:01 pm

J Thomas @ 182

At bottom, we will all be worse off if we do not find ways to limit human population and economic consumption. The earth is in deep trouble, because the last 5 billion or so were a big mistake.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 5:05 pm

@197 I think this story is largely correct and helps explain why I’ve come to subscribe to moral particularism. Every effort to derive all morality from a set of finite principles leads to absurd results. At some point it’s time to stop searching for the magic set of principles.

This isn’t relativistic however because morality solves practical problems. Therefore we can judge how well they are solved.

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mattski 08.24.14 at 5:06 pm

That argues in favor of my point, that it is the suffering of the other, not our own feelings, which defines whether the behavior is moral.

I see interests of self & other as converging. They are ultimately the same thing. But it is relatively rare for beings like us to experience that directly.

The case of animals, I agree with Thornton, is more complicated. It’s difficult to draw bright lines, or the bright lines we CAN draw still leave many areas murky.

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 5:10 pm

#193

“J Thomas: physicians are encouraged not to report human cases here [of BSE]“

You have a cite?

As usual, there’s a degree of interpretation involved.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bovine_spongiform_encephalopathy#Practices_in_the_United_States_relating_to_BSE

In the United Kingdom, anyone with possible vCJD symptoms must be reported to the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance Unit. In the United States, the CDC has refused to impose a national requirement that physicians and hospitals report cases of the disease. Instead, the agency relies on other methods, including death certificates and urging physicians to send suspicious cases to the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center (NPDPSC) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, which is funded by the CDC.

For lots of things we have a legal requirement to report, because without it physicians mostly didn’t. This time they didn’t bother. It’s possible to interpret “urging physicians to send” as not meaning “encouraging physicians not to report”. But in context I think it pretty much does mean that. Experts might disagree.

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mattski 08.24.14 at 5:19 pm

Moreover, the essential element of ethical self-discipline, in which we choose deliberately and with foresight of theoretical consequences, rather than mercurially and impulsively, rests on social organization, socialization and teaching.

Yes.

To a large extent the practical meaning of morality is, “what is agreed upon.” Of course on top of what is agreed upon we all have our own pet ideas. But what we think has little impact if others don’t agree. Otoh, if our behavior impresses people, it stands a good chance of being emulated.

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J Thomas 08.24.14 at 5:30 pm

#198

J Thomas: you need to update your beliefs about nutrition. The food pyramid of the 80s was almost perfectly wrong. Pricing high quality protein high causes obesity. There’s no argument that it doesn’t.

Look up vegetarians and obesity.

Obesity does seem to go with eating a lot of starch and/or a lot of sugar, and maybe HFCS is particularly a problem.

So I don’t think we’d be that much healthier if instead of growing a whole lot of corn and feeding it to cows and eating the beef we instead just ate that much corn ourselves.

But maybe we don’t need that much corn. We could also grow other crops that provide fewer calories but more of our other needs.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 6:03 pm

People who subscribe to the vegetarian faith are notorious for confounding factors. But I don’t need to convince you here. The science is already done. And you are quite science literate. You’ll come around.

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Plume 08.24.14 at 6:18 pm

To me, boiled down, the range of morality to immorality is basically kindness to cruelty. One can throw in other words and adjectives to intensity or soften that range, but that’s the basic set up, IMO.

Which is why I don’t see how the bible is any kind of guidepost for morality or immorality. Its basic range — and, yes, I’m generalizing here terribly — is obedience to the god of the bible or rebellion against him. And the god of the bible is often in the business of mass slaughter. “Kindness,” for him is rather rare, and generally doubles back on the obedience trope. Obey him, and he may be kind. Disobey him and he will all too often go postal. And, as stories like Job, and Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac show, his wont is to test our levels of obedience in truly despicable ways.

The above, of course, is if one takes the bible literally. Though even as metaphor, it’s likely to have some sort of mass effect. It’s still “out there” in the cultural sea, etc.

So, as others have mentioned. The recognition of suffering, the attempt to reduce it, if not eliminate it. Or something even more proactive than that. That’s “morality.” To cause others to suffer is immorality. I wish the religious tradition that functions as a sort of unifying model for millions was based upon morality.

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Plume 08.24.14 at 6:19 pm

“to intensify,” rather.

208

J Thomas 08.24.14 at 6:48 pm

India did not have much of an obesity problem, without much meat. Then they got plugged into the global food market and now they do. Something like 15% obesity, and possibly 5% morbidly obese.

Eating lots of corn-fed beef is one way to avoid the foods that will make you fat, but it isn’t the only way.

209

Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 6:54 pm

@j Thomas
Are you a vegetarian? Trying to decide if it’s worth it to look up the cites.

@Plume
With a Jesuit Pope demonstrating a moral sense, I often wonder if he looks at the American South and thinks, “that’s what happens when you translate the Bible into the vernacular. The inquisition was bad, but a trifle compared to African slavery.”

210

J Thomas 08.24.14 at 7:34 pm

I’m not a vegetarian. I believe it’s a lot easier to stay healthy with at least a few ounces of meat a week.

I remember during a break in physiology class reasoning that the Atkins diet thing should pretty much do what Atkins said it would, but we worked out some plausible side effects that could be pretty bad. Sometimes.

211

Plume 08.24.14 at 8:04 pm

Thornton Hall,

I like the new pope. He’s more than just a breath of fresh air. To have the pope actually question capitalism is amazing, and he seems to be light years ahead of past popes on issues like same sex relationships. At least relatively speaking.

I’m not a Christian, having given up all of that when I was very young. But I think he sets a great example for those who are. And his questioning of our current economic system may well have cross-cultural and very positive ramifications. That is my hope, anyway.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 8:18 pm

@j Thomas. Re-reading 210 I realize we’re not that far apart.

213

jkay 08.24.14 at 9:13 pm

My fave is that the Northwest Passage, ice-choked centuries since the American explorer Henry Hudson, is now there in summer, as has been in the news, and you can googlecheck yourself.

Does that work for you? Anybody for whom that fails?

214

john c. halasz 08.24.14 at 10:23 pm

Well, this thread has been thread-jacked by various commenters from the topic of the OP. Specifically the trope about climate change denial and opposition to GMOs being equivalent, a cliche’, has led away from any serious concentration of the economic problems involved. But that trope is merely a case of false equivalence. For one thing, the science is genetics, which is itself a branch of evolutionary biology and ecology. GMOs is a generic term for a group of potential or actual technologies, which each would have to be specifically evaluated on their own merits. (My own view is that the environmental/ecological and economic/agronomic issues with existing and possible GMOs are far more important than the possible human health effects, though the latter are largely unknown due to corporate suppression of research on their long-term health effects, as the Tyrone Hayes case makes clear, as a “smoking gun”). But climate science is directly science and denying the results of such research is different from issues about the relevant or feasible technological (and economic) response. So there is a basic asymmetry between the two case, which it is fatuous to deny, in the name of being “rational” or “pro-science”.

But with respect to GMOs as actually existing there is what economists like to call a “natural experiment”. Since 1990 how much have average agricultural yields increased in the U.S., where such crops have been extensively deployed, vs. in the EU, where they have been largely banned or disfavored? The answer is that yields have increased at about the same rate, in that time period, so there is likely no general advantage or necessity for pursuing the existing GMO programs, and other agricultural methods are surely possible, and for a number of reasons, far more desirable, generally speaking.

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Wallace Stevens 08.24.14 at 10:35 pm

I’ll chock Halasz (@ 214) up as another “sighting” of the species that accepts the science of climate change (“climate science is directly science”), but is a sceptic when it comes to GM foods (“[the human health effects] are largely unknown due to corporate suppression of research on their long-term health effects”). There is a mirror image here with the right wing conspiracy theories that would have it that evil environmentalists distort and suppress information in order to support the climate change “hoax.”

I stress again that I am NOT a climate change sceptic. However, if we want to properly address Quiggin’s original, and very good, question, we need to think about how people form opinions about very technical questions where they are not experts. The GMO discussion is highly pertinent to Quiggin’s question.

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john c. halasz 08.24.14 at 10:44 pm

@215:

Despite you namesake, this isn’t a matter of an opinion poll or mere attitudizing, but of reasoned and informed discussion.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 10:48 pm

@214. Well then. I hope the teacher heard that.
Intellectually, climate change is boring. New knowledge is rare. We know how the story ends. The only question is how long till we get there. The OP says, “fuck if I know, probably when the crazies are dead, but faster than you think.” How many comments can that support? How many should it support? For my intellectual dollar, CT threads are where one can peer into the progressive mind, with Brett performing the role of the metal pole shot through the brain.

Would a discussion of the causes of the “intellectual decline of the right” have been better? Or a deep dive into how number 3 is supposed to work (I can’t paraphrase it because I don’t understand it)? Well, fine, then say something interesting about it.

Here’s a go: neoliberal economics of the type practiced by JQ, PK, and BdL is the reason we over estimate the cost of doing the right thing. Indeed, Neoliberalism is dedicated to the idea that the right thing always costs more than the wrong thing. Therefore deregulate the criminals and watch the magic happen.

Deregulation is pure Econ in action. Then Econ professors have the temerity to complain that we don’t listen to science!!!! Make up your mind, is the market right? Or science? Cuz it can’t be both.

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Luke 08.24.14 at 10:58 pm

I don’t think that’s fair, any more than it would be fair to use the ‘conspiracy theorist’ label for people who are concerned about the long-term effects of poorly reasearched medicines. The same moral hazards apply with GMOs.

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Wallace Stevens 08.24.14 at 11:17 pm

Thanks Luke, @218, I’ll chalk up one more!

220

Bruce Wilder 08.24.14 at 11:17 pm

Wallace Stevens: . . . we need to think about how people form opinions about very technical questions where they are not experts.

Maybe, we need to think about how evil business corporations choose their messaging strategy:

evil oil company goes to the rolodex to see who they used in the fight over lead in gasoline or asks for references from evil tobacco gians, and funds climate change denialism

OR

evil agro-chemical giant “a sustainable agriculture company” (their own words!) pays to have scientific authority bolster their claims that their GMO plan is safe and sound.

Either way, what people have to work with to form their opinions is a lot of b.s., with few fully trustworthy interpreters.

The fact that the interested business corporation takes a pro-science or anti-science stance in their P.R. strategizing does not create a symmetry or asymmetry between Left and Right. It just creates different problems for partisan argumentation (and for responsible journalists).

I do not think the Science is ever going to crown Left or Right the clear victor on any issue. The facts are more nearly neutral than that, even when the political partisans may be using convenient lies to bolster their own prejudices.

The Left could “accept” the science — as far as it goes — on GMOs and still have an excellent case against the extension of intellectual property claims and a model of agricultural practice that emphasizes pesticides and neglects soil conservation and species diversity.

I do not want to even imagine what comes after climate change denialism for the Right. Nothing decent, I suspect.

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Bruce Wilder 08.24.14 at 11:24 pm

Thornton Hall: Neoliberalism is dedicated to the idea that the right thing always costs more than the wrong thing.

But, it would be so worth it! LOL!

I do hope Professor Quiggin is paying attention on this one, because this is a case where he could be the change he’s waiting for. (b) needs a serious reframe.

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Thornton Hall 08.24.14 at 11:24 pm

@220 every law on the books was written in part by moneyed interests. Somehow it works. And come on, it works.

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mattski 08.24.14 at 11:53 pm

Thornton,

neoliberal economics of the type practiced by JQ, PK, and BdL is the reason we over estimate the cost of doing the right thing. Indeed, Neoliberalism is dedicated to the idea that the right thing always costs more than the wrong thing.

Where do you come up with this hooey?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/09/opinion/krugman-interests-ideology-and-climate.html

224

ZM 08.25.14 at 12:02 am

I really loathe how some commenters – Thornton Hall regularly, and now Wallace Stevens (whose namesake must be turning over in his grave) – jack threads on needing to stop anthropogenic climate change into arguments on needing to support anthropogenic genetic engineering.

This is just another ‘change the topic’ sort of climate change denialism two step.

I also loathe how to do so Thornton Hall professes his great and abiding concern for the world’ spoor and hungry despite not mentioning them at other times. He could help the poor more through donations and supporting economic law changes more than through genetic engineering.

And now their is an attack on vegetarianism on a climate change thread – never mind how the extent of contemporary animal farming is a leading cause of climate change!

Another form of climate denialism by Thornton Hall – “I believe the science – I just don’t see the need for the scientifically suggested solutions that would require me to make any changes in my life other than the genetic engineering of life forms for the sake of all the world’s poor who I care so deeply about’

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john c. halasz 08.25.14 at 12:05 am

@223:

Before you give your idol Krugman too much credit, you should know that the “carbon price” in the U.S. Northeast is about $2.50/ton, IOW peanuts, and any reductions in emissions couldn’t be reasonably attributed to that cap-n-trade system, since it amounts to an increased cost of $.002/kwh. Leaving aside the issues with NG/methane.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 12:06 am

“Whether or not agriculture was the “worst mistake in the history of the human race,” the choice, once made, was made for good. With a global population of seven billion people, heading rapidly toward eight billion, there’s certainly no turning back now (even if paleo does, in fact, prevent zits). Pound for pound, beef production demands at least ten times as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost twenty times as much energy. Livestock are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, not just because of the fuel it takes to raise them but also because they do things like belch out methane and produce lots of shit, which in turn produces lots of nitrous oxide. One analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that, in terms of emissions, eating a pound of beef is the equivalent of driving forty-five miles. (Grass-fed beef—recommended by many primal enthusiasts—may produce lower emissions than corn-fed, but the evidence on this is shaky.) Eating a pound of whole wheat, by contrast, is like driving less than a mile. All of which is to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “Let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/28/stone-soup

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 12:38 am

@223. PK is going through a public conversion experience. The column you cite was actually post number three in a series where he started with the claim: of course it will slow growth, but we should do it anyway. By the time of the column this had become:

emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much.

There’s no evidence for this claim. None at all. There are models. But they all assume that investing in solar now is a waste of money, because government is bad, because the 70s, and duh! So now he’s awesome because his unjustified assumption that govt directed spending by definition lowers GDP growth…. BUT NOT BY MUCH?

Please.

228

Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 12:41 am

@ZM my claims about GM crops are wrong because I don’t brag about my career as a public defender?

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js. 08.25.14 at 12:46 am

The Left could “accept” the science — as far as it goes — on GMOs and still have an excellent case against the extension of intellectual property claims and a model of agricultural practice that emphasizes pesticides and neglects soil conservation and species diversity.

This, exactly. Though I’d drop the scare quotes around “accept”. Maybe they’re not scare quotes — not sure what’s going on there. Anyway, accepting the science doesn’t alleviate what are in large measure political-economic concerns.

230

ZM 08.25.14 at 12:48 am

You said you got a new job in another thread that wasn’t as a public defender and your stated previous job on that thread wasn’t as a public defender either, and your website says you make furniture for a living

231

ZM 08.25.14 at 12:49 am

That was a reply to Thornton Hall who now likes to claim he is a very humble public defender

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Wallace Stevens 08.25.14 at 12:52 am

Wilder @220: “The Left could “accept” the science — as far as it goes — on GMOs and still have an excellent case against the extension of intellectual property claims and a model of agricultural practice that emphasizes pesticides and neglects soil conservation and species diversity. “

Yes, I agree completely, there are many ethical and moral questions related to GMO intellectual property claims that are deeply concerning. But for my purposes the issue is the science of GM foods, particularly the safety of GM foods to humans. And there, et tu Wilder, I detect a note of doubt: “The Left could “accept” the science–as far as it goes–.” Ah…”as far as it goes.” Or this: “evil agro-chemical giant…pays to have scientific authority bolster their claims that their GMO plan is safe and sound.”

Quiggin: in a short time we have ZM, Luke, Halasz and Wilder, all apparently firm climate change believers, expressing doubts about the safety of GM foods and alluding to dark conspiracies to distort the scientific truth. Again, this is not a statistically valid sample. But still, I’m starting to think that I may be on to something.

And I don’t think that this is side-tracking the discussion. It is really important to Quiggin’s original question to understand how reasonably well informed people can be so certain about one thing and so doubtful/sceptical about another–even though, as non-experts, they have to rely on the same information sources and authorities to draw their conclusions on both issues.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 12:52 am

I got burned out at precisely the wrong time. Then I temped. And dreamed of making a living in Etsy. Then I took a job as a property manager. But when I graduated Georgetown Law I turned down six figures in favor of indigent criminal defense.

The website is my alter ego, who is represented visually by govt photos of Harold Ickes (the New Dealer, not the New Dem).

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Matt 08.25.14 at 1:00 am

On the potential, and limits, of production-side changes to reduce anthropogenic GHG emissions.

According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in 2013 Americans consumed ~103 exajoules of primary energy. Of that total 41 exajoules went to useful energy services and 62 went to waste. The high ratio of waste to services is primarily because fossil fuels are exploited through heat engines, which are limited by the Carnot cycle and engineering limits of materials to relatively low efficiencies. Systems that tap kinetic energy of fluids in motion, such as wind, hydro, and tidal generation, and solar systems that operate on the photoelectric effect, are not operating on the Carnot cycle and waste far less energy as heat. In principle you could eliminate over half of American primary energy consumption without reducing energy services at all, if heat engines are replaced by photovoltaics and/or wind.

Over the full life cycle even PV and wind power generate emissions, via initial manufacturing if not via operation. The life cycle emissions of PV and wind systems are much lower than those of the most efficient fossil fueled systems.

As of 2014 the IPCC estimates that utility scale solar PV has a life cycle CO2 equivalent of 48 grams per kilowatt hour, and onshore wind has CO2-e of 12 grams per kilowatt hour. Compare with the cleanest conventional fossil source, combined cycle gas turbine at 490 grams per kilowatt hour, or coal at 820 grams per kilowatt hour.

How far could a couple of technological wonders take us? If a population of 10 billion consumed energy services at the same rate as Americans, but got it all from utility scale solar PV, that would come to 17 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions-equivalent per year. That’s a big cut on the 36 billion tonnes actually emitted in 2013, but not big enough. If it all came from onshore wind instead that’s only 4.2 billion tonnes, which would meet stabilization targets, but in most nations space constraints for turbines come into play before then. There are two big secondary effects of a large scale change toward renewables: the energy that goes into making renewable energy systems becomes cleaner, so generation N + 1 has a lower life cycle emissions intensity than generation N, but more storage/long distance transmission/overbuilding becomes necessary, increasing the amortized emissions cost per unit of energy services. Solar PV is more scaleable than wind. It also has worse problems with seasonal variability at extreme latitudes, though fortunately most of the world’s population lives at less extreme latitudes than Germans and won’t face such great seasonal challenges.

On energy and employment.

I think that renewables will become cheaper than fossil and nuclear sources, at least as reckoned by instantaneous cost per kilowatt hour, largely because the labor requirements are lower. “Green” PR likes to emphasize how many jobs are created by solar and wind projects, and conservative critics seize on that same PR to prove that renewables are inefficient with the use of labor. I think that the PR and the reaction to the PR are both off base: normalized to units of energy generated, renewables need fewer workers than conventional generating plants. The relatively high number of jobs in renewable energy in developed countries is due to rapid growth rather than higher labor requirements over the full life cycle.

Here’s a recent wind project going forward in Texas: http://hprnnews.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/hockley-county-approves-agreement-with-red-raider-wind-llc/

For 80 MW of nameplate capacity, they expect to have 6-8 permanent employees. There are also going to be about 100 construction workers employed for half a year to build the project initially. If we amortize construction labor over a conservative 20 year life for the project, that’s equivalent to an additional 2.5 full time positions ((100 * 0.5) / 20), e.g. 8.5-10.5 permanent employee equivalents total. If the project achieves the average Texan 33.6% wind capacity factor, it will generate 80 * 24 * 365 * 0.336 = 235,469 MWh per year, or 27,702 – 22,425 MWh per employee-year.

The new AP1000 reactors being installed as Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 are expected to have about 800 permanent employees, up to 4000 employees at peak during construction. Let’s assume a generous 60 year reactor life and 10,000 worker-years for construction. If the reactors achieve their planned 93% capacity factor, the new AP1000s are going to produce ((1117 * 2 * 24 * 365 * 0.93) / (800 + 10000 / 60)) = 18,823 MWh per employee-year. The only way you could save significantly on labor/wages per megawatt hour building/operating/maintaining a nuclear plant over a Texan wind plant is if nuclear workers are paid considerably less than wind workers. But I think they’re typically paid more. Renewable project developers/operators can innovate faster with automation to further cut labor because they have much faster hardware development cycles, both because they use many small pieces of hardware instead of a few big pieces and because their systems are passively safe in a way that reactor cores, coal ash, and flammable gases aren’t. They don’t wait as long for regulatory reviews as changes to fossil/nuclear systems, because even a bad solar panel design doesn’t spill toxic ash, release radionuclides, or cause explosive fires.

I don’t have detailed numbers for other conventional electricity sources, but I know that coal is more labor-intensive than natural gas which in turn is more labor-intensive than wind. Here is the material basis for broad resistance to cutting coal use. If you cut coal use, in the long term you cut employment to supply an equal quantity of electricity, even under the ridiculously optimistic assumption that a coal plant worker of 20 years experience can just jump to a wind or solar farm after a bit of retraining. This is all well and good if we live in the world of Keynes’ “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” — less pollution, more leisure! — but likely to be ruinous for affected workers and communities in the actual world of 2014. That doesn’t mean I think that coal should be coddled until we live in a more economically just world; if I were planetary dictator I’d wage Total War against thermal coal use. But I’m not going to pretend that everyone will gain equally from the move away from coal, or tell myself comforting lies like “only millionaires will lose anything.”

On population.

In percentage terms world population growth peaked in 1963. In terms of absolute numbers of humans added, it peaked in 1989. More than half the world’s nations are already below replacement fertility, and rates are falling in almost every nation still above replacement rate. I think that human population expansion is a problem already well on track to being solved; the challenge is to avoid big reversals and to make it through the late-century peak before the relief of the decline comes.

Less data and more opinion.

Climate change is a problem that just goes on and on into future history, in the absence of active interventions to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it in stable form. The IPCC looks decades ahead but the change will continue for thousands of years even if humans stopped emitting tomorrow. I think some interventions are too high-risk and morally hazardous to to endorse, but I think that some forms of active drawdown will be better than waiting 100,000 years for Earth to draw down the excess on its own schedule. See David Archer’s The Long Thaw for a view of AGC that follows consequences well beyond the IPCC planning horizon into deep time.

My personal favorite candidate for sequestration is accelerated silicate weathering, basically crushing basalt and dumping it in shallow coastal waters where wave action will keep the weathering rate from slowing. Arguing for it: it’s energetically efficient, it reverses ocean acidification as well as radiative forcing, it can scale up to high rates of sequestration, the carbon stays sequestered into deep time, and it deals with distributed emissions just as well as point sources. Arguing against it: the intervention needs to be vast to work (but so would any intervention, as befits the vast scale of the problem), and it can’t do anything significant on a time scale less than decades. I think the slowness of it isn’t a serious drawback, because it’s still much faster than the unaided recovery of the oceans and atmosphere, but it is an impairment to understanding. Humans aren’t very good at intuiting time and length scales at extremes, and most aren’t careful to do the arithmetic when intuition breaks down.

Biochar from woody waste that’s worked back into the soil could also turn the carbon dioxide emission pulse into a wider, lower hump that drives less feedback, plus increase soil fertility with reduced inputs of artificial fertilizers. The achievable sequestration rate of biochar approaches is pretty low, so deep emissions cuts are needed before biochar can make much of a dent in the residual emissions.

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John Quiggin 08.25.14 at 1:08 am

@232 I don’t know Luke, and couldn’t find the comment to which you refer. I do know BW, JCH and ZM and I would say that they are representative examples of a certain kind of left thinking (with variations, but broadly similar), one which is consciously a minority within the left.

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john c. halasz 08.25.14 at 1:08 am

The New Yorker article on Tyrone Hayes is over-long, in the style of that magazine and full of extraneous detail for “human interest”, but it is a case in point about how “science” under neo-liberalism has become increasingly corrupted and dysfunctional, no longer a public trust, but increasingly an expropriated private property. And yes, the long-term health effects of Round-up/glysophate, (or similar systems) are unknown, since the research isn’t done and attempting to do independent research is not just difficult in terms of funding, but threatens your scientific reputation and career. Read the article, before you accuse anyone, other than yourself, of fantasizing. (Simple question: how much glyphosate/Round-up actually enters the human food system? That should be easy to find out at low cost and would condition further investigation. But there is no answer, though the potential for damages should be differentiated between agricultural workers and ordinary consumers).

I refer you back to @ 216. Your “contributions” here have been fatuous and hollow.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 1:14 am

#215 WS

I’ll chock Halasz (@ 214) up as another “sighting” of the species that accepts the science of climate change (“climate science is directly science”), but is a sceptic when it comes to GM foods (“[the human health effects] are largely unknown due to corporate suppression of research on their long-term health effects”). There is a mirror image here with the right wing conspiracy theories that would have it that evil environmentalists distort and suppress information in order to support the climate change “hoax.”

Are you for real? It doesn’t sound like you’re real.

On the one side, we have a whole lot of research that fits together, that implies we are changing our climate. People who don’t want to believe it, say that we aren’t changing our climate, they started out arguing that the climate is not changing and when that failed they switched to claiming that it’s all due to natural stuff we can’t do anything about.

On the other side, we have a limited amount of mostly corporate-funded research, that shows if mice eat GMO corn the corn mostly won’t transfer corn genes into mouse genomes. Also the mice live about as well eating GMO corn as they do regular corn, except there are a few lab techs etc who claim they were doing the work and they got weird results and they were fired for incompetence for reporting it, etc.

I certainly hope that research was done competently because if we start getting corn genes spliced into our genomes there’s no telling what will happen and if GMO corn starts poisoning people then we might all die. But that research is not at all enough to say that any particular GMO product is safe. Why would you think it says any particular GMO product is safe?

That would be like saying that every automobile’s crash-test dummy research shows that the automobiles are safe, and they will never need a safety recall because it’s all been proven.

Your story doesn’t make sense.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 1:16 am

@234. Very helpful. I choose to be optimistic about how technological advancement will impact employment, but also argue for a generous universal basic income. I also choose to be optimistic that cheap solar, cheap wind and significantly more efficient transmission will not be the full story. A high school
science teacher gave me a book on nanotechnology in 1991, but I think the potential there is about to be realized in dramatic and unpredictable ways, including power storage and transmission. But that’s pure speculation

239

Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 1:18 am

@237 have you ever taken medication? I mean, corporate research is motivated, but it’s not worthless.

240

Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 1:19 am

Oh god, it gets worse after that!

241

Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 1:24 am

@ZM And no credit for trying to jack the thread back into a discussion about how the current economic paradigm rests on the assumption that doing something command and control about climate change is costly and wrong?

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 1:26 am

#214 John Halasz

But with respect to GMOs as actually existing there is what economists like to call a “natural experiment”. Since 1990 how much have average agricultural yields increased in the U.S., where such crops have been extensively deployed, vs. in the EU, where they have been largely banned or disfavored? The answer is that yields have increased at about the same rate, in that time period

Is that yield per acre?

Would it be worthwhile to also consider yield per dollar?

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 1:34 am

#240 Thornton Hall

@237 have you ever taken medication? I mean, corporate research is motivated, but it’s not worthless.

You don’t get it. I think you are motivated not to get it.

Or possibly your dosage is wrong?

So on the one hand, climate research strongly implies that the way we are currently doing things is not safe, and there’s a whole lot of that research which fits together. Reasonable people accept that there is a problem that needs attention.

On the other hand, GMO research was limited, and was done mostly by people who were paid to find the correct answer. They looked for some obvious concerns and said those few obvious concerns checked out. Somebody wants to claim that this establishes that all GMO products are safe. Reasonable people are skeptical that this is proven.

And you don’t get it.

I don’t think you are real.

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john c. halasz 08.25.14 at 1:40 am

@237:

Transgenetic contamination is not any real concern. Infra-specific contamination, as with “race corn” (maize) in southern Mexico, is a real concern. With respect to Glyphosate/Round-up, there is real concern that, just as it kills weeds, it disrupts beneficial bacterial cultures in the soil, though that isn’t fully scientifically “proven”. (Though from the perspective of manufacturers of agricultural chemicals, that’s all good, eh?) Most suspicions of health effects from glyphosate/Round-up involve similar disruptions of bacteria in the human digestive tract, which is cutting edge medical science, so far from any sort of proof. Anecdotal reports from. e.g., Danish pig farmers have GMO feed producing noticably higher rates of piglet deaths and distended stomachs in slaughtered pigs. But, as I said, the human health effects are a tertiary issue, since the stuff obviously isn’t arsenic. The environmental rebound effects were obvious to begin with, and mirabile dictu, they are occurring. And the quasi-monopolistic rent-extraction strategy should be equally obvious. There is no obvious reason to believe that GMOs are either necessary or especially beneficial to improved agricultural output.

Differentiating the issues involved is important. Muddling them helps no one.

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Bruce Wilder 08.25.14 at 1:42 am

Krugman: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much.

Krugman. . . wouldn’t protecting the environment nonetheless impose costs on some sectors and regions? Yes, it would — but not as much as you think.

It’s the minimizing rhetoric that attempts to achieve a kind of superficially plausible reasonableness at the cost of conceding the whole case, which I read Thornton as complaining about. I don’t think Krugman even realizes that he’s doing it anymore, he’s been so completely captured by the Friedmanite logic.

Krugman is following a convention. What he’s saying doesn’t follow from pure economic theory. Pollution, for example, imposes costs. That’s why we want to limit it. If we’re doing that sensibly and effectively, regulation ought to be a clear net winner. Environmental regulation reduces costs, overall. Otherwise, why we would do it? So why not say, “environmental regulation reduces costs, improves welfare.” It is presumably what Krugman believes. Why adopt a phrasing that implies the opposite of what he believes?

I think combat fatigue might be involved, and a sense that he’ll gain a hearing from those, for whom the costs of regulation loom larger in the foreground of their experience than the costs of pollution or other hazards, maybe because they operate a business.

Rhetorically, though, it is a loser.

I think it can be particularly bad in the global climate change context, when someone implies that taking action on climate change may reduce the expected rate of economic growth. The clear implication is that we can have faster economic growth, if we take less aggressive action mitigating climate change. That’s not a concession that anyone, who cares about the future, should be making.

Saying that action on climate change or the environment will only cost a small percentage of national income is conceding the legitimacy of the opposition’s case, which is built on the benefit of not taking the hit for responsible policy. The Right has a whole narrative built on the idea that economic growth can be had by the expedient of more pollution, less safety, lower wages, etc. If we want to be effective in opposing their reasoning, I do not think we should concede any part of it. Do not concede that responsible policy involves a hit. Irresponsible policy involves the hit. Right-wing policy makes most of us — maybe all of us — poorer, in order to make a very few richer, and the rest is a con-job.

Regarding mitigation of climate change and the effects of global resource constraints, I’m not saying we should get all apocalyptic. But, I think we ought to get much more rigorously realistic about exactly how climate change, and emerging global resource limits, constrain the future path of the economy. The point of prudent mitigation is to improve our collective prospects, not to harm them minimally.

“Minimal cost compared to the alternative” of bad policy is not an effective sales pitch for good policy. Nor does it represent clear thinking.

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Anarcissie 08.25.14 at 1:44 am

Actually the Left ought to be suspicious of mainstream science, since it is mostly funded and governed by elite-driven, classist, authoritarian institutions like governments, universities, and corporations, and serves the interests and desires of their masters. What is revealed to the proles is seldom anything like a whole story: for example, the supposed cheapness and safety of nuclear energy. That whole campaign greatly resembled the present one for GMOs. Before Three Mile Island, skeptics were on the fringe, as the more elderly will recall. The anthropogenic climate change thing arising to public consciousness, then, is something of an outlier.

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MPAVictoria 08.25.14 at 1:49 am

“do know BW, JCH and ZM and I would say that they are representative examples of a certain kind of left thinking (with variations, but broadly similar), one which is consciously a minority within the left.”

For which I thank God every day.

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Bruce Wilder 08.25.14 at 1:54 am

my last comment was a response to mattski @ 223 (8.24 11:53 pm) I forget to include that little indication of context. He had linked to a Krugman article, from which I took quotations. I think mattski misread Thornton Hall’s complaint about the way neoliberal liberals sometimes frame their arguments for regulatory policy, as involving a minimal cost, which is nevertheless a cost compared to the conservative alternative policy, thinking “minimal” is persuasive, but not even seeing how they concede the conservative case by their framing.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 1:58 am

@J Thomas. I didn’t mean you should take medication. I mean that virtually every single medication on the market today, literally every single one, is backed by almost exclusively corporate research. Now, the ideas behind the medicine, and approximately 100% of the genuine breakthroughs are found in govt research. But whether it’s heartburn or heart transplants, someone you love is alive because corporate funded research is not entirely worthless.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 2:12 am

@244 (and to partially prove to j Thomas that I am for real) the connection between RoundUp and gut bacteria gets my attention. I am dubious for reasons that are, somewhat ironically, a precise mirror image of the anti-GM dubiousness: pedigree. Just as many believe everything Monsanto does is for-profit, non-science, I am dubious that anti-Monsanto claims are anti-corporate non-science.

But talk gut bacteria and I’ll listen. Because it’s something doctors have quite arrogantly ignored (in the same way they ignored the dangers of carbs).

So I’m for real: I think GM crops will be one of the ways we mitigate the consequences of antropomorphic climate change, which I very much believe in and expect to cause unnecessary human suffering (which I am consistently against). I am also not a fan of bad anti-science (really more a-science than anti-science) that blames eggs for heart disease and obesity when the consumption of wheat is what has skyrocketed. Which then leads me back to sympathy to anti-Round-Up claims based on the importance of gut bacteria (which both me and science increasingly believe in).

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Luke 08.25.14 at 2:18 am

What John said.

Anyway, slightly closer to the topic: what is the relationship between the logic according to which reserve bankers act to ‘cool down’ the economy every time it looks like it might wake from its coma, and the logic according to which certain economists and politicians pale at the thought of impeding growth by acting to curb climate change?

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ZM 08.25.14 at 2:20 am

John Quiggin,

Saying you think someone is a representative minority is not the same thing as properly countering their arguments should they be wrong.

You said up thread my comment was full of errors, then when I quoted the IPCC technical summary which I based my comment on you were subsequently unable or unwilling to point out what exactly was was erroneous about my comment.

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john c. halasz 08.25.14 at 2:23 am

@247:

A perfect example of “tribal” thinking, together with the invocation of extra-terrestial authority. I, for one, see no reason why John Quiggen, in his sublime complacency, should appoint himself arbiter of acceptable “left” doxa. Especially since he offers nothing by way of argument or evidence to counter any of the contentions claimed. It seems he wants to appeal to his “authority” as an economist, and little else, except compulsive optimism, to bolster his prejudices.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 2:23 am

#249 Thornton Hall

I mean that virtually every single medication on the market today, literally every single one, is backed by almost exclusively corporate research.

Yes.

…. But whether it’s heartburn or heart transplants, someone you love is alive because corporate funded research is not entirely worthless.

?? And someone I love is dead because corporate-funded research is not entirely honest.

How do we decide the proportions?

Perhaps we can look at how well we were doing 30 years ago, and 20 years ago, and 10 years ago. What percentage of the medications promoted 30 years ago by corporate research are still considered both safe and effective? Would you care to guess at that?

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Bruce Wilder 08.25.14 at 2:31 am

Luke: . . . what is the relationship between the logic according to which reserve bankers act to ‘cool down’ the economy every time it looks like it might wake from its coma, and the logic according to which certain economists and politicians pale at the thought of impeding growth by acting to curb climate change?

Solicitude for the interests of the mega-rich and powerful would seem to be the common denominator.

(I suppose you already knew that.)

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 2:36 am

@254 Dude, attack straw men much? My claim is not that corporate research is good or sufficient. It’s that it is non-worthless.

I don’t “trust” Monsanto. They were more trustworthy before Milton Friedman’s theory of the firm became dogma, but not much. But I do trust UC Davis scientists. Even when they are partially funded by corporate interests. I trust them to act in good faith. I expect them to be human. And when they make errors, as humans do, I expect the direction of those errors to be influenced by their funding sources. But far more important than the direction of their occasional errors (for the significance of which, cf, that bizarre “scandal” about climate and emails) is the direction of their good faith. And that points in the direction of empirical truth and feeding people.

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Wallace Stevens 08.25.14 at 2:38 am

John Quiggin @235: I still am not sure what your grounds are for saying that people with these views (climate change believer/GMO food skeptic) are a minority on the left. There seems to be no real basis for it, other than the people that you happen to have met, and your sense that the latter group are a minority among them. What I really don’t understand is your certainty, your confidence, based on this evidence. I feel that I may be on to something with what I have seen on this thread on CT, and what I observed elsewhere. But I still feel that you and I both are dealing in anecdote and that neither of us should be confident in drawing firm conclusions.

Meanwhile, just since your 235, we can now add J Thomas, Anarcissie, and, maybe (?) MPA Victoria to my list! Maybe your minority is over-represented on the CT commentariat.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 2:46 am

Thornton Hall,

I am sorry I doubted you were once a public defender, but that does not really justify you bringing in genetic engineering and anti-vegetarianism to a climate change thread.

Re: trusting UC Davis scientists I think here in Australia funding for research determines what research is done. Companies can pay for research or governments can give grants for research.

It would be interesting to see what research priorities would be if scientists determined them more than governments and companies. I think some scientists are not so scrupulous as others unfortunately, hopefully this is rare. I read an influential food company scientist say that earning a high income was more important to his work priorities than morals (he did the science behind making junk food taste appealing).

Our government here is now de-funding our premiere public science organisation.

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js. 08.25.14 at 2:49 am

This supposed equivalence between climate science denialism and opposition to (actually existing) GMO production is nonsense, actually.

Look, a couple of decades ago, you had some assholes in Texas trying to patent basmati. Fuckers probably couldn’t tell actual basmati from third-rate jasmine, but hey, why should that get in the way of a bit of profit? Minor and irrelevant, you say. Fine, yes, it’s not that important (tho, seriously, the fucking arrogance). Meanwhile, you have Monsanto patenting seeds and suing poor farmers all over the world. They’re actively helping create new forms of debt peonage in India (and presumably other places), and their actions have been plausibly linked to rises in farmer suicides.

This is actually existing GMO production. Opposing this is a mirror image of climate science denialism? That’s bullshit. Yeah, in an ideal world, where the profit motive is a thing of the past and all social production is unalienated,* GMOs are the best thing since fluoridation.

There are also, I think, entirely fair ecological concerns. These aren’t specific to GMOs—they extend to monocultures, various forms of industrial farming, etc. But to the extent that the standard sorts of environmental and ecological concerns apply to the latter, they also apply to GMOs. And it’s at least quite possible that they apply to GMOs in especially intensified ways because the ecological disruption goes deeper. I’m not that strongly committed to this last claim and could be convinced otherwise, but certainly, the general concern seems well-placed.

The thing is, if you want statistically irrelevant samples, most lefties I know, which is most people I know, are more or less where I am with regard to GMOs. Not really worried about health impacts, but not at all gung-ho either. Which seems to me like a completely reasonable attitude.

*Tongue somewhat in cheek here, obviously.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 2:54 am

By the by, for those interested in the science. There is the possibility that while dietary saturated fat and cholesterol have exactly nothing to do with heart disease, it is possible that a diet high in beef could be genuinely related to heart disease while chicken and other animals are not. And the hypothesized reason is gut bacteria and beef’s impact on it.

Similarly, I am anti-anti-biotics as growth stimulants in farms (regardless of the quantity of animals or the real estate they are allowed to roam). This is based on speculation that the research on the safety of anti-biotics, both corporate and non-corporate, is clouded by a failure to understand the importance of gut bacteria.

Of course this leads me to the pro-corporate and anti-regulation position that we should loosen restrictions on bio-engineered replacement bacteria. Did you know that your propensity to develop cavities had almost nothing to do with the genetics encoding the instructions for tooth enamel and everything to do with the genetics of your mouth bacteria ecosystem? The biodiversity of bacteria means that some produce teeth eating by-products while others produce gum eating by-products.

Following the science turns out not to lead to consistent views vis a vis the moral value corporations.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 2:58 am

OK, back on topic:

the various efforts to “frame” the evidence on climate change, and the policy implications, in a way that will appeal to those on the political right are all doomed.

…. optimism….

(a) The intellectual collapse of the right has already proved politically costly, and these costs will increase over time
(b) The cost of climate stabilization has turned out to be so low that even a delay of 5-10 years won’t render it unmanageable.
(c) The benefits in terms of the possibility of implementing progressive policies such as redistribution away from the 1 per cent will more than offset the extra costs of the delay in dealing with climate change.

It took me until now to see where you were going with this.

People who look seriously at climate change tend to get depressed and unmotivated. It seems like it’s already too late to do the things we needed to do 40 years ago. We’re facing tragedy.

But you want to reframe it in a way that will actually help the Left. So you look for a useful frame.

A. The Right is stuck so tight to denial that they can’t get loose. The rising tides will drown them. That’s hopeful.

B. We can set up a program of climate remediation that will be so cheap it won’t upset people much. Voters will flock to the optimistic message that we can actually fix things and it won’t even cost much.

C. After a Left political victory, we can redistribute so much from the 1% that it will do people more good than climate change will do them harm. So it’s a win!

I had trouble imagining what you were thinking. But now I see, to win we need to be optimistic and enthusiastic. People aren’t going to vote for us if we’re too depressed to organize. Get a program that says everything will be OK if we win, and then we can go out there and win! And if we get a cheap program to reduce the rate of climate change, that’s a lot better than we’ll get if we lose!

It doesn’t really matter if it’s true, what matters is that it’s a program that can win when the Right has utterly discredited itself. When the Right self-destructs we need something that will really attract people. There are going to be a whole lot of people looking for easy answers, looking for a replacement for the GOP’s easy answers, and if we don’t provide that need somebody else will.

When I look at it in that context all of a sudden it makes sense. When I was thinking in terms of science and logic and things like that, I kept missing the point.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 2:59 am

@ZM I know that you are arguing in good faith and did not take your doubting my pro-poor people bona fides personally. Thanks for acknowledging it, though.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 2:59 am

According to a 2001 eu survey 71% reject gmo food, agreeing with the statement ‘I do not want this kind of food’.

71% is somewhat larger than a minority of the left…

http://www.scielo.cl/fbpe/img/ejb/v6n1/a04/bip/

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 3:10 am

#256 TH

My claim is not that corporate research is good or sufficient. It’s that it is non-worthless.

Look, if you do statistics and you settle for p=.05, it says that about one time in twenty when you actually do not have any results, it will look like you do. People sometimes mis-state that to say that of all the research that gets positive results at p=.05, one in twenty of them is entirely bogus for statistical reasons. We can’t tell how many of them are bogus that way. But the fact that some of them are, makes us feel justified to ignore results that sound wrong until they are repeated many times.

What if corporate-funded research was wrong half the time? Would that be enough to make it worthless to you? It would be worthless to me.

Can you see any better way to estimate how much of it is wrong, than to look at how fast it gets discredited as more research is done? If the pharma research of 30 years ago has been partly discredited now, would you expect that less of todays research will be discredited within 30 years?

What evidence are you using to test your faith in them?

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 3:12 am

@ZM Also, I think you probably can understand why GM crops come up in a discussion of how to persuade people to listen to scientific evidence? I mean, kinda sorta, you can see it, right? It’s not about equal or equivalent harms or corporate evil or poverty or anything else. It’s about a quite large group of people who believe (perhaps wrongly, but in good faith) that if you take science seriously, you will, necessarily believe that climate change is a very serious threat to human welfare and that the development of GM crops is not a threat.

It’s about the question: what do you believe if you believe in science? It’s about answering that question consistently. Or, more interestingly, what drives the inconsistency.

I honestly don’t understand why JQ insists on calling explorations of those two question to be “false equivalence” attacks. It might have to do with context. The US is not the same as Australia in ways that neither side knows about.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 3:13 am

#257 BS

Meanwhile, just since your 235, we can now add J Thomas, Anarcissie, and, maybe (?) MPA Victoria to my list!

You have no right to make a list with my name on it. Desist at once. This is your first warning.

Why do you continue in your folly when you have heard multiple explanations that show you are full of shit?

You have not given any credible explanation why you might fail to understand that your reasoning is worthless.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 3:14 am

You lost me at statistical significance.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 3:21 am

It’s about a quite large group of people who believe (perhaps wrongly, but in good faith) that if you take science seriously, you will, necessarily believe that climate change is a very serious threat to human welfare and that the development of GM crops is not a threat.

Do you have any justification for this?

Some people doubt the climate change science because it looks at complex interactions among complicated entities, and they say it can’t handle that stuff well enough to make good predictions. (There is some truth to that. Then they go on to say that if climate change models aren’t precise, that proves there is no climate change. This is bullshit.)

I doubt the GMO research because it makes no attempt to look at complex interactions among complicated entities, when it in fact does affect complex interactions among complicated entities. Why would we say it’s safe when there has been no attempt at all to study the questions we would need to study to decide whether it’s safe?

Deciding that climate change is probably unsafe, and deciding that GMOs are definitely safe, are two very, very different questions.

The devil is in the details.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 3:25 am

My justification is that I listen to science podcasts from The Guardian and scientists and science journalists at that liberal rag are uniformity in favor of dramatic action right away to slow climate change and uniformly opposed to restriction on GM crops as a food safety measure.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 3:30 am

Thornton Hall,

My primary concern with genetic engineering is moral – I think it is wrong. I think we should protect life as it exists.

In terms of environmental safety of genetic engineering I think scientists and industrialists have gone gung-ho ahead without significant long term testing. Although I think it is wrong, if farmers in my area began growing ge crops as it was made legal some time ago (with some constraints I can’t remember off the top if my head) I would be concerned about the seeds crossing with other similar plants and impacting the environment. You see many more canola plants springing up as weeds than you did when I was a child because of the increase in canola farming – if there are a lot of ge crops grown I expect ge plants will spring up as weeds in ecosystems.

It is not a matter of being pro or anti science. There are some scientific endeavours I support such as medicine and health and palliative care, research into safety etc

Other scientific endeavours I do not support – such as torture devices, nuclear weapons, drones, making junk food more appetizing, eugenics, cloning etc

I am under no obligation to support every scientific endeavour under the sun because I think we should act to prevent climate change.

The people who invented the coal powered electricity engines that have with other inventions caused anthropogenic climate change were not Luddites – they were applied scientists.

The effect of carbon causing warming was theorized in the 19th c – not enough research went into this concern – and now here we are with the effects and a hard transition to make.

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Ze Kraggash 08.25.14 at 3:33 am

My optimistic prediction on climate change: (a) a nuclear war will put an end to all this long before the weather gets too hot. I’m surprised it hasn’t yet.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 3:37 am

#267 TH

You lost me at statistical significance.

It figures. [sigh]

This is worth learning about. It is a scientific revolution that mostly spread starting in the 1910-1930 timespan. Statistical mechanics is a vitally important part of physical chemistry, and it would be hard to understand quantum mechanics without it.

Statistics gives us ways to deal with imprecision, with tracking how much we don’t know. It can give you a handle on known unknowns, though not so much on unknown unknowns. It’s still evolving, with modern computing power we can do nonparametric statistics. We can run a simulation with many repetitions and vary the parameters among whatever ranges we think reasonable, and look back to see which ranges of which parameters give strange results.

Deming applied the ideas to industrial production. He found that if you make the production extremely precise and repeatable, you get rewards that are bigger than you’d expect. It costs, but the costs are worth it. His followers have explained some of the statistical ideas in particularly accessible ways, attempting to make it easy for businessmen to understand quickly.

If you can find the time to learn about probability and statistics, it will change your life! And your faith in science will take a different form.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 3:41 am

@J Thomas: there’s two kinds of anti-GM crop people. The Michael Pollan crowd frequently believe things that, if true, would more or less overturn Darwin. Then there’s the John C. and John Q crowd that make scientifically valid claims. The problem there is more complicated, because it’s not a case of ignorance and arrogance like Pollan. It’s logical errors involving arguments that are not-GM specific. For example, eating poisons is bad. But there’s no logical reason that GM is more likely to be poison
And there’s nothing at all about the nature of GM crops that make them more likely to promote industrial farming or monoculture or pesticide use or irrigation or anything. All those things are associated with short term profit motivation. And do there is going to be a perfect correlation between corporate GM crops and corporate farming methods. But the cause of the correlation is the corporate part, not the GM part. And this isn’t just speculation along the lines of correlation isn’t causation. In biology we know a lot of cool stuff and we know the causal chain between the source of the DNA and the effect of the protein it encodes and we know that doesn’t uniquely cause harm. Nonetheless, you still shouldn’t eat poison mushrooms.

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john c. halasz 08.25.14 at 3:57 am

BTW thanks Matt @234. It’s the kind of informed comment that makes for fruitful discussion, rather than uninformed insult. Though I did link to the same chart above, as expressed in quad(rillions of BTU)s above.

275

John Quiggin 08.25.14 at 4:27 am

” I still am not sure what your grounds are for saying that people with these views (climate change believer/GMO food skeptic) are a minority on the left. There seems to be no real basis for it, other than the people that you happen to have met ..”

To be clear, I’m interpreting “skeptic” to mean “believer in human health risks”. It seems reasonable to suppose that anyone who believes that GMO foods are harmful would favor a ban or moratorium (as does Greenpeace, for example). Yet US Democrats as a group don’t even support minimal measures like labelling, which can be justified on all sorts of grounds. So, I conclude that those who believe that GMO foods are harmful to human health, and take political action on that basis, are a minority.

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John Quiggin 08.25.14 at 4:34 am

BW and others are overthinking the point wrt Krugman. Economists (and not just neoliberal economists) think in terms of costs and benefits. All economic choices have both costs and benefits. In the case of climate change, there are certainly short run costs in switching to renewable energy. There are also benefits in both the short term (less local pollution from coal-fired power) and the long term (saving the planet). We’ve always known that the costs are small relative to the benefits: it turns out they are much smaller in absolute terms than most people expected.

Attacking Krugman for talking about costs is just saying you don’t like to think about costs separately from benefits. Fair enough, if it works for you, but not a substantive criticism.

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John Quiggin 08.25.14 at 4:36 am

And, as regards framing and marketing, the point of the OP is that nothing works on conservatives, so we may as well not worry about how they will respond.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 4:42 am

“Across campus, David Williams, a cellular biologist who specializes in vision, has the opposite complaint. “A lot of naive science has been involved in pushing this technology,” he says. “Thirty years ago we didn’t know that when you throw any gene into a different genome, the genome reacts to it. But now anyone in this field knows the genome is not a static environment. Inserted genes can be transformed by several different means, and it can happen generations later.” The result, he insists, could very well be potentially toxic plants slipping through testing.
Williams concedes that he is among a tiny minority of biologists raising sharp questions about the safety of GM crops. But he says this is only because the field of plant molecular biology is protecting its interests. Funding, much of it from the companies that sell GM seeds, heavily favors researchers who are exploring ways to further the use of genetic modification in agriculture. He says that biologists who point out health or other risks associated with GM crops—who merely report or defend experimental findings that imply there may be risks—find themselves the focus of vicious attacks on their credibility, which leads scientists who see problems with GM foods to keep quiet.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-truth-about-genetically-modified-food/

“Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.
To purchase genetically modified seeds, a customer must sign an agreement that limits what can be done with them. (If you have installed software recently, you will recognize the concept of the end-user agreement.) Agreements are considered necessary to protect a company’s intellectual property, and they justifiably preclude the replication of the genetic enhancements that make the seeds unique. But agritech companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta go further. For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research/

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Anarcissie 08.25.14 at 4:52 am

Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 3:41 am @ 273 –
You seem to have missed this, by J Thomas 08.25.14 at 3:21 am @ 268 — ‘I doubt the GMO research because it makes no attempt to look at complex interactions among complicated entities, when it in fact does affect complex interactions among complicated entities. Why would we say it’s safe when there has been no attempt at all to study the questions we would need to study to decide whether it’s safe?

The reason, of course, is that it can’t be done. There are an indefinitely large number of possible GMOs, and if produced they will interact with similarly innumerable other GMOs, natural organisms, substances, and environments about which we don’t know very much. It is impossible to do the enormous amount of testing which would be necessary to declare that ‘GMOs are safe’ or even ‘GMOs are probably safe.’ But there is money to be made, power and status to be gained, so the question is buried. The answer given by capitalist science is no more than ‘GMOs haven’t killed anybody yet, so we can go on selling them.’

This is how nuclear power was dealt with. People were assured it was safe until Three Mile Island. Then they were assured all the other plants were safe until Chernobyl. And so on. I think GMOs are going to work out the same way: screw around until something really, really bad happens. And then continue because ‘there is no alternative.’

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 5:35 am

there’s two kinds of anti-GM crop people. The Michael Pollan crowd frequently believe things that, if true, would more or less overturn Darwin.

OK, let’s ignore them.

Then there’s the John C. and John Q crowd that make scientifically valid claims. The problem there is more complicated, because it’s not a case of ignorance and arrogance like Pollan. It’s logical errors involving arguments that are not-GM specific.

Not entirely. There could be risks we haven’t thought of to test. You were all “It’s completely safe, it’s scientifically proven safe” and then somebody says “intestinal bacteria” and you’re already to think maybe it isn’t safe after all. But that was just the one you were ready to think about. There could be lots of other issues that will be cutting-edge science sometime later.

For each individual GM organism, I’d want to know about the extra sequences that were transferred along with the ones people wanted. Are they “junk DNA” which usually means DNA that we don’t know the function of? Do they contain transposable elements? Small viruses? That sort of thing could matter.

It really makes sense to be cautious, to try things on a small scale first. The FDA got a lot of public acceptance because of thalidomide, but people forget and now they want to get quick approval of all the new wonder drugs they know will have wonderful results, more important to get those miracles quick instead of waiting for testing. And then there was diethylstilbestrol.

We need some caution. But people are claiming science has proven there are no risks.

And there’s nothing at all about the nature of GM crops that make them more likely to promote industrial farming or monoculture or pesticide use or irrigation or anything. All those things are associated with short term profit motivation.

Yes? And crops that make herbicides safer aren’t supposed to get more herbicides?

Brand new products, maybe new risks, and we want to plant them in monoculture across vast tracts and if they affect groundwater or runoff or whatever, we’ll deal with it later.

In biology we know a lot of cool stuff and we know the causal chain between the source of the DNA and the effect of the protein it encodes and we know that doesn’t uniquely cause harm.

Accidents tend to happen when multiple things go wrong. Like, I knew a man who liked to go caving. He was rappelling into a pit that he’d done before. Somebody had cut down the tree he had tied off to, so he used a different tree. He attached a rappelling rack to the rope and started down. He had a problem with his light, and while he was fixing it his long hair got caught in the rappel rack. That pulled his head right up to the rack. Now he didn’t have a light and he was in an awkward position. He started to take out his knife to cut his hair, but he wisely remembered that the rope was under considerable tension and it would cut easily. Normally if he had a problem he would tie off and fix it, but his head caught in the rack kept him from doing that. So he figured he’d fix things when he reached the ground. But because of the new tie-off point, his rope was too short and he had not put a knot in the end of it because he knew his rope normally reached the ground. He slid off and fell 15 feet onto a rockpile. He broke an arm, a leg, and his back. It took more than 20 hours to get him out of the pit and up to the EMTs.

Multiple failures. The tie-off. The light. The hair. The missing knot. If any one of them had worked out he probably would have been OK.

Did the scientific testing cover all the possible combinations of failure modes? Probably not. They are far more likely to happen in large-scale monoculture. If the result is that an occasional corn plant dies, it’s no big deal. But: “Fail-safe systems fail, by failing to fail safe.”

I can’t promise there will be any problems. I just want to be cautious with things we don’t understand.

In biology we know a lot of cool stuff and we know the causal chain between the source of the DNA and the effect of the protein it encodes and we know that doesn’t uniquely cause harm.

We sort of know how things go usually when they’re working normally. We don’t understand all the details of all the variations from 3 billion years of evolution. We don’t know all the ways it can fail without failing safe.

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Brett Bellmore 08.25.14 at 10:37 am

” If we’re doing that sensibly and effectively, regulation ought to be a clear net winner. Environmental regulation reduces costs, overall. Otherwise, why we would do it? So why not say, “environmental regulation reduces costs, improves welfare.” It is presumably what Krugman believes. Why adopt a phrasing that implies the opposite of what he believes?”

Maybe Krugman believes that environmental regulation has already been carried out beyond the “sensible and effective” degree which is a clear net winner? That it’s well into the territory where you’re buying quality of life at cost?

A certain amount of environmental regulation is strictly cost effective. Then you get into the environmental regulation which is a wash. After that, you’re into environmental regulation which is more of a luxury good.

Did it not occur to you that Krugman might think we’re already into that last territory?

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 11:49 am

@276 I’m sorry, but it’s this sort of intellectual dishonesty that is literally killing Greek people as we speak.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 12:35 pm

Thornton Hall,

If you look at my comment @123 I list the 5 key ways the IPCC technical summary says low cost estimates have been arrived at by economists in modelling scenarios. No one has pointed out any error I might have accidentally made in that critique yet.

I think comprehensive social and environmental planning is the best solution to the issue since we have such a limited time to address greenhouse gas emissions.

The population is more educated than in ww2 I think, so this should help. But it might be more fragmented which wouldn’t help – I think it was more fragmented in those days than people often represent it looking backwards so it is hard to say on the matter of fragmentation. You would want more community input, more peaceable ness between countries and international co-operation, and to avoid privileging certain industries and avoid getting a business-CIA enterprise going around destabilizing efforts.

We only have one war-time-mobilization-style-economy political party in Australia though, and they have not yet decided if they would prefer to support elites or everyday people unfortunately.

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Layman 08.25.14 at 12:58 pm

Thornton Hall @ 195

“I think the issue gets wildly confused the second you start talking about the suffering of individual animals. I think a perfectly workable moral system can say that animal suffering is to be avoided without ascribing animals the same rights as moral agents.”

Does this work as well if you substitute ‘people’ for ‘animal(s)’ in the above?

I chose elephants specifically, btw. I don’t saw that all animals are moral actors.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 1:07 pm

@284 We all have our axioms. JQ, whether he realizes it or not, believes that governments doing the right thing, by definition, lowers GDP growth. Seems like a strange mid-level place to believe a claim without evidence, but there it is.

One of my axioms, a proposition that I believe without proof, is that people are different than animals when it comes to rights and duties. I have reasons why this axiom is true. But I can’t prove it. I can, however, do a reductio ad absurdum of the situation if it’s not true: Australia should give full due process rights to every non-indigenous rabbit that is executed to protect the environment.

Once you accept that we owe a different moral duty to animals, there’s a lot of room for discussion, but if we disagree on that point (and I suppose reasonable people could) there’s not much to say.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 1:07 pm

Thornton Hall and Layman,

Amartya Sen has quite a good article on environmental issues for an economist, if you gave not yet read it it touches on our responsibility to other creatures:

“Consider our responsibility toward the species that are threatened with destruction. We may attach importance to the preservation of these species not merely because the presence of these species in the world may sometimes enhance our own living standards. A person may judge that we ought to do what we can to ensure the preservation of some threatened animal species, say, the Himalayan Quail, and there would be no contradiction if the person were to say: “My living standards would be largely, indeed completely, unaffected by the presence or absence of Himalayan Quails. I have in fact never even seen one. But I do strongly believe that we should not let those quails become extinct, for reasons that go much beyond maintaining human living standards.”
This is where Gautama Buddha’s argument, presented in Sutta Nipata, becomes directly and immediately relevant. He argued that a mother has a responsibility toward her child not merely because she has generated her, but also because she can do many things for the child that the child cannot itself do. It is this “power to make a difference,” Buddha argued, that generates a corresponding responsibility, and the need to ask: what should we do? Buddha went on to argue that human beings, for these reasons, have some responsibility toward animals precisely because we have such power over their lives.
In the environmental context it can be argued that since we are enormously more powerful than other species, we have some responsibility toward these species that links closely with this asymmetry of power. We can have many reasons for our conservation efforts, not all of which need be parasitic on our own living standards (or need-fulfillment), and some of which may turn precisely on our sense of values and on our acknowledgment of our reasons for taking fiduciary responsibility for other creatures on whose lives we can have a powerful influence.”

http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/2014/08/environmentalists-must-stop-ignoring-needs-poor-nations-when-combating-global

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ZM 08.25.14 at 1:20 pm

We do not execute people at all in Australia. Rabbits are an environmental problem indeed. I think it better to shoot them, the viruses they give them are very cruel, walking to school you would see them hopping so slowly dying from mixamatosis virus, and calicivirus is like Ebola and liquidizes their insides. Poison 1080 is cruel also I have heard. The numbers have gone down, but it was wrong to bring them to Australia in the first place, and now we have to kill them. It is a very unfortunate situation.

You are right that I would not accept we had to kill people with viruses though. But the thing is you can talk to people and encourage them not to have many children, so hopefully the human population numbers will begin to decrease and we can live sustainably. But with rabbits you can’t encourage them not to have baby rabbits in any way I have ever heard of and they get awfully numerous very quickly here in Australia. They did make a rabbit proof fence but it didn’t work very well.

Cane toads are the greater problem though. They were brought in intentionally to eat some creature thought of as a pest but now they are spreading everywhere and kill small mammals through their poison.

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ZM 08.25.14 at 1:28 pm

But your rabbit example shows the dangers of interfering with natural ecosystems. And all the cascading problems that follow. Genetic engineering is quite likely to have some similar sort of impact. It us not good to kill rabbits, but I don’t know what else can be done , you could maybe capture them, but there would be such a great number of captured rabbits then.

In Werribee Gardens Mansion, Parks Victoria runs a good program for refugees, mostly from Burma, where they do kitchen gardening on the grounds and take home half the produce. There was a great problem with rabbits, and the men and boys asked if they could catch them with ferrets like they did in the Thai-Burma refugee camps and then take them home for cooking, and Parks Victoria agreed.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 1:49 pm

These moral issues get easier if you accept that individuals have a marginal value.

The billionth rabbit in australia is not worth much. When it’s a question whether to get rid of the last ten thousand, then it’s important.

The trillionth cockroach is not worth much.

The seven billionth human, likewise. And when we are sure there are too many humans then we are putting a negative value on human life, as is appropriate in that circumstance.

Species that have a lot of babies do it because their history is that most of them get killed before they can reproduce. If that doesn’t happen then their numbers will rise until something restrains them.

Mendelian species tend to need a minimum number of individuals for the population to thrive. When it gets down to a hundred or less then even if the numbers go up again, the genetic diversity is low and the population is likely to be in trouble in the long run. Mammals tend to have immune-system problems without that diversity.

A breeding population that’s down to a thousand individuals is on the verge of really serious trouble. Ten thousand might be OK, it’s large enough that problems may show up slower than we can observe easily.

When you kill individuals and there’s a chance that you are helping to bring their numbers below 10,000, you are doing something with more serious consequences than just killing individuals. You are making a difference in the world that may live on long after you are dead.

At that point you are doing something bigger than the rights of individuals, or how you feel about ethics.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 1:51 pm

@284 Actually, I do agree with you that we different responsibility to different animals. And you’re right, all the information we have suggests that elephants have a moral sense that we should respect.

But at the same time, I’m pretty sure my dog has a moral sense. So I do have a background fear that enlarging the moral universe along these lines will ultimately include too many animals and will lead to conflicts between the right of humans to self preservation and the right of, I dunno, white tailed deer.

And when it gets taken to that point I just have to admit that I am a chauvanist with respect to species. Which isn’t crazy, really. I’m opposed to all sorts of tribalism as maladaptive in the modern world, but if your tribe includes all humans, seems ok to me. If aliens attacked I’d have no problem killing them. (A commitment to non-pacifism that’s as weak as they get;))

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 2:37 pm

#277 John Quiggen

And, as regards framing and marketing, the point of the OP is that nothing works on conservatives, so we may as well not worry about how they will respond.

Ah. Yes, I can see that in it. Conservatives are so stuck in climate change denial that it would take something really big to blast them out of it, and at minimum that will split them. (It’s the fashion these days to talk about ways to drive wedges between coalitions of opponents so they are less able to oppose. Of course they are driving wedges too, leading to sometimes stagnation where nobody can build anything like a consensus, and sometimes successful action by tinier minorities. I don’t like it.)

But to say that, what do you need cheap remediation that hardly anybody agrees is adequate, or the claim that breaking the 1% will have bigger rewards than we lose from more delay in action on climate change? I didn’t see how those fit into the message that we can proceed despite complete opposition by conservatives.

We can’t proceed on climate issues today because the GOP stops us. If we can start in 5 years or so that’s worth doing, but what does it have to do with stopping the 1% or comparing against doing things today that we can’t do?

If we can swing a cheap remediation program against the opposition of the remaining GOP, and that’s the best we can do, what difference does it make to claim it will be good enough?

I didn’t see how those fit together, except as a framing that would get the good guys ready to be enthusiastic. Maybe because I didn’t see why you’d believe those things so it was easy for me to imagine you producing viable lies people could rally around independent of their truth.

I apologize for misjudging you. It was just the way I could make sense of it.

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Layman 08.25.14 at 3:06 pm

“And when it gets taken to that point I just have to admit that I am a chauvanist with respect to species. Which isn’t crazy, really. I’m opposed to all sorts of tribalism as maladaptive in the modern world, but if your tribe includes all humans, seems ok to me. If aliens attacked I’d have no problem killing them. (A commitment to non-pacifism that’s as weak as they get;))”

I think these feelings are natural, by which I mean ‘an expression of our genetic material’. We’re programmed to defend our genetic heritage in the face of a perceived threat from the ‘other’. Speciesism is just a more expansive form of tribalism, as you say. But your alien attack example is what makes me think it may still be too narrow. It seems unlikely we’ll ever meet any aliens, but increasingly likely that we’ll make them, in the form of thinking machines and (perhaps) augmented animals. I’d like to think that we’ll recognize them as moral actors deserving of respect and compassion, but that proposition doesn’t seem promising.

As to alien (or human!) attacks, self-defense seems the right response, so I’ve got no argument with you there. I’m talking about how we behave when our safety isn’t threatened.

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Layman 08.25.14 at 3:10 pm

‘It is this “power to make a difference,” Buddha argued, that generates a corresponding responsibility, and the need to ask: what should we do? Buddha went on to argue that human beings, for these reasons, have some responsibility toward animals precisely because we have such power over their lives.’

ZM, this passage resonates powerfully. I’m not a religious man – rather the opposite – but it seems to me that where there is any good in the many religions, it sounds like this. I don’t mean just with respect to animals – as Spider-Man says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.25.14 at 3:44 pm

J Thomas @291: “We can’t proceed on climate issues today because the GOP stops us. “

It’s worth remembering that JQ wrote this post to explicitly address both Australia and the U.S. So it’s not “the GOP”. That aside, it’s also not a matter of right-wing tribal identity more broadly outside the countries of the Anglosphere — other countries in general don’t have this kind of identity as an important factor in their politics.

The U.S. has used what remains of its imperial power to make sure that no broad solution to the problem of global warming can be negotiated. But it’s going to be more and more important to look at the internal politics of the countries who have the power to actually do something about the problem. (China, India, Germany, France are my guesses about which the most important of those countries are). The U.S. no longer has the power to fix the problem even if some segments of the elite wanted to because our internal politics will cripple us for the foreseeable future, so international leadership is going to have to come from somewhere else. In particular, I think that the hold that austerity politics has on Europe is now more important than the right-wingers in the Anglosphere.

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Plume 08.25.14 at 3:53 pm

Brett @281,

We are light years from going too far on regulation. Our businesses are grotesquely under-regulated. The American government has always put Capital first and citizen safety waaaay down the list. While there may be a lot of individuals working at agencies like the EPA who truly do want to protect the public from toxins and pollution in general, their hands are tied. The EPA, for instance, can’t even test nearly 80,000 different chemical compounds due to “trade secrets” legislation. They’ve only tested a few hundred of those, and have banned just five.

Think about it. Out of 80,000 compounds, they’ve banned five. If that’s regulatory overreach, then I’m Napoleon, back from Elba for one more try.

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William Timberman 08.25.14 at 4:19 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 294

Germany, because of its early lead in the development and deployment of photovoltaic systems, seems a likely bellwether. (I first became aware of the work in Germany back in the 90s, when I did some translations of primary sources for an author acquaintance of mine who was writing a book on the history of solar power.)

Reading the German popular press available on the Web, however, has not helped me understand as much as I’d like about how it’s been going since the Energiewende was announced, particularly with regard to the competition of solar and wind power for investment, the reduction of tax subsidies, the struggles over who pays the cost of decommissioning nuclear power facilities, competition (or the lack of it) amongst residential and commercial providers, and so forth.

In the American press, we see the occasional scare story about German electricity rates being among the highest in the world, and little else. When the subject comes up on CT, as it does occasionally, self-identified Germans in the comments section seem to line up passionately on one side or the other. The government has screwed everything up, and we’re hurting, being one side, and the other, Despite the difficulties, Germany is taking its global responsibilities seriously, and gladly paying the price. The rest of the world should do likewise.

I’m not in a position to dispute the facts which underlie either of these positions, so it’s difficult to peer behind the partisanship. I do think, though, that an accessible analysis of the social and economic stresses at work in Germany would be helpful in arguments here in the U.S. Abstract cost-benefit analyses are one thing; how the transition is being perceived by people who are actually going through is another, and might be equally valuable. So far, though, I’ve only been able to find bits and pieces, most of them driven by this or that vested interest. Maybe that’s all there is, but it’s more likely that I’m just looking in the wrong places. Can anyone here point me in the right direction?

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Brett Bellmore 08.25.14 at 4:36 pm

“We are light years from going too far on regulation. Our businesses are grotesquely under-regulated. “

Yup, that’s the left’s doctrine on regulation: If it’s even theoretically possible to have too much of it, we’re nowhere near that point. So every additional increment of regulation is always a positive good.

That’s the doctrine. Doesn’t make it right.

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Plume 08.25.14 at 5:02 pm

Brett,

No. That’s not the left’s doctrine. That’s your cartoon version of something not even in existence. “The left” is far too diverse to have “a doctrine.” If the expression “herding cats” means anything, it applies really, really well to the left.

My own view is that we could do without most regulation if we did the smart thing upfront: Seriously vett, via democratic processes, all products and services before they come online. Rather than let millions of different products enter the market place without that vetting, hoping that we can regulate at least 1% of them, give or take . . . . we shouldn’t allow anything to get to the market that isn’t safe, sound or as advertized. Make regulation virtually unnecessary by doing the work before hand.

What conservatives and propertarians can’t grasp is that our government supports, props up, funds and endlessly bails out capitalism, and this massive support actually requires “Big Gubmint.” It’s the capitalist system itself that will always require a massive government apparatus in order to keep it afloat, while doing minimal things to offset some of its destructiveness. If you really, truly wanted minarchy, or at least “smaller government,” you’d want a different economic system, one that wasn’t dependent upon endless government supports, protections, R and D, courts, police, trade agreements, currency supports and bailouts, etc. etc.

That said, if we go with the person we already took to the dance, then it’s much, much smarter to do the necessary work before market to make sure we don’t need so much after-market regulations.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 5:03 pm

Yup, that’s the left’s doctrine on regulation: If it’s even theoretically possible to have too much of it, we’re nowhere near that point.

What do you think ought to be done about new chemicals? We have created more than 8 million brand new compounds since 1930 or so, and some of them are quite carcinogenic, some of them cause birth defects, etc. What should be done about that?

One approach is to allow lawsuits. Say a company uses 200 compounds that haven’t been tested thoroughly, and then within 20 years 50 employees and 5000 customers who have gotten cancer sue for damages. How should the judge decide whether it was the company’s fault? If he says it was when it wasn’t, he will drive an innocent company into bankruptcy and nobody benefits.

I don’t think the legal approach to discovering truth is that useful here. We need to use science. Science done by disinterested scientists, not scientists who stand to make a lot of money if they decide one way. Maybe it would make sense to videotape everything that goes on in those labs? If it’s good for policemen and senators, why not scientists and lab techs? Also I’d prefer they be government employees than hired by the companies that stand to profit big if the dangerous chemicals get approved.

We need to be conservative about approving new chemicals. Establish how easily they are biodegraded. If it’s hard to get rid of them, then be extra slow about putting them anywhere they could escape into the environment, or in buildings that could burn or be subject to earthquakes etc.

It would slow new technology based on new chemicals. But the problems we will get if a few of the new ones turn out very bad, can easily overwhelm all the value we get from the good ones.

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The Temporary Name 08.25.14 at 5:11 pm

You can make amazing new chemicals that save the earth, but oversight is impossible.

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Plume 08.25.14 at 5:15 pm

In addition, regulation is always going to be weak tea, when it comes to protecting citizens from the ravages of capitalism. Laws would be far better. Economists like Simon Johnson have made that distinction and that point for some time now. Regulations pretty much depend on the regulators, and the regulators are all too easily “captured.” While laws can be manipulated as well, it’s far more difficult and time consuming, and they tend to prevent certain actions that regulations can’t impact.

All of that said, our regulatory system is far, far too lenient, by any objective standard. This is not some “left-wing doctrine.” It’s observable fact. Objective, observable fact. I already gave you proof in a very big way. If you think the ability to “regulate” a few hundred out of 80,000 chemical compounds is some kind of regulatory overreach, then it’s your blind doctrines in question. Add to that the government’s leasing of millions of acres of public lands to MNCs for extraction processes — heavy metals and minerals, trees, oil, etc. etc. . . . . and it’s more than clear that the government bends over backwards to put business first. Always.

Not only do you have zero proof that the American government isn’t proactively supporting business to a degree not found in any other developed nation, you can’t find any evidence of its regulatory overreach.

It’s actually laughable to complain about the regulatory state, from the point of view of “too much.” The only complaint that rings true is our obscene lack of those regulations. But, again, I’d rather we took care of the issue before market, to the degree possible.

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mattski 08.25.14 at 5:34 pm

Thanks to JQ @ 276.

Bruce,

Environmental regulation reduces costs, overall. Otherwise, why we would do it? So why not say, “environmental regulation reduces costs, improves welfare.” It is presumably what Krugman believes. Why adopt a phrasing that implies the opposite of what he believes?

Sure, but “costs” come in different shapes and sizes. Some are easier to measure than others. Many are impossible to measure because they are stretched out over time and we simply don’t know what the future will bring.

AND, it is sometimes (oftentimes?) necessary to speak the conventional language because if you don’t you’re not in the conversation. You can’t persuade me that Krugman is unaware of your concerns. Of course he is. But he’s speaking the language of essentially short term costs, and even if incomplete, it’s an important aspect of the situation.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 6:22 pm

Krugman is very very aware of these concerns. He can’t see a way out at the moment. That’s because it’s gonna be ugly. I mean, do you want to explain to tenured Nobel Prize winners that their life’s work is a set of solved Sodoku puzzles?

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 6:25 pm

That’s not fair. Sodoku puzzles and some good rules for kidney donations that come from game theory. Can’t forget the great real world success story of economics in action.

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mattski 08.25.14 at 6:41 pm

Does not compute, Thornton.

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Bruce Wilder 08.25.14 at 8:28 pm

mattski @ 302

I think you are right, mattski, that Krugman is referring to some subset of costs, without making it particularly clear what defines that subset. You suggest “short-term” as the class, but I don’t see that. I think it might be that he should have said, “expenses” rather than “costs”. What he seems to be saying is that the cash outlays (or the hit to profits) inflicted on interested parties by proposed regulation would be minimal, so it is hard to see why the political opposition is so fierce. Those costs, and the outlays by government for regulatory administration as well, are properly termed, “expenses”, an accounting term of art.

Krugman is a conservative economist and a political liberal. I think Krugman comes from a place, where he has traditionally believed that combination was a source of strength and persuasiveness. I agree with Thornton Hall, though, that he’s often wrong about that — the conservative economics is often a trap, that undermines the quality of his political argument. Whether his argument in the essay mattski linked to was influenced in that way seems more ambiguous to me, now, though Thornton’s comment that this was the third in a series of essays in which his position was migrating lends support to the idea that the tension between conservative economics and liberal desiderata played a part.

Just as a footnote, my own economics are conventional, rather than conservative. Some of the commitments to conservative economics Krugman admits to, when he’s getting wonky or talking about the philosophy he applied in writing his textbook, appall me. But, I don’t know, independent of the essay you linked to, that Krugman is committed to the Friedmanite idea that the cost of regulation is a deadweight loss, such that no regulatory response to externalities may be preferable to always imperfect and costly government regulation.

JQ @ 276 informs us that economists think about choice in terms of costs and benefits. Most of us think about choice in terms of costs and benefits, when it’s appropriate. Economists distinguish themselves from the rest of us, by thinking in terms of costs and benefits, when it is not appropriate.

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john c. halasz 08.25.14 at 8:31 pm

It’s noteworthy that no one here has sought to engage with Peter Dorman’s contribution here. I’ve had my disagreements with him, over his rather arrogant and condescending tone toward environmentalist and over his preference form cap-n-trade (and derivatives) over carbon taxes, ( where professional economicists’ views are split anyway), but he’s a Ph.D. academic economist, same as John Quiggin, and he’s engaged far more thoroughly with the issues inolved than Quiggin’s rather empty pronouncements.

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John Quiggin 08.25.14 at 8:39 pm

“JQ, whether he realizes it or not, believes that governments doing the right thing, by definition, lowers GDP growth”

Say what? GDP is a short-term measure of economic activity with limited significance for economic welfare (that is, how good or bad economic outcomes are). Governments doing the right thing may raise the level of GDP, or the rate of growth, or may lower it.

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John Quiggin 08.25.14 at 8:52 pm

Peter Dorman @138 I don’t understand what you are saying here. The use of a carbon budget approach has been standard for a long time, and there are plenty of studies estimating the costs, discussing burden sharing etc. The IPCC WG3 summary has already been mentioned here. Its primary conclusion is

Most scenario studies collected for this assessment that are based on the assumptions that all countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price applied to well‐functioning markets, and key technologies are available, estimate
that reaching 430–480 ppm CO2eq by 2100 would entail global consumption losses of 1% to 4% in 2030, 2% to 6% in 2050, and 2% to 12% in 2100 relative to what would happen without mitigation [Figure TS.12, Box TS.9, Box TS.10

Krugman says, and I agree, that recent evidence suggests that the low end of these ranges is likely to be appropriate.

Of course, those conditions aren’t going to be fulfilled, thanks to the US Republicans and others. So, costs will end up at the high end of the range, or maybe even higher. That’s the point of the OP.

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J Thomas 08.25.14 at 9:23 pm

… global consumption losses of 1% to 4% in 2030, 2% to 6% in 2050, and 2% to 12% in 2100 relative to what would happen without mitigation….

How do they estimate what will happen without mitigation? Doesn’t that require an estimate of the effects of climate change? And shouldn’t we assume that fossil fuels are much harder to get by them? Why would they expect consumption to be less in 2100 if we’ve actually been fixing the problems, compared to leaving the problems unchecked?

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ZM 08.25.14 at 10:15 pm

William Timberman,

“. I do think, though, that an accessible analysis of the social and economic stresses at work in Germany would be helpful in arguments here in the U.S. “

Someone who looked into the German acceptance of wind farms told me that earlier a lot were community based with government facilitation, which helped communities accept them because they had influence over choosing where wind turbines should go, sizes, and the community would draw an income through electricity generated. Wind turbines can be much closer to built areas like villages in Germany.

Support in Germany for more wind energy has decreased somewhat I understand, it has been suggested to me that this is at least partially to do with changes that now facilitate large company owned wind farms that communities do not have as much input into or draw income from. Changing social and economic conditions after the gfc may have had an influence also, but I haven’t heard about that.

Germany has also done a lot of good in knowledge and technology capacity building in other countries I think.

In Victoria wind farms have proven very controversial, with the state government implementing policy giving people veto rights over their establishment and I think putting a moratorium on building them in some areas alltogether . Some of the groups vocally hostile to wind farms are said to be funded by fossil fuel interests. But I think other people are genuinely upset at the changes, but the governments do not like to tell them that even if the changes are a bit upsetting it is for the best to stop climate change. Instead they go on about having a Clean Energy Future , which I think is not such a good justification for people having to get used to changes for the better overall that they find upsetting. When the coal mines and power plants are located far away, their energy already seems clean enough to them, and they just become umbraged and disgruntled over new wind turbines nearby, without remembering that they had better stop climate change and not grumble too much.

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John Quiggin 08.25.14 at 10:44 pm

@310 These estimates typically treat the cost of mitigation separately from the cost of climate change (or, relative to business as usual, the benefits of mitigation). To get net benefits, or B/C ratios you subtract costs from benefits or divide costs into benefits

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Brett Bellmore 08.25.14 at 11:08 pm

“Of course, those conditions aren’t going to be fulfilled, thanks to the US Republicans and others. “

Where “others” includes virtually every nation in the world, it should be noted.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 11:11 pm

@JQ from the Inside Story:
Carefully demonstrating that the cost of fixing the problem will use a trivially small share of national income goes nowhere.
Or @302
Governments doing the right thing may raise GDP or may lower it.

I realize there is a reading of the word cost that renders these consistent But it’s not the meaning that the word has in the popular press, which it is where it is used.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 11:16 pm

@302 My comments are based on having read the Chamber of Commerce report that Krugman refers to more or less with approval. Look at their methodology. All money spend investing in clean energy is a total loss if energy companies do it at government request. Lowering GDP is baked in to the analysis. And Krugman’s response is: see, it’s small.

316

ZM 08.25.14 at 11:26 pm

I think the focus on the economics (which I think relies on unwarranted assumptions as I already noted) ignores that we are not looking at (solely?) an economic challenge – we are looking at a pretty big transformation of the physical infrastructure of cities and regions to get to zero ghg emissions, then draw emissions down – and in a very limited time frame.

While economies might have kept growing, and economists want to extrapolate from this that they will grow four to ten fold over the next century (not including inflation because then it would be stagflation not growth) – and therefore economics can solve any challenge – if you look at urban plans they have been hard to get implemented over the last forty odd years, particularly if they call for transformations – like more density, 20min neighbourhoods etc

So if you decide this is an economic challenge maybe you would be inclined to say – look at our success with economic challenges- we’ve kept having all this growth – this will be just the same – a nice easy challenge,, just a few market measures and we’re all set :)

But if you look at how urban plans fail to get implemented despite their planning and intentions in advance – then you are more inclined to think – this is a difficult physical challenge – we’ve not had much luck with getting urban plan goals implemented for quite some time – how on earth can we implement the needed changes since all our efforts at implementation keep going astray :(

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 11:28 pm

@308 and 302
I discuss this more here: http://thorntonhalldesign.com/philosophy/2014/6/23/economists-claim-to-know-the-future-with-absolute-certainty

The question is, do you believe that the government telling energy companies to build solar capacity before the current coal plants are obsolete or uneconomical will necessarily slow the growth of GDP over the alternative where coal plants are only retired when it makes “economic sense”?

I think the answer is that every mainstream economist believes command and control lowers GDP by definition (more or less). JQ can point out that that is not the same as welfare. But so would Cochrane or Fama. That’s not the point. The question is why agree that telling a company to engage in economic activity causes less economic activity.

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 11:43 pm

@307 and @138 Is it just me, or does all of this assume that someone spending money can go one of two ways. He can spend it on what he wants or he can spend it on what the government wants. If he’s forced to do the second, that’s a cost. Right?

And now you’re telling me that it’s silly to say that Neoliberalism is committed to the belief that government doing the right thing always costs more than doing the wrong thing?

Say I spend more at the pump for gas than I would have without a carbon tax as the more coherent part of Dornan’s post describes. What does the word “cost” mean? What if I wanted to buy expensive gas and pay to solve climate change, but there was no “free” market way to do it? What if the only way to get the exchange that gives both parties the most value is to have government solve the collective action problem so I can buy the kind of gas I want? Somehow my desires one way or the other are what determines whether a carbon tax is a “cost” or not? I think that’s the claim.

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Layman 08.25.14 at 11:48 pm

“I think the answer is that every mainstream economist believes command and control lowers GDP by definition (more or less).”

I guess I don’t get this. We’ve got a good historical experiment in what happens when the government directs the economy for the short term – it’s called WW2 – and it’s hard to see the evidence for a necessary decline in GDP. It’s all about demand, isn’t it?

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Thornton Hall 08.25.14 at 11:49 pm

I don’t get it either. But WWII didn’t exist only in the hypotheticals of economists. So it’s not real.

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long silver 08.26.14 at 12:03 am

why do we care about global warming ?
obviously, cause it is gonna do something really bad and $$; if it weren’t it would be academic trivia, like, say, Byron’s love affairs – interesting to a small group, but not something the broad public cares about.

How do we know global warming will be bad ?
our information comes entirely from computer models; CO2 by itself doesn’t do much (1) it is the extremely complex feedback between CO2 and water vapor (warming) and water droplets (clouds, cooling) that makes the situation so complex.

About those computer models: If you read peer reviewed publications, by top climatologists, in top journals, you find that for the short term (10 year) present, the models can’t predict the earths surface temp (fyfe) and for the longer term (1,000 year) the models can’t explain the cooling at the end of the last ice age (liu)

so, if the models, by climatologists own work, aren’t accurate, why should we believe them to the extent that we spend a lot of money (relative to , say, feeding starving infants) on mitigation ??

Now you could say that the 1:100 chance of catastrophe is so $$ that a relatively small amount of mitigation – say 0.5% global GDP, on the order of 850 billion dollars a year – is worthwhile.
or not.

1) I think most people mis understand how CO2 works. The major greenhouse gas is actually water. CO2’s MAIN effect is by increasing the amount of water vapor in the air (CO2 causes a small amount of warming at the topics, this results in increased evaporation of water, higher temps, increased evap, runaway to venus)
However, the extent to which CO2 does this is hard to predict, for a lot of complex reasons; the climatologists have been working really really hard, and they have made a lot of progress, but it is really not clear that they have reached the point of making accurate predictions.

Fyfe (link is in the url below)
http://hypergeometric.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/overestimated-global-warming-over-the-past-20-years-fyfe-gillett-zwiers-2013/

liu
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/08/07/1407229111.abstract?sid=e2e7718d-f0ec-4837-ae65-3ec7be19d316

cowtan (not a climatologist, response to Fyfe)
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/qj.2297/abstract;jsessionid=248054334638E607C6ADD94B04F54D92.f01t04

chen and tung (better response to fyfe)
http://www.washington.edu/news/2014/08/21/cause-of-global-warming-hiatus-found-deep-in-the-atlantic-ocean/
(you could say chen and tung vaidates the warmer’s views, and explains the “pause” that is the current rage amongst denialists)

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ZM 08.26.14 at 12:05 am

There have been a few academic papers on the ww2 economy as a model for a climate change response. I don’t have time now, but I can post some later.

The situations are different – by the time USA actually entered ww2 the population mostly supported this out of fear etc – I think military and strategic planning was done beforehand – but you would need popular support for this sort of intervention to stop climate change to be higher than it is now. 350.org are doing this – there is an international day of action on September 21

Another problem is the impact of ww2 and it’s aftermath on USA business – key businesses worked with govt in ww2 – but I think you got the military-industrial complex as a result, and then you had the Cold War, and CIA-business interventions in other countries etc

So you would need to work out something better for a similar comprehensive response to climate change that didn’t further certain business and CIA type people’s interests, because that has been a very bad influence and caused all sorts of problems in the world

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Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 12:07 am

PK’s most recent post is more evidence for my guess that he’s living through a paradigm shift happening in his own head:

The efficiency of competitive markets is a nice story, but where are the dramatically successful predictions we generally look for as confirmation of scientific theories? Indeed, the general presumption even within the economics profession that microeconomics is solid and known to be valid, while macroeconomics is flaky and dubious, seems to me to rest on prejudice rather than evidence. Yes, much of micro can be derived rigorously from individual maximization plus equilibrium; but why, exactly, does that make it right?

324

long silver 08.26.14 at 12:09 am

quote
The intellectual collapse of the right has already proved politically costly, and these costs will increase over time
unquote

uh, aren’t they predicted to take back the senate this year ?
and don’t they control a substantial number of governors mansions and state houses ?
not to mention the elected Supreme Court in WVa

wikipedia “The following is a list of incumbent governors of the states, and territories of the United States. There are currently 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats that hold the office of governor in the states.”
again, wikipedia
28 Republican-controlled legislatures
17 Democratic-controlled legislatures
5 Split legislatures
50 Total

this idea that the right is intellectually bankrupt and in desperate straights seems to be contrary to the electoral data.

325

J Thomas 08.26.14 at 12:13 am

@310 These estimates typically treat the cost of mitigation separately from the cost of climate change (or, relative to business as usual, the benefits of mitigation). To get net benefits, or B/C ratios you subtract costs from benefits or divide costs into benefits

I think I didn’t quite understand that. When they estimate the cost of mitigation cumulatively to year 2100, and compare it to the benefits of mitigation to 2100, what assumptions do they need to make about “business as usual” in the year 2100? Do they make any assumptions about how much seal level rise we will have by then, and whether it will have any effect on port cities? Hurricanes? On how expensive coal will be in 2100 after 80+ years of mining the coal that was easiest to get to? The expenses of another 80+ years of military intervention in the middle east?

It seems like it would take an awful lot of assumptions about just how much climate change we will get with the status quo. I’d want to put wide error bars around estimates like that.

If you assume that we won’t have any climate change and fossil fuels won’t get more expensive, then once we get lower operating costs for alternate energy it’s just a question of when to pay the costs of switching over, and there’s a best time when the coal plants are depreciated just the right amount.

But if we can mitigate hurricanes, that might be enough to pay for the depreciation in just a few years. Assuming they can get mitigated enough. If we need to write off our coastal cities either way, then maybe it doesn’t help that much….

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Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 12:21 am

Yes, much of micro can be derived rigorously from individual maximization plus equilibrium;…

What I call Sudoku.

327

John Quiggin 08.26.14 at 12:36 am

“I’d want to put wide error bars around estimates like that.”

Well, yes. And those error bars will include a significant probability of total catastrophe, which is important to know, but not very helpful to value

That’s why it’s more helpful to show that the cost of mitigation, even if done inefficiently, is small relative to national income or consumption, and therefore much less than the likely cost of inaction.

328

ZM 08.26.14 at 12:38 am

J Thomas,

“What assumptions do they need to make about “business as usual” in the year 2100? “

The ipcc technical summary on mitigation outlines the assumptions of the scenario making. I already mentioned this, but I will quote what I think is the most relevant passage (the technical summary on mitigation is not too long you could probably read the whole thing quite quickly if you are a fast reader, the proper full report would have more detail I think but is very lengthy ):

““Estimates of the aggregate economic costs of mitigation vary widely, but increase with stringency of mitigation (high confidence). Most scenario studies collected for this assessment that are based on the assumptions that all countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price applied to well‐functioning markets, and key technologies are available, estimate that reaching 430–480 ppm CO2eq by 2100 would entail global consumption losses of 1% to 4% in 2030, 2% to 6% in 2050, and 2% to 12% in 2100 relative to what would happen without mitigation [Figure TS.12, Box TS.9, Box TS.10]. These consumption losses do not consider the benefits of mitigation, including the reduction in climate impacts.
To put these losses in context, studies assume increases in consumption from four‐fold to over ten‐fold over the century without mitigation . Costs for maintaining concentrations in the range of 530‐650 ppm CO2eq are estimated to be roughly one‐ third to two‐thirds lower than for associated 430‐530 ppm CO2eq scenarios. Cost estimates from scenarios can vary substantially across regions.
Substantially higher cost estimates have been obtained based on assumptions about less idealized policy implementations and limits on technology availability as discussed below. Both higher and lower estimates have been obtained based on interactions with pre‐existing distortions, non‐climate market failures, or complementary policies.”

329

Plume 08.26.14 at 12:46 am

Already strong economies have never tried command and control, at least not beyond emergencies like the already noted WWII period. We have no idea how they would be perform, but it’s logical that there would be far less waste, far less duplication, far less pollution, etc. if planning was carried out wisely and based upon sound science, need, fairness, etc. Community/local planning would be essential. Moving outward from the small to the larger would facilitate more efficiency.

It’s silly to keep sighting impoverished, backward nations (economically) like Russia as some kind of proof that it can’t work, especially when the USSR actually did achieve remarkable progress despite its century or so behind. It escaped the Great Depression, and had better GDP growth rates in the 50s and 60s than we did. It’s real mistake was trying to compete with the west, going for “Red Plenty” instead of “Red Enough.”

It’s also a bit odd to say a reduced GDP is the rationale for not doing it — for not going command and control. Given our looming ecological catastrophes, the wealthy nations are going to have to shrink their production/consumption anyway. GDP must come down, or we’re not going to make it as a species. Yes, the bottom 80% needs to be lifted up, but the top 20% must reduce its pollution, consumption, waste and footprint radically. That richest 20% consumes 85% of the world’s resources right now, and that’s criminal. Expecting the “bottom” 80% to make do with the 15% left is fundamentally immoral.

We’re just postponing the inevitable regarding the eventual command and control scenario. As long as we let capitalists do as they please, we just accelerate the date with our horrific destiny.

330

J Thomas 08.26.14 at 1:05 am

Already strong economies have never tried command and control, at least not beyond emergencies like the already noted WWII period. We have no idea how they would be perform, but it’s logical that there would be far less waste, far less duplication, far less pollution, etc. if planning was carried out wisely and based upon sound science, need, fairness, etc.

I’m leery of that. Traditional unplanned economies have been extremely wasteful and inefficient, but surprisingly robust. Everybody walked around in a fog of uncertainty. The data they had was unreliable and there wasn’t very much of it. So managers planned for all contingencies, or at least for all the ones they could actually survive.

We had lots of redundancy. If one manage made a bad decision there were lots of others who did otherwise. So he hurt himself, but not the whole economy.

If we did careful planning in a command-and-control economy, we could eliminate a lot of the waste and duplication. And the result would be a more brittle system. Easier for mistakes to turn into catastrophes. We could grow much faster if it worked, but the consequences of failure could be far more appalling.

As we get better information, that will change things. I’m not sure how. Fast communication allows JIT which has implications I haven’t worked out yet.

I doubt that it helps to load too many decisions onto a few central people. I like your idea of lots of local/community planning that somehow coordinates with other communities. We might make better decisions without businessmen trying to hide their knowledge and intentions from each other. Then again, we might not.

331

mattski 08.26.14 at 1:21 am

Thornton @ 323

I don’t see that at all. I read Krugman every day. It might be fair to say he’s moving towards Joe Stiglitz on the adverse effects of inequality, but a paradigm shift? Doubtful.

332

ZM 08.26.14 at 1:44 am

“I doubt that it helps to load too many decisions onto a few central people.”

I think this is true. We need more coordination but not more centralization beyond some international and national goal making , appropriate laws, and assistance with co-ordination. We had a centralizing Prime Minister recently, he centralized too much, got overloaded with work he couldn’t keep on top off, wasn’t very pleasant, then the party deposed him by counting votes in a restaurant instead of properly in parliament. Then he wanted to be prime minister again, and now we have the most awful government in my life and the prime minister writes letters back to you saying he won’t be guided by ‘false compassion’. People who like to centralize too much cause problems.

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Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 1:54 am

@331 He won the Nobel Prize for a highly technical synthesis of trade theory that has spawned a vast literature of pure math trying to test the theory for “robustness”. It has also spawned some empirical work. I don’t begin to understand it.

Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that whatever “New Trade Theory” is, it’s not the applied economic history plus common sense that informs virtually everything he writes about policy.

334

Plume 08.26.14 at 3:48 am

I doubt that it helps to load too many decisions onto a few central people. I like your idea of lots of local/community planning that somehow coordinates with other communities. We might make better decisions without businessmen trying to hide their knowledge and intentions from each other. Then again, we might not.

As you know, I don’t want it loaded onto a few central people, but spread out as far as possible. Democratizing the economy is the opposite of centralizing it. The capitalist system is “command and control” already at the corporate level, and each corporate fiefdom withholds knowledge and intention from each, which stifles information flow. They have to in the system as is. So you not only get a ton of waste and duplication, you bottle up or at least slow down knowledge dissemination throughout the economy. Businesses want to corner markets and information. If looked at from the point of view of the economy overall, and for citizens, that’s horribly inefficient, and basically means we’re flying blind as a nation.

Bumper cars. Oars rowing against one another, etc. etc.

I know it won’t get to the WSDE stage for eons, if it ever does, or to my other suggestions from the other thread. But if we could go to (even under the capitalist system) community command and control (democratically), coordinated with other communities and outward from there, that would be far more efficient, far less wasteful, and potentially as close to a “fix” as we can get when it comes to the likely ecological disaster ahead.

335

Limericky Dicky 08.26.14 at 6:58 am

Here’s my plan for co-ordination:
We’ll have over-centralisation.
No plans for contingency,
Inadequate redundancy.
You see? It will never work.

336

Brett Bellmore 08.26.14 at 9:38 am

“this idea that the right is intellectually bankrupt and in desperate straights seems to be contrary to the electoral data.”

The idea is that the right is intellectually bankrupt and using diabolical mind control rays to succeed politically anyway. But demographics will kick in Any Moment Now.

337

Stephen 08.26.14 at 10:27 am

Plume @329
“Already strong economies have never tried command and control, at least not beyond emergencies like the already noted WWII period. We have no idea how they would be perform, but it’s logical that there would be far less waste, far less duplication, far less pollution, etc. if planning was carried out wisely and based upon sound science, need, fairness, etc.”

In reality planning even in democracies has sometimes produced waste and chaos: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanganyika_groundnut_scheme

Plume may of course object that this was a case where planning was not carried out wisely. In a perfect world, it would be. I forget whose fault it is that we do not live in a perfect world: probably some US Republican’s.

338

ZM 08.26.14 at 10:36 am

Did you even read your link? The idea came from a guy from unilever and it was a colonialist enterprise because post-war Britain had a butter shortage.

So far as I can tell Plume is not in favour of corporate colonialist plans :/

339

Brett Bellmore 08.26.14 at 10:36 am

I guess planned economies are like communism: Since it would of course work out wonderfully if tried, it can’t really have been tried yet.

340

Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 11:09 am

Communism is a red herring.

341

DaveL 08.26.14 at 12:00 pm

@328: “Most scenario studies collected for this assessment that are based on the assumptions that all countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price applied to well‐functioning markets, and key technologies are available”

Yikes. Three impossible things before breakfast. The only thing missing is “… and everyone gets a pony!” Even with all those utterly counter-factual assumptions, they are talking about CO2 levels in the 450ppm range, which is right at the edge of catastrophe, with an excursion to even higher ranges that are “cheaper,” except that the ponies all die.

JQ, does that quote (and the rest from 138) fairly summarize the assumptions in the “cost of climate stabilization is so low …” story? (Perhaps not, as you say “we can wait 5 or 10 years,” which isn’t “immediately.”)

342

Anarcissie 08.26.14 at 12:13 pm

The use of ‘communism’ for ‘command economy’ is propaganda.

Intellectual bankruptcy is not an immediate hindrance to electoral success.

Some kinds of production and distribution seem to work better when centralized, like the traditional approach to the generation of electricity. At some point the production might be widely dispersed (photoelectric roof shingles) but one might still want to coordinate the grid centrally. Or maybe not; distributed coordination may be practical.

343

Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 12:40 pm

344

Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 12:40 pm

345

William Timberman 08.26.14 at 1:32 pm

ZM @ 311

Thanks. As far as I can tell from this distance some of Germany’s difficulties with the transition to renewables are unique to itself, but others are likely to be faced by any developed country which attempts a serious transition away from the use of fossil fuels for power generation. It’s probably not appropriate to discuss the German transition in detail in this threads; it is worth saying, though, that the costs of making the transition don’t seem to be the only significant barrier, or at least not any more significant the the technical problems still outstanding — mostly storage and transmission problems related to the stability of the distribution grid — and the problems arising from not-in-my-backyard political resistance to the siting of wind farms and new transmission lines. As far as the cost issue itself is concerned, the ability as a nation to absorb the cost seems less of an issue politically than questions of who pays. (Some argue that the feed-in tariff structure puts the greater part of burden on the small-scale consumer, rather like we’ve done over here with the costs of the financial crisis of 2007.)

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Brett Bellmore 08.26.14 at 2:24 pm

“The use of ‘communism’ for ‘command economy’ is propaganda.”

It might occur to you that the phrase, “planned economies are like communism” clearly implies that they are different things. You don’t compare a thing to itself, after all, or point out how a thing is similar in some respect to itself.

347

Bruce Wilder 08.26.14 at 4:12 pm

The IPCC mitigation report summary takes as fact that the world is at 400 ppm CO2-eq in 2010, and that ending the century in 2100 in the range of 450-500, after an overshoot in the range of 480-530, might be enough to keep the increase of global climate-temperature within the century, over the historic baseline of 1850-1900, to the neighborhood of 2.0 C.

The mitigation scenarios supporting these expectations project that the rate of CO2-eq emissions relative to 2010 have been reduced by roughly half by 2050 and that the rate of CO2-eq emissions is negative (as in less than zero) in 2100.

Clearly, the notion that we’ve added too much carbon to the carbon-cycle has taken hold, and it follows that we will have to start taking it out.

What the consequences are of adding carbon to the carbon cycle, we have scarcely even begun to explore. One is retention of solar heat — an increase in radiative forcing on the climate system — which we represent, but cannot illustrate, by a temperature.

The primary economic problem is taken to be: managing the amount of carbon being added to the earth’s carbon cycle. That is, we have to invent some kind of global institutional and technological system, which can sequester carbon geologically on a very large scale, and do that invention by 2050, so that it can be scaled up in the subsequent decades.

That “single global carbon price”, by 2050, has to be sufficient to pay people to put carbon back into the ground (really, below the ground, since the idea is to get it out of the carbon cycle altogether) and not dig it up. We have to somehow engineer a kind of carbon gold rush in reverse.

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William Timberman 08.26.14 at 4:19 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 347

Although I didn’t refer to it in my musings about Germany, carbon sequestration seems to be one of the big remaining technical and political problems for the German plan, and it’s fallen far short of early estimates. I suspect, though, that sequestration wasn’t seen to as immediate a problem initially, before they decided that they’d cover the gap between current energy production and the coming on line of major renewable capacity with lignite-burning plants instead of nuclear ones.

349

J Thomas 08.26.14 at 4:34 pm

That is, we have to invent some kind of global institutional and technological system, which can sequester carbon geologically on a very large scale, and do that invention by 2050, so that it can be scaled up in the subsequent decades.

Freeman Dyson claimed that if we could change our farming practices in a way that resulted in gaining topsoil at the rate we have been losing it, that would sequester a significant amount of carbon right there. I haven’t checked his numbers, but it sounds intriguing.

350

Bruce Wilder 08.26.14 at 4:41 pm

The problem with polar concepts like centralization-decentralization or cooperation-conflict is that that the human tendency to begin analytical thinking with dichotomies — dividing into two, into opposing tendencies — leads away from recognizing the essential unity of the phenomenon. We intuitively imagine heat and cold or light and dark as opposites, but there’s only heat and only light.

“Communism” is obsolete propaganda. “Market economy” is still operative propaganda. Whatever the world has in the organization of its political economy, it is not a “market economy” and thinking about it as if it is, is going to get us into trouble. Even, or especially, if we think we can move away from whatever we have, to some putative opposite, without any understanding, we will put ourselves into trouble. We’re not going to invent a society where there is cooperation without conflict, organization without centralization (or without decentralization), benefits without costs, energy without entropy, knowledge without ignorance, or action without risk.

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Bruce Wilder 08.26.14 at 4:46 pm

J Thomas @ 349

As thinking about climate change has moved toward thinking about the carbon cycle, land use, ocean use and agriculture loom larger than energy systems.

352

ZM 08.26.14 at 4:56 pm

“. That is, we have to invent some kind of global institutional and technological system, which can sequester carbon geologically on a very large scale, and do that invention by 2050, so that it can be scaled up in the subsequent decades.”

People have already done a great deal of work looking into the impact of the carbon cycle – you can read reports and books of possible scenarios at different levels of co2 and other GHGs. Sequestration technology is not practicable and there is not sound evidence it will be. Plus you need land for the sequestration technology, and a way of keeping all the sequestered GHG a somewhere securely in perpetuity , plus the technology uses materials. The best way is reforestation – because sheep and cows (maybe horses?) emit a lot of methane people need to stop farming them – then we can reforest all the grazing land. But this only is capable of drawing down a certain amount.

The proper response is not to think some magic solution will appear to be practicable in 2050. But we need to decrease emissions as soon as possible.
Just about everyone except homeless or extremely poor people in advanced economies is quite capable of reducing their GHG emissions fairly substantially right away (since the government is determined to dither) by their choices in food and goods consumption (which is the highest proportion of emissions except for people who fly) like not eating meat and dairy and not buying many goods, by not flying or rarely flying (one climate scientist now goes to all necessary conferences by train even if they are in china and he lives in England), by walking and cycling and taking public transport, by not driving cars or rarely driving if need be at present, by composting food and plant waste, etc. there are books on how best to do this, although the one I have is English and it doesn’t quite fit Australian conditions it is good enough.

This will not get to zero personal emissions, but you might be able to halve your emissions or decrease them even more. It is quite hard, so you will probably make mistakes but you should keep trying to minimize your emissions nonetheless since the governments are worse than useless at present and we only have about 25 years after such a lot of tardiness the last several decades.

You will not get to zero GHG emissions unless you become a hermit so far as I can tell – and even then you would still have your share of the public emissions (MIT did a study and a homeless American person’s emissions are about 8 tonnes if you count their share of public emissions [i am not sure this is a fair way of accounting homeless people's emissions myself] which is more than average people’s emissions in many other countries).

So therefore laws and land uses need to be substantially reformed ASAP for the emissions that can’t be cut by choice (also those very selfish people who won’t try need to be regulated not to be so selfish and destructive to the climate, like we regulate burglars and malicious glass breakers)

I am fairly sure if individuals all reduced their emissions in the ways I outlined but books detail more fully – without government making proper laws to co-ordinate everything and having proper provisions for eventualities – we would have a recession. Professor Ross Garnaut said to my question on this matter of a recession (from the paradox of thrift) that people can buy books (e-books to save trees) and healthcare so we won’t have a recession – I am a bit dubious of this economy built on books and healthcare , especially because some people don’t like books and then they would only have healthcare, but hopefully he will think of some more things for the sustainable non-GHG emitting economy when he has more time to think about it and is not put on the spot by a question.

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J Thomas 08.26.14 at 5:20 pm

#352 ZM

Just about everyone except homeless or extremely poor people in advanced economies is quite capable of reducing their GHG emissions fairly substantially right away

Yes, but in a free market, if you deprive yourself of the goodies that makes them cheaper for the people who still want to buy them. The market will still clear, just as much will be consumed, just as much pollution and GHG emissions will happen — but the people who want to do it will get to do it more wastefully at less cost. They will be pleased.

So therefore laws and land uses need to be substantially reformed ASAP for the emissions that can’t be cut by choice (also those very selfish people who won’t try need to be regulated not to be so selfish and destructive to the climate, like we regulate burglars and malicious glass breakers)

Yes, it is absolutely necessary to regulate the people who don’t want to go along.

But look at the implications! Libertarians know that everyone has the right to do whatever they want with their own property. If you coerce people you are wrong. But to mitigate climate change we must coerce the people who don’t care about climate change — we cannot get around doing that. So for the libertarian principles to be true, it logically follows that climate change is a lie.

QED.

The above argument is presented in absolute terms — it might turn out that if you could put number on it that if responsible people voluntarily reduced their carbon footprint then the lazy wasters would not increase theirs as much. It’s possible we could scrape by with voluntary action.

But it seems almost certain that to survive climate change we must coerce people. And therefore by libertarian reasoning climate change cannot not exist.

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J Thomas 08.26.14 at 5:24 pm

climate change cannot not exist.

Cannot exist. I don’t know how that extra word crept in.

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ZM 08.26.14 at 5:51 pm

“Yes, but in a free market, if you deprive yourself of the goodies that makes them cheaper for the people who still want to buy them. The market will still clear, just as much will be consumed, just as much pollution and GHG emissions will happen — but the people who want to do it will get to do it more wastefully at less cost. They will be pleased.”

Hopefully the numbers of people being voluntarily frugal during this period of irresponsible destructive governments would grow, more and more people would see that it was more important to give children a chance at a reasonably ok future than buying all the various trifling things in shops.

If we do not start to think like this a child who is just born today would only be 25 years old when we have spent what’s left of the carbon budget to 450ppm co2e
Imagine being 25 and knowing what is in front of you at that point, and that all the people in the world had not cared. It is very cruel. People should not be having children if they are going to squander their future like this. I hope lots of people are not very well informed and don’t realise the timeframe we have or the consequences , rather than they are exacerbating climate change consciously.

” Libertarians know that everyone has the right to do whatever they want with their own property. If you coerce people you are wrong.”

Land in Australia is not held outright like in America, someone has tenure under the crown but this can be revoked. I have read in America landownership can also be revoked for public purposes (say in the past road building). I do not think libertarians really can believe those sort of things about property and they seem to like coercion just fine in numerous instances. I have never met one in real life, I don’t think we have so many here. Anyway, I cannot think of an operational libertarian legal system, so legally libertarianism is not a problem. They do seem to like guns though, so maybe that is a problem for you? It is hard to say since I don’t live there.

” It’s possible we could scrape by with voluntary action.”

No unfortunately – significant voluntary action now would mean we might have a fraction more time than 25 years before reaching 450ppm -(which is too high – we should be trying to get back to 350ppm) , and would show governments and naysayers that people are genuine not grandstanding, and would be a way of demonstrating international and inter -generational solidarity, and a way of showing others that the changes needed are not unbearable

“But it seems almost certain that to survive climate change we must coerce people. And therefore by libertarian reasoning climate change cannot not exist.”

I think that is rhetoric, not reasoning. We already have lots of laws. Having laws is perfectly common.

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Plume 08.26.14 at 6:13 pm

Bruce @350,

It’s not really about opposites, IMO. Ironically, perhaps even paradoxically, you seem to be arguing against them and for them at the same time, as if they will always be with us no matter what we do.

We’re not going to invent a society where there is cooperation without conflict, organization without centralization (or without decentralization), benefits without costs, energy without entropy, knowledge without ignorance, or action without risk

I don’t think “opposites” actually exist when it comes to the political spectrum, though I sometimes get lazy and use the term in discussions. It’s all relative. True opposites would involve some sort of neutrally derived geography of thought, some actual “center,” some no-spot that we can plot on a graph. Again, I fall into the trap all too often, but it’s really metaphor, not something that exists, spatially.

That said, I think we can definitely develop and implement systems that do more of this or less of that. The mathematical is more applicable than the geography of opposites. We can implement systems that discourage competition and conflict, encourage and reward cooperation, discourage waste and duplication, reward the sharing of knowledge and resources. We will obviously never get to some sort of pure cooperative and conflict-free nirvana. But we can get closer to that than we are now. Mathematically. We can alter the landscape in terms of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of things.

More or less, rather than opposites.

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Bruce Wilder 08.26.14 at 6:19 pm

ZM @ 352: ” Sequestration technology is not practicable and there is not sound evidence it will be.”

Yes, well that would call the IPCC’s mitigation scenarios into question.

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ZM 08.26.14 at 6:27 pm

I already pointed out several times now that the IPCC report itself said the 900 mitigation scenarios they reviewed largely relied on ‘idealistic’ policy settings and ‘optimistic’ future technology prospects among other unfounded assumptions and cruel discount rates.

I pointed out on John Quiggin’s blog thread of the OP that the IPCC does not recommend 450ppm – this was a setting originally suggested by Nordhaus in the 1970s and taken up by policy makers and politicians without any scientific basis. The cites are there.

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Anarcissie 08.26.14 at 6:31 pm

Certainly, if one wants to have both capitalist growth and sustainability-substinence it will be necessary to coerce people, simply to protect one class from the other. And this is already happening: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. So if coercion is the key to solving the problems posed by anthropogenic climate change, we’re already halfway there.

Centralized command economies, such as the internal economies of large, market-dominating corporations, do seem to have significant productive powers over periods of time, which is mysterious given their Dilbertian local behavior. I’m thinking of IBM, Microsoft, GM, GE, old AT&T, Walmart, Merrill Lynch, Chase, and so forth. And then, also mysteriously, they often fail. I am averse to them not because they do or don’t provide products, growth, big money, etc., but because I would prefer a more cooperative, less globally destructive social order, even if it were less efficient at producing stuff.

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Stephen 08.26.14 at 6:54 pm

ZM@338
Yes, thank you, ducky, I did read the link I posted. If you had read it with average intelligence you would have noted that:

1) The Groundnuts Scheme wasn’t a corporate scheme. It was run by a democratic, socialist British government, with all the supposed advantages of central planning that Plume supposes should exist.The fact that the original idea of growing peanuts in Tanganyika came from a man from Unilever – but was not implemented by anyone from Unilever – only discredits it if you suppose that all corporations are evil, and any idea coming from anyone involved with a corporation must be wrong and will be badly implemented.

For all I know, you may believe that. Look up Port Sunlight some time.

2) The scheme was indeed implemented, or rather centrally planned and spectacularly failed to be implemented, in a colony: the title of the url I gave should have indicated that. For all I know, you may believe that anything done in a colony must be wrong and will be badly implemented. If so, please check that with Australian and US contributors to CT.

If you are on the saner side of the choices above, you will accept that the groundnuts scheme is a classic example of central planning failing to produce the benefits Plume believes are inevitable.

Note that I am not arguing that central planning is always counterproductive. Only that it can be: and that in the event of failure, central planning is less robust than decentralised capitalism.

BTW if you want another example, look up R101 Airship.

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Plume 08.26.14 at 6:56 pm

Anarcissie,

Well said.

And the lack of “efficiency” when it comes to producing lots of stuff? . . . . Well, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, given that it’s the massive ability to produce so much stuff that is a part of the ecological problem in the first place. We are producing and consuming ourselves right into environmental Armageddon. The old joke about telling the doctor “It hurts when I do this” applies.

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Bruce Wilder 08.26.14 at 7:01 pm

Plume @ 356

Yes, more or less . . . of one unified thing. You cannot get cooperation without conflict, because the more cooperation, the more conflict. You cannot get more organization without more centralization and more decentralization.

My point is not to play word games, or to turn attempts to understand political economy into word games. I want to avoid substituting word games for thought. I wouldn’t say we cannot improve, nor would I ridicule the concept of progress. I do not like authoritarianism and I favor democracy. I don’t think statements like, “Democratizing the economy is the opposite of centralizing it.” help.

I look at your statement:

The capitalist system is “command and control” already at the corporate level, and each corporate fiefdom withholds knowledge and intention from each, which stifles information flow. They have to in the system as is. So you not only get a ton of waste and duplication, you bottle up or at least slow down knowledge dissemination throughout the economy.

And, I see abysmal ignorance. Without any intention to defend the status quo, I can say without equivocation that you are simply ignorant and mistaken about how the existing economy works. I’m not offering to argue the point with you. I’m telling you, you simply do not know what you are talking about.

Your moral intentions are admirable, but your self-regard, in relation to your own understanding of how the economy works, is unfounded. Just on this one small point — information flows among large companies and the economy at large — simply observing what goes on, the massive exchange of information on a daily basis, the enormous resources devoted to communications ought to give you pause. These companies depend on communicating information to vast networks of employees, contractors, customers, vendors, suppliers, the financial sector and the numerous others their products or services are embedded into. They are communicating their intentions constantly, strategically and operationally. Just look! You don’t have to endorse it. Without judging it, just look.

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john c. halasz 08.26.14 at 7:09 pm

ZM @ 352:

Individual voluntarism at the level of consumption choices won’t “work” as an overall solution and likely would only put a small dent in the problem. Aside from being an inverted mirror image of individualistic consumerist ideology, (so beloved by neo-classical economics), and replacing analysis of fact and function with mere moralism, (often riddle with impossible injunctions and thus a fair share of bad faith disguised as “higher” morality), individual choices, (which always interact with the choices of others), are systemically constrained, (and they wouldn’t be choices if they weren’t constrained), and basically conditioned, if not determined, by physical infrastructure and social organization. And, indeed, I tend to think that the institutional difficulties and barriers are still more formidable and insurmountable than the technical ones.

“System Change, Not Climate Change!” is the marching slogan. But greenies tend to be a diverse and fractious lot and don’t readily agree on what the system changes required are. I myself have run into trouble for advocating hydro power as a key part of the solution. But then here in VT there is a lot of “small is beautiful” ideology and intense localism, and many environmental activists, despite the intensity of their concerns and commitments, don’t seem to understand the full scale of the problems, and that most people live in cities/metro areas, which don’t lend themselves to small-scale, purely local solutions, (while cities are actually or potentially more energy and resource efficient, if the sand-hogs do their jobs right). And people, in their moral idealizations, generally don’t like to examine their own potential for bad faith.

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Plume 08.26.14 at 7:10 pm

Stephen,

Britain has never had a socialist government. It has always had some mix, with the overwhelming majority of things still owned by private entities. The people have never owned the means of production in Britain — or anywhere else in the modern age. And it’s never had a democratized workplace, much less a democratized economy overall.

Command and control would have enormously positive benefits if it were handled at the community level, with communities working together with other communities, within regions and nationally . . . . coordinating what they do, sharing knowledge with one another. An escape from bumper-car economics, from rowing-at-cross-purposes economics, from feudal-fiefdoms economics.

That’s far from saying (or advocating for) some monstrous government apparatus, run by a political party, controlling all. That’s not democracy and the people don’t own the means of production in that set up. It’s basically just concentrating the segregated command and control of corporations (feudal fiefdoms) into one fiefdom. The goal should be dispersal and cooperation among equals, not the concentration and accumulation of feudal powers into one source, the ruling class.

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ZM 08.26.14 at 7:21 pm

Stephen, Britain has not been a socialist country, funnily enough.

The man from the unilever subsidiary who worked in vegetable oils suggested the project to his contacts in the government, because he thought it wouldn’t get permission from the colonial authorities otherwise. I have not been able to find out if he expected to be able to buy the oil , should the project have been successful. I presume this is the case – or why was he interested in initiating it in the first place? Maybe you have further details?

Colonialism caused a great many problems globally, and is still an influence on ill feelings between countries, and difficulties between indigenous people and settler peoples. I live in Australia and the things that were done to indigenous people were very bad, and they still lack the opportunities and basic provision of services, and many feel very strongly about the damage done to the land since settlement. Some progress has been made to reconciliation, such as native title and acknowledgement of country or welcome to country ceremonies, but it is an unfinished ongoing process.

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Anarcissie 08.26.14 at 7:21 pm

Plume 08.26.14 at 6:56 pm @ 361 — The problem for me and my fellow wet communist hippie types is that nobody outside our little set is proposing a deal. Constant growth is necessary in a capitalist society to keep the proles with the program, because then today’s losers (most people) can be told they will ‘win’ tomorrow. The great metaphorical pie will be larger and each slice will be bigger. Once it becomes plain that the great metaphorical pie is shrinking, (further) coercion will be necessary to keep the proles in line — rather energetic coercion, I would imagine. And lots of surveillance. Maybe a war or two. (You can see that the ruling class has the whole business well in hand, and we need not worry about what right-wingers think — when the time comes, they’ll be told what to think.)

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ZM 08.26.14 at 7:38 pm

John c halasz

“Individual voluntarism at the level of consumption choices won’t “work” as an overall solution and likely would only put a small dent in the problem. “

I did not suggest it as an overall solution at all – just a measure everyone should try to take (if they are not homeless or very poor) while we have irresponsible governments who won’t make proper responses. I have advocated for a thorough co-ordinated planned approach the whole thread long, not just taxes! But a coordinated approach is not going to happen tomorrow, and in the mean time people can modify their consumption and traveling to low emissions, and this helps to show that low consumption and flying and driving is not such a great deprivation after all. Also it gives people practice and learning opportunities.

I think you are right that local solutions will not be sufficient, because of the concentration of people in cities away from farms and so on. But I think physical design responses should try to take local character and needs into account. As a country person I sometimes find it quite upsetting to hear city people talk about the land just as a site for their energy production or raw materials or rubbish, and I feel more upset when they are not willing to give up extravagances, but just want to cover more countryside with technology (or imagined technology as the case may be).

I don’t know very much about hydro. It has been controversial in Australia in the past. Because of our sunlight and wind potential I think it is seen as a small proportion of a renewable energy system.

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Luke 08.26.14 at 7:41 pm

Regarding voluntarism and systemic change: we’ve had decades, now, to pick the low-hanging fruit in dealing with CO2, and the effort, for whatever reason, has been not only pathetic but criminally negligent.

I’m a firm believer in the power of demands. If we could get a strong public position along the lines of “global warming MUST be addressed, not tomorrow but yesterday, and with whichever blunt instrument is ready to hand”, then the systemic implications will simply have to be worked out. Give the wonks an imperative to chew on. Completely changing the system in order to effect your demands is putting the cart before the horse.

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ZM 08.26.14 at 7:50 pm

Luke,

There are demonstrations planned around the world for 21st of September I think. 350.org has details.

In Australia a group of women have started a monster petition for climate action (after the monster petition for women’s suffrage) to table at parliament that can be downloaded and people can collect signatures.

The are you the vital few website is running a fiduciary trust campaign and legal case targeting the dereliction of duty by superannuation companies – you can join in there if you have investments in climate change causing things like coal

In the USA our children’s trust is going to court to get the courts to find that children have a right to a safe climate as a trust resource and that the courts should force the governments to act to ensure this. They seek support and donations

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Plume 08.26.14 at 7:59 pm

Bruce @362,

And, I see abysmal ignorance. Without any intention to defend the status quo, I can say without equivocation that you are simply ignorant and mistaken about how the existing economy works. I’m not offering to argue the point with you. I’m telling you, you simply do not know what you are talking about.

Of course you’re not offering to argue the point with me. You can’t. You don’t know how. Judging from your long-winded, pompous posts, your ego is such that you don’t believe you even need to prove your points — so you don’t even try. For instance, you think that corporate communications being what they are somehow (and self-evidently) disproves the contention that they withhold information. An educated person, a person who actually knows something about the economy, a person who has sat in on corporate meetings, would see that the two things are not mutually exclusive. Yes, companies communicate with those networks you talk about to get things done. I never said they didn’t. I said they withhold information. Just look around you!! You don’t have to endorse it, but just look!! People communicate and withhold information all the time, and this occurs every single day on the individual, corporate and systems levels.

You seem strangely trapped in an either/or mode, which is ironic for someone who argues against binary thinking –while saying there is no escape from it.

Oh, well.

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Bruce Wilder 08.26.14 at 8:10 pm

john c. halasz – 08.26.14 at 7:09 pm

I really admire how you packed so much into that first paragraph on volunteerism.

Still, I would add that it does help to build the political consciousness that may be necessary to get both the popular consent for, and decentralized cooperation with, a big change in the architecture of the system.

People have to see a system change as legitimate, and they have to be able translate the system “principle” into the hyper-local business of how to pursue their individual lives successfully “within” the system.

The early adopter mindset can play an important pioneer role in working out how we adapt, what the new social conventions and patterns will be, and building a consensus for the necessary measures, creating critical demand that accelerates the development and design of products and services.

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Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 10:38 pm

If this is a sentence that get’s written, then it’s time to start with more basic words that say exactly what you mean:

Britain has never had a socialist government.
Assuming the goal is communication, and not simply rhetoric.

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Thornton Hall 08.26.14 at 10:38 pm

You know what I meant. Last sentence me.

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Plume 08.26.14 at 11:00 pm

Bruce @362,

My response is in moderation, so will try to reword it to get it through.

Companies, like people, do indeed withhold information, and they communicate with others, with those networks you mentioned and so on. Both/and. They withhold information and they communicate. This isn’t rocket science. And it’s not debatable. Anyone who has ever worked in a private company — I have for more than forty years — knows this is true. We know it if we’ve ever been in a corporate meeting, or read through employee manuals (which actually say the information contained within is confidential), or worked in management. Companies withhold information, daily. And, on a daily basis, they also communicate with other companies, supply chains, etc. etc.

And it is patently, observably false to say the more cooperation, the more conflict. As if there is some law making this so. Again, you’re falling for the idea that some natural law of equilibrium exists outside of theoretical models. It doesn’t. We actually do see more of this, less of that, depending upon inputs and systems. It happens. Look around!

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mattski 08.27.14 at 12:53 am

Capitalism in action:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpDh70oHSrM

[for Plume!]

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Brett Bellmore 08.27.14 at 12:57 am

Anyway, to answer the question originally posed: How can you convince rightwingers to accept climate science?

Successfully predict climate, without excuses, in a transparent manner. Where “predict” has it’s normal meaning of forecasting future events BEFORE they happen. Without excuses like, “We can’t let them see the raw data or methodology, they’d just use it to impugn the results!” Where “successfully” means the predictions were clustered around what actually happened, instead of all off to one side of the actual data, and barely within the 95% confidence level. Where a transparent manner means that you don’t get to restrict access to data sets or models, don’t get to correct actual instrument readings, and then dispose of the original readings.

What is needed for rightwingers to accept climate science? It has to become normal science. No excuses, no fudging, textbook science, that can be replicated from publicly available data, by publicly available means.

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MPAVictoria 08.27.14 at 1:23 am

Shorter Brett: “Dear Mr. President, There are too many states nowadays. Please eliminate three. P.S. I am not a crackpot.”

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J Thomas 08.27.14 at 1:31 am

How can you convince rightwingers to accept climate science?

Successfully predict climate, without excuses, in a transparent manner. Where “predict” has it’s normal meaning of forecasting future events BEFORE they happen.

There’s absolutely no reason to expect that would work. Judging from past behavior, no reason at all.

Consider economics. Many right-wingers believe in Austrian economics. Do Austrian economists forecast the economy and get future events before they happen? Mostly not. They determine in general terms what to expect by praxeology, and don’t forecast specific results at all. A few Austrian economists claimed after the fact that they had predicted the 2007 collapse, but their predictions were mostly off by at a minimum months. Usually they did not even predict the month to expect the collapse, and ones who got the year right had also predicted the collapse repeatedly for years before when it did not happen.

But many right-wingers believe them without successful predictions. Successful prediction is not the key to success at being believed by right-wingers.

Consider gun control. Many right-wingers believe studies that show gun control increases crime. In every case I have looked at in detail, the statistics were woefully faulty. But they were believed regardless. I have never ever heard of a gun-control study that correctly predicted how much crime would increase after a change in gun control, or when it would increase. The studies were always about past events. But they were believed.

Where “successfully” means the predictions were clustered around what actually happened, instead of all off to one side of the actual data, and barely within the 95% confidence level.

Many right-wingers display this degree of woeful misunderstanding of statistics. There is no reason to think that statistical results will sway them — as this example demonstrates they can’t tell the difference anyway. They will consistently make up excuses to deny results they don’t want to believe.

What is needed for rightwingers to accept climate science? It has to become normal science. No excuses, no fudging, textbook science, that can be replicated from publicly available data, by publicly available means.

This is clearly wrong. When we look at examples of right-wing science they do believe, it does not meet these standards.

A more plausible answer is that if you want right-wingers to accept climate science, you need to find a way to get them to want it to be true. Once they *want* to believe it, then it’s easy. As long as they *don’t* want to believe it, the task is impossible.

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albert 08.27.14 at 1:41 am

Brett Bellmore @ 374

“forecasting future events”

What do you mean “events”? Droughts? Hurricanes? Specific warm/cold years? I can’t see that being possible in the next 20 years given the properties of the climate system and our measurement capabilities.
Why would the prediction of events be more important than just predicting temperature trends?
It’s easy to make the goals impossible to achieve then blame science for not achieving the impossible.

“don’t get to correct actual instrument readings”

Adjusting primary instrument measures is common in many sciences. It doesn’t follow that doing this in a rigorous manner invalidates all subsequent analyses.

“by publicly available means.”

You mean like using Excel on my MacBook Pro? Climate researchers do have access to the data and access to the means to run models.

Basic question: Why are you holding climate science to a different standard than other sciences? (Because of its potential regulatory/economic implications?) How many public policy issues are held to the standard that you’re holding climate science to?

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Bruce Wilder 08.27.14 at 1:48 am

. . . you need to find a way to get them to want it to be true.

But, isn’t that true of everyone?

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john c. halasz 08.27.14 at 3:50 am

O.K. I’m not one to try and police internet threads, because ya know…

However, speaking from the anti-capitalist left, I find “Plume”‘s contributions often painfully naive and uninformative. It almost amounts to a kind of reverse or inverse trolling. And just invites equally ridiculous responses. But that’s just my opinion.

Brett Bellmore is the real deal. I make it a habit not to argue with right-libertarians, because “a priori” they have already used up their allowable quotient of bad faith. I believe in “giving them enough rope to hang themselves with”, but they seem only to want to hang others. But maybe that’s just me.

O.K. To try and get back on track (and with reference to @108), responding to TZ @ 367:

I have no idea of the topography and resources of AUS. And I am only referring to hydro in temperate regions, (since tropical hydro is far more problematic in tropical regions, such as Brazil, especially with respect to methane emissions, and since I live in North America, where U.S. and Canadian resources are relevant). Hydro-electric power has long been a bug-bear of environmentalists, and there are real environmental damages involved. From what I’ve read from experts in the field, the balance of benefits and environmental damages are highly site-specific and need to be evaluated in each case. However, hydro-electric electrical generation is highly efficient. It works best in high mountain areas, with deep reservoir dams, the largest or deepest of which can achieve a 95% conversion efficiency, such that 95% of the kinetic energy in the water comes out the other end as electricity. The more usual efficiency for deep reservoir dams is 90%. For shallow reservoir dams it’s more like 80%, though there are technicalities, as to just which turbine blades are optimally used. I’ve been told that small-scale hydro is fine, but large-scale hydro is “bad”. But I don’t know if the environmental disruption and damage from 100 small dams (5MG or less) is less that the concentrated disruption and damages from a single large dam. These are difficult issues requiring careful study and evaluation. But water isn’t actually a very dense, nor heavy medium, and doesn’t store a lot of potential energy per unit of volume. So it’s likely that economies/efficiencies of scale hold here. The amount of energy available for generation depends on the length and angle of the “head” or drop, since the kinetic energy is a function of gravitational acceleration.

So my interest in hydro, as part of the “solution”, though by no means all of it, is manifold. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are intermittent, not just daily, but seasonally. And I am skeptical of conventional battery storage as a solution to that basic problem, since not only would that entail increasing the costs, both in monetary and in physical energy/resource terms of such systems, and thus lowering their “competitiveness”, but realistically we would have to dig up half the earth to provide the materials. Part of the way around that problem is “smart grids”, whereby different energy sources could be switched onto the grid when available, across distances and sources. That would not only partially get around the “storage” problem, but it would improve the “load factor”, i.e. how much the total or “name-plate” capacity is used in average power generation, of renewable resource systems. You can google Arjun Makhijani or Mark Z. Jacobson as engineers advocating for a renewable “smart grid” system. However, any such system would require a balancing factor, since electricity is a sheer flow, current, in which supply and demand must always be balanced, else the system will collapse. And hydro is the ideal form, realistically, of such a balancing agency. The alternative would by single-cycle NG generators, which have a 30% conversion efficiency, and lower than that when ramped up and down. But, beyond the regulating/balancing function, a back-up function is required for any “smart-grid” proposal, since due to daily and seasonal variations, wind and solar will not always suffice. That probably amounts to 20-25% of total capacity. And my surmise is that pumped water hydro, powered by wind, would be the best option for both providing that back-up capacity and for storing much of the surplus renewable energy required. That needn’t involve the construction of new dams, though where possible that might be an option. Wind power as pumped water storage could draw water from a river to a reservoir above without actually damming the river, or could draw water from existing reservoirs, or, in flat, water-short areas, could be engineered into the ground. And, since the the steepness and the angle of the “head” are the key to the kinetic energy generated, increasing the head through pipe extensions would increase the energy available per unit of volume. Such sites could also be constructed in high elevation, steep coast-lines, which would marginally increase their efficiency by 3.5% due to the greater density of sea water. The loss from pumping water is about 20% and with a 95% conversion efficiency, the overall conversion efficiency of the system would be 76%. Much better than current thermal conversion systems. And likely much better than battery storage systems could ever achieve, though flow battery technologies are worth pursuing.

Environmentalists are used to opposing hydro projects because of obvious environmental damages. But, mitigation measures aside, which are doable and obviously worth doing, there is a “pick your poison” dimension, which, on prior “moralistic” grounds, they refuse to consider. Opposition to everything is not a plan. There are other considerations, such as the sheer amount of concrete that such systems would require, and full EROEI systems evaluations requirements apply. But that’s my best guess for now.

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Brett Bellmore 08.27.14 at 10:08 am

“Adjusting primary instrument measures is common in many sciences. It doesn’t follow that doing this in a rigorous manner invalidates all subsequent analyses.”

It doesn’t follow from this that climate research is doing it in a rigorous manner. You have to permit sufficient access to raw data and methodology to allow others to establish that.

See, that’s the problem: The rightwing don’t TRUST climate scientists. That doesn’t mean we can’t be persuaded. It means we can’t be persuaded without a lot more transparency than has been seen up to date. Somebody you don’t trust can be right. But you’re not going to take their word for it.

Take just the issue of adjusting readings from weather stations. At least half the warming in the US seems to be due to well sited stations’ readings being adjusted up to be consistent with badly sited stations’ readings. Spuriously exporting the urban heat island into the countryside.

Why? Because, last I heard, climate scientists weren’t doing these adjustments based on site surveys, but just by semi-automated statistical routines. Which just happen to only adjust temperatures up in the near term, and down in the past.

Or, how about Mann’s efforts to keep his statistical methodology secret. And when it gets out, it turns out to generate a hockey stick from random data…

To be clear, I’m not at all sure, based on some recent scandals, whether climate science is actually worse in this respect than the rest of science. But to persuade rightwingers, it needs to be better.

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ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 08.27.14 at 12:01 pm

Anthony Watts has a bad track record in climate science .

So why is it that you trust him, Brett?

Or Jennifer Maroney, for that matter?

By the way, you don’t seem to know much about Michael Mann’s work, either.
~

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ZM 08.27.14 at 12:12 pm

John c halasz,

“Hydro-electric power has long been a bug-bear of environmentalists, and there are real environmental damages involved. ” “pick your poison”

I agree that we are now is a position where we have to make choices about things that maybe we would rather not consider if not for climate change. Hydro is still I think the largest contributor to renewable energy in Australia (63% of all renewables according to Wikipedia) despite its small proportion overall now and in future 100% renewable energy scenarios for Australia.

I think energy use needs to be more conservative, manufacturing and highly intensive energy using sectors are going to need to be more flexible around the possible energy supply capability (this is one of the reasons why I favour a coordinated approach rather than a market approach – there are risks that the changes to businesses are unaffordable for some of the individual businesses themselves so they couldn’t reform even if changes are affordable whole economy wide, and potential hiccups in the transition could cause individual businesses to fail, if a great many fail at once the economy would be very chaotic – coordination can try to see foreseeable problems and make contingency plans etc). Efficiency should increase too.

Brett Bellmore,

Michael Mann was not guilty, I’ve heard great many say
(sung to the tune of Hiram Hubbard . NB: – I believe this of Mann, I only know the song of Hiram Hubbard and not the case )

Maybe you should read Mann’s book on how his work and others’ was made controversial by vested interests:

“The Hockey Stick became a central icon in the “climate wars,” and well-funded science deniers immediately attacked the chart and the scientists responsible for it. Yet the controversy has had little to do with the depicted temperature rise and much more with the perceived threat the graph posed to those who oppose governmental regulation and other restraints to protect our environment and planet. Michael E. Mann, lead author of the original paper in which the Hockey Stick first appeared, shares the real story of the science and politics behind this controversy. He introduces key figures in the oil and energy industries, and the media front groups who do their bidding in sometimes slick, bare-knuckled ways to cast doubt on the science. Mann concludes with an account of the “Climategate” scandal, the 2009 hacking of climate scientists’ emails. Throughout, Mann reveals the role of science deniers, abetted by an uninformed media, in once again diverting attention away from one of the central scientific and policy issues of our time.”
http://www.meteo.psu.edu/holocene/public_html/Mann/books/hockeystick/

385

MPAVictoria 08.27.14 at 1:54 pm

“However, speaking from the anti-capitalist left, I find “Plume”‘s contributions often painfully naive and uninformative. It almost amounts to a kind of reverse or inverse trolling. And just invites equally ridiculous responses. But that’s just my opinion.”

I could not disagree more. I love it when Plume posts and I find him generally informative. Plume seems like he truly wants to make the world a better place and is trying to figure out how.

386

J Thomas 08.27.14 at 2:33 pm

Consider the bandwidth of blog comments. Pretty low, right?

We can’t expect to go into great detail. So, like, John Halasz goes into detail about energy production, and it’s interesting. If somebody who thought they were equally informed tried to dispute some of his facts, how well could I follow the dispute? I probably wouldn’t bother, it’s interesting but not that interesting to me. Besides it’s stuff that changes or becomes irrelevant fairly quickly. (I hope. I hope we keep finding important new things that makes the current pessimistic views obsolete.)

This is inherently a low-bandwidth medium, and so it transmits low-bandwidth data, we paint low-bandwidth pictures. We can’t consider the little details, unless some particular detail is vitally important.

Plume talks low-bandwidth. He presents general ideas, and he can’t talk about the subtle details much. If you want to say that the details prove his ideas can’t work, you might be right or wrong. It depends on the details we can’t determine.

I think the next time when around the world societies get changed around, they are likely to look like Plume describes. Societies with lots of groups communicating well about how to be more productive, are likely to wind up very productive. Societies that don’t have parasites determining their direction, with the parasites’ main goal to prevent the parasites being dislodged, are likely to easily outcompete societies like we have now. I don’t know how the details would work, but if those details do get worked out it will result in something that can hardly lose.

Is there value in discussing things when we can’t look at enough details to be sure they could work? I dunno, but if not then we haven’t got much excuse to be here, right?

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ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 08.27.14 at 2:39 pm

I Simply Do Not Care About Global Warming

We’re all going to die or something according to the latest hysteria from the United Nations now that government bureaucrats have sufficiently added hype and hyperbole to the IPCC report on global warming a/k/a climate change.

Folks, I do not care. Let me assure you that the world is not going to end and we are not going to cause ourselves to go extinct. This report is written by a bunch of people who believe in the evolution of humanity, but somehow think mankind is unable to adapt to changing circumstances.

The simple fact is that, if they are right and the world is warming, there is nothing we can do short of economic Armageddon to stop it. We’ve already told most of the third world they have to hide under nets or die of malaria because we do not want them using DDT. We should not now tell them they have to turn off their electricity and never improve their existence because of global warming.
———————-

- renowned scientist and humanitarian Erick son of Erick
~

388

Brett Bellmore 08.27.14 at 4:19 pm

“Plume seems like he truly wants to make the world a better place and is trying to figure out how.”

Granted. I would find this less troubling if the ways he comes up with didn’t involve all competing modes of social organization being ruthlessly suppressed.

389

Plume 08.27.14 at 4:34 pm

Moderation test.

390

Plume 08.27.14 at 4:36 pm

Brett,

If by “ruthlessly suppressed,” you mean peaceful, democratic assembly, peaceful exchange of ideas and debate, resulting in peaceful voting, with all votes having equal weight, then, yeah. Sure. That’s what it is.

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Plume 08.27.14 at 4:45 pm

I still have two — and perhaps three, now — responses in the moderation queue. They both discuss the absurd claim by Mr. Wilder that companies don’t withhold knowledge. As if they operate transparently for all to see, and none seeks “competitive advantage” through the discovery and hoarding of certain knowledge bits. As if they inform their own workers about everything, or consumers, or “the state.” As if we’ve never discovered things later about companies that they had kept secret from the world.

But, more importantly, the very strange idea that if companies communicate with their supply lines — and they do, of course — that this somehow proves that they don’t also withhold knowledge. They do both. They communicate what is needed for the operation of their businesses, and they withhold information to facilitate profitability and functionality. Both/and. Not either/or. It’s not rocket science.

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Brett Bellmore 08.27.14 at 5:05 pm

It’s all peaceful until the vote has been held, and then the guys in riot gear are sent in to enforce the outcome of the vote on the people who lost.

393

Plume 08.27.14 at 5:14 pm

Brett,

Does that happen in our system, currently? And we have far, far less democracy than the alternative. Why would you think it would involve force? Life would be vastly improved for 99% of the population and the environment. Ever consider that people might just accept the new alternative, welcome it, even celebrate it, as you celebrate the capitalist system now?

394

Brett Bellmore 08.27.14 at 5:59 pm

Last time I heard of SWAT being deployed to attack a commune was Waco, and that wasn’t over their economics.

Why would it involve force? Because 99% of the population don’t agree on squat. And what happened to burning arrangements you don’t like out of the system forever?

395

Plume 08.27.14 at 6:11 pm

One arrangement, Brett. Just one.

The private ownership of the means of production and the capitalist system itself. The world got along just fine without it for its first 250,000 years. And I think you over-estimate its support in 2014, especially given the massive inequality in place, and the likelihood of ecological Armageddon. Give people a better alternative and they’ll adapt to it like they adapted to capitalism.

Only this time, since they’ll actually have a real say in their own destiny, their own working conditions, pay and pricing, they’re far more likely to do more than just accept the status quo. They’re likely to genuinely support the alternative, instead of being forced to, as they are under capitalism, as they were from the start. Forced to if they want to eat and have a roof over their heads, etc.

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Plume 08.27.14 at 6:13 pm

Should have said, humans got along just fine without it for their first 250,000 years.

397

Plume 08.27.14 at 7:01 pm

Okay, so that makes three in the moderation queue. I’ll try for four.

So my supposedly being “uninformed” rests on my assertion that companies withhold information, which they obviously do. To “disprove” this, a certain poster said that companies communicate with their supply chains and additional networks. That is also true. But that communication doesn’t mean they don’t also withhold information. Saying that they don’t all but asserts that they operate transparently, 100% out in the open for all to see, and anyone who has worked in the private sector knows this is not the case. I have, for more than forty years. There are also zero studies that show they do operate all out in the open. Pretty much every employee has been handed a manual at one time or another with all kinds of references to confidentiality, even with regard to the info in the manuals themselves.

Remember, the original assertion was that businesses act like individual fiefdoms, competing against each other, and that this is inefficient for the economy overall, and the withholding of information by those individual fiefdoms is a part of that.

Think “competitive advantage” and “knowledge is power.” Think, also, if a company does something wrong, dangerous, reckless, perhaps, that might spook present or future investors. Think, CYA. Think, also, how “tipping one’s hand” affects potential business success. In industry after industry, companies operate on a need to know basis with other companies and the minimum of communication needed to function. They never show their hand unless they absolutely have to. To others, to the state, etc.

This is actually not even debatable. Everyone knows this is the case. Companies communicate and withhold information. Both/and. Not either/or.

398

bob mcmanus 08.27.14 at 8:33 pm

385: O course you like Plume

Plume, if the liberals and social democrats like you, you are doing it wrong.

Utopian socialism. Analytical Marxism.

Study the fail.

399

MPAVictoria 08.27.14 at 8:53 pm

@396

Oh us Social Democrats aren’t that bad. I mean so far we have a better track record then pretty much anyone else when it comes to actually creating societies where you would actually want live.

/And Plume’s comments are much more interesting and useful than yours bob.

400

Luke 08.27.14 at 9:03 pm

Brett, if and when I can opt out of the capitalist mode of social organisation (i.e. ignore private property in its modern form) without being ‘ruthlessly suppressed’, I’ll concede you have a point.

401

Matt 08.27.14 at 9:17 pm

. . . you need to find a way to get them to want it to be true.

But, isn’t that true of everyone?

I think I was happier when I believed that Heaven was real and that everyone I cared about was going there. I was happier when I still thought merit/dismerit were generally rewarded/punished in proportion even while we lived on Earth. I didn’t want it to be true that I would never see loved ones again after they stopped breathing. I didn’t want it to be true that the circumstances of my life were critically dependent on other people and historical contingency, not just my own choices. I didn’t want it to be true that moral improvement did not necessarily track technological improvement. I didn’t want it to be true that America was not a specially moral nation that promoted great ideals in word and deed.

The more history I read, the more time I spent studying science, the more I believed those things that I never wanted to be true. It leaves me fragmented. I can get angry on the Internet at people who still believe patently untrue things and advocate bad policies on those foundations of belief. I can’t bear to tell my closest family members about the comforts that no longer comfort me, much less try to induce the same process in them. I can and do talk about environmental damage, discrimination against homosexuals, and the war of rich against poor in terms they recognize and without denouncing religion.

I don’t want to try to drag them fully around to my way of seeing, leaving transcendence and the supernatural behind. There’s no material or psychological upside to it that you couldn’t get from tolerant strains of religiosity. I think that the sense of Marx’s famous “religion is the opium of the people” is tainted by later implications of opium users being addicted and degraded. When the phrase was written in the 1840s opium concoctions could be freely purchased in Western nations. Opium and its derivatives were the go-to all purpose painkillers. Aspirin wasn’t invented until the 1890s. The first international controls on opium didn’t exist until 1912. “Religion is the extra-strength aspirin of the people” might capture the sentiment better for a modern audience: it makes pain more bearable, and taking away the aspirin is not going to surely or swiftly make the underlying pain go away. There is nothing immoral about using aspirin regularly, but it probably does indicate serious underlying health issues. I’m not convinced that those health issues can be fully solved even if you make them more obvious by taking away the aspirin, when we’re talking about the pain of consciousness, mortality, and the search for meaning.

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Thornton Hall 08.27.14 at 9:55 pm

Matt, well said.

403

bob mcmanus 08.27.14 at 9:58 pm

399: Well, you got optimism that says it will be relatively easy and painless;you got pessimism that says we are all doomed; and you have an optimism (I won’t call anything realism) that says it is possible, but horribly difficult and amorally expensive.

“It” not being “making the world a better place,” but rather “keeping the jerks from wrecking the place and/or killing us all.”

The nukes are still out there (which oughta tell you a lot), and Ukraine is heating up. Whatcha gonna say “the day after”:

“I never thought they would really do it.”
“It was too hard to get rid of the nukes, the streets would have run with blood. I didn’t want anybody to get hurt.”
“Well, we have been reasonably happy and prosperous for a while.”

Liberals and social democrats are utopians and incurable optimists in principle. The macroeconomists like Lucas focus on growth and prosperity and stability and equality and forgetting that Keynes invented this stuff to keep 100 million people from getting killed…again.

What, wait til the next war or the next depression or the next climate catastrophe and expect the moderates to “get it?” Or maybe the last war or last depression or the last woman staring out at the desert with no one left to persuade and convince.

404

Matt 08.27.14 at 10:33 pm

“The day after” I’m going to see if enough people and places I care about are still around to justify my continued existence, or if it’s time for self-euthanasia. I’m a chemist and I have had the materials ready for 12 years. That is my worst-case scenario exit strategy, as opposed to something involving guns, gold, and food stockpiles.

Actually achieving comprehensive nuclear disarmament so we don’t have worry about a “day after?” I donate to the Federation of American Scientists and occasionally write to senators about nuclear disarmament but I’m under no illusions of being anything but one fairly ordinary person among billions. All the permanent members of the UN security council have nuclear weapons. All of them are theoretically committed by treaty to eliminating those weapons but in practice are keeping them forever or until a miracle or disaster, whichever happens first. Here I bump up against the limits of knowledge and belief: I didn’t believe that the big military powers would actually disarm of chemical weapons either, until they actually did, so my pessimism might go too far. Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

405

Ze Kraggash 08.27.14 at 10:47 pm

About the science, scientists, their (alleged) tendency to group-thinking.

I remember reading, in some Daniel Dennett’s book, about the aquatic ape hypothesis. Apparently its proponent, Elaine Morgan, had been ridiculed for decades, until recently.

The American philosopher Dennett is a convert. ‘When in the company of distinguished biologists, evolutionary theorists and other experts, I have often asked them to tell me, please, why Elaine Morgan must be wrong. I haven’t yet had a reply worth mentioning.’

So, it does happen.

406

Barry 08.27.14 at 10:55 pm

Brett Bellmore 08.27.14 at 5:05 pm
“It’s all peaceful until the vote has been held, and then the guys in riot gear are sent in to enforce the outcome of the vote on the people who lost.”

Just like in Ferguson!

407

John Quiggin 08.27.14 at 11:12 pm

Matt @399 A great comment, and spot-on about the opiate of the masses

408

Brett Bellmore 08.27.14 at 11:47 pm

“Brett, if and when I can opt out of the capitalist mode of social organisation (i.e. ignore private property in its modern form) without being ‘ruthlessly suppressed’, I’ll concede you have a point.”

The problem, Luke, is that you don’t want to opt out of it. You want to opt other people out of it.

409

Peter Dorman 08.27.14 at 11:56 pm

I just got back from another extended session of tree-hugging (backpacking) and discovered that my comments elicited some delayed response. Response to responses:

JQ, the difference I’m referring to is between a target (reducing annual emissions by x% in year y — e.g. 80% by 2050) and an intertemporal budget constraint (total emissions cannot exceed z, ever). In its latest IA, the IPCC was forthright (as they should be) that the latter is the proper benchmark. Can you point to an example in which the economic cost of mitigation was based on a cumulative budget rather than performance in a future target year?

JCH, sorry if my tone has offended. I am an enviro myself, rather extreme in most respects. I do think there are counterproductive aspects to green culture in the US and other countries, esp. a tendency to moralize what I regard as essentially a collective action problem. And I realize the Carbonville series is rather snarkier in tone than I would like, but the misconception trope pushes in that direction.

TH, first you would really be doing me a favor if you would let me know what aspects of my post on economic costs (Road from Carbonville) are incoherent and why. Seriously. My goal is to reach people. Second, by “economic cost” in my post, I mean reductions in real income relative to the counterfactual of no policy. (Of course, there are immense economic costs, in this same sense, which we will likely confront if we don’t act — no argument there.) Now, you raise what I would regard as an important question about how such costs relate to human well-being. My own view, which probably separates me from nearly every other economist, is that welfare economics (as this is understood in economic theory) is largely disconfirmed, and that we are on safer ground if we remain agnostic regarding the relationship between real income and well-being. (Yes, they are probably highly correlated at low incomes, but at higher levels a lot depends on what people do with their money and why.) Someone who foregoes a car trip to the store and rides a bike or walks instead may find that, unexpectedly, they are better off. Or not. (I love the Frey and Stutzer study of commuting and happiness.)

410

john c. halasz 08.27.14 at 11:58 pm

The full quote in context:

” The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself. “

It seems that there is an allusion to Kant’s “Copernican revolution” at the end there, as well as to traditional Platonic imagery. But it bears more philosophical analysis, which carries on in subsequent philosophical analyses and critiques of phantasy and illusion, than just s sentimental reversion of religious tolerance.

411

Matt 08.28.14 at 1:35 am

Peter Dorman,

I only skimmed the misconceptions section of The Road from Carbonville. I didn’t see anything to strongly disagree with there.

In the first two science posts of the background science pieces, I think you missed the largest carbon store of all: inorganic carbon, bound as magnesium and calcium carbonates such as limestone and dolomite, the result of silicate mineral weathering. See for example http://www.scopenvironment.org/downloadpubs/scope13/chapter13.html

The flux is small, because geology is slower than biology, but the store is huge, larger than the atmosphere, biosphere, methane clathrates, and fossil fuels combined. Silicate weathering is also the mechanism that gives oceans and rivers alkaline pH in the first place. Under the influence of water and CO2, cations of alkali and alkaline earth elements go into solution from the surface of rocks, raising pH, while insoluble silicon dioxide is left behind. The alkali metals have more of a short term effect on atmospheric-oceanic CO2 partitioning and ocean pH. Magnesium and calcium have an enduring effect when they form insoluble carbonate precipitates (often with the help of oceanic life), fall, and form sedimentary rocks that endure for millions of years. That CO2 re-enters the carbon cycle only if humans mine sedimentary rocks and e.g. process them into cement, or when subduction finally draws the sediments down near magma where the CO2 is again unbound from alkaline carbonates by heat.

The geological carbon cycle of silicate weathering, sedimentary rock formation, and subduction is also the basis of my perhaps-dubious belief that accelerated mineral weathering will be the future basis of actively remediating the atmosphere and restoring the ocean to pre-industrial pH. If humans manage to make it to a low-emissions future with industrial capabilities still intact, that is.

There have been a number of small laboratory and theoretical studies specifically using very fast-weathering, magnesium-rich minerals like serpentine and olivine for this kind of sequestration. Mine the minerals, crush them to coarse grit, dump them in shallow oceans where wave action keeps the mineral surface fresh. The energy cost is small, dominated by the crushing stage. The greatest brake on natural weathering in most waters is that freshly exposed rock surfaces soon form a thin silica-enriched rind that greatly slows the weathering of the remaining bulk material. That brake is removed, and without additional energy inputs from humans, if crushed material is placed where wave action causes sand and the rocks themselves to abrade each other, keeping the surface fresh.

There isn’t enough olivine/serpentine around to really make a dent in the anthropogenic CO2 burden on oceans and atmosphere though. Ordinary basalt is more than sufficiently abundant for the task, though it weathers somewhat more slowly and cannot draw as much CO2 per kilogram. Even the olivine-based plans run on scales of decades; tripling that time scale is still vastly faster than waiting for the unaided geological cycle to clean up. This form of sequestration reverses ocean acidification, deals with distributed as well as point sources of CO2, and doesn’t leave any potentially unstable reservoirs of pure CO2 to be monitored. It’s much more energetically efficient than CCS attached to power plants or (heaven forbid) artificially concentrating CO2 from the ambient air.

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mattski 08.28.14 at 3:19 am

Matt,

I’m not convinced that those health issues can be fully solved even if you make them more obvious by taking away the aspirin, when we’re talking about the pain of consciousness, mortality, and the search for meaning.

Have you seen this?

413

Collin Street 08.28.14 at 3:24 am

Hrm! Something to ponder.

[quibble: rock crushing -- my miner cousin assured me -- is surprisingly energy intensive, since you have to supply the fracture energy per unit area, and fine-crushed rocks have a lot of area. "Surprising" probably only in comparison to what you think it is, but still]

414

ZM 08.28.14 at 3:39 am

Isn’t basalt currently crushed and used in making roads? Since it is better to reduce roads and cars to have public transport, walking, and cycling – could we reduce road cover of land (in cities often half or more of the land is covered by roads) and treat the road materials then use the basalt from the roads in the suggestion of basalt based carbon sequestration?

I have not heard of basalt sequestration before so I am not sure how scalable it is or what impacts it might have on ecosystems.

415

Plume 08.28.14 at 3:46 am

Mattski,

Is that your company? The one in the video? Pretty cool. Looks like a real contribution to on several fronts. Transport, having fun and green.

Well done!

416

Matt 08.28.14 at 5:29 am

[quibble: rock crushing -- my miner cousin assured me -- is surprisingly energy intensive, since you have to supply the fracture energy per unit area, and fine-crushed rocks have a lot of area. "Surprising" probably only in comparison to what you think it is, but still]

The numbers I put into my model came from the technical literature of hard rock mining. I didn’t assume it was workable until I had actually checked the energy requirements. One thing I didn’t mention in my already-large comment was that crusher machinery lifetime is determined primarily by quantity of rock processed, as opposed to damage from the surrounding environment or startup/shutdown stresses. This means that the crushing process can run on renewable energy with only a very small energy buffer for short term stability, maybe amounting to a couple of minutes’ worth of storage. When the sun shines or the wind blows you process more rock, and when it doesn’t you wait. That improves the carbon payback ratio of the system by reducing storage system manufacturing emissions. This is predicated on a fair bit of automation; I don’t think it is practicable or likely to be fair to link worker schedules to quickly changing renewable electricity availability.

Crushed olivine or possibly basalt can be applied to agricultural soils. Silicate weathering is also accelerated in environments near plant roots where living and decaying plants produce organic acids and chelating molecules. Olivine would supply mostly magnesium. Basalt would supply smaller quantities of a larger variety of nutrients: magnesium, calcium, potassium, even a little phosphorus. Both would reduce soil acidity, which is useful in many but not all circumstances. The application rates to agricultural soils would be limited but use in soil could be lower-hanging fruit than near-shore ocean weathering, since it provides benefits other than CO2 reduction.

417

Peter Dorman 08.28.14 at 10:19 am

Matt, I cut a lot of corners in the blog series, and leaving out inorganic carbon was a major one. The biggest practical implication, from my point of view, is that there was no way to bring in the role of cement production. Whether carbon sequestration is feasible (at a feasible price) through the medium of rock formation is beyond my expertise, but I am inclined to go with the scientific consensus on these issues.

If there is a book-form version of this series (which I hope there will be), I will try to incorporate some of the material I felt constrained to leave out and improve the detail and documentation overall.

418

Limericky Dicky 08.28.14 at 12:12 pm

Karl Marx
Denounced the treason of the clerks*.
To make the poor man’s lot seem easier
They doled out not just analgesia
Nor even merely false euphoria
But fully fledged phantasmagoria.

*Spare me your denunciation; it’s UK pronunciation.

419

ZM 08.28.14 at 12:19 pm

Are there any studies that actually say no religious people trust the science of climate change and the need to make changes (changes can include little changes like taxes or bigger changes like a coordinated response to carry out the needed physical changes)?

I do not see why you would like to increase the number of people whose views you are opposed to from (climate change deniers/naysayers to change) to (climate change deniers/naysayers to change) plus (people who are religious).

Why would you want to do that?

This is just like suddenly trying to tell people trusting climate science means they also have to support genetic engineering. It’s a non sequitur, and divisive when you need to be building a common endeavour ?!?!

http://www.arrcc.org.au

420

Limericky Dicky 08.28.14 at 12:41 pm

My comment was just exegesis.
And though (psst!) I do share that thesis
To bar an alliance
Because ‘anti-science!’
Reeks of IoI/LM faeces.

421

Dave Heasman 08.28.14 at 12:50 pm

Erickson via 387

> This report is written by a bunch of people who believe in the evolution of humanity, but somehow think mankind is unable to adapt to changing circumstances.<

Philip K Dick thought we'd grow chitinous exoskeletons.

422

afeman 08.28.14 at 1:17 pm

Philip K Dick thought we’d grow chitinous exoskeletons.

But only after he’d be up for five days straight.

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Barry 08.28.14 at 2:06 pm

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 08.27.14 at 2:39 pm

“Folks, I do not care. Let me assure you that the world is not going to end and we are not going to cause ourselves to go extinct. This report is written by a bunch of people who believe in the evolution of humanity, but somehow think mankind is unable to adapt to changing circumstances.”

The second sentence is a strawman and the third is a lie.

“The simple fact is that, if they are right and the world is warming, there is nothing we can do short of economic Armageddon to stop it. “

Wrong – see, for example, John Quiggin’s blog.

“We’ve already told most of the third world they have to hide under nets or die of malaria because we do not want them using DDT. “

This is a lie, and others should note that Natalie Oreski documented in ‘Merchants of Doubt’ that it was a deliberately constructed lie started by the tobacco frauds for the purpose of discrediting science.

“We should not now tell them they have to turn off their electricity and never improve their existence because of global warming.”

Truth just isn’t your strong point, is it now?

424

ZM 08.28.14 at 2:12 pm

He was just quoting someone called Eric Erickson (son of Erick) who I think must be American because his name rings a bell, but I can’t place him

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Thornton Hall 08.28.14 at 2:31 pm

@Peter Dornan
I myself am about to go hiking in the woods for about a week in the pacific northwest. Hopefully between now and then I can have some coherent points on why I didn’t understand much of your post. The interfulidity series on welfare econ was interesting and he linked to Megan McArdle’s hilarious argument that poor people are better off when rich people get rides in the rain that they (the poor) can’t afford.

But my critique is not about the conflation of welfare and utility, although the conflation is baked into the Neoclassical pie and saying we should be careful about keeping them separate assumes a widespread Clintonesque precision with regard to meaning that, like so many Neoclassical assumptions, is ridiculous.

Nonetheless, following the careful distinctions and taking the arguments in the spirit they are made, there’s an intuitive problem with the analysis. Obama’s carbon regs basically tell electric companies to engage in economic activity that they would not have otherwise engaged in, i.e., building clean generation capacity to replace coal. Every analysis I have seen takes it as axiomatic that this lowers overall GDP growth. The government intervention is necessarily less efficient.

But look at that again. Telling people to engage in economic activity lowers economic activity.

The problem with this critique is that it generates Neoclassical apologia from the liberals who say you have to remember sometimes market failure, collective action problem, blah, blah, blah. But once you go down that road there ceases to be a method. When PK says “Reality has a well known liberal bias.” He’s not telling you the results of his economic analysis. He’s telling you the non-economic prejudice that he applies to correct the economic analysis that always produces the wrong answers.

PK isn’t always right because he’s a good economist. PK is always right because when his econ conflicts with his liberalism, he goes with the liberalism.

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Layman 08.28.14 at 2:46 pm

“Nonetheless, following the careful distinctions and taking the arguments in the spirit they are made, there’s an intuitive problem with the analysis. Obama’s carbon regs basically tell electric companies to engage in economic activity that they would not have otherwise engaged in, i.e., building clean generation capacity to replace coal. Every analysis I have seen takes it as axiomatic that this lowers overall GDP growth. The government intervention is necessarily less efficient.”

When people say this, just point them to a chart of US GDP from 1941 through 1946, and ask them to point to the decline caused by the government intervention, when we told companies to build things they would not otherwise have built…

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MPAVictoria 08.28.14 at 3:02 pm

“He was just quoting someone called Eric Erickson (son of Erick) who I think must be American because his name rings a bell, but I can’t place him”

Consider yourself lucky not to be more familiar with the dangerous maniac. He is the founder of the far right blog/community Red State and a frequent Fox News Contributor.

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Thornton Hall 08.28.14 at 3:17 pm

@409 The central problem is that the field of economics, by it’s nature, does not attract a surplus creative flexible minds. And even the most creative, by the time anyone is willing to listen to them, have invested 7 to 10 years of their lives preparing for a career in the magic emperor garment industry. When this crowd tries to imagine the counterfactual to come up with the opportunity cost of Neoclassical Economics, the best they can muster is SWL disparaging comments about “intelligent guesswork.”

But imagine a PhD economist and a smart liberal arts major in 1981 talking about the debate over dynamic scoring in budget projections.

Laff: We know that cutting taxes on the rich will cause economic growth, the only question is how much.
SciBoy: Really, isn’t it just conservatives like you who think that?
Laff: I’m conservative, but every economist there is, from Paul Krugman to John Cochrane agrees that cutting taxes causes increased growth.
SciBoy: Wow. To be that sure they must have collected a lot of data.
Laff: What?
SciBoy: You know, run experiments, looked at history… data.
Laff: Wait… I remember… data. Well, son, a long time ago we realized that it was impossible to run experiments in economics, so we skipped that part…
SciBoy: (Interrupting) But surely you could look at history?
Laff:…when we realized we could generalize human behavior using math.
SciBoy: I took psychology 1o1, and that doesn’t seem possible. Why not just look at history.
Laff: (Furiously drawing) Behold, the great curve. Isn’t it pretty?
SciBoy: I guess, but there’s nothing left to talk about. You are clearly an idiot. Generalizing human behavior using math? I’ve never heard of something so stupid. Could your math have predicted which taxes would turn into the invention of nuclear power? Could your math predict which taxes would turn into the railroads and the highways? Could your math show you which taxes would become the Hooover Dam?
Laff: You call me an idiot. But which one of us has lifetime job security and rakes in a million dollars a speech?
SciBoy: Got me there.

429

J Thomas 08.28.14 at 3:23 pm

#411 Matt

I think you missed the largest carbon store of all: inorganic carbon, bound as magnesium and calcium carbonates such as limestone and dolomite, the result of silicate mineral weathering.

I don’t have all this straight, but when I looked at silicate weathering I didn’t see why it increased magnesium and calcium carbonates, except by raising pH. Raising ocean pH looks like a worthy goal, though.

If the result is worth having, could you get some of it by using crushed shale? Your reference noted shale on average as having a lot of silicate, about 62%, and it might be much easier to crush.

If we’re going to crush rock and dump it in the ocean for the good of humanity, without making a profit at it, somebody has to pay for it. We’d need to look at how to do that. Not to be cynical, but:

Business plan:
1. Crush rock and dump into ocean.
2. Heroicly help keep humanity from going extinct.
3. …..
…..
5. Profit.

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Matt 08.28.14 at 8:30 pm

Magnesium and calcium cations in the ocean form a metastable solution in near-surface waters, at least under normal conditions of e.g. 100 years ago.
http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch10s10-4-2.html

Surface water supersaturation in magnesium/calcium means that the formation of Mg/Ca mineral precipitates is thermodynamically favored, but kinetically hindered, so ions can stay in solution a long time until a marine organism like coral or shellfish, or a favorable crystal surface on a bit of grit, catalyzes the formation of a solid crystal lattice containing the ions. Mg/Ca sediment that falls into the deep ocean, where supersaturation no longer obtains, is technically in an environment where it can spontaneously dissolve again, but that is hindered by the low temperature and the compaction of sediment that limits access to sea water.

Silicate weathering of calcium and magnesium bearing rocks raises pH, which restores ocean surface waters nearer to their historical state of supersaturation and makes shell and precipitate formation easier. As Mg/Ca precipitates form, fall into the deep, and diminish the reserves of magnesium and calcium in solution, the Mg/Ca coming from weathered silicates also replenish the soluble store of cations in solution. The sodium and potassium freed from silicates also help the pH shift, but they can’t replenish the soluble Mg/Ca reserves that are diminished by precipitate formation.

Shale is abundant, and easier to crush than basalt, but it contains higher levels of toxic trace elements. It also has lower concentrations of pH-raising cations.

Here is an analysis of a typical basalt sample: http://crustal.usgs.gov/geochemical_reference_standards/basaltbcr2.html
And one of shale: http://crustal.usgs.gov/geochemical_reference_standards/codyshale.html

The shale has nearly triple the lead content of the basalt, and a substantial amount of arsenic too. There wasn’t enough arsenic in the basalt to even show up in the analysis. Based on the content of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, the shale also has a relative pH-raising potential about half of that of the basalt, per kilogram.

I have some concerns about the phosphorus liberated by vast accelerated weathering of basalt. It’s only 0.15 percent P in the sample I’ve linked above, but that adds up when you are processing rock by the gigatonne. Could concentrating too much crushed material in one small ocean area lead to phosphorus-driven destructive algal blooms?

Here’s the paper that originally made me think about aritificial acceleration of silicate weathering: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es0701816
I read it with interest, but I think the energy and capital requirements are too high. The high cost is due to a very rapid, complicated system of weathering using manufactured strong acids. Since I think that there is no chance of reversing atmospheric CO2 increase within a couple of decades any way, I don’t see enough benefit to this very rapid approach that justifies its higher costs.

Targeting throughput, not latency, is key to actually reversing atmospheric CO2 concentrations on a meaningful scale. We made this problem in an obsessive quick-results mindset: By 1960 I must achieve the output targets assigned by the sixth 5 year plan. I need to show results to the voters when I’m up for re-election in 2 years. I need to show results to the market in next quarter’s earnings report. I need to be able to travel 50 kilometers in under an hour, at any time, at a moment’s whim. It’s folly to maintain the same future-discounting, short-term-obsessed mindset while trying to undo an atmospheric change that was centuries in the making.

Here’s a paper about accelerated weathering of olivine, actually a rebuttal of a rebuttal about the original olivine weathering proposal: http://olivijn.info/res/literatuurSchuiling/2010schuiling_de_boercommenthangx.pdf
In my opinion the olivine-weathering proponents have the better arguments, but one question not asked nor answered is where to get all the olivine. As far as I can tell, bulk deposits of pure olivine are relatively rare, known reserves amounting to a few billion tonnes. We need trillions of tonnes to go back to pre-industrial CO2 levels in the atmosphere and pH in ocean surface waters. Maybe more bulk deposits of olivine could be easily located; I don’t know. Instead I tried out the numbers using basalt, quadrillions of tonnes readily available. It looks to me like basalt is a feasible alternative, despite its lower neutralization capacity per mass.

I mentioned “trillions of tonnes” of rock processing in passing. The anthropogenic increase in CO2 is absolutely vast. So will be any process that reverses it: vast in mass and length scales, if accelerated by humans, or vast in time if left up to unaided nature.

I don’t expect accelerated silicate weathering to be pursued on a large scale in my lifetime, because as you say there is no profit in it. It’s a possible damage-reversal path if in 100 years more people have more broadly recognized that market value is a poor way to plan for the deep future. Or if some large nations implement carbon taxes or caps that actually stick and aren’t repealed as soon as different politicians gain the upper hand. And if industrial civilization is still around.

431

mattski 08.28.14 at 11:33 pm

Plume,

Sorry, no, not my company! Just thought you might appreciate it.

432

john c. halasz 08.29.14 at 1:58 am

Well, this has been a somewhat disappointing thread, given the substantive importance of the issues involved in the OP. If CT threads are a “low bandwidth” medium, then maybe contributors should consider how they make it so, with various adventitious comments and repetitive “hobby-horse” obsessions, without focusing on the substantive matter at hand. (Not that I have been appointed official censor- far from it).
But I’ll just suggest to anyone interested in the topic, that they read Peter Dorman’s series, which he linked to above. I’m actually about 75% in agreement with his POV, though I don’t think that economists necessarily have the best or most exclusive take on all the issues involved in AGW.

433

Layman 08.29.14 at 2:04 am

Business plan:
1. Crush rock and dump into ocean.
2. Heroicly help keep humanity from going extinct.
3. …..
…..
5. Profit.
_________

The implication is that no one will pay for the service of saving humanity. I’m cynical by nature, but even I think some will pay…

434

ZM 08.29.14 at 2:42 am

If businesses complain they cannot make a profit/break even undertaking the requisite tasks, that is another reason we should have a co-ordinated sustainable economy, not a market growth based economy.

435

John Quiggin 08.29.14 at 3:17 am

@387 You must have posted this comment after my post on Ebola and DDT which restated (yet again) the facts regarding this zombie myth. Please don’t bother commenting again on my threads.

436

ZM 08.29.14 at 3:35 am

John Quiggin,

@387 was just quoting someone called Eric Erickson. His comment didn’t make that clear – I only realised by going to the link. I don’t think he supports Eric Ericsson – but I might be wrong?

437

john c. halasz 08.29.14 at 3:46 am

Yeah, @387 was sheerly sarcastic.

438

John Quiggin 08.29.14 at 4:01 am

@387, 436 and 437 Sorry about that. I’m a bit slow today

439

john c. halasz 08.29.14 at 4:46 am

For those who are not Norte Americanos, it wasn’t this Erik Erikson, who, though I’m not a big fan, definitely wasn’t evil:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Erikson

It’s that Erick Erickson:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erick_Erickson

who is passingly evil.

440

Thornton Hall 08.29.14 at 5:31 pm

@John C Halasz What is “the subject matter at hand”?

If it’s how global warming threatens the global poor, then what is there to discuss? What is more substantive than pointing out that Neoclassical Economics–in addition to having close to zero empirically validity–frames the discourse in a way that saving lives is labeled a “cost” and killing people is labeled “efficient”?

When a practitioner of this discourse whines about confused people not following science, what is one two do as one takes to bed rest recovering from the head/wall conflicted induced concussion?

441

Thornton Hall 08.29.14 at 5:33 pm

Damn autocorrect

442

ZM 08.29.14 at 10:02 pm

Thornton Hall,

To be fair, John Quiggin is not a practioner of neo-classical economics , I think he practices a version of Keynesian economics

443

John Quiggin 08.30.14 at 5:04 am

Peter Dorman @409

Both the UK Committee on Climate Change and the Climate Change Authority (of which I’m a member) use the carbon budget approach as a matter of course. The UK CCC has estimated the cost of meeting the current UK carbon budget to 2050 at around 1 per cent of national income. I don’t have a comparable analysis to hand for Australia: the numbers are larger because of our economic structure, but of the same order of magnitude.

http://www.theccc.org.uk/news-stories/policy-strengthening-required-to-meet-future-carbon-budgets/

444

Peter Dorman 08.30.14 at 3:54 pm

John Quiggin,

Thanks for the reply. I’m not tuned in to the British CC policy apparatus, or that of Australia, so I appreciate this link. It is true that the emissions reduction mandate is in the form of a carbon budget, sort of. It is broken into four-year periods, each of which has its cumulative budget. So far, so good. These budgets have been set through 2027, and then there is white space until the year 2050, which has a target for annual emissions. Thus the approach falls well short of a single cumulative carbon budget.

Moreover, it is clear that the first four budgets, taking us to 2027, are not consistent with a straight line (log linear) path to 2050. Instead they are backloaded. Budgets two and three reduce at an annual rate of about 2%; budget four (2023-2027) then tacks on a much larger cut. Even so, the average rate of emission reductions programmed through 2027 is about 3%, whereas a straight line path to 2050 would require 3.5%. Since it is the area under the curve and not the end point that matters, the short term budgets do not add up to a cumulative budget that has any chance of adhering to the IPCC guideline.

And bear in mind that even a 3.5% straight line reduction path falls short of the 5% I suggested (admittedly in a back of the envelope way) as a baseline for developed country response. Surely developing countries in the aggregate cannot be expected to significantly reduce their use of fossil fuels over the next few decades if they are to achieve an adequate growth in living standards.

Bottom line: the UK approach does not benchmark a single, cumulative budget, and the patchwork of four-year budgets (plus the 2050 target) fall well short of a developed country’s necessary carbon constraint. I don’t know about Australia; perhaps you folks have mapped out a more ambitious program.

Interestingly, the esteemed committee has not looked into the question of capital writeoff, at least insofar as its work is summarized in this progress report. I guess the carbon prices corresponding to the budgets they are trying to achieve pose no threats to anyone’s existing investments. It’s a wonderful world.

As you can imagine, I would love to be wrong about all this. It would be much better in every way if responsible carbon policy were as affordable as this report suggests. But I think lowballing the costs does not prepare us for the political economic hurdles we will have to overcome to get the job done.

445

john c. halasz 08.30.14 at 7:30 pm

One quick-and-dirty way to look at the problem is BTUs per $1 of GDP. The U.S. has made real progress there, from around 9000 to around 7000. Many advanced European economies are at 5000 or less. Red China is around 25000!

One crucial issue that often gets elided is agriculture. Not only is it a source of numerous GHGs, but the current petroleum and chemicals based system of industrialized agriculture is unsustainable, (since both the oil and the chemicals are running out or becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, even leaving aside criminal practices, such as corn ethanol). And AGW will place increasing stress, though unpredictably, on agricultural output.

446

Matt 08.30.14 at 8:46 pm

One quick-and-dirty way to look at the problem is BTUs per $1 of GDP. The U.S. has made real progress there, from around 9000 to around 7000. Many advanced European economies are at 5000 or less. Red China is around 25000!

This is a delightfully complicated topic. Energy-to-GDP and CO2-to-GDP is affected by the relative size of different sectors in the economy, choices within those sectors, and choices in different but related sectors.

As a concrete example, the UK consumes less energy per capita than Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, or Belgium. It also has a heavily services-oriented economy. The financial services sector in particular can generate a high ratio of GDP to energy consumed because office buildings and computers require much less energy per dollar than e.g. aluminum smelters or ammonia plants.

Western exports of relatively low-carbon-intensity services and goods and imports of high-carbon-intensity goods (e.g. export finished airliners, import unprocessed metals and plastics) have led to charges that the West is just outsourcing pollution rather than really operating more efficiently than China. This is half-true. The West is operating more efficiently and outsourcing. If the UK had, say, kept the Anglesey Aluminum smelter open after 2012 instead of replacing its output with imports, the relative energy intensity and CO2 intensity of the UK economy, per dollar, would be slightly worse. The energy and CO2 burdens aren’t just relocated to China when aluminum production moves there: Chinese energy production is much more coal-dominated than that in the UK, Canada, USA, or EU. Moving X units of aluminum production to China from the UK actually makes the global economy less CO2-efficient even if it becomes more dollar-efficient.

I think that if countries impose GHG taxes they also need to impose equivalent tariffs on goods coming from zones without equivalent taxes. If exporters will not make their supply chains transparent enough to assess the emissions from the bottom up, make conservative (high) estimates of the embedded emissions. Otherwise there will be strong incentives to make everything worse by tax-dodge relocation.

I detest the idea that the burden is on individuals to make CO2-limiting choices. That is a recipe for smug finger-wagging plus negligible improvement. When a BP oil rig blows up in the Gulf of Mexico you don’t track down every motorist who bought fuel from BP in the last year and fine them for being “the real source of the problem.” We have regulators for automobile safety, food purity, and so forth so that a billion people don’t have to retain their own experts to avoid injury or fraud on a daily basis. So too should it be with mitigating anthropogenic GHG emissions.

447

Bruce Wilder 08.30.14 at 9:04 pm

The developed world economy is in a rut, a deep channel dug by profligate fossil fuel consumption. That a decent life for a great many could be had in a differently structured economy, which used little or even no fossil fuels for energy, seems reasonable and plausible, though it is necessarily visionary rather than detailed and concrete.

The political and economic problem is how to get from where we are, deep in our rut, to that other, still largely imaginary place. We will have to find ways to commit ourselves in some combination of ways to leaving our deeply channeled rut. We will have to abandon the familiar, and in some cases, the highly productive, absorbing and mourning the loss. Our commitments will have to be sufficient to prevent the temptation to backslide or a palsied fall into a hopeless trap. Our strategic path out of the deeply channeled rut will have to be such that the pressures to backslide are not overwhelming — we cannot have the economy collapse around us, leaving us without sufficient surplus to continue the transition, a potentially huge economic problem.

The motive for leaving our comfortable rut will have to be some consciousness that we cannot remain in our rut and prosper. The rut has foreseeable consequences — blowback — in the future that will destroy it.

This is why I cannot understand why economists would think that they are doing anything sensible by estimating the “costs” of mitigation in terms of consumption losses compared to an imaginary path of no mitigation (and not climate change losses).

. . . reaching 430–480 ppm CO2eq by 2100 would entail global consumption losses of 1% to 4% in 2030, 2% to 6% in 2050, and 2% to 12% in 2100 relative to what would happen without mitigation

It is not just the minimizing rhetoric, which is a problem; it is that the chosen standard of comparison is a comparison of two meaningless counterfactuals, irrelevant to policymaking.

I want to know how much lower my consumption has to be now and over the next ten or twenty years, in order that the economy be pried out of its rut and set on a fast enough transition to sustainability.

The economic problem is to identify the commitments necessary to get us out of the rut, while it is still productive, despite the fact that it is still productive, taking advantage of the fact that it is still productive of surplus, and the political problem is to make and keep those commitments long enough to get out of the rut, before the consequences of the rut kill us all.

I understand that the well-intended folks at UK Committee on Climate Change are hoping to find a path to a virtuous and re-inforcing cycle, that powers an accelerating transition in a push-pull fashion. The attractions of the new economy deepen, while the power of the old economy diminishes, and there’s a more-or-less smooth and accelerating transition that tracks an acceptable rate of greenhouse gas emission.

That’s not a bad model, as far as the little I know. It seems familiar to me, because it is basically a model for the diffusion of innovation. Like a policy mandating seat belts and promoting seat belt use. Or, the transition for wired POTS to advanced cellphones: at first, cellphones are cumbersome and wildly expensive -> at the end, wired phones are a costly anachronism. The accelerating rate of emission curtailment that Peter Dorman complains about isn’t obviously wrong, at least from the standpoint that diffusion drives a logistic curve.

That people are leery of committing in these late but early days to any kind of scheme that would increase the pressure for transition, by increasing the price or cost of fossil fuels beyond the lift given by peak oil is a symptom of a political problem, which is deeper and more threatening than mere science denialism. Ditto for the kind of commitments — such as building out a modern rail system — that might make a lower-energy future more plausible, and increase the attractiveness of a viable future.

What I think economists should be working on is the traps — the hazards that will accompany further delay and make transitions very difficult: an energy trap or a deflationary stagnation.

I do not know if we can get the developed world onto such a virtuous cycle and keep it there. That’s a political as well as economic problem, and doing so successfully would seem to require some degree of consensus shared with the political conservatives, that everyone’s welfare requires a commitment to whatever puts us into the cycle of virtuous transition and keeps us there.

It will also require some shared understanding of the hazards to be avoided, the potential for an economic trap of some kind, a vicious cycle of our own making, like a Great Depression or an energy trap, or a runaway catastrophe in nature, which we lacked the resources to arrest.

448

john c. halasz 08.30.14 at 10:02 pm

Matt @447:

Yep. The need to impose a carbon-equivalent price on imports is one, though just one, of the reasons I favor a carbon-tax over a cap-n-trade system.

449

ZM 08.31.14 at 12:57 pm

Bruce Wilder,

“I want to know how much lower my consumption has to be now and over the next ten or twenty years, in order that the economy be pried out of its rut and set on a fast enough transition to sustainability.”

I am a bit too busy to write a proper comment, but I have wondered the same thing. I have not so far found anything with sufficient information. I think it would take a quite big interdisciplinary research team with knowledge in geology, forestry, agriculture, ecology etc to work out something approaching what you are asking.

The closest I have found reached a very stark conclusion. In an article in The Conversation (an Australian higher education web publication) last year where the professor did a back of the envelope style calculation based on the world’s population, a moderate degree of fairness but kept a lesser degree than now of inequality, Australian ecological footprint averages etc. In Australia we would still be high consumers globally, but we would only consume 6% of our present material consumption.

“First, according to the Global Footprint Network, we are already consuming 1.5 times more than the earth is able to renew each year. To bring our material and energy credit card back into balance we need to reduce our resource draw by 33%.

Second, world population is almost inevitably going to increase by another 25%. To accommodate these newborns, we must reduce our resource draw by a further 25%.

Third, on a scale of wealth, the top 20% of humans are 40 times richer than the bottom 20%. This is morally and geopolitically untenable. It would seem reasonable for the top 20% to reduce consumption by a factor of 4 and the bottom 20% to increase by a factor of 4. The gap between rich and poor would then be a more reasonable factor of 2.5 times. The reduction associated in resource draw for countries like Australia would be a further 75%.

Finally, we need to build in safety margins. When we build a bridge, we build in a resilience factor. According to the New South Wales government, the safety factors for the steel in the Sydney Harbour Bridge ranged from 1.9 to 2.5.

The steel chosen by Dorman, Long & Co. Ltd. for the main beams of the arch was silicon steel. In compression these beams were between 2.2 and 2.4 times stronger than the expected stress on them. Equally, we should not consider using Earth’s resources with no margin for the unexpected. If we were to choose a factor of 2 for planet Earth, then this implies a further reduction in resource draw of 50%.

Multiply these factors together and we end up with a reduction to about 6% of what we currently consume in energy and materials in Australia. That is 16 times less than we now use.

This is the goal we need to set, without which we have little chance of hitting the target – survival. I hope that survival is what most people want.”

450

Anarcissie 08.31.14 at 2:47 pm

Where I live, if people cut their consumption to 6% of what they now consume, almost all of them will die, which they will not see as conducive to survival. I imagine right-wing polemicists could have fun with the figure, though: ‘Liberals want you to die so Third World can live better.’

451

J Thomas 08.31.14 at 4:26 pm

#449 ZM

the professor did a back of the envelope style calculation

This is utterly inadequate. But it might point toward what would be needed in its place.

“First, according to the Global Footprint Network, we are already consuming 1.5 times more than the earth is able to renew each year. To bring our material and energy credit card back into balance we need to reduce our resource draw by 33%.

I’m not sure what this even means. But here’s a possible approach to some of it. For nonrenewable resources that we expect to keep needing, tax usage. Increase the tax until use goes down enough to stretch the resources.

Second, world population is almost inevitably going to increase by another 25%. To accommodate these newborns, we must reduce our resource draw by a further 25%.

If what we’re trying to prevent is extinction of humanity, we don’t have to accomodate an extra billion+ people. People on salary in “advanced” societies are already below replacement. They look at the trouble and expense they caused their parents, and they often wind up with one child or none. That may increase as their budgets start to get strained. They get replaced by immigration from poorer nations. And in poorer nations, the poorest people don’t have babies or their babies die. The population will only increase if we interfere with that, and doing so makes it harder to prevent extinction. So this 25% can be left out. If we wanted to be fair we would do that, but we will not be that fair.

Third, on a scale of wealth, the top 20% of humans are 40 times richer than the bottom 20%. This is morally and geopolitically untenable. It would seem reasonable for the top 20% to reduce consumption by a factor of 4 and the bottom 20% to increase by a factor of 4. The gap between rich and poor would then be a more reasonable factor of 2.5 times. The reduction associated in resource draw for countries like Australia would be a further 75%.

It will likely be necessary for the top 20% of consumers to reduce their consumption by a factor of 4. It does not make sense to increase the bottom 20% by a factor of 4. That would make it easier for them to reproduce etc. It would make more sense for them to decrease their consumption enough to die somewhat faster.

Finally, we need to build in safety margins.

No, we don’t. We’re already going to have a disaster where the poorest die and the population size drops. If we don’t die fast enough, the result will be that we die faster. Setting a safety margin — that kills people faster — to prevent accidents that kill people faster? Let’s not bother.

So from this back-of-the-envelope thinking with wrong assumptions, we would want to reduce various resource consumption by a third, and decrease australian (and US) consumer consumption by 75%. That lets us invest a whole lot into alternatives.

Suppose we reduce consumption by the rich only 50%? Then back-of-the-envelope the boost in physical investment happens only 2/3 as fast. That would amount to more than it looks like, though, because the rate of innovation could be the same. We find out how to make the new model by making and testing the old one, largely independent of how many of the old model we sell. So if we create less alternate energy this year, then next year we will have less one-year-old inferior stuff depreciating and in 10 years we will have less 10-year-old much-inferior stuff depreciating. We will invest more as the benefits get more plainly obvious, and it will be better investments. Though we’d be better off to do more early regardless.

How to live on 50%? Buy fewer cars and keep them longer. A 2-car family can become a 1-car family. A 3-car family might have one car and an electric runabout. Maybe keep your car longer. Poor people can’t buy as many used cars, they will have to negotiate taxi fees with their friends.

Buy smaller houses with better insulation.

A couple of days a week eat beans instead of meat. Most days, use a little meat to garnish dishes rather than as the main course. Eat less beef and less expensive fish. Reason that you want to enjoy life while you’re young more than you want expensive medical care when you’re old, and arrange cheap painless euthanasia when you no longer care to live. That brings down medical costs a whole lot, unless the insurance companies insist that costs can’t go down. Establish that college is something that rich people do for their social graces, and not a requirement for jobs. Let people take any college courses they want to pay for, for their social graces, and arrange cheap ways for people to learn whatever else they need to know.

That would just about do it. Not counting the problems we’ll have from various sorts of ecological disruption, that will tend to make stuff harder to get.

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J Thomas 08.31.14 at 5:58 pm

When I think about it a little more clearly, there are two reasons we need to reduce consumption.

The first is that things we consume, we need to invest instead. Resources that currently go into consumer products could instead go into creating alternate energy. We can’t put as much glass into solar panels because we instead make glass mayonnaise jars that we throw away and put in landfills. We can’t put as much silicon into solar panels because we instead make chips for game consoles. We can’t put as much energy into manufacturing solar panels because we use too much heating and cooling our houses. My examples are silly but there are some that aren’t so silly.

The second reason is that there are resources that should be left unused. Fossil fuels are a good example, the more of them we use for trivial luxury consumption the worse off we are. When we clearcut a section of forest at 18 years, it might be better for the ecology to let it wait 20 years or 40 years. You get less than twice as much wood from a 40 year forest than from a 20 year forest, but you get bigger pieces. We need to let some forests grow and age and let the individual trees fall over and decay without being used at all.

There’s a whole lot of detail about that stuff. I don’t think the detail can be represented very well by “reduce consumption by 75%” or “reduce consumption by 94%”. We’d have less of some things and more of others. As the new investment starts to pay off that would gradually turn into more more and less less. Almost certainly less beef, maybe quickly not less meat. Probably less fish, possibly a lot more jellyfish. Probably less driving, probably a lot more teleconferencing. Probably less steel, maybe more strong graphite.

It doesn’t have to be a big sacrifice, except for the poor. The more effectively we invest, the more rewards we can expect from that investment. And the alternative is not to maintain our traditional standard of living. The suburban house with the two-car garage and the third car in the driveway, the barbecue grill with thick steaks on it — that will be gone regardless. With the right investments we will have something new to replace it, that we can share as widely as it makes sense to.

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Bruce Wilder 08.31.14 at 11:06 pm

responding to and elaborating on J Thomas @ 452

At a high level of abstraction, one can distinguish between consumption and investment, as a dichotomy of production. There’s a sum total of economic activity, which produces and distributes goods and services — this total production is identical with total income: they are two ways of measuring the gross rate of economic activity in the present moment or over some period of time. This way of thinking about the economy in the aggregate is characteristic of macroeconomics. (A great deal of formal macroeconomics is hung up on the idea that the level of activity is governed by institutions struggling to establish and maintain a trade-off in the aggregate between consumption and investment; thinking about this is seriously confused, but we shouldn’t let that distract us. [Note to IPCC: these people are idiots, stop treating them as "the" experts.] )

Another way of thinking about the economy is to focus on some foundational good, essential for the production of everything else. High productivity in providing the foundational good is essential for freeing resources for incorporation in the production of other goods. So, for example, the ability to create an agricultural surplus — that is, sufficient productivity in agriculture, such that one agricultural worker can produce enough food to feed x number of workers in other lines of economic activity — is a requisite for an urban civilization, where lots of people are specialized in production outside the agricultural sector.

Energy — I suppose a pedant might say, non-somatic energy — is arguably a foundational good of this sort. The consumption of energy is tied to the production of almost everything, and affects productivity in several ways. One is that use of energy amplifies productivity, enabling the use of machines to do work. Another is that the use of energy, particularly in transportation and communication, allows for greater specialization in production, and the realization of economies of scale, in a network pattern. This is manifest in sunk-cost capital investment in dedicated organization and machinery, embedding technological knowledge and realizing increasing returns to scale in some lines of production. The result is that some agricultural and manufactured goods become really, really “cheap” and abundant, and some workers become hugely productive, increasing the incomes of a lot of workers (not just those who have become hugely productive). And, there’s an elaborate, networked structure to the economy, described by deep economic rents associated with control of certain resources and sunk-cost investments, and the use of elaborate hierarchies for control of production processes.

To drive this whole system, just as there has to be an agricultural surplus, there has to be an energy surplus. Transitioning from a fossil fuel energy system to a sustainable energy system will seriously squeeze the energy surplus, and will force a sharp trade-off between production for investment (in the new energy production and distribution systems) and production for consumption.

If there’s less energy available, production, and therefore consumption and investment together, are constrained in the short-term. Use of energy to produce for investment reduces the amount of energy available to produce for consumption.

If we use energy to invest in a new energy system, that reduces the energy available in the short-term to produce for consumption. That part is intuitively obvious.

What’s not so obvious, perhaps, at a high-level of abstraction, is that we have to make choices at the margin between the old system of energy production (petroleum, natural gas, coal), and building up the new energy system. As the amount of fossil fuel energy available declines, it “costs” something in energy terms to make the investments in a new energy system to produce enough energy to replace it, and that something is a multiple of what it “costs” to simply top up the fossil fuel system with frakking or tar sands or whatever.

I put “costs” in scare-quotes because I don’t mean that the alternative, sustainable energy sources and uses are necessarily more costly in a global, long-term sense. The problem is that the up-front, sunk-cost investment sucks up a lot of energy in the short-term, compared to what it adds to surplus energy, and, crucially, compared to the marginal costs of squeezing a bit more fossil fuel energy thru the existing, sunk-cost infrastructure of fossil fuel production, distribution and use.

This energy trap means a reduction in production for consumption is unavoidable, if we act prudently. There’s no way to make this transition without short-term pain, and without a commitment to avoid relieving that pain with ill-advised dipping further into dirty fossil fuel resources.

It bothers me a lot that I do not see the IPCC focusing more clearly on the economic problem of this energy trap. Making estimates of how much mitigation will reduce consumption in 2100 compared to a no-mitigation scenario is just delusional, even if it is a delusion repeated 900 or 1200 times. That kind of analysis doesn’t address how to manage the energy trap over the next 20 years and managing the energy trap is the policy problem we face. Minimizing the incremental costs of transition by pacing investment to replace existing infrastructure as it depreciates and becomes obsolete sounds like a better argument that it is, because it doesn’t take adequate notice of the effects of this energy trap or the pressures from fossil fuel rentiers.

I obviously do not have the resources or expertise to make an elaborate calculation, any more than ZM above. I strongly suspect that any feasible path, which is also environmentally responsible, will lead to an economy that makes due with considerably less energy in total. I would guestimate something like 20-25% of what Americans use now per capita for production for consumption might be representative for the second half of the 21st century. It would be a very different economy, though not necessarily a poorer one. (Estimates of 4x to 10x 1990 incomes, because Brad DeLong has a straightedge, I trust, can be dismissed out of hand.)

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J Thomas 09.01.14 at 2:29 pm

#453 Bruce Wilder

Thank you, Bruce! I am not an expert in economics. I try to use common sense which I know is unreliable.

(A great deal of formal macroeconomics is hung up on the idea that the level of activity is governed by institutions struggling to establish and maintain a trade-off in the aggregate between consumption and investment; thinking about this is seriously confused, but we shouldn’t let that distract us.

I understand that there is a big attempt to regulate the level of activity. I didn’t get that the purpose of it was to balance consumption and investment, it seemed more basic than that.

Like, money is a regulator, so when you want more activity you inject more money — like injecting amphetamines. And when you want less activity you take away money — like injecting a sedative.

Normally the economy can sort of regulate itself, but it runs faster with more stimulants. When there’s a shortage of some product, users of that product bid up the price and the makers of the product make more money. They use that money to expand production. They naturally invest in themselves because that’s what they know, and they act against their own interests to reduce the shortage which increased their incomes because they compete for market share. So it all works out.

But when there’s a labor shortage, wages rise because employers compete for employees. And the population won’t rise any time soon. So it’s necessary to slow down the economy to keep wages down. I guess if wages rose too much that would change the balance between consumption (what workers buy with their wages) and investment (the money that employers make).

Anyway, that doesn’t speak to how we can change the economy around to something more sustainable.

Another way of thinking about the economy is to focus on some foundational good, essential for the production of everything else. High productivity in providing the foundational good is essential for freeing resources for incorporation in the production of other goods.

Sure, but that mostly takes care of itself, right? When in every region we have multiple power companies competing to give their customers the best service, and you switch to whichever one does better…. Oh. It doesn’t take care of itself much at all.

[....] The result is that some agricultural and manufactured goods become really, really “cheap” and abundant, and some workers become hugely productive, increasing the incomes of a lot of workers (not just those who have become hugely productive).

I’ve wondered why it follows that the workers who are not more productive have their incomes go up. If a big share of the labor force goes into the new productive work then there are fewer left to do the old stuff, so supply-and-demand. But if it’s only a few that got productive while a lot got thrown out of their jobs, then supply-and-demand would go the other way round. If production is up then there’s more stuff to go around, so everybody who can afford stuff is better off — until the level-of-activity gets adjusted.

It’s come out that way sometimes, but I don’t see that it has to.

Transitioning from a fossil fuel energy system to a sustainable energy system will seriously squeeze the energy surplus, and will force a sharp trade-off between production for investment (in the new energy production and distribution systems) and production for consumption.

If there’s less energy available, production, and therefore consumption and investment together, are constrained in the short-term. Use of energy to produce for investment reduces the amount of energy available to produce for consumption.

Sure. that’s obvious. But if we consume the fossil fuel energy until it’s all gone, that’s like eating the seed corn. You don’t eat your seed corn until you’re starving anyway and you want one last meal. That’s obvious too.

What’s not so obvious, perhaps, at a high-level of abstraction, is that we have to make choices at the margin between the old system of energy production (petroleum, natural gas, coal), and building up the new energy system. As the amount of fossil fuel energy available declines, it “costs” something in energy terms to make the investments in a new energy system to produce enough energy to replace it, and that something is a multiple of what it “costs” to simply top up the fossil fuel system with frakking or tar sands or whatever.

Sure. We have lots of sunk costs in fossil fuels. Pipelines etc. Anything that uses them, costs less than it would if we had to build the whole infrastructure. On the other hand fossil fuel keeps getting more expensive because we used up the cheapest sources first. It takes more work to drain the dregs. And it will keep getting more expensive until it costs more than we can afford. At some point we’ll be reduced to fossil fuels that take more energy to extract than they give us back, and that’s an absolute limit until we develop extraction technology that uses less energy.

Meanwhile the alternative energy methods are improving rapidly, and that’s a big problem. If you invest too early, you wind up with something that’s less efficient than a competitor who invests later. He can outcompete you, and you could have to shut down before you have even gotten your investment back.

This energy trap means a reduction in production for consumption is unavoidable, if we act prudently. There’s no way to make this transition without short-term pain, and without a commitment to avoid relieving that pain with ill-advised dipping further into dirty fossil fuel resources.

Sure, but it’s short-term. And if we don’t do it, we’ll face the same exact problem a few decades later when we’re actually running out of available fossil fuels. The difference is only in doing it a few years early and leave some fossil fuels in the ground. It isn’t less short-term pain, it’s only earlier short-term pain.

It bothers me a lot that I do not see the IPCC focusing more clearly on the economic problem of this energy trap. Making estimates of how much mitigation will reduce consumption in 2100 compared to a no-mitigation scenario is just delusional, even if it is a delusion repeated 900 or 1200 times.

Agreed. Done right, the estimate would involve a guess about how long the fossil fuels would last. The cost would be the difference between what it costs to make the switch earlier instead of later. Depending on your assumptions, that cost could easily turn out negative.

I strongly suspect that any feasible path, which is also environmentally responsible, will lead to an economy that makes due with considerably less energy in total.. I would guestimate something like 20-25% of what Americans use now per capita for production for consumption[....]

Maybe. I don’t know how to guess at that. If we wind up using significant nuclear energy, then the amount of energy we use will depend only on how many nuclear plants we choose to build, and how fast we can switch to other fuels when the plutonium runs out. Some alternate energy sources have obvious limits, for others the limits are not so clear.

But it’s important that we can easily get by with a quarter of the energy we use now. We use the energy we do because it used to be cheap, and we haven’t adjusted.

It bothers me a lot that I do not see the IPCC focusing more clearly on the economic problem of this energy trap.

Is it that they are not consulting the economists, or the wrong economists? I think they should get whatever scientific assistance they can. Get sociologists and anthropologists to figure out how to get a worldwide consensus. Suggest to engineers that low-power designs will become useful, and get their advice how fast we can improve energy efficiency of various sorts. Use whatever technical assistance is available.

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Brett Bellmore 09.01.14 at 2:53 pm

” If we wind up using significant nuclear energy, then the amount of energy we use will depend only on how many nuclear plants we choose to build, and how fast we can switch to other fuels when the plutonium runs out. “

Just a minor correction: Plutonium doesn’t occur in nature to more than a trivial degree. What we have to worry about is *Uranium* running out. However, we don’t really have to worry about that, either.

Research in Japan has already demonstrated the capacity to extract Uranium from seawater at a feasible EROI. (22, without assuming use of breeder reactors.) And erosion puts Uranium INTO the seas faster than we’d need to extract it to maintain our current energy consumption. The current stock of Uranium in the seas is about a thousand times known land based reserves.

Essentially, Uranium won’t run out until some time after plate tectonics grinds to a halt, which is projected to be after the Sun leaves the main sequence.

Economically, though, it would make sense to get Uranium and Thorium from coal ash dumps, while remediating them. They are both present in coal, and burning it concentrates them wonderfully, along with all those other toxic heavy metals…

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J Thomas 09.01.14 at 3:29 pm

Plutonium doesn’t occur in nature to more than a trivial degree. What we have to worry about is *Uranium* running out.

Sure, and it makes far more sense to run plutonium reactors than U235 ones. But that’s a side issue.

Research in Japan has already demonstrated the capacity to extract Uranium from seawater at a feasible EROI. (22, without assuming use of breeder reactors.)

Well, not yet. But it might happen some day, particularly if the price of uranium (and so the price of electricity) stays very high.

I expect these methods will be useful for purifying uranium from any source, but not particularly for extraction from seawater. About the time (or before) people start using it on a large scale, they will discover things in seawater that eat their adsorbents and their costs will go up. Also things that adsorb and grow living off whatever they find in seawater, so the concentration will not be nearly as much as hoped.

It’s possible the various problems will be worked out eventually. We can get enough uranium and thorium to last us for awhile without using seawater, and that would give time to find better extraction methods. But half a dozen big accidents might be enough to persuade us not to.

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Thornton Hall 09.02.14 at 6:24 am

Isn’t it the case that if you don’t distinguish between consumption and investment the notion of “costs” disappears? I’m not an economist, but it seems like, at bottom, the distinction between the two is just religion (Reaganist free-market religion).

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Bruce Wilder 09.02.14 at 8:23 am

No, the concept of cost does not depend on or imply the concept of distinguishing consumption from investment.

Cost is an aspect or consequence of choice. Costs only exist in the context of choice or decision; at base, if you choose to eat your cake, you cannot also continue to have your cake — the cost of eating your cake, is that you no longer have your cake. It is as mundane and plain as that.

We confuse cost with price sometimes, or with expense, but that’s just because we are so used to having the scoring mechanism of money, with which to calculate cost.

I think it is the concept of investment that becomes a bit mystical and gives economics something of the quality of religion. Investment implies that one can sacrifice present consumption for consumption in the future, and possibly increased production in the future. The idea of prudent hoarding and the idea of sacrifice is written deeply into the dna of human social behavior, and call forth powerful, limbic responses. The concept of capital investment adds to that a bit of magic. Capital investment implies that one can get something for nothing, that one can conjure not just delaying consumption by investing, but increased production: one can plant a seed in a field, cultivate the field, the seed grows into a plant, and the plant yields a great harvest. You put one rabbit into the hat, and three rabbits come out of the hat.

The association of investment with the virtue of thrift, with sacrifice to appease the divine, and magic, is bad enough, but investment also involves the future and forecasting the future, the realm of fortune tellers and diviners. The mathematics of intertemporal optimization and of probability and risk are difficult enough to be mesmerizing. It shouldn’t be surprising that it becomes more a bit mystical and religious. Priests have been reading the omens and appeasing the gods with calls for sacrifice, prophets have prescribed redemptive virtue, for millenia.

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Ogden Wernstrom 09.02.14 at 5:16 pm

I wonder how the culture of science denial would deal with an outbreak of a disease that kills almost all victims within a few days, is easily transmitted by contact but not in airborne form, and whose victims’ bodies are not returned to families due to the remaining risk of infection….

Would it be denounced as a government conspiracy, a fake disease as a cover story for some horrible practice that is really going on behind closed doors?

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Thornton Hall 09.02.14 at 8:05 pm

@Bruce What I’m trying to figure out is how economists describe a future where a power company uses it’s money to buy a transformer or whatever vs. being forced to use their money to buy solar panels. It seems like the latter path is considered a “cost” because of free market religion, even though it’s just taking money from GE and giving that same money to Solar R Us (or whatever). Either way it’s money used to buy something produced in a factory, either way it’s spending that employs people in productive activity.

To be fair, the actual comparison seems to be the choice between stock dividends or solar panels. But isn’t it just free market religion that says the dividends ultimately grow GDP more than the buying of solar panels?

Then there’s the problem of asset bubbles. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why even Dean Baker seems to think central banks have something to do with bubbles. Why not blame choices like dividends instead of solar panels? The former puts money in the hands of people who already own too many goods and have nothing left to buy but more assets, thus bidding up their price. The latter puts money in the hands of workers who buy food.

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John Quiggin 09.02.14 at 8:20 pm

@Peter Dorman
The big capital stock items that need to be replaced are
* Fossil-fuel power stations
* Transport equipment (cars, planes etc)
* Energy-inefficient household and service sector goods
* Heavy industrial plants
Essentially the entire capital stock needs to be replaced by 2050 anyway, much of it well before that. So the carbon budget issue raises the point that this process needs to be accelerated in some cases.

Still, there are no obvious deal breakers here. Coal-fired power stations can be (and are being) converted to gas rapidly, and can ultimately replaced by renewables. The car fleet has an average life of 10-15 years, and is already (in the US) being subject to greatly tightened efficiency requirements. Lighting (the paradigmatic case of energy-inefficiency) is just about done already, thanks to the War on Bulbs. And so on.

All the processes I’ve described are are happening in an environment where only low-cost or negative-cost options are being pursued. Obviously we need to do more, but there’s no reason to suppose that 5 per cent of national income every year (taken out of a growing total) wouldn’t cover the costs.

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john c. halasz 09.02.14 at 8:22 pm

B.W.:

You might be interested in the following erudite post:

http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.com/

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Thornton Hall 09.02.14 at 8:36 pm

@461 Am I the only one for whom the following sounds like self-parody?

All the processes I’ve described are are happening in an environment where only low-cost or negative-cost options are being pursued. Obviously we need to do more, but there’s no reason to suppose that 5 per cent of national income every year (taken out of a growing total) wouldn’t cover the costs.

Ignore for a moment the way “good idea” gets translated as “negative cost option”. What does it mean to “cover the costs” with “5 percent of national income”? Is the buying and selling of solar panels not part of “national income”? The only way out of the circularity seems to be the idea that “the costs” would otherwise be spent in something better. The obvious double questions is: how can you predict the future and who are you to judge what’s better?

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Brett Bellmore 09.02.14 at 9:15 pm

Well, obviously people, every day, have to make decisions about what is a “better” or “worse” way of spending their time, money, and efforts. This is unavoidable.

Mandates can either permit people to act on their own decisions, or compel them to act contrary to those decisions. Now, maybe people are generally inclined to make bad decisions, such that mandates could improve their welfare by compelling better ones. But, if we assume that people have this general tendency to make bad decisions, you have to explain why the people empowered to enact mandates are somehow exempt from this tendency, and so not promulgating bad mandates.

Normally we make the contrary assumption, that people are better positioned to make decisions concerning their own lives than they are concerning other people’s lives.

Thus, when a mandate compels somebody to act according to somebody else’s preferences, it is generally viewed as reducing that person’s welfare. Because it is assumed that if a person is better off installing a $25 LED bulb instead of a 50 cent incandescent, they’d do it without being forced to. That’s why mandates are generally regarded as representing costs: Because if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have needed a mandate to make you do it.

And this is the answer to your question: Who am I to judge what’s better? Nobody, if I’m asked about YOUR life. But, if asked about what’s better for my own life, I’m generally regarded as the authority on the subject, and I can appropriately ask, who are YOU to think your judgement is better?

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John Quiggin 09.02.14 at 9:42 pm

@463 I honestly don’t have a clue what you are talking about, but it seems the converse is true, so I’ll try to explain.

Suppose that US national income is $10 trillion a year (not too far off) and that, in order to decarbonize the economy, it is necessary to spend $500 billion a year (every year from now until 2050) replacing coal fired power stations with renewables, converting the car fleet to electric vehicles etc. That’s $500 billion that could otherwise be spent on schools and hospitals, or on restaurant meals or anything else you care to name. More precisely, the resources used to build the power stations etc could be reallocated to other purposes, thereby permitting an increase in the provision of other goods and services. So, on any understanding of the word “cost” of which I’m aware, it’s reasonable to say that decarbonizing the economy costs $500 billion a year, or 5 per cent of national income.

With me so far?

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Matt 09.02.14 at 9:45 pm

Obvious rebuttals to “individual judgment is better than expert judgment”: homeopathic flu prevention, any activity that largely externalizes harms and internalizes benefits, the multitude of cognitive errors that people easily make unless they follow procedures to neutralize those known errors. Why assume that a person doing something apparently irrational has a deeper rational reason for it? Apparently-irrational behavior is often actually-irrational, at least if “rational” is defined in a falsifiable manner. I can’t tell whether or not cooking meat with milk actually angers any supernatural entity or entities.

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MPAVictoria 09.02.14 at 9:49 pm

Shorter Brett Bellmore: I post on Econ blogs, follow the news and have ideological views yet somehow have never heard of externalities. You can’t explain that!

/ Seriously man, your post at 364 is weak.

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Brett Bellmore 09.02.14 at 10:05 pm

More than that, actually. It’s a matter of EROI. You have to spend so many joules to obtain so many joules.

If you have an energy source with a high EROI, almost all of the energy you collect gets used for other things. If you have a really low EROI, almost all of the energy you collect gets used just extracting more energy, with the fraction usable for other purposes fairly low. EROI can be less than 1, in which case every joule you extract actually represents a net energy cost. (But can still be useful, if you spend inconvenient energy to get convenient energy. Batteries have EROI below 1, but they’re still useful.)

Coal has a high EROI. A really, really high EROI. Like, 80 or so. Only 1.3% of the energy you get mining coal has to be spent mining more coal. Almost all of your energy in a coal based economy can be spent on something other than mining coal. Nuclear isn’t as high as coal, but if you’re using current technology, its in the 50-60 range. Still pretty decent, the energy you have to spend to get your nuclear energy is chump change.

Corn ethanol is estimated to have an EROI of about 1.3. (Biodiesel, about the same.) 77% of the energy you get from it has to be spent producing it. An economy run on corn ethanol would be mostly devoted to growing and fermenting corn, with every other economic activity together being a small fraction of the economy.

Another way of putting it is, suppose your car runs on biodiesel. You’re burning 77% of your fuel before you turn the ignition!

Most ‘renewable’ sources of energy have fairly low EROI. Wind, if you build it where the wind actually blows? 18. Photovoltaic? 7. A large fraction of the energy you get from these sources has to be devoted to keeping them running, and is unusable for other purposes.

As EROI falls, energy production becomes an ever larger fraction of the economy, with all the stuff people wanted the energy for relegated to second place. Everybody gets poorer.

It’s kind of like breathing, really. If you’ve got unobstructed air passages, and good air, breathing uses only a tiny fraction of your efforts, and you can almost completely ignore it, and go about doing other things. If somebody duct tapes your mouth shut, and you’ve got a sinus infection going, you’re not going to be running any marathons; The only thing you’ll have energy for is desperately trying to draw your next breath.

Really, renewable energy, (Except for hydro, which comes in a a remarkable 100!) is the energy equivalent of strangling somebody, allowing them barely enough air to avoid dying.

Cost? You bet there’s cost.

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john c. halasz 09.02.14 at 10:07 pm

JQ @465:

I have plenty of differences with you, but it’s clear to me that Thorton Hall has no clue as to what he is talking about. There is plenty of difference between criticisms of economics, mainstream or otherwise, and having no idea what that domain of thinking/understanding is about.

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Brett Bellmore 09.02.14 at 10:09 pm

“Shorter Brett Bellmore: I post on Econ blogs, follow the news and have ideological views yet somehow have never heard of externalities. “

Yeah, you can make anybody sound stupid, by condensing what they say into something they never would have said, and assuming they’re oblivious to anything they happened to not mention.

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MPAVictoria 09.02.14 at 10:12 pm

Brett no one is “making” you sound stupid.

How do you propose we deal with externalities?

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Brett Bellmore 09.02.14 at 10:15 pm

“Why assume that a person doing something apparently irrational has a deeper rational reason for it? “

Why assume the contrary, without bothering to ask them? Because you automatically assume that anyone who doesn’t do what you’d tell them to do is an idiot?

When I built my home back in ’98, I put compact florescents everywhere in the house, except the closets, attic, and porch. Why? Because those lights either weren’t on enough to every save in energy the extra cost of the more efficient bulbs, or were out in freezing temperatures much of the year, where a compact florescent might not light up for minutes after you hit the switch.

But if you’d seen me at Home Depot picking up a box of incandescents, what would you have seen? A moron who didn’t know better. Because if the reason somebody does something isn’t immediately obvious to you, you just assume they’re a moron, rather than that you’re ignorant.

I don’t assume that people are always making the right decision concerning things in their own lives. But I do assume they probably know more about their lives than I do, and so I need some proof they’re making the wrong decision, before I’d even think about interfering.

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Barry Freed 09.02.14 at 10:20 pm

@MPAVictoria / Seriously man, your post at 364 is weak.

FYI there is no longer a Brett Bellmore post at #364. Given that almost every single Brett Bellmore post I have ever read is weak I have no idea which one you intend to single out here. Please clarify.

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J Thomas 09.02.14 at 10:24 pm

Then there’s the problem of asset bubbles. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why even Dean Baker seems to think central banks have something to do with bubbles.

A central bank can “stimulate” the economy by injecting more money into it. Vaguely like stimulating a circulatory system with amphetamines.

If you stimulate your body with amphetamines too long, after awhile you just plain can’t keep up. You have to slow down, and you feel terrible when you do. That’s kind of like a recession after a bubble.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You could wake up in the morning and get wide awake with a nice cup of coffee. Maybe drink a couple more. Then work hard and get your work done, and get a nice, restful sleep. You don’t have to get overstimulated. But when you do, that’s like a bubble.

Why not blame choices like dividends instead of solar panels?

Because central banks don’t get to make that kind of choice. They can only decide whether to apply a stimulant, or a sedative, or neither one. And they don’t particularly get to decide whether applying a stimulant will result in more solar panels or not. They can’t particularly predict whether it will have that result. But it’s pretty clear that applying a strong sedative will result in less solar panels.

Decisions made at that level don’t have the kind of effects we’re looking for. It’s like trying to do open-heart surgery with a baseball bat.

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bob mcmanus 09.02.14 at 10:27 pm

465:That’s $500 billion that could otherwise be spent on schools and hospitals, or on restaurant meals or anything else you care to name.

I don’t get it either. It is not as if you are burying 500 billion in the ground or burning 100 dollar bills. The “costs” of decarbonizing the economy will be spent on commodities and labour, will circulate, and probably have a positive multiplier.

I don’t even like the discussion of “efficiencies.” We are usually talking about changes in distribution, sectoral spending, etc and some will gain and some will lose. GDP might decline, but the benefits of public goods, gov’t capital, and public investment are usually wildly underestimated in mainstream economics anyway. What is the GDP of a city park?

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MPAVictoria 09.02.14 at 10:31 pm

Oops. I meant Brett’s post at 464.

Thank you Barry.

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Bruce Wilder 09.02.14 at 10:31 pm

Thornton Hall @ 460: What I’m trying to figure out is how economists describe a future where a power company uses it’s money to buy a transformer or whatever vs. being forced to use their money to buy solar panels.

@ 461: Am I the only one for whom the following sounds like self-parody?

The vision is something like this: a power company is making a choice, based on carefully calculated particulars and carefully estimated expectations, given the array of prices, including interest rates, cost of capital, price of coal, price of solar panels, regulatory arcana, etc. The “profit-maximizing” power company makes a rational choice, where expected revenues and expected expenses are carefully balanced and hedged with regard to risk, and that private choice maps, in effect, to a cost-benefit analysis, but with some bias, because of (social?) costs omitted from some of the prices. A public policy intervention is designed to correct the bias, by adding weight to the expenses, in order to better reflect the full social costs. The public policymaker is putting a thumb on the balance of the power company’s scale, on the expense (cost) side, and by doing so, is “correcting” the bias of the power company’s decision-making regarding private revenues and expenses, relative to the “true” cost-benefit.

Additional costs imply in this parable of supply-and-demand governed by diminishing returns, lower output. The rational power company weighing additional costs will tend to choose to produce less power and will end up charging a higher price for that power, so the power company’s future customers, facing a marginally higher price for power, will consume less power, and substitute away from the consumption of electric power. Since the consumers of electric power were themselves engaged in rational balancing acts of their own, placing the public policy thumb on their scale, will tend to result in less stuff being produced.

This story really is a parable, in the sense of illuminating a moral stance. The “quantities” involved are not real, measurable magnitudes, related to actual processes and mechanisms in the economy. It’s more of a qualitative assertion to the effect that an optimal path would be a small deviation from the current path.

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J Thomas 09.02.14 at 10:41 pm

Suppose that US national income is $10 trillion a year (not too far off) and that, in order to decarbonize the economy, it is necessary to spend $500 billion a year (every year from now until 2050) replacing coal fired power stations with renewables, converting the car fleet to electric vehicles etc. That’s $500 billion that could otherwise be spent on schools and hospitals, or on restaurant meals or anything else you care to name.

But converting the cars to electric vehicles has a payoff as soon as the electricity prices fall below the gasoline prices. From that time on, they aren’t a cost but a benefit. That will happen when oil starts to get expensive, which it surely will before 2050. We won’t have today’s cheap oil forever.

In the short run it’s cheaper to run electric generators off fossil fuels — that’s why we do it. There’s a question whether there’s a value in leaving some of that coal in the ground, unburned, forever. If it costs us in climate change, the extra coal we burn to run our air conditioning at 68 instead of 72 will cost us quite a lot in the long run. But that doesn’t have to be paid today. Today it’s cheaper to burn the coal and put part of the cost onto the charge card for future generations to pay. So this is a cost we might choose to pay, that may not get a visible payoff by 2050.

But every middle east war we don’t start before 2050 because we don’t need the oil, is a benefit that subtracts from our guesstimated $500 billion/year. There could be various early payoffs that reduce the cost burden. If the new light bulbs pay off within 8 years, they are a profit from then on. Etc.

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Brett Bellmore 09.02.14 at 10:49 pm

” A public policy intervention is designed to correct the bias, by adding weight to the expenses, in order to better reflect the full social costs.”

Well, theoretically, anyway. Assuming the people making public policy actually do have a better take on the total costs, rather than just implementing somebody else’s bias.

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Collin Street 09.02.14 at 10:49 pm

But, if we assume that people have this general tendency to make bad decisions, you have to explain why the people empowered to enact mandates are somehow exempt from this tendency, and so not promulgating bad mandates.

Democracy works precisely because people have a general tendency to make good decisions.

Toy example. The chances of rolling a six on one die is one-in-six. If you roll five dice and average them… to get a six average you need to roll five sixes, one in 15625.

But the _average_ result of “five dice averaged” is the same as the _average_ result for “one die”: 3.5. I’m not going to draw a custom graph, but here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Comparison_standard_deviations.svg

The six dice averaged resembles the red curve, the one die rolled resembles the blue curve.

So. If we’re in a situation where rolling one-to-five is OK and rolling a six kills a puppy ["people generally make good decisions"]… well, the average is 3.5, yes, either way. On _average_ both cases are OK. But… rolling one dice gives you a one-in-five chance of dead puppy, and rolling five dice and averaging — or, equivalently, getting five people to roll one die each and averaging — gets you a one in 15625 chance of dead puppy. Which is, you know, better.

Thus, we pool decisions to emphasise the “on average fairly good” decision making ability of humans and minimise “but there’s a lot of variation and error”. The collective/pooled decision is the same as the average of the individual decisions, but there’s vastly reduced chances of horrible bad outcomes.

You see?

[Brett: there is nothing wrong with being bad at things. I am bad at many things, some of which I enjoy greatly and partake in regularly.]

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John Quiggin 09.02.14 at 10:56 pm

@478 All of those points are valid. But you are getting ahead of the argument. Neither Thornton Hall nor Bob McManus understands the concept of cost.

Replying to Bob: you have it precisely backwards. Burning $100 bills has zero cost for the US economy (except for some green paper). The Fed can print as many of them as it wants.

Hiring workers to convert power plants from coal to gas instead of, say, building houses or schools, has a real cost (the foregone houses and schools), and that’s true even in the presence of multiplier effects (unless, for some reason, these effects are greater for the first use).

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J Thomas 09.02.14 at 10:58 pm

Mandates can either permit people to act on their own decisions, or compel them to act contrary to those decisions. Now, maybe people are generally inclined to make bad decisions, such that mandates could improve their welfare by compelling better ones.

Wait a minute! People might be inclined to make decisions that benefit themselves at everybody else’s expense. Then if they are forced not to do that, everybody else is better off.

There are people who assume that if, say, oil industry executives make the decisions which are better for them personally, it will automatically be better for everybody else too. This looks obviously stupid, but sometimes economic realities are counter-intuitive we shouldn’t decide it’s true or false until we see the evidence.

The evidence says it’s wrong more often than not.

Well, there’s another argument. If oil company executives do what’s best for them personally at our expense, they wouldn’t get to do that except the company owners let them. The owners should have the right to do whatever they want with their own property. Nobody else should get any say in it. It isn’t any of your business how the oil industry runs, only the owners should have any say. What, you say that your livelihood depends on what the oil industry does? That was stupid of you, wasn’t it? If you don’t completely trust them to do what’s good for you, you better go rebuild your life so that you don’t depend on oil. Because you don’t deserve any say whatsoever in how the oil markets work.

This is obviously stupid too. But it’s a stupid moral argument, and not a stupid economic argument.

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Matt 09.02.14 at 10:59 pm

@Brett Bellmore: putting incandescent bulbs instead of CFLs in attics and areas exposed to temperature extremes is rational. But before lighting efficiency was at all regulated we had the data to tell if people were only putting incandescent bulbs in those places that make sense. They weren’t. Bulbs were being used by the millions in places where they were neither operated just a few hours per year nor exposed to temperature extremes. You can pick individual cases where individuals could make better choices than a broad rule, but in the aggregate the mandate for more efficient lighting approaches optimality more closely than individual choice. This is similar to how there may be minority cases where vehicles are equally safe or even less safe with airbags installed, but left up to individual choice the aggregate result of no airbag mandate would be more morbidity and mortality.

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bob mcmanus 09.02.14 at 11:01 pm

Bah. DKos posted a series with a short-term plan to decarbonize ten years ago. And it died there. We could do it in 5-10 years, it would be exciting and fun.

Don’t care about the technology, the new Groves and Oppenheimer will design and produce it.

Don’t care about the economy, it will be and do whatever the new Galbraith, Keynes and Kalecki command it to be and do.

I do care about the politics and no longer believe that liberals and democracy will ever get us even started before we burn alive. 480 comments:have we made the Kochs irrelevant yet?

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Brett Bellmore 09.02.14 at 11:06 pm

But you didn’t just mandate the new bulbs for where they made sense, did you? Didn’t much try educating people, either, as I recall. You just made incandescents really hard to get, and they became hard to get for where they made sense, too. You replaced on sub-optimal decision with a different sub-optimal decision.

Only it was your decision, so you were cool with that.

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J Thomas 09.02.14 at 11:10 pm

#475 Bob Mcmanus

The “costs” of decarbonizing the economy will be spent on commodities and labour, will circulate, and probably have a positive multiplier.

Good! You’re making a macro argument.

Suppose we have a lot of unemployment, and then we decide to build extra stuff using the unemployed people. We don’t have to give up anything else we’re already making to do it due to labor shortages, unless we do so much extra that we get a labor shortage. So the labor costs are essentially zero. That labor would have been wasted otherwise.

Suppose we build the extra stuff out of steel, and without making the extra steel our steel plants have a lot of surplus capacity. We can make all the steel we were going to make anyway for other purposes, and we can also make extra steel for the new projects. The steel costs are kind of zero. What we lose is the opportunity cost of leaving the ore in the ground to mine later. Later ore will be a little harder to extract because we took the best stuff first.

Suppose we use extra coal that we otherwise wouldn’t have used. We have plenty of coal. But we have to burn extra. That will cost us in climate change. We would be better off to leave the coal in the ground, unless the new projects are worth the climate-change cost.

It’s hard to estimate costs this way. But we need to do it, or we can’t guess what’s worth doing.

I don’t even like the discussion of “efficiencies.” We are usually talking about changes in distribution, sectoral spending, etc and some will gain and some will lose. GDP might decline, but the benefits of public goods, gov’t capital, and public investment are usually wildly underestimated in mainstream economics anyway. What is the GDP of a city park?

The value of such things is not measured. We could estimate the value of city parks by charging admission, but we don’t. Just as well.

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MPAVictoria 09.02.14 at 11:11 pm

So basically bob wants to be appointed dictator… A bobacracy if you will.

So much about your posts here are now starting to make sense.

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Peter Dorman 09.02.14 at 11:30 pm

JQ: To be clear, I honestly don’t claim to know how much of the capital stock, and what portions, would be rendered uneconomic if there were a dramatic change in fossil fuel prices. Obviously much depends on how rapidly and to what extent we can bring online substitute technologies that minimize secondary effects.

Here’s an example. Suppose for the sake of discussion there is no viable way to operate automobiles at scale if gasoline rises quickly to, say, $20/gallon ($5/liter) with corresponding increases in other fossil fuels. That is, electric alternatives are also too expensive due to the difficulty of expanding or even sustaining current levels of electricity output, and sufficiently offsetting fuel efficiency gains are not attainable. I am not predicting this (and I hope it’s not true), just using it as a hypothetical.

In such a case it is not only car producers who would experience capital losses. Much of the housing stock in the US depends for its value on widespread automobility. Many business facilities depend on auto commuting for the availability of their workforce. My own college would probably face a diminished catchment area for its student population. You could go on and on, speculating on investments made in the past under the supposition of continued low fuel costs that could be called into question.

Now this is probably unrealistic. We will most likely see some substitution in personal transportation that will avert these extreme outcomes, and rapid expansion of public transportation could fill some of the gaps. But I think it would be too optimistic to expect seamless substitution such that there are no impacts on the capital stock outside the transportation sector itself. What we ought to have are analyses that provide a range of possible outcomes associated with different substitution scenarios.

My understanding, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that economists typically assume normal amortization of existing capital investments, such that economic costs arise only on replacement. I think this is extremely optimistic.

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Matt 09.02.14 at 11:31 pm

Mandating certain levels of lighting efficiency replaced a sub-optimal scenario with a more optimal though not perfectly optimal scenario. Some choices are roughly equally suboptimal and there’s no benefit from switching, e.g. whether to drive on the left side or right side of the road. This isn’t one of them. It’s a systematic improvement partially offset by rarer individual degressions.

Education was tried and found wanting for years before efficiency was legislated. I’m sure that you would be among the first to object if efficiency mandates were replaced by light bulb inspectors checking everywhere for inefficient use of incandescent lights. I would be right behind you in objecting, for that matter. That’s even neglecting the absurd inefficiency of inspecting millions of individual bulb installations.

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Thornton Hall 09.02.14 at 11:33 pm

@481 well sure, if you get to stipulate what all the words mean, then (surprise, surprise) your conclusions follow deductively from your premises.

But when you write in the popular press, and I take it that Australia’s “Inside Story” is not an academic journal, your words mean what they are popularly determined to mean. A cost is money I don’t have anymore in exchange for something I want. But that is not how you are using it. In your technical use, a cost is something **I still have** in exchange for something I want!!! Because the “cost” doesn’t leave the economy!

Now, I have lots of reasons why the technical use of the word is utterly meaningless, b/c, as Bruce spells out, the set of presuppositions is insane, but that’s not the specific point. The very fine point here is that the academic meaning of “cost” is value neutral in a way that no non-economist understands. But the person who doesn’t understand the word is not me.

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bob mcmanus 09.02.14 at 11:47 pm

487: so MPAV consciously wants 5 billion or so people to die for the sake of her/his aesthetic preferences

Thing is I don’t want people to die and I really do believe you would rather they did if it meant declaring a state of exception, a command economy, and an temporary authoritarian gov’t

I not only believe it, I expect it. I saw it in Iraq. Bush won fair and square, so he gets to murder a million. Liberals.

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Thornton Hall 09.02.14 at 11:53 pm

@484 I think the way to defeat the Koch’s is better understood as the battle against Pete Peterson. It’s his money that funds all the go to high Broderist nonsense about the need for a grand bargain to solve the non-existent entitlement crisis. In the battle of billionaires, Soros is right, Peterson is Conventional Wisdom and the Koch’s are “conservative”. Kill the Neoclassical model maker with their language of efficiency and rationality, and then Peterson ceases to be wisdom and the Kochs go out the Overton window where they can rot with Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson in the dustbin of anti-government haters.

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Thornton Hall 09.02.14 at 11:55 pm

Neoclassical Economics, to me, is the proposition that if you know what you need to buy and you know you have the money to buy it, you still don’t know if you should spend the money on what you need until you have modeled the consequences.

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 12:00 am

@Thornton Hall OK, we seem to be agreed. From now on, please assume that when I write “cost” I mean the definition I’ve given (feel free to mentally substitute “silly economist’s definition of cost” if that helps you). That will save a lot of argument.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 12:02 am

@JQ By the by… Com’on, you get that it’s weird to label certain exchanges of money “costs” but not others, right? I mean, Lars Syll put your book on a Top 20 Heterodox reading list, so you can back out of the paradigm and look in, at least just to see that I’m not a moron, right?

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 12:05 am

@494 Really? That’s what this leads to? You’re gonna use a technical term in a highly technical way in an article about how the mass of humanity (99.9% non-economists) won’t do what you think they should do? And I’m the one who doesn’t get it?

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Val 09.03.14 at 12:08 am

@468
Been lurking, but have to note this moment.

Man uses metaphor about breathing in attempt to justify burning more coal.

Now I’ve really seen it all.

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Ze Kraggash 09.03.14 at 12:10 am

“Suppose we have a lot of unemployment, and then we decide to build extra stuff using the unemployed people.”

This isn’t right. If you have a lot of unemployed people, then you could (theoretically) share the total amount of work between them and reduce the lenght of standard work-week for everybody. And then if you add some more work (decarbonizing or whatever), you have to increase the length of their work-week. They probably won’t like that, unless you can convince them that it is useful to them.

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Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 12:17 am

“Man uses metaphor about breathing in attempt to justify burning more coal.”

Technically, man uses metaphor about breathing in attempt to justify building nuclear power plants instead of burning corn in cars. I HATE coal. It’s terrible stuff, with one glaring exception: It’s got a great EROI, which is why starting to use it goosed the industrial revolution into high gear.

But your average grade of coal has more nuclear energy in it than chemical, and even saddled with irrational restrictions on reprocessing, nuclear’s got a great EROI. It’s just the thing to replace coal, if ‘environmentalists’ weren’t so commonly wacked out luddites.

500

MPAVictoria 09.03.14 at 12:17 am

Yes Bob, the reason I oppose appointing you dictator of the world is that I want to kill 5 billion people.

/I am also the person who canceled Firefly, directed the fourth Indiana Jones movie and killed the electric car.
// If you were not a crank I would point out that it has been the democratic nations that have made the most progress in protecting the environment and that dictatorships tend to be horribly polluted because they could give a shit about the people living with the toxic waste.

501

John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 12:27 am

Similarly, I’ll bear in mind your definition of “neoclassical economics” and interpret your comments in that light.

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bob mcmanus 09.03.14 at 12:28 am

“democratic nations” outsource both their pollution and their authoritarianism

I stand by my statement: you know you are going to let five billion people die for your freedom and narcissism…

…and then say “It’s not my fault! Damn Republicans. Not. My. Fault. I’m still pretty.”

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 12:30 am

“And I’m the one who doesn’t get it?”

Afraid so.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 12:31 am

As a temp attorney, I spent three years doing document review. When a big company is getting sued they send their email inboxes to lawyers before it goes to the other side in discovery. Having seen how executives of massively successful companies and banks spend their days, and having worked in Congress, I can honestly tell you that the average decision making process is equally rational. That’s one of the reasons why the language of mainstream economics so frequently sounds like self-parody to me.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 12:40 am

@501. I keep posting in these threads waiting for SWL or you or Noah Smith to explain why I’m wrong. All have graciously taken the time to say I’m wrong, but all have stopped short of saying why. In this particular case, the answer would explain why it is not the case that
A. Using the word “cost” to mean “money put to productive use and not in any way lost to society or the economy” does not give rhetorical power to the enemies of good;
B. The whole exercise of predicting future costs is based on the notion that economists can predict the course of future human creativity, and predict it with precision.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe both A and B are false characterization of Neoclassical Economics. I’d love to believe that.

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floopmeister 09.03.14 at 12:41 am

…nuclear’s got a great EROI. It’s just the thing to replace coal, if ‘environmentalists’ weren’t so commonly wacked out luddites.

As with all calculations of EROI it’s about what you choose to include as an external costs of using that energy source.

Factoring in the cost of disposing of the fuel seriously crimps that EROI. My advice would be read some of Tainter’s work on the declining returns of investments in complexity – the massive support infrastructure around nuclear (again primarily dealing with the spent fuel and the safety concerns) undercuts the rosy EROI put out by the industry.

But then don’t let a wacked out luddite like me hash your ‘big government energy*’ mellow.

* Unless you want to argue for small scale reactors in every self-organising community?

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MPAVictoria 09.03.14 at 12:41 am

Of course you stand by your statement bob. That’s what cranks do!

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 12:43 am

PS Lars gives you a shout out in post 2., listed. The other 19 might give you some idea of where I get this nonsense.

Lars Syll, the Scandanavian who knows you need Tycho Brahe before Kepler and Newton.
http://larspsyll.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/top-10-blog-posts-2/

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floopmeister 09.03.14 at 12:55 am

B. The whole exercise of predicting future costs is based on the notion that economists can predict the course of future human creativity, and predict it with precision.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe both A and B are false characterization of Neoclassical Economics

Well, Hayek at least would have agreed with you:

“It has led to the illusion, however, that we can use this technique for the determination and prediction of the numerical values of those magnitudes; and this has led to a vain search for quantitative or numerical constants. This happened in spite of the fact that the modern founders of mathematical economics had no such illusions… the mathematical price, depended on so many particular circumstances that it could never be known to man but was known only to God. I sometimes wish that our mathematical economists would take this to heart.”
Hayek, F. (2008) The Pretense of Knowledge, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, Auburn, p41-2

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ZM 09.03.14 at 1:18 am

John Quiggin,

“Obviously we need to do more, but there’s no reason to suppose that 5 per cent of national income every year (taken out of a growing total) wouldn’t cover the costs.”

Transforming physical environments and buildings to be sustainable and not emit ghg within 25yrs is quite a big task – and we need to mostly replace cars with walking and cycling and public transport, accordingly redesign for less travel to education and work, entirely do away with planes except for emergency purposes like flying doctors and sea rescuing , change farming and waste practices, and reforest – but I have already gone into all this in other comments.

I would now like to take issue with the statement ‘taken out of a growing total’. You can’t just expect growth can continue indefinitely, this is unscientific!

Professor Graham Turner has just published another article (for MSSI instead of the CSIRO this time) looking at The Limits to Growth and how it’s scenarios are tracking with the historical reality since it was published in 1972.

“Nevertheless, the overriding proximate cause of the GFC is evidently financial: excessive levels of debt (relative to gross domestic product (GDP), or more accurately, the actual capacity of the real economy to pay back the debt) (Keen, 2009). Such financial dynamics were not incorporated in the LTG modelling. Das (2011) highlights correlated defaults in high-risk debts, such as sub-prime hous- ing mortgages, as a key trigger of the GFC.The financial models used did not properly account for a high number of defaults occurring simultaneously, being based on statistical analysis from earlier periods which suggest less correlation in defaults. Correlation may be caused by specific aspects of the financial instruments created recently, including for example, adjustments upward in inter- est rates of sub-prime mortgages after an initial “teaser” period of negligible interest rates. Even so, some spread in defaults would be expected in this case.Alternatively, another potential factor could be the price increases in oil and related commodities, which would be experienced by all house- holds simultaneously (but with a disproportionate impact on large numbers of households with low discretionary income) and hence cause the coordinated debt defaults.

Regardless of what role oil constraints and price increases played in the current GFC, a final con- sideration is whether there is scope of a successful transition to alternative transport fuel(s) and renewable energy more generally. Due to the GFC, there may be a lack of credit for funding any coordinated (or spontaneous) transition (Fantazzini et al., 2011). And economic recovery may be interrupted, repeatedly, by increased oil prices associated with any recovery. Additionally, even if a transition is initiated it may take about two decades to properly implement the change over to a new vehicle fleet and distribution infrastructure (Hirsch, 2008, Hirsch et al., 2005).To transition requires introducing a new transport fuel to compensate for possible oil production depletion rates of four per cent (or higher) while also satisfying any additional demand associated with economic growth. It is unclear that these various conditions required for a transition are possible.”

“Unfortunately, scientific evidence of severe environmental or natural resource problems has been met with considerable resistance from powerful societal forces, as the long history of the LTG and international UN initiatives on environmental/climate-change issues clearly demonstrate. Somewhat ironically, the apparent corroboration here of the LTG BAU implies that the scientific and public attention given to climate change, whilst tremendously important in its own right, may have del- eteriously distracted from the issue of resource constraints, particularly that of oil supply. Indeed,
if global collapse occurs as in this LTG scenario then pollution impacts will naturally be resolved— though not in any ideal sense! A challenging lesson from the LTG scenarios is that global environ- mental issues are typically intertwined and should not be treated as isolated problems.Another lesson is the importance of taking pre-emptive action well ahead of problems becoming entrenched. Regrettably, the alignment of data trends with the LTG dynamics indicates that the early stages of collapse could occur within a decade, or might even be underway.This suggests, from a rational risk- based perspective, that we have squandered the past decades, and that preparing for a collapsing global system could be even more important than trying to avoid collapse.”

Turner, G. (2014) ‘Is Global Collapse Imminent?’, MSSI Research Paper No. 4, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute,The University of Melbourne.

http://www.sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/files/mssi/MSSI-ResearchPaper-4_Turner_2014.pdf

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 1:54 am

@ZM The financial crisis, at least, is a red herring that can be dispensed with here. It’s no different from the crises that have shaken the capitalist economy ever since it emerged in the 19th century. Sadly, the same is true of the policy responses, but that’s another story. The important point is that there’s no significant link between LtG and GFC.

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Bruce Wilder 09.03.14 at 2:09 am

Thornton Hall @ 505: Using the word “cost” to mean “money put to productive use and not in any way lost to society or the economy” [GIVES] rhetorical power to the enemies of good

This assertion doesn’t make much immediate sense to me. Even removing the compound double-negatives doesn’t help to clarify it.

It seems to me, as if it has been deliberately phrased in a way that is likely to provoke a dismissal from an economist, who will immediately suspect a case of money illusion, or some similar confusion.

With considerable sympathy for your point of view, I have to say it makes you sound confused. Maybe because you are confused. Or, it may be that you have a definite and defensible criticism, but the temptation to employ sarcasm and hyperbole has overwhelmed your ability to control your rhetorical expression. (Did I mention the double-negatives?)

Anyway, I offer this as feedback: I want to agree with you, but I don’t understand what you are trying to say.

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 2:17 am

@Thornton Following up, I have to say that you are (maybe along with Bob McM) the only person (economist or otherwise) who has this problem. Lots of people have asserted that the costs of stabilizing the global climate will be much greater than I argue, and a few have said they will be lower, or even negative, but no one else has had any difficulty with the concept that the cost of stabilizing the climate is the value of the resources we will need to devote to the task.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 2:27 am

[...] no one else has had any difficulty with the concept that the cost of stabilizing the climate is the value of the resources we will need to devote to the task.

The opportunity cost of the resources we will need to devote to the task.

Right?

The problem is what we have to give up, that we would do if we didn’t do this.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 2:46 am

#498 Ze Kraggash

“Suppose we have a lot of unemployment, and then we decide to build extra stuff using the unemployed people.”

This isn’t right. If you have a lot of unemployed people, then you could (theoretically) share the total amount of work between them and reduce the lenght of standard work-week for everybody. And then if you add some more work (decarbonizing or whatever), you have to increase the length of their work-week. They probably won’t like that, unless you can convince them that it is useful to them.

That’s an alternative. But if it is an alternative we would not in fact use if we chose not to try to mitigate climate change, then it doesn’t count.

We are not going to reduce the work week for the same pay. If we arrange that 40 million people get to work 30 hours a week part-time to replace 30 million people who used to work full-time, we will not feel happy that 40 million people have jobs and also have an extra 10 hours a week of leisure time.

So, say we put 10 million people who are currently unemployed to work mitigating climate change. The labor costs us nothing because it was being wasted. What costs us is the difference between what they consume when they are employed, versus what they would have consumed being unemployed. All that extra stuff has to be made for them. It will take extra workers to make it and sell it to them. I t will take extra coal and oil etc used up, to make them that stuff. So to put people to work reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, we must burn extra fossil fuels to pay them for that.

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Bruce Wilder 09.03.14 at 4:30 am

JQ @ 513 (09.03.14 at 2:17 am): no one else has had any difficulty with the concept that the cost of stabilizing the climate is the value of the resources we will need to devote to the task.

I think lots of people, including some eminent economists, have had considerable difficulty figuring out how one goes about strategically choosing, distinguishing or calculating “the value of the resources we need to devote to the task”. It’s not like there’s a restaurant with a table d’hôte menu, where we can walk in and choose “climate change mitigation” from the prix fixe column.

Both ZM and JQ quoted a paragraph from the 2014 IPCC climate mitigation assessment which went like this:

Most scenario studies collected for this assessment that are based on the assumptions that all countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price applied to well‐functioning markets, and key technologies are available, estimate that reaching 430–480 ppm CO2eq by 2100 would entail global consumption losses of 1% to 4% in 2030, 2% to 6% in 2050, and 2% to 12% in 2100 relative to what would happen without mitigation. These consumption losses do not consider the benefits of mitigation, including the reduction in climate impacts.

To put these losses in context, studies assume increases in consumption from four‐fold to over ten‐fold over the century without mitigation . Costs for maintaining concentrations in the range of 530‐650 ppm CO2eq are estimated to be roughly one‐ third to two‐thirds lower than for associated 430‐530 ppm CO2eq scenarios. Cost estimates from scenarios can vary substantially across regions.

This paragraph — a summary that only a committee of experts could love — is repeated in various summaries and chapters, and so I assume it was carefully considered and vetted. JQ quoted it approvingly, as carrying an indication of the expert consensus concerning the magnitude of costs involved.

Whatever the difference between such stylized projections may represent, I doubt very much that that difference could be defended as a representation consistent with a textbook definition of opportunity cost.

The IPCC discussion in chapters 3 and 6 indicates to me that the foundation of these analyses — or at least the IPCC’s ability to digest and summarize their parameters — rests on some very serious conceptual confusion. If you are worrying about discount rates for investments with a 40-year time horizon, you clearly do not know what a discount rate is for, and should probably seek another line of work. And, if you are projecting a 4x to 10x increase in income over a century, using nothing more analytical than a straightedge, well I’m not sure what to say — that’s a species of insanity.

The point of such analyses ought to be enhanced public understanding, but I’m not sure that is what is accomplished. I don’t blame Thornton Hall for questioning the conventions that stylize the presentation of such estimates in ways that seem designed to prejudice the untutored, public mind.

Nor would I scorn bob mcmanus dismissing the relevance of such scholasticism and mumbo jumbo to practical programs of action.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 4:46 am

And, if you are projecting a 4x to 10x increase in income over a century, using nothing more analytical than a straightedge, well I’m not sure what to say — that’s a species of insanity.

They have to balance it. If they assume an increase in income that’s too low, people will hate them. But if they choose one that’s too high, people will say it’s unrealistic.

Ten times is about as high as they can go and have people accept it’s likely, and 4 times is about as low as they can go and have people think it’s acceptable.

I’m guessing this is not from careful analysis of how the world economy can advance, but from political calculations instead.

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bob mcmanus 09.03.14 at 5:03 am

1) Unshelved my Kalecki books to see if I can understand this. I don’t think in a single period, or in stocks rather than flows, or with static models. Or wages as a cost of production. Wages are a source of production. Gross Profits and investment are functions of aggregate demand Macroeconomics is like ecology, trees use water, water is not a cost to the environment.

2) WWII is my model. There were shifts and changes in production and consumption, but I thought overall the economy didn’t do too bad. I presume very strongly that if we are going green, workers and steel will be moved from making cars to making rails. God no, we should not try to presume decarbonizing while trying to keep the rest of the economy the same and unchanged.

But even that aside

Firms have costs because we isolate a firm from other firms. But when you do macro, I thought you understood that one firm’s expenses are another firm’s sales. The macroeconomy doesn’t have costs. The macroeconomy has politicized distributions.

Of course, there can be real resource constraints and bottlenecks, skilled workers or titanium, that can cause inflation or limit production. We need a surplus to finance imports. Etc.

“fluctuations in production and profits depend on the fluctuations in capitalists’ consumption and investment” …Kalecki

So the only limits on production ( other than those mentioned above) are savings and lack of investment, and gov’t can take care of that under fiat money, virtually without limit.

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 5:10 am

@516 It’s one thing to say there is a lot of uncertainty about the cost of mitigation and another to say (if I could make any sense) that even talking about cost is (a) intellectually incoherent (b) a rhetorical gift to the bad guys.

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bob mcmanus 09.03.14 at 5:12 am

I mean, that’s the thing, are you trying to save the world without changing the world?

Get radical, already.

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 5:13 am

@516 “If you are worrying about discount rates for investments with a 40-year time horizon, you clearly do not know what a discount rate is for, and should probably seek another line of work.”

Say what? This is precisely what discount rates are for. How else are you going to work out whether it makes sense to spend money now to (for example) give an investment project a working life of 40 years instead of 30 or 50?

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 5:16 am

@520 I’m kind of keen on saving the world, however much or little change this may require. YMMV.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 5:33 am

@BW No doubt I am confused. But in do think only an outsider can see these things clearly. There’s a trade-off between getting enough Econ into my head to attack the genuine flaws in a way that’s coherent to practicing economists and putting in so much in the way of investment that I might as well go to work in the magic emperor clothes mill. But that’s definitely hyperbole.

@JQ and bob: I think WWII is great example of how we use the language. People talk about the sacrifices they made for the war effort, but it’s quite rare to hear about the war’s monetary cost in normal conversation. In fact, in the WWII context, “cost” means dead or maimed human being.

And either I am crazy, or that can make intuitive sense to JQ if he lets it.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 5:34 am

That’s “I do think…” not “in do think”

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 5:49 am

I really think that gets at what drives me crazy about this stuff, the use of “cost” to mean “trade off”. Yes, I get that there are trade-offs and that we can count them. But… several things:
1. Counting and predicting are totally different;
2. Debating the quantity predicted is a waste of intellectual energy if there is no evidence that we are good at predicting such things,
3. Non-economists don’t go through life counting trade-offs. Non-economists more or less define life as a series of trade offs. “Life’s a bitch, then you die.” is a cliche because it is true and not very interesting.
4. People who do count trade-offs are insufferable. A normal mother describes sacrifices for children in a general way and that’s annoying in a world where middle class motherhood is a voluntary choice. But mothers who list the sacrifices???? Can you think of anything worse?
5. Part of the Neoclassical religion is the ritual of predicting trade-offs, listing them, and passing moral judgement on a subset of those that are decided on by genuinely democratic processes. The trade off between educating poor people in Ohio and beating Michigan at football is not up for debate in the op-Ed pages of the WSJ. But if a country votes to trade off between sending unearned cash to stock-holders and buying a solar panel, now all of the sudden it’s a matter for Nobel Prize (whatever) winners.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 5:57 am

Weird example. How about: making software that works or being Microsoft. Not an arguably democratic choice like the massive spending on NCAA athletics (which, in any case, is not really a trade off at Ohio State. Division III would make more sense. Does Kenyon play football?)

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 6:02 am

I just proved my own point about language. Talking about the “cost” of anti-climate change action is like talking about the cost of football at Ohio State by just looking at the expenses and not the revenues. Or the expenses and revenues but not the alumni giving. Oh, and also just making up the numbers with no track record of success.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 6:22 am

This is something I know about:

Say what? This is precisely what discount rates are for. How else are you going to work out whether it makes sense to spend money now to (for example) give an investment project a working life of 40 years instead of 30 or 50?

As president of a residential co-op I learned about a little corner of professional rent seeking known as the Engineering Reserve Study. You might think that the best way for a 100 year old organization with impeccable archives (a monument to a century of petty bickering that spans several file cabinets) to figure out what we will spend on furnaces and hot water heaters and roofs and such in the future would be to simply look at how often we have replaced them in the past. Add in some inflation and you get a reserve fund. Easy. But that has the flaw of not employing engineers, accountants, and sophisticated thinking about discount rates.

At the end of the day, the engineer gets two-thousand dollars and the co-op gets a number that very precise about what will happen in 50 years. And yet it has a negative value compared to relying on the archives and applying humility about predictions.

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John Quiggin 09.03.14 at 6:25 am

@523 I agree that monetary cost is not the first thing that would come to mind in relation to World War II, or for that matter in relation to climate change mitigation. Still, Google gives 143 000 hits for “cost of World War II” which suggests that the concept is not alien. FWIW, Wikipedia estimates the financial cost at a trillion dollars worldwide.

And similarly, whatever you might think about it, the idea that costs and revenues are distinct concepts (and that, for a firm, profit = revenues – costs) is perfectly standard, for both economists and non-economists.

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Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 10:03 am

“Factoring in the cost of disposing of the fuel seriously crimps that EROI.”

Heck, factoring in the cost of disposing of all those solar panels would seriously crimp the EROI of photovoltaics, and they don’t start with nearly as much EROI to crimp. Nuclear is actually ahead in THAT game, given that the physical volume of the fuel is so low for the amount of power generated.

Here’s the thing, though: The cost of disposing of nuclear ‘waste’, which you properly characterized as disposing of fuel, is being artificially inflated by the demand that it not be reprocessed or bred. That 98% or more of it’s energy be thrown away. It’s kind of like if you junked the solar panels when they got dirty, instead of dusting them, except that nuclear inherently has such a fantastic EROI, that it has a good one even handicapped that way.

Here’s my argument, in a nutshell: For the reasons I’ve explained, any energy source society is going to rely upon as a main source of energy has to have a high EROI. Or else you’re demanding that most people make collecting that energy their primary occupation, and that the vast majority of mankind be dirt poor. (The efforts to raise the cost of energy? Think that’s unrelated to why the economy is doing so poorly?)

Coal, aside from being filthy, has a high EROI, which is why mankind advanced so far while relying on it: It gave us time to do things other than collect energy. But it is filthy, and needs to be replaced regardless of your views of climate sensitivity. Even if you loved coal, it’s going to run out.

There are only two energy sources around right now that have a high EROI, and are reasonably clean: Hydro and nuclear. Hydro is the ideal, but it’s largely tapped out, and people do have an aversion to drowning large areas of land. That leaves nuclear as the only thing available right now that can take coal’s place.

So, I’ll match your question with another question:

“How can we convince leftwingers to accept nuclear power?”

Because, barring pretty speculative developments, it’s either nuclear, or poverty, and that is obvious enough to decision makers that, if you demand solar panels and windmills instead, they’re going to say, to hell with that, and burn coal.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 12:24 pm

#530 Brett Bellmore

The cost of disposing of nuclear ‘waste’, which you properly characterized as disposing of fuel, is being artificially inflated by the demand that it not be reprocessed or bred. That 98% or more of it’s energy be thrown away.

When you consider that 98+% of the energy is in the plutonium cycle, it doesn’t particularly make sense to bother with the U235 cycle. The only real reason to do that is nonproliferation. But if we’re going to do a whole lot of nuclear power we have to give up on nonproliferation.

And the reason we don’t do much recycling is that it’s very, very dirty. It’s expensive, it gives lots of opportunity for nuclear accidents, and the high-level nuclear waste from it is just as hard to dispose of as the spent fuel was before reprocessing. Since we have so much fuel compared to our needs, it isn’t worth reprocessing (more than once) because reprocessing does not help with the cost of disposing of waste, it only gives us an expensive way to get more fuel to create waste from. That will be useful if we use so much nuclear fuel that we need reprocessing.

Coal, aside from being filthy, has a high EROI, which is why mankind advanced so far while relying on it: It gave us time to do things other than collect energy. But it is filthy, and needs to be replaced regardless of your views of climate sensitivity. Even if you loved coal, it’s going to run out.

Agreed. But nuclear is also filthy. I’d say even more filthy, but it depends a whole lot on the rate of nuclear accidents. Coal increases the background level of radioactivity at a predictable rate, nuclear is less predictable.

As a first attempt, let’s say we will accept no more than one Fukushima-level accident every 20 years. So if we have 1000 times as many reactors as we do now, at a first approximation we need them to be 1000 times as safe. We have new reactor designs that are predicted to be more than 100 times as safe, so that’s a good start. But the new reactors do not have much of a track record. If we build thousands of them and then they don’t turn out to be safe enough, at that point we have a giant problem.

So we need to spend at least 50 years testing them and coming up with safety improvements before we can afford to build enough to be a big help with our energy problems.

Because, barring pretty speculative developments, it’s either nuclear, or poverty, and that is obvious enough to decision makers that, if you demand solar panels and windmills instead, they’re going to say, to hell with that, and burn coal.

Yes, it’s definitely a problem. It takes speculative developments which will take a long time before we can have large-scale nuclear. So barring speculative developments in other alternate fuels, it’s coal or poverty. Predictably we will choose coal. Even if we choose something else, every time we get into a big war we will burn as much coal as it takes to win the war. So, again barring developments which make some alternative energy source cheaper than coal, we will burn coal until it runs out, and then we will be faced with extreme poverty along with climate change. This is the path of least resistance.

But the solar stuff is advancing very fast, and speculatively it might get far enough fast enough.

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Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 2:08 pm

“When you consider that 98+% of the energy is in the plutonium cycle, it doesn’t particularly make sense to bother with the U235 cycle.”

I’m not quite clear on what you mean; You don’t HAVE a plutonum cycle if you’re not bothering with the U235 cycle. Plutonium doesn’t occur naturally, it’s a product of U235 fission reactors.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 3:18 pm

You don’t HAVE a plutonum cycle if you’re not bothering with the U235 cycle. Plutonium doesn’t occur naturally, it’s a product of U235 fission reactors.

Having one U235 reactor might have been the cheapest way to get the first plutonium. But once we have enough plutonium for a reactor, we can make all the plutonium we need in plutonium reactors.

Is it worth separating out the .7% of U235 and the .005% of U234 from the uranium before creating plutonium out of depleted uranium? I dunno. Possibly. They are contaminants that might later complicate the recycling process.

The main reason to pay attention to expensive U235 reactors is nonproliferation. There’s a hundred times as much plutonium and 200 times as much thorium available, that’s easier to process. But we don’t want other nations to have nukes so we want to insist they use the extra-expensive U235 cycle.

But all this is side issue. The important question is, what accident rate is acceptable. I think one Fukushima-size accident in 2o years might be about right, but definitely one per 40 years would be better. But maybe we could still get by with one per 10 years? What do you think?

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Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 4:11 pm

I see, you’re just refering to breeder reactors fueled with U238 as “plutonium” reactors.

What I think is that we should certainly expect modern nuclear plants to be much safer than an old plant that was about due to be decomissioned, like Fukushima. But we should also take note of the fact that essentially all of the casualties from Fukushima were due to the evacuation, not radiation. Which is generally true of most ‘nuclear’ accidents. They’re induced panics that just happen to have nuclear power plants as their pretext.

Coal, of course, is on a usual day to day basis worse than your average nuclear plant having an accident. But anti-nuclear hysteria relies on not judging other power sources by the same standard applied to nuclear.

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Anarcissie 09.03.14 at 4:50 pm

I was told by a Belarusian that there have been thousands of deaths in that country attributable to Chernobyl. Of course most of them don’t die right away, so you can attribute their deaths to other things, like childhood leukemia.

So there seem to be two intractable problems with nuclear power. One is, of course, safe disposal of the waste products. The other is the political problem of convincing people nuclear plants are safe, when they aren’t. The fact that coal releases more radioactive materials than a nuclear plant (when it is not blowing up) is somehow less than heartening.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 4:51 pm

@JQ 529 Thanks. Thanks for the generous response. My more extreme comments about self-parody, etc, are wrong. But I do think there is a legitimate question about how the language of economics frames these debates in a way that always puts a thumb on the scale in favor of government inaction.

One part of that is the deep assumption that the free market is better at growing the economy than govt choices. That assumption is explicit in the study that Paul Krugman described commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce. Yes, it arrives at a low “cost” for Obama climate regs. But where will the technology actually come from? Is govt better or worse than free market innovation?

The US government invented nuclear power and developed fracking.
The most important invention of the 20th Century, the transistor, was invented at Bell Labs, a government created and protected monopoly.
The Internet.

If climate change regs are command and control like the way we ran AT&T in the 20th Century, will the “cost” be the invention of the 21st Century transistor?

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 5:00 pm

@Brett TLDR, but if it makes you feel better, this liberal agrees that most liberals are scared of nuclear power in a way vastly disproportionate to the risks. In their defense, these fears are not crazy (unlike fears of GM crops that rely on confusion about the dangers of eating tomatoes that contain DNA). But politics is the art of the possible. And it simply may not be possible politically to power the world with the force that destroyed Hiroshima in one tragic heartbeat.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 6:06 pm

#534 Brett Bellmore

I see, you’re just refering to breeder reactors fueled with U238 as “plutonium” reactors.

If you mean U235 breeder reactors, then no. There’s nothing to keep us from using plutonium reactors as breeder reactors. Once we have enough plutonium to work with, we don’t need U235 any more for anything. We can use it if we want to, but it probably is not economic to.

What I think is that we should certainly expect modern nuclear plants to be much safer than an old plant that was about due to be decomissioned, like Fukushima.

OK, but if they get more accident-prone as they age, then we are only creating problems for ourselves a decade or three down the road. Anyway, as happens so often, you have been misinformed. Fukushima was not due to be decommissioned. The oldest reactor had just gotten a 10 year extension and they were about to build two more.

But we should also take note of the fact that essentially all of the casualties from Fukushima were due to the evacuation, not radiation.

Is that supposed to be some sort of consolation? If someday we persuade the public that nuclear accidents are harmless and no evacuation is needed, then we can stop chalking up evacuation casualties to nuclear accidents.

Meanwhile consider the monetary costs. The Japanese government has set side 5 trillion yen to compensate the refugees. This is utterly inadequate but it’s something for them. It estimates 5-9 trillion for cleanup and remediation costs, and this is likely to be low.
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/27/national/fukushima-nuclear-crisis-estimated-to-cost-%C2%A511-trillion-study/

No estimate is given for the cost of 300+ square miles of Japan that’s pretty much lost for all human purposes for a very long time. The reason the land area evacuated is so small is that during the crisis the Japanese government changed the maximum dose from 1 mSv to 20 mSv. By the simplest estimates, that’s about an additional 1% chance to get cancer in 20 years, for each of the people near that limit. That isn’t included in the cost either, and there’s reason to expect the rate to be higher since people will be ingesting and concentrating radioactive stuff. No estimate is given for the reduced fishing in Japanese coastal water, or the contaminated fish that will be eaten.

Will there be long-run effects beyond the loss of land? Genetic damage? People who get high radiation exposures don’t pass on mutations — they are sterilized. People with low doses don’t see much effect in their children. Do they get new recessive mutations that will show up later? Do we get a genetic load that will cost us for hundreds of generations? Theory says yes, but we have no way to get experimental evidence quick enough to affect decisions.

Before we build nuclear power plants, we need to establish the target risk, and then persuade ourselves that accidents won’t be worse than that target. I suggest a target of one Fukushima per 20 years. What target do you suggest?

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Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 8:24 pm

“I was told by a Belarusian that there have been thousands of deaths in that country attributable to Chernobyl. “

Surprise, surprise: Authoritarian government builds dangerous reactor without containment, then the operators experiment with it after disabling the safeties. And the result wasn’t good. These were the same people who turned the Aral sea into a desert; Are we supposed to take from that the lesson that irrigation is a recklessly dangerous technology?

“The Japanese government has set side 5 trillion yen to compensate the refugees.”

This is utterly insane, not utterly inadequate. Sure, the Japanese have historical reasons for being a bit irrational when it comes to nuclear energy, but it’s still insane. The Japanese threshold for evacuation is a fortieth the US standard for routine radiation release at nuclear plants. And that standard is too low to be properly grounded in biology.

And, still, Chernobyl killed fewer people than coal does in a typical year. We could have a Chernobyl scale nuclear accident, the worst nuclear accident in history, product of a regime that combined incompetence and an utter disregard for human life, every year, and this would be better than a normal year for coal. Coal is that bad.

It’s hard to describe how much worse than nuclear coal is. 100 deaths per TWH, on average, for coal, including accidents. Nuclear? 0.04 deaths per TWH. Including Chernobyl. Nuclear gets treated like some kind of existential threat to humanity, when has a safety record several times better than any other energy source.

Sure blows out of the water liberals’ claim to be the rational ones.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 9:11 pm

#539

“I was told by a Belarusian that there have been thousands of deaths in that country attributable to Chernobyl. “

Surprise, surprise: Authoritarian government builds dangerous reactor without containment, then the operators experiment with it after disabling the safeties.

And the managers of Fukushima were no angels either.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster#1976:_Falsification_of_safety_records

When a nuclear power plant fails, we get tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of damage. Also the electricity it was supposed to produce stops being produced at some unexpected time. And there might be drastic health issues including some that have not been documented yet.

We need nuclear power plants that will run correctly even when mismanaged, because we know from experience both communist and capitalist that they will be mismanaged.

We need nuclear power plants whose designs are so robust that they will work correctly even when they are build incorrectly, because experience says they will be built incorrectly.

And we need designs that are easy to modify, because experience shows that there are usually design details that are susceptible to causing accidents, that must be modified when we find the errors.

We need to decide what accident rate to aim for. If we expect we can’t meet that rate, then we can’t afford to use nuclear power.

And, still, Chernobyl killed fewer people than coal does in a typical year.

You don’t know how many people Chernobyl is killing. Coal typically kills people who work in the coal industry, who volunteered to take that risk. Bullshit red-state estimates about Chernobyl might come out lower, but so what? The risks of nuclear catastrophes are not known — we have so far only had tiny accidents but there is absolutely no reason to think that future accidents will be as small as Fukushima or Chernobyl.

Conservatives should oppose nuclear power because it is not at all a conservative thing to do. We’ve never done this before in our entire evolutionary history and you want to jump in headfirst with both feet and base our entire economy on it, because you assume there will be no bad consequences.

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Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 9:47 pm

“You don’t know how many people Chernobyl is killing.” “Coal typically kills people who work in the coal industry, who volunteered to take that risk.”

I know that if it were killing enough people to match coal, we’d have no trouble noticing. And I know that plenty of people die of coal who don’t work in that industry, thanks to pollution.

The thing is, you’re matching speculative disasters against real ones. Coal is an ongoing disaster. Nuclear has been in use for half a century, and even the worst accident in that time, thanks to a perfect storm of stupid, wasn’t as bad as coal manages to usually be. You’re doing just exactly what I’m pointing out: You’re subjecting nuclear to a different standard than other energy sources.

The easiest way to point that out, is to note that a coal plant releases enough radioactivity that its day to day operations would be considered a “nuclear accident” if it were a nuclear plant. Every day at a coal plant is a “nuclear accident”! Or would be, if it weren’t for the double standard.

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Matt 09.03.14 at 9:51 pm

You don’t know how many people Chernobyl is killing. Coal typically kills people who work in the coal industry, who volunteered to take that risk. Bullshit red-state estimates about Chernobyl might come out lower, but so what? The risks of nuclear catastrophes are not known — we have so far only had tiny accidents but there is absolutely no reason to think that future accidents will be as small as Fukushima or Chernobyl.

No, the vast majority of coal related premature deaths are from air pollution, not on-the-job accidents in mines or power plants. The people killed by air pollution are only visible in epidemiology, not as individual human faces, so the deaths are sharply discounted in politics compared to headline-making accidents. Nobody can say with certainty that a particular death was caused by particulates from a nearby power plant, but statistically we can tell that air pollution does in fact cause more heart attacks and asthma attacks, leading to excess hospitalization and deaths.

Focusing on preventing spectacular deaths over preventing easily prevented deaths is sadly an across-the-board consensus in politics. 500 Americans died in car accidents last week? Who cares. Two American journalists are murdered overseas by terrorists? Time for decisive action, damn any consideration of cost!

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 9:56 pm

So, to solve our problems how much nuclear energy do we need? Currently the USA uses about 100 quadrillion BTUs/year, and 8% of that comes from nuclear.

For the USA to make it all nuclear, we’d have to increase our nuclear production around 12 times, not so much.

But to actually solve the problem, we need to bring world energy production up to US standards. Call it 2 quintillion BTUs. Currently nuclear power worldwide provides about 2 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, or about 8 quadrillion BTUs. That’s only about 250 times, assuming no population growth and the USA etc doesn’t increase our energy needs while the rest of the world catches up.

In less than 60 years there have been around 100 reportable nuclear reactor accidents. There has been an unknown but large amount of radioactivity released into the environment, often in accidents that were not reportable. The simplest guess would be that increasing nuclear power 250 times would increase accidents 250 times. Probably about 4 Fukushimas a year, plus a whole lot of little accidents.

But we could surely make nuclear power plants a lot safer, barring mismanagement, human mistake, terrorism, and foreign military attack.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 10:03 pm

#541 Brett Bellmore

The easiest way to point that out, is to note that a coal plant releases enough radioactivity that its day to day operations would be considered a “nuclear accident” if it were a nuclear plant.

Is that still true? A whole lot of the radioactivity from coal gets caught in the electrostatic precipitators with the fly ash. It doesn’t stay in the air for people to breathe. It gets baked into bricks, or into concrete, or whatever.

Where did you get your numbers on that?

Are you sure you aren’t comparing radioactivity from coal plants where the ash all goes into the air, versus radioactivity from nuclear plants that don’t have accidents?

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Matt 09.03.14 at 10:10 pm

The easiest way to point that out, is to note that a coal plant releases enough radioactivity that its day to day operations would be considered a “nuclear accident” if it were a nuclear plant. Every day at a coal plant is a “nuclear accident”! Or would be, if it weren’t for the double standard.

Let’s not gild the lily here. Pickering B released 200 TBq in 2008.

Coal contains about 1.5799e-7 TBq (0.00427 millicuries) of radionuclides per short ton. Assuming that all radionuclides in coal were mobilized into the environment during combustion, a coal plant would have to burn in excess 1.2 billion tons per year to match Pickering B. No plant in the world burns any where near that much coal. And the Pickering B routine emissions are far below the level that would qualify for a nuclear accident.

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Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 10:15 pm

While it’s true that most of the radioactive isotopes end up in the fly ash, rendering it a good ore for Uranium and Thorium, the amount of radioactive material in that fly ash is so high, that it is estimated that even at 99% efficiency on fly ash sequestration, you’ve still got the coal plant violating nuclear standards.

Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 10:17 pm

A good primer on why a hard rains a gonna fall on economics from Unlearning Economics:
http://www.pieria.co.uk/articles/why_the_economic_crisis_is_a_crisis_for_economics

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 10:17 pm

#542 Matt

No, the vast majority of coal related premature deaths are from air pollution, not on-the-job accidents in mines or power plants. The people killed by air pollution are only visible in epidemiology, not as individual human faces, so the deaths are sharply discounted in politics compared to headline-making accidents. Nobody can say with certainty that a particular death was caused by particulates from a nearby power plant, but statistically we can tell that air pollution does in fact cause more heart attacks and asthma attacks, leading to excess hospitalization and deaths.

Ah, you aren’t talking about radioactivity, but things like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Ideally the power plant smoke goes high into the air where nobody breathes this stuff, and then it turns into acid rain which people handle easily though some plants have a much harder time.

We were well on our way to handling this but the Bush administration tried to stop the regulation of power plants. The result was that coal plants got a much better EROI and better profit margins, while some people died, likely from indirect effects of power plant pollution. Now that the regulation is getting cranked up again there’s some tendency for them to switch to methane-fired plants rather than clean up the coal plants, they assume that methane will stay cheap.

Technically this is not much of a problem. It’s only that coal is not such a good fuel if you have to take care of the pollution. Similarly, nuclear plants are not a good deal if you have to prevent accidents or pay for them, and pay for the waste.

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Matt 09.03.14 at 10:37 pm

Ah, you aren’t talking about radioactivity, but things like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Ideally the power plant smoke goes high into the air where nobody breathes this stuff, and then it turns into acid rain which people handle easily though some plants have a much harder time.

I’m not sure if you are joking here, but “make the smoke go high” has not been considered an adequate solution to sulfur and nitrogen oxide discharges for about 40 years now, at least in the West. Though there are still quite a few old grandfathered plants around. Newer plants are required to scrub the stack gases with e.g. limestone to prevent most of the SO2 and NO2 from going into the air in the first place. As a result acid rain in the USA has been dramatically reduced since the 1970s. Newer plants also require equipment to trap mercury emissions and fine solid particles that cause lung and heart problems.

All of these improvements are good things. The shortcoming is that they don’t do a whit to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Greenpeace says “coal plants emit more CO2 than any other electricity source” and Peabody Energy PR counters with “coal is cleaner than ever, pollution down 90% from 1980.” The problem with the counter-argument is that it sounds like a rebuttal to Greenpeace but it’s actually a dodge: reducing emissions of acid gases and mercury, while laudable, don’t do anything to slow global warming.

I am afraid that China will probably introduce more modern pollution controls on its coal plants to limit haze and acid gases, like the West, but do next to nothing to curb CO2 emissions from those plants, also like the West.

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Ogden Wernstrom 09.03.14 at 10:44 pm

Brett Bellmore 09.03.14 at 10:03 am:

“How can we convince leftwingers to accept nuclear power?”

Start by building a waste-containment system that will survive, unattended and unmaintained – simulating a period during which civilization has abandoned them – for a duration of one half-life of, let’s say Pu-239. Build a few prototypes, test them for one successful cycle and get back to us.

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J Thomas 09.03.14 at 10:46 pm

#549 Matt

Newer plants are required to scrub the stack gases with e.g. limestone to prevent most of the SO2 and NO2 from going into the air in the first place. As a result acid rain in the USA has been dramatically reduced since the 1970s. Newer plants also require equipment to trap mercury emissions and fine solid particles that cause lung and heart problems.

So, has the death rate from this source gone down?

All of these improvements are good things. The shortcoming is that they don’t do a whit to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

Agreed.

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Matt 09.03.14 at 11:08 pm

So, has the death rate from this source gone down?

Yes, the death rate from coal plant emissions has gone down for plants that have added pollution controls. Even with state of the art pollution controls, coal plants still emit significantly more mercury, particulates, and acid gases per megawatt hour generated than natural gas plants, though much less than 40 years ago. Natural gas plants in turn emit more acid gases and particulates than any non-fossil source of electricity, though practically no mercury.

As of 2010 the American Lung Association estimated that at least 14,000 Americans per year died prematurely due to air pollution from coal. The rate is much higher in developing nations that have largely eschewed coal pollution controls. I don’t know how much further the deaths could be cut if all coal plants were required to immediately install state of the art pollution controls.

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Thornton Hall 09.03.14 at 11:29 pm

The thing about nuclear-wrongness as opposed to Reaganist-wrongness, is that it is simply the manifestation of widespread human cognitive biases. To be human is to overestimate the risk of dramatic death and underestimate the risk of ignominious death. Conservatives and liberals alike have no idea that every time they visit the bathroom they are visiting the likely location of their demise. It’s human

What is not so innocent is when our human failings are self-consciously exploited by the rich and powerful. That is why the Brett’s of the world imagine a overarching liberal plan to control everything about our lives. If that were true it would be bad. And it was true of Soviet communism, the defeat of which marks the great victory of the Reaganists. So they imagine their new enemy to be the same as the old one. Human.

What’s terrible is how a few economic royalists and reactionary psychopaths including Wm F Buckley spent 50 years taking advantage of human fears, the “objective” press, and the divorce of economics from the requirement of empirical success to craft the pro-market, pro-rural white guy, anti-immigrant dogma that gets called “conservative” but is actually better described as Reaganism.

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floopmeister 09.04.14 at 12:03 am

Two points about nuclear reactors and safety, related to my own research into resilience and modular/decentralised organisational structures.

One: France (whatever the fever dreams of libertarians) is hardly an authoritarian state, now is it one with a poor nuclear safety record. Yet the current French proposal for approaching nuclear safety is one which matches my own suggestions for promoting resilience (and which I’ve based on military theories of defence). In a nutshell it is this – that the French accept that accidents will inevitably happen – defence in depth can never match any possibility (the Black Swan if you will) that could occur, and investing so much energy and resources in pretending otherwise is a waste of resources. Period.

Instead what matters is the response time to those accidents. Therefore the French teams looking into this issue propose a modular hardened system at each reactor (with back up energy supplies, water storage, response drones etc) hardened to a ridiculous degree.

If you are interested a good overview is provided by this article in Nature
“‘In France we’re saying imagine the unimaginable’, says Jorel. The current basis of nuclear safety is ‘defense-in-depth’, in which multiple levels of protection and redundancy are intended to guard against a serious accident, he adds. “But at Fukushima, all those lines of defence collapsed. The accident has thrown into question all of our safety rules, our ways of thinking’.

“The bunker concept is different, however, because it short-circuits the traditional approach to safe-guarding against estimated levels of risk. Irrespective of their perceived vulnerability to external threats, plants will need to be equipped with this ‘hard core’ of protected control rooms, generators and pumps, as well as hardened reservoirs of coolant.

This circumvents the delays and compromises inherent in setting new estimates of seismic, flood or other risks, which requires years of discussion between the regulator, industry and expert advisors, says Jorel. Predicting risk is an imperfect art, and the bunker concept should protect against any other unforeseen, low-probability event. ‘It’s far easier to design and build a system of last resort than to try and address every potential problem,’ he says.”

“[t]he new measures are part of a shift in the emphasis of nuclear safety in the wake of Fukushima, from preventing a nuclear accident to stopping one from spiralling out of control – and mitigating the damage should the worst occur…”

It’s the hedgehog defence (modular nodes with their own energy reserves and agency connected to each reactor, rather than centrally organised). Of course this implies redundancy, which implies energy costs. hence the EROI falls.

Now here’s the kicker – accepting that accidents will happen is the sensible, rational way to approach nuclear reactors. The consequences for public opinion of this technology are obvious – but it is not irrational.

Two: Chernobyl is not over. Any basic knowledge of physics will acquaint you with the concept of potential energy, and in the case of Chernobyl and nearby Kiev that potential energy is gravity. The Kiev dam (known colloquially as the Kiev Sea) is heavily silted in radioactive dust from the original fallout and subsequent run off. It sits upstream on the Dnieper from a city of XXX million people. Any failure in that dam will wash away part of Kiev in a radioactive tsunami and then release radioactive material into the Black Sea, and then into the Sea of Marmara (hello Istanbul!) and then in the Mediterranean.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiev_Reservoir

Safety concerns?

A fake terrorist threat in 2005… oh, and a looming war with Russia.

What’s rational about whistling past the graveyard?

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floopmeister 09.04.14 at 12:07 am

Whoops – forgot the reference for that Nature article:

Butler, D. (2012) ‘France ‘imagines the unimaginable’’, Nature, 481, pp. 121-122

And Kiev has a population of nearly 3 million.

Wikipedia has a page on the possible safety concerns with the Kiev Dam – it makes sobering reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threat_of_the_Dnieper_reservoirs

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Matt 09.04.14 at 12:08 am

To revisit a much earlier topic, it looks like there is actually field research on the weathering rate of crushed basalt and factors that accelerate it, though this particular researcher is looking at land rather than sea locations: http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/09/25-year-experiment-shows-ants-can-break-down-minerals-sequester-co2/

Who knew that ants would have such a powerful influence? I find it fascinating as research, even apart from possible applications.

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Brett Bellmore 09.04.14 at 9:29 am

“Start by building a waste-containment system that will survive, unattended and unmaintained – simulating a period during which civilization has abandoned them – for a duration of one half-life of, let’s say Pu-239. Build a few prototypes, test them for one successful cycle and get back to us.”

IOW, you’d rather that people who aren’t willing to watch modern civilization collapse into poverty burn the coal.

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ZM 09.04.14 at 10:42 am

Brett Bellmore,

You can use renewable energy. Also funny how you never write if your great heartfelt concern for those suffering poverty right now, but somehow your passion to reduce poverty justifies nuclear energy

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J Thomas 09.04.14 at 12:34 pm

ZM #558

Also funny how you never write if your great heartfelt concern for those suffering poverty right now, but somehow your passion to reduce poverty justifies nuclear energy

His position makes sense if you start with his assumptions. I’ll try to describe it, and Brett can tell me if I get something wrong.

Zero-eth, ignore climate change. If climate change is a real concern then we get the same exact results as if it is fake, except more urgent — provided Brett’s other assumptions are right. So that argument is irrelevant.

First, the fossil fuels are going to run out. Oil is already in shortening supply. The USA has enough coal to last over 200 years at 1970 rates of use. We don’t have enough coal to supply the world, and neither does China, and those are the two big coal nations. If the time comes that oil is in very short supply and most of our navy’s capital ships are running on coal, China and the USA will be like early 20th century superpowers and the rest of the world will be in poverty. It will be bad for everybody. Then when the coal runs out, everybody will be in deep poverty. We can’t feed 7 billion people without using a lot of energy. (Unless we change things around a lot. Give everybody about an acre each to grow their own food, and maybe we could do it that way. Walk to market if you have something to sell….)

Second, we assume that alternate energy does not really work and will never really work, except for nuclear.

Third, we assume that nuclear energy will be safe, cheap, and convenient and we will never run out of nuclear fuel. Investors will happily provide funding for safe, cheap nuclear plants if only the government gets out of the way. Government regulation does not make nuclear plants safer, only more expensive, and there would never be a significant nuclear accident except for government interference. Anyway, moderate amounts of radiation are good for you.

Fourth, energy is an important key for the economy. With expensive energy, you need rich ores or it isn’t worth mining for metals. With cheap energy you get cheap metals in abundance, because you can afford to separate them. Aluminum is cheap if electricity is cheap. Etc. Cheap energy gives you cheap nitrogen fertilizer. If energy is cheap enough you can put grow lights over your crops at night. If you can pump water cheaply then you can irrigate whenever and wherever you want. You can desalinate ocean water and pump it uphill. Cheap energy gives you power.

Given these four assumptions, it makes perfect sense to build nuclear power as fast as we can. Particularly since coal is more dangerous in all ways than nuclear. Burning coal spreads more radioactivity than nuclear plants ever will, it causes more health issues than nuclear ever will, it’s in all ways more dangerous, and it’s more expensive. We cannot affordably ship coal to poor nations that don’t have it, but we can easily ship them safe cheap nuclear power plants.

All we need is for government to step out of the way, and nuclear power plants will outcompete fossil fuels and the fossil fuel industry will quickly collapse. We will leave the coal in the ground because it won’t be worth digging it out. The whole world will become far more prosperous because cheap energy leads to prosperity, and nuclear energy will be so cheap that poor people and poor nations will be able to afford it — apart from the expenses caused by regulation.

We live in kind of a bleak world today. It’s fine to have sympathy for the poor, but if we just give them handouts they won’t be any better off in the long run and we will be worse off. The more we subsidize them, the more children they will have that will need to be subsidized. But with extremely cheap power the world economy will blossom, there will be many jobs for people to do, creating great wealth for every deserving worker to share. We can’t do that now because the resources — particularly energy — just aren’t there. If you are useless to the world economy it does no good for the world economy to subsidize you, you will only drag down everybody else. But with cheap energy you won’t be useless. Investment in cheap safe nuclear power is the best thing you can do for the poor.

It all makes sense if you believe in the same things he believes in.

I tend to agree with #1. We need cheap alternative energy, regardless of climate change. If we can get it cheap then we are rich, if it’s moderately expensive then we get pinched and sullen, if it’s very expensive we could revert to some sort of feudal society.

I very much hope #2 is wrong. The more cheap energy sources we have, the better. Anyi of them could have ecological consequences we aren’t ready to predict, so the more strings to our bow and the more arrows in the quiver, the better. I don’t think it’s determined yet about other alternate energy. Solar panels keep getting better. Geothermal probably has strict limits. I don’t want us to steal lots of energy from the moon’s orbit. Wind can be cheap and it has limits.

I dunno. If we had a good enough storage battery we could harvest lightning.

I’m very dubious about #3. We don’t understand biological effects of ionizing radiation very well. The first fumbling attempts to study that are less than 70 years old. (90 years if you include clinical studies on X-rays.) We’re playing with a new kind of fire that we hardly understand at all. If there’s any decent alternative I’d want to put this aside for a few hundred years while we think it over. There might not be any adequate alternative, though. This one might not be adequate either. We could waste tremendous resources on it before we find out where the limits are, and then it turns expensive and limited and we don’t have the resources to find alternatives at that point. So I want it to be a backup plan. We build new reactors one at a time while we study how to build them better. We don’t think of them as production reactors but test reactors, even though they are as expensive as production reactors and they each produce enough electricity to be somewhat useful. Then if at some point it’s clear that all alternatives are worse, then we quick build more using the best proven design we have then.

I doubt that people will consistently fail to cut corners about nuclear plant construction, operation, safety, billing, etc when they think they can get away with it. “If it’s not inspected, it’s neglected.” I strongly doubt that nuclear power can be made safe given terrorists, government, and occasional human incompetence. If we go that route, we won’t know whether it was the only adequate choice or a terrible mistake until it’s too late.

I tend to agree with #4. Energy is a key resource, and to some extent it can substitute for ores and crops and intelligence etc. We need to find cheap alternative energy quickly, independent of climate change.

I’m unsure how to do effective charity. It’s certainly possible to do it badly. I’ve seen it done well. Surely people usually prefer to be valuable contributors with bargaining power, than charity cases — if that goal is within reach.

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Brett Bellmore 09.04.14 at 2:16 pm

1: Nailed it.

2: Not really, I can envision technological developements which would make solar more cost effective than nuclear. Somebody invents a cheap, efficient, durable solar panel that actually has a high EROI. It’s not theoretically impossible, they just don’t exist right now. Or we develop Von Neumann replicators, launch them into space, and cover the Moon with solar panels, and don’t care how much work it took, because robots did the work. There are speculative developements that could make solar better than nuclear for powering civilization. One of them is bound to happen, eventually.

But nuclear is better right now, and for the next few decades. It’s the only thing that can replace coal NOW, without forcing world poverty.

3. Sort of. We know for an absolute fact we won’t run out of nuclear fuel, because even with current, experimental seawater extraction techniques, the oceans are a viable source of fuel. Just not economical compared to mining, yet. But the cost of the fuel is such a small fraction of the cost of nuclear power, that even very expensive sources of fuel are viable if cheaper ones run out.

Government IS responsible for the cost of nuclear, because most of the cost of nuclear is due to regulatory uncertainty, and the threat of a tort system run by government. Price Anderson is really just the government’s way of solving a problem it has created: The uninsurablity of nuclear against accidents which aren’t happening.

And, yes, there’s better evidence for the radiation hormosis theory than the LNT theory that policy is based on.

4. Absolutely.

What do we lose switching to nuclear? Coal is already worse than any realistic concerns about nuclear. And people won’t agree to be poor, so if you don’t go nuclear, by default they’ll burn coal.

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Bruce Wilder 09.04.14 at 3:14 pm

J Thomas @ 559

Nice summary. One corollary point: energy consumption has a front-end and a back-end. Producing energy consumes resources, and using energy consumes resources.

Cheap energy production entails profligate energy use in Brett’s world of no low-flush toilet mandates, and that profligate disregard of entropy can also bring down civilization.

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Brett Bellmore 09.04.14 at 4:01 pm

“and that profligate disregard of entropy can also bring down civilization.”

Please tell me you’re not one of those “4th law of thermodynamics” cultists…

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Bruce Wilder 09.04.14 at 4:08 pm

BB: Please tell me you’re not one of those . . .

No. Not that I know of.

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J Thomas 09.04.14 at 4:23 pm

1: Nailed it.

I think we even agree on more than it would look like at first sight.

And, yes, there’s better evidence for the radiation hormosis theory than the LNT theory that policy is based on.

Hormesis is interesting and it might turn out to be true. I can imagine mechanisms. If you believe the evidence for it is strong you should have no problem with the climate change evidence.

But it’s irrelevant to power plants. If someday we find out that it’s true and we have a lot of nuclear power plants then, we might wind up trying to do controlled tritium releases to give people their hormesis treatments by breathing the air, the way some places we put fluoride into the water. But that will not make anybody any happier with accidental cesium releases. They won’t want to get their hormesis from uncontrolled nuclear accidents. It just doesn’t work that way.

Price Anderson is really just the government’s way of solving a problem it has created: The uninsurablity of nuclear against accidents which aren’t happening.

We don’t have enough nuclear plants to get an adequate track record. If insurance companies had insured a whole lot of nuclear plants on the assumption that Fukushima would not happen, they would be in bankruptcy and the Japanese government would have to take over. Oops! The Japanese government did have to take over! The insurance was not the least bit adequate. And the next accident might be a whole lot worse.

We just haven’t had enough big accidents yet to find out what the insurance rates ought to be. But once we build enough plants that we have several Fukushima-level accidents as year, and maybe occasionally a big one, then I think the insurance companies will get a much better idea what rates they need to charge.

If we have to abandon Tel Aviv one year, and Barcelona the next year, then we can start to quantify things. While the accidents are too rare we just can’t do that.

What do we lose switching to nuclear?

Only the unknown risk. We don’t really know how risky nuclear power is yet, and if we depend on it then we’ll find out.

Coal is already worse than any realistic concerns about nuclear.

We don’t know what concerns are realistic about nuclear power yet. We’re doing it too slow to get an adequate track record. If we give it a lot of time or if we jump in and build a whole lot of nuclear plants quick, either way we’ll find out what concerns are justified.

With coal the consequences are not spectacular. They creep up gradually, and you don’t necessarily even know what caused them. If you’re rich you can build your mansion someplace that’s never downwind of a coal-fired power plant. With nuclear the risks are unknown. Your granddaughter might marry somebody whose grandparents lived in the wrong place, and she has deformed babies. You just don’t know.

I think if I was you, I would be very concerned that if we get a great big nuclear industry we won’t be able to keep government out of it. Isn’t it predictable that government will extensively mis-regulate it, causing tremendous expense? And then the regulation-caused accidents will be used as the justification for more regulation still. We could easily wind up with something that was not at all worth having, regardless how great it would be if it was done correctly.

And people won’t agree to be poor, so if you don’t go nuclear, by default they’ll burn coal.

Yes, they will. And unless nuclear power is cheaper than coal, they’ll burn coal anyway. We still haven’t paid off the nuclear mistakes from the last time around, but the executives who remember it are approaching retirement so now the power companies are ready to try again. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, the government will set the rates so the customers pay for it. Nobody will be held responsible.

One good thing I see about the other alternative energy approaches is that most of them can be done smal-scale. They aren’t all that dangerous or all that expensive. People can try lots of variations and then improve on the approaches that work best. Nuclear is the only one that’s being done by giant power companies and that can only be done by giant power companies.

I’m not real hopeful that nuclear will work out as expected. I have some hope that some of the others will work out significantly better than expected.

But to win they have to come out cheaper than coal, when coal gets its subsidies and its lobbyists are strong. So I’m not real hopeful even if the techie stuff works out.

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Ogden Wernstrom 09.04.14 at 6:53 pm

Brett Bellmore 09.04.14 at 9:29 am:

IOW, you’d rather that people who aren’t willing to watch modern civilization collapse into poverty burn the coal.

You forgot the question mark, if you are following your own advice @472. (Although the insinuation @479 appears to ignore that advice, too.)

Answer: No. I do not live in that binary-extreme-choices-only zero-sum universe you are imagining. The worst-case scenarios I imagine mostly involve an Ayn-Randian revolution, after which all externalities become “somebpdy else’s” problem.

Since you asked what I’d rather, I’d rather we transition toward more renewables, toward less-carbon-emitting non-renewables, and nuclear can actually be part of the mix – as long as the risks are fairly transparent and acceptable to the individuals who are at risk. I think floopmeister lays out the issues quite well. In my non-binary world, fossil fuels and incandescent bulb do not have to stop being used, either.

I even thought of a modification to the War On Bulbs, in order to satisfy your desire to decide for oneself and address your concern about the inadequate past efforts to educate the public about when they can use incandescent bulbs appropriately: Introduce a Bulb-buying License – much like a Driver’s License – which shows that the holder has demonstrated some minimum levels of knowledge and proficiency. Next, we would need some bulb-retraining camps or some other method of training people to the point that they can make wise choices for themselves. Perhaps an enhanced version of the training, borrowing techniques from “enhanced interrogation”, would speed up the process.

(Disclosure: I have a stock of incandescent bulbs that I hoarded. I figure I need enough of them to last until there are inexpensive 40W, 60W and 25W heaters available. I consider any light they provide an insignificant byproduct.)

On the subject of carbon emissions, I’d rather we cut them in a manner similar to what was done with sulfur dioxide emissions. Acid rain has been greatly reduced, the cost of reducing SO2 emission has come down so much that the trading price of SO2 allowances plummeted. Yes, there was some initial pain/cost/strife in the transition. Now, it’s just part of doing business.

I wonder if the tobacco companies ever paid for some research into tobacco hormesis….

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Ogden Wernstrom 09.04.14 at 6:54 pm

floopmeister 09.04.14 at 12:03 am:

‘In France we’re saying imagine the unimaginable’, says Jorel.

…of Krypton – that Jor-El? Damn, France is serious about this.

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J Thomas 09.05.14 at 12:26 am

#565

I wonder if the tobacco companies ever paid for some research into tobacco hormesis….

Edgar Cayce claimed that smoking tobacco cigarettes was good for you. But you had to be careful not to smoke more than 3 a day.

I don’t think that would satisfy the tobacco executives. But that’s how it works with hormesis. When the dose gets so small that it’s hard to measure any effect, then it’s possible to claim that at that point there’s a small good effect.

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floopmeister 09.05.14 at 1:36 am

…of Krypton – that Jor-El? Damn, France is serious about this.

:) I totally missed that reference!

Brilliant.

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Val 09.05.14 at 1:37 am

@560
After reading your comments I’ve looked a bit more into Energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and as far as I can see it’s a diversion from the main issues here. Correct me if I’m wrong (but only if you can show convincingly that I am, not some off-the-cuff response), but EROEI is calculated using measures of resources used in production of the energy output, such as electricity (can’t work out from reading so far if they include costs of transmission or not, maybe you could clarify?), but not measures of the other effects of the energy production (ie like the externalities in economic speak).

Given that the main reason we want to switch from fossil fuels is because of these effects (CO2 emissions, pollution and associated health impacts, destruction of arable land, damage to aquifers, destruction of culturally valued sites, etc) a formula that fails to take them into account seems like a diversion in this debate.

Leaving to one side for the moment that your apparent main aim is to promote nuclear, have you any defence of EROEI against this criticism?

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Val 09.05.14 at 1:40 am

@560
sorry that got a little confused there – I mean of course that electricity is an energy output – whereas the resources used in producing it are of course the resources used in mining, building and operating generators, manufacturing solar panels or windmills, etc

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floopmeister 09.05.14 at 1:44 am

Edgar Cayce claimed that smoking tobacco cigarettes was good for you. But you had to be careful not to smoke more than 3 a day.

And Ayn Rand ridiculed concerns around smoking…

…right up until she she got lung cancer.

Mind you, smoking wasn’t great for Bill Hicks either, but he made no career out of claiming he was the most rational person of all time.

572

ZM 09.05.14 at 2:06 am

J Thomas,

“I’m unsure how to do effective charity. It’s certainly possible to do it badly. I’ve seen it done well. Surely people usually prefer to be valuable contributors with bargaining power, than charity cases — if that goal is within reach.”

The economies – national and global – are structured for great inequality and to prevent some people from participating who might if they were structured properly. There are billions of very poor people now and Brett Bellmore’s only response is propertarian – but most of these poor people had their ancestral common lands (their shared property) stolen through capitalist enclosures and colonialism. Brett Bellmore always poo poos any suggestion if structural reform to achieve remedy for these grievous injustices whose legacy continues around the world today.

If Brett Bellmore does not like to use renewable energy in a sustainable society we can put aside some land for him and people like him to live like in Little House of the Prairie without electricity in old fashioned libertarian styleand we can visit as tourists to see what it is like .

There is nowhere to put nuclear waste safely and secure it in perpetuity, they always want to put it in indigenous remnant lands not store it in rich people’s back yards and entail it to their families, and we get nuclear disasters more than 1 in 100 years, which means they are regular – since 1 in 100 year floods are not too common floods.

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Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 2:18 am

@572 the desire to stay where one was born was no doubt evolutionarily adaptive in a by-gone age. In America today, however, the places we might store nuclear waste are occupied by people who have been unemployed for generations. Staying put and not migrating is natural and human and hard wired and the cause of endless suffering.

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floopmeister 09.05.14 at 2:53 am

Another thought re. nuclear waste storage…

In which language do we put the signage explaining to future generations that they shouldn’t touch?

Etruscan is only (and in terms of nuclear waste this is truly a case of only) 200 years old yet we still have no complete way of translating of understanding it in any meaningful way.

What sense would future civilisations make of the English phrases ‘keep out’ or ‘danger’ – let alone the international symbol for nuclear waste? Or do we assume that out current civilisation, in contravention of all the evidence of history, will last forever (or at least 25,000 years)?

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floopmeister 09.05.14 at 2:53 am

Whoops – of course that was 2000 years, not 200…

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ZM 09.05.14 at 3:07 am

Thornton Hall,

You can have sufficient energy with renewable energy technologies, lots of people use too much energy now so cutting down is easy. Indigenous people do not want your nuclear waste stored in their lands like Yucca Mountain – so what if they are unemployed? That should give you the right to store toxic energy on their land?!?! Rich people never offer to store nuclear energy in their houses and entail it to their children forever after. Your good self and Brett Bellmore could set an example and offer to store nuclear waste and entail it to your families? I bet you will not pledge to do thus however, even though you are always claiming how safe it is….

The economies national and global disadvantage some and advantage others. We have 5-6% official structural unemployment in Australia because companies do not like the bargaining power full employment gives workers. There are billions of poor people – and the rich and middling people are consuming an unsustainable amount of things – this is very unfair. You yourself noted how unfair the economy was just yesterday when Meredith accused you of sock-puppeting.

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John Quiggin 09.05.14 at 3:39 am

Thornton Hall @547 You might like the talk linked here
http://johnquiggin.com/2012/07/17/the-future-of-economics-research-policy-and-relevance/
which makes most of the same points. There’s a journal article version, but it’s paywalled

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Wallace Stevens 09.05.14 at 3:42 am

Wow, we are up to 576 comments! I’ve been away for a bit and just coming back.

John Quiggin: I’d like to take this back to your original question–a very important question. I don’t think that “the Left” is exhausted by Greenpeace and the Democrats, with the latter outnumbering the former. Opposition to GMO foods is not limited to a fringe like Wilder, J Thomas, Anarcissie, ZM & Co. It is almost an article of faith among left/liberal people in Europe, France in particular. And there is huge opposition in India on the part of people who are anything but free market neo-liberals. But if my points about GMO aren’t convincing, just look at the efforts you have gone through on this thread explaining a simple concept like “cost” (Honestly, you have the patience of Job! I don’t know how you do it!). My point is that irrationality is not unique to the Right–it is a failing of the Left as well. It is a basic human failing I think that transcends the usual political divisions. When we are not experts, when we are not close to a situation or event, we form second, third and fourth hand impressions that we have no choice but to rely on. And often in making decisions we rely as much on what “feels” right as what is factual or demonstrable. I am not defending this, by the way. I am all for working with the best facts provided by the best minds. But it is evident from the quality of discussion on this thread that there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty out there–all understandable–but confusion nevertheless.

I haven’t read Corey Robin’s work on the right wing mind. But I assume that it addresses exactly these kinds of issues. And they must apply to the left as much as the right. How could it be otherwise? The human stain!

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J Thomas 09.05.14 at 4:45 am

#560 Val

Given that the main reason we want to switch from fossil fuels is because of these effects (CO2 emissions, pollution and associated health impacts, destruction of arable land, damage to aquifers, destruction of culturally valued sites, etc) a formula that fails to take them into account seems like a diversion in this debate.

It isn’t a diversion, it just doesn’t tell the whole story.

Here’s an example — some years ago an academic professor looked at the energy used to make gasohol. They had to grow the corn. That meant plowing, and tilling, they had to plant it, they had to put fertilizer on it and the nitrogen fertilizer was created using lots of energy. Insecticides, and it took energy to make those. Harvesting. The kernels dried and separated from waste, crushed, fermented at a warm temperature, distilled. When he added up all the energy used to make gasohol, not even counting the energy used to built the harvesting machines etc, he found that it took more energy to make gasohol than we got back. It was plain not worth doing.

He caused some uproar, so they got a team at Sandia Labs to repeat his studies. They found that when they ignored some of the energy inputs he claimed, and when they took into account some improved practices, that the whole gasohol industry made 15% more energy than they used up, and they were heading toward 20%. That is, for every 5 barrels of gasohol they burned up this year, they could perhaps give you back 6 barrels next year.

Not even thinking about what they were doing to the soil, and the water, and so on, this was not worth doing.

Meanwhile if you just dig up coal and burn it without worrying about the pollution, you get a whole lot more energy than it took to dig it. But if you have to pump around a lot of water etc to keep the pollutants out of the air and in some other form you must still dispose of, the energy return is rather less. This is why coal companies push for relaxed enforcement of pollution regulations.

If EROI is too low, that tells you something useful even though it isn’t the whole story.

If prices were honest, they would tell you that. You pay for the fuel it takes you to extract or make your product, and then you sell the product, and if the price you get is less than you paid for the fuel you used, you know something is wrong. But we have such an elaborate collection of laws, regulations, subsidies, taxes, cartels, regulated monopolies etc that the market price mechanism fails.

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J Thomas 09.05.14 at 5:19 am

578 Wallace Stevens

Opposition to GMO foods is not limited to a fringe like Wilder, J Thomas, Anarcissie, ZM & Co. It is almost an article of faith among left/liberal people in Europe, France in particular.

And not unreasonably.

My point is that irrationality is not unique to the Right–it is a failing of the Left as well.

I get the impression you think that anything but full-out support for GMO food is irrational? What possible basis can there be for such a notion?

Let me put it this way — a corporation produces something, and they don’t reveal how they made it or what they have made. They intend to base an exceptionally important part of the economy on their secret, after strictly limited testing. They say “We know it’s completely safe. Scientists who have never seen the details of how we do it have testified that it is completely safe. We know that genetic engineering is completely safe, therefore every example of genetic engineering also has to be completely safe. Trust us.”

And so you trust them.

If they told you that scientists say that contracts are fair, would you sign a contract with them without reading it first?

At a minimum, GMOs that are going to be released into the environment and not kept in sealed labs, should be open-source. The originators must publish the genetic maps and show what changes they have made. Hardly anybody would know what to do with that information, but how can you or anyone say it’s safe when that’s a secret?

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Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 5:34 am

@578 As the person who was deliberately provocative on the issue of “cost” and also someone convinced that GM crops will be a massive aid in the fight against human suffering caused by climate change, I’m not sure what to make of this. Especially since it echoes many of my own thoughts about the way progress does and does not happen.

Nonetheless, I’m fascinated by the urge to judge “thread quality” by Wallace and John c Halasz. In both cases, the clues suggest that the highest score would be obtained by the most mind-boggling boringness I can imagine. A discussion where everyone is both smart and right? Would they all be conscientious voters who recycle and tip 20%, too?

For my part, I learn most by asserting my wrong beliefs with force in the presence of smart people who know what they are talking about. It’s not everybody’s learning style, but the results are quite spectacular. I would be a billionaire if life success were determined by knowledge *that* stuff. But as most know, life is about knowledge *how* stuff.

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ZM 09.05.14 at 6:01 am

Wallace Stevens,

I supplied links and quotes from articles from Scientific American earlier with scientists criticising how genetic engineering us being carried out, the lack of independent testing, and the pressure applied to scientists not to thoroughly investigate the risks of genetic engineering.

How curious you ducked away then and didn’t make a reply – and now return much later in the thread to reassert your questionable position where (support for measures to mitigate climate change) = (support for genetic engineering). And do so without engaging with the criticism on GMO up thread that you ducked away from…

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Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 6:48 am

@JQ 577. Thanks. I clearly should take a less antagonistic tone given how much I agree. My first thought is that there still is a holding on to a couple of old ideas that are thoroughly un-scientific: EMH-light and bounded rationality. Both of these are armchair psychology slightly modified to get a tad closer to the data. But Brahe before Kepler and Newton. Whether or not the concept of “rationality” is of any use whatsoever is an empirical question that can’t be answered by scholars asking the question: how rational are agents? It’s the old “when did you stop beating your wife?” question where the damning answer is baked in even as it’s minimized.

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Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 7:09 am

Brad DeLong sends is to this that says what I just said:

What I will argue here is that the basic framework to which economic theory and, in particular, demand theory was reduced is inappropriate as a model of economic choice, since it depends on assumptions about individual agents derived not from observation but rather from introspection.

http://www.sss.ias.edu/files/papers/econpaper73.pdf

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J Thomas 09.05.14 at 1:08 pm

#583 Thornton Hall

My first thought is that there still is a holding on to a couple of old ideas that are thoroughly un-scientific: EMH-light and bounded rationality.

EMH should not matter to a real economics, any more than the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics matters to physics.

Your observations of markets and theories about market structures and market dynamics and predictions about markets will all be the same completely independent of any sort of EMH. All EMH tells you is about the morality of it all, when you should use markets instead of some other mechanism, how fair the result is, etc. It’s about “should”, not about “is”.

Similarly with bounded rationality. When ecologists look at actors in an ecology, they do not need assumptions about bounded rationality for pine trees or chipmunks. Each actor has a set of behaviors that works adequately for its species to survive in some ecological niche, in some biome. Change the biome too much and maybe it will go extinct. They can change their behaviors some in response to changing conditions and can sometimes create what appear to be new behaviors, depending on their ethology and genetics.

Ecology is more advanced, covering similar material. Economists could do worse than to throw out their entire superstructure and replace it with ecological concepts, and then decide what else they need to add.

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Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 10:03 pm

@585 Huh?

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J Thomas 09.05.14 at 10:14 pm

#586

Was there something unclear about #585?

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