An optimistic view on climate change

by John Quiggin on June 25, 2015

We had an interesting discussion in comments recently about the usefulness or otherwise of optimism in relation to problems like climate change. I’m a card-carrying optimist, as can be seen from this article for Australian magazine Inside Story arguing that the prospects are good for stabilising global greenhouse gas concentrations at 450 ppm.

On the whole, excessive pessimism is a bigger problem than over-optimism. As I’ve argued before, lots of people have locked themselves into positions (eg advocacy of geoengineering, or belief in the end of industrial civilisation) that are based on the assumption that stabilisation is impossible. Many of these people are not open to evidence that stabilization is feasible, and even likely.

There’s a strong case that we should do better than 450 ppm, with a common ‘safe’ figure being 350 ppm. Since we passed that level some time ago, that requires a long period of negative net emissions, which cannot easily be achieved with current technology. Still, if net emissions are reduced to zero in the second half of this century, and some technological advances are made over the next fifty years (a plausible assumption if we put in some effort), even 350 ppm might be feasible.

Since this was written we’ve seen the Dutch court decision mentioned by Ingrid. Also, the development of one of the biggest coal deposits in the world, in the Galilee Basin in Queensland, is looking a bit less likely. The main developer, Adani, has halted engineering work on the project. Adani didn’t announce this, but since it’s been reported, their spin is that it’s a tactical move to pressure governments to speed up regulatory approvals. My take from a while back is here.

Climate change has been called “the greatest challenge facing the world,” and it has certainly been one of the most intractable. At countless international meetings dating back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 everyone has argued that someone else should bear more of the burden. Meanwhile, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have continued to grow.

Even more significant has been the resistance of the political right in the English-speaking countries. Large sections of this group, including senior political figures, see climate change as a socialist conspiracy cooked up to impose world government. To pick just one example, Maurice Newman, prime minister Tony Abbott’s business adviser, recently asserted that the United Nations was “using false models showing sustained temperature increases to end democracy and impose authoritarian rule.” In Canada and Australia, governments influenced by these views have done their best to stop or roll back mitigation policies.

In these circumstances, many observers have concluded that we are past the point of no return, and that dangerous climate change (warming of 2 degrees Celsius or more) is inevitable. Others have concluded that only some drastic fix will solve the problem. Their various, and incompatible, suggestions include large-scale geo-engineering, a crash program of building nuclear power plants, and the abandonment of industrial civilisation.

Positions of this kind, once taken, are hard to shift. So it’s not surprising that hardly anyone has recalibrated their views in response to recent developments that have greatly improved our prospects of avoiding dangerous climate change. But such a recalibration is certainly necessary if we’re to make progress.

The first of these developments is the effective end of the debate over climate science. The debate hasn’t been resolved, but it has been clarified, with the positions of the two sides now established and unlikely to shift.

On one side is a vast body of scientific analysis, from a wide range of disciplines, summarised in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. There is no longer any scientific debate on the key issues, or any serious perception of one. Mainstream climate science has established that global warming is real, continuing and caused primarily by human activity.

On the other side are those who reject science and appeal instead to what Andrew Bolt calls “the common sense of the layman,” where the layman, as well as being explicitly male, is implicitly assumed to be middle-aged or older and politically conservative. The governments of Canada and Australia, where such commonsensical laymen hold political power, have had some limited success in turning back measures to stabilise the climate. In general, however, climate “sceptics” have lost whatever credibility they once had, and are now treated in much the same way as creationists and antivaxers.

Second, the widely held assumption that improvements in living standards are inseparably linked to increased use of energy has turned out to be false. This is most evident in relation to oil, often regarded as the lifeblood of industrial civilisation. The average amount of oil per person consumed in the world peaked back in 1979. Since then, using less oil per person every year, living standards have risen substantially in the developed world and dramatically in the world’s most populous countries, India and China.

The most important use of oil is as a transport fuel, most notably in private cars. Oil’s decline has been the result of a long-term trend to more fuel-efficient vehicles and, more recently, a reduction in the average distances driven, as more and more journeys have been displaced by electronic communications. The United States, long the spiritual home of the motor car, has seen the most dramatic declines, both because of mandatory fuel efficiency standards and, since the mid 2000s, because of a decline in the average distance driven by Americans.

This is part of a more general pattern. Increasing the efficiency with which energy is used is the simplest and cheapest way of reducing emissions, and it has already happened on a large scale. New refrigerators, for example, use 70 per cent less energy than equivalent products from the 1980s, and the most efficient models on the market do better than that. The same is true for everything from lighting to industrial processes.

Third, the cost of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has turned out to be far below even optimistic estimates. The most striking developments have arisen with solar photovoltaics. As recently as 2008, solar cells cost more than US$4 per watt, without taking account of installation and other “balance of system” costs, and the associated cost of electricity was over 50 cents per kilowatt-hour, far above that of fossil fuels. By the end of 2013, the cost per watt of cells was down around 75 cents, and the cost of utility-scale solar PV was around 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, with further falls in prospect.

In some favourable locations, these cost reductions are enough to make solar PV cheaper than coal-fired or gas-fired power. Elsewhere, they mean that the cost of replacing fossil fuels with renewables in electricity generation is small enough to achieve with a combination of regulatory initiatives and relatively modest carbon prices, with no significant impact on the economy as a whole.

Finally, as affordable alternatives have become available, increasing attention has focused on the damaging health and environmental effects of burning fossil fuels, particularly coal. Once these health costs are taken into account, the case for replacing coal with renewables becomes overwhelming. 

The effects of burning coal are particularly severe in the major cities of developing countries – Beijing and Delhi, for example – where pollution levels are already well above danger levels. Estimates of the annual death toll for India alone run into the hundreds of thousands.


Taken together, these developments have produced a radical change in the policy stance of the governments of the largest emitters, most notably in China, the United States and, more slowly and reluctantly, India. Last November’s joint announcement by US president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping on emissions reductions embodied commitments that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

More recently, the G7 meeting in Bonn committed to a 40 to 70 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050, and to complete decarbonisation of the global economy by 2100. These commitments are consistent with the IPCC’s estimate of the cuts required to stabilise greenhouse at 450 ppm, giving a good (66 per cent or higher) chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Even better news is the unexpected halt in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions in 2014, the first time this has happened in the absence of global economic downturn. 

It’s not all good news, though. Conservative governments in Australia and Canada have pushed back against both the science of climate change and efforts to mitigate it. Japan, faced with the closure of all its nuclear power stations following the Fukushima disaster, has turned back to coal, with a weaker effort on renewables. A win for the Republicans in the 2016 US elections could produce a “coalition of the unwilling” capable of setting back action on climate change for years, perhaps long enough to put the goal of preventing dangerous warming out of reach.

More generally, achieving the targets set out by the IPCC and G7, even with general goodwill, requires urgent action to translate long-term global goals into specific national commitments. The Conference of the Parties to be held in Paris in December will be crucial in this respect. It would be a mistake to expect a once-and-for-all solution to a problem that has been the focus of decades of debates and disagreement. On the other hand, the world cannot afford the time that would be wasted by a cobbled-together declaration that defers, yet again, specific commitments and concrete plans. The prospects for action to stabilise the global climate have never been better. Let’s hope they will be realised. •

{ 412 comments }

1

Omega Centauri 06.25.15 at 4:56 am

The US political situation scares me though. The Republicans by and large are circling their wagons. Several red states, most notably Ohio have overturned renewables requirements for the power grid. While a plurality of the public supports renewables are a decrease in emissions, the support is shallow, in the sense that other issues decide which candidate/party gets the vote. So an effective faux scandal could deliver a strongly anti-green government similar to what we;ve seen in Canada and Australia.

On the other hand, I’m seeing a lot of triumphalism on the part of clean energy supporters. It is now widely believed in the cleantech community that by the end of the decade wind/solar will almost universally be the cheapest electricity, and fossil fuel supporters will be fighting economics as well as environmentalism. But in the meanwhile a refusnik USA could easy derail a global agreement.

2

Tim Worstall 06.25.15 at 6:13 am

“On the other hand, I’m seeing a lot of triumphalism on the part of clean energy supporters. It is now widely believed in the cleantech community that by the end of the decade wind/solar will almost universally be the cheapest electricity, and fossil fuel supporters will be fighting economics as well as environmentalism. But in the meanwhile a refusnik USA could easy derail a global agreement.”

But why would that be a problem? If the economics are that new generation will be renewables then we’ve licked the problem. It might have been better to do it via the carbon tax route than the feed in tariffs that have been used, but we’ve still solved the problem.

If new generating capacity from 2020, 2025 or so onwards is all or even only largely renewables then RCP 8.5 ain’t gonna happen, 6.0 almost certainly won’t and we’re down where climate change is a relatively trivial worry. Because economics.

So, why do we need a global compact at that point?

3

Bruce Wilder 06.25.15 at 6:24 am

People, who are tempermentally disinclined to “panic” may need to step aside and let people, who need to panic to act at all, do so.

4

reason 06.25.15 at 6:44 am

Tim Worstall @2
“But why would that be a problem?”
1. Because not all energy use (or net greenhouse gas increase) is a result of creating electricity?
2. Because we not only need to stabilise GHEs we need to decrease them.

5

reason 06.25.15 at 6:48 am

John Quiggin,
surely the world slow down in growth in the last decade could not have escaped your notice. Would the improvement you have mentioned have occurred without it?

6

John Quiggin 06.25.15 at 7:00 am

@5 There has not been a world slowdown in growth in the last decade (at least to the extent that such a notion is meaningful)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_world_product

The most important economic growth development relevant to climate has been China’s rapid economic growth, sustained well beyond the point when most observers expected a slowdown. The global financial crisis and subsequent recession, affecting countries that were already cutting emissions, has been a blip by comparison.

7

Bruce Wilder 06.25.15 at 7:12 am

Brad DeLong has estimated Gross World Product for 1,000,000 BCE. In 1990 U.S. dollars.

OK, then.

8

PlutoniumKun 06.25.15 at 7:48 am

Its nice to read something a little optimistic on the topic, and John is quite correct to point out that the situation regarding energy is far better than it was just a few years ago. I don’t think, for example, that any serious independent analyst would have predicted just five years ago just how dramatic the drop in the price of PV would be (although the flip side of successful PVs is that they have undermined investment in alternative solar, such as the Solartec project in the Sahara). However, I think its a case of the situation being slightly less dark, rather than bright. Off the top of my head, a number of reasons:

1. Even 400ppm is way, way too much carbon in the atmosphere. The reality is that IPPC projections are not a true ‘consensus’. Sceptics are right to point out the possibility of bias in scientific projections. They are, however, wrong in where the bias might be. The reality is that IPPC projections have proven to be far too conservative to the point of having a bias towards optimism. Talk privately to many climate scientists and they will tell you that it may already be too late to stop catastrophic positive feedback loops setting in. If we are to take the precautionary principle seriously, we need to get back to 350ppm, and fast. It really is too late for that.

2. India. If the Indian economy takes off and grows at the rate China has grown the last 30 years, it may well make all progress in the US, China and Europe moot. It is looking increasingly likely that Indian growth will be based on coal burning – they seem to be slowly stepping back on their nuclear programme and the country does not have the same renewables capacity as China or the US.

3. There is an inbuilt assumption by economists that power users will choose the cheapest form of energy, and therefore, when PV and wind are cheaper than oil and coal, its game over for fossil fuels. Its not really that simple in reality – changing power sources requires deep changes in infrastructure (for example, the electricity supply infrastructure for a system based on renewables looks very different in form and design from one based on thermal plants). In Ireland, for example, new power lines to facilitate wind power have become the focus of major public disquiet. It may be that such infrastructure bottlenecks make it far more difficult for a transition to take place, even if on the surface it seems to make economic and environmental sense.

9

Richard M 06.25.15 at 7:54 am

@2: ‘economically superior to’ is just another way of saying cheaper. Cheaper, without an increase in scale, means there is less money to be made, lower profits. So less money available to influence public opinion, or flat out bribe politicians.

Electric cars and mass market helicopters are about equal technological challenges; getting one and not the other is the political challenge.

Just look at how the prospects of nuclear nose-dived the moment someone made the mistake of saying the words ‘too cheap to meter’. Or how if you take any two technologies with a random set of characteristics, then the one that is more expensive will generally have it’s advantages lauded and its defects ignored, or sometimes treated as additional advantages.

A functional political system should be able to overcome that. But what about the other 85% of the world?

It won’t take much to whip up some reasons cheap solar should be banned, or have expensive precautions attached, while helicopters should be subsidised. In the absence of catastrophic climate change, the future is presumably going to be rich enough to make arbitrarily stupid decisions and more or less get away with it, at least in the short term. It just means you hit a steady state and stop getting richer.

Some would say this has already happened…

10

bad Jim 06.25.15 at 8:58 am

Discussing with my brother the weather patterns which for the last couple of years seem to have parked themselves in North America, uncomfortably stable Rossby waves baking and burning the west coast up to Alaska and freezing or deluging the heartland, I found myself voicing optimism about the prospects for an El Niño later this year. Maybe we’re not stuck, I suggested, maybe this isn’t the way it’s always going to be. Sure, whatever happens will be dreadful, but it might not be like the last two years forever. He gave me a look I know too well, suggesting I was delusional.

11

Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 10:47 am

JQ I agree completely. Climate change is also going into extremes which are going to sway a few more of the remaining lobbyists and their daffy minions to shut-up, and to find another intellectually-corrupt paycheck. You should look at temperature predictions for the next week in the US Pacific northwest!

12

Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 10:50 am

Temperatures 25 degrees F. above normal, breaking records in 8 or 10 big cities.

13

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 11:11 am

I’ve always been a little more on the optimistic side of this question for the following reasons:

1. Technologically the switchover is possible: rationally it is required.

2. There is no overriding left theory that I understand that describes why an unhealthy, oligarchy-controlled world system like ours can’t make the switchover. Capitalists will still own the new power sources and whatever abusive practices they now use will still be able to be used.

3. An the margin, greater evil is possible by staying with the current system — it’s more centralized (probably) and more expensive, etc. — and a whole lot of existing wealth is sunk into it. Bur our elite has not quite yet reached Bond Villain status and doesn’t yet make plans to kill most people off so that they can more completely control a smaller group. Rationality does affect them to some degree and eventually.

So in particular, I don’t understand the utility of panic in this connection. The public isn’t going to panic until it’s too late, and the public really has no control over what happens. Elite panic makes them act to depend sunk costs.

14

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 11:13 am

Oops — elite panic makes them act to *defend* sunk costs.

15

Metatone 06.25.15 at 11:25 am

@PlutoniumKun

With India the key is setting up the infrastructure to use solar power. It’s actually mostly a country where solar makes a lot of sense… However, the populist government in charge in heavily dependent (electorally) on showing lots of progress “right now” – which is driving increasing coal consumption.

16

Trader Joe 06.25.15 at 11:45 am

Speaking as a person who isn’t ardent “climate change advocate” but also is not a denier (which I expect is a big part of the middle masses) one thing that would be quite helpful if a lot LESS SCOLDING and a lot more encouraging.

For example, I’m sure everything PlutoniumKun says @8 is probably right – but JQ has written a reasonably convincing piece that 450ppm is plausible and achievable and then someone ALWAYS comes along and says Not Good Enough, you’ll still fry. Which makes a non-technical guy like me think, oh, maybe this is impossible after all.

Ingrid did it in her piece yesterday – after winning a case mandataing 25% reductions in emissions, she then went on to say this isn’t good enough anyway, it should have been more than 40%.

If a guy installs 10 panels on his house, he’s made to feel bad for not doing 15. If nothing “we” do is ever going to be good enough, maybe we should just invest in extra sunscreen and let the deniers win.

My two cents and thanks JQ for an optimistic view, it is quite encouraging.

17

Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 12:07 pm

Trader Joe #16: “…makes a non-technical guy like me think, oh, maybe this is impossible after all.”

Another technological possibility is that we may extract CO2 from the atmosphere, and REDUCE the ppm. People in comments here have said, No! Impossible! — in much the way that the possibility of significant photovoltaic improvements has been dismissed here, for years. How would it work? Maybe a discovery or innovation in materials science that passively filters the atmosphere. Or genomics: Craig Ventner has proposed synthesizing a microorganism that would feed on gaseous CO2 and turn itself into gasoline, thus making a closed fuel cycle for planetary surface.

18

ZM 06.25.15 at 12:26 pm

Trader Joe,

“If a guy installs 10 panels on his house, he’s made to feel bad for not doing 15. If nothing “we” do is ever going to be good enough, maybe we should just invest in extra sunscreen and let the deniers win.”

I read an article recently applying a theory of the stages people need to go through to help in emergencies to the climate change situation.

One thing was that people need to have to apprehend the situation is an emergency, but in order for this to lead to helping in an emergency people also need to have some idea of what they can do help.

So as climate change is both to do with individual and collective behaviour, people need to have ideas of steps they can take as individuals and as citizens.

So for instance individual action would be installing solar panels, buying energy efficient appliances and if possible recycling old appliances, being more conservative of energy use, reducing animal products due to overly high methane emissions associated with current levels of animal agriculture, buy more organic foods due to overly high levels of nitrous oxide being released by the use of chemical fertilisers in conventional farming, reducing unnecessary travel and changing modes of travel to favour mass transit and walking and cycling etc.

Then as a citizen people can write to their parliamentary representatives, sign petitions, get involved with local or state or global NGOs, advocate to city planners for more mass transit and bike paths and 20 minute neighbourhoods, advocate for schemes to assist low income earners and small businesses to retrofit buildings, advocate for local community owned wind farms, go to protests, be part of legal actions against the government like Ingrid has done, etc.

19

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 12:38 pm

ZM: “in order for this to lead to helping in an emergency people also need to have some idea of what they can do help.”

I think that this is fundamentally kind of wrong-headed. At the level of what Trader Joe is talking about, there is nothing that people can do to help. Micro-decisions about personal consumption or production will have no real effect, even en masse. The only purpose in talking about them is to give people something useless to do so that they can feel like they’re doing something. This might be seen as avoiding panic, or it might be seen as discouraging political action.

The only thing that will really matter is what large-scale infrastructure gets built. This is currently a matter of elite decision: it has little to do with the market. Anything that an individual can do to affect elite decisions is worthwhile.

20

ZM 06.25.15 at 12:48 pm

Also it is about thinking long term, we need to begin to sharply reduce emissions now, but we would be hoping to reach zero emissions by 2035-2050 and then possibly negative emissions through reforestation and bio char through to 2100. I am rather dubious of carbon capture and storage technologies becoming practicable myself. We also need to adapt to the climate change that is going to happen. And some people propose small scale geoengineering solutions like painting roof tops white.

I went to a talk earlier this week for the launch of a report The Longest Conflict on how the defence forces should be preparing to respond to climate change. The speakers thought the momentum for action on climate change was returning to levels last seen in 2007 before the GFC, but it is about carrying that momentum forward for more action now.

The former chief of the Australia Defence Force Chris Barrie spoke. He said when he was chief some people working in defence strategy were concerned about climate change, but they were outliers at the time. But since he retired he has become concerned about climate change posing a more significant risk than he realised when he was chief. He was also concerned about the high numbers of people who are likely to be displaced by climate change, as this could impact on the stability of our region.

We are already seeing the currently high numbers of refugees at 50 million being a big political issue in many countries, and I think insufficient attention is being given globally to developing a program to resettle them. But with experts saying it is likely that 200-250 million people will be displaced due to climate change impacts by 2050, I think this is a big issue that is not being adequately addressed at the moment. I went to a talk around 18 months ago, and a military expert said some people in the defence community are talking about the need to move away from focusing on national security to focus on human security instead.

21

ZM 06.25.15 at 12:53 pm

Rich Puchalsky,

“The only thing that will really matter is what large-scale infrastructure gets built. “

This is not correct. It is a mix of individual and collective actions. I was just reading the other day about demonstration Eco-villages and Eco-neighbourhoods. Research into these have shown it is not just a matter of people being provided with infrastructure, they also need to change behavioural habits to conserve energy and material use.

Even if you get the government to order that everyone just has to accept rationing of energy and materials, unless people are ready and willing to make the behavioural change like during The Blitz they will just complain too much and the rationing will never work. So it has to be about individuals as much as collectives.

22

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 1:03 pm

“Demonstration eco-villages and eco-neighborhoods” have never worked and we have every reason to believe that they never will. What matters is how energy gets produced. If energy is produced carbon neutrally, it doesn’t matter how it’s used. “Individual decisions” like putting solar panels on roofs are all about governmental policy: if the policy is there to get people to do it within existing social structures, then it’ll happen. If not, no amount of volunteerism will make it happen to any worthwhile extent.

I’ve always been puzzled by this idea of changing consumption behavior. If you could get people to change daily consumption behavior en masse, wouldn’t it be even easier to just get them to change how they vote? Then the problem would be solved. But we can’t even get people to change how they vote.

The basic math of volunteerism is pretty simple: 20% reduction in consumption by 20% of the populace is 4% overall. 100% reduction by 1% of the populace is 1%. Let’s say you did both — so what.

23

Trader Joe 06.25.15 at 1:15 pm

ZM
See, you’re doing it too. Where was the “Way to go, thanks for trying to do your part, nice job installing 10 panels.”

Instead I get – Why didn’t you recycle your appliances too? Write your congressman. Change your diet to eat more organic food….blah, blah, blah.

I spent 20 grand on friggin panels. That’s what I was able to do. I’m the only guy on my street that has’em and maybe I’ll be an example for others.

If I wanted to write my congressman I could have done that or changed my diet too. Maybe I will. But that’s not what I get from strong climate advocates – no “Atta boy, thank’s for helping.” Just the NOT GOOD ENOUGH, DO MORE.

If, as Rich suggests, everything I do is not good enough, and I’m on your side, can’t you see how its going to be bloody impossible to convince people who bear even a bit of skpeticism. How about encourage people to do something that they might think is doable and does make a difference rather than constantly bring down the fire and brimstone.

24

ZM 06.25.15 at 1:49 pm

I am sorry Trader Joe – it is very commendable that you bought solar panels, and I am sure it will inspire some of your neighbours! I remember reading other comments and you have been very philanthropic for other causes too.

I really was trying to encourage you by listing the individual and collective things I could think of. As tact is not my strong point I should have tried to be more motivational. And of course you can’t be expected to do all of those things I listed all at once, it is too great a list. It is just that there are a lot of things that do need addressing in the decades to come.

The article suggested using post it notes and other techniques for individuals to learn good new habits. You could also work out what you would like to focus your time on. Since you are interested in solar panels and inspiring your neighbours I can think of one example from town here. Some philanthropic individuals worked with Council to start a bulk buy scheme so as to make solar panels more affordable for residents http://www.mash.org.au

25

Layman 06.25.15 at 1:55 pm

“At the level of what Trader Joe is talking about, there is nothing that people can do to help.”

This is rather hard to believe. Some 8 years ago I put a 10.5 kWh solar system on my roof. I’ve tracked the results since. I use about half the power from the grid I used before (by drawing power at night, etc), and 80% of what I do use I offset by the excess I send back into the grid for others to use (during periods where I overproduce). I’m aware that the latter benefits only accrue because others, e.g. My neighbor, are not also over-producing and can use my excess production,; but surely there’s some benefit to the excess production, and even without that it can’t be nothing to reduce your own power needs by half. And, I’m watching with great interest Elon Musk’s move into home energy storage technology.

26

ZM 06.25.15 at 2:03 pm

Rich Puchalsky,

San Francisco and Portland both currently have Eco-neighbourhood or Eco-district programs that are hoped to be a springboard for sustainable retrofits throughout the cities.

It still matters how energy is used even if we move to 100% renewable energy technology. Geographical locations only have certain amounts of potential energy they can produce based on winds and sunshine. This potential will vary in accordance with the variance of wind and sunshine. For Australia Mark Dirsendorf from UNSW wrote a book last year, and part of what needs to happen in moving to a sustainable energy system is conserving the overall use of energy.

I am somewhat dubious of your idea that people who are adverse to changing their own behaviour to be more conservative in their use of energy and materials are actually more likely to vote for a government to force them to alter their behaviour.

I think it is more likely that the community will become more conscious of the need to conserve energy and materials and individuals will try to change their behaviour at the same time as voting for governments with good sustainable development policies.

I also think legal action like the case Ingrid was involved with is a good idea.

27

Layman 06.25.15 at 2:10 pm

“I’ve always been puzzled by this idea of changing consumption behavior. If you could get people to change daily consumption behavior en masse, wouldn’t it be even easier to just get them to change how they vote?”

Data on the relationship between petrol prices (or gas taxes) and petrol used suggests that it’s fairly easy to change consumption behavior; to say nothing of producer behavior.

28

Barry 06.25.15 at 2:22 pm

Trader Joe 06.25.15 at 11:45 am
“Speaking as a person who isn’t ardent “climate change advocate” but also is not a denier (which I expect is a big part of the middle masses) one thing that would be quite helpful if a lot LESS SCOLDING and a lot more encouraging.”

Personally, when I see somebody taking this line, I file them under ‘concern troll’, and write them off.

If the Civil Rights movement had believed that, they’d have accomplished a big, fat zero.

29

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 3:47 pm

Trader Joe: “If, as Rich suggests, everything I do is not good enough, and I’m on your side, can’t you see how its going to be bloody impossible to convince people who bear even a bit of skepticism.”

If people insist on looking at a collective problem as “What can I individually do about this collective problem?” then there is no honest answer you can give them other than “nothing”. Layman, above, put a 10.5 kWh solar system on his roof 8 years ago, which was a good thing to do. Did that solve the problem? No. Would it solve the problem if everyone in the world who had the individual wealth that Layman presumably does did the same thing? No.

Would a couple of simple collective decisions solve the problem? Yes. “Let’s not build any more coal plants: let’s invest what it takes to develop and implement large-scale renewables: let’s phase out gas for vehicles in favor of electricity.” The technology needed to do all of these things is already available: only a political decision is needed.

If Trader Joe is in contact with members of the elite who make decisions, probably the best thing he could do for the environment is to hire a sex worker to provide them with a really good time only on the condition that they use their influence the right way. That’s ridiculous, but it’s how our societies are set up. Somewhat less effectively, the usual avenues for political action are in theory available.

The reason that Germany has so many solar panels isn’t because Germans are so much more moral than everyone else. It’s because a governmental policy was put into place so that people will naturally put in solar panels.

30

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 3:53 pm

ZM: “It still matters how energy is used even if we move to 100% renewable energy technology. Geographical locations only have certain amounts of potential energy they can produce based on winds and sunshine. “

I’m not sure whether the Australian context makes a difference to this. Contemporary best-practices transmission systems can move power a long way, so that it’s really more effective to generate power out in various U.S. deserts and so on and move it to other places than it would be to try to make every locality self-supporting. Transmission losses are just energy uses like any other, and if added generation can be done much more cheaply in one place than other, it’s better to generate the power and then ship it.

31

Plume 06.25.15 at 3:59 pm

As long as we have capitalism, there is zero incentive for any corporation or business to make those “collective” decisions. It’s not set up for that. It’s set up to grow or die. It’s set up with every incentive in the world to put profit over health and environmental concerns. All of those things cost money and take away from profit and personal compensation for business owners. Why would they sacrifice their personal accumulation of wealth just to do the right thing regarding the climate — or ecology overall?

They’re not going to. Capitalism, for a host of reasons, needs the endless round of production and consumption to escalate and expand, forever . . . and like debt, it’s set up to postpone paying the piper and to offload those costs to the populace as much as possible. They live for the next quarter, not for the next generation.

Keep capitalism in place and we are literally doomed. See the following:

http://thischangeseverything.org/

and

http://climateandcapitalism.com/

32

ZM 06.25.15 at 4:03 pm

Rich Puchalsky,

We also have deserts in Australia, but I am not sure about imposing big solar farms on the desert ecology, and how the Indigenous people of the desserts would feel about that. It is much better I think to put as many solar panels as possible on rooftops since that land is already developed.

33

Layman 06.25.15 at 4:03 pm

“The reason that Germany has so many solar panels isn’t because Germans are so much more moral than everyone else. It’s because a governmental policy was put into place so that people will naturally put in solar panels.”

This is of course correct, and I better understand your point. I agree that it will take government coercion to make a substantial difference. My own decision was made easier by government policies designed to encourage solar panels.

34

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 4:12 pm

Layman: “I agree that it will take government coercion to make a substantial difference. “

I’m glad that you understand better, but hold on. What “coercion” are you talking about? Was it coercion when the government built the coal powered electricity generating plant that was probably providing your power before you put those solar panels up? Was it coercion when governmental policies created the national network of roads and gas stations that lets you drive your gasoline powered car (assuming that you have one)?

All large-scale energy production is based on governmental decisions. There is no market for energy production, not really. I don’t see how it suddenly becomes “coercion” when the government decides to switch from coal to solar, but it wasn’t coercion when they built the coal plants in the first place. The fact is the governments ensure that we have a functioning energy infrastructure and no functioning government leaves it to the market to provide one, and it’s a communal decision already.

35

Layman 06.25.15 at 4:28 pm

I didn’t mean ‘coercion’ in any pejorative sense. I meant government must create a system of incentives and penalties which produce the desired behavior.

36

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 4:39 pm

Layman: “I meant government must create a system of incentives and penalties which produce the desired behavior.”

Not necessarily. Sure, it could be done that way, but a government could also spend tax monies to build huge, centralized solar and wind generating plants, decommission the fossil fuel plants, and not change anyone’s behavior at all. Vehicle manufacturers could be told to start putting electric motors instead of gasoline motors under hoods, and people’s behavior would not change.

The whole “coercion”, “incentives and penalties (and that’s so hard to do)” thing is based on a deliberate, propagandistic confusion between what counts as coercion of an ordinary person and what counts as coercion of a large business concern owned by the elite. If your electric power comes from solar rather than coal, you aren’t being “coerced”, you’re flipping the switch to turn the power on and you don’t really care where it comes from. It’s only coercion in the sense that elite interests are being coerced to give up on their fossil fuel sunk investments.

37

Shirley0401 06.25.15 at 5:06 pm

For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to agree with Plume @31 on the broader issue of capitalism and the climate. That said, I also agree with the many posters who seem to be suggesting that part of the utility of individuals practicing more responsible consumption or lower-impact energy use is the way those actions subtly reinforce the necessity that action needs to be taken.
I think Trader Joe speaks for a significant segment of the population when he shares that he’s trying to do what he can, to a degree, but isn’t prepared to radically upend his life to go live in a carbon-neutral yurt.
I’m trying to be optimistic, too, but am increasingly of the mind that we need to get the percentage of the population for whom climate is one of their primary concerns. I think that, for a lot of people, a gateway into doing that is getting involved on the individual/household level. Once someone’s invested a certain amount of their time and identity into being the kind of person who takes something seriously, I guess I just assume (possibly naively) that they’re more likely to actually take it seriously.

38

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 5:23 pm

I’ve seen a whole lot of left traditions suddenly take up global climate change as a concern even through their own traditions are horrible on the environment and they really have no theory about why they would do any better. But all of a sudden it’s “we need to change the world order because the world order can’t solve this problem.” Well, it can. As I wrote up at #13, even if you assume that the world order is exploitative and abusive, it can still change energy sources and continue to be exploitative and abusive.

I’m also not impressed with the moralism that tries to import other concerns into this crisis. Does anyone really care whether people use less energy, as long as they use carbon-neutral energy? I certainly don’t. Of course the world has limits and we can’t make infinite use of anything, but that’s not what we’re running into right now. To address this critical problem, we’re really going to have to not make the solution dependent on fixing every other problem.

39

AcademicLurker 06.25.15 at 5:45 pm

Rich@38,

This has always been a danger in climate change rhetoric (and to a lesser extent, environmentalist rhetoric in general). Many people prefer to just sort of gloat over grim doomsday scenarios, because there’s always an unspoken (or openly spoken) “And then everyone will have to admit I was right!”* The end of the world is a small price to pay if we get to say “I told you so.”

*About capitalism, or patriarchy or vegetarianism or whatever the speakers favorite subject is.

40

Brett 06.25.15 at 6:00 pm

India seems like a favorable environment for solar, at least for part of the year. The electric grid is already of dubious reliability, so many businesses and homes have their own diesel generators. The “decentralized” power is already there, in other words – you just need to convince/make it possible for folks to replace most or all of their diesel generator use with solar panels and back-up batteries.

41

Bruce Wilder 06.25.15 at 6:01 pm

RP @ 38

Are we going to make “the solution dependent on fixing every other problem”? It would be nice to solve the problem of global poverty at the same time as climate change, but it seems unlikely at best and a contradiction at worst.

On the other hand, I don’t see how the problems of global resource limits, overpopulation, the accelerating pace of technological advance, ecological collapse, and climate change can be neatly separated. There are good arguments to be made for thinking of the problem as being a foundational one, not of what energy source to exploit per se, but of too much energy use in general testing the assimilative capacity of the earth’s natural systems.

42

Layman 06.25.15 at 6:15 pm

‘The whole “coercion”, “incentives and penalties (and that’s so hard to do)” thing is based on a deliberate, propagandistic confusion between what counts as coercion of an ordinary person and what counts as coercion of a large business concern owned by the elite.’

I think you’re winding yourself up to no purpose here. If you think the government can more politically easily divert tax revenues to build solar plants which are designed to put existing private power generators out of business, than it can use taxes to create incentives for private parties to create such solutions, then you are free to believe that; but it doesn’t put you in a good position to call other people misguided, naive, or stupid.

43

Plume 06.25.15 at 6:22 pm

Rich @38,

We’re aware of your animus toward “the left,” even though you claim to be an anarchist. You have again confused the entire left with a very, very small part of its authoritarian past and present. Actual leftist traditions are far more likely to be anti-authoritarian than any other part of the spectrum, including the middle.

As for ecological concerns, Marx wasn’t the first to make the obvious and logical connections between capitalism and environmental disasters . . . and that leftist tradition has only accelerated since his death. I posted an excellent resource above. Ecosocialism, as a school of sorts, is probably its most concentrated and coherent form.

One makes a huge error if they believe the state capitalisms of the Soviet Bloc, China and NK represent actual leftist tradition. They don’t, especially when it comes to the environment.

And, with Bruce, I think we can’t fix this if we don’t view it holistically. If one feels better calling this important other problems into the mix, that’s fine with me. They are related, and there’s no getting around that.

44

Trader Joe 06.25.15 at 6:35 pm

@29 Rich
“If Trader Joe is in contact with members of the elite who make decisions, probably the best thing he could do for the environment is to hire a sex worker to provide them with a really good time only on the condition that they use their influence the right way.”

I’ll get right on that…sounds like a whole lot more fun than comparing specs on high efficiency refrigerators. A certain former attorney general of NY might be just the place to start.

45

JW Mason 06.25.15 at 6:38 pm

JQ is right. Cynicism and despair are among the Bosses’ best friends.

I think the whole language of “tipping points” is a problem. It raises urgency before the supposed point is reached, but diminishes it after it’s definitely passed. I mean, once you’ve passed the point of no return, you’re not returning, right? — so full speed ahead.

And what I’ve read in ecology and evolutionary biology makes me skeptical that tipping point really exist. Things just get worse, increment, by increment; they can always get more worse. (In this sense the cynics are over optimistic.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point the fossil fuel companies roll out a new slogan: “What’s the Point? We’re Already Screwed.”

46

Matt 06.25.15 at 6:41 pm

I completely agree with Rich here. Look back to the 1970s and the Clean Air Act. Eliminating capitalism was neither necessary nor sufficient to make urban air significantly more breathable. The big changes in air quality happened because of changes in law. Not because of letter-writing campaigns or lifestyle magazines trying to encourage millions of Los Angeles residents to pretty please make the voluntary individual choice to buy a car with a catalytic converter.

I appreciate the individuals who are trying different things well before they become mainstream, providing living proof that e.g. changed consumption patterns or energy sources really do have beneficial effects. To replicate those successes en masse we need laws, treaties, and regulators. I think it’s in Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air that the author notes “if we all do just a little, we’ll accomplish just a little.” Trader Joe is to be congratulated for installing solar power and the US Congress* of 2008 is to be congratulated for legislating an investment tax credit that made solar more affordable for Joe and a multitude of others.

*I think Joe’s American?

47

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 6:55 pm

BW: “On the other hand, I don’t see how the problems of global resource limits, overpopulation, the accelerating pace of technological advance, ecological collapse, and climate change can be neatly separated. There are good arguments to be made for thinking of the problem as being a foundational one, not of what energy source to exploit per se, but of too much energy use in general testing the assimilative capacity of the earth’s natural systems.”

I don’t agree. Renewable energy resources are potentially huge, and we’re not locked into requiring a fixed amount of oil per unit of lifestyle, or something like that. World population is predicted to peak at 9.2 billion in 2075 and then taper off as far as anyone knows. Without ever-increasing population, and with energy that doesn’t face some obvious limit (except waste heat, which we’re nowhere near), I don’t think that we’re in a “Peak Everything” situation. We may well run short on other things other than energy, but let’s take one critical problem at a time.

It is tempting to look at something like overfishing, say, or ocean pollution, and think “Geez this is stupid: can’t we come up with some better social system that could be applied to all of these similar problems?” And of course to some extent I do that. But once again: no existing social system anywhere is really doing much better than bog-standard neoliberalism in this area, and if we’re really facing a problem which would kill billions of people than we’d be better off if we did what we could to make even neoliberalism capable of handling it. Which really it can…. maybe.

48

Plume 06.25.15 at 7:07 pm

Matt,

Those changes helped reduce obscene levels of pollution to just bad. LA, for instance, still has its ozone layer quite visible on certain days. Up and down the East Coast, the air in many places isn’t breathable at all. It stinks to high heavens for all kinds of reasons, most of them having to do with industrial overproduction. This is also the case with farmlands. Pesticides and quite unnatural fertilizers are in the air we all breathe.

Then there are the mountain ranges. Acid rain has sucked the color right out of the flora. Our water supplies are loaded with carcinogens and, at best, all manner of unhealthy byproducts.

Our seas are 90% fished out, literally, in just the last 50 years, and half of the species life on the planet has been wiped out in that period of time as well.

MNCs own our governments and our trade legislation, which often makes it impossible for those rarely courageous governments who do want to do something to protect the planet. International trade agreements, more and more, have ironclad rules attached which prevent this . . . . and Obama’s recent deal is no exception.

The EPA, which the America right likes to portray as preventing every move by every business on the planet, is in reality almost powerless. There are some 80,000 chemicals in use right now, for example, and the EPA can’t even study the majority of them, due to trade secrets laws. They’ve actually only taken a good, hard look at a few hundred, and banned all of five. There is simply too much pressure from billionaires and corporate powers to stop them from doing what is best for the world.

Again, that’s on capitalism. Not only does it have every incentive in the world to give the planet the finger. It also has every incentive in the world to prevent that rare government which wants to protect it from doing so.

Our economic system is killing us and most species on earth. This will only get worse.

49

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 7:17 pm

Layman: “If you think the government can more politically easily divert tax revenues to build solar plants which are designed to put existing private power generators out of business”

Are there really existing private power generators, at the largest scale? Of course this varies from country to country, but in the U.S. public utilities have a government-set rate of profit. The only reason why they are said to be privately owned is because … because it’s a large public asset, so someone has to privately own it because capitalism? I’ve never been very good at theology. At any rate, let the “owners” decide that they are going to take their chunk of the U.S. transmission network or whatever offline because they own it and they can do what they want with it, and they will find out that they don’t own it after all.

Of course it may be easier to convince the public of any particular country that “incentives” are great and “taxes” are horrible: that’s public relations. All that I was trying to say was that individual behavior doesn’t necessarily have to change. Maybe it would be better if it did, in many cases, but there is an enormous propaganda industry that tries to convince everyone that all problems are individual problems and should be addressed by individual action. I don’t think that we should be quick to agree with this, even if what we’re talking about is how individual actions are all guided by some kind of central incentive, whether policy or market based. Not when the production decisions are the important ones, and they already aren’t individual.

50

Omega Centauri 06.25.15 at 7:29 pm

With the current renewables tech/industry, we are still climbing the long learning curve. So every individual decision to buy a little more solar, or contract for a bit more win, or to buy an electric or plugin vehicle, adds volume to the market for the things we need to push up the learning curve.

So what if ZMs or Trader Joes panels don’t come close to covering 100% of his needs (mine don’t either)? And my plugin still consumes gasoline -just not as much. But, we have helped to create demand, which causes more investment in improving those things, which allows them to become cheaper/better so that others in the future will take them up. We are still trying to get these virtuous circles going, and early adoptors form a crucial part of the market and mindshare which attract investments in these things.

51

Matt 06.25.15 at 7:36 pm

Air quality in the urban USA has improved dramatically since the 1970s, though there are regions that still don’t meet quality standards. Acid rain in both wild and urban areas of the USA has declined dramatically. 50% of species have most certainly not been wiped out in the last 50 years, though we are in the midst of a great extinction. That’s thanks to collective action implemented via government, though I also credit activist individuals who helped build support for action through government.

We both agree that the EPA doesn’t have enough power to enforce regulations on the books, and to update regulations to match new scientific discoveries, but even so regulations have been enormously beneficial. The obstructionist polluters do not always win. They have lost a lot of battles over the last 45 years. They are likely to lose a lot more over the next 45. They will also fend off a lot of challenges to their destructive practices. That’s reason to keep trying, not a reason to give up.

52

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 7:50 pm

Matt: “Air quality in the urban USA has improved dramatically since the 1970s”

Yes. In addition to the kinds of things that Matt is talking about, look at the Montreal Protocol. We saved global ecosystems from severe damage, at the most immediate level prevented 1.5 million deaths from skin cancer in the U.S. alone… and there really wasn’t anything individuals could do, except those individuals who were in place or who put themselves in place to help make the political solution possible. People were all “Should I stop using aerosol spray cans? Can I protect my kids by having them wear sunscreen?” Well you could do those things (and kids should use sunscreen anyways) but really the problem just wasn’t amenable to lifestyle alteration.

53

Layman 06.25.15 at 8:15 pm

“Are there really existing private power generators, at the largest scale?”

Of course; I’d guess they’re mostly privately owned and/or publicly traded companies; though heavily regulated, as you noted.

As to individual behavior changing, that’s the whole objective. If you want people to drive electric cars, then they have to choose to buy them, and/or someone has to choose to make them. This could happen on its own, of course, but if you want it soon, it takes coercion to make that happen. You can order it, or incentivize it, or penalize the alternative. And incentives are also penalties – when I got a tax break to help fund my solar, you paid for it, so you were penalized.

54

Plume 06.25.15 at 8:19 pm

Matt @51,

One can quibble with the way I worded the statement, and get into semantic death matches, but I’ll let others hash that out. Here’s the scoop:

Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF

55

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 8:26 pm

Layman: “I’d guess they’re mostly privately owned and/or publicly traded companies; though heavily regulated, as you noted.”

It was a rhetorical question. I actually helped to make a list of them. My point was that the regulation is so heavy that they might as well not be.

Layman: “If you want people to drive electric cars, then they have to choose to buy them, and/or someone has to choose to make them. “

You’re doing the same thing that I originally complained about: mixing up coercion as applied to an individual with coercion as applied to a large company. The number of car-making companies that need to be “coerced” is, what, like 4 or 5? After that, consumers can buy whatever car they like.

56

Matt 06.25.15 at 8:37 pm

@Plume: I thought you meant species loss, i.e. extinction. I do not dispute the WWF’s report on loss of wildlife.

57

Plume 06.25.15 at 8:42 pm

Aside from the obvious solution of replacing an economic system which will forever be in conflict with the planet, we are obviously now at the point where it’s absurd to assume that corporations will voluntarily do the right thing. There must then be outright bans on producing things that pollute and destroy ecosystems. We need to be draconian, if we want a planet that can sustain life in the future.

A change from capitalism would make it so we didn’t have to be draconian, at all, because it would naturally have radically different objectives, would naturally be centered on small is beautiful, local is beautiful, democratic is beautiful. It would naturally seek to work in harmony with the planet and with all of us, together. Capitalism, OTOH, couldn’t be more in conflict with the vast majority of us and the planet if it were paid to be — Oh, wait. It is.

58

Plume 06.25.15 at 8:50 pm

Matt @56,

As mentioned, the wording wasn’t the best.

But, to me, it’s absolutely stunning that we’ve lost so much wildlife in the last 40 years, and human pollution is a direct and indirect cause of much of that:

A second index in the new Living Planet report calculates humanity’s “ecological footprint”, ie the scale at which it is using up natural resources. Currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb.

The report concludes that today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it. But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.

The fastest decline among the animal populations were found in freshwater ecosystems, where numbers have plummeted by 75% since 1970. “Rivers are the bottom of the system,” said Dave Tickner, WWF’s chief freshwater adviser. “Whatever happens on the land, it all ends up in the rivers.” For example, he said, tens of billions of tonnes of effluent are dumped in the Ganges in India every year.

The 1.5 earths jumps to 2 in 2030. We can’t sustain this.

59

Layman 06.25.15 at 9:16 pm

“You’re doing the same thing that I originally complained about”

…because I think it’s a stupid complaint. Sorry.

60

novakant 06.25.15 at 9:42 pm

Realistically the only answer is a major voluntary decline in standard of living:

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=List_of_countries_by_energy_consumption_per_capita

but nobody really wants that of course.

61

Plume 06.25.15 at 9:54 pm

It’s not really about declines in standards of living. It’s all about rethinking those standards.

It may be a cliche, but “the simple life” can often be the far higher quality life. If society is set up for it, then it will be. The real reason people even think in terms of more consumer stuff means a higher standard of living . . . . is because we’re brainwashed by the people who benefit most from that framing:

capitalists in general, and MNCs in particular.

It’s all relative. If we simply didn’t see the thousand and one different versions of product X, or any of the products that destroy the planet in the first place . . . . and instead saw local produce and local production and small is beautiful, and less is more, etc. etc. . . . we wouldn’t have anything to compare it with, as far as feeling like we were always losing out on something. And if you really break it down, if you really look carefully in our stores, it’s not hard to imagine us doing without 99% of it, and our landfills, our air and water, and the earth itself would be eternally grateful in the process.

The likely outcome is that with the reduction in McStuff, we’d have better stuff. Much, much less of it, true. But it would all be better, would last generations, etc. etc. IMO, fewer things, of higher quality, within a healthy ecosystem, means much, much higher standard of living. A few very well made things to help us get through life, rather than a ton of junk, endlessly needed quick replacements, etc. etc.

62

Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 9:57 pm

Layman: “because I think it’s a stupid complaint. Sorry.”

Well, OK. But if you’re mixing up “the government is coercing us” with “the government is coercing General Motors” then I think that’s “misguided, naive, or stupid” to quote you from earlier. It’s classic right-wing “the freedom of Ford to make whatever cars it wants to sell you is a basic freedom for you and me.”

63

John Quiggin 06.25.15 at 10:24 pm

I agree with Rich @47. Fixing the global climate, and improving the environment more generally doesn’t require the end of capitalism, let alone industrial society. A good thing too, because we need to get the bulk of the climate stabilization job done in the next fifteen years, and capitalism certainly isn’t going away in that time.

Interestingly though, the biggest believers in the belief that climate stabilization will destroy capitalism are to be found on the right, where this is the standard view of mainstream Republicans. This belief has led them into delusional anti-science on the issue, which has in turn contributed to the broader process of intellectual collapse now evident to all.

It’s also helped to kill off any attempt at intellectual revival, as witness the intellectual contortions of the “reformicons” on this issue among others – they now seem to have vanished without trace.

64

Matt 06.25.15 at 10:24 pm

Every nation in the ranks of “very high” Human Development Index nations has above-world-average energy consumption per capita. But not all of them have above-world-average CO2 emissions per capita. The sources of consumed energy, not just the fact of energy consumption, really do matter. Chile has a very high HDI and CO2 emissions per capita below the world average. Equatorial Guinea has a medium HDI and emissions per capita above the world average, about equal to Spain, but much worse HDI indicators than Spain or Chile.

Switzerland is one of the few nations with HDI even above the USA and its energy consumption per capita is less than half that of the USA. Swiss citizens have a very high standard of living/development, plenty of modern consumer “stuff,” haven’t foresworn capitalism, and yet use much less energy and emit much less CO2 per capita than Americans.*

For that matter, there is a huge variation in CO2 emissions per capita even between US states. West Virginia is at a whopping 51 tonnes per capita, while its neighbor Ohio is at 20 and neighboring Virginia is at 12. West Virginians certainly don’t have a standard of living multiple times better than citizens of nearby states. The state just uses an insane amount of coal.

*It’s probably because of Switzerland’s mild tropical climate, in the absence of which Americans are fated to use much more energy to maintain the same standard of living.

65

Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 10:45 pm

Population growth rates were seriously revised last year, using revised current birthrate data, and world population is NOT expected to level-off in the 21st century, possibly reaching 13 billion by 2100:

http://news.sciencemag.org/economics/2014/09/experts-be-damned-world-population-will-continue-rise

66

Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 10:50 pm

It’s really important to understand that energy use must have entropy, but it does not need to have entropic waste products of the same environmental destruction as we have now. There must always be entropy, but the FORM of it can be quite harmless to the biosphere. At the most harmless end, it could be just infrared radiation, going off into space. If we find the right processes, we may be able to have a super high-energy future.

67

Val 06.25.15 at 10:55 pm

@ 63
Well from a public health viewpoint, I agree more with Plume. High capitalism is not just damaging the planet, it is making people unhealthy. Sooner or later mainstream economists such as yourself will need to recognise that there are serious conflicts between ‘what we need to do to create a way of life that is ecologically and socially sustainable’ and the ongoing push of capitalist corporations to have more and more control and derive more and more (unequally distributed) profit.

You can read about it in Naomi Klein ‘This changes everything’ but I also came across a very interesting piece of information the other day – apparently Sweden introduced healthy eating guidelines with a focus on sustainability recently, including recommendations such as eat less meat and choose locally grown food. Non-controversial one might think, but apparently the EU opposed them as being at odds with free trade provisions. Klein says the majority (I think, don’t have the book here right now) of disputes under free trade agreements have been over environmental or health protections.

This stuff is real, it’s happening. There is a clash between ecological sustainability and capitalism as we know it, and I think economists and political theorists do need to start recognising this.

For those who would like to know more about why ‘changes in lifestyle’ aren’t necessarily a bad thing, there’s a large literature on health co-benefits of climate change mitigation, including in the IPCC AR5 working group 2 report (I think it’s chapter 7 but can send a link later) and the Lancet has just published a new report.

I have started to put some of this info on my blog but might do some more soonish.

68

Val 06.25.15 at 11:08 pm

Here’s one article that mentions the Swedish guidelines being contested http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/96/3/459.full#ref-4

I’ll send more links later. From my point of view there is surprisingly little information about these conflicts, it seems to be going the radar a bit.

69

Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 11:17 pm

Val, You may be interested in three books:

The Politics of the Solar Age, by Hazel Henderson
Building a Win-Win World, by Hazel Henderson
The Bridge at the Edge of the World, by Gus Speth

These two people have been at the center of the multiple-NGO world movement on environmental, social and economic issues for the last 40 years and there are none who know more about the full plate of interlocking issues all the way down to the nuts and bolts, and what people are doing about it all over the planet.

70

Matt 06.25.15 at 11:19 pm

The only way the Earth sheds net waste heat is via infrared radiation to space. Wind and hydro power, rather surprisingly, do not increase waste heat at all. The kinetic energy of the wind and water were always going to turn into waste heat eventually; the only difference with human intervention is that we get some electricity out of them first. Photovoltaic systems also are not heat engines and do not produce waste heat per se, but by modifying the albedo of the Earth’s surface (making it darker so less sunlight immediately reflects) they have a small warming effect of their own. The effect is of course much smaller than getting an equivalent quantity of electricity from a heat engine.

Present silicon based PV technology is already efficient enough, and based on sufficiently abundant materials, to capture more useful energy each year than fossil fuels currently provide. Actually eliminating fossil fuel use for energy production will require electrification of most transportation, cheaper and much more energy storage for times when sun is not available, and some artificial hydrocarbon synthesis for fueling systems that cannot be electrified, like aircraft.

71

Bruce Wilder 06.25.15 at 11:19 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 66

I think that combines techno-optimism and abstraction in a dangerously misleading way. You are edging very close to the equivalent of perpetual motion machines with such claims, and obscuring the extent to which humans will have to combine increased technical efficiency with constraints on energy consumption, if we are to reduce human impact on the environment.

I’m all for an optimism that gets people to think practically about actually doing things, but I notice that it seems to slide seamlessly into fantasyland. If your “optimism” requires imagining a utopia in which efficiency soars so far that benefits swallow costs and never shit them out, you are just as crazy as those, who assuage their anxieties with an imaginary apocalypse.

It is especially dangerous as a path along RP’s “one problem at a time” approach — it is easy to forget that every “solution” is going to create its own new set of problems, not usher in the millennium.

72

Bruce Wilder 06.25.15 at 11:20 pm

Matt @ 70

This is really turning into dementia. Please stop.

73

Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 11:34 pm

Matt #70 “Wind and hydro power, rather surprisingly, do not increase waste heat at all.”

You are talking about production only, not use of the energy. There is no exception to the second law of thermodynamics.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.25.15 at 11:38 pm

BW: “It is especially dangerous as a path along RP’s “one problem at a time” approach — it is easy to forget that every “solution” is going to create its own new set of problems, not usher in the millennium.”

It’s not *required* that we forget, though. For instance, the Montreal Protocol, the most successful world environmental solution ever, also ushered in HFCs. Oops! But we then can address HFCs, which aren’t as bad overall as the original CFCs.

At some level I think it’s better to be optimistic that people as a whole aren’t going to do the same stupid thing over and over indefinitely. There may be no evidence of this, but there are some assumptions without which action becomes kind of pointless.

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Val 06.25.15 at 11:42 pm

@69
Thanks Lee for those references, I’ll have a look as soon as I can.

JQ @ 63
I think my comment to you above sounded a bit more dismissive than I intended (as often happens when I dash things off). I’m aware of course of all the good work you’ve been doing around bringing the TPP to people’s attention. We are also using an article of yours about food pricing in a unit on climate change and health I’m teaching in this year, so by no means do I intend to diminish your work! However, I do think you aren’t recognising sufficiently there is a fundamental clash between what can be broadly summarised as ‘EcoHealth’ and capitalism.

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Matt 06.25.15 at 11:51 pm

You are talking about production only, not use of the energy. There is no exception to the second law of thermodynamics.

I’m talking about use also. This is not a second law violation: the energy in e.g. wind was always destined to be dissipated as waste heat somewhere on Earth. The only difference is that if some of its dissipation is against a wind turbine, instead of all of it dissipating against trees and mountains, humans get some use out of it first. It’s analogous to e.g. whether or not humans soak in natural hot springs. Whether humans get warmer or not, the total Earth environment is going to get the same amount of heating.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.25.15 at 11:59 pm

Bruce Wilder #71: “…very close to the equivalent of perpetual motion machines…benefits swallow costs and never shit them out…reduce human impact on the environment…every “solution” is going to create its own new set of problems…”

Energy production and use must have waste products, like CO2. The fact that some forms of energy can have waste products which don’t have to harm the environment like CO2, does not make them “perpetual motion machines”. It’s just physics. The only question is whether they would have enough motive force to do what we already do, and the answer is, yes, we can design around that too. You might specify a human impact on the environment which it is necessary to reduce, instead of just general hand-waving. For example, if it is the reduction of wilderness areas — well that’s a problem of land use restrictions and restoration ecology, and not a problem that renewable energy necessarily makes better or worse. Meanwhile the idea that every solution MUST create new problems sounds more like metaphor or superstition. There are usually new consequences, but whether they will all be problems needing solutions, remains to be seen. Simply putting restraints on energy production, which is not remotely in the cards anyway, would have consequences, and might create a new set of problems.

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Matt 06.26.15 at 12:02 am

@Bruce Wilder: I’m not going to stop writing. I don’t always agree with you, but I typically don’t try to quiet you because I think that we have more political similarities than differences. I would appreciate the same courtesy, but I can adapt if I’ve misperceived where we stand.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 12:07 am

Matt #76,

Yes, you’re right, I’m sorry. I misread you to say that there was no additional waste heat at point of use. Of course there is. Your point is that it would have been dissipated somewhere else, anyway. So we can have a high-energy future without changing the total natural energy budget of the biosphere: we are just rearranging the concentrations of the dissipations.

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Val 06.26.15 at 12:20 am

@ 63
Further – re “industrial society”. In a broad sense, what industrial society has allowed us to do is utilise other sources of energy than our own human energy (which we get from eating). I don’t think there’s any doubt that we have in wealthy societies already gone too far with this. We use too much ‘other’ energy (particularly through cars) and not enough of our own – so we’re gettin too fat!

That’s not to be a Luddite or oppose industrialisation altogether, but we shouldn’t assume that it’s always better to reduce human effort/ do things more easily.

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Layman 06.26.15 at 12:23 am

‘It’s classic right-wing “the freedom of Ford to make whatever cars it wants to sell you is a basic freedom for you and me.”’

Yes, this is why I say it’s a stupid complaint. If the government forces Ford to do something, Ford as an organization has been coerced. One can believe that without also believing that corporations are people or that they have the rights of individuals. You’re having a reaction to a word which is perfectly useful to the purpose.

That aside, I want to pursue what works, within reasonable bounds, and not be constrained to only those things which comport with the Party Central Comittee’s orthodoxy. Maybe it would be better to dictate to car companies, but I’d say there’s no political will to do very much of that, so incentives and penalties it will have to be,

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Cranky Observer 06.26.15 at 12:30 am

= = = That aside, I want to pursue what works, within reasonable bounds, and not be constrained to only those things which comport with the Party Central Comittee’s orthodoxy. Maybe it would be better to dictate to car companies, but I’d say there’s no political will to do very much of that, so incentives and penalties it will have to be, = = =

Presumably that reasoning also applies when a purely rational capitalist organization rejects a given technology. For example, when Wall Street – assumed in freshwater analysis to be the canonical example of pure rational capitalism allocating resources – chooses not to fund nuclear fission power plants for 20 years, you will accept that judgement and not attempt to deflect blame to other actors in the political economy or force the gub’mint to subsidize that technology. Right?

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gianni 06.26.15 at 12:39 am

Certainly these issues cannot be resolved by life-style changes alone, but we should not push that argument too far. Our consumption habits in the developed world should not get a pass just because there are agents with a bigger role and responsibility. Few individuals have control over anything but their own consumption habits, after all, and ignoring this aspect of the problem is unnecessarily limiting, and can even be used as cover to defend consumption habits which are unduly burdensome on the environment.

For example: meat consumption in the developed world. Anyone familiar with the data knows that meat production is responsible for a sizable part of the emissions equation. This is an area where individuals can clearly work to cut down their footprint, without interfering with macro level solutions in energy production, transit, etc. In this regard, the situation Val highlights – which looks to me like sound science being overwhelmed by the influence of an industrial lobby – is very worrisome. This pattern is not at all unique, and we should be concerned about the ways that entrenched industries are driven to muddy the waters when it comes to basic human health.

Just as vested interests are content with the masses giving up on macro level solutions out of pessimism, there are also vested interests happy to promulgate the notion that there is nothing to be done on the individual level. This is a convenient lie for some, and not something we should endorse. In a late capitalist society such as ours, our consumption habits can be one of the most powerful tools we posses to communicate our desires for change. This is certainly a consequence of our political disempowerment – they are powerful in a relative sense only – but there is also a way in which action at the individual level constitutes a certain political sensibility which can be usefully applied to larger scale action.

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Cranky Observer 06.26.15 at 12:42 am

= = = Are there really existing private power generators, at the largest scale? Of course this varies from country to country, but in the U.S. public utilities have a government-set rate of profit.

The US is down to at most 40% of the population being served by traditional regulated utilities, and that number may be high. The FERC – currently dominated by consensus freshwater analysis of both Republican- and Democratic-appointed members – would like to see that number down to 0% and state regulation eliminated entirely. In any case from 1994 forward even the remaining regulated utilities have been divesting their generating assets and purchasing most of their bulk power on open markets from competitive GENCOs.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 12:42 am

I know that I should just drop this, but — no, large organizations really aren’t coerced in the same sense as individuals are coerced. Of course you can use the same word to describe both: English has lots of words with more the one meaning or with closely related meanings. But this is a case in which it’s really rather important to distinguish between the two meanings.

If someone can’t buy a gasoline powered car, and they want to and they have the money or other medium of exchange needed, they might not be able to for two kinds of reasons — either they are coerced not to buy the car, or the car company is coerced not to make the car. There is a huge amount of sleight of hand propaganda that goes into making these two situations indistinguishable, so that it appears that the same amount of coercion is coming out in the wash either way. If you really think that I’m just picking on word choice, you’re wrong.

“There’s no political will to do very much of that”: wrong. Car companies are, for instance, even under the current regime in America, coerced to manufacture fleets that meet certain MPG standards. That’s one of the only things that managed to get through the political process here recently. So people are in fact much more willing to have large companies coerced to manufacture differently than they are willing to have themselves coerced to buy differently.

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Bruce Wilder 06.26.15 at 1:13 am

Lee A. Arnold @ 77

You really do seem to have lost the thread on this one.

Waste heat? Really?

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 1:23 am

I have definitely lost your thread. Do you mean that “waste heat” from renewables must cause global warming?

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Bruce Wilder 06.26.15 at 1:26 am

Do you mean that “waste heat” from renewables must cause global warming?

No.

Do you think it is possible to eat and never shit?

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themgt 06.26.15 at 1:32 am

It’s really apparent to me, reading these comments, that most people here are coming at this much more from a perspective of political than climatological expertise. And I’m not a climate scientist, but having spent a good amount of time digging into the professional/semi-professional side of this research, I think most of you are far too optimistic.

It’s widely understood within the scientific community that the IPCC’s continued claims of a path to 2C is a “best case scenario” if not outright wishful thinking, and that even 2C may very likely prove unsafe, with runaway feedback mechanisms (amplifications) that send temperatures far higher. The vast majority of new data about e.g. climate sensitivity, Antarctic and Greenland ice sheet vulnerability, the actual speed of arctic ice melting, a worrying amount of methane pouring into the atmosphere from the arctic, a slowdown in environmental uptake of CO2, etc have been almost universally more negative than had been hoped. We’re nowhere near feeling the full effects of 400ppm (which will take decades at least), and if we shut off all coal plants today, the earth would warm dramatically within a few years due to the removal of the short-lived aerosol negative forcing. We already have “baked-in” far more warming than we’re currently experiencing.

It’s important perhaps for the public to stress that the actions we take now can still improve the eventual outcome, but going into this with rose-colored glasses is not likely to serve you well, minus our invention of a way to efficiently suck billions of tons of CO2 back out of the atmosphere.

We need to make not gradual but drastic cuts, not in 10 years but immediately, to have any chance of avoiding 3C or more of warming, and most scientists agree 3C has a high probability of being unstable. Realistically, the way this is playing out is: changes will be made, but it is too little, too late, and as the climate swings more wildly out of control within 10 or 20 years, some sort of dramatic attempt to geoengineer a fix will become unavoidable, with uncertain results.

Best case scenario is a zillion gigawatts of cheap fusion and/or solar lets us to atmospheric carbon capture and storage. Business as usual scenario is end of human civilization as we know it and the extinction of nearly all life on earth.

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Bruce Wilder 06.26.15 at 1:35 am

themgt @ 89

Thank you for that.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 1:55 am

“It’s widely understood within the scientific community that the IPCC’s continued claims of a path to 2C is a “best case scenario” if not outright wishful thinking”

So when we’re trying to convince right-wingers that the science really is well founded, we describe the IPCC reports as the consensus of the best knowledge that we have. But at other times it’s suddenly not the consensus? So much so that “it’s widely understood within the scientific community” that it’s not? Or is this a criticism of the economic / political “path to 2C” rather than the science itself?

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 1:56 am

Bruce Wilder #88: “Do you think it is possible to eat and never shit?”

You are talking about sewer waste management?

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 2:00 am

Rich Pulchalsky #91: “…IPCC reports as the consensus of the best knowledge that we have. But at other times it’s suddenly not the consensus? So much so that it’s widely understood within the scientific community that it’s not?”

I don’t know how widely understood, but it’s fairly well known to those following the science that a number of indicators have taken an unpredicted turn for the worst since the AR5.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 2:20 am

Saying that the older document should be modified according to more recent observations is not the same thing as saying that continued claims from the IPCC are wishful thinking.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 2:32 am

I don’t understand what you mean. The IPCC reports are the syntheses by the climatology community. The IPCC is not some entity that sits around in continuous judgement of the consensus, making up-to-date “continued claims”. There is only the last document it produced, which is already 2 years old. All the researchers have gone back out to do more research.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 2:36 am

The IPCC reports have been created every 6 years: 1995, 2001, 2007, 2013.

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ZM 06.26.15 at 2:46 am

themgt,

“We need to make not gradual but drastic cuts, not in 10 years but immediately, to have any chance of avoiding 3C or more of warming, and most scientists agree 3C has a high probability of being unstable. Realistically, the way this is playing out is: changes will be made, but it is too little, too late, “

This is why I always say we need a wartime mobilization approach and make long lists of all the things needing to be done. It is very difficult to convince people though.

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ZM 06.26.15 at 2:48 am

The IPCC do not condone a 2 degrees target in the reports. They just provide scenarios of possible paths. 2 degrees is just the political agreement and the number was plucked out of thin air by the economist Nordhaus in the 1970s.

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Peter T 06.26.15 at 3:17 am

Getting back to the relative merits of optimism and pessimism – I think the case for generalising about either is overblown. Some people find courage in a bright outlook, others in a dark. Trader Joe invested in his solar panels out of optimism, but I know people who have put one in for the satisfaction of spitting in the eye of the coal companies. And both are worth it – someone with an investment in a clean future is likely to be a more committed political proponent than one who is not.

Heroes defy the storm – and everyone likes to be a hero.

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themgt 06.26.15 at 3:22 am

Yes, the (already dated) IPCC scenarios that continue to provide a likely 2C ceiling are all assuming CCS or other methods of net-negative emissions, because there really is not any headroom left. Again, please dig into the actual science, especially from the last few years. Watch the Kevin Anderson video and this one from Glen Peters:

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 3:29 am

I’m not really sure what “continued claims” meant, but producing ARs is not all that IPCC does. For that matter AR5 was finalized in 2014, or, if you prefer, the Synthesis Report for AR5 was “launched” in 2015. I do know that I don’t particularly like the idea of non-climate-scientists talking down the IPCC. No scientific document is holy writ, and every one can be contradicted by later observations, but you can’t simultaneously tell people that it’s the most trustworthy summary we have and that it’s widely understood by scientists to involve wishful thinking.

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themgt 06.26.15 at 3:39 am

Not really sure what to tell you Rich. Reality is complicated? If you’ve actually been following climate science in depth, nothing I am saying should be slightly surprising.

http://www.nature.com/news/climate-policy-ditch-the-2-c-warming-goal-1.16018
“Since then, two nasty political problems have emerged. First, the goal is effectively unachievable. Owing to continued failures to mitigate emissions globally, rising emissions are on track to blow through this limit eventually. To be sure, models show that it is just possible to make deep planet-wide cuts in emissions to meet the goal. But those simulations make heroic assumptions — such as almost immediate global cooperation and widespread availability of technologies such as bioenergy carbon capture and storage methods that do not exist even in scale demonstration.”

Watch Kevin Anderson, because he goes into how policymakers and other scientists have avoided admitting to this because they believe it would make global mitigation efforts even less politically palatable. The IPCC models that show us at 2C are assuming technology we don’t have and have made barely any progress on in decades.

And this is all just the essentially linear effects – the feedback loop of amplifications we’re already beginning to witness are just being assumed not to exist in these models.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 3:47 am

You’re blurring two things together. One of them is how we would need CCS to meet the 2C goal. But, yes, people reading this thread knew that, it’s in the original post if nothing else:

There’s a strong case that we should do better than 450 ppm, with a common ‘safe’ figure being 350 ppm. Since we passed that level some time ago, that requires a long period of negative net emissions, which cannot easily be achieved with current technology.

The second bit is about “the feedback loop of amplifications”. And here’s where you’re presenting science as if it’s for-sure when it really isn’t. By blurring these two together, you’re making it sound as if something that we all know is just as certain as something that we really don’t know.

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maidhc 06.26.15 at 4:12 am

Rich Puchalsky: At any rate, let the “owners” decide that they are going to take their chunk of the U.S. transmission network or whatever offline because they own it and they can do what they want with it, and they will find out that they don’t own it after all.

That’s exactly what Enron did in California and they found out they could extract $12 billion from the economy that way.

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themgt 06.26.15 at 4:19 am

I’m really not confusing two things. I agree the feedback loops are a current unknown, but evidence is accumulating and it does not look good. Second, Quiggin specifically states ‘These commitments are consistent with the IPCC’s estimate of the cuts required to stabilise greenhouse at 450 ppm, giving a good (66 per cent or higher) chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.’ – and what I am trying to show you is that in fact that scenario would require far more drastic action than anything that is being considered, and that action would be required to start immediately, if not years ago.

I am just not seeing it. Major infrastructure projects would need to be shuttered, abandoning trillions in capital. Just in my little town, the energy company announced a month ago it’d be spending nearly a billion dollars to replace an aging coal plant with a larger plant with natural gas + a solar garnish, to be completed by 2020. These are the types of improvements we’re seeing today, in infrastructure yet to be built that’s barely an improvement on the status quo, when we’d need to be seeing zero new fossil fuel plants and a global mobilization to pour money into a drastic energy shift. We’re seeing tar sands expansion, BLM approving more coal leases, fracking, cheap Saudi oil, approval for drilling the melting arctic, etc. None of this is possibly compatible with a 2C future.

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Omega Centauri 06.26.15 at 5:07 am

There are two things that have made the official IPCC reports too conservative. One has to do with cutoff dates for new science inputs to the next ARN report, coupled with only settled science input. Its also got political oversight by governments, and this tends to force the understatement of risks.

I do spend a lot of time on RealClimate, and I see no evidence the climate-science community thinks any of the feedbacks will be so strong as to generate runaway warming. The issue is that they increase the climate sensitivity (amount of warming per unit of human emissins). YTipping points are far more likely to be things like a change in ocean current regimes, which would have big impacts on weather, but not necessarily lead to an increase in the global averaged temperature.

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ZM 06.26.15 at 5:14 am

In another thread I linked to a one degree of warming war plan by Paul gilding and jorgen randers. This is supposed to start in 2018, so we have 2 1/2 years. As it is the centenary of WWI people should just bring up the need for a wartime mobilization approach to climate change whenever talk of WW1 is brought up.

Paul Gilding also has a blog

“Anyone who “gets” the urgency of the climate issue and the scale of economic transformation it necessitates, is bewildered by those who don’t. How can so many otherwise intelligent and logical people – such as company executives, politicians and investment managers – not see the obvious urgency or the equally obvious economic risk? It is so illogical it can only be seen as denial.

This is not climate denial but an example of “implicatory denial”, the rather bizarre ability of humans to accept a risk but then stop processing the implications, just because those implications are so overwhelming. It is well covered in a study by Kari Marie Norgaard, described in her book “Living in Denial”.

Studying history, particularly WWII, while writing my book The Great Disruption led me to accept this type of denial as largely inevitable. As I wrote there, it is exactly because the implications are so great, that the denial is so strong. And because the implications get more dramatic and costly every year, the longer we delay the stronger implicatory denial becomes!

It is now so late in the process that the implications of ending denial are truly mind-boggling. For a start to have even an 80% chance (clearly too low) of limiting warming to the agreed 2 degree target (clearly too high) requires us to eliminate fossil fuels – one of the world’s largest and most powerful industries – and replace it in less than a few decades. This scale of change has enormous social and economic implications in any time scale but to do so within decades is without precedent outside war – not to mention terrifying for the owners and managers of such businesses (and so denial inducing)!

But it being mind-boggling and without precedent unfortunately doesn’t change the facts. This is what is necessary and so it must be done. That’s why I called that chapter “When The Dam of Denial Breaks” – because with the pressure constantly building, at some point it becomes so great the dam bursts.

If you think that’s wrong, you have to accept the alternative – that as the food supply collapses, extreme weather accelerates and military conflict over water scarcity, refugee flow and famine erupts, we will idly stand by and observe it getting steadily worse without response. That idea is so absurd it can be ignored, and that’s why the dam of denial breaking is inevitable. But when?

….

So will these 6 drivers be enough? Will the economic impacts of collapsing fossil fuels and collapsing cities force the invisible hand of the market to do what governments have failed to do? Not by itself, but it could tip a system that is primed and ready. Changing systems requires many interconnected parts to shift. That’s why in my writing and speaking I try to summarise such complex inter-related drivers – to help us see the whole and recognise emerging patterns.

Given all these indicators, I think there are enough cracks in the dam of denial to argue it is about to break. That does not mean the problem is fixed. But it would mean we stop this absurd game of implicatory denial and get to work on driving and managing the massive economic transformation that starts when denial ends.

When we try to understand and forecast change, we tend to look for big symbolic events – the global political deal, the massive economic crash or the extreme weather event that destroys a city. The reality is that change, especially system change, is just messy. It’s chaotic, confusing and often hard to see when you’re in the middle of it. But many are smelling a big shift, like the International Business Editor of the UK’s conservative broadsheet The Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard who summed it up well: “These historic turning points are hard to call when you are living through them but much of today’s fossil fuel industry has a distinct whiff of the 19th Century canals, a pre-modern relic in a world that is moving on very fast.”

This will be the year it moves a whole lot faster.”

http://paulgilding.com/2015/02/23/the-year-the-dam-of-denial-breaks-ready-for-the-flood/

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dax 06.26.15 at 8:27 am

“The reason that Germany has so many solar panels isn’t because Germans are so much more moral than everyone else. “

I’m not sure about everyone else, but the Germans are surely heck more moral than the average American or Brit. The Anglo-Saxons tend to have a discount function which gives priority to the present: the Germans tend to have a discount function which gives priority to the future.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 11:59 am

maidhc: “That’s exactly what Enron did in California and they found out they could extract $12 billion from the economy that way.”

Well, Enron indeed no longer owns those assets, and hopefully the lesson has been learned. There are limits to optimism, and as I mentioned upthread the question of whether it’s possible for U.S. policymakers to learn anything in any permanent sense is approaching one of those limits. But for now the deregulatory scheme that let Enron do this is gone. And what stopped it was exactly this difference between the neoliberal ideology of “all assets must be owned by business” and the reality that if electric grids don’t stay on, they get nationalized.

Omega Centauri: “There are two things that have made the official IPCC reports too conservative.”

OK. I’ve been involved in global climate change activism since 1995 — at least, that’s when I can remember doing the first concrete thing about it — and I remember the long and exhausting fight to get IPCC reports accepted as authoritative. I don’t think it’s a good idea to casually undermine that. It’s pretty important to be clear about exactly what one is disagreeing with. The bit about CCS and the likelihood of whether it’s going to happen *does not contradict anything in AR5* as far as I know. The bit about “even 2C may very likely prove unsafe, with runaway feedback mechanisms (amplifications) that send temperatures far higher” has phrases in it like “may very likely” that sound like they are trying to contradict the science in AR5, since — as Omega Centauri mentions — I’m not aware that there’s a consensus among climate scientists that there’s a runaway feedback mechanism of any kind rather than a potentially increased estimate of climate sensitivity.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 12:21 pm

Most people reading this stuff won’t understand that there are differences between the concepts of extremes, tipping points/regime shifts, and unforeseen cascades of events.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 12:45 pm

I am still firmly in the alarmist camp, and I think we still have a terrible problem. But I like to argue both sides of every issue, because you can’t learn to think otherwise, as many commenters at Crooked Timber consistently illustrate.

One’s own successes at prediction should not give one complacency about the course of the future, and god knows I hate to boast :-) but I have been following the climate-change issues since around 1983, and for the last 6 years in comments here, I have pointed-out a number of various things to both sides on this issue, and by golly, they are all becoming true:

1. the evidence of extremes would start manifesting in weather events sooner than many in the IPCC predicted, (and thus refuting denialists);

2. the political winds would begin to shift sooner than people thought, (and thus refuting dour alarmists);

3. that the anti-science crusade is a huge publicity stunt to sway minds and it eventually can’t work, (–in fact, the total effort only budged the opinion polls by around a temporary 10%–), but it depended upon the response of a real, complicated social cognitive bias which still exists and will remain active, and which manipulates “uncertainty” as an excuse, and which MUST be understood, because it does not respond to scientific evidence (a comment which continues to baffle some alarmists and of course sails over the heads of denialists, who now wish to be called “skeptics”, as if anybody is going to buy that unconscious strategy of denialism either, please go see a shrink);

4. any economists’ contention that the costs of mitigation exceeded the costs of business as usual is and always was just ridiculous nonsense, though promulgated far and wide (refuting all denialists and most alarmists);

5. cap-and-trade and carbon taxes would introduce more hidden “policy capture” by the vested interests, and the addition of political complexity would become unacceptable to the public; they will prefer command-and-control, it’s simpler — and anyway, cap-and-trade or carbon taxes will not be very effective as solitary policies (all of this, refuting alarmists and denialists in various combinations);

6. renewable energy technology was going to get a lot better and become economically competitive very quickly (refuting both denialists and alarmists);

7. and getting carbon back OUT of the atmosphere (not just CCS) is going to be a necessity, and thus a major technological focus.

I will tell you another one which OUGHT to be obvious, by now: we are as warm now as in the Medieval Warming Period — but that led to the Little Ice Age! Why? Unclear.* But if this happens again, it may dampen the warming reality for a decade or two, and thus dampen the political will for another 50 years to deal with a very dangerous situation that should be dealt with immediately. Because warming will be back after that, perhaps with a more terrible vengeance. The point here is, the alarmists should be ready for this turn of events, and you are NOT ready! Why not? The way you are arguing it now, you will lose all credibility if an episode of cooling begins. So please adjust your arguments. (*I think I’ve got a very good theory about how warming turns to cooling, and I’m watching events carefully.)

Another point which ought to alarm everyone. Mass-extinction events are few in number, but we have entered the 6th one already, due to non-climate reasons (briefly, 50% of wilderness area is gone + the remaining fragments suffer continued losses through altered wildlife population dynamics, and if you lose enough populations, then you’ve lost a species). But it is quite possible that there have been very many, perhaps dozens, of “nearly-mass extinction” events for climate reasons, because they might be so short that they do not show up in the fossil record, due to quick repopulation by the species stragglers emerging from refuges, after the episode is over. But such an occurrence would be devastating to present civilization. Fossil records mostly don’t have that fine continuity, and where they do, sometimes there are clear little gaps — such as missing pollen counts — which are puzzling. Don’t expect the denialists to understand the possible drastic implications of this, right away if ever.

On the methodology, as I tried to point out on another comments thread regarding science vs. religion, if you can’t argue both sides of every issue better, than your opponent, and you do not continue to practice this perhaps in fear of questioning your own presuppositions, then you are going to lose the argument. This is basic.

And stop pushing your own “ideology” whether capitalist, communist, scientist, or religionist. This is juvenile and boring.

Considering the amount of big-money denialism which still persists, and the fact that most people are still not in the mood for a reduced-energy lifestyle (nor does physics require it), the thing to do is to stop the insistence that the world must turn around immediately, and the only thing which will work is a blanket transformation which must occur tomorrow. Because while it may be true, most people won’t listen right now, and so other events must happen first. Try to realize which way the winds might blow, try to help the conversation instead of demanding your viewpoint, and be ready for anything.

Some things that might be useful at this moment? Promote the Pope’s encyclical (but you won’t, because ohmigod you’ll be tainted by religiousism!), talk seriously about consumer boycotts (even if it is remote talk, nothing makes bottom-liners more nervous!), continue to push the the political conservatives to the wall if they refuse to think clearly because it’s also lots of fun to tease knuckleheads and they surely deserve it, and… put SOLAR PANELS on your roof!

Why? because that does far more than your piddly little bit, it pressures the “market signals” to expand production and to further innovation, encourages politicians to get on board, etc., among other complex responses. If you are going to claim that the climate system is complex, why do you maintain that consumer responses are not? Think, much?

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Stephen 06.26.15 at 1:26 pm

Lee: “we are as warm now as in the Medieval Warming Period — but that led to the Little Ice Age! “

More accurately, the Mediaeval Warm Period was followed by the Little Ice Age. We do not know for sure what caused the MWP, or previous warm periods some of which seem to have been warmer than the MWP, and we do not know what caused the LIA (except that we do know fossil fuel use is unlikely to have had anything to do with either): but we do know that post hoc, proper hoc is not a sound argument.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 1:38 pm

Theories about how MWP-like warming turns to Little-Ice-Age-like cooling should be published in the peer reviewed climatological literature if they are substantive. Without that publication, well…

If we’re doing critiques about minor points, then I’ll mention that the word “alarmist” sucks in this context. Both the optimists and the pessimists discussed in this thread believe that anthropogenic climate change is a critically important problem: the only difference is in our estimated likelihood of doing something about it and in the judgement of what intermediate steps are best for the purpose of getting something to be done. So both are “alarmists”. But it’s a horrible word because public perception is important. The people who accept science about global climate change don’t need a special word to define them: they are the norm. The norm to which various crazy people are compared never needs a distinguishing word to define it. Denialists need a distinguishing word because they are cranks.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.26.15 at 1:50 pm

Stephen #112,

You are surely correct. Here’s my theory:

What if MWP’s increased precipitation in the N. Atlantic during winter months (due to enhanced ocean oscillation) caused lingering snowfalls that increased spring albedo? There is paleo-evidence that the western half of N. America was a desert, but that the N.E. seaboard suffered strong storm events:

“Monster hurricanes struck U.S. Northeast during prehistoric periods of ocean warming” (February 15, 2015)
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=134130

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Trader Joe 06.26.15 at 2:24 pm

Lee @ 111
Bravo, thoughtful and very well written.

The dialogue could use a few more pieces that lay out (as you do) – here’s what we said would happen, and look what did happen…that’s why when we say this next thing will happen or needs to happen, we aren’t just making shit up of serving an agenda.

No doubt there are tons of articles already like this – but to reach average non-scientifics (like me) they need to be on “stupid” sites like CNN and USA Today, stuff that gets streamed into peoples Facebook where they see it every day even when they don’t want to. I’ve been to RealClimate and some of the others, they are excellent and well done, but most people aren’t gonna go there before the fact – it would be like going to Web MD before you’re sick just to browse.

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Layman 06.26.15 at 4:00 pm

RP @ 85

“Car companies are, for instance, even under the current regime in America, coerced to manufacture fleets that meet certain MPG standards. That’s one of the only things that managed to get through the political process here recently. “

I would amend this to change “…even under the current regime…” to “…only under the current regime…” Which is to say, even with the government most amenable to the cause, little dictation to capital seems likely.

I would personally be thrilled for the EPA to adopt emission standards which can only be met by electric cars – or even give a more clear directive that they build only electric cars – but it does not and will not happen soon. If anything, because what little coercion of capital is in place is done via administrative regulation rather than law, we should expect the regulation and enforcement regime to relax as soon as party control of the executive branch changes hands. We can hope that there won’t be a party change, but I’m doubtful we’ve entered the era of permanent Democratic presidencies.

If you know of a way to enact laws in the current political climate, which require manufacturers to build only electric cars, I’m all ears. But I’m afraid the best we can hope for is a system of incentives and penalties directed at both individuals and capital.

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Layman 06.26.15 at 4:11 pm

Cranky Observer @ 82

“Presumably that reasoning also applies when a purely rational capitalist organization rejects a given technology. For example, when Wall Street – assumed in freshwater analysis to be the canonical example of pure rational capitalism allocating resources – chooses not to fund nuclear fission power plants for 20 years, you will accept that judgement and not attempt to deflect blame to other actors in the political economy or force the gub’mint to subsidize that technology. Right?”

You misunderstand me. I would be happy to force capital to do what is necessary, but I don’t see the political will for that to happen. And, I think there are no ‘purely rational capitalist organizations’ – that’s an oxymoron.

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Plume 06.26.15 at 4:25 pm

The richest 20% of the world consumes 85% of our resources. Anyone who claims that capitalism allocates resources efficiently is out of their minds. It concentrates resources at the top of the heap — which is logical, given that it’s a system based upon ability to pay, who has it, how much they have, etc. etc. Those who can’t afford what it offers don’t get those things, whether they need them to survive or not.

This is the fundamental reason why capitalism is immoral to the bone, and will never be anything better than a monstrously unfair system of exploitation and oppression.

The very idea that billions of human beings can’t get what they need to survive because they can’t afford it is obscenely sick, especially when that very same system makes sure they can’t afford it . . . . both on price and wage grounds. When access is based on ability to pay, and there is a tiny group deciding what to pay, how much, where and to whom, we have apartheid, plain and simple. And apartheid is never going to be effective at ecology, either. Too many reasons not to give a damn about billions of human beings — or the future of the planet.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 4:38 pm

Layman: “I would amend this to change “…even under the current regime…” to “…only under the current regime…” Which is to say, even with the government most amenable to the cause, little dictation to capital seems likely.”

You might say that, but it wouldn’t be true. CAFE standards started in the U.S. in 1975, so car manufacturers have been coerced to manufacture fleets that meet MPG standards under all regimes since then. The 2007 amendment was actually signed by Bush.

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Bruce Wilder 06.26.15 at 6:42 pm

Lee A Arnold @ 111

When people in a group are confronted with a confusing and novel problem, it matters a great deal, when in the sequence of consideration and discussion, a “solution” is introduced. Introduce a good solution too soon, and it may never garner assent. People simply do not understand the problem well enough early on to appreciate a good solution, and the solution itself can confuse people about the nature of the problem.

As people try to understand a problem, it is natural to begin to form a kind of tentative hypothesis about the nature of the problem and to look for confirming evidence. Scientific method, of course, dictates a search for disconfirming evidence, but I am not talking well-considered method here; I’m talking about what people do, psychologically. They begin to form vague expectations, and you might say those expectations enable them to see what comes next and to react to it. It is an application of our human capacity for emergent pattern recognition. We expect the future to be like the past and to recur, which it does, until it doesn’t. Most learning consists of the refinements that come as habits and expectations are confirmed and we get used to how the world around us seems to work, and we learn how to manipulate it, learn its more subtle signals. The hard learning comes when the future is not like the past, when the world around us seems to break down. We don’t recognize the pattern, and we don’t know what to expect or what to do.

Talk of climate change, peak oil, ecological catastrophe, and so on — at one time, I thought it might all come together. Back in the 1990s, I thought we might collectively begin to see the whole of our wrong course, and pivot. Before the GFC, before the second Iraq War, Al Gore used to say something to the effect, “we’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the future of human civilization. Every bit of that has to change.”

Al Gore also said,

As human beings, we are vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable. In our everyday experience, if something has never happened before, we are generally safe in assuming it is not going to happen in the future, but the exceptions can kill you and climate change is one of those exceptions.

I don’t know whether I still think there’s some possibility of a fortuitous crisis, of a dramatic set of events — perhaps climate events — that free people to align differently with regard to climate change, energy, the environment. As a common sine qua non I thought constraint on energy use had some potential as a common rally point. It is interesting to me that some commenters here are not just unpersuaded on the need to constrain all energy use, but that there’s active resistance to the notion that that constitutes a common element.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 6:51 pm

Lee Arnold: “Why? because that does far more than your piddly little bit, it pressures the “market signals” to expand production and to further innovation, encourages politicians to get on board, etc., among other complex responses. If you are going to claim that the climate system is complex, why do you maintain that consumer responses are not? Think, much?”

If you just put a solar panel on your roof and neglected what signals it sends, and other complex responses, then you’re just doing a minor but positive act and everything is fine. But if you’re taking signals an complex responses into account, then it’s not so straightforward as you are presenting it.

Some of the signals that you’re sending, to both markets and politicians, are bad signals. First of all, to politicians you’re sending the signal “You can buy me off with the same volunteerist nonsense that helps to derail all American mass movements!” To markets you’re sending the signal “Don’t invest in large-scale-site solar power generation — what we want is equipment for individual projects for middle-class people who own houses.” Maybe the individual projects add up to a lot. But is that something that the market really should be deciding? Of course the technology for one can largely be applied to the other, so you aren’t doing too badly there.

And what are some of the complex responses? Think about opportunity cost. Most people have a pretty strictly limited amount of energy and time and resources for projects that are not directly job-related, child-raising-related, and so on. There might be some kind of mildly positive influence from the solar panels. What was the opportunity cost of telling people to put up the solar panels — given that it’s a major activity to do so? Well, given how sparsely attended most local energy planning meetings and so on are attended, if the person had taken the energy / time / whatever that went into shopping for and doing paperwork for the solar panels and put that into going to meetings, I’d wildly guesstimate that maybe they could have had 1000 times more influence on GHG emissions. Basically, if they could say something that has a 1% effect on plans for a community of 10,000 people, they’ve done more than a lifetime worth of scrimping and saving and buying little individual solar panels right there.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 7:04 pm

BW: “As a common sine qua non I thought constraint on energy use had some potential as a common rally point. It is interesting to me that some commenters here are not just unpersuaded on the need to constrain all energy use, but that there’s active resistance to the notion that that constitutes a common element.”

So you thought this would work as a common element back in the 1990s. It didn’t work. Maybe we should just keep trying harder?

We’re running out of time to just keep trying harder. Maybe constraining all energy use really has nothing to do our major crises, and also it’s a kind of Puritanism that makes it the most difficult possible rallying point to gather people around? I note that Peak Oil is one of your three problems. Well we’re past the peak oil point now, and I think that’s great. It’s not really a problem, so far as I can see. Similarly the ecological catastrophe has a whole lot to do with land use and with pollution, and not much to do with energy use except insofar as it affects those other things. And energy use just doesn’t directly correlate with them.

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Bruce Wilder 06.26.15 at 7:17 pm

RP @ 109: I’m not aware that there’s a consensus among climate scientists that there’s a runaway feedback mechanism of any kind rather than a potentially increased estimate of climate sensitivity.

One of the difficulties that these discussions present is that we have to bat back and forth loaded metaphors. “runaway” is certainly one of those. I am not sure that “climate sensitivity” improves understanding though.

The primary effect of additional CO2 in the atmosphere on heat retention is fairly minor — doubling CO2 concentration from the pre-Industrial Revolution baseline of ~280 ppm might, by itself, produce a global average temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius. It is because climate is a complex, chaotic system with feedback from other processes that anyone thinks the actual and realized increase will be larger, and could be much larger. What that actual realized equilibrium temperature might be a hundred or three hundred years from now is hard to predict, beyond estimating that it will be more than 1 degree. And, that the difference between the 1 degree due directly and primarily to the additional CO2 and the actual result — say, it turns out to be a climate equilibrium 4 degrees warmer, global average — will be driven by processes mostly not under human control. Granted “runaway” is not a good word for that, but “sensitivity” does not communicate it well either, imho.

Another issue is that the transition from here to the terminal equilibrium “there” 300 years hence is unlikely to be a straight and narrow path. That the climate will settle down to a new equilibrium eventually seems to be a part of the scientific consensus. No one thinks that any “runaway” transitional process would runaway indefinitely. But, in the meantime, the climate will be de-stabilized. Again, the state of the climate will leave any predictable and stable relation with the actual amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or the rate of addition — humans will lose control. I don’t think anyone has a single definite idea about what climate instability looks like. “Extreme” extreme weather events, maybe? Droughts. Floods. Coldwaves. Heatwaves. I am not sure about how abstract talk of “climate sensitivity” helps popular understanding anymore than lurid talk of “runaway” climate change.

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Bruce Wilder 06.26.15 at 7:38 pm

Rich Puchalsky: it’s a kind of Puritanism that makes it the most difficult possible rallying point to gather people around

I think the Puritanism of it makes it the easiest. Puritanism may be perverse, but it has proven popular appeal, nevertheless. It mobilizes certain limbic system anchors for collective social behaviors you need, like the appeal of common sacrifice as a form of civic action and the kind of righteousness you need for altruistic punishment of deviants.

Rich Puchalsky: I note that Peak Oil is one of your three problems. Well we’re past the peak oil point now, and I think that’s great. It’s not really a problem, so far as I can see. Similarly the ecological catastrophe has a whole lot to do with land use and with pollution, and not much to do with energy use except insofar as it affects those other things. And energy use just doesn’t directly correlate with them.

You’re a smart guy, and if you want to see the relation, you will, and if you don’t, you won’t. Every use of energy in production entails waste — that’s not exactly a hidden correlation. I can’t tutor your will.

For the benefit of lurkers, what I would say about Peak Oil, is that it was never about “running out” of oil. The Peak Oil hypothesis is that the energy cost of petroleum would increase. In more general terms, producing oil would require more energy and effort, and, in general terms, the processes of extraction would get dirtier. So, we have fracking poisoning the groundwater and deep-sea wells poisoning the oceans. No correlation there.

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Bruce Wilder 06.26.15 at 7:52 pm

RP @ 122: We’re running out of time to just keep trying harder.

I think we ran out of time for some kinds of trying.

I think “we” are adapting. By crude neoliberal grinding down of consumption for the moment.

I think Lee has the right basic idea: more shocks to the system are coming, and then it will time to try something else. If we have thought of something else before then.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 7:53 pm

BW: “One of the difficulties that these discussions present is that we have to bat back and forth loaded metaphors. “runaway” is certainly one of those. I am not sure that “climate sensitivity” improves understanding though.”

Well… it’s not really a metaphor. “Runaway greenhouse effect” is well defined: it’s what probably happened to Venus. “Runaway climate change” is not so well defined, not used commonly by scientists for that reason, and generally has to do with some kind of reinforcing positive feedback that continues until some kind of state change occurs. “Climate sensitivity” wasn’t intended to be used as a metaphor, although of course anything can be used as a metaphor: it’s a scientific concept.

Frankly when I see the word “runaway” used by anyone who isn’t a climate scientist that’s a leading indicator that they probably don’t understand what’s going on.

BW: “Every use of energy in production entails waste — that’s not exactly a hidden correlation. I can’t tutor your will.”

Not all waste is as dangerous as all other waste.

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themgt 06.26.15 at 8:27 pm

Frankly when I see the word “runaway” used by anyone who isn’t a climate scientist that’s a leading indicator that they probably don’t understand what’s going on.

“There is a widespread view [within the scientific community] that a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.” – Kevin Anderson

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 8:45 pm

I just did a quick search of Kevin Anderson’s site for the word “runaway”. Couldn’t find it, except in an article about his response in which someone else asked a question using the word. A quick Google shows the same thing: “runaway” is used in questions, not in his answers.

I’m really not trying to nitpick this to death. I’ve seen a whole lot of environmental rhetoric, since the 1970s, that has failed because it’s doomer rhetoric and not really scientifically substantiated. Sure it’s a pain to wait for the IPCC to go through its process, but if we didn’t need “consensus science” as well as cutting-edge science, there would have been no need for the IPCC in the first place. Once again: we can’t really tell a resistant public that we really know what we know and at the same time start cutting corners on what we really know.

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themgt 06.26.15 at 8:47 pm

If you’re agreeing that it’s incompatible with human civilization and likely unstable, does the specific word used really merit this much debate?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.26.15 at 8:53 pm

I’m not agreeing with anything that isn’t consensus science. I’m not a climate scientist and I’m not capable of judging whether Kevin Anderson is right and other climate scientists are wrong, and neither are you. Even if you think that you are.

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Matt 06.26.15 at 9:40 pm

I think that reducing energy use is a relatively quick to implement change for much of the developed world, at least there’s plenty of easy jobs still not done in that area, in the USA. I don’t think reductions in energy use alone are sufficient to stay under 450 ppm CO2, and after a certain point switching energy sources produces more benefits from the effort applied than further consumption reductions. There is reason to think that about 40% of typical American household energy use (not just electricity) can be eliminated just by careful house design and construction, to limit the need for artificial heating and cooling. Smaller gains are possible with efficiency upgrades to the existing housing stock. That’s significant and it should be done. It’s not nearly enough.

According to the IPCC, the median integrated warming potential of 1 kilowatt hour of coal-generated electricity is 40% greater than the same electricity supplied by combined cycle natural gas generators, 17 times greater than utility scale photovoltaics, 20 times greater than rooftop PV, 68 times greater than utility scale wind. If people are currently getting electricity from coal, to reduce warming potential by equivalent measures they can either eliminate at least 94% of electricity use, switch to natural gas electricity and simultaneously eliminate at least 92% of electricity use, or switch to non-fossil electricity sources and give up 0% of electricity use. Unless there’s a global collapse of complex societies, and “how should we power machines?” becomes an obsolete question, emissions reductions are going to come more from switching energy sources than from reducing energy consumption.

Coal is by far the largest source of Chinese energy. Right now China burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. You can’t reasonably expect China to consume 94% less energy. That would put their per capita energy consumption somewhere between Yemen and Angola, with all the upheaval and misery that implies. But China is trying to replace coal with cleaner energy sources, and is making progress, much to the chagrin of Australian coal exporters.

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Val 06.26.15 at 10:40 pm

I don’t really know where to begin in responding to Rich’s claims @ 121. It is argument by wild and completely unsubstantiated claims, which makes it hard to respond to. It’s not as if there are a whole lot of researchers out there (at least that I know of) researching the question ‘are people who put solar panels on their roof making the impact of climate change worse?’ – because why would anyone?

So I will just respond from my own experience. The reason I put solar panels on my roof is that I am a very keen environmentalist and have been for years, and I also think it’s a good idea financially. It has not in any way lessened my interest or activism in environmentalism, if anything it’s increased it because I can point to something that works. I am aware of the problems for renters and low income groups, and have written about community solar schemes on my blog, plus advocated for community solar for low income groups.

I think what you are doing Rich, is technically called pulling a claim out of the air to support a weak argument. I wish you would stop, it’s unworthy.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 12:00 am

Val: “It’s not as if there are a whole lot of researchers out there (at least that I know of) researching the question ‘are people who put solar panels on their roof making the impact of climate change worse?’ – because why would anyone?”

You advocate for community solar and you haven’t thought about this? Then perhaps you should start. I’m not saying that putting solar panels on your roof “makes climate change worse” because it really depends on the local situation. But of course any money that middle-class people spend on solar power for themselves is not available to be pooled into buying solar power for everyone. If you spend $10,000 on solar panels for your roof, then there is a potential community solar project somewhere that has $10,000 less in funding. Or, really, it’s probably not getting built — low income people sure can’t pay for it without middle class people paying for part of it.

Most countries cover everyone with essentially the same medical plan, or a base level of support plan, because they’ve decided that medical care should be available to everyone. And therefore they socialize the costs over everyone. Renewable power, if it’s really going to replace fossil, similarly has to be available to everyone. That’s not really compatible with wealthier people having their own system and not helping to support the universal system.

But maybe it’s OK if you’re buying the panels because as an activist you’re going over and above your general share, and you’d be willing to both pay for your panels and support conversation of the base power system. In that case you have to look pretty carefully at that phrase Lee Arnold used, “market signals”. People are used to the idea that early adopters of something pave the way for making that something so cheap that later on everyone gets one, because that’s how consumer electronics have worked. But that’s not always true. Sometimes it signals that it’s a luxury item and that no, everyone is not ever going to get one without some kind of concerted political action.

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Layman 06.27.15 at 12:35 am

“If you spend $10,000 on solar panels for your roof, then there is a potential community solar project somewhere that has $10,000 less in funding.”

I think this is simply wrong. Like money, electricity is fungible. For most of the year, I produce more electricity than I can use, and I feed it back into the grid for others in my community to use. So the money I spent to put panels on my roof is more-or-less identical, in climate impact terms, than having donated the money to a community solar project.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 12:57 am

You’re assuming that there are no economies of scale from having a larger panel array on a better site, with perfect orientation of the panels to the sun and lesser per-panel installation costs from putting in a big batch of them at once. You’re also assuming that when you inevitably get the tax bill for decommissioning the coal plants and building the big solar ones — because we all are agreed that has to happen, and people are going to pay for renewable power for poor people one way or another even if the long term costs are negative — that you won’t complain that you already spent your money on solar power and why are you buying it for other people now.

In the U.S., you’re probably better off just buying the solar panels for your roof. It’s how we do things here — we don’t do it otherwise even for things like medicine, so…. and the way our system works means that solar power panels on houses take peak time-of-day profits away from privatized fossil power generation companies in a complex fashion that I don’t really want to go into. But it’s clearly not a universal, simple thing that is good everywhere.

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Layman 06.27.15 at 1:26 am

“You’re assuming that there are no economies of scale from having a larger panel array on a better site, with perfect orientation of the panels to the sun and lesser per-panel installation costs from putting in a big batch of them at once.”

Ah, so when you say my $10,000 isn’t available for a community effort, what you mean is that some tiny undefined fraction of that $10,000, equivalent to the ‘economies of scale’ of a larger effor, is lost, not the entire $10,000?

“You’re also assuming that when you inevitably get the tax bill for decommissioning the coal plants and building the big solar ones — because we all are agreed that has to happen, and people are going to pay for renewable power for poor people one way or another even if the long term costs are negative — that you won’t complain that you already spent your money on solar power and why are you buying it for other people now.”

I am assuming that, but being the principle here – the person we’re talking about – it’s a damned easy assumption for me to make.

Good grief.

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Cranky Observer 06.27.15 at 1:46 am

= = = Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 12:57 am
You’re assuming that there are no economies of scale from having a larger panel array on a better site, with perfect orientation of the panels to the sun and lesser per-panel installation costs from putting in a big batch of them at once. = = =

I love big technology myself; sometimes think I should have lived in the 1880s (although we’ve discussed the downsides to that here too). I’ve worked at large power plants and I’m roughly familiar with both the economics and the culture. So you might assume I would be support the arguments for large centralized facilities. But you do assume that there are no downsides to marginal-cost-optimizing size. Downsides such as vulnerability to accident (tornado hits large Apple solar farm vs. tornado hits large neighborhood with 10,000 individual panels units). Loss of redundancy. Concentration of economic risk.

And in general, loss of resiliency. The FERC and the regional ISOs are pushing hard to have the interconnections east of the Rockies operate as one gigantic grid with SCADA inputs and outputs centralized in one equally gigantic model, full-load transfer capacity among formerly semi-autonomous regions, and ever-larger long-term planning zones which result in planning models supporting larger central generating nodes. No thought is given to ecological diversity in the push for more integration and lower marginal cost. I greatly fear that as a result we will some day (within 20 years) experience a continent-wide loss of system stability leading to blackout (if lucky) or system damage that will not be as easy to recover from as the 2003 FirstEnergy event.

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geo 06.27.15 at 2:40 am

Unlike Val, I found Rich’s argument @121 quite compelling. Large-scale problems sometimes don’t have small-scale solutions. Individual adoption of solar panels is a bit like not eating beef or raising one’s own food. Each may be a good thing to do in itself, but the problems of renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and pesticide pollution can only be effectively addressed at the policy level.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 3:03 am

Layman: “Ah, so when you say my $10,000 isn’t available for a community effort, what you mean is that some tiny undefined fraction of that $10,000, equivalent to the ‘economies of scale’ of a larger effor, is lost, not the entire $10,000?”

No, I was bringing that up because you said that the two investments would generate the same electricity. But of course that wasn’t even the major point. The major point is that if you imagine that every middle class person builds their own personal solar power plant, no community solar power plants get built because poorer people don’t have the income to invest. It’s like building a gated community. You can say that each $10,000 buys $10,000 of housing, so what’s the difference? But at the end all of the people who could afford spots in the gated community have one and all the poorer people are left outside, because there’s no cost sharing. (Well, really, there is — like most things in the U.S. having to do with housing, subsidies for middle class solar panels probably are mildly regressive, so the poorer people are sharing their money with you.)

Layman: “I am assuming that, but being the principle here – the person we’re talking about – it’s a damned easy assumption for me to make.”

Too bad it’s not a good assumption for people to make about other people when they are considering whether this is good policy or not. I mean, yes I know that everything has to relentlessly be personalized into a question of whether the individual is a morally good person or not as evidenced by their personal life — part of that Puritan thing BW was writing about: Val has added an intriguing extra fitness element so we can see how that’s going — but come on. Earlier in this very thread you were writing about how people wouldn’t want to pay for this out of taxes, preferring “incentives” that guided their personal spending. What’s going to happen when the upper-middle class has happily responded to those incentives by buying solar panels for their houses? Are they all going to be happy to pay again?

Cranky Observer: “So you might assume I would be support the arguments for large centralized facilities. But you do assume that there are no downsides to marginal-cost-optimizing size.”

Yes, I understand that. I’m not saying that we should have, say, as many solar power plants as we had nuclear power plants, and just switch them out one for the other.
If someone wants to argue pros and cons of centralization vs decentralization, fine. But people are going to have to actually start thinking about these things a bit more than I thought that people were.

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Plume 06.27.15 at 3:14 am

In America, we’re all about the delusion of choice. We think thousands of different packages for the same basic product is “freedom.” What is needed is a radical reduction of consumer stuff. If people don’t have a million different McCopies to choose from, we can attack this from both ends. Supply and demand. Both/and.

A key scene for me in the movie, The Hurt Locker, was when the lead came back to the states and went grocery shopping.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1OOI6m4b7c

He’s in the cereal aisle, looking at the abundance of non-choices and duplication of sugary garbage. I doubt the director was thinking the same thing I was, but I couldn’t help but see this as a great commentary on the obscenity of our economic system, the massive waste it creates, the endless pollution, all in the name of making Americans feel like they are “free” to buy whatever they want . . . . without thinking at all about the consequences.

Americans have been brainwashed to do this, so it’s almost unthinkable they will change on their own. The way to really solve this is to radically reduce choices for consumers.

People adapt. They’ve been adapting for hundreds of thousands of years now. I think we can manage with fewer choices when our current chooses are really between thousands of copies in different wrappers to begin with.

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Val 06.27.15 at 5:08 am

Rich I get the feeling you don’t fully understand how solar electicity and community solar actually works. Existing solar arrays could be linked in to a community solar system, they are not either/or.

Also, it isn’t an individualistic ‘fitness’ element I’m talking about, and I wonder if the reason you think it is, is because you just don’t understand these ideas either? Your translation of my ideas is just so far away from the truth that I don’t even know where to start. Is it because you’re American and you haven’t been exposed to anything beyond individualistic models of health?

Seriously, you don’t know what you’re talking about in terms of public health. You criticise others for not talking communally, but you don’t even appear to understand the social model of health. You translate everything into individual terms, either because all you want is to win arguments, or because you don’t know what you’re talking about.

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UserGoogol 06.27.15 at 6:07 am

Plume: Having lots of different brands of cereal doesn’t automatically have to be wasteful. Since most cereal boxes do end up getting sold and you need a bit extra as security against a surge in demand (in principle you could reorganize to have just-in-time cereal box logistics, but that doesn’t require communism to accomplish) there’d be about as many cereal boxes on the shelf. Maybe a bit less since you wouldn’t need to keep every single brand in stock, but the idea that hundreds of brands is so much more wasteful than just one brand is just silly.

And more to the point, most products aren’t cereal. Cereal is an area where you have an unusually high number of options, because it’s easy to throw together different blends of grains and flavoring. But very often you have far fewer options.

143

Val 06.27.15 at 6:29 am

Anyway Rich I don’t want to just turn this into a fight, but this thing of yours of treating everyone who disagrees with you as a neoliberal – to put it mildly it’s not helpful and at its worst it just derails discussion and makes it impossible for people to get anywhere.

I think it’s important to try to achieve understanding in this area, but it’s really hard to do that if there is someone involved in the discussion who persistently misrepresents what others are saying.

144

Peter T 06.27.15 at 6:51 am

Can’t really speak to the US experience, but uptake of domestic solar PV has been high here in Australia – partly because even with little subsidy its a better return on spare money than anything on offer from the banks. It has built a middle-class constituency more resistant to conservative efforts to derail conversion, and probably boosted commitment to action on climate change.

On tipping points – my understanding is that the debate among climate scientists on what these might be, how they might operate and whether they will happen is still quite open. But for the rest of us the tipping points of concern are not climatic but social – a few years of drought was enough to tip Syria into the hell-hole of civil war. It’s easy to see Pakistan or Bangladesh being similarly affected, with major impacts on India. How resilient is Mexico? What would a really major crisis in the Maghreb do to Europe?

145

Chris Warren 06.27.15 at 7:25 am

I agree with Plume who notes that we need to get rid of capitalism to solve climate change.

This is necessary but not sufficient.

Market socialism and cooperatives can also become economically competitive and growth-seeking which now flows into wages, savings and public funds.

The point about capitalism is that it is structurally predetermined to maximise profits irrespective of other concerns and has crisis tendencies which impose (via ramifications) an obligation to utilise the cheapest form of economic growth path.

This is a complex area, but the bottom line is that the logic of capitalism cannot coexist with the logic of sustainability. This breaks out in many forms – one of which is rampant exploitation of fossil fuels.

146

ZM 06.27.15 at 10:17 am

Peter T,

“But for the rest of us the tipping points of concern are not climatic but social – a few years of drought was enough to tip Syria into the hell-hole of civil war. It’s easy to see Pakistan or Bangladesh being similarly affected, with major impacts on India. How resilient is Mexico? What would a really major crisis in the Maghreb do to Europe?”

I think the natural and social impacts are both important and of course are interrelated.

I was at the launch of the report The Longest Conflict earlier this week. This is a report on the implications of climate change for the Defence force, and the experts who spoke raised their concerns that we are underprepared at the moment. The former chief of the Australian Defence Force Chris Barrie was concerned about the impact of climate change on the stability of our region, given the Arab Spring was partly started by the drought in Russian and failure of crops, and also how our region will cope with the numbers of people who are expected to be displaced by climate change impacts over the next 35 years.

147

ZM 06.27.15 at 10:28 am

geo,

“Unlike Val, I found Rich’s argument @121 quite compelling. Large-scale problems sometimes don’t have small-scale solutions. Individual adoption of solar panels is a bit like not eating beef or raising one’s own food. Each may be a good thing to do in itself, but the problems of renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and pesticide pollution can only be effectively addressed at the policy level.”

I read quite a lot about this for my course, and disagree. Some time ago I did think that it was primarily government action that was necessary — this had the side effect that it makes action seem more hopeless as government are not making appropriate policy at the moment. But my reading and also my observations of community efforts have led to me changing my mind.

I think that individuals and community groups and local government are ahead of State and Federal government at the moment. This is something I hear all the time in talks and discussions. Also I think I have read something you wrote about the problems with Robert Moses — we also study Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs to look at the backlash to comprehensive planning in the 70s and 80s.

I think individual and community actions now are how we can lower ghg emissions ASAP as the governments policies are not strong enough.

Also I think the more that individuals and the community do now the more that community capacity and knowledge is increased, which should hopefully lead to the community having a greater ability to collaborate on local transformations of the environment and behaviour with technical experts and elected representatives and policy makers etc.

148

ZM 06.27.15 at 10:54 am

Rich Puchalsky,

” But of course any money that middle-class people spend on solar power for themselves is not available to be pooled into buying solar power for everyone.”

I already gave Trader Joe the idea of copying our town’s philanthropic individuals who worked with Council to make a community bulk buy of solar panels scheme to make solar panels more affordable for people on a range of incomes. But you gave him the idea of hiring a sex worker to influence politicians instead and he didn’t listen to my proper suggestion.

At present the majority of middle class people have spare money to spend. They do not give all their income above what is needed for bare necessities to community infrastructure projects. They may as well spend this spare money on solar panels than on other things that make climate change worse.

149

Lee A. Arnold 06.27.15 at 11:27 am

Bruce Wilder #120: “I don’t know whether I still think there’s some possibility of a fortuitous crisis, of a dramatic set of events — perhaps climate events — that free people to align differently…”

You made me wonder again whether the resolution of PRIOR problems, helps to free people to deal with the next thing.

The US Supremos just upheld Obamacare, and ruled gay marriage to be the law of the land. The President just demonstrated in a church eulogy what most of us already knew: that Christianity is not only really good, it’s very tuneful.

On the same day, maybe they don’t quite know it yet, the GOP just entered the last alley of their cul de sac, where they now must scavenge the dustbins and dumpsters for more dog-whistles. Why? Because, they NEVER sing “Amazing Grace”! But there may not be enough racist and greedy dog whistles in the whole wide world to fool enough voters to give the GOP the White House in 2016 (and the GOP is already likely to lose the Senate for math reasons — the same reason they picked it up in 2014 will now reverse).

And THAT means that in 2017 (a year after the US election), a provision which is already in Obamacare raises the question of a public-option or single-payer. Vermont analysts recently concluded that its state is too small for the necessary risk pool to do that, so it will become a multiple-state question, or a national question, and it will be on the front burner. California is sure to look at joining in, despite the best attempts of the private insurers to buy-off the legislators. If it goes through, premiums may drop 10-20% and all the lefties who don’t understand how policy works to effect future transformations, may see another of their issues resolved…

Why stop there? Let’s keep going!

As Tony Scalia advised, in his otherwise ridiculous dissent: “Ask the nearest hippie.”

YES! exactly the method that we should encourage! the psychedelic relics ROCK!

150

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 12:03 pm

Val: “Rich I get the feeling you don’t fully understand how solar electicity and community solar actually works. Existing solar arrays could be linked in to a community solar system, they are not either/or.”

Remember Layman above writing about how his solar panels are linked to the grid and how he sells back the power that he generates but doesn’t use? Almost every single-family solar panel installation in anything like an urban area is already connected to the grid. Sure, they can be “linked in to a community solar system” — they are already linked in to the largest community system there is, the grid — but they are sized to family demand and don’t actually generate the excess power, individually or en masse, to support lower income people.

As for public health ideas, yes, I do understand them, and I predict that yours will go along with our new era just fine. Just like ZM’s suggestion that what we really need is philanthropic people buying community solar panel arrays with some of the cash that’s sloshing around in their pockets — I fondly remember all of the libraries that we got, here in the U.S., out of the first Gilded Age, and if that’s what it takes to get libraries built then who am I to object. Seriously, as ZM says, they may as well spend this spare money that way.

At any rate, I was responding to people, like Layman and Trader Joe, who really are embedded in a neoliberal system. The question of whether they are *personally* neoliberals is a) not true, as far as I can tell: they’re probably left-liberals, b) beside the point, since they are stuck in a society that’s going to respond in a certain way no matter what their own philosophy is, c) would be kind of extremely rare, since part of the genius of neoliberalism is that hardly anyone thinks of themselves as a neoliberal, it’s just “inevitable”, d) part of the same personalization of virtue that I’ve been talking about.

As any rate, we’ve gone within one reply from “how could anyone even have ever thought that individual solar panels would ever be unhelpful? No one has even ever studied this” to “Oh you’re treating everyone as a neoliberal”. But what I’m talking about is really pretty clear, and I think that you’ll find that people really have started to study it.

I don’t want to turn this into a fight either, but I’m not going to stop “derailling the discussion” if that’s what you think I’m doing. I will stop replying to your comments, though, since you don’t like it.

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Val 06.27.15 at 12:53 pm

Rich @ 150
You can stop replying to me if you like Rich, but that doesn’t mean you understand, as your comment on solar again shows. I’ve actually got solar panels. They feed into the grid at times when I’m not using all the power they generate, and I’m perfectly well aware of that. Households sometimes use more than their panels are generating, sometimes less, but that’s got nothing to do with whether local networked systems could work or not.

Ive written about community solar in a blog post last year http://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/community-solar-update.html.
I haven’t updated it, but i know these projects face a lot of regulatory problems. However in theory if local systems can be set up, then individual household panels could feed into them. The issues become storage ( which the new Tesla batteries might help with) or alternative power sources (which could be wind for example).

in theory, large scale grids could operate in a way that facilitates take up of renewables. But here in Australia, they generally haven’t, partly because our systems are privatised or corporatised to act like private operators. However there are still advantages to local systems even if they did.

I’m not an expert on electricity systems by any means, but at least I have some idea what I’m talking about. What alarms me about you is that you sound knowledgeable and people are impressed by that, but I think you are just confusing the issue.

Eco-villages are using some of these solutions already.

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Val 06.27.15 at 12:58 pm

@150
“what I’m talking about is really pretty clear, and think you’ll find that people really have started to study it”

So, who? Where is the evidence of this? If you have any evidence to back up what you’re saying, can you provide it?

153

Layman 06.27.15 at 1:06 pm

RP @ 139

Frankly, I think this response of yours is a bit of a dodge. First you say that spending $10k on solar denies $10k for a community solar solution. When I point out that, in fact, it doesn’t – it essentially replaces $10k worth of conventional power generation needed for that community – you don’t say ‘yes, that’s right’, you say ‘oh something is lost in economies of scale’.

When I point out that this response is a bit churlish, since very little is lost, you quibble that you were only responding to my claim to point out something is lost, when in fact the point at issue is your claim that the whole damned $10k is lost.

Similarly, You tell me that I will object to paying more later because I’ve paid for solar now, and I tell you I won’t object, and all you can say is ‘oh, I bet other people will!’ Other people will object whether they’ve bought solar or not, won’t they?

Now, you say your complaint is not the rooftop solar, it’s the missing $10k spent by middle class people on themselves instead of on electricity for the poor. So, you don’t object to rooftop solar systems at all. You object to orthodonture, college educations, European vacations, new (electric) cars, bathroom remodels, plumbing repairs – anything a middle-class family might spend $10k or more on instead of buying renewable power for poor people.

Take a deep breath, realize you’ve made a stupid claim, and move on, please.

154

Val 06.27.15 at 1:23 pm

Community solar in Australia does seem to have hit a lot of regulatory problems, which is maybe the reason there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on the projects I blogged about in 2014. But it is apparently one of the reasons why there has been so much solar capacity installed in Germany, for example – because they have devolved and let decisions be made at local level.

Info on community solar in Europe here http://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/community-solar-update.html

Several social theorists have speculated that one reason there hasn’t been more progress on mitigation is because the response to climate change has been very top down and expert driven. (Will send references on Monday for anyone interested). I’m not in any sense criticising bodies like the IPCC, we really need them, but we also need to translate this stuff at local level and show people how they can be involved and how it benefits them.

155

Val 06.27.15 at 1:24 pm

Sorry, sent the wrong link in my above post @ 154 – here’s the correct one http://treealerts.org/region/europe/2014/06/uk-germany-beat-solar-records-as-community-power-projects-multiply/

156

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 1:27 pm

“anything a middle-class family might spend $10k or more on instead of buying renewable power for poor people”

Nope. I’m specifically talking about what happens when something that’s supposed to be a universal public good gets privately paid for. Just out of curiosity’s sake, why do you think that Obamacare had to have a provision against “Cadillac” plans?

Here’s a fairly neutrally written popular article, with some boo-hooing by fossil fuel power generators, but enough so that you can see some of the optical battles already being fought over this.

157

Layman 06.27.15 at 1:29 pm

A rough calculation suggests that if every US middle class (or upper) household installed rooftop solar, we could retire something like half the coal-fired plants in the country. Of course, not every middle class family has a roof to install solar on – apartments, poor exposure, etc – but combined with measures like covering schools (the schools down the street are covered with panels) and other public buildings, as well as private buildings like warehouses and strip malls, it’s a big damned deal! Selfish bastards.

158

Val 06.27.15 at 1:32 pm

And here is a community solar project in Australia that does seem to have gotten off the ground! http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/30kw-community-solar-farm-australias-largest-to-date-completed-in-nsw-96810

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Layman 06.27.15 at 1:32 pm

“Nope. I’m specifically talking about what happens when something that’s supposed to be a universal public good gets privately paid for.”

What you are specifically doing is making claims which are false, and then refusing to acknowledge that they’re false. I can’t see how that’s going to help you change minds, assuming that’s what you’re trying to do…

160

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 1:37 pm

Layman: “A rough calculation suggests that if every US middle class (or upper) household installed rooftop solar, we could retire something like half the coal-fired plants in the country.”

Perfect. Every middle-class household in the country did it’s bit and covered their own power needs, and local government did schools and public buildings too. And with half the coal-fired plants in the country still going, problem not solved. I guess that we can take up a collection for the poor people and decommission the other half of the coal plants that way?

A whole lot of the global problem is going to settled in places like e.g. China where this kind of thinking still isn’t prevalent, or places like Germany where they still have some kind of conception of a looming policy problem behind individual choices. So I think it’s a sideshow. But really, this is totally just not understandable at all?

161

Val 06.27.15 at 1:41 pm

Rich your “neutral” story appears to be sponsored by Shell!

We’ve had loads of those battles in Australia, they really aren’t proving what you think they’re proving. Big energy providers think their profits are threatened and instead of adapting they’re trying to put pressure on governments. Here, it’s possibly correct that some early adopters of solar are subsidised by the community at large, since they got really good deals under the early incentive schemes – although there is still an argument to be made – but people like me who bought panels a little later, sell our power to the energy companies for 6-8 cents a KWh, and they on sell it for 22c or more, crying all the way to the bank.

For someone who disapproves of neoliberalism, you do keep some strange company – energy companies and Shell!

162

engels 06.27.15 at 1:44 pm

I will stop replying to your comments

163

Val 06.27.15 at 1:47 pm

The other thing energy companies have been allowed to do here – especially in Victoria where electricity has been privatised – is increase the amount they charge for ‘service to the property’ (poles, wires, etc) – as opposed to energy usage. That’s a real killer for low income groups, because no matter how little you actually use, you’ll still get charged your service fee, which is the bulk of the bill for low energy users.

164

Layman 06.27.15 at 1:58 pm

“But really, this is totally just not understandable at all?”

Trust me, I understand what you’re doing. Pfui!

165

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 2:06 pm

Now there’s an argument.

Anyways, I think that this whole subthread does kind of favor Bruce Wilder’s view of things. “We need to panic now because people don’t understand the scale of what needs to be done” is looking a bit more convincing.

166

Layman 06.27.15 at 2:13 pm

It’s been an interesting month. We had slow drains, leading to the discovery of roots in our sewer line. Unfortunately, the blocked part of the line was under the garage floor. So, concrete sawing, digging, pipe replacement, soil compaction, concrete drilling to insert rebar, new concrete pour, then a week for the garage floor to cure, during which I had to park in the street. So my neighbor hit my car. All told, about $10k, which is forever lost to the cause of buying clean power systems for the poor. And I spent it! What a selfish cretin I am.

167

Cranky Observer 06.27.15 at 2:53 pm

Electricity flows where it flows until it reaches a constraint – generally a transformer or sub-transmission line limitation, or a flow control device such as a capacitor/inductor bank or phase angle regulating transformer. Back in 1900 before electric analog computers were practical electrical system planners used water tables to model power flows. Modern day electrical distribution system engineers are deeply conservative but they are not stupid [1]: if they receive information that their region of responsibility is experiencing a high percentage of solar installations with tw0-way inverters such as Layman’s system (e.g. Denver metropolitan area) they will start scheduling transformers and transmission lines for redesign and upgrade to avoid voltage problems and complaints from customers that their inverters are being turned off (via SCADA command) too often.

IMHO the real issue with wind and solar is baseload and replacement coverage, which is driving some – although certainly not all – of the issues Val reports at 1:47. Yes, assume arguendo that the evil electricity providers are trying to strangle distributed renewables. But then please specify exactly what you expect to happen in Denver when it is nighttime, the temperature is 40 below zero, and the wind dies. Do you want electricity provided? Through what system? How is that backup system paid for? Are you willing to sacrifice Boulder Canyon to a pumped storage hydro plant?

[1] contrary to a very common premise in these CT discussion.

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ZM 06.27.15 at 3:00 pm

Rich Puchalsky,

“Just like ZM’s suggestion that what we really need is philanthropic people buying community solar panel arrays with some of the cash that’s sloshing around in their pockets “

This is a complete misrepresentation. I am always writing about the need for a war-time mobilisation style approach whenever there is the opportunity.

I just disagree that we want a government only approach, I think there should be a role for individual and community actions that can work with the government ones.

And also communications and analytic technologies means that communities can be much more informed and co-ordinate themselves in ways that would have been impossible a couple of decades ago.

169

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 3:05 pm

Cranky Observer: “IMHO the real issue with wind and solar is baseload and replacement coverage”

I just had to pursue the shiny cat toy of community systems without middle-class participation (except through philanthropy) so I didn’t mention baseload. But I thought that that was a lot of the reason why the large-scale grid had to be built out, whether the power sources themselves are more distributed or less — so that power can be shipped from one part of a continent to another.

Here’s something I don’t understand, though. Why Boulder Canyon? Can’t you just dig a sufficiently large underground cavity, fill it with stagnant water, and use pumped storage by just pumping the water up to the top? It sounds like a big engineering project, and you do need what’s effectively a hydropower power plant in the middle, but simply digging a big hole shouldn’t be too much of one, I’d think.

170

Layman 06.27.15 at 3:05 pm

‘Rich your “neutral” story appears to be sponsored by Shell!’

Val, there’s a fight over rooftop solar going on over here, driven primarily by utility and energy companies. The motivation is declining profits for energy companies, driven by two factors: Rooftop solar reduces demand, and regulations constrain profits on excess energy fed back into the grid from rooftop systems. Utilities frame this as rooftop solar owners stealing from their neighbors, because of course as demand declines, the cost of infrastructure does not; and because infrastructure cost is embedded in rates for usage, non-solar consumers in theory will pay higher rates to make up the difference.

Of course, any conservation by a homeowner has the same effect. I keep my thermostat in the 80-82 range in the summer here in Phoenix, unlike my neighbors who keep theirs at 68-72, so I’ve been stealing from them for years, and sweating while I do it. When I switched to low-energy light bulbs, it was like robbing them at gunpoint, though I had to squint a bit to aim the gun.

That Rich promotes Shell’s argument speaks volumes about how misguided he is on this subject. Net metering is ultimately a limited strategy, and the better solution is home battery solutions to store excess. But this will of course have the same effect on infrastructure cost sharing, so presumably I’ll still be a monster.

171

ZM 06.27.15 at 3:16 pm

Cranky Observer,

“IMHO the real issue with wind and solar is baseload and replacement coverage, which is driving some – although certainly not all – of the issues Val reports”

The modern European thinking is that the replacement of baseline is with variable and flexible energy loads. Variable is solar PV and wind, flexible is things like bio-gas turbines to complement the variable.

Val is right about Germany. As part of a group project one of the team looked into Germany’s model and the community energy projects were popular and facilitated an embrace of renewable energy technology, but when German policy moved away to bigger commercial projects there was much more consternation and a loss of community support.

172

Cranky Observer 06.27.15 at 3:21 pm

Rich @ 3:05,
One learns something new every day. Off the top of my head I would have thought that not possible due to the size of the hole required and the difficulty of operating the TG at that depth, but apparently the idea has been studied and determined to be possible. I’ll have to read this paper in more detail.

http://www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/6517343

173

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 3:32 pm

Layman: “The motivation is declining profits for energy companies, driven by two factors: Rooftop solar reduces demand, and regulations constrain profits on excess energy fed back into the grid from rooftop systems. “

You left out one of the factors that I already mentioned in the last paragraph of #135: they don’t just reduce overall demand, they reduce peak load time demand during the hottest hours of the day, when the utilities (generally) get to charge a special peak rate for their power. Therefore, individually owned rooftop solar does displace (generally) natural gas peaking plants.

As I wrote above, you were the one who was explaining to me how the public was never going to stand for taxes, but only for incentives. And you’d really like to bring this all back to the preferred method of individual virtue analysis: I must be criticizing your individual spending, and I must be saying that you’re a monster if you don’t spend your money on the poor. But when it comes to, once again, medical spending, presumably you understand why people wanted single payer. Or maybe not?

174

Layman 06.27.15 at 3:55 pm

“You left out one of the factors that I already mentioned in the last paragraph of #135: they don’t just reduce overall demand, they reduce peak load time demand during the hottest hours of the day, when the utilities (generally) get to charge a special peak rate for their power. Therefore, individually owned rooftop solar does displace (generally) natural gas peaking plants.”

Which is to say, they present a challenge to the business model of charging people more for power when they need more power.

What should the utilities do?

Well, people generally invest in rooftop solar for one or two reasons, or perhaps for both: Because they’re making a personal decision about the environmental impact, or because they’re making an economic decision.

Utilities can address the first motivation by, themselves, rapidly shifting to more renewables, and advertising the extent to which they’ve done that.

The same strategy works for the second motivation. The trend lines make it clear that renewables, particularly solar, will be a cheaper form of power generation, if they are not already. So utilities could be investing in large-scale solar, rapidly, and bringing down the cost of delivering power to people; and, again, advertising the extent to which they’ve done that.

Instead, they’re trying to kill rooftop solar, both by attacking the economics through surcharges and / or elimination or reduction of net meter credits; and by attacking rooftop solar customers as parasites stealing from everyone else. And, apparently, they’ve found an ally in you!

Of course, I think power generation should be a public good; but it is not now, and I see little prospect that the utilities will be nationalized in the foreseeable future, so I don’t see that as a solution we can rely on.

175

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 4:09 pm

Layman: “Instead, they’re trying to kill rooftop solar, both by attacking the economics through surcharges and / or elimination or reduction of net meter credits; and by attacking rooftop solar customers as parasites stealing from everyone else. And, apparently, they’ve found an ally in you!

Of course, I think power generation should be a public good; but it is not now, and I see little prospect that the utilities will be nationalized in the foreseeable future, so I don’t see that as a solution we can rely on.”

And apparently the neoliberals have found an ally in you!

We can continue with “Whose argument is most superficially similar to some bad entity’s argument?” if you like. Or maybe we can acknowledge that there are genuine disagreements about what the best path is to decarbonization, including disagreements about what scale efforts have to occur on to be effective.

176

Layman 06.27.15 at 4:17 pm

“Or maybe we can acknowledge that there are genuine disagreements about what the best path is to decarbonization, including disagreements about what scale efforts have to occur on to be effective.”

I’m happy to acknowledge that. Are you happy to acknowledge that it’s silly to claim that $10k spent on rooftop solar is $10k stolen from electricity for the poor? Or that $10k spent on anything diverts $10k from a solution for the poor? Or that conservation robs the poor?

I’ve been considering shifting to plug-in electrics when I next have to replace cars. I saw that as one alternative for storing excess solar production. Of course, to make that work, I need to have two, so that one can be recharging in then garage during the day. So I’d probably have to spend quite a lot. Should I do it? You suggest that buying them diverts money that should go to the poor; and that even operating them shifts the burden of my highway costs to the poor, since I won’t be paying the petrol taxes which partially fund roads. So, a serious question: Do you really think I’m stealing from the poor if I buy one or two electric cars, and charge them with my rooftop solar?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 4:26 pm

“Are you happy to acknowledge that it’s silly to claim that $10k spent on rooftop solar is $10k stolen from electricity for the poor?”

What I wrote is that large-scale public systems can’t work unless the middle class is part of them. You don’t seem to like the example of medicine, so how about Social Security?

178

Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 6:09 pm

Layman: “So, a serious question: Do you really think I’m stealing from the poor if I buy one or two electric cars, and charge them with my rooftop solar?”

I really thought this was silly enough so that I shouldn’t bother, but … why not. First of all, you can’t operate to maintain petrol taxes, because petrol taxes are based on sales of petrol, and petrol has to go away. That is not a good analogy to the electric grid, and electric power generation in general, which presumably has to stay. But presumably petrol taxes can be replaced with road taxes?

But really let’s look at your whole two-car-decision here. If you were going to lower personal energy use a la Bruce Wilder, you’re not doing that — think of the manufacturing costs of those two cars and the energy you’ll spend driving one (at a time) around. If you were working towards healthy eco-villages, I assume that someone would tell you to take public transportation or get on a bike or move next to your job. A techno-utopian would probably tell you about some cool ride-sharing service that you could buy a share of instead so that “your” car would always be in use. So there are all kinds of theories by which you would be doing a Bad Thing.

If I had to analyze this as “what supports a large-scale public system?” then I’d say it’s ambiguous. Other than the toll road phenomenon, which thankfully seems to be crashing and burning (a bad analogy in this context) in the U.S., there aren’t middle-class roads and lower-class roads. So your car when used as a mode of transportation rather than as a battery would be supporting the same infrastructure that everyone uses, unlike your solar panels. And you might be helping to get networks of electric power recharging stations built. But lower-class people tend to not own cars, and maybe you’re investing money that really could go to public transport, if you’d use it?

It basically comes out as a wash. I have no idea whether you’d be doing a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, and really I don’t think it matters. Maybe there would be some kind of indirect effect as with rooftop solar and natural gas peaking plants? Maybe your local electric public transport would never get off the ground because everyone who would be interested already bought an electric car? To have any idea of whether this was generally good or bad I’d have to treat it not as your decision, but as just one of a whole group of decisions that made some kind of difference when all put together, but that seems to be exactly what you don’t want me to do.

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Matt 06.27.15 at 7:58 pm

When government forced automobiles to be sold with catalytic converters to reduce air pollution, it significantly improved urban air quality in the USA. But of course it only changed what was bought among people who could afford new cars in the first place. It didn’t make transportation more affordable for the poor. It didn’t replace privately owned cars with communal transportation solutions. You might even say the effect was mildly regressive, a “flat tax” effect that made all cars slightly more expensive without making the poor any less poor. Maybe the effect wasn’t even mildly regressive, given that poor people are more likely to live in areas where automobile pollution is concentrated; the health benefits may well be worth more than the increased cost of automobile purchase. In any case I’m not going to say that mandating emissions controls instead of building light rail systems was a distraction from the problem of cleaning up urban air.

I believe that collective action is necessary to switch energy systems. I see the increasing penetration of rooftop solar as an effect of collective action. Without incentives from legislatures, regulations to standardize solar power connections to the grid, and collective pressure from concerned citizens and their elected representatives against obstructionist electric utilities, rooftop solar would not be going anywhere. It would be about like it was 20 years ago, seen on the occasional wealthy person’s off-grid home or survivalist’s off-grid shack. That would be a strictly individual measure with no observable effects on the rest of the energy system, but it’s not 20 years ago any more.

About 25% of homes in South Australia now have rooftop solar. Alinta is sending 780 megawatts of coal capacity into early retirement because of the simultaneous spread of energy efficiency measures and rooftop solar. Layman correctly identifies efficiency measures or energy-thrifting behavior changes as the same in terms of “stealing” from the consumption that utilities thought they were assured. The grid sees distributed generation as demand reduction. Net metering will not work at high solar penetration levels — the grid system is not really a virtual battery — but special service fees for solar-using households are a reactionary response. Solar households need to be encouraged to temporally align energy consumption with their own energy production, so as to not overtax the grid and not waste what’s being generated from rooftops.

Rooftop solar isn’t just for businesses and financially secure households. In California, New York, New Jersey, India, and probably many other places, there have been a lot of rooftop solar projects installed on municipal office buildings, train stations, firehouses, public schools, airports, and sewage treatment plants. In California at least it already leads to long term cost savings when water districts or schools can replace some consumption from the grid with solar. The time to financial breakeven is still several years, but we can be reasonably assured that schools and sewers will be around a lot longer than that.

What do you do when it’s cold, dark, and windless in Denver? Add long distance transmission links to get power from regions where all the energy sources haven’t simultaneously stopped. The continental US is never becalmed all at once. Add some local electricity storage to at least make it through the night to another dawn. Run the already-built natural gas plants on occasion. It will still be a massive reduction to emissions if natural gas plants are operated only seasonally, in winter, when the wind stops. Renewable obstructionists have a bad habit of treating gas backup as an “extra” cost when in fact in most cases it’s a sunk cost: the fossil electricity system came first, the renewable system is nibbling away at its customers’ consumption, but you can’t assign costs from the past to renewable systems being built now and in the future.

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Omega Centauri 06.27.15 at 8:49 pm

A couple of silly points have crept into the discussion. Way upthread we had a legitimate complaint, that upon doing a right thing (becoming more efficient or installing panels), all the writer received was bunch of feedback, that his lifestyle was still far from sustainable, and or he should have spent the money on the poor, or he is taking unfair advantage of some often subtle subsidy. What a way to encourage others to take the same or similar steps! If I take a halfstep forwards all I’m going to get is grief from the right accusing me of being a bleeding heart tree hugger, and from the left for not going all the way. So the average human, who in my opinion is overconcerned is likely to take the easy way out, and make no changes.

And there is the tired argument about what scale our energy systems should be, and the ownership model. The correct answer should be obvious, given the urgency of the climate change threat, “All of the above”. Distributed generation is nice, but there just will never be enough of it to solve AGW, we have to aggressively to push on other fronts as well.

Some anecdotal data regarding distributed generation, particularly the off grid microgrid fantasy. I’ve kept daily records of my consumption and generation since I’ve had panels (more than five years). My daily consumption contains a long fat tail, caused by heat waves. On the hottest days my 24hour consumption can be four of five times my average consumption (and I’ve superinsulated the attic, and designed and deployed DIY windows awnings and so on and so forth. There is no way panels plus a powerwall solution could be capable of meeting such a demand pattern.
Our economy also uses a lot of power industrially. For instance my place of work has PV on the flat roofs. Yet they only cover about ten percent of our use. I bet this sort of lopsided ratio isn’t rare for many businesses, they could save on power costs by adding rooftop PV, but not come close to net zero that way. Clearly greening the industrial part of our economy is going to require a lot of large scale utility generation. In fact, if you factor in the need to migrate much of our current nonelectrical energy consumption from the direct consumption of fuels to electricity (this covers space and process heat, as well as transportation), we probably need more average utility scale production than we currently have fossil, even if we aggressively pursue distributed solutions as well.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.27.15 at 9:19 pm

Omega Centauri: “What a way to encourage others to take the same or similar steps!”

I can’t help it if I say “You can’t replace fossil fuels for everyone unless the middle class has to use the same system as everyone else” and people read this as “You should spend all your money on the poor”. This is supposed to be a blog where we discuss, I don’t know, very slightly complicated things? Can we expect that people have already studied why “Let’s means test Social Security” always meant “Let’s destroy Social Security”?

As Matt writes @ #179, you can say “Yay for the pioneers who first did this” if you want to — I’d say “Yay for the people who convinced the legislatures” insofar as they have been convinced — but we’re not in those days anymore. Once you get up to the penetration levels that we’re starting to see, volunteerism isn’t doing it — volunteerism is the same negligible fraction of a percent that it always was. We’re now really talking about people who are responding to incentives: i.e. it is cheaper for them to do it this way because of government policies. Do we ever get to talk about whether those incentives are well designed, or does it have to be “Yay for the pioneers” forevermore?

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Matt 06.27.15 at 9:38 pm

I agree that replacing fuels with electricity will demand more utility scale generation even if distributed generation is exploited aggressively. In the USA, current electricity consumption increases in the order industrial, commercial, residential: https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/assets/images/energy/us/Energy_US_2014.png

Since residences have a lot of rooftop space and residential demand is the single largest chunk of electricity consumption, distributed generation is a great fit as far as it goes. In 2008 NREL estimated that commercial and residential rooftop solar systems could supply about 20% of total US electricity demand in their base case scenario, with commercial able to produce a bit more than residential: http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/44073.pdf

If you take the base case scenario and simply update it to reflect more efficient modules than the 13.5% efficiency they assumed, you could reach 25-30% of total present electricity demand. To replace even 20% will of course require some load shifting or storage. In regions where electricity demand peaks in the summer for cooling, distributed solar plus thermal storage in the form of chilled water is an affordable way to shave peak loads and ensure that solar output peaks do not tax the grid. The problem is harder in regions where energy demands peak in the winter for heating, but most of the world’s population lives in places where snow-blanketed panels and short, freezing days are not really an issue. The “what about winter?” problem would probably loom smaller in the imagination if the first Energiewende had started in in Australia or Taiwan instead of Germany. Solar power really does struggle in the winter in Germany, but the seasonal imbalance problem isn’t so difficult in most of the USA, China, or (especially) India.

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Omega Centauri 06.27.15 at 9:39 pm

Actually Rich, in this comment thread, I think you are the most realistic commenter.

There are always opportunities for pioneers, its just that PV no longer counts in most states (we still have a few stick-in-the-mud states like Wisconsin, where I would call someone putting up PV a pioneer). In most other places, adding PV is not longer seen as a radical activity, promoting a yet to be mainstream but desirable technology, but if you are buying a Tesla Powerwall, you deserve to be called one. Maybe even if you buy an EV or a plugin?

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Lee A. Arnold 06.27.15 at 11:15 pm

Rich lost realism at #121: “…given how sparsely attended most local energy planning meetings and so on are attended, if the person had taken the energy / time / whatever that went into shopping for and doing paperwork for the solar panels and put that into going to meetings…”

And that is going to happen how? People want stuff solved already. People also may want to sell the house and move somewhere else, and solar panels are a capital improvement. Community organization is warranted on specialized topics, or on decisions of local importance. On a general problem (climate change) people will demand, and are beginning to demand, general solutions, without the additional transactions cost of local meetings. As Oscar Wilde once said on another topic, that of the REAL problem with socialism: “It takes too many evenings.”

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Bruce Wilder 06.27.15 at 11:52 pm

I tend to agree: Rich presents a realistic viewpoint.

My google skills are evidently not what they used to be, as I wanted to glean some trends on the rate of electric outages in the U.S., which I believe is still rising as disinvestment proceeds apace. Maybe someone else can do better. It seems like it might be a significant indicator.

There’s been a lot of talk about the smart grid. As Cranky Observer notes, the architecture as realized may be more monolithic than smart. That doesn’t really address Rich’s point about how infrastructure interacts with the distribution of economic power and income.

If we are facing global resource limits realistically, it seems to me that we need an infrastructure that enables the whole population to access resources, jobs, etc., while still constraining resource use. Overall, that means more concentrated residential settlement patterns, more railroads and water transport, very few airports, very little long-distance auto and truck.

When optimism relies on wonder tech and shades of “where’s my flying car?” I’m not sure who it is helping.

Even if solar power is “cheaper” than fossil fuels, if we are to avoid triggering massive climate change, we somehow have to create that solar electric infrastructure while nevertheless rapidly reducing our use of fossil fuels and also not completely crashing the world economy that feeds us from day to day. I don’t think that’s possible without some major energy conservation efforts, as well as a major re-architecting of transportation and land-use patterns.

I get that a lot of people are emotionally and otherwise invested in the suburban model of driving to better homes, better schools, better jobs, (maybe driving away from scary racial minorities). The hostility of Dictatorial Daddy Republican Governors to infrastructure projects that feature rail in recent election cycles is notable.

An alternative way to respond to the challenge of climate change and global resource limits is build a smaller economy for fewer people and throw the rest overboard. Just keep disinvesting from the legacy Fordist economy, and funnelling the proceeds into a downsized economy that works well enough for maybe ten or twenty percent, and screw the rest. If you are in the blessed ten percent, you can feel great about the electric car Elon Musk delivers for you and how close to zero emissions you are.

Shiny tech gadgets and happy talk about the sharing economy can form a symbiosis with disgust with partisan politics, and hand-wringing over increasing “inequality”.

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Omega Centauri 06.28.15 at 1:42 am

Bruce,
I think for most people, trying to have a meaningful career, a not too unaffordable house, and at least a tolerable safe environment to raise kids, means they have little choice but to accept the subburban lifestyle. That’s what happened to me, the combination of job and real estate markets pretty much dictated, where I would live, and how long my commute would be. It didn’t force me to commute via SUV however.

We clearly have good enough renewable tech to make a good start at the transition. I doubt what we have is good enough to allow the transition by undermotivated populations to be fast enough ot thorough enough however. If we had well motivated populations, -or real leaders who accepted the urgency, we could probably make it with only current tech. But we have to proceed starting with the public attitudes we have, not those we wish we had. And those attitudes are such that selling people on what they perceive as a lifestyle downgrade simply isn’t going to sell.

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js. 06.28.15 at 6:25 am

I think for most people, trying to have a meaningful career, a not too unaffordable house, and at least a tolerable safe environment to raise kids, means they have little choice but to accept the subburban lifestyle.

Honestly, I’m really not trying to make this personal or anything—and I’m committed to being childless, not for any environmental reasons, just don’t want ’em, so really, what do I know—but still, I don’t really get this. At all. Why can’t one live in a nice-sized apartment and have a meaningful job in a city?

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Val 06.28.15 at 6:28 am

I am trying to understand Rich’s position, which I take to be something like: regulation and state/publicly controlled energy providers which are mandated by the state to adopt renewables as fast as possible would be the best way to decarbonise the electricity sector and would (or at least could) do so more equitably than the current mix (depending where you live) of light regulation, carbon pricing, and incentives which tend to be taken up by the well off rather than the poor. (In Australia it tends to be retirees and low-to-
middle income earners building new homes in outer suburbs rather than the wealthy per se, but yes, it is not the poor who can buy solar panels).

I agree at least in part with this analysis – if we had States where electricity providers were still state owned, and governments weren’t afraid of regulation and taxation, then in many ways central command and control might be a good way to go – something like ZM’s ‘war footing’ theory. But a) in the Anglosphere we generally don’t, and b) there are still some advantages to decentralised local systems (in energy and food production particularly).

In Victoria, our electricity was privatised some twenty years ago, and our governments at state level, but even more at national level, are scared to death of anything like central control and command. With pressure from the Greens, Labor introduced a carbon price (not a trading scheme, though it was still planned to become one) in 2012. And you know what – we’ve become the only country in the world to get rid of a carbon price since then – because conservatives and corporate power went crazy. Our carbon price was specifically designed to compensate low income earners and even that was used against it in the crazy conservative rhetoric which was unleashed around this decision. (I’m aware of the problems of using the language of mental illness around these things, but I honestly don’t know how else to describe what happened here).

In contrast, though they have managed to cut our renewable energy target back and reduce the incentives, they haven’t been able to destroy roof top solar altogether, because it’s very popular and it obviously makes sense.

So Rich, if you are saying to people like me that we should not have taken advantage of solar incentives, but instead put all our spare time and money into an attempt to get electricity re-nationalised and our governments prepared to make and enforce regulations and make corporations pay a price for carbon, you may understand why I think it is not feasible. You have on one hand a system (roof top solar) that works and actually reduces carbon emissions, even though it isn’t as equitable as I would like, versus doing something that is pragmatically impossible within the near future. If I say I will go with the first system, that does not make me a neo-liberal or a neo-liberal fellow traveller.

Add to that, if you compare a state command and control system with decentralised local systems, there actually are some real benefits to the latter.

And responding to some of your other points: in Australia we have had a publicly funded health care system for about forty years. I think it’s one of the best things about this society, that anyone, no matter who they are, can go to a major public hospital and get the best care in the country, free, on the basis of need. As a public health person I’d go to the barricades for it. But you can’t apply the principles of a health system directly to energy systems.

And finally, sorry I know this is long, but I just need to say one more thing – I think reduction of enery use is extremely important. I am certainly not someone who aspires to maintain the normal consumption levels of my society while switching to renewables. In fact I live very simply – the whole deal, bike riding vego. Like many similar people, my main problem areas are to do with heating my home in winter and my fondness for travel (and I acknowledge those as problems), but comparatively speaking I have very low emission rates. I also know though that that is partly the result of privilege – being able to live in my own home in the inner suburbs of a city that is well supplied with public transport in this area – so I don’t rush to judgement of other people who can’t live like that (though I certainly wish more would).

Anyway that’s a really long rant, but I hope that Rich, even though refusing to talk to me, might at least read some of it (and his supporters likewise).

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Layman 06.28.15 at 12:45 pm

“Honestly, I’m really not trying to make this personal or anything—and I’m committed to being childless, not for any environmental reasons, just don’t want ’em, so really, what do I know—but still, I don’t really get this. At all. Why can’t one live in a nice-sized apartment and have a meaningful job in a city?”

One can, but all can’t. The employers aren’t all located in the city; the ones that are aren’t all located in cities where public transportation is up to the job; the ones that are create living costs – housing, goods and services – which put them out of reach of many families, and don’t have enough jobs for everyone anyway.

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Layman 06.28.15 at 1:02 pm

‘Even if solar power is “cheaper” than fossil fuels, if we are to avoid triggering massive climate change, we somehow have to create that solar electric infrastructure while nevertheless rapidly reducing our use of fossil fuels and also not completely crashing the world economy that feeds us from day to day. I don’t think that’s possible without some major energy conservation efforts, as well as a major re-architecting of transportation and land-use patterns.’

I think this is entirely right. Rooftop solar is both new ‘solar electric infrastructure’ and an ‘energy conservation effort’, and it happens to be one within reach of at least some people. In Arizona, I’m unable at this time to produce politicians in Washington who will promulgate a legislative regime which bans the internal combustion engine, delivers effective mass public transit, and replaces coal-fired power plants with large solar plants. I imagine the same is true for people in many states – that they cannot have representatives who share their outlook and sense of urgency on the matter. The answer can’t be that these people should then do nothing – that by installing rooftop solar, they’re misdirecting funds away from large-scale efforts; or that by conserving electricity, they’re shifting their infrastructure costs to their neighbors; or that by switching to electric cars, they’re making things worse, and should just stop driving now.

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Layman 06.28.15 at 1:26 pm

It may help for some people to understand the extent of the transport problem, and how ‘walk or use public transport’ is not a very realistic near-term solution to the problem of cars; and also to understand the extent to which the poor rely on cars as well.

http://www.newgeography.com/content/002666-how-lower-income-citizens-commute

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Plume 06.28.15 at 2:56 pm

One aspect of our environmental dilemma is almost never mentioned, and it’s extremely important when it comes to waste and pollution.

Packaging. America helped spawn a (mal)revolution with its TV dinners — not sure the exact launching date, but I’m guessing the 1960s — and has only accelerated the process of smaller and smaller individual servings, packets, boxes and the like. The counter-move has been “bulk buying” in health food stores, and to a less effective degree in places like Costco. But this counter-move is too small and almost too late, though the idea of large bins holding our food needs, which we use to fill our own reusable containers, daily or weekly, is brilliant. As with all things American, however, since we leave it at the voluntary stage, leave it up to corporate America, it’s largely ineffective.

It should be the norm. Companies shouldn’t have other options — unless the logic of this or that product makes compliance impossible. If we even just doubled the size of our food and fluid containers, we’d radically reduce landfills, overall waste and pollution. And if we brought to stores our own (safe, non-toxic, non-carcinogen) containers, it’s yet another leap. Just as it should be the norm that all of our food is organic, it should be the norm for our grocery stores to provide bulk dispensers for everything humanly possible, and have the least possible numbers of individually wrapped goods.

We need to force corporations and businesses to do this. Be only organic. No toxic, unhealthy produce or packaging. Ship only in bulk — again, with allowances for logical exceptions. It shouldn’t be a “choice” for them. That way, once it gets to the consumer, it’s not an imposition on the individual. It’s an adaptation. One that will save money, space, time and make us all healthier.

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Bruce Wilder 06.28.15 at 4:11 pm

OC @ 186 If we had well motivated populations, -or real leaders who accepted the urgency, we could probably make it with only current tech. But we have to proceed starting with the public attitudes we have, not those we wish we had. And those attitudes are such that selling people on what they perceive as a lifestyle downgrade simply isn’t going to sell.

As Rich has said, neoliberalism all over and again: there is no alternative.

I think it is what is happening. It just not anything to be optimistic about. And, whether Val ever realises it or not, the politics of personal virtue feeds it.

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ZM 06.28.15 at 4:29 pm

I think Rich Puchalsky and Bruce Wilder are misinterpreting Val, she consistently demonstrates a public good orientation. But as I mentioned above with the example of Robert Moses versus Jane Jacobs , there were real problems with top down bureaucratic comprehensive planning, like when people like Robert Moses just kept designing lots of roads and ruining parks and neighbourhoods.

In Australia we had protests about slum removals in the inner city and also the building unions began green bans in the 1970s:

“Green bans were first conducted in Australia in the 1970s by the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF). Green bans were never instigated unilaterally by the BLF, all green bans were at the request of, and in support of, residents’ groups. The first green ban was put in place to protect Kelly’s Bush, the last remaining undeveloped bushland in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill. A group of local women who had already appealed to the local council, mayor, and the Premier of New South Wales, approached the BLF for help. The BLF asked the women to call a public meeting, which was attended by 600 residents, and formally asked the BLF to prevent construction on the site. The developer, A V Jennings, announced that they would use non-union labour as strike-breakers. In response, BLF members on other A V Jennings construction projects stopped work. A V Jennings eventually abandoned all plans to develop Kelly’s Bush”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_ban

I think the difference between Australia and the USA is why you misunderstand Val, as she said we have had public health care since the 70s and I think there are more social services here too.

But you can’t just leave everything to government and the public service giving directions, and there just is not the evidence that government and the public service are always right.

And there is a balance to be struck between the rights of individuals and the importance of the broader community we live in. But a difference between the USA and the state Victoria is that we don’t have a bill of rights, we have a charter of human rights and responsibilities.

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Bruce Wilder 06.28.15 at 5:54 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 149

Pretty off-topic, but I thought it mildly interesting that the New York Times had an article this morning, in which Republican analysts took the position that it would be Republicans in 2016, who would be freed by the resolution of long-standing social and cultural issues in 2015.

“As Left Wins Culture Battles, G.O.P. Gains Opportunity to Pivot for 2016
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/us/politics/as-left-wins-culture-battles-gop-gains-opportunity-to-pivot-for-2016.html?_r=0

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Layman 06.28.15 at 6:10 pm

“As Rich has said, neoliberalism all over and again: there is no alternative.”

With respect to both you and Rich, I recognize some validity in your criticisms, but note that neither of you point to any action one could take to change the status quo. I’m not a neo-liberal, I recognize the lock that neoliberalism has as the de-facto opposition to conservatism, I’d like something different, and I can’t have it. Now what?

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Jerry Vinokurov 06.28.15 at 6:11 pm

Even the liberal New York Times!

That article is bad and its author should feel bad for serving as a Republican mouthpiece.

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hix 06.28.15 at 6:13 pm

Just scimmed the comments, guess this ones sort of siding with Rich Puchalsky.

The subsidy rooftop pv thing has always made me rather angry (in Germany). Theres was no rhime or reason for paying so much higher subsidies for small scale rooftop installations. At some point, large scale installations at normal land started to receive no subsidy at all. It had a disctintive smell of a handout to middle class howeowners as well as farmers with the environment as a sideissue. Another aspect was that subsidies were so damn high both compared to the subsidy rates for most other “green” energies or other reducation measures. I dont think theres anything wrong with getting a solar system among more sane subsidy conditions, i do however think that it was basically unethical to do so during the haydays in Germany. Still not much of a solution today. Pushing that direction with some ideological brush of “decentraliced energy” / “evil big business” was very disturbing as well as offputting for people like me that just arent into the identity/emotion greenie thing but had sufficient curiousity to look a bit at the numbers.

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hix 06.28.15 at 6:19 pm

Let me add that does not change that the speed of price decrease in pv/battery storage is by far highest among electricty generation linked technologies which promises nice things to come.

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bianca steele 06.28.15 at 7:48 pm

js.’s comment is on the nose. One wants a nice sized apartment, not a hole. One wants meaningful work, not something that’s merely wage labor, and not something that contributes to the bad parts of society. One wants a job, doing labor to order, not telling other people what to do or taking responsibility in a way that makes one complicit (but also not being pushed around too much, which would conflict with meaningfulness). Maybe one wants a social existence and connection to the part of society that’s concerned with its continuance in time, and resources for contributing to that. Unfortunately those places are hard to come by.

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Bruce Wilder 06.28.15 at 7:51 pm

Layman @ 196: neither of you point to any action one could take to change the status quo.

The neoliberal argument that any change desirable on its merits is politically “impractical” is circular. The challenge, “what’s your alternative!?”, is projection.

I get that people want to believe that political change of the necessary kind(s) are easier than they are.

Politics that responds to mass interests has to be more than a menu, printed by corporate sponsors.

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Layman 06.28.15 at 8:36 pm

Apparently, the people who are taking action are making things worse; and the people who know how to make things better are taking no action, other than to criticize the neoliberal capture of the former.

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Val 06.28.15 at 9:58 pm

This thread has degenerated into Alice in Wonderland world, as Layman says.

I’m a left wing green political activist, I have been for many years. Yet somehow in this thread, because as well as being involved in activism, I have also made changes in my own life to reduce my carbon emissions, I’ve become a baddy who is actually making carbon emissions worse. It’s beyond laughable.

One of the problems here is that I think (some) Americans use the term ‘neoliberal’ differently than we do here. Here it generally means people who believe in the primacy of the market and the privatisation of services, things to which I am adamantly opposed. I am not quite sure what people like Bruce Wilder and Rich Pulansky mean by it.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.28.15 at 10:10 pm

“and the people who know how to make things better are taking no action”

Just for that, I’m going to make you read my poetry.

There are no people who know how to make things better: if they existed they’d be making things better. But if this was intended as counter-critique of people doing nothing it’s kind of a misfire. I’m confident that I’ve saved, I don’t know, maybe a few thousand person-years of GHG emissions through what I’ve done. That is just as meaningless in the larger scheme of things as anything else. We’re in hierarchical societies: the person who has done most is probably whichever high-level person in the Chinese ruling party decided to invest in solar so heavily.

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Val 06.28.15 at 10:26 pm

Here is a link to the Lancet commission on Health and Climate Change http://press.thelancet.com/Climate2Commission.pdf.

I’d urge everyone to read the whole report if you haven’t already, but here’s a very brief summary of their key recommendations to government (in the lead up to the meeting on the next international agreement):

Invest in climate change and public health research

Scale up financing for climate resilient health systems

Ensure rapid phase out of coal from the global energy mix

Encourage transition to healthy cities including energy efficient building stock, ease of active transport (ie walking, biking, public transport) and access to green spaces

Price carbon

Rapidly expand access to renewable energy in low and middle income countries

Support quantification of the population health benefits associated with mitigation

Support collaboration between health and other departments

Agree and implement an international agreement on transition to low carbon economy worldwide

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Layman 06.28.15 at 10:38 pm

“But if this was intended as counter-critique of people doing nothing it’s kind of a misfire.”

It was intended to be descriptive, and I think it’s fair. Thus far, what I hear from you is criticism of what others are doing, and no suggestion of what they ought to be doing instead. That, and the apparently obligatory bit where you opine about what’s in their heads.

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geo 06.28.15 at 10:42 pm

Layman@196: neither of you point to any action one could take to change the status quo … Now what?

It’s a fair question, Rich and Bruce. Granted that only changes at the policy level can make a significant and timely difference, what should individual citizens do? One reason Ralph Nader is America’s most useful citizen is that, in addition to describing our innumerable political problems, he consistently offers sensible strategic advice. See, for example, among his recent books, Seventeen Solutions, Unstoppable, and the misleadingly titled Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.

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Plume 06.28.15 at 10:53 pm

There are no people who know how to make things better: if they existed they’d be making things better.

This, of course, isn’t even remotely true. It assumes that there are no obstacles to great ideas, visions, strategies, even large movements. History shows us thousands and thousands of cases where people, movements, organizations, etc. etc. are soundly defeated, even though they truly do know how to make things better.

The Paris Commune is a great example . . . .

As long as the few rule the many, and the natural conflict between them is in place, the best ideas, visions and solutions will routinely find their way into the dustbins of history.

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Val 06.28.15 at 10:55 pm

And further to geo’s question Rich and Bruce, could you please stop with the nonsensical ‘anyone who makes changes in their own life can’t be doing anything about policy solutions’. It’s nonsensical and in my case both untrue and personally insulting.

So can ask you, in decency and fairness, to stop it?

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Omega Centauri 06.28.15 at 10:58 pm

Hix “Let me add that does not change that the speed of price decrease in pv/battery storage is by far highest among electricty generation linked technologies which promises nice things to come.”

And a good bit of the market demand during a critical period for the technology, cam from the purchase of highly subsidized systems. The main thing the German’s did, was to provide the heavy lift early demand to push PV into a price/quality range where it could compete on its own merits.

The good thing about the way the German’s did was they did it in such a way that the domestic installation industry got very efficient -you can buy a rooftop system in Germany (or Australia) for less than half the cost of a similar system in the US (or Japan). The bad thing, is that they did it in a manner which locked the grid into buying expensive power for many years (from all those early systems), and this means that today’s ratepayers are paying the economic price for the subsidies which pushed PV to where it is today. And the German PV buildout was done when panels were expensive, now that they are a small fraction of the cost Germany is installing very little, i.e. the economic benefits of the big favor they did for the world are being captured by everyone else, except Germans.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.28.15 at 11:02 pm

Layman: “and no suggestion of what they ought to be doing instead”

“Think about opportunity cost. Most people have a pretty strictly limited amount of energy and time and resources for projects that are not directly job-related, child-raising-related, and so on. There might be some kind of mildly positive influence from the solar panels. What was the opportunity cost of telling people to put up the solar panels — given that it’s a major activity to do so? Well, given how sparsely attended most local energy planning meetings and so on are attended, if the person had taken the energy / time / whatever that went into shopping for and doing paperwork for the solar panels and put that into going to meetings, I’d wildly guesstimate that maybe they could have had 1000 times more influence on GHG emissions. Basically, if they could say something that has a 1% effect on plans for a community of 10,000 people, they’ve done more than a lifetime worth of scrimping and saving and buying little individual solar panels right there.”

Lee Arnold retorted that meetings are boring and that they don’t provide capital improvements when you sell your house. These things are true.

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Matt 06.28.15 at 11:08 pm

This, of course, isn’t even remotely true. It assumes that there are no obstacles to great ideas, visions, strategies, even large movements. History shows us thousands and thousands of cases where people, movements, organizations, etc. etc. are soundly defeated, even though they truly do know how to make things better.

I think it assumes the opposite. Solutions are good ideas/visions that actually come to fruition. Great ideas that can’t survive their enemies aren’t actually solutions. The proof of solving things is in the solution, not projections/simulations/hopes of how things might be solved. This is not unique to politics; for every highly successful invention there are a multitude where reality did not cooperate with the inventor’s visions.

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Layman 06.28.15 at 11:17 pm

“Well, given how sparsely attended most local energy planning meetings and so on are attended, if the person had taken the energy / time / whatever that went into shopping for and doing paperwork for the solar panels and put that into going to meetings, I’d wildly guesstimate that maybe they could have had 1000 times more influence on GHG emissions. “

I don’t think this is particularly compelling, for several reasons: First, if the established political leaders are disinclined to listen to you, the things you say to them at meetings are unlikely to change that (isn’t that the impediment to rapid action we’re talking about?); second, you’re not actually suggesting a course of action, just suggesting that everyone go to meetings and guess which course of action to suggest (I’m sure I’d get it wrong since you told me everything I’ve done is wrong); and third, you pulled the prospective result from your ass, with the likely quality result one usually gets from that.

Thanks for the link to your site. I’m enjoying it, and agree with a good deal of what you have to say. But, again, I don’t really see an action plan…

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Plume 06.28.15 at 11:21 pm

Matt,

We may talking past one another on semantic grounds.

I think you’re confusing one’s ability to navigate their way through the system successfully, with one who comes up with brilliant ideas, has a vision of genius, but those in power refuse to allow it.

If, for instance, someone invented a vehicle that did not require gas or an electric charge, but was entirely self-sustaining via its solar panels, with no emissions, do you think it would be allowed to reach market? I don’t. But that person would have demonstrated they knew how to solve a terrible problem. And so on.

I can’t see how the one with the vision can be blamed in that case for it not coming to fruition.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.28.15 at 11:58 pm

Layman: “First, if the established political leaders are disinclined to listen to you, the things you say to them at meetings are unlikely to change that”

Well, I can clarify that part of it. I’m assuming that no one who hangs around reading CT comment threads can successfully lobby a Congressperson. You can pay membership dues to one of the larger environmental groups, who will in turn hire people to go to DC and lobby Congresspeople for you (and generally fail). But not everything is decided at that level. Coal plants, for instance, are particularly vulnerable right now, and if you look into who has influence on them, there’s often a network of state and regional legislators and regulators. It’s conceivable that just paying attention to this process would let you see a pressure point and clue other people into it. If you could … well, let’s see. You said you were in Arizona, right?

Here we go. You have Unisource. Note that Unisource is responsible for 0.17% of all U.S. GHG emissions from all sources — including residential, industrial, agricultural, vehicular, and so on. Note further that 91% of Unisource’s emissions are from one plant, Springerville Generating Station.

The industry is proud of Springerviille Generating Station. Do you think that one person writing letters to various people who have some control over their plant could cause them try to reinforce that public pride by, I don’t know, doing something to reduce its emissions by 1%? That’s well within the bounds of possible efficiency improvements of various kinds.

Let’s say that you did that. OK, the U.S. has approx. 300 million people and let’s divide U.S. emission among them evenly, so we have 0.17% x .91 x .01 * 300 million = 4,641. You just did the same emissions reductions as 4,641 would have done if they had heroically eliminated all of their direct and indirect GHG emissions.

But maybe you failed. Oh well. Would one hundredth of the people who tried the same thing as you have succeeded? Then they get to average their efforts out, assuming that the only difference was that some were lucky and some weren’t. 46 people each.

I haven’t even gotten into actual coordinated political efforts yet. But enough math.

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Chris Warren 06.29.15 at 12:33 am

We have known about global warming for over 25 years. It was covered quite well in Lester R Brown’s “State of the World: A Worldwatch Institute Report …” (Allen & Unwin, 1990).

It was known that, “A frighteningly large gap looms between projected growth rates in carbon emissions and the level that atmospheric scientists believe is necessary to maintain a climate that can meet human needs”.

World leaders met in the Hague (March 1989) and Paris (July 1989) and agreed on a need to cut carbon emissions.

The Report also noted that unless population growth slows drastically, it is hard to imagine any global program of carbon reductions that is both sufficient and equitable.

Page 21-22.

Given the failure to address this since, despite all manner of agreements and pronouncements, it seems that the only option is to develop an Alternative Economic Strategy, and even this is jeopardised by economists who insist (above):

I agree with Rich @47. Fixing the global climate, and improving the environment more generally doesn’t require the end of capitalism,…

Seriously – the reason so little has been achieved is entirely due to the impositions of capitalist funds, supporters in government, and wealthy economic war-lords such as the Koch Brothers.

There is no case for optimism.

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Plume 06.29.15 at 12:58 am

Chris Warren @216,

I’m not sure how any intelligent adult could possibly still think we can do what we need to do with capitalism in place. It boggles the mind. Aside from its massive power to crush change, it’s simply not set up for it. Capitalism is inherently in conflict with pretty much everything required to fight ecological destruction, rampant pollution and climate change. It’s simply not in the capitalist’s best interest to produce radically less, make their products last longer, prevent them from going obsolete, prevent them from needing a myriad of add-ons and so on. It’s simply not in virtually any industry’s best interest to produce fewer goods and services, or to spend the money, time and energy needed to make them toxin, carcinogen or pollution-free. And nine times out of ten, they benefit from the continuation of disease, chronic ill-health and so on, so they’re not going to invent and send to market actual cures — because that would kill their cash cows.

How on earth does an economic system that makes marginal profits in the realm of 3% to 20% tops — with exceptions for individual companies, mergers, financial transactions, etc. etc. — get by with ramping down overall production and consumption? Capitalists make their fortunes on volume, on franchising out that volume, on multiplying the franchising out of that volume and so on. Grow or die. It can not survive radical cuts, and those radical cuts are needed if we’re to survive.

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Val 06.29.15 at 1:00 am

Rich
As a woman who comments under a female name on the internet, I am used to this response by some men, which is
– trivialise or misrepresent what a woman says
– if she complains, ignore her and try to freeze her out of the conversation.

That’s what you are obviously doing to me. I’ve asked you politely to stop and you are ignoring me. If you continue, I will report you to the moderators. I’m over this shit.

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js. 06.29.15 at 1:08 am

Unfortunately those places are hard to come by.

I completely agree that such places are hard to come by. I don’t live in such a place myself, right now! I just don’t see how moving to the suburbs is supposed to be a solution. Similar goes for Layman @189: I live in a small town right now, and I moved here solely for a job, but I still live in an apartment in (the so-called) “downtown”.

More generally, I do think—and please correct me if I’m wrong—that people in this country are vaguely obsessed with living in a house—roughly, a dwelling that shares no walls with any other dwelling. And, well, (a) at one level, I just don’t get that at all, and (b) I think it’s potentially problematic, in more ways than (merely) the environmental.

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Val 06.29.15 at 1:50 am

Js @ 219
I think people like some private garden space especially for kids. I don’t think that can be easily overcome, but if there were more apartments with courtyard space + access to public green space that would help. (That’s actually moreorless how I live and it’s great for me and also when grandkids come to stay, but I know it’s quite hard to come by at present in Australian and I guess in American cities).

Getting cars off roads could also have the additional benefit of freeing up more public (potentially green) space that is safe for kids to play. Car domination is a huge problem in so many ways.

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ZM 06.29.15 at 2:03 am

js and bianca steele,

Not everyone can live in the inner city. There are a number of sustainability and public health and social issues with the model of suburban development, but since we often have guest lectures who are planners in these areas or call people working in the area to find out things that are not in reports online – I can tell you that the planners have been trying to make changes, like having more footpaths and bicycles for active transport and connectivity.

In some suburbs it is quite sad that there are not footpaths or bike paths for kids to go to school. Another woman at uni said she had seen work looking at how children’s art reflects this lack of opportunity to walk or ride, as they draw pictures of the outdoors with window frames as they mostly look at the outdoors from inside residences or cars.

One planning response is to try to develop more in the inner and middle suburbs on brownfield etc. sites. Another planning response is retrofitting suburbia.

The big regional city near me has just been doing a very innovative integrated transport and land use plan, working with the community, businesses, and technical experts at the same time, and being very transparent about the planning process. I met a young mum at one of the community forums, and she said that being involved in the community forums had inspired her to start an urban planning course.

This is a TED talk by the author of a book called Retrofitting Suburbia

http://youtu.be/J_uTsrxfYWQ

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ZM 06.29.15 at 2:14 am

Rich Puchalsky,

“Well, I can clarify that part of it. I’m assuming that no one who hangs around reading CT comment threads can successfully lobby a Congressperson. You can pay membership dues to one of the larger environmental groups, who will in turn hire people to go to DC and lobby Congresspeople for you (and generally fail). But not everything is decided at that level. “

Well writing letters is possible, and is is quite easy to make an appointment to discuss a matter with your elected representatives, you just call and request an appointment and let the staff know what you hope to discuss.

Just this year as part of our refugee support group a group of us met with our Federal MP who was very helpful and knowledgable, and just last week I met with my State MP who was also very helpful and knowledgable.

No one has to travel all the way to Washington D.C in the U.S.A. or Canberra in Australia, you just make an appointment when parliament is in recess and your elected representatives are working in their electorates.

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Matt 06.29.15 at 2:23 am

A 2 bedroom apartment in urban Seattle or San Francisco would cost more to rent than my mortgage on a detached house in a town in eastern Washington. I don’t know how to fix that. When cities were too polluted/criminal/black for affluent white people, they had lousy underfunded infrastructure. Now that cities are attractive again, they’re too expensive for people without high steady incomes or old rent control agreements.

I have a yard, after a fashion, but I don’t need it. There just weren’t any homes on the market that came without one. I remember my father attending to two odious (to me) chores almost every weekend: lawn care and car repair/maintenance. No thank you. I live in high desert. I’m not going to try to make the ground look like I live in England. Let the sagebrush and wild flowers take it. I’d rather bike everywhere than ever spend another weekend troubleshooting a transmission problem.

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Jake 06.29.15 at 2:26 am

219: have you never been annoyed by loud neighbors? Or worried about bothering your own neighbors? The appeal of a standalone dwelling should be obvious.

There are downsides too – you need to buy more land, need to drive everywhere, and the population density may not support various amenities.

But it’s not your yard that causes these problems; it’s everyone else’s. Collective action problems are hard.

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js. 06.29.15 at 2:29 am

Oh, I hear them all the time. But I guess they don’t annoy me—just remind me of my childhood, more like. But then, I didn’t grow up in this country.

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js. 06.29.15 at 2:48 am

Look, I’m not saying that everyone should live in the inner city, or even that they should live in a city at all—in fact, I’m not making any prescriptions at all. My original comment was literally registering a lack of comprehension: I don’t get why moving to the suburbs, in particular is a solution that makes sense “for most people.” Well, ok, it’s a bit more than that. I think it’s flat out wrong that “[most people] have little choice but to accept the suburban lifestyle.” I think they very much have a choice, and they could reasonably make a choice not to live a suburban lifestyle.

Beyond that, I am tentatively advancing the thesis that the overriding desire to live in a house is politically problematic. But hey, people make politically problematic choices all the time! Who am I to stop them?

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Val 06.29.15 at 3:48 am

I think this about “politically problematic decisions” goes to some of the debate here.

When I advocate, as I publicly do, that we in Australia should stop building new roads and invest only in new public transport, I know that policy position would have implications for people, especially those who live in the outer suburbs and those who just like their cars. So I also try to point to the individual and population health and wellbeing benefits of reduced car use.

That doesn’t mean I’m a neoliberal who thinks the answer to climate change is just in individual choices. It means I’m trying to see the issue from other people’s viewpoint. I couldn’t care less myself, I live in the inner suburbs and don’t even own a car, but I realise not everyone’s in that position, so I also try to look at it from their viewpoint. You have to understand things before you can change them.

(I realise that Rich, and possibly Bruce, are probably standing there with their eyes shut and their fingers in their ears saying Nah Nah I can’t hear you, but thought the point was still worth making)

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engels 06.29.15 at 10:08 am

I get where Js. is coming from but my own experience of having a couple with baby live next door is that they made our lives utter hell for about six months before finally fucking off to the ‘burbs. They used to do things like bang on the ceiling with a broom at 10 in the evening when my flat-mate (very carefully, because he was trying not to disturb them) got up from his desk to go to bed. Ime there is something about having young children which can turn the nicest people (which they definitely were before taking delivery of little bundle of joy #1) into short-fused, intolerant, territorial, control-freakish arseholes.

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Val 06.29.15 at 10:12 am

It’s called sleep deprivation and they get over it.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.29.15 at 11:24 am

Bruce Wilder #195,

Well just continuing off-topic and apologizing for the Yanquicentrism: Yes I was certain that “Republican analysts” and Democratic too would begin to think what it means for the election, even before the gay marriage decision was announced. So, since I love this particular quadrennial horse-race above all others, however denigrating and ignoble, I tossed it back and forth, during the morning shave.

Basics? US Presidential contests come down to: 1. Personal like/dislike for the candidates, above all else. 2. Jobs, and the recent directional change in the size of individual purses and pocketbooks. 3. Demographics and the electoral math.

At this moment? 1 is a toss-up, until we know who they are. 2 has shown a tiny sign-change for the better (+ we will see another uptick in opinion-poll support for Obamacare, as more people sign up, and now that the constitutional questions are swept away; some few of its opponents were mostly worried about constitutionality). 3 is just a massive epochal uphill battle for the GOP and it keeps getting worse for them year-by-year. It ought to be common knowledge by now that some of their previous wins depended upon the math of the electoral college + gerrymandering of districts, instead of the popular vote. (A fact that is judiciously ignored by news reporters in general — or perhaps it’s deleted in fear, by their editors.)

So, I came down on the side of thinking that these social-liberal decisions are NOT going to help the GOP. Unless: A. they can find a completely new voting base, and B. they can accentuate other issues which appeal to swing voters.

The answer to A is: Who are they kidding? In this cycle the Repubs will be forced to spend a lot of extra time and energy in dog-whistling, just to keep faith with the faithful, and to get them out to the voting-booths. But how do you dog-whistle a big push for a Constitutional Amendment against gay marriage? It will lose almost every younger voter, just to begin with, in the general election. We will see the strategy in nascent formulation when “moderates” like Jeb argue against Walker for Cruz’ voters in the primary debates.

The answer to B is that the Democrats and the Oval Office already have been triangulating for years on every single one of the other issues, while trumping-up their demographic advantage. Immigration? I don’t see how the GOP can win Latino voters with its current stance on immigration. Climate? The Pope is the new killer on the climate; the Democrats get to say to Republicans, “I told you so! What in heaven’s name is wrong with you people?” …Uh, religion? Well, after the President’s astonishing and moving rhetorical performance in Charleston, I’m afraid that we may see Hillary lean into the mike and belt out “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, prior to the traditional Clintonian music cue of Fleetwood Mac. But if that’s the price we have to pay…

Still, it’s a year and four months to the election, and that’s an eternity in political life, so who the heck really knows?

Then, after all this rumination during the two minutes of the morning shave, I read that NYTimes article and found that the last 1/2 of it says the same thing. Thus the article has the wrong headline. It should be, “GOP Looking at Massive Historical Mess, but It’s Going to Be Monumentally Entertaining if You Like Vaudeville, and By Golly, Anything Could Happen”.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 11:34 am

Val: “That’s what you are obviously doing to me. I’ve asked you politely to stop and you are ignoring me. If you continue, I will report you to the moderators. I’m over this shit.”

OK, I’ll respond, since you want me to so badly: no, I’m not going to stop conversing about what I want to converse about. No, I don’t have to agree with you about anything in particular. And while there have been a lot of vindictive people who’ve threatened to report me for something or other, non-response to blog comments is a new one, and I’d be interested to see how that works out.

232

ZM 06.29.15 at 11:37 am

Samuel Alexander who has been mentioned before here at CT and on John Quiggin’s blog, has a timely new article in The Conversation “If Everyone Lived In An Eco-Village The Earth Would Still Be In Trouble”.

“Take the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, for example, probably the most famous ecovillage in the world. An ecovillage can be broadly understood as an “intentional community” that forms with the explicit aim of living more lightly on the planet. Among other things, the Findhorn community has adopted an almost exclusively vegetarian diet, produces renewable energy and makes many of their houses out of mud or reclaimed materials.

An ecological footprint analysis was undertaken of this community. It was discovered that even the committed efforts of this ecovillage still left the Findhorn community consuming resources and emitting waste far in excess of what could be sustained if everyone lived in this way. (Part of the problem is that the community tends to fly as often as the ordinary Westerner, increasing their otherwise small footprint.)

Put otherwise, based on my calculations, if the whole world came to look like one of our most successful ecovillages, we would still need one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. Dwell on that for a moment.

We must grow our food organically and locally, and eat considerably less (or no) meat. We must ride our bikes more and fly less, mend our clothes, share resources, radically reduce our waste streams and creatively “retrofit the suburbs” to turn our homes and communities into places of sustainable production, not unsustainable consumption. In doing so, we must challenge ourselves to journey beyond the ecovillage movement and explore an even deeper green shade of sustainability.

Among other things, this means living lives of frugality, moderation and material sufficiency. Unpopular though it is to say, we must also have fewer children, or else our species will grow itself into a catastrophe.

But personal action is not enough. We must restructure our societies to support and promote these “simpler” ways of living. Appropriate technology must also assist us on the transition to one planet living.”

https://theconversation.com/if-everyone-lived-in-an-ecovillage-the-earth-would-still-be-in-trouble-43905

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ZM 06.29.15 at 11:44 am

Rich Puchalsky,

Val said she wanted you to stop unfairly criticising her comments, not that she wanted another response from you. I agree with her that you and others have badly misconstrued her comments, either accidentally or on purpose to be argumentative.

Most of the literature I have read does support the idea that both individual and collective/structural responses are needed for climate change and other sustainability issues.

At the moment the necessary collective/structural responses are some way off, so what individuals and communities choose to do right now is important as it is the main way of addressing these issues as the governments are quite backwards.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 11:46 am

ZM: “An ecological footprint analysis was undertaken of this community. It was discovered that even the committed efforts of this ecovillage still left the Findhorn community consuming resources and emitting waste far in excess of what could be sustained if everyone lived in this way.”

Yes. I think it’s discouraging that the article ends with something like (paraphrased) “so we have to try even harder.” I think that eco-villages and the philosophy behind them pretty flatly can’t work: they don’t scale up, and it’s impossible for the people living within them to not use the surrounding infrastructure. Within 15 years, we have time to replace one kind of power plant with another: we don’t have time to do overwhelming cultural changes and rebuild all infrastructure so that people can actually live this kind of lifestyle.

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Val 06.29.15 at 12:02 pm

Rich
As ZM said, and as I asked you, I want you to stop mischaracterising my position. I am doing a PhD on public health, environment and equity (social justice), and this year I am teaching in a postgraduate unit on climate change and health. Whether you get this or not, I am telling you that I find it a serious insult for you to mischaracterise me as a neoliberal who thinks individual action is the only response to climate change. It’s a stupid position and one THAT I DO NOT HOLD.

I can’t make it any clearer Rich. Get over yourself and stop saying shit like that.

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Val 06.29.15 at 12:11 pm

One thing that gets me is that I actually defended you (Rich) when John Holbo reprimanded you for your way of arguing. What was I thinking?

I’m sure there’s not a chance in hell that John Holbo is reading this thread but if he were, I would sincerely apologise to him.

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ZM 06.29.15 at 12:20 pm

Rich Puchalsky,

“Within 15 years, we have time to replace one kind of power plant with another: we don’t have time to do overwhelming cultural changes and rebuild all infrastructure so that people can actually live this kind of lifestyle.”

Yes we do have time, we just need a wartime mobilisation style approach like I am always saying.

In wartime they had rationing so it is quite easy to reduce consumption by introducing rationing, than you have national service for young people to carry out work and since there are so many refugees in the world we can ask them if they would like to be resettled for a period of doing national service too, to fund all this the government can sell special bonds like the peace bonds, if the bonds are over subscribed the government then gives the localities that oversubscribe to the bond drive a nice new building or a monument with a plaque to record how the town was so generous, this is what we have on one of our nice buildings in town.

With this you could achieve a lot in

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ZM 06.29.15 at 12:22 pm

fifteen years.

I spoke with some Chinese students, and in China they get things built quite quickly. Something that takes us 10-15 years they build in just 2 or 3 years.

But China has too many empty buildings now, so maybe they will agree to take some refugees too, and the experienced builders can help in other locations.

239

Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 12:24 pm

Val: “Whether you get this or not, I am telling you that I find it a serious insult for you to mischaracterise me as a neoliberal who thinks individual action is the only response to climate change. It’s a stupid position and one THAT I DO NOT HOLD.”

Let’s see, I wonder what I wrote in this very thread the last time you accused me of this “you treat people as neoliberals” bit?

At any rate, I was responding to people, like Layman and Trader Joe, who really are embedded in a neoliberal system. The question of whether they are *personally* neoliberals is a) not true, as far as I can tell: they’re probably left-liberals, b) beside the point, since they are stuck in a society that’s going to respond in a certain way no matter what their own philosophy is, c) would be kind of extremely rare, since part of the genius of neoliberalism is that hardly anyone thinks of themselves as a neoliberal, it’s just “inevitable”, d) part of the same personalization of virtue that I’ve been talking about.

So I really don’t care whether you are insulted or not by something that I didn’t say about you. I do think that your whole approach is misguided and counterproductive, but I don’t expect you to pay attention to what anyone else writes well enough to figure out that I was also criticizing Bruce Wilder’s idea of overall energy use reduction for being misguided and counterproductive in the same way. If you do find it insulting that I disagree with you about this kind of thing, then I also don’t care.

Now, I don’t really like to converse with people who threaten to report me to someone over nonsense like this, so I don’t plan on conversing with you again. Please don’t keep asking me to do things I’m not going to do.

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Lynne 06.29.15 at 12:52 pm

Engels, the problem in your situation wasn’t the neighbours, it was the poor construction of your apartment building. A lot of noise problems between neighbours result from a lack of soundproof walls. Not all, of course—some noise comes in from balconies, or through the hallway door. I have lived in a number of apartment buildings and in one you couldn’t hear anything from next door, or the people above or below. Really, nothing.

js, in our city a single person or couple with a good income have lots of choice where to live in the city centre—condos and apartments as well as houses. But although more condos are going up all the time, none have more than two bedrooms, and most are bachelors or one-bedroom.

Last fall, my husband and I were finding the yard work heavy (with the prospect of shovelling snow in the winter) and looked for an alternative place to live. We like our downtown neighbourhood which is close to everything so we hardly drive the car, but we realized we are not yet ready to do without some outdoor space. It could be a very small space, but we wanted a patch of ground to plant some flowers (and let the dog out). These places are scarce as hen’s teeth, and cost considerably more than we would get for our house. Val is right that apartments could be made more attractive to families (and to us!) if there were more shared green space and courtyard space.

Also, apartments are quite isolated because the hallway door is solid, so no one sits on a front porch, say, and sees the neighbours go by. You can live in an apartment for a year and not get to know, or even meet, next door neighbours (we did). They could be designed much better to attract a variety of households.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 12:53 pm

ZM: “Yes we do have time, we just need a wartime mobilisation style approach like I am always saying.”

“Wartime mobilization” does have the virtue of being a large-scale communal response to a problem, but it has certain difficulties in this context. One of them is that it’s extremely difficult to get people to do wartime mobilization without a war. Another one is that if people are concerned about centralization, I can’t think of anything worse than a wartime mobilization plan. The mechanics behind “it is quite easy to reduce consumption by introducing rationing” may not sound very sinister in an Australian context: I don’t know.

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bianca steele 06.29.15 at 1:03 pm

js.,

It’s a “solution” for some people in that it’s much cheaper even to rent in the suburbs than the city, and the outer suburbs or exurbs than the inner suburbs (which may approach city prices around here at least). You can find charming, older neighborhoods anywhere, sure. If you want to live in the city and you don’t want upscale or bohemian or someone else’s insular neighborhood (or your own), how many choices do you have? Or you can spend your life trying to meet some imaginary purity that only a few can attain, without taking account of what jobs available to you actually pay, where they’re located, and what a life doing that will be like where you actually live, not in an imaginary country elsewhere.

If there’s a nation-wide “obsession” with home ownership, I don’t know, I think I’ve known one or two people at most whom that could be said of.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 1:17 pm

If anyone really wants to see what I think about this in slightly more developed form, I have a blog post called Infrastructuralism. It features an argument with John Quiggin. It was written in 2011, and (sadly) I think that the Australian reaction to the carbon tax introduced in 2012 and repealed in 2014 supports my analysis.

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ZM 06.29.15 at 1:17 pm

Rich Puchalsky,

Rationing happened in wartime and no one said it was sinister — it was a sensible way to deal with limitations. As that is the case I don’t see how people can complain about it, they can make do, keep up the blitz spirit, and think themselves fortunate not to have to go to real war. We already have these wars in the Middle East and North Africa because of climate change, it is prudent to have rationing and thus avoid more wars.

I am just drafting an assignment for social research into community perceptions of a wartime mobilisation style response to climate change.

There is only a fairly small amount of academic literature on this strategy at present. Delina and Diesendorf’s papers are in favour of this approach, but also note your points.

There are various scenarios about how a wartime approach could be started — I myself favour getting the courts to tell the parliament they have to meet their obligations to young and future Australians and act to limit global warming to a safe rise in average temperatures.

Of course, you would still need community support anyway or it would end up in conflict, so that is why I am designing social research into community perceptions about the idea.

In terms of the problem of centralisation — Delina noted this and recommended Elinor Ostrom’s theory of polycentric governance for climate change (2009 http://www10.iadb.org/intal/intalcdi/pe/2009/04268.pdf ) . So I have read that article and it is very helpful. There are some other papers following on from this, but I haven’t had a chance to read them yet, like this one by Cole:

“Global governance institutions for climate change, such as those established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, have so far failed to make a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the lead of Elinor Ostrom, this paper offers an alternative theoretical framework for reconstructing global climate policy in accordance with the polycentric approach to governance pioneered in the early 1960s by Vincent Ostrom, Charles Tiebout, and Robert Warren.

Instead of a thoroughly top-down global regime, in which lower levels of government simply carry out the mandates of international negotiators, a polycentric approach provides for greater experimentation, learning, and cross-influence among different levels and units of government, which are both independent and interdependent.

After exploring several of the design flaws of the existing set of global institutions and organizations for greenhouse gas mitigation, the paper explores how those global institutions and organizations might be improved by learning from various innovative policies instituted by local, state, and regional governments.

The paper argues that any successful governance system for stabilizing the global climate must function as part of a larger, polycentric set of nested institutions and organizations at various governmental levels.”

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1858852

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Plume 06.29.15 at 1:25 pm

Val,

Don’t worry about Rich Puchalsky. He’s not given to ever admitting he said something offensive or ridiculous. He just digs in deeper. Anyone who equates general comments here, directed at no one, with the despicable acts of the bigots at Westboro Baptist has major problems discerning reality.

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engels 06.29.15 at 1:39 pm

When Puchalsky trolled John Holbo I said nothing because I am not John Holbo…

Lynne, I’m sure you’re right but the fact is that we all got on perfectly well in that building before.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 1:43 pm

ZM: “Rationing happened in wartime and no one said it was sinister — it was a sensible way to deal with limitations.”

Well, as I wrote above, in the Australian context this might not sound bad. In the American context, the last time we had rationing we also had ethnic internment camps, basically because the power was there to do it and that’s how we think.

But let’s assume that this wouldn’t happen. Here’s the basic objection that I have to a “war mobilization” idea — it requires, for it to happen, a level of public support that if you could get it would do the job without going as far as actual war mobilization. But the problem is (currently) that that level of public support is unavailable. As I wrote above, presumably if you could get people to reduce consumption by the amount needed it would be even easier to get them to change who they vote for? But we can’t even get them to change who they vote for.

You wrote: “I am somewhat dubious of your idea that people who are adverse to changing their own behaviour to be more conservative in their use of energy and materials are actually more likely to vote for a government to force them to alter their behavior.” But I agree that it’s unlikely. If we can’t even get them to vote for change, we can’t get them to radically change their behavior.

And from my point of view, merely voting would be good enough without the war mobilization. All that a country like the U.S. really has to do is change the built infrastructure provided by about 200 large organizations. If you can get the political power to force change against elite interests in the first place, it’s a lot easier to get 200 organizations to change than to get our whole culture to change.

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Layman 06.29.15 at 1:58 pm

This is an urgent crisis. Neoliberals and their fellow travelers can’t solve it – only anarchists can. The anarchist solution? Not aggressive conservation. Not rooftop solar investment. Not electric cars. Not tax or economic incentives to drive individual and corporate behavior. Not mass mobilization, confronting the challenge with a ‘wartime’ effort.

No, the anarchist solution, the only one that can work – that doesn’t steal from the poor, or run afoul of Wrong Thinking – is to…write letters to utility companies.

As I said, pfui.

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engels 06.29.15 at 2:10 pm

If your concept of ‘anarchism’ includes the tenets that class doesn’t exist, Marx is worthless, organised labour is the enemy, capitalism and the state must be maintained and violence (apart from state violence) is never permissible, that might just make sense.

250

Layman 06.29.15 at 2:28 pm

Thus efficacy bows to doctrine.

251

ZM 06.29.15 at 2:31 pm

Rich Puchalsky,

“Here’s the basic objection that I have to a “war mobilization” idea — it requires, for it to happen, a level of public support that if you could get it would do the job without going as far as actual war mobilization. But the problem is (currently) that that level of public support is unavailable.

And from my point of view, merely voting would be good enough without the war mobilization. All that a country like the U.S. really has to do is change the built infrastructure provided by about 200 large organizations.”

We do not know what the level of public support is for a wartime mobilisation style response, as no one has explained the idea to the Australia and then taken polls to see what the opinions are. If people were aware of the strategy they might think it is a good idea.

I thoroughly disagree with your ideas of what needs to change. More things need to change than just the energy sector. I have written long lists of things many times before and it is late so I am not going to do so right now.

But there are lots of things that need to change, which is why a wartime mobilisation style strategy is the best response.

But there should be room for input by individuals, community groups, and local and state government. Hopefully if you start making a good plan for this in the USA you can avoid ethnic interment camps.

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Layman 06.29.15 at 3:03 pm

And now, the USSC rules that the EPA cannot require power plants to spend money curtailing dangerous emissions from coal-fired plants.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/29/supreme-court-air-pollution-epa-coal-plants

To whom should I write?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 3:03 pm

Layman: “No, the anarchist solution, the only one that can work – that doesn’t steal from the poor, or run afoul of Wrong Thinking – is to…write letters to utility companies.”

No, I said above that I was giving only solutions that had a chance of working within neoliberalism, because of the 15 years thing. I also said that the solutions that I was providing would do a whole lot more than putting solar panels on your roof if someone was demanding to know what they could individually do, but that they were still inadequate, and that no one really had a good plan for how to solve this problem.

I do notice, though, that the first time I mentioned anything that even approached political activity, you rejected it.

254

Trader Joe 06.29.15 at 3:10 pm

After thorough and detailed consideration of the posts over the last few days I’ve decided to take everyone’s suggestions and do the following:

1) Toss a tarp over my panels so I don’t hurt the environment any more than I already have by buying them

2) Solicit sex workers for influential people in exchange for green friendly policymaking (I’m only up to the auditions right now, want to be sure to hold up my end of the bargain)

3) Whenever I next have a spare 20k I’ll send it to the utility company with a note that they should use it to build some community power for poor people. I’ll send a copy to my congressman asking for higher taxes too.

4) I’m going to buy local, organic food – but when I need to cook it I’m going to use a wood pellet burning stove so I can be carbon neutral and send the right market signals

5) I’m going to buy an old pre catalytic converter car, preferably one that gets about 3 mpg and drive it around town as often as I can with the muffler removed and the bull-horn blaring that people should write their congressperson about climate change. I’m hoping this egregious display of noise and pollution will catalyze public opinion to do something positive. Any rotten produce tossed at me will be composted however.

6) I intend to break windows at every opportunity, this will reduce economic output making a smaller global economy that is less energy dependent.

7) Finally, in case none of this works, I’ve submitted a bulk order for spf 50 sunscreen and have commissioned an underground bunker to keep my stash along with a supply of sharp knives to defend it (since I also favor gun control).

Finally, out of public interest I’ll declare openly and honestly that the Trader part of me is in fact a died in the wool non-bleeding heart neo-liberal, while the Joe part of me tries to be a good liberal but doesn’t always succeed. I don’t know what that makes me other than a good bit more educated about environmental topics so thanks for those who have contributed.

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Layman 06.29.15 at 3:16 pm

“I do notice, though, that the first time I mentioned anything that even approached political activity, you rejected it.”

I’m forced to admit that you’re a talented man. Not only can you see what is in the hearts and minds of your interlocutors, you can tell from a distance the extent of their political activity! With such powers, my optimism is engaged! Surely Anarchman will save us!

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ZM 06.29.15 at 3:17 pm

Trader Joe please consider my sensible suggestion of working with your local government to start a community bulk buy solar program instead of bulk buying sunscreen. Although it will be a considerable investment of your time the results will be heartwarming and cheer you up.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 3:18 pm

Layman: “And now, the USSC rules that the EPA cannot require power plants to spend money curtailing dangerous emissions from coal-fired plants. […] To whom should I write?”

What do you think is going to be the result of this decision? Regulation gets sent back to the states. What do you think that environmentalists across the country are now kind of cursing and getting ready to do? Intervene with state regulators and state legislatures. What do you think I recommended in the first place? Trying to individually intervene at the Federal level? Let’s see: no.

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Trader Joe 06.29.15 at 3:21 pm

@256
I will ZM. The Joe side of me is sometimes moved to write a letter while the Trader side can’t help but sign a PAC check.

259

ZM 06.29.15 at 3:25 pm

:-)

260

Layman 06.29.15 at 3:26 pm

Trader Joe @ 254, bravo!

261

Jerry Vinokurov 06.29.15 at 4:42 pm

And now, the USSC rules that the EPA cannot require power plants to spend money curtailing dangerous emissions from coal-fired plants.

That’s not an accurate reading of the decision. What the Court said is that the EPA must do a cost-benefit analysis of its regulation in order for that regulation to qualify as “reasonable.” Nevermind that the word “cost” doesn’t appear anywhere in the law authorizing the EPA regulations; textualism is only good for denying equality to sexual minorities or blowing up attempts at expanding health care. Still, this is far less catastrophic than your summary of it.

262

Layman 06.29.15 at 4:50 pm

You’re right, it’s considerably narrower than I thought. Still, it does not bode well.

263

Rich Puchalsky 06.29.15 at 4:53 pm

Jerry Vinokurov: “What the Court said is that the EPA must do a cost-benefit analysis of its regulation in order for that regulation to qualify as “reasonable.” “

And there’s another area in which anyone capable of reading a CT thread could intervene, insofar as these analyses are done widely. I once waded into a cost-benefit analysis that had once been widely quoted about the high costs of regulation and, by tracing the assumptions in it all the way back to where they came from — a process that did involve making phone calls to people in DC — showed that a regulation that had been quoted as having a ridiculous cost per cancer case prevented had actually been based on preventing non-cancer effects. These analyses are often rotten and are not disproved simply because no one has the patience to keep grinding away at them.

264

Val 06.30.15 at 1:00 am

If anyone is still reading this thread, I would like to apologise for getting involved in this dispute with Rich. As I have been an environmental activist for many years, I am aware that the last thing we should be doing is getting involved in infighting, especially with the Paris talks coming up so soon.

However, I found it particularly painful to encounter this person who was apparently determined to trash my reputation, no matter what I said. I realise that’s not his main motivation (I won’t speculate about his motivation) and it’s not the first egregious insult as Plume pointed out. However there is something about having your reputation attacked online that’s really unpleasant, especially as I am just starting to teach in the climate change and health area. Anyway if it happens again I will try to just stop it right from the beginning and not get involved in lengthy arguments and thread details.

And finally Rich can I say to you – you have intelligence and ideas, use them for something better than attacking potential allies and handing out activism 101 advice. Some of us have been doing this stuff for forty years. I’m always interested to discuss how I could do it better, but not if it’s going to be a series of personal attacks culminating in advice to write letters and analyse documents.

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Val 06.30.15 at 1:03 am

‘thread derails’

266

Helen 06.30.15 at 1:04 am

RP:

You’re also assuming that when you inevitably get the tax bill for decommissioning the coal plants and building the big solar ones — because we all are agreed that has to happen, and people are going to pay for renewable power for poor people one way or another even if the long term costs are negative — that you won’t complain that you already spent your money on solar power and why are you buying it for other people now.

That’s a shmibertarian argument and can safely be ignored.

267

floopmeister 06.30.15 at 1:08 am

ZM: I went to a talk earlier this week for the launch of a report The Longest Conflict on how the defence forces should be preparing to respond to climate change. The speakers thought the momentum for action on climate change was returning to levels last seen in 2007 before the GFC, but it is about carrying that momentum forward for more action now.

The former chief of the Australia Defence Force Chris Barrie spoke. He said when he was chief some people working in defence strategy were concerned about climate change, but they were outliers at the time. But since he retired he has become concerned about climate change posing a more significant risk than he realised when he was chief. He was also concerned about the high numbers of people who are likely to be displaced by climate change, as this could impact on the stability of our region.

ZM: I wanted to go to that talk as well but was unable to make it. I’ve been sniffing around the interwebs but I can’t find any videos or proceedings of Barrie’s presentation/talk – would you have any ideas?

My own research has a large component of military theory on exactly this topic – just what elements of strategic or tactical thinking might be applicable to the overall resilience of cities to a range of challenges, inlcuding climate change)

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Helen 06.30.15 at 1:11 am

When PCs became a thing, they were the preserve of a (very few) middle class people. As they became more user friendly, more and more of these middle class people bought them. Thanks to these early adopters, PC technology became cheaper and cheaper, and the bugs – well, many bugs – were ironed out. This has made it possible to supply PCs at a community level more cheaply and with better results, if there is the political will. Without these early adopters, PCs would still be a niche product.

When mobile phones became a thing, they were the preserve of a (very few) middle class business people. As they became more user friendly, more and more of these middle class business people bought them. Thanks to these early adopters, mobile technology became cheaper and cheaper, and the bugs – well, many bugs – were ironed out. This has made mobile phones a technology which is adopted by almost everyone including in poorer countries where they facilitate microbusinesses. Without those early adopters, mobiles would still be a niche product.

When distributed solar power became a thing, they were the preserve of a (very few) middle class people who put them on their roofs….

Well, you get the idea, Rich.

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ZM 06.30.15 at 3:04 am

floopmeister,

Oh that’s interesting, I didn’t realise that was your research area. I saw a military expert talk in late 2013 at the launch of Australia At Four Degrees of Global Warming and she was saying there are some people in the defence realm who are advocating for a turn to “human security” rather than national security.

They film most important public lectures. Usually it takes a couple of weeks for the video to go through the production process and get put up online. Often if you were an attendee you get an email about the video or as its climate change related it would probably get a notice in the MSSI newsletter.

From my notes the talk was given by Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti the UK government’s former climate and energy security envoy. Then there was a panel with Neil Morisetti, Chris Barrie , and Rob Sturrock who is one of the authors of the report.

Neil Morisetti and Chris Barrie also gave interviews on Lateline that night.

I asked a question about how could the defence forces work with communities in responding to climate change, like we have the army reserve. Chris Barrie said national service was a good idea. he also said there is a need for more town hall sort of meetings. I know Kate Auty the former Sustainability Commissioner of Victoria has been trying to do that where she lives in I think Gippsland.

If I get notified about a video being available maybe I could email the link to John Quiggin’s UQ email if you emailed him with your email address and he could forward it to you?

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js. 06.30.15 at 4:22 am

Re Lynne @240 and bianca steele @242:

I agree with a lot of what you’re saying—all of Lynne’s comment and most of bianca steele’s, in fact. And there’s a bit of slippage in what I’ve been saying between the city/suburbs contrast and the house/apartment, and I should keep those apart (tho one thing I want to stress is that both of these are false oppositions because: duplexes and towns).

So, to restate/clarify: if there’s one thing I want to argue it’s against the sort of sentiment expressed at @186. Again: “[most people] have little choice but to accept the suburban lifestyle.” As I’ve said, I think people very much have a choice, and to intimate that they don’t is TINA-style nonsense. It seems obvious to me anyway that they have a choice because I know myself and others who would choose—and have chosen—to live in a hole in the city rather than a nice big place in the ‘burbs. Speaking for myself, if I had to drive 5-10 minutes every time I wanted a pack of cigarettes or a shot of espresso, I would probably want to shoot myself on a daily basis, so it was an easy choice—but I’m not laboring under any delusion that it wasn’t very much a choice, that other options weren’t available, or that I wasn’t giving up nice things because other things were more important to me. The flip side of this is that I think people should drop the TINA-style nonsense and own up to their choice of moving to the suburbs because space or whatever is more important to them than various urban amenities.

I think that sounds crankier than I meant it to. I mean, I really totally get why people want to move to the suburbs, and why they do move. And I completely get that my preferences/predilections put me very much in the minority (I mean, I like the noise, and I get it—it’s weird). What I object to is the idea that this is forced upon people who are very comfortably upper middle class (at least).

271

Lee A. Arnold 06.30.15 at 10:08 am

Pursuant to my comments at #111 and #114 (particularly on the point that adjustment of rhetoric about climate change is advisable), Nature Climate Change published a paper yesterday showing that warming N. Atlantic Ocean may lead to a cooler Europe:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150629123428.htm

272

Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 11:09 am

Helen: “When distributed solar power became a thing, they were the preserve of a (very few) middle class people who put them on their roofs….

Well, you get the idea, Rich.”

OK, so the idea is that distributed solar gets cheaper and cheaper until everyone has their own house? But wait. Houses aren’t getting cheaper. Does everyone own a house?

I wrote upthread “People are used to the idea that early adopters of something pave the way for making that something so cheap that later on everyone gets one, because that’s how consumer electronics have worked. But that’s not always true. ” I wonder why I wrote that?

273

engels 06.30.15 at 11:11 am

What I object to is the idea that this is forced upon people who are very comfortably upper middle class (at least).

I think it depends somewhat on the city. See Cory Doctorow on London (and various comments on Daniel Davies thread I got banned from)
http://boingboing.net/2015/06/29/why-im-leaving-london.html

274

Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 11:25 am

Bruce Wilder wrote above about the advantages of Puritanism for limbic system function, and I agree with him. The problem is that Puritanism is already part of our cultures (i.e. the cultures of countries that CT commenters typically belong to) and it’s going to be expressed through existing well-worn cultural channels. It’s going to look a whole lot like existing status competition.

Let’s talk about the Tesla Powerwall for a minute. A new advance, new pioneers, etc. What is one major effect of these kinds of batteries? Each suburban house becomes even more its own little fortress. Now, instead of selling power to the grid during the day and buying it back at night, middle-class homeowners have less and less use for the grid at all. Who is going to pay for the grid? Well any new fees must be an evil plot by Shell, because all the virtuous people don’t use the grid.

275

Layman 06.30.15 at 11:33 am

“OK, so the idea is that distributed solar gets cheaper and cheaper until everyone has their own house? But wait. Houses aren’t getting cheaper. Does everyone own a house?”

If one wants to know whether distributed solar has been getting cheaper and cheaper, one can simply look at the costs of distributed solar over time. The cost of houses seems irrelevant to the conversation…

276

Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 11:40 am

Layman: “The cost of houses seems irrelevant to the conversation…”

Ah, OK, so people can just have a cheap distributed solar system without a house. So that cost is truly irrelevant, and everyone can get a distributed solar system.

277

Layman 06.30.15 at 11:41 am

“Let’s talk about the Tesla Powerwall for a minute. A new advance, new pioneers, etc. What is one major effect of these kinds of batteries? Each suburban house becomes even more its own little fortress. Now, instead of selling power to the grid during the day and buying it back at night, middle-class homeowners have less and less use for the grid at all. Who is going to pay for the grid? Well any new fees must be an evil plot by Shell, because all the virtuous people don’t use the grid.”

Isn’t this just a way of saying that making a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions using rooftop solar will force changes to power company business models and may have unexpected economic costs or costs shifts to reconcile? What can we do about climate change that won’t have those effects? Wouldn’t building community-level solar generation produce those same effects? Wouldn’t forcing power companies to shut down coal plants and build large-scale solar also create costs and cost shifts to reconcile?

278

Layman 06.30.15 at 11:42 am

“Ah, OK, so people can just have a cheap distributed solar system without a house. So that cost is truly irrelevant, and everyone can get a distributed solar system.”

This is just dishonesty. No one except you made that claim.

279

Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 11:47 am

Layman: “This is just dishonesty. No one except you made that claim.”

Wait a minute. Helen was telling me that first only middle class people had PCs, then they got cheap. First mobile phones were for the middle class only, then they got cheap and poor people could have them. Helen invited me to complete the analogy with distributed solar power first being for middle class people’s roofs, and then… then, I guess, on all of the property that poor people own.

What could this have meant? I’m puzzled. Please explain it to me.

280

Layman 06.30.15 at 12:02 pm

“What could this have meant?”

Point to the part where Helen says the everyone has PCs, everyone has mobile phones, or that everyone will have rooftop solar. I’ll wait.

“I’m puzzled. Please explain it to me.”

You are most decidedly puzzled, but I despair of explaining anything to you. Do you always just keep digging, no matter how big the hole you’re in?

281

Trader Joe 06.30.15 at 12:07 pm

“Let’s talk about the Tesla Powerwall for a minute. A new advance, new pioneers, etc. What is one major effect of these kinds of batteries? Each suburban house becomes even more its own little fortress.”

Isn’t that a feature? Power generators are already being forced to abandon inefficient capacity and in many markets are already wailing about how they will pay for the transition and how much rate and time they need to accomplish it….seems like if they are able to make this transition by building – say, two replacement facilities (of whatever kind) instead of three because a bunch of ‘fortresses’ are supplying a lot of their own needs that becomes a) quicker and b) cheaper for those will rely on the grid.

The grid will always be with us – industry at a minimum needs it and if there’s to be a migration to electric or hyrbid vehicles it will be needed…the migration will undoubtedly create some dislocations but I think its a little aggressive to conclude that only the poor are getting shafted when a rich guy puts solar on his fortress. The rich guy is undoubtedly going to get to pay too…its just a matter of how (and if he can dodge it).

282

ZM 06.30.15 at 12:18 pm

I actually think the grid is important. With renewable energy there will be times when less energy is produced, so with a smart energy system you could divert the energy to where it’s most needed (eg. hospitals, the homes of the elderly and infirm, important businesses and services) and ask/require people or businesses that don’t need as much energy to use less.

283

Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 12:31 pm

Layman: “Point to the part where Helen says the everyone has PCs, everyone has mobile phones, or that everyone will have rooftop solar. I’ll wait.”

OK, so lets correct this to say that in fact, unlike PCs or cell phones, no poor people can have distributed solar. Maybe some philanthropists can take up a collection for “community” panels here and there. But it does get cheaper and cheaper for middle class people. Does that sound right?

284

Lynne 06.30.15 at 12:40 pm

js, what is “TINA-style nonsense”?

In our city property values have changed since we bought our downtown home in 1998. At that time a comparable property in the suburbs cost more, now it would cost less.

I do think many people with children want yards for their children, and they want newer houses rather than old ones, so it is absolutely a choice to live in the suburbs. In our city suburban development has been going at a breakneck pace for decades. It’s ridiculous, the suburbs are deliberately designed to thwart public transit.

I really don’t like the housing options we have, though. There really isn’t as much choice as there should be.

285

Layman 06.30.15 at 12:46 pm

‘OK, so lets correct this to say that in fact, unlike PCs or cell phones, no poor people can have distributed solar. Maybe some philanthropists can take up a collection for “community” panels here and there. But it does get cheaper and cheaper for middle class people. Does that sound right?’

Many poor people can’t have PCs, either, which doesn’t mean PCs aren’t cheap and broadly adopted; or that you robbed a poor person when you bought yours. Many poor people can’t have cell phones, for that matter.

Helen’s point was pretty clearly that distributed solar is getting cheaper and can be more broadly adopted – like other technology – and it’s clearly true. ‘Broadly adopted’ doesn’t mean ‘ubiquitous’.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 1:03 pm

Layman: “‘Broadly adopted’ doesn’t mean ‘ubiquitous’.”

Ah, OK. Then we’re agreed that this is a middle class only technology, and that poor people are never going to get it. Was that so difficult?

Now, about the “you robbed a poor person” thing, which I never said but which you persist in saying that I said because I most be questioning your personal virtue and that’s the only way in which any statements about policy are understandable. Let’s go back to the days of FDR. We’re New Dealers making Social Security. Hey, let’s make a retirement vehicle that only middle class people can use! We’ll add on the poor people through other means, sometime. Middle class people won’t mind that they’ve invested their money in a system when later they are asked to dismantle that system and cost share for whatever the poor people use, which they are going to have to since no retirement system that’s only for poor people can really work. Right?

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Layman 06.30.15 at 1:47 pm

“Then we’re agreed that this is a middle class only technology, and that poor people are never going to get it.”

On the contrary – it seems far more likely to me that distributed solar will deliver electricity to poor people who don’t have it, than will conventional power plants / grids; at least globally, where many poor people and countries lack basic infrastructure. This is already the case with mobile technology and you can see it beginning with solar at the community level.

That aside, ‘distributed solar’ isn’t necessarily synonymous with ‘homeowner rooftop solar’. One is a technology approach, and the other is an application. Can distributed solar – at the community level – serve the poor? Sure, why not?

“We’re New Dealers making Social Security. Hey, let’s make a retirement vehicle that only middle class people can use!”

I think the problem here is that you think rooftop solar – or subsidies for it – are crowding out other potential solutions. But what are those other solutions, that were on the table, which were discarded in favor of tax incentives for rooftop solar? What is the alternative now, that I forego if I buy rooftop solar, or an electric car? What is the evidence that spending on rooftop solar eliminates other possibilities?

No one else is offering me any way to use my middle-class fortune to help. You certainly aren’t, especially if you think the best use of my money is to buy postage stamps.

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 2:28 pm

Oh, I didn’t know this was a group only for the upper middle class. I guess I better, as Engels put it, bugger off. Good luck with your social movement of ten percenter retirees who like to hang out in comments sections. I should have managed to get a job offer closer than twenty five miles from the nearest city (though I did have a convenience store right next door, in fact these days the woods across the street are a big box store), or lived in an undergrad ghetto while commuting an hour a day. I know you’re being in part facetious, but I don’t think you’re really saying you wish more people would make the choice to live in neighborhoods like yours.

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Layman 06.30.15 at 2:57 pm

The median home price in San Francisco topped $1.3 million.

Here’s a heat map of real estate prices in the broader SF area. Ask yourself why middle class people choose the suburbs.

http://www.trulia.com/home_prices/California/San_Francisco-heat_map/

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Bruce Wilder 06.30.15 at 2:58 pm

Boy, did this thread derail, or what?

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 3:04 pm

Oh, but there are plenty of poor sections they can buy in, and do a good deed by making the neighborhood better!

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Bruce Wilder 06.30.15 at 3:07 pm

Remind me again why I should be optimistic that the world is going to meet the challenge of anthropogenic global warming?

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ZM 06.30.15 at 3:08 pm

The TED Talk I embedded about retrofitting suburbia shows designers are thinking about how to make suburbia more sustainable and also more pleasant.

Also inner city dwellers are not necessarily more sustainable as a lot depends on consumption not just travel.

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 3:21 pm

So in my town (which in places is as densely populated as Somerville) has a shopping area that’s used by people in at least a 5-10 mile radius. It’s congested and was laid out without planning and could arguably be improved. But when the planners come up with blue sky proposals, what they envision is turning it into a city, ignoring the dense housing a mile or two away, in at least three directions, and not answering how residential traffic is going to be overlaid over existing shopping and thru traffic (since it’s in the middle of town, the outflow from a turnpike exit, and a main road across the state).

It’s also a place where smaller businesses can afford to rent, so they’re not going to be happy if the solution pushes them out, and neither will people who like being able to try on shoes in hard to find sizes, and things like that.

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Bruce Wilder 06.30.15 at 3:23 pm

So, we cannot do anything, because people need to try on shoes?

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 3:27 pm

No, Bruce, by all means, let’s build some grad student’s seminar project without modification, lest someone accuse us of being unvirtuous!

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Bruce Wilder 06.30.15 at 3:47 pm

OK, so we build grad student seminar projects and no one accuses us of being unvirtuous.

I’m still not following.

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 4:21 pm

I didn’t know you were the only one on this list Bruce.

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Val 06.30.15 at 4:25 pm

This looks like a good plan – Peru to provide solar to two million of its poorest households

http://planetsave.com/2013/07/15/peru-to-power-2-million-of-its-poorest-by-solar-energy/

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Bruce Wilder 06.30.15 at 4:26 pm

Apparently, I am the only one left, who cares about making a lick of sense.

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Layman 06.30.15 at 4:35 pm

“Apparently, I am the only one left, who cares about making a lick of sense.”

Thus far, like Rich, you seem to be long on criticism and short on recommendations for action. I’m not optimistic, either.

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 4:39 pm

To be fair, Bruce @ 185 lays out a program, which nobody’s made any criticisms of yet, so there’s that.

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Bruce Wilder 06.30.15 at 4:46 pm

Interesting link, Val. Whether it is a good plan, qua plan, would be impossible to judge from the brief article. It is generous in spirit, of course, to provide resources to the poor. That’s not the same as organizing a workable system, which can be maintained and made to work to the benefit of a community. Whether it will have any positive impact on carbon emissions is even more difficult to assess from afar.

Collective action is hard. Systems and plans are hard.

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 4:51 pm

I do apologize if “retirees” seemed over the top, it was not actually meant to be so.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 5:07 pm

Layman: “I think the problem here is that you think rooftop solar – or subsidies for it – are crowding out other potential solutions. But what are those other solutions, that were on the table, which were discarded in favor of tax incentives for rooftop solar? What is the alternative now, that I forego if I buy rooftop solar, or an electric car? What is the evidence that spending on rooftop solar eliminates other possibilities?”

I’ll try to get you through this step by step. Let’s imagine that 10,000 middle class people each buy a rooftop solar installation for $10K each. You then have 10,000 households with solar panels on them. Alternatively, each of those people could pay $10K each to build a single $100 million large scale solar plant. You then have a single large scale solar plant sitting in a big patch of land somewhere.

Now, there are a whole lot of things I’m going to put off talking about because we have to go one step at a time. I’m not yet talking about the fact that the single $100 million plant produces a good deal more electricity than the 10,000 households, although this is true. I’m not yet talking about the fact that the $10K each that each middle class person each put in relied on subsidies, and those subsidies effectively have to come from somewhere — although that is also true. I’m not even going to talk about how investment in larger scale projects did get undercut by investment in equipment for residential rooftop solar — remember Solyndra? — although that is arguably true. Let’s just assume that we bought the same exact amount of power with our total money either way.

So let’s assume that everything works as it’s supposed to and we get greater and greater middle class response. Let’s say that our model community has 10,000 middle class people in it, and they all buy rooftop solar. OK, so now we have 10,000 households with solar panels, batteries too. Those houses have minimal dependence on the grid. Local government has put up panels on their buildings too. I seem to remember someone in this thread saying we could get rid of half the coal plants this way, with 100% penetration. Now how do we get rid of the other half of the coal plants? There are no more residential roofs left in the community, and the middle class has already bought all the power that it thinks it needs.

Well now we go out and we buy a large scale solar power plant sitting out in a big patch of land somewhere. We have to. We don’t particularly know how to build one, because the main investment has gone into rooftop solar. All of the middle class money has been invested into personal power sources for the middle class, that increase the value of middle class houses, so I guess we’re going to have to fund it off of poor people somehow? No, that’s not going to work. Middle class people tend to vote. I guess they’re going to be happy to do this?

Now, people can rush in and say “What if the big patch of land is critical farmland or wildlife habitat? What if the only sites nearby are owned by indigenous people? What if the sites are far away and we get transmission losses?” And so on. And fine, we can talk about that, but then we also have to talk about efficiencies of scale and site advantages and the cost of incentives and all the other things that I said we wouldn’t talk about yet. It comes down to that this is a complex situation, the best solution will vary from place to place, and that really the only universal that we know is that it’s *not* a simple “just do it” everywhere.

And by the way, even in the U.S. there were and are ways to send your electric bill to companies who were supposed to build new renewable power sources with part of it, even if there is no community solar project nearby. It hasn’t been rooftop solar or nothing for a long time.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 5:28 pm

Layman: “No one else is offering me any way to use my middle-class fortune to help. You certainly aren’t, especially if you think the best use of my money is to buy postage stamps.”

Oh, and this. Even my patience is running out, and at some point I’m just going to go on. But what I described was the process of you learning about and becoming an amateur expert about the local political power structures that affect your local power generation. That process can involve sending letters, yes. But to have any chance for effectiveness, those can’t be the kinds of form letters that the larger environmental groups urge you to send to Federal congresspeople en masse.

People didn’t just demand “a plan”, as if Bruce or I was a think tank tasked to come up with a conversion scheme. They demanded *a plan for individual action*. It wasn’t just “what can our society do”, it was “what can I, as an individual, do”. The short answer is nothing. The long answer involves a significant personal time investment, and is unsatisfying, but *there is no satisfying answer*.

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Layman 06.30.15 at 5:34 pm

Rich @ 305

You should first know that I understand your argument, as far as it goes.I just think you’re leaving a few things out:

– Where is the program where I can pool my $10k with like-minded neighbors (9,999 of them), for the purposes of building a $100 million large-scale power plant?
– Who bought the land, and where is it? Will we have to divert some of our funding to that purpose?
– Will APS let us use their grid to distribute the power to our neighborhood? Or to anyone’s neighborhood, if we are motivated by altruism and don’t care who gets the power?
– Presumably some legislation will be required to make this happen. What’s the plan to get it passed, either nationally or locally here in Arizona?

Of course, I understand that we could require APS to replace some capacity, and build new capacity, using renewables. But you know what? We did do that – the same law that created incentives for rooftop solar also required power companies to fill some demand with renewables. Do you know what APS did? They decided to meet that requirement at least in part by paying homeowners to install rooftop solar with net metering, reducing demand and feeding excess production into the grid.

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Val 06.30.15 at 5:47 pm

Just to correct what I think is a false impression being given by Rich P – my understanding is that small scale local distributed systems, eg using a mix of solar rooftop and wind, are more efficient than large scale grids, because of lower transmission losses.

I think, as others have suggested, we still need a large scale (eg national) grid, but the questions become about how local systems are connected into the national grid (do they need to be?), and/or how much local systems reduce the load on the grid and what that would mean (given that we already have a national grid)? I don’t know enough to answer those questions. Does anyone else here?

I’m genuinely not trying to be offensive here, but my impression is that Rich’s understanding of electricity distribution systems isn’t as good as he thinks it is, which is why some of his arguments about roof top solar don’t really make sense.

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novakant 06.30.15 at 5:54 pm

See Cory Doctorow on London

… and he’s going to LA ?! That’s just hilarious.

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Val 06.30.15 at 5:56 pm

The other points of relevance are:
– we are very far from saturation coverage of roof tops (certainly here and I would guess in most countries) – there’s an enormous amount of unused roof space
– there are ongoing advances in solar technology including glass, paints and films – I don’t know enough to say how practical they are yet
– with any sort of grid, whether local or national, roof top solar feeds into it. A household here that had invested $10,000 in solar would likely be generating more than they use for much of the year (heating your home in winter is the problem here, as in most temperate climates).

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 5:59 pm

“Where is the program where I can pool my $10k with like-minded neighbors (9,999 of them), for the purposes of building a $100 million large-scale power plant?”

Federal government in the U.S. has the buying green power program, available for half the people in the U.S. State governments can also do this, as can cooperatives and businesses. For instance, near where I live there’s a business that just develops community sites one after another and gets families to sign up to be powered by them. Why aren’t there more of these things? Maybe because most people were so eager to sign up to put panels on their roofs.

“Who bought the land, and where is it? Will we have to divert some of our funding to that purpose?”

Every city is surrounded by land of much less value (for tax purposes). Sure, that’s a cost, but if you’re going to talk about it as an extra cost than I’m going to have talk about all those other things we weren’t going to talk about.

“Will APS let us use their grid to distribute the power to our neighborhood? Or to anyone’s neighborhood, if we are motivated by altruism and don’t care who gets the power?”

Um… yes? Individual sources don’t really deliver power to individual sinks anyways. As long as we have a grid, what really happens is that the large-scale source feeds into the grid and gets credited for that.

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engels 06.30.15 at 6:00 pm

“That’s jsut hilarious”

…meaning you think LA is obviously worse? I wish I could share confidence.

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engels 06.30.15 at 6:05 pm

“share _your_ confidence” If you’re not a CD fan, read the Observer piece he links instead.

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Matt 06.30.15 at 6:15 pm

Surprisingly, Bangladesh already has millions of distributed solar systems. They are aimed at people without grid access and are much smaller than rooftop systems in the suburbs of the developed world. They can charge lights and mobile phones, run fans or a small TV, but they’re not going to power washing machines. I don’t know if they are going to slow emissions growth. For centralized generation, Bangladesh plans on building giant coal plants like its neighbors. I can narrate three scenarios for distributed generation in Bangladesh but I don’t know which is more likely:

1) There is basically no effect on emissions growth. The desire for central grid power doesn’t change, and as soon as it arrives the solar systems are used for nothing but minimal backup during grid failures.

2) Providing people a taste of electricity via solar power makes them want the full-fat grid delivered version even more, and it intensifies the fossil-based grid electrification process.

3) Providing distributed generation diminishes fossil-based grid electrification. There’s diminishing marginal utility from each additional watt supplied and decreasing willingness to pay recurring service fees among people who get daily sunlight power “for free.”

As for the Powerwall, Elon Musk has stated that he expects 80-90% of Tesla Energy sales to go toward utility companies. I think that’s a reasonable guess. Even though the Powerwall is cheaper per lifetime unit of storage than previous battery systems, there are very few households that could presently save money by becoming solar + Powerwall suburban fortresses. Utilities can get ancillary benefits from frequency regulation as well as load smoothing, benefits that isolated households do not see, so there is a better case for installing a battery cluster at the substation.

Solar households in developed areas would overwhelmingly prefer net metering on grid connections to battery storage. But the grid is not really a virtual battery. It was not designed to accept generation back from distributed customers, and there are stability challenges when distributed generation becomes common. I’m not an electrical engineer, but you can presumably mitigate the challenges somewhat if you make different equipment/design decisions while building new grids, or by choosing the right equipment when replacing old grid components. Utility scale battery storage is another way to incorporate more intermittent renewable energy, whether it comes from wind, centralized solar, or distributed solar.

Household solar installations in Hawaii have flattened out over the past 2 years after growing briskly because the utility company did not allow more grid tied solar, for stability reasons. The generation that comes from the grid in Hawaii is mostly oil-powered, which is why Hawaiian electricity costs a lot more than in the continental US. If HECO had deployed enough centralized wind and/or solar power to substantially reduce the retail cost and environmental impact of grid electricity, there would be a lot less motivation to install individual solar systems. If it had worked aggressively to make the grid accommodate more distributed generation, there wouldn’t be a financial case for the individual Powerwall. But it did neither of those things, so Hawaii is one of the few places that Tesla could say presented a financial case for grid defection. It may all fizzle out soon: HECO is being merged in to NextEra Energy, which has been much more aggressive about building utility scale renewables and is pledging to do the same in Hawaii.

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Val 06.30.15 at 6:20 pm

Another problem with Rich’s argument is the confusion of two different questions:
Is our system of private property, including the ownership of solar panels and homes, a good idea (particularly in terms of equity/social justice)?
Is roof top solar a good way of generating electricity?

They’re both legitimate questions but when you confuse them, the whole argument ends up being confused.

In my case, for example, the rooftop is common property of all the apartment owners in the block (owners’ corporation), the solar panels are mine, and the electricity generated goes to me first and if I’m not using all of it, it goes (via the grid) to neighbouring households (for which, as I say, they pay the electricity retailer about 22c per kW and the electricity retailer pays me 8c).

So the issues of ownership are complex, but basically I’m generating quite cheap electricity, for which I have paid about 75% of the capital costs (I think as I remember the subsidy worked out to about 25%), and though the primary benefits go to me, some of them could go to my neighbours (some of whom are on low incomes) except that the retailer is making what I believe to be an excessive profit.

So Rich’s criticism of solar panel owners as individuals isn’t quite as justified as he seems to think. The benefits of cheap power could be shared communally, except capitalism imposes a profit taking step between me generating the cheap power and my low income neighbours getting some benefits.

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Bruce Wilder 06.30.15 at 6:23 pm

Layman @ 301: you seem to be long on criticism and short on recommendations for action

As long as we are all being so damn fair, your turning this thread into “show me your action plan” was not fair.

As the OP points out, successfully addressing the problems of climate change, etc., will require national commitments. There are a lot of ways to come at this, but it is a systemic problem. Decisions made at a relatively few apex nodes in a hierarchical economic system are critical to shaping the response, critical to whether that response is adequate.

I would not say that what we do individually, or as groups of individuals and small communities, is irrelevant, but I would say that whether what we do is effective in addressing the global problem, will depend on the systemic architecture within which we make our individual and family and even community choices.

I’m not saying Plume is right, and we have to overthrow “capitalism” (I’m not saying he’s entirely wrong, either). I’d like to see us overthrow neoliberalism, which will respond to climate change, as it is does to everything, with new measures to increase economic inequality.

I am saying, as I think Rich tried to illustrate with his example of electric generation, that changes in system calibration, in choices of architecture and administration, from a relatively few apex nodes, are critical.

There’s been this desultory chat going on near the end of this thread about suburbs. It will matter to how much energy we consume and how much carbon we put out (or are able to absorb back in later afforestation), how land-use and transportation are planned. We can build out rail or highways. We can build parking spaces, or we can build walkable. We have to choose. Collectively. How power is generated for most people and most purposes is a centralized decision — ditto for making food, clothing, and so on. If we make the right centralized decisions, collectively, by whatever political process, then we, individually, have options that are effective. What we do individually will add up in the right way. If.

I think it is a fair criticism to say that a politics of personal virtue that either gives up entirely on all but symbolic politics, or earnestly gives its energies over to electing whatever Lesser Evil corporate advertisers are willing to pay for, is not doing what needs to be done. Putting a solar panel on your roof, replacing your incandescent bulbs with LEDs and driving a hybrid the 25 miles to work may make you feel better about yourself, but it is ignoring what is necessary. It probably won’t even amount to anything much on net, without systemic support, because of the Jevons effect. Without even realizing it, perhaps, you will buy the hybrid that trades off fuel efficiency for peppy acceleration, and investing in electric storage capacity will wipe out the gains from the solar panel.

Maybe what is necessary is hard, too hard, impossible. I don’t know. I am only prepared to argue, at the moment, about identifying what is necessary. If it is, indeed, impossible, then we need to think about a Plan B (or C or D) for the dark days that follow. We’re not there, yet.

Contra the OP, I think excessive optimism is getting in the way of realizing just how radical the commitments we need to make are, and what kind of sacrifices we may need to make in the medium-run, to fulfill those commitments. Since we have delayed so long, we will need to catch-up on those commitments. Lee A Arnold alluded to this, but we should have made more of it in our discussion: collectively, we are apparently waiting for some kind of dramatic evidence to accumulate in the way of extreme weather or climate events, (like the California drought?), to motivate the evolution of collective consciousness and collective political action. Personally, I think some people need to see climate change kicking us in the posterior, hard, and to panic. I would not let optimism stand in their way, if panic’s what’s necessary to focus their attention.

My particular concern has been to emphasize that we need to conserve on all energy use: we need to choose system architectures that just use less energy, from all sources, if we are to reduce human impacts on the environment. When people are being all optimistic, they tend to put too much idealized faith in concepts like “renewable” energy that can never be as pure in execution as in anticipation and imagination; people need to accept that we are none of us innocent. (That is another aspect of the politics of personal virtue that I find irritating: the vaunting self-regard of people with limited self-awareness. I struggle to keep that irritation out of my comments, with limited success so far.)

Another one of my political hobby horses applies here: the need for mass-membership political organization. In the U.S., social affiliation is at a remarkably low ebb, and the politics of Lesser Evilism depends on suppressing or subverting mass-membership organizing. Something as broad and deep and long-lasting as responding to climate change really will require a lot of political education. In the U.S., we are not very far at any time from mass rebellion due to a fifty-cent increase in the price of gas. It takes a lot of focused political work, before people can see an increase in the gas tax as part of a policy program that will work in the long-run to their benefit. To me, one of the strong arguments in favor of a war-time mobilization program is that it implicitly includes investment in political education in why we have to do make radical changes as well as how an individual can plan to navigate the brave new world where they will be pursuing their mundane ambitions to career, family, life.

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Matt 06.30.15 at 6:27 pm

I should add that I think Val and Trader Joe are to be commended for installing rooftop solar. And that Rich is right that you can make a difference just by doing the boring but inexpensive work of showing up for municipal meetings. These approaches are not really in opposition! Last year I went to a local meeting hosted by our public utility district asking for public input about a community scale pilot solar project. I showed up and spoke in favor of it. And we got it built! It’s only a few hundred kilowatts, but it has been over-subscribed by people wanting some solar power. Chances look good that we will get more and larger programs later due to the community embrace of this first project. These “solar garden” type projects tend to produce more electricity per dollar than household rooftop projects, but they don’t need long distance transmission. They are also a good match for our desert region because peak electricity demands come from air conditioning on hot summer days and it cools off rapidly at night. Shaving the peak demand from cooling means building up less rarely-used transmission capacity and burning less natural gas in peaker plants.

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Val 06.30.15 at 6:30 pm

Matt I don’t know if your comment was related to my questions, but just for clarity, I’m asking about the impact of local systems (eg suburb or village size systems) on the national grid, not household scale solar (as in the Bangladesh example).

(The questions you raise are of course interesting too!)

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 6:49 pm

BW: “It probably won’t even amount to anything much on net, without systemic support, because of the Jevons effect.”

The Jevons effect is one of the primary reasons why I think that anything but governmental command-and-control is doomed. Anything left to the market or to market-like mechanisms or volunteerism or small-scale efforts is going to find out about this the hard way. (Yes, I know that certain people just can’t believe that I’d say this if I’m an anarchist. When the system changes, our solutions can change: until then we have 15 years to make this happen.) There has to be actual mandated replacement of the thing that you’re trying to get rid of, and while it’s easy to imagine how to do this under some other system, we have to do it under a system in which basically only governments can do it.

BW: “collectively, we are apparently waiting for some kind of dramatic evidence to accumulate in the way of extreme weather or climate events, (like the California drought?), to motivate the evolution of collective consciousness and collective political action.”

I’m not optimistic about this. As my stupid poem mentions, I spent a good amount of time around the turn of the century helping to research ads about extreme weather events to try to “motivate the evolution of collective consciousness” etc. In 2005, we lost a whole city to weather disaster, and the result was simply more racism about black people supposedly looting things. It’s really difficult to shock people into a new cultural frame rather than just having them turn to an old one.

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Val 06.30.15 at 6:54 pm

Sorry Matt, I was referring to your comment @ 314 in my comment @ 318. The comments thread moves too quickly!

(It’s the early hours of the morning here, I’m having an insomniac session on the net)

Bruce @ 316
I don’t disagree with the general tenor of your comments, but you seem to be making a lot of assumptions about “virtue” that aren’t necessarily justified, at least in my case, and it infuriates me that you include me in your category of misguided individual virtue types who aren’t reducing energy use or advocating for collective political action – on the basis of absolutely no evidence.

If you’re not including me in that, then say so, because you did before. I’m not asking for an apology, but I would like you to stop saying things about me that are untrue, and to admit they are untrue.

Yes, I do think it’s a good thing that I’ve got solar panels, for the reasons I’ve outlined previously. But I also reduce my energy use in lots of ways, and advocate vigorously for collective action.

I do know some people who fit your description a bit – buying an air conditioner because they’ve got solar, or driving more because they bought a hybrid car, etc. But even so, those people also are strongly in favour of collective action and are political activists (obviously fairly high income ones though :) )

Maybe there are a lot of people who fit your smug individual virtue ‘I’ve got solar panels so I don’t need to do anything else’ mode, but you can’t assume everyone with solar panels does. Nor, because someone talks about the POPULATION health co-benefits associated with many climate change mitigation measures, can you assume they are talking about individual “fitness” (Rich) or individualistic “Puritan” virtue (you).

(I learnt the useful use of capitals from Belle Waring and I’m liking it) .

Maybe you and Rich just need to realise that you don’t know everything, you aren’t intellectually or morally superior to everyone else, that not all your interlocutors are either neoliberals or misguided utopians, and that you can actually learn from others.

Anyway, rant over, please resume normal conversation. Just don’t insult me again.

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Val 06.30.15 at 7:04 pm

Matt @ 317
That sounds great. Good on you! (And all who sail with you)

I don’t think we should be overly optimistic, but things like that are good news.

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geo 06.30.15 at 7:41 pm

RP @319: It’s really difficult to shock people into a new cultural frame rather than just having them turn to an old one.

This is a large part of what Sam Goldman was getting at in that ill-fated Declaration of Independence thread.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 8:03 pm

Matt: “These approaches are not really in opposition!”

Well…

They are not in opposition *for any one person who can do both*. It is certainly true that some people can both go to meetings and buy solar panels, and obviously there is nothing intrinsic to either activity that keeps a person from doing both of them.

They are in opposition if someone asks you “What’s the best thing I can do about global warming?” As seen above, you can try to give more than one answer, but you risk inducing answer fatigue. (“You could buy solar panels, but you could also go to meetings, and if you already have solar panels you could buy larger panels, and have you considered riding a bicycle?” gets the response Trader Joe provides above). If someone is going to let you give one answer, then “buy solar panels” is most often the wrong answer.

They are also in opposition if a person has limited time, money, or energy. Opportunity cost is real. It doesn’t help anyone else who you are advising to say that you are a super-energetic person who can do everything, unless they also are. Most people are not.

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engels 06.30.15 at 8:06 pm

you can try to give more than one answer, but you risk inducing answer fatigue

I’m starting to think the human race really is doomed.

325

geo 06.30.15 at 8:27 pm

Val @320: you and Rich … don’t know everything [and] you aren’t intellectually or morally superior to everyone else

I wish to respectfully register my disagreement.

326

Matt 06.30.15 at 8:47 pm

The last time I reviewed the peer reviewed literature, admittedly a couple of years ago, installing rooftop solar power was anti-correlated with neglect of other ways to reduce electricity consumption. That is, households that added solar power tended to consume less electricity overall after they had added solar. More strikingly it happened with commercial customers too: solar power and other measures to reduce grid electricity consumption were not substitutes for one another but tended to cluster together. If you can convince someone to put up thousands of dollars for solar in the first place, once they’re actually thinking about energy and quantifying it they tend to look at other ways to optimize its use.

The feared Jevons perversity where people install solar panels and then squander the gains by leaving the lights on all the time doesn’t appear to happen in practice, in aggregate, so far. Maybe you will see more squandering-the-gains behavior as solar becomes more widespread. But I note that rising CAFE standards for car fuel economy have not been correlated with more driving per person. There must be reasons lots of people would want to spend more time driving as well as making it cheaper. In the same way “if you take away price discipline people will go to the doctor all the time, for no good reason!” is actually a bad and implausible argument against a single payer health system (though one that gets made).

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JanieM 06.30.15 at 8:52 pm

geo @325 — I’m confused, or missing an ironic twist.

If you disagree that that’s how Rich and Bruce are presenting themselves, I’m with you.

If it’s not that, can you clarify?

328

Val 06.30.15 at 8:54 pm

geo @ 325
So you think they do know everything and they are intellectually and morally superior to everyone else? Or what?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 9:14 pm

Matt: “The last time I reviewed the peer reviewed literature, admittedly a couple of years ago, installing rooftop solar power was anti-correlated with neglect of other ways to reduce electricity consumption.”

I wasn’t thinking of this version of the effect, although perhaps we might get more of it when solar panels truly do become standard in middle-class housing and so on and you haven’t had to think about it. For the developing world, though, higher efficiency is a prerequisite for putting in all those big new coal plants. And I really don’t understand Jevons that well, but it seems to me that you can get a form of it that influences political tipping points — for instance, the far higher MPG that you can get with hybrids might delay the transition to complete electrics because “look how high MPG you can get with a hybrid”, and meanwhile we’re still using gas instead of converting away from it entirely. In that sense the higher efficiency of use of gasoline in hybrids might end up causing us to burn a whole lot more gas communally than if hybrids had never existed.

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bob mcmanus 06.30.15 at 9:16 pm

(passes popcorn with extra butter to other lurkers)

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Val 06.30.15 at 9:30 pm

geo @ 325
This is Bruce @ 316
When people are being all optimistic, they tend to put too much idealized faith in concepts like “renewable” energy that can never be as pure in execution as in anticipation and imagination; people need to accept that we are none of us innocent. (That is another aspect of the politics of personal virtue that I find irritating: the vaunting self-regard of people with limited self-awareness. I struggle to keep that irritation out of my comments, with limited success so far.)

So who is this directed against? And why?

It sounds as if he is attacking people on this thread. Possibly people who have solar panels?

I don’t know. There’s a small, probably uncharitable, part of me that suspects Bruce and Rich are saying ‘you think you’re better than me because you have solar panels, but you’re not’. Because I really can’t understand comments like that.

As one person who has been criticised by name by both Rich and Bruce on this thread, apart from being hurt and angry, I honestly do not get the point of what they’re saying. The things they are saying people should do are things I’m doing. So what is the attack about?

332

novakant 06.30.15 at 9:43 pm

…meaning you think LA is obviously worse?

no, London is insane, but LA is not far off

anyway, I don’t want to derail

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Matt 06.30.15 at 9:54 pm

And I really don’t understand Jevons that well, but it seems to me that you can get a form of it that influences political tipping points — for instance, the far higher MPG that you can get with hybrids might delay the transition to complete electrics because “look how high MPG you can get with a hybrid”, and meanwhile we’re still using gas instead of converting away from it entirely. In that sense the higher efficiency of use of gasoline in hybrids might end up causing us to burn a whole lot more gas communally than if hybrids had never existed.

I think that Jevons is a useful narrative to explain times when improving efficiency of using a resource has caused people to increase use of that resource. I don’t think it is useful for predicting how changes in efficiency will change future behaviors. There are too many counterexamples and exceptions.

There’s an interesting case study in major vs. marginal changes in energy use, how they are achieved or not-achieved.

As first enacted in 1990, California’s zero emissions vehicle regulation required that two percent of vehicles for sale in California in 1998 and ten percent of vehicles for sale in California in 2003 be zero emission vehicles, such as hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles. The automakers managed to progressively water the standard down over the years, claiming technological infeasibility, so eventually they were not forced to produce any true zero emissions vehicles. Instead they got a complex “credits” system that saw most credits come from marginally more efficient vehicles still using internal combustion engines alone. And meanwhile the Prius, Leaf, and a slew of other partially and purely electrified vehicles made the earlier “There is No Alternative to liquid fuels” argument look very suspect indeed; there was no big breakthrough in batteries or electric motors in the last 15 years.

I don’t really see this as a marginally improved technology impeding adoption of a step change, though. Pure ICE vehicle efficiency continues to increase but purely and partially electrified vehicle sales are increasing faster year-over-year than sales of vehicles that use combustion only. I see the California case as representing organized industry that managed to beat back and undermine an initially progressive, ambitious, but achievable regulatory goal. Gasoline efficiency didn’t impede the electric car. Gasoline efficiency was the small sweetener offered to California’s regulators after the automakers got to dictate terms of surrender. This episode brings us back to the earlier point — which I endorse — that choosing what’s on the individual’s menu is more crucial than making an individual selection from the menu. After CARB’s acquiescence a million individually eco-conscious Californians could not hope to make up for the abandoned effort to regulate a handful of large manufacturers.

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bianca steele 06.30.15 at 10:16 pm

I suspect there’s an amount of “I’m just being rational and objective in an abstract way, can’t you get past the language I use (and the social interactions I suggest I’m engaging in with my words) and see what I really mean? I won’t grant you the same privilege so easily, but see parenthetical. If you cared about my opinion above all else, you’d be OK with that.”

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Z 06.30.15 at 10:45 pm

Val, I think it is possible to read the comments of Bruce Wilder and Rich Puchalsky as devoid of personal attacks towards anyone. I guess you don’t see it that way, but personally (and selfishly) I am much more interested in reading your contributions (personal and intellectual) about solar energy (and climate change in general) than in who is criticizing who and why.

At any rate, I have been glad to read this thread, as I find the interlocking of politics, science, technology and economy involved in climate change very interesting indeed.

336

Lynne 06.30.15 at 10:57 pm

I haven’t followed this whole thread so I have no opinion about whether BW and RP have attacked Val, but if they haven’t, or haven’t intended to, I wish they would say so.

337

Z 06.30.15 at 11:38 pm

Lynne,
Rich already explicitly said so (with quotations) in his comment 239. Since then, I don’t think he has interacted with Val. I should say that I find Rich’s take on the issues (i.e that individual patterns of behavior are largely irrelevant and that collective, state-managed action are the most likely outcome) to be the most persuasive but I don’t know much about the topic so I’m very interested in learning more about alternative position (that’s why I’m glad that Val and ZM, among many others, contributed and why I wish they would keep doing so)

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Rich Puchalsky 06.30.15 at 11:41 pm

Lynne: ” I wish they would say so.”

Wonderful.

But with bianca steele providing a fine example of non-insulting commenting with #334, I guess I’ll reply to Lynne. Val’s #132 told me to stop being “unworthy” for explaining my ideas. #141: “You translate everything into individual terms, either because all you want is to win arguments, or because you don’t know what you’re talking about”. She then insisted that I was treating her like a neoliberal even after I explained in #150 how I wasn’t. #161 features the claim that I’m keeping company with Shell, in #209 she gets really angry about something that I’m not doing and asks me “in decency and fairness” to stop it, #218 threatens to report me to the moderators, #235 “Get over yourself and stop saying shit like that”, #320 “Maybe you and Rich just need to realise that you don’t know everything, you aren’t intellectually or morally superior to everyone else”.

I didn’t intend to insult Val: I intended to disagree with her policy prescriptions, which I think are misguided and counterproductive. But wow am I not going to get into any future conversations with her if I have any choice.

339

Val 07.01.15 at 12:06 am

Just for the record, for Lynne and Z and anyone else interested, what Rich and Bruce were saying about me up thread, apparently on the basis that I have solar panels and had talked about the health co- benefits of climate change mitigation, was:
– that I am a neoliberal who believes consumer choice is the appropriate answer to climate change
– that I claim some sort of special moral virtue on the basis of that.

I object to that because it’s a ridiculous position and the complete opposite of what I stand for. I’m also probably a bit sensitive because I’m shortly about to start teaching in a postgrad climate and health course, and I feel like these guys are trashing my reputation.

In fairness, Rich has grudgingly admitted that I may not be a complete neoliberal, while also saying that he is not going to talk to me anymore. Bruce habt acknowledged anything.

As ZM said up thread, it’s not clear whether they genuinely misunderstood me, or whether they were misrepresenting me for the sake of argument. Either way I think they should admit they were wrong. Basically it’s about treating others with respect.

I’ve criticized others online and got things wrong, but when you’ve got things wrong, and someone asks you to correct it, you should do so.

What part sexism plays in this I won’t speculate, but I will draw people’s attention to the fact that research shows societies with higher representation of women in public life have lower emissions. It’s important that women be able to participate in these debates.

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Val 07.01.15 at 12:14 am

I hadn’t seen Rich’s claim before I posted mine, but most (not all) of the comments he quoted are responses to the fact that he made those claims about me and wouldn’t withdraw them (or grudgingly conceded that I might not be a complete neoliberal while at the same time saying I’m not worth talking to).

Which is the same thing he is still saying basically.

Rich if you are going to disagree with my position, fine. But first of all, do me the respect of finding out what it actually is, instead of making up a straw woman and attacking her. What do you think my position actually is?

341

Lynne 07.01.15 at 12:52 am

Since I came to the thread late I probably shouldn’t have stuck my oar in. Unsurprisingly (in a thread this long) it’s more complicated than I realized. Peace.

342

Helen 07.01.15 at 12:57 am

Helen: “When distributed solar power became a thing, they were the preserve of a (very few) middle class people who put them on their roofs….

Well, you get the idea, Rich.”

OK, so the idea is that distributed solar gets cheaper and cheaper until everyone has their own house? But wait. Houses aren’t getting cheaper. Does everyone own a house?

That’s a bit obtuse. Is that the best you can do? Rental properties have hot water and heating systems*. You don’t assume you have to bring these things yourself when you rent. Distributed solar can apply to warehouses, car parking lots, commercial buildings and plenty of other places in a community too. My point is that the early adopters bring prices down, which benefits private and public buyers alike. You pooh-pooh this, but recent news reports of falling prices in small scale solar here in Australia support my observation.

*Yes, yes, before you start, I know all rental properties don’t come with these things, there is a minority of poor or slum housing which needs to be addressed, but we’re not fixing every single issue faced by humankind with renewables.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.01.15 at 1:16 am

Rental properties are also often not single family, and so have less and less prospect of having the roof area to support their residents as they get taller. And I don’t know about Australia, but in America most rentals have the landlord charge the tenants for utilities, so there really isn’t a motive for the property owner to do an up-front investment to reduce those costs. At any rate, the analysis of two different systems based on property ownership holds, unlike the situation for PCs or cell phones.

I could mention that the idea that falling prices for small scale solar must be due to pioneer early adopters is itself kind of questionable. The greatest fall in prices is due to a large investment in capacity by China, which a) is in large part for domestic development and industrial policy, b) has more to do with governmental policies like Germany’s increasing demand than to do with any kind of individual choice by early adopters, even in the aggregate.

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Val 07.01.15 at 1:22 am

Right. Best thing for me to do is acknowledge that I was blunt to the point of rudeness towards Rich towards the beginning of this dispute, because I am pissed off with the way he argues (and especially how awful he was to Plume on a previous thread), but I should have found a better way to communicate that than by being rude myself. I apologise.

After that, I was hurt and angry about being misrepresented, and I’m not going to apologise for that. Rich and Bruce do owe me an acknowledgement or explanation for the untrue things they said about me – but if they’re not going to do that, it reflects on them not me.

And I repeat – Rich, if you are going to disagree with my policy prescriptions, disagree with my actual position, not something you’ve made up. That’s intellectually dishonest.

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Val 07.01.15 at 2:12 am

Z @ 337
I should say that I find Rich’s take on the issues (i.e that individual patterns of behavior are largely irrelevant and that collective, state-managed action are the most likely outcome) to be the most persuasive but I don’t know much about the topic so I’m very interested in learning more about alternative position (that’s why I’m glad that Val and ZM, among many others, contributed and why I wish they would keep doing so)

Thanks for this, but in a way it illustrates what has gone wrong with the thread. Rich has somehow managed to convince people that he is arguing for collective solutions while I and others are arguing for individual solutions. That’s a misrepresentation of my (and I think others’) position.

The discipline I work in, health promotion, basically suggests that in order to tackle social problems you need to use the whole range of strategies available, including measures directed towards individuals and households, and community action, through to legislation and regulation at government level, and that is how I think we need to respond to climate change.

I don’t tend to focus on individual behaviour much in my work, I think it is more useful to focus on practices (see Elizabeth Shove and others), but that field of theory isn’t well-known, so I sometimes talk about ‘life-styles’ here, but I usually put it in scare quotes to indicate that it’s a problematic term. (I guess maybe if you’re not familiar with the debates around this stuff that’s a bit obscure!)

Nevertheless, we did in Victoria during the 2001- 2009 drought have a government run campaign which was quite focused on individual and household behaviour (water use), and used the techniques of ‘social marketing’ (ads on TV etc), and it was really pretty successful, so pragmatically if it works, I’m not going to disapprove of it on purely theoretical grounds.

However I think an underlying theme of this campaign was that it appealed to people’s sense of communal and civic responsibility (as well as the techniques of persuasion), a bit like ZM’s war time footing campaign. I don’t like the war metaphor but I think the principle is good.

At state level we have a particular situation in Victoria where all our electricity providers have been privatised, and as I’ve said, while re-nationalisation might be a desirable alternative, I think that at present probably people’s energies would be better directed towards establishing community solar schemes etc. I say re-nationalisation “might be” better because there were problems with the way the old state electricity corporation worked, although I’m sure that Rich is right in suggesting that a state-run electricity system would be better able to respond to climate change, if the political will was there ( I think that’s what he suggested).

However my position, as far as I have a clear position on this, is that it also would be good to have local systems of renewables eg solar including roof top, some form of larger scale solar and solar storage, plus wind and hydro where they have existing systems (not new hydro) and the other renewable techniques as appropriate. The area could be roughly suburb sized I guess.

(In fact the area that I live in – Brunswick in Melbourne – used to have a local system in the early days of electrification, I am not sure how that worked. )

In general terms I believe in subsidiarism and localism, but I think of course you also need broader forms of governance. I’d like to see cooperative regional/national systems (modified parliamentary systems) that were also part of cooperative international systems (like the UN but better). I think my ideas are a bit like Plumes’ on this. (I would like to get rid of hierarchies, nationalism and war, but I won’t go into all that now)

Returning to energy, I think we also need a national, state run grid, but I don’t know enough technically to know how local systems and a national grid are integrated. However local systems, as I said up thread, do also have the advantage of lower transmission losses and the costs of maintaining the infrastructure of national grid might possibly be reduced under such a system.

There’s a whole lot of other stuff I could talk about, like changing our ways of eating (I am definitely be in favour of state regulation in that area, because predatory capitalism is such a huge problem) and encouraging active transport. I live in an area where there is a lot of opposition to new road building and I have been involved in various forms of activism around the need to stop building new roads and only spend public money on public transport infrastructure.

(I know some people scoff at social media activism, but my most successful tweet was one where I directly challenged our Prime Minister on this issue. It was during the state election and it got retweeted quite widely – not a world wide twitter storm exactly but I think it must have been read by thousands of people, which was quite funny).

Anyway sorry to be bit rambling but it is nice to be asked about one’s views. I would like to ask any of my perhaps more hostile interlocutors, please feel free to argue with any of this, but please don’t misrepresent me and try to make me out as a fool or a neoliberal. Women who express themselves in public really do often get hostile reactions and I think CT commenters should be really self-reflective about how far they really disagree with what I’m saying, or whether they might be at least a little influenced by unconscious sexism.

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geo 07.01.15 at 2:33 am

JanieM@327: can you clarify?

Sorry, Janie, it’s a point of honor with me not to explain even my dumbest jokes.

347

JanieM 07.01.15 at 2:36 am

Oh, groan……. ;-)

348

Val 07.01.15 at 3:01 am

Just received this – I’m not going to be able to go to as it is in Sydney, but it sounds very interesting and relevant to our discussion! As the speaker is a Professor at the University of Chicago, some here may be familiar with his work?

Sydney Ideas
Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty
Climate + Capital

Co-presented with the Sydney Environment Institute and the Laureate Research Program in International History

Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

‘If, indeed, globalization and global warming are born of overlapping processes, the question is, how do we bring them together in our understanding of the world?

‘In his pathbreaking essays on ‘Climate and Capital’, Dipesh Chakrabarty has opened up the exploration of the implications of the science of climate change for historical and political thinking.

In this conversation, University of Sydney professors Glenda Sluga and David Schlosberg take up the themes of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work to ask: What value does history have in tackling and understanding the political, social, cultural, and economic challenges posed by climate change? Can we reconcile the imperatives of capitalism and the objectives of tackling climate change?

ABOUT THE SPEAKER:
Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty is the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is also a faculty fellow of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory and an associate faculty of the Department of English. He is a founding member of the editorial collective of Subaltern Studies, a co-editor of Critical Inquiry, a founding editor of Postcolonial Studies, and has served on the editorial board of the American Historical Review.

Thursday 23 July, 2015
6-7.30pm
Law School Foyer
Level 2 Sydney Law School Annex
Eastern Avenue
The University of Sydney

I can’t post the RSVP details but I guess anyone interested could ring the organisations involved.

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js. 07.01.15 at 5:17 am

Lynne–“TINA” as in “there is no alternative”. I suppose a sort of code for a refusal to acknowledge the possibility or even actual (subcultural) existence of other social arrangements.

bianca steele @88: If that’s directed at me, I obviously misspoke so horribly that I should take back everything I said. I am not trying to start any movement; if one accidentally—impossibly—started around me, I have no doubt that I would leave it in minus one seconds.

(And frankly, I realize that this is an mildly idiotic thing to say on a comment thread, but I do realize that what I’ve been saying probably doesn’t make a ton of sense, largely because I just don’t have much time to engage or craft comments these days. And with that, I’ll stop.)

350

js. 07.01.15 at 5:25 am

One very last thing: if I say “city”, obviously everyone thing Boston, New York or San Francisco—or London. But equally obviously, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are also very much cities (if not super exciting ones)—and I’ve lived in one such city long enough to know just how the “suburb” dynamic can work out there, when frankly, rents are very cheap. So that’s in large part where I’m coming from.

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Val 07.01.15 at 6:34 am

Well I’ve just trawled through this whole long thread trying to work out what the hell happened here, and I think I have finally worked out what Rich and Bruce don’t like about me. They think I am making claims of “moral virtue”.

That seems to be the basic underlying problem – not that I am a neoliberal exactly, but that I make claims of “moral virtue”, and making claims of moral virtue in their minds is associated with neoliberalism and advocating individual solutions and just being generally annoying.

So maybe I can clear this up a bit by explaining that when I talk about my own ‘life-style’, it’s not about showing how virtuous I am, it’s more like a research project. I am doing a research project of course, and this is like a continuation of it – exploring how much it is possible to live a sustainable life in a contemporary urban setting. I mean I also like it, but it is an interesting project.

Anyway that probably makes no difference to Bruce and Rich and I am sure they will still find it deeply annoying because it’s not ‘serious’ discussion about abstractions (I think Bianca was spot on about that and I do think this is at least in part a gender issue), but at least I think I understand what was going on here. I still think they owe me an apology, but who cares, let them feel morally virtuous about how they don’t talk about their moral virtue.

352

Val 07.01.15 at 6:45 am

Another thing I have noticed (in general not just here) is that men sometimes get annoyed because they think women are talking down to them, like a school teacher. The former leader of the Greens here, a sixtyish women who has recently stepped down as leader (she is not standing at the next election) and been replaced by a man, was constantly described by men who didn’t like her as being like a school teacher.

I wonder if this is associated with the annoyance over ‘moral virtue’? They could be related phenomenon. Certainly in this thread it seems to have been me who was particularly singled out as being annoying and wrong by displaying ‘moral virtue’ even though other people also had solar panels.

353

Val 07.01.15 at 9:22 am

I know I have to let this go (and probably no-one will ever read this anyway!) but in the interests of accuracy and fairness, I have checked back and Rich did criticise both Layman and Trader Joe on several occasions for “moral virtue”, so it’s not just a gender issue.

(Still extremely annoying though – if you can’t have solar panels without people on left wing blogs calling you both a neoliberal and a goody goody – in glorified language – it seems a bit harsh)

354

Lee A. Arnold 07.01.15 at 10:50 am

Now you see my problem! Be careful, Val, or you will end up like me! A staunch refusenik who refuses to reify labels like neoliberalism, Christianity, socialism, capitalism, atheism, communism. These are not causative concepts nor dividing lines for how to organize the world, (much less damning indictments), unless in specific sentences. But then they are carried on into the next sentence as if they must be causative concepts, usually to hide the fact that the writer is a sloppy knucklehead. I had considered promulgating the concept of “knuckleheadedism”, but it’s 16 letters!

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bianca steele 07.01.15 at 1:09 pm

js.,

Sure, sorry, the social movement thing wasn’t directed to you, exactly. And Boston or Philadelphia aren’t the same as Cleveland or a smaller city like Worcester, though a lot probably depends on whether you call Cambridge and Newton are suburbs, or whether they’re part of the city. What Lynne is talking about would be called suburb by a lot of people. Brooklyn would too. Whether people in those places can get an espresso in five minutes’ walk, I don’t know. I do firmly believe that in Mass., everyone’s within five minutes walk of a coffee and a donut, no matter where they live.

356

Layman 07.01.15 at 1:49 pm

‘I have checked back and Rich did criticise both Layman and Trader Joe on several occasions for “moral virtue”’

After reviewing the thread myself, I’m struck by the same thing. I’m not sure why a discussion about whether distributed solar can be part of the solution should hinge on the perception that proponents are motivated by feelings of moral superiority; or indeed where the perception comes from in the first place. Having said that, some of the blame must be mine, and I’ve certainly overreacted in this thread.

Rich, Bruce: Apologies for pressing the point beyond reason. I appreciate both of your responses. I remain convinced that we need an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach, but agree that we need concerted large-scale action to make a difference. I also agree that it will likely take some clear crisis to galvanize that action.

357

Rich Puchalsky 07.01.15 at 4:40 pm

Layman: “I’m not sure why a discussion about whether distributed solar can be part of the solution should hinge on the perception that proponents are motivated by feelings of moral superiority; or indeed where the perception comes from in the first place. “

All right, let’s do this:

EYEROLLER: A short comedy in three acts

Act I:

FIRST PERSON: “I put solar panels on my roof. That cost a lot! Why are people always scolding people for not doing more? They should encourage them instead.”

EYEROLLER: “Micro-decisions about personal consumption or production will have no real effect, even en masse. The only purpose in talking about them is to give people something useless to do so that they can feel like they’re doing something.”

SECOND PERSON: “Of course you should tell people to put solar panels on roofs. That pressures the “market signals” to expand production and to further innovation, encourages politicians to get on board, etc., among other complex responses.”

EYEROLLER: “OK.. If we’re going to talk about complex responses and signals, let’s talk about what other signals the act of putting solar panels on your roof sends. It says that you’re interested in volunteerism, not collective action: it tells the market that you want middle-class equipment, not large-scale equipment.”

THIRD PERSON: “What? That’s unworthy. How could you say that putting up solar panels makes things worse?”

EYEROLLER: “Well, it might, and anyways if people invest in personal middle class solutions, they’re not going to want to also invest in community solutions.”

FORUTH PERSON: “Wait. Did you just say that I should have spent my money on the poor rather than putting solar panels up?”

(EYEROLLER rolls eyes.)

Act II

EYEROLLER: “We’re stuck inside a neoliberal system within which all messages get turned into messages about personal consumption and personal virtue based on consumption, even if they weren’t intended that way. It becomes impossible to say anything about incentive structures without this being interpreted as whether personal decisions are good or bad, or anything about whether putting solar panels up or not is really a good idea overall without this being interpreted as a personal attack on people who put up solar panels.”

FIFTH PERSON: “You described reducing overall energy use as a kind of Puritanism, but we need to reduce overall energy use so what’s wrong with using Puritanism to do that? It mobilizes certain limbic system anchors for collective social behaviors you need, like the appeal of common sacrifice as a form of civic action and the kind of righteousness you need for altruistic punishment of deviants.”

(EYEROLLER looks disconcerted.)

EYEROLLER: “Puritanism and its focus on individual virtue is part of this, yes. Are you sure that’s a good idea? Once you start mobilizing limbic system anchors for righteousness to punish deviants, it’s pretty difficult to control –“

THIRD PERSON: “Are you saying I’m a goody-goody? I want you to apologize.”

(EYEROLLER rolls eyes.)

Act III

EYEROLLER: “One more time. You can reach a kind of limiting case in which certain messages become literally unintelligible. Even if someone starts out thinking that they are doing public health work, how is the public going to interpret that? The public is going to see it as another opportunity for personal status competition–“

THIRD PERSON: “Are you trying to trash my reputation?”

EYEROLLER: “– everything comes back to a discussion of personal virtue and who has it, personal decisions and whether those are moral decisions –“

SECOND PERSON: “So you’re saying that people who put up solar panels are just motivated by feelings of moral superiority?”

EYEROLLER: “– and any kind of system critique can only be heard as personal critique — “

THIRD PERSON: “I have an orientation to public health in my work, and certainly that would never turn into just sanctioning people who didn’t agree with the program! Now talk about this how I want you to or I’ll tell the moderators on you.”

(EYEROLLER rolls eyes, but has a muscle spasm part way through, eyes pointing in different directions.)

EYEROLLER (in Captain Kirk tones): “FACE… FROZEN! Can’t stop … rolling eyes! CAN’T! STOP! ROLLING! EYES!”

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AcademicLurker 07.01.15 at 4:53 pm

“We’re stuck inside a neoliberal system within which all messages get turned into messages about personal consumption and personal virtue based on consumption, even if they weren’t intended that way.”

I’ve stayed out of this thread so far, but reading it I was wondering earlier: is there a US/non-US context difference that’s driving some of the disagreement between RP and others? I’m in the US, and the quote above rings true to me. In the United States, among the type of people who are likely to pay attention to these issues in the first place, the tendency for every form of activism to get hijacked by virtue politics and political virtue as a lifestyle accessory is extreme. Maybe it’s less extreme outside of the US, and so in that context RP’s phobia of personal consumption based approaches to environmental problems seems excessive.

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bianca steele 07.01.15 at 5:05 pm

I do think the observation AL quotes is fair. There are a small number of subdebates (the personal virtue of the person being questioned is one) that things often gravitate into–if they’re not doing it now, in this discussion, the discussion currently being had is probably being influenced by its having happened in the recent past. The question is “Why? What is it about us that this keeps happening, to all of us?”

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Layman 07.01.15 at 5:11 pm

RP @ 357

This works quite well, and is funny to boot. It’s a pity you have to invent the quotes to pull it off.

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geo 07.01.15 at 5:48 pm

“Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

Dick Cheney
April 30, 2001

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Trader Joe 07.01.15 at 6:01 pm

@357
for tonight’s peformance, the part of First Person will be played by Trader Joe

In commenting on his role as “First Person” Trader Joe said he really identified with the role and it was one he always wanted to play. “I do feel morally superior at times and while that may not have been 100% of the reason for doing things like installing solar panels or eating locally grown fuits and vegetables, it is nice being able to say those things, part of a puritanical upbringing I guess.”

Not to roll my eyes at an eyeroller, but really when I examine my motivations for getting panels, it probably never crossed my mind that doing it might have some adverse long-term effect on the development of large scale community projections. If I had thought of it even obliquely, I’d have probably judged that projects are parallel paths, not “either/or” propositions – two separate buckets to be filled not a single drop in a mammoth bucket.

I’d fully concur that a few panels don’t make a difference and even if every person I ever speak to was moved to do the same that it would at best be a drop in the global bucket. That said, its one more drop than there would have been and if there is some other bucket that’s being filled in some other way by some other set of actions, there’s nothing in adding a few panels that prevents that other bucket getting filled.

This is still a really good discussion.

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Bruce Wilder 07.01.15 at 6:12 pm

I rather liked the 1970 novel by Robertson Davies, Fifth Business, and so feel oddly honored by being accorded a walk-on part as FIFTH PERSON.

I think RP, in pursuit of poetry, may be missing his true calling as a playwright.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.01.15 at 6:28 pm

Layman: “This works quite well, and is funny to boot. It’s a pity you have to invent the quotes to pull it off.”

I do apologize for inventing lines when I also took some quotes directly. Clearly most of the things in the comedy are not actually quotes.

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engels 07.01.15 at 6:29 pm

I haven’t this thread in its entirety and no amount of money or other inducements could persuade me to, but the parts I have skimmed leave me scratching my head. It seems to me there’s one team of people saying ‘installing solar panels in your home is a positive thing to do but we won’t be able to stop climate change without much more radical action’ and another saying the same. Maybe the prize can be awarded to whoever yells loud enough? Apologies if that’s unfair, and hope you’re all having fun anyway

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engels 07.01.15 at 6:32 pm

much more radical _collective_ action

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Bruce Wilder 07.01.15 at 6:41 pm

AcademicLurker @ 358

I think you are right that idioms of particularly American politics overlay some of the earlier discussion. I do think RP comes at his view from a self-conscious stepping out of the paralysis of partisan divisions, and some of the hostility in the responses is attributable to the reflexes of tribal division.

Sometimes, the peculiar form that the paralysis of American tribal partisan division takes attracts the amateur anthropologists, like Professor Quiggin, who never tires of anti-science as an explanation. Even Americans have to wonder at the insanity built into the political non-response to gun violence or weirdnesses like the birther “controversy”. And, anything concerning energy does follow some of the blue/red, urban/ex-urban faultlines.

On other issues, though, you don’t have to look very far to see “extreme”. What’s been going on with Greece is extreme, and variations on the theme of virtue politics figure in the deep confusion, as Greeks wonder why their aspirations to be part of the Euro have led to catastrophe, and the Institutions and the Germans lecture them on how they have no one to blame but themselves.

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Bruce Wilder 07.01.15 at 6:44 pm

Also, TINA. Enforced. Really, enforced.

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engels 07.01.15 at 6:52 pm

Unless Rich really is saying that installing solar panels is a bad thing to do, in which case I take it back (I think that’s crazy fwiw).

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engels 07.01.15 at 6:56 pm

‘Bad’ as in actively harmful

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bianca steele 07.01.15 at 6:57 pm

geo@361:

Possible inferences include: Cheney will soon be coming out against austerity; anti-austerity is a right-wing talking point and progressives should abandon it; logic belongs to both parties and I should listen to Republicans more. Or: anyone finding a moral in this comment will be shot. (Don’t get excited, that’s not a threat.)

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Matt 07.01.15 at 7:07 pm

On other issues, though, you don’t have to look very far to see “extreme”. What’s been going on with Greece is extreme, and variations on the theme of virtue politics figure in the deep confusion, as Greeks wonder why their aspirations to be part of the Euro have led to catastrophe, and the Institutions and the Germans lecture them on how they have no one to blame but themselves.

I’ve noted before that the collapse of social order and employment in the former USSR during the 1990s reduced CO2 emissions — and human welfare — to a striking degree. Nothing reduces CO2 emissions like letting looter-billionaires push people out of jobs and into the gutter! When we can look over the retrospective stats in a few years I bet we’ll see that Greece’s misery has reduced its CO2 emissions more rapidly than Germany’s explicitly planned Energiewende.

If you get the Puritan limbic system all fired up about climate change, is there historical evidence that punishment will be directed against the overly powerful instead of the already disempowered? Forcing austerity on the poor objectively reduces consumption/emissions, at a terrible human cost, but the punishers aren’t going to worry about that human cost if they think it’s a deserved punishment they are inflicting. The least powerful will be the first shoved out the airlock of Spaceship Earth if people agree that it’s really time to panic.

I don’t know that you are actually wrong that Puritan impulses can be harnessed to fight climate change, but that approach makes me deeply uneasy. As does the suggestion that we need to treat the climate problem like mobilization for war. We have a terrible track record of behavior under wartime conditions and a terrible track record of who gets held to account by mass resentment. Supposing that we can stoke anger and safely direct it toward Jim Inhofe, oil and coal executives, and the builders of suburban sprawl seems pretty optimistic.

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Matt 07.01.15 at 7:12 pm

But I contradict myself, and I contain multitudes, because I really do feel anger toward fossil fuel executives and I have written to my alma mater encouraging them to join the coal divestment movement. I want investing in coal to take on the social stigma of investing in tobacco and I want coal consumption to fall like US smoking rates have. My anger over this issue hasn’t made me one bit more eager to inflict misery on debtors/the poor/minorities though. So maybe I’m not trusting other people enough when I fear that they’ll just bash the nearest weak target once they’re angered and mobilized about climate change.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.01.15 at 7:16 pm

Matt: “I don’t know that you are actually wrong that Puritan impulses can be harnessed to fight climate change, but that approach makes me deeply uneasy. As does the suggestion that we need to treat the climate problem like mobilization for war. We have a terrible track record of behavior under wartime conditions and a terrible track record of who gets held to account by mass resentment. “

Yes. As I’ve mentioned before, I once also thought that e.g. concern about weather disasters might motivate the public to demand change. Then Katrina happened. The public was motivated to shoot black people trying to cross a bridge and start new menes about how black people loot and white people find things.

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Bruce Wilder 07.01.15 at 7:33 pm

Matt

I contradict myself, too — the only way to have even a reasonable chance of winning any argument is to take two or more sides. ;-)

RP took the position that neoliberal oligarchy can and will act to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I tend to agree, with the qualification that I’m unlikely to like the result. Like you, I fear that the neoliberal approach will feature throwing large parts of the global population overboard, so to speak, exacerbating economic inequalities within what ever bounds are set by the need to maintain core system stability to keep the globalized elite skiing at Davos.

Solidarity has clearly failed to keep enough of the relevant elite feeling a dependence on the masses or a moral responsibility for them. The Plan B built into the human psyche is altruistic punishment — the bob mcmanus option: kill them, and take their back our stuff. It rarely works out well for the generation that tries it, or their children.

The same set of technological advances in data processing that have been pushing remarkable advances in energy efficiency have been pushing remarkable advances in surveillance and social repression. So there’s that.

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engels 07.01.15 at 7:40 pm

“The public was motivated to shoot black people trying to cross a bridge”

All 300 million of them were? You sure?

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bob mcmanus 07.01.15 at 8:06 pm

the bob mcmanus option: kill them, and take their back our stuff.

Well, it is usually and pointedly “Burn shit down and take their stuff,” thank you very much, even if I sometimes mutter darkly about guillotines.

The hydra regrows its heads, and so my program almost always involves the destruction or diminution of [private] Capital, and there are thousands of ways to accomplish that, from a stroke of a pen to the expansion of the common. Increasing the minimum wage without controlling prices or profits, and most transfer programs, and adding rooftop solar to private homes…none of these accomplish the important goal. Of course, most mainstream economics is about increasing Wealth/Capital.

There are a lot of other facets to my phrasing, and I do sometimes wonder why moderates and liberals are so quick to turn destruction of commodities into destruction of persons.

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geo 07.01.15 at 8:55 pm

BW @375: It rarely works out well for the generation that tries it, or their children.

Ah, but bob and I take the long view.

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engels 07.01.15 at 10:34 pm

Always nice to have an excuse for some Phil Ochs:

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Val 07.02.15 at 12:14 pm

I took myself out of here for a day because I was getting obsessed, and now the server keeps playing up, so I’ll keep this short.

I’d like to have a sensible conversation about how we respond to climate change, but even before that, I would really like Rich to apologise to Plume for comparing him to those vile Westboro Baptists who hold up homophobic signs at funerals – because you know even though I advised Plume not to get down in the ditch with Rich over that, I actually find it hard to forget, let alone forgive, myself.

So maybe Rich could do that before anything else.

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afeman 07.02.15 at 9:33 pm

The personal virtue angle shows up in odd ways sometimes. It’s not unusual to see on certain blogs commenters apparently dedicated to sandbagging mitigation policies — by which I seem to have to specify, perhaps fruitlessly, that I mean nobody in this thread — who will note unasked that they drive a Prius or whatever, like some bid for legitimacy. I’ve also seen people apparently insist that there can’t be a problem because they drive and are good people who mean well.

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Bruce Wilder 07.02.15 at 9:58 pm

bob mcmanus @ 377
I wonder if there isn’t a “have your cake or eat it” problem with the destruction of either fixed capital or commodities. The wiping out of purely paper claims as expectations are disappointed would seem like a necessary corrective; the failure to do so, a degenerate succumbing to parasitic rentiers. (Not that I have anything against parasitic rentiers, some of my best friends are . . . ) Confiscatory inheritance taxes combined with summary execution could solve a number of problems.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.02.15 at 10:30 pm

afeman: “who will note unasked that they drive a Prius or whatever, like some bid for legitimacy. “

The ultimate expression of the personal virtue trope, in this area, was the denialist treatment of Al Gore. It was all “Al Gore rides helicopters” — “Al Gore lives in a big mansion with lots of lights” — “Al Gore flies on jet planes a lot when he goes to international meetings trying to use his prestige as a nearly-President of the U.S. to do something about this problem.”

I’ve been thinking a bit about what AcademicLurker wrote at #358 about a possible difference between a U.S. and a non-U.S. context. I’m aware that cultures vary, and maybe there’s some culture within which all of this is both necessary and the best way to a local solution: in which everyone buying a solar panel or getting on a bike is a kind of rite of social solidarity which is the only thing that lets everyone commit to having the government close down the coal plants and build some solar ones. It most assuredly is not that within the U.S.

Within the U.S., I’d guess that the three main influences are a kind of unholy trinity:

* neoliberalism: that subset of it that says that your moral worth is defined by how you consume things. For instance, Greece is supposed to deserve austerity because they didn’t spend their money well.

* Puritanism: the elect show that they are the elect by being both wealthy and self-restrained. Solar panels both cost a good deal *and* show the renunciation of excessive waste.

* tribal partisanship: buying solar panels is a marker that you are a good liberal.

None of these build social solidarity in a broad sense. #3 actively helps to identify denialism as being a good tribal marker for conservatives. #2 feeds classism: poor people can’t afford to compete in terms of slow food or whatever, and this is part of the bogus libertarian appeal towards excess e.g. concern about whether the government is going to regulate the size of cheap soft drink cups. #1 feeds directly into sub themes like green merchandising, but much more importantly it reinforces the basic setup by which our whole society accepts elite domination.

In short: social status competition. Any individual buyer of solar panels may have done so for the best, most altruistic reasons in the world (or for purely pragmatic reasons like “my house isn’t connected to the grid”). That doesn’t matter. At a larger scale, the whole phenomenon of individually owned solar panels isn’t getting us in the U.S. much closer to the goal any more, since the goal involves making this not a matter of social status competition.

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Helen 07.02.15 at 11:17 pm

As with computing, why do we have to be wedded to the idea of a gargantuan hub? In the case of energy, involving costly and unsightly pylons or less unsightly but even more expensive underground cable, and losses/wastage at every stage – and the vulnerability of having all your energy eggs in one basket as it were.
That’s like going with mainframes 4Eva and ignoring the community, government and business potential of distributed computing.
Distributed power generation will be less vulnerable to loss, waste and (in the worst case scenario) attacks. And these early adopters help to develop the technology, which can be turned to community advantage.
Same as public housing – the houses have rooves and doors and windows same as the privately owned ones.

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Layman 07.02.15 at 11:31 pm

It’s easy to understand why the Rich Puchalskys of the world aren’t getting the results they want. If in their analysis:

– anyone who buys solar panels does so to demonstrate their credentials as an elitist, and
– no one does so out of belief in the efficacy of the exercise, and
– in the rare case when someone does do so for that reason, they’ll be believed to be sending elitist signals anyway

one wonders where they expect to find allies.

As for me, if I really wanted to advertise my virtue, I’d work harder at it. I’d probably start by launching a blog site, where I chronicle my virtuous tilting at windmills for all to see. Maybe even share my poetry!

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Matt 07.03.15 at 12:17 am

Some people/organizations really do install renewable energy for status competition/signaling. I happen to think that’s OK. I don’t really care about your internal mental state as long as your actions are beneficial.

It can turn perverse if people are buying more visible but less effective mitigation measures because they care strongly about making their virtue-signals visible. Rich thinks that rooftop solar falls in that category; I don’t, since there are ancillary benefits to distributing generation as opposed to building hundreds-of-megawatts facilities far outside of demand centers. And rooftop solar is more expensive than utility scale but not multiple times more expensive.

A stronger example of signaling-over-practicality is small wind turbines installed on building rooftops or integrated into designs for large buildings. Megawatt class wind turbines for wind farms are great, because they can tap faster, steadier wind streams at high altitude. Small wind turbines aren’t good for anything any more. Small turbines close to the ground or roof tops can’t get enough steady air flow to produce much electricity. A decade ago they were marginally justifiable because solar was a lot more expensive. Nowadays you can’t get more energy-per-dollar out of rooftop wind turbines than out of rooftop solar even if your building is in Chicago.

But rooftop wind turbines have one great advantage for tall buildings: they’re a lot more visible from the ground than solar panels. Hence this recent highly visible stupidity from Intel, which is usually genuinely good about using renewable energy: http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_28164774/intel-catches-wind-rooftop-micro-turbine-array

Or the foolish but extremely visible wind systems in the London Strata tower: http://www.urban75.org/blog/the-rarely-spinning-turbines-of-the-strata-tower-south-london/

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Rich Puchalsky 07.03.15 at 12:45 am

Layman: “As for me, if I really wanted to advertise my virtue, I’d work harder at it. I’d probably start by launching a blog site, where I chronicle my virtuous tilting at windmills for all to see. Maybe even share my poetry!”

So your apology at #356 was completely fake and unfelt — merely a matter of saving face publicly rather than arising out of any real reject for such jerk moves as “Anarchman”? I thought so.

If you want to equate publishing poetry that I write with consumption, you certainly can.

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Layman 07.03.15 at 12:53 am

“So your apology at #356 was completely fake and unfelt — merely a matter of saving face publicly rather than arising out of any real reject for such jerk moves as “Anarchman”? I thought so.”

On the contrary, it was entirely sincere; but it wasn’t intended to grant you a license for future asinine statements. The only person I see here crowing about their virtue is you. In light of that, you might want to pursue another line of argument.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.03.15 at 12:59 am

Well, that’s the real value of sincerity, I guess. It’s like a reboot button.

Apparently my comment @ #383 has been defined as “crowing about my virtue”. Look, I can’t really roll my eyes any more: I already sustained near-permanent metaphorical injury. I think that it’s time to accept that socially dominant frames really just can’t be navigated around and go on.

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engels 07.03.15 at 1:43 am

I think that it’s time to accept that socially dominant frames really just can’t be navigated around

Either that, or you’ve just been making bad arguments for an implausible position (and being gratuitously rude to people in the process).

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Val 07.03.15 at 3:13 am

Look at this information on solar

Sunny weather and a recent surge in solar panel installations means that solar power could provide a record 15% of the UK’s electricity on Friday afternoon
With a 36% annual growth rate, the solar photovoltaic industry is mushrooming so fast at the moment that some analysts expect that half the current global total will be being installed every year by 2020.

The cumulative market at that point would be around 700GW, roughly equivalent to the size of all the electrical generating capacity in Europe today, if the predictions by Greentechmedia prove correct.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/02/solar-power-provide-record-15-uk-power

I don’t know how much of that is rooftop

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Val 07.03.15 at 3:14 am

apologies for not getting formatting quite right there

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Val 07.03.15 at 3:20 am

Domestic housing was apparently the largest subsector of UK rooftop solar in 2014 but the government strategy now is encouraging larger buildings, businesses etc
http://www.chadbourne.com/uk_rooftop_solar_june2014_projectfinance/

course it’s a neoliberal government but they do seem to be making progress

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Kiwanda 07.03.15 at 4:58 pm

“Putting a solar panel on your roof, replacing your incandescent bulbs with LEDs and driving a hybrid the 25 miles to work may make you feel better about yourself, but it is ignoring what is necessary.”

It is perfectly possible that doing those things is both helpful and not enough, and that people who do those things recognize that. It is not at all clear “what is necessary”, a clear description of which would be welcome.

Rooftop solar:
-avoids transmission losses;
-avoids additional land use for power generation;
-reduces expensive peak-hour production;
-is correlated with high demand for A/C;
-reduces the chances of blackouts;
-reduces the social cost of outages;
-can provide electricity in the absence of transmission infrastructure;
-contributes to lower costs for future rooftop solar;
-signals that rooftop solar is something others have, and you can have as well;
-is an investment in reduced fossil fuel usage, that can save the individual money over the long term.

On the minus side: people who put it up may not have motivations we approve of, or reduce their fossil fuel consumption in ways that makes them suffer enough. Or something.

I don’t understand how the Jevons paradox applies here: increasing the *proportion* of renewable electricity production implies what counter-intuitive negative result?

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themgt 07.03.15 at 5:18 pm

The proportion of renewable energy production actually doesn’t matter at all to the climate. The only real thing that matters is the amount of C02, CH4, aerosols, etc that are emitted.

So the Jevons-ish argument would be, without a top-down carbon tax, personal/institutional choices to shift from dirty to clean energy could result in all the carbon still being burned while total energy use increases.

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Layman 07.03.15 at 5:28 pm

“So the Jevons-ish argument would be, without a top-down carbon tax, personal/institutional choices to shift from dirty to clean energy could result in all the carbon still being burned while total energy use increases.”

Is there any support for this argument WRT rooftop solar? Do rooftop solar owners simply increase electricity use? My personal experience is the opposite – I make conscious decisions to conserve that I didn’t make before.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.03.15 at 8:17 pm

Kiwanda: “It is not at all clear “what is necessary”, a clear description of which would be welcome.”

Having governments decide to build renewable energy plants and close down fossil fuel plants. Having governments tell automakers to put electric motors in cars and stop putting in fossil fuel powered motors. Both in theory available with simple democratic majorities.

“I don’t understand how the Jevons paradox applies here: increasing the *proportion* of renewable electricity production implies what counter-intuitive negative result?”

Fossil fuel doesn’t go through price spike, keeps getting burnt until all gone.

But of course that couldn’t happen because everything is determined by the individual motivations of people who put up solar panels, and the only way Jevons could work is if they personally wasted electricity.

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engels 07.04.15 at 1:50 am

“Fossil fuel doesn’t go through price spike, keeps getting burnt until all gone.”

And I suppose it wouldn’t matter whether that happened after 10 years, 100 years or 1000 years

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Kiwanda 07.04.15 at 3:08 am

themgt: “The proportion of renewable energy production actually doesn’t matter at all to the climate. The only real thing that matters is the amount of C02, CH4, aerosols, etc that are emitted.”

Well, yes and no, but mainly no. If the proportion of renewables goes to 100%, then the emitted carbon, the “only real thing”, is negligible. And that proportion is increasing exponentially, since wind and solar are now often the cheapest options for new production.

Rich Puchalsky: “Having governments decide to build renewable energy plants and close down fossil fuel plants. Having governments tell automakers to put electric motors in cars and stop putting in fossil fuel powered motors. Both in theory available with simple democratic majorities.”

A large fraction (I think a majority) of new power production is renewables. Many automakers offer all-electric or plugin-hybrid cars, there are substantial government-offered incentives for buying them, and the enabling technologies are improving in cost and performance quite rapidly. So “what is necessary” is happening, if more slowly than we’d like, and aided by individual, concrete actions as well as government interventions and private investment.

In light of this, it’s hard to see why demanding “Great Leap Forward”-style solutions that will never happen is a useful exercise. It’s tempting to pontificate at length on the motivations, emotional maturity, and personal habits of people who make such demands, but no.

engels: “And I suppose it wouldn’t matter whether that happened after 10 years, 100 years or 1000 years”

Um, just to be painfully clear: you’re being sarcastic, right?

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Val 07.04.15 at 8:37 am

Kiwanda @ 399
I agree with you, and I agree it’s best not to speculate on motivation, but thinking about this thread, one thing that worries me is the degree of misinformation that’s been confidently purveyed.

For example, Rich P made all the following claims:
– Small scale solar such as rooftop solar is not going to make any real difference, the only thing that can work is large scale solar infrastructure, preferably in deserts;
– individuals who install solar panels on their roof are not making any real difference to emissions, and they may be sending the wrong message and doing it for bad reasons;
– installing rooftop solar is like creating “gated communities” (implying that the only people who can use the electricity from rooftop solar are the ones who actually own the panels);
– transmission losses from transmitting electricity over long distances are not a significant issue.

None of those claims are right, but because Rich sounds very confident and authoritative, he may have convinced people. Regardless of his motivation, it is concerning that people who might have been thinking about getting roof top solar, or looking for ways to reduce their energy use, could actually be deterred by this.

By the same token, his insistence that changing consumer behaviour can’t make any difference to energy demand is misleading. I gave the example previously of how a campaign to reduce water consumption in a Melbournr in the drought was very successful, relying largely on persuasion and an appeal to civic mindedness.

In public health it’s a principle that one should not just focus on individual behaviour, but should address the social and economic determinants. I strongly agree with that. However it’s quite another thing to tell people that nothing they do at the individual level can make any difference, and extremely discouraging, as several people have commented.

It’s worrying to see people potentially misled by someone who sounds very confident, but is actually providing over-simplified either/or answers. I don’t quite know quite what to do about it.

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ZM 07.04.15 at 9:41 am

Kiwanda,

“So “what is necessary” is happening, if more slowly than we’d like, and aided by individual, concrete actions as well as government interventions and private investment.

In light of this, it’s hard to see why demanding “Great Leap Forward”-style solutions that will never happen is a useful exercise. “

I favour a wartime mobilization approach, as I can’t see the needed changes happening quickly enough with a business as usual approach, and I also think that the changes in agriculture relating to climate change and other changes needed due to some of the other sustainability issues we are facing would leave the economy vulnerable to recessions and crises without some strategic scaffolding by governments.

On the other hand I think there needs be roles for individuals and communities in mobilization as there are a number of problems with top down bureaucratic measures and as I’m studying urban planning I think you need communities to collaborate on the physical changes in the places they live, or there would just be a backlash.

When I asked how the military (who are good at strategy and implementation) could liase with communities in Australia in a climate change related mobilization, former defense chief Chris Barrie said national service could be an option.

i also don’t see the problem of involving conceptions of virtue in discussion, virtue ethics are a well known sort of philosophical thinking, so even if it doesn’t fit for how some people think, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good for others. For addressing climate change it is unlikely that everyone in the world will change to espousing the exact same value/ethical systems, so you’re really seeking overlap rather than the exact sameness.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.04.15 at 12:05 pm

Kiwanda: “Well, yes and no, but mainly no. If the proportion of renewables goes to 100%, then the emitted carbon, the “only real thing”, is negligible.”

So decarbonization is decarbonization — yes, I think that themgt would probably agree with that. But of course the proportion of renewables can go to 50% or 70% and still have have enough easily gotten fossil fuels emitted to put us to 4 degrees or 6 degrees. As I’ve written at length above, I think that the focus on individual motivations of middle class buyers actively works against thinking about what actually has to be done so that this doesn’t happen, because people don’t want to believe that their nice feeling of individual contribution is actually contributing to something whose untended consequence may well be bad.

ZM: “On the other hand I think there needs be roles for individuals and communities in mobilization as there are a number of problems with top down bureaucratic measures”

Yes. But at present, power is actually produced through top down bureaucratic measures. Individuals and communities can mobilize all they like, but if they can’t mobilize to reach a majority of the vote and vote in politicians who promise to replace power at the scale at which it’s currently generated, all that they do will be to permit more coal and oil and gas to be burned.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.04.15 at 12:20 pm

“whose untended consequence” Unintended spellchecker error.

I haven’t even bothered talking about the implicit colonialism in a lot of this, because people are already flipping out about the supposed challenge to their all-important individual virtue. Matt upthread wrote about what Bangladesh is going to do about its electricity needs. How do you think their decision is going to be affected if people in other countries do a crash program of voluntary renewables but don’t actually shut down their coal mining industries? All that newly cheap coal has to be sold somewhere.

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engels 07.04.15 at 12:24 pm

“you’re being sarcastic, right”

Maybe a little but I would genuinely like to how Rich’s ‘fossil fuels are finite and they’re still going to get burnt’ slamdunk is supposed to work.

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Layman 07.04.15 at 12:53 pm

“Maybe a little but I would genuinely like to how Rich’s ‘fossil fuels are finite and they’re still going to get burnt’ slamdunk is supposed to work”

It’s in the poetry.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.04.15 at 2:01 pm

Kiwanda: “In light of this, it’s hard to see why demanding “Great Leap Forward”-style solutions that will never happen is a useful exercise. “

I missed this one — are you aware of what has to happen at this point to keep us to 3 degrees, much less have a chance of negative emissions getting us back to 2 degrees? Characterizing it as a Great Leap Forward that’s never going to happen means, I guess, that you’re a pessimist? But you’re an optimist because you think that voluntary initiatives can have an important effect. Motivated reasoning is fun.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.04.15 at 3:10 pm

It is flatly impossible to get the U.S. to do what needs to be done without appealing to this frame, I guess, so let’s go with it:

“Conservatives believe in individual freedom, in choice, in competition,” [Barry Goldwater Jr.] said. “We believe all of those things allow people to live a better life—to be able to choose what they want to do and not have a monopoly, or in the case of government, big government, telling them how to live their life. So it’s a very natural place for a conservative to be. I think as time goes buy you’ll see more and more Republicans vocalize this.”

Virtue ethics it is. Clearly, since the U.S. is not going to be able to progress in replacing its power while conservatives block everything, the best switch is to rebrand solar as part of what every upstanding conservative wants for their single-famliy house. The virtuecrats can agree with them that the real enemies are those weird collectivists, poor people can be made to buy solar power with they own damned money, and everyone will be smug and happy.

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engels 07.04.15 at 3:50 pm

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Val 07.04.15 at 9:50 pm

Matt upthread wrote about what Bangladesh is going to do about its electricity needs. How do you think their decision is going to be affected if people in other countries do a crash program of voluntary renewables but don’t actually shut down their coal mining industries? All that newly cheap coal has to be sold somewhere.

Things you can do about coal (if you’re Australian, modify as needed for your own country):
1) Installing solar and buying green power makes it less viable
2) write to your bank – ask if they have investments in coal – if so, shift your account to somewhere else
3) write to your superannuation company ditto (you can google companies that don’t have coal)
4) join Get Up, etc – give them some money, tell them that stopping coal mining and export is a high priority, engage in activist activities
5) join direct action such as barricades and protests
6) Have a look at The Human Costs of Power http://caha.org.au/projects/the-human-cost-of-power/ – circulate it to your contacts, arrange for showings etc. – you could join CAHA if it’s relevant to you
7) join the Greens, get involved in activism and policy
8) tweet, talk to people, write to MPs, talk about it on facebook
9) just do whatever you can to get the message out ‘coal must stay in the ground’ and Australia must stop its exports of coal. Be aware that some people will try to label this as mad and unpatriotic (not so much now, but they did at first) and be prepared for this
10) also be aware that as well as wealthy mining companies and their owners and shareholders, there are ordinary people involved in the coal industry and that there need to alternative employment plans for thEmu

That’s a few to start with. In terms of political ideology, it’s a mixture, and some do reflect the fact that we live in a neoliberal system (eg divestment from banks and super). But as I’ve said, I’d rather do what works than be a purist. It doesn’t prevent me advocating on social justice issues as well – and climate change is a big social justice issue itself.

As John Quiggin pointed out in the OP, the big Adani coal mine here is looking shaky, and two recent closures of smaller mines have been announced in South Australia and Victoria.

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Val 07.04.15 at 9:51 pm

No idea how an Emu crept in there :)

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js. 07.05.15 at 6:14 am

I do firmly believe that in Mass., everyone’s within five minutes walk of a coffee and a donut, no matter where they live.

How well I know it! (My adolescence was spent in Lowell—which probably explains my lifelong love Dunkin’ Donuts donuts, tho not their coffee, definitely not their coffee.)

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afeman 07.05.15 at 1:01 pm

If the balance of energy not in renewables is not in something non-emitting, then 6-7 degrees is inevitable, barring losing the capacity for mining.

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