Do climate sceptics exist?

by John Quiggin on July 25, 2016

June 2016 was the hottest month globally since records began in 1880, and marks the fourteenth record month in a row. For the great majority of people who’ve been following scientific findings on climate, there’s no great surprise there. There is very strong evidence both for the existence of a warming trend due mainly to emissions of carbon dioxide, and for the occurrence of a peak in the El Nino/Southern Oscillation index. Combine the two, and a record high temperature is very likely.

But suppose you were a strongly sceptical person, who required more evidence than others to accept a scientific hypothesis, such as that of of anthropogenic climate change. Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis. Perhaps this supporting evidence would be sufficient that you would regard the hypothesis as confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, perhaps not, but either way, you would be more favorably inclined than before. And, if you were a public commentator, willing to state your views honestly, you would say so.

Does such a sceptic exist? I haven’t seen one, although I follow the debate fairly closely. In fact, in the 25 years or so in which I’ve been following the issue, I can only recall one instance of someone described as a “sceptic” changing their view in the light of the evidence. And of course, his fellow sceptics, who’d been promising that his research would reveal massive errors in the temperature record, immediately decided that he’d never really been one of them. In any case, while Muller was and remains a scientific sceptic, he’s no longer a climate sceptic.

Operationally, it’s clear that the term “climate sceptic” means someone whose criteria for convincing evidence are those set out by the Onion.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong (by counterexample), but as far as I can see, if the ordinary usage of the term “sceptic” is applied, the world population of genuine climate sceptics is zero.

{ 235 comments }

1

JimV 07.25.16 at 1:05 am

I can’t cite names (if I had to I might be able to dredge up Internet pseudonyms) , but there were a couple people who used to make comments at “Deltoid” and “Open Mind” who were skeptical of the hockey-stick mathematical derivation, but seemed open to reason. I haven’t seen anything from them for years now, but in their last comments that I saw they were coming around.

I was very disappointed to find that two of my semi-favorite sf authors were big time skeptics, several years back. I tried to discuss the matter with one of them at his blog, respectfully, and got sadly illogical replies, such as “Mars is also warming up, so it can’t be humans’ fault”. I haven’t read anything by them since. I hope by this time they’ve reassessed.

I have to say that the propaganda effort against AGW was very successful in the engineering community back when I was still working, circa 2006. A couple people whose work I respected seemed surprised that I wasn’t onboard (the anti-campaign). Nowadays the tide seems to have turned, and I haven’t heard any “skepticism” lately even from conservatives (the ones I know).

2

marcel proust 07.25.16 at 1:20 am

JQ

In writing about climate sceptics and questioning their bonafides, you seem to be staking out a position as a climate sceptic sceptic. Before this post, I would have comfortably described myself as a climate sceptic sceptic sceptic. Now, however, I think not. I am not a public commentator, but I am willing to state my views honestly. I hope that is worth something to you (perhaps a wry chuckle or 2).

3

RNB 07.25.16 at 1:20 am

A different question: Are climate scientists themselves too skeptical to convey the real risks of anthropogenic climate change? Do the climate scientists require too much evidence before making reasonable estimates of the dangers that we are running? In other words, while climate scientists may not be convincing climate skeptics, they may be undermining climate activists. I linked to this piece in the discussion about statistical significance that John Holbo once wrote a post on.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/opinion/sunday/playing-dumb-on-climate-change.html?_r=0

4

Sandwichman 07.25.16 at 1:26 am

That’s a low bar for skepticism, John. In my view “skeptics” include those who find the evidence for AGW persuasive but are nonchalant about its implications.

5

Sandwichman 07.25.16 at 1:28 am

I am skeptical about the spelling of sceptic.

6

Sandwichman 07.25.16 at 1:28 am

(opinions differ)

7

John Quiggin 07.25.16 at 1:33 am

Marcel Proust FTW!

8

Tom West 07.25.16 at 1:59 am

Without exception, the skeptics that I have tried to corner who were amenable to reason fell back to what I suspect was their base justification: the economic sacrifice and damage that attacking climate change would incur is not worth the small chance of successful mitigation.

Obviously I disagree, but it’s clear to me that the whole climate skepticism thing is merely a tactic for what most of them feel is entirely justified inaction.

With the rise of Trump and Brexit (and our own Rob Ford in Toronto), I see a movement towards groups being willing to express positions that they would have previously suppressed because of the (justified) fear of condemnation by the educated liberal elites (i.e. people like me). It will be interesting to see whether that willingness to express previously forbidden sentiments will cause people to discard the cover skepticism and simply go with “it’s not worth it”.

9

Mwbugg 07.25.16 at 2:35 am

Bet you don’t find many non believers amongst the corn breeders at Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta developing seed for the next decades. Or even more so at Weyerhauser.

10

Jason Weidner 07.25.16 at 3:01 am

I’ve run into what seems to me a fairly new phenomenon: people making illogical and non-fact-based arguments, but doing so in a tone of intellectual superiority, accusing their interlocutors of being stupid. It’s not limited to climate denial, but seems especially prominent there. So, you’ll see online commenters not only buying false arguments, but acting as if anyone who believes the scientific consensus and experts is feebleminded.

11

derrida derider 07.25.16 at 3:48 am

Oh that’s just tribalism Jason – we all tend to believe anyone not of our tribe is feebleminded.

Me, I’ve gradually come to the view that is not pure feeblemindedness on the “skeptic’s” side (note the Greek kappa in that word, BTW, not a Latinate “c”). It’s mixed with a great deal of mendacity, especially on the part of their well heeled backers. That and an awful lot of unacknowledged self-interest (they’re all old and won’t be around when their waterfront houses wash away in the storm surge).

12

bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 4:23 am

JW: I’ve run into what seems to me a fairly new phenomenon: people making illogical and non-fact-based arguments, but doing so in a tone of intellectual superiority, accusing their interlocutors of being stupid. It’s not limited to climate denial, . . .

Thank goodness that never happens in CT comments.

But, seriously, with the best will imaginable, the phenomena we are talking about are hard to wrap one’s head around. The geographical scale — global implications — and the time scales — decades and centuries — are beyond common personal experience.

An effort has been made to reduce the essentials to simple questions — is it happening? and are humans causing it? — precisely to fence off popular skepticism so that we are not debating the shape of the earth, and I appreciate that. But, it remains a daunting challenge fit these global, long-term phenomena into one’s base assumptions and worldview.

We have to do so much more in the way of building a common understanding of what’s happening, before we can expect to have an effective politics. I wonder if we are still hammering away on a skepticism that no longer exists, even in pretence, because we do not see how to extend popular understanding and engagement.

There’s a perfectly natural human desire to want to relate to global climate change on a personal scale. A warm northern winter and hot summer have provided the kind of proximate experience that helps people take global warming seriously. A strict scientific skeptic would know there’s a fallacy of some sort there: the weather is neither confirmation nor refutation of climate change, but it is human nature to find motivation in extremes and in catastrophes and crisis. We love our hyperboles and franken-storms.

And, policy faces a similar problem of scale and scope: if we are investing in schemes of mitigation or melioration, we need somehow to measure feedback and pace the effort. We are a long way from doing that, from having common frameworks for a consensus about what we are doing and why.

13

Rich Puchalsky 07.25.16 at 4:49 am

BW: “I wonder if we are still hammering away on a skepticism that no longer exists”

Mass climate denialism is mostly an Anglosphere phenomenon. From a 2014 poll, lowest percentages of people agreeing that climate change is the result of human activity were US, GB, Australia. So we see a lot of it because of the importance of the US.

What I think is going to be the largest barrier to action going forward isn’t so much denialism as just the inertia of business as usual and entrenched interest.

14

Sandwichman 07.25.16 at 5:08 am

BW: “…it remains a daunting challenge fit these global, long-term phenomena into one’s base assumptions and worldview.”

I’m afraid it is more daunting than that. John Sterman has developed a series of systems dynamics exercises that I’ve used in my classroom. These are simple diagrams that test university students’ ability to reason from changes in flows to changes in stocks and from stocks to flows.

The exercises don’t require any advanced math. They DO require the ability to shake the expectation that graphs of stocks and flows will “look alike.” Very few students can get the right answer.

People who talk as if “decoupling” greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth — for example, the OECD — also commit this fundamental error. Reading Matthias Schmelzer’s account of the emergence of coordinated economic growth targeting in the O.E.C.D. in 1961, in The Hegemony of Growth , made me realize how much the carbon emissions targeting of the Paris COP mimics that growth-targeting goon show from 55 years ago. If people can’t get their head around the historically-documented fact that the economic growth imperative was spawned as a propaganda stunt, then they are unlikely to realize that emissions targeting plus decoupling of emissions from growth is a farce.

15

faustusnotes 07.25.16 at 5:32 am

Sandwichman I have noticed that where AGW is concerned economists especially routinely confuse flows and stocks. AGW is a stock issue (we have a carbon budget) but a lot of economists seem to think it can be stopped simply by getting flows (emissions) to 0. That’s not enough, but the idea that it is leads to a belief that the problem can be controlled by gradually ratcheting up a simple tax.

I think this is linked somehow to problems human society has identifying the difference between problems whose only solution is mitigation (AGW) vs those whose only solution is adaptation (aging).

16

RNB 07.25.16 at 5:44 am

The stock/flow distinction has also created tragic difficulty in international negotiations. Kishore Mahbubani: “For example, China and India agree that it is unfair for America, which has contributed a greater stock of greenhouse gas emissions than any other country, to ask relatively poorer countries like China and India to limit their emissions. Both agree that America should first pay an economic price for its contribution to this stock of greenhouse gas emissions and also make a commitment to reduce its the current flows. This is why Xie Zhenhua, the head of the China delegation, lost his temper at the Copenhagen climate change summit.”

17

Sandwichman 07.25.16 at 5:59 am

Yes, RNB, it would be tempting to guess that the Americans are simply playing dumb on the historical emissions question. But it is conceivable that it is more a mixture of incomprehension and evasion. Past contributions are “history,” so they can’t count.

Well, no. The gases are still there and their consequences are current and future, as are the returns on accumulated capital from past emissions. At best, the Americans and Europeans might be granted a limit to liability equal to the value of assets attributable to fossil fuel consumption.

18

RNB 07.25.16 at 6:04 am

All true, Sandwichman, but as an American I must say that I worry about China and India using the fact of their not being responsible for most of the stock as a cynical excuse not to do what they must to reduce current flows. If you know anyone who has thought through the issue–Mahbubani reads to me at times as too partial to China here–please do tell me.

19

faustusnotes 07.25.16 at 6:07 am

I think they’re more realistic than that RNB but they are going to push for compensation if they’re forced to bear more relative responsibility for future reductions. Sadly because of obfuscation and delay we no longer have time to fart-arse around with these kinds of negotiations – and that delay is also largely the fault of a few rich American/European emitters.

20

Peter T 07.25.16 at 6:08 am

BW:
“the phenomena we are talking about are hard to wrap one’s head around. The geographical scale — global implications — and the time scales — decades and centuries — are beyond common personal experience.”

Sometimes that’s true – the survival of the dinosaurs trope (Prof Challenger through to Ice Age) survives because the implications of change over 70 million years are too hard to easily grasp.

But much shorter time-frames and much more familiar consequences are still subject to mass denial. Godwin not intended; Refusal to believe that the German elite would accept the risks of another great war was behind much British, French and Soviet policy of the 20s and 30s, and was not abandoned by substantial sections of opinion until after the war had started. Some things are so unwelcome that almost anything else will be grasped with eagerness.

21

bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 7:03 am

Thinking you can negotiate successfully with someone you’ve grieved is a problem incommensurable with managing the collective frontier of human demands on nature, but it would be surprisingly strange if people did not confuse them. Still, nature will never show up to bargain at an international conference for Lebensraum.

22

Anonymous Coward 07.25.16 at 7:25 am

I can’t imagine coming out of the closet as that kind of skeptic on either side’s blog without immediately having motives, sincerity, and/or intelligence questioned. You can’t ask a series of probing questions without trying someone’s patience, getting labeled as a covert member of the disruptive other side.

It’s one of those topics where you just aren’t likely to hear from anyone who is working through the issues and evidence, because the consequences of admitting that are fairly high and the benefits close to nonexistent.

As a complete aside, would highly recommend Sean Blanda’s Medium column as an antidote to that sort of discussion:
https://medium.com/@SeanBlanda/the-other-side-is-not-dumb-2670c1294063#.rpyukfsz7

It’s a great article, though it will probably backfire if you’re primed with a topic you feel passionately about. Best of luck.

23

George Carty 07.25.16 at 7:28 am

I would argue that most “climate sceptics” are really renewable energy sceptics at heart, who so despair of the incessant propaganda hype for wind and solar power that the have mistakenly come to the conclusion that the climate scientists themselves are part of the same scam. If you try to talk to them about climate change, they’d say things like “you trust the IPCC? You believe that CO2 is warming the planet? Really? Well, then tell me how solar PV will provide power at night! Tell me how a wind turbine provides power when there is no wind! It’s all a scam!”

Wind and solar power don’t work when it comes to powering an industrial society — Germany has squandered hundreds of billions of euros on wind and solar, and as result has the second-highest electricity prices in Europe (offshore wind champ Denmark has the highest). And its CO2 emissions have barely even budged. The real success stories when it comes to low CO2 emissions rely on nuclear power (France), hydroelectric power (Norway) or a combination of the two (Sweden, Switzerland).

The real threat to our climate comes not from “climate sceptics” but from anti-nuclear fanatics.

24

JK 07.25.16 at 7:48 am

I think Ron Bailey is a good example, e.g.:

http://reason.com/archives/2006/09/22/confessions-of-an-alleged-exxo

As described in the link he was a skeptic since the 1980s, but the evidence tipped for him in 2005. I think his libertarian outlook has been pretty much unchanged but he did start calling for action, including (I believe) a carbon tax implemented by the state.

I think his is a pretty principled position and I would recommend that other climate skeptics consider it closely.

25

Glenn Tamblyn 07.25.16 at 8:14 am

Perhaps we need to distinguish between sceptics and ‘sceptics’. I think a reasonable number of people who were sceptical of AGW can/have been converted. However one is less likely to encounter them because they aren’t motivated to get on-line and loudly proclaim their ‘scepticism’.

A simple test. When have you ever encountered a ‘sceptic’ who, when scratched, didn’t bring other motivations to the discussion – worldview, politics, religion, distrust of the gumnmnt or someone, defense of lifestyle/working life, etc. etc

Anyone ever met a pure sceptic?

26

ZM 07.25.16 at 9:08 am

I think what John Quiggin is calling “climate scepticism” is in the majority of cases not scepticism of the science. I don’t think many people are scientifically educated enough to be able to be sceptical of the complex science involved. And it is a small proportion of people who are climate sceptics, with a study finding Australia has the highest number at 17 per cent, followed by Norway at 15%, then New Zealand at 13%, the USA at 12%, and the UK, Sweden and Finland at 10%.
http://www.desmogblog.com/2015/07/07/which-advanced-industrialised-country-has-most-climate-sceptics-answer-isn-t-united-states

I think inaction is maybe a combination of this small proportion of sceptics combined with a bystander effect problem as well.

I used to think microwave ovens were a bit strange and maybe bad for you, but I didn’t really understand the science of microwaves. A friend who has a science background explained how they work to me, with the waves heating up the water molecules and even if you put ceramic dishes in they have water molecules in even though they don’t look like it so the dishes heat up as well. That probably sounds like I’m stupid, but I really didn’t do much science at school.

I think most climate sceptics probably have a pretty hazy idea about the science of climate change. If this was just something like a microwave oven, then they could decide not to purchase a microwave oven and not bother too much about not really understanding all the science involved. But because climate change affects the whole planet, they are in a position where they can’t opt out of the discussion since it is something the whole world is involved in.

For most of us, not being climate scientists, a measure of trust is involved that the scientists are right in their understanding of how the climate works, that they use the best methods to work out conclusions, and that they are truthful.

I think this trust probably requires an objectivist ontological approach where things exist as things in themselves, and an epistemology of positivism or possibly post-positivism where the objective truth can be discovered. You could maybe combine a critical theory approach with one of these if you wanted, since it is descended from Marxist positivism usually.

But over the 20th C there were many arguments in favour of a subjectivist ontological approach where things exist only as they are perceived, and in favour of an epistemology of relativism.

In many ways you could understand post-modernism as the cultural order of subjectivist relativism, and neo-liberalism as the economy that was developed sort of to either accomodate or further this.

I would classify a sceptic as being an objectivist with a post-positivist epistemology, but someone who was subjectivist and relativist would be beyond scepticism in many ways.

This means that you would need another word for someone who is a “climate sceptic” and has a world view that sees things as subjective and relative — I would call this person a “climate relativist”.

But I don’t know if there are many people who are “climate relativists”. These people might mainly be people who are professionally relativist and write newspaper columns or something like Andrew Bolt in Australia. Although I am not sure he would be pleased at me classifying him as a relativist TBH.

I think most people who haven’t accepted climate science do so in a way that is more like me not liking microwave ovens without understanding how they work. There is a lot of misinformation about climate science, and also people are reluctant to believe in climate change sometimes because of the changes needed to mitigate climate change. Not liking the conclusion is not a good reason to reject research, but people do this sometimes.

I read an article that adapted a 1970s psychology paper about why some people help in emergencies to the climate change context, and one factor that is very important in why people help in emergencies is knowing how they can help.

If they don’t know how to help, then they might either decide it isn’t an emergency situation and walk away, or they might be stuck like a bystander not knowing what to do.

If people find themselves facing the climate change situation and being told there is no solution or they are not getting information about what they can do, then they may be inclined to treat the situation like it isn’t an emergency — i.e. become a “climate sceptic” — or they might feel helpless and not know what to do and become a bystander.

The article said climate change is a more complex emergency than the emergencies the 1970s paper dealt with, because it is a collective action problem. In this case it is better to combine taking individual action where you can, with taking collective political actions as well.

Another factor is that people often don’t like to make changes if they think it will make them worse off, so they need to be able to see that the actions to mitigate climate change will be positive and make them and their children and grandchildren better off instead of worse off.

If you concentrate only on the science and the negative effects of climate change to encourage people to take action on climate change, this won’t always be enough to inspire people to want to make the changes needed, without seeing a positive future they are more likely to return to the position of either deciding climate change isn’t an emergency and being a “sceptic”, or feeling helpless and being a bystander.

27

ZM 07.25.16 at 9:13 am

derrida derider,

“Oh that’s just tribalism Jason – we all tend to believe anyone not of our tribe is feebleminded.”

I think it is a real problem that climate change gets seen in this way. I’m not saying that is what you are supporting with your comment, but just generally, climate change can’t be seen as a left/right issue, both the impacts of climate change and the actions needed to mitigate climate change will affect everyone.

28

Frederick 07.25.16 at 9:40 am

It seems to me that this reference sums up the situation that we are in re the turtles-all-the-way-down affects of humanly created climate change
http://www.flassbeck-economics.com/how-climate-change-is-rapidly-taking-the-planet-apart
The section on the little known massive out of control fires in Siberia is quite disturbing.

29

P O'Neill 07.25.16 at 9:48 am

Richard Tol is an interesting although difficult to categorise example of a sceptic who seems to have become less sceptic over the years. But his arguments tend to focus more on adaptation issues.

30

Peter Erwin 07.25.16 at 10:18 am

Well, the second article you linked to actually says

Bjorn Lomborg is another high-profile climate sceptic who changed his mind after reviewing the evidence. He now believes climate change is real, but that it won’t be the calamity predicted by some. Other converts include conservative radio hosts, ex-politicians, current politicians (Tony “absolute crap” Abbott), journalists and publishers. See here and here.

The first link is to an article titled “6 global warming skeptics who changed their minds”, which lists (among others) Lomborg, Michael Shermer (“Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.”), Gregg Easterbrook (“Based on the data I’m now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.”), and a Weather Channel meteorologist (“When it comes to skepticism about AGW, you could say I have street cred,” but “it could be said that I ‘converted’ and became a ‘believer.'”)

The second link is to an article titled “Do Climate Skeptics Change Their Minds?” (with the subtitle “Yes, but not often”), about talk-show host D.R. Tucker (“Tucker told readers how he came to question the ideologies of the climate debate, examine the science, and conclude that global warming was, in fact, very real.”)

So that’s about seven or so right there.

31

Lee A. Arnold 07.25.16 at 10:24 am

You might point out that the causes of the ENSO are not fully understood. We may find out that they are partly or fully rooted in the climatological. Nor do we know whether the ENSO’s peaks (both up and down) are exacerbated by the accelerated climate change.

32

BenK 07.25.16 at 11:45 am

I’m perhaps the closest to a climate skeptic in the way you describe, and yet I’ve never believed what you suggest a climate skeptic would believe. I am a scientist in complex systems and my simple belief is that when parameters pass outside the sampled parameter space (for complex systems), adequate predictions become nearly impossible.

Is CO2 high? Yes. Anthropogenic? Yes. Warm years, in some energy trapped in the atmosphere sense? Sort of – but the oceans also have a big role to play, which is widely recognized and poorly understood. Will it get uniformly warmer everywhere? I don’t think anybody says that (thus, no more ‘global warming’ – just ‘climate change’). Will this change push the climate to a greater extreme than ever seen without anthropogenic influence? Perhaps along some dimensions in high dimensional space, but not along others. Will some locations become less habitable as a result? Sure. But other locations would have suffered under other regimes of change.

Do we know what is really going to happen (if we continue to combust everything we can find? if we stop? if we sequester carbon in rocks?)? No, not really, though we have a better chance at predicting things (not necessarily good things) if we are within familiar parameter space (which we left a long time ago, didn’t really understand even then, and can’t return to in any meaningful way).

Many people are justifying questionable economics and politics by virtue of addressing a climate emergency. There’s the rub.

33

Marc 07.25.16 at 11:51 am

@29: Oddly enough, the random behavior of large numbers of particles is extremely predictable; this is the foundation of thermodynamics. “If we push the climate system out of normal bounds, who knows what would happen?” doesn’t strike me as remotely conservative or serious. More to the point, it’s nonsense. We have the paleoclimate record telling us what happens when CO2 rises too much – the glaciers melt, at levels below what we are at now. Maybe we’ll be lucky and it’ll be slow. Maybe not.

What’s truly infuriating is that we’re being asked to properly account for the true costs of fossil fuel burning. A ten percent chance of catastrophe is a huge cost. Mitigating rising sea levels in cities is a huge cost. If you admit the possibility that climate change can induce massive costs, and there is a great deal of evidence and logic behind that, then you are not justifying “questionable economics”. Questionable economics is dumping things in the air without any regard for the generations-long consequences.

34

Tim Worstall 07.25.16 at 12:01 pm

In certain circles you would be called a climate skeptic John. for you state that AGW exists and could be a problem. And that CAGW could exist but is pretty easy to solve, a decent carbon tax would do it.

I would go a little further – that A1FI, or RCP 8.5, is simply never going to happen given that we’ve already done about coal and solar.

But that would make both of us climate skeptics to some, given that we’re not screaming that we’ve totes got to abolish neoliberal globalisation to deal with it.

Maybe we don’t think Naomi Klein is mainstream but that is roughly what she’s saying.

35

faustusnotes 07.25.16 at 12:06 pm

Oh God the denialists got here fast didn’t they? Reciting their usual misdirection and tired talking points like “now they call it climate change” and “CAGW.”

BenK, two questions for you: what does IPCC stand for and when was it formed? That should answer your silliness about “now they call it climate change”.

36

ZM 07.25.16 at 12:07 pm

BenK,

“I am a scientist in complex systems and my simple belief is that when parameters pass outside the sampled parameter space (for complex systems), adequate predictions become nearly impossible.”

Your position seems quite unusual for a scientist to me. I was wondering what sort of complex systems do you study? I brought up above the different sort of ontological and epistemological frameworks that are most commonly used in universities, I think these influence people’s views, but often unless you are reading someone’s paper that spells this sort of thing out, it can be difficult to know what people think at this underlying level.

I think some sort of WW2 style mobilisation to mitigate climate change would be really important, that was why I was interested in the article about why people help in emergencies, but you have said “Many people are justifying questionable economics and politics by virtue of addressing a climate emergency. There’s the rub.”

Maybe your negative views about the economic and political policies you are labelling “questionable” contributes to you reaching a conclusion that climate change isn’t an emergency? If you were happier with the political and economic policies being suggested, then you would have fewer objections about climate change?

37

awy 07.25.16 at 1:19 pm

this kind of argument is really saying, do rational climate skeptics exist.

we’ve seen irrationality in resisting scientific consensus all around, from both left and right quarters.

38

Brett Dunbar 07.25.16 at 1:19 pm

We’ve known about the basic atmospheric effect of CO2 since the 1860s since then we have added about 40% more on top of what was already a concentration near the top end of the range for the last 400,000 years. We can use ice cores to directly measure prehistoric levels. Under the circumstances not having AGW would be extremely surprising.

39

Retaliated Donor 07.25.16 at 1:34 pm

Here in the great state of North Carolina we have a TV weatherman, Greg Fishel, who crossed over last fall. Good for him, I suppose. http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/greg-fishel-was-once-a-limbaugh-loving-climate-skeptic-now-hes-fighting-global-warming/Content?oid=4830678

40

Rich Puchalsky 07.25.16 at 1:50 pm

I can’t stand reformed skeptics, personally. I know that it’s good for the polity that they exist but they are deeply stupid people who should have changed their minds decades ago and who by their intransigence may have helped to doom millions to death. It’s like having ex-military change their minds and speak up about how bad the junta was after the junta has fallen.

41

Lee A. Arnold 07.25.16 at 1:55 pm

BenK #29: “adequate predictions become nearly impossible… push the climate to a greater extreme than ever seen without anthropogenic influence?… justifying questionable economics”

You don’t have to “push the climate to a greater extreme than ever seen without anthropogenic influence”. You could end civilization with a sudden extreme that was frequent before the rise of agriculture.

Arctic ice is receding faster than predicted. If the adjacent permafrost ringing the Arctic suddenly degasses methane, we could have a heat spike that destroys most of life on Earth.

This may have been a relatively frequent occurrence before the rise of agricultural civilization. The evidence of “Dansgaard-Oeschger events” (look it up in Wikipedia) suggests that Earth’s temperature can swing as much as 10 degrees Celsius in a decade or so. That is around 18 degrees Fahrenheit. We don’t know what caused them.

For all we know? Quicker, sharper, shorter heat-spikes may be possible which are devastating to most life. And we wouldn’t see the previous evidence, because we wouldn’t necessarily have fossil evidence of the die-backs. Why?

Because just enough of each species might survive in accidental refuges to emerge and to repopulate the planet after a year or two, or ten. Gaseous atmospheric methane decomposes quickly, while at the same time the accelerated forest fires would cause subsequent surface cooling by smoke-darkened skies.

Therefore the biosphere would go back to “normal”, but with the plant and animal populations reduced by 90% or more. Yet they would repopulate quickly enough to hide the biological effects of these events from the fossil records, which are poorly resolved. (Some fossil records which are more finely resolved, such as pollen counts in dried lake beds, do indeed show sudden disappearance of pollen for a year or two, without explanation.)

We don’t know what caused the D-O kinds of events, and therefore, we don’t know whether many things can cause them, and we don’t know whether we can trip ourselves into a D-O event, anthropogenically.

I think we ought to consider the possibility that the rise of human agricultural civilization occurred during a quiescent period, and we have taken this anomaly to be the norm. In reality, climate can normally be violent and deleterious to earth life.

What’s new is our global dependence upon agriculture. A sudden disruption of agriculture would cause mayhem and destroy civilization. So far as I know, no nation maintains food reserves.

42

RichieRich 07.25.16 at 1:55 pm

How is “climate sceptic” being defined? The consensus position seems to be that the most likely value of climate sensitivity is 3C. But there are plenty of folk who argue that the most likely value is around 1.5 or 2C. Does this make them sceptics? Or is a sceptic someone who thinks sensitivity is zero? If the latter, then they’ll be pretty thin on the ground.

43

Lee A. Arnold 07.25.16 at 1:57 pm

As to the assertion of “questionable economics”, complex systems scientists should stop repeating this meme. The economy is lots more resilient to change than the climate, and the economics models are very poor by comparison to climatology.

44

reason 07.25.16 at 3:06 pm

RNB @15
“The stock/flow distinction” – I think you can generalise this to a problem with derivatives of all kinds. There also seems a lot of confusion when people talk about inflation between price level (i.e once of changes via indirect tax rates or terms of trade), inflation and acceleration of inflation.

45

Sandwichman 07.25.16 at 3:18 pm

BenK “Many people are justifying questionable economics and politics by virtue of addressing a climate emergency.”

This is true. I advocated questionable economic policies before I became aware of their suitability for addressing climate change and now justify those policies, in part, by pointing to their climate appropriateness. It is my conviction that most of the questions have been addressed.

On the other hand are the unquestionable economics and politics embraced by many climate skeptics but also by some who accept the science but not the implications. Historically, what are now unquestionable economics and politics were once questionable. You might say all economics and politics are historical. As I mentioned previously, international coordination of economic growth targeting was not always above questioning.

It was a liberal Democrat president who made growth a panacea. “What have you done for growth today?” Perhaps that explains why many liberals are ambivalent about climate change and hope for an ecological modernization miracle of Green Growth. It doesn’t explain why self-styled conservatives (or market liberals) passionately embrace Soviet-style economic growth targeting on a global scale. Other than “The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

46

Jim Harrison 07.25.16 at 3:56 pm

Ancient skeptics feared that we can’t know anything. Modern skeptics fear that we can. The climate denialists don’t want to accept the political implications of climate change so they set up an impossibly high standard of evidence in an attempt to save the intellectual respectability of their position. Which is also why creationists end up citing Karl Popper and Feyerabend as if they actually gave a damn about the philosophy of science, much as some Renaissance Christian apologists repurposed ancient skepticism to defend the Faith.

47

Yankee 07.25.16 at 4:11 pm

“Not worth it” … Achieving 2% inflation, present value of anything would be about indistinguishable from zero after even one thousand years. already down by more than 80% by the turn of the century. Yet such modest inflation is considered essential for the basic health of our present arrangements. So it can’t possibly be a sound investment to do the climate-control work; it isn’t just a problem of the “apres moi” of the 1%.

48

Hidari 07.25.16 at 4:17 pm

49

bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 4:20 pm

Lee A. Arnold: The evidence of “Dansgaard-Oeschger events” (look it up in Wikipedia) suggests that Earth’s temperature can swing as much as 10 degrees Celsius in a decade or so. That is around 18 degrees Fahrenheit. We don’t know what caused them.

I did look it up as instructed. (I was previously aware of Heinrich events and D-O / Bond events.) The evidence seems to be that in D-O events temperatures in Greenland can be elevated fairly quickly over a period like a decade, but the apparent global effect is far more muted. “For example, about 11,500 years ago, averaged annual temperatures on the Greenland ice sheet warmed by around 8 °C over 40 years, in three steps of five years” and “The pattern in the Southern Hemisphere is different, with slow warming and much smaller temperature fluctuations. ” are direct quotes from Wikipedia.

To me, you make it sound as if D-O events could have been practical near-mass-extinction events on a global scale and the Wikipedia entry doesn’t give that impression at all. Wikipedia makes it sound like D-O and Bond events are pieces of the jigsaw of climate-affecting oscillation processes gradually emerging from advancing climate science.

50

Ed 07.25.16 at 5:32 pm

“What I think is going to be the largest barrier to action going forward isn’t so much denialism as just the inertia of business as usual and entrenched interest.”

This is a very good thread overall and I have learned something from it, but I wanted to highlight this Rich Puchalsky comment.

There is a tendency on academic/ intellectual blogs to overstate the influence of intellectuals. That carbon emissions caused by the operations of industrial economies is changing the climate for the worse, and that something has to be done about it, has been accepted, at least in public, by the great and the good for decades now, at least since Margaret Thatcher began speaking about the issue in the late 1980s.

That nothing has been done about it simply can’t be blamed on a few cranks in English speaking countries insisting that “the science is uncertain”, when they don’t state outright that the whole thing is a hoax. The only crank to actually get into a position of power anywhere has been Tony Abbott, and he was replaced quickly by a politician who took the opposite view, and who has apparently changed his mind anyway. Maybe you can add Stephen Harper to the list, but again he is out of power and does anyone really think that Stephen Harper is the reason carbon emissions keep increasing?

Its actually correct that a consensus does accept the basic science, when you look at things internationally. Even the government of the People’s Republic of China claims to be taking the problem seriously and doing something about it. The interesting question is not why some people question the consensus. The interesting question is why there has been so little progress despite there being a consensus.

51

Ed 07.25.16 at 5:43 pm

To get more on topic, though I don’t think the importance of climate change disbelief or whatever has been exaggerated, I will speculate on the sources:

1. A quite cynical public relations campaign financed by the heavier polluting industries, led by people who no doubt private agree with the climate change science but prefer to keep making lots of money.

2. General distrust of scientists and the consensus of scientists. This has gotten the most play in the US, since American culture is anti-intellectual generally. But the scientific consensus has turned out to be flatly wrong repeatedly, most recently and obviously on nutrition. Of course, this usually happens due to the corrupting influence of money and religion, which in this instance is working for the other side.

3. Distrust of elites and international organizations and their pronouncements. I will add that this is usually quite justified.

4. In the US, believing climate change is a hoax has become a part of IDpol in the Republican Party. One related point that no one in my knowledge has brought up is that of the two US political parties, the Republican Party has proven to be much more sensitive to pressure from its activists and grass-roots. Supposing the situation was reversed and Republican activists were relentlessly pushing their pols towards a green agenda! This isn’t as ridiculous as a seems at first because historically there has been no consistency at all on the positions American political parties have been associated with. Its no accident, as the Commies used say, that climate change denial has been pushed in the more populist of the two parties.

5. The fact that the whole subject is really depressing, and the point where something could be done to prevent the destruction of, well, most if not all life on Earth was passed just when people started realizing climate change was a problem is really depressing. People just don’t want to deal with depressing stuff. I’ve noticed that climate change bloggers tend to flame out or to go into their own versions of denial.

While the basic mechanics of climate change produced by carbon emissions are pretty easy to grasp, and in fact were pointed out at the beginning of the industrial revolution, the details of how this will play out actually are fuzzy, since nothing like this has happened in recorded human history.

52

Loki 07.25.16 at 5:53 pm

Ze K @ 25 yes, I agree. The climate skeptics I come across are deeply suspicious of science in general, and view scientists as being just another bunch of arrogant condescending elites who are in the pocket of whoever is paying the the grants. The problem isn’t a lack of scientific evidence, but widely held views that assume that science is another means by which the powerful impose their will.

Rather than quoting statistics, scientists would better emphasize their independence and dedication to truth so as to establish themselves as trustworthy.

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Jim Harrison 07.25.16 at 6:04 pm

In re Ed’s remark,” the details of how this will play out actually are fuzzy, since nothing like this has happened in recorded human history.” That’s not quite true. We have historical and archeological evidence of the human response to earlier climate swings. Geoffrey Parker (the historian of the military revolution) recently published a huge tome, Global Crisis, on the cold period of the 17th and 18th Century, which he tied to a rash of state failures and also the rise of political absolutism. The cold snap was apparently about the same magnitude, a couple of degrees Celsius, that we’re facing now with the signs revered (assuming things don’t really get out of hand, which is a distinct possibility). Parker’s account impressed me because the epidemic of troubles he described are familiar from other historical sociology books such as Jack Goldstone’s that try to find other underlying causes for the synchronized disasters (Fall of the Ming, Russian Time of Troubles, 30-year’s war, English Civil War, the rise of the Shogunate etc.).

Without going all Hari Seldon here, I do think that the historical record gives us some clues as to the probable human response to climate change. The states that don’t dissolve into anarchy become much more centralized and authoritarian to cope with the emergency.

54

Bernard Yomtov 07.25.16 at 6:09 pm

Yankee @44,

I don’t understand your point. Could you clarify?

Thanks.

55

Lee A. Arnold 07.25.16 at 6:10 pm

Bruce Wilder #46: “To me, you make it sound as if D-O events could have been practical near-mass-extinction events on a global scale”

D-O events specifically were hemispheric. Not sure how you would rule out near-mass-extinctions in the northern hemisphere.

And are D-O events the only kind of short, sharp event? Are global ones possible, and would we know about them? Not sure how you could decide that, either.

Also not sure that we should characterize 8 °C over 40 years as “muted”.

Melting the permafrost sounds like a possible way to find out, perhaps in only a few decades from now.

Maybe there have been lots and lots of near-mass-extinction events, and none of them have shown up in the fossil record.

56

robotslave 07.25.16 at 6:22 pm

@47

That carbon emissions caused by the operations of industrial economies is changing the climate for the worse, and that something has to be done about it, has been accepted, at least in public, by the great and the good for decades now

I’m not sure which “public” you’re referring to there, but the vast majority of the world’s population is on the outside looking in at the living standards enjoyed by those who live in the comfort made possible by intensive industrialization.

That vast majority of the world’s population wants some of that comfort and luxury for themselves far more than they want to deny it to anyone else. And this desire is in direct conflict with climate change mitigation on many fronts.

I’m all in favor of doing radical things in wealthy parts of the world to mitigate climate change, but I am a lot less enthusiastic about telling the rest of the planet “you know what, your current contribution to warming is minimal, so how about you keep living just the way you do now.”

57

bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 6:59 pm

Lee A. Arnold: . . . not sure that we should characterize 8 °C over 40 years as “muted”.

8 °C in Greenland, or even across its shared latitude thruout the northern hemisphere if that happened, could still be “muted” globally: as we know from our current experience, very large temperature changes in Greenland can correspond with changes of much smaller average magnitude globally. 8 °C in Greenland isn’t 8 °C in global average.

58

Omega Centauri 07.25.16 at 7:28 pm

One issue with misunderstanding the stocks versus flows thing, is that the realworld case is mixed. Speeking of CO2, there are other reservoirs other than the atmopshere for it in the earth system, and equilibartion times vary from months to centuruies and beyond. So if we stopping emissions, there would be some fallback of atmospheric concentrations (stocks), but after as time passed the
rate to decline would decrease, so even at longish time scales (500-1000 years), it is partially a stocks problem, but also substantially a flows problem.

As far as the important opinions (which determines our collective response), are strongly afected by the effects Loki states.

I certainly know quite a few who have the math/science chops to understand the issue, but who have severe blinders due to political-tribal identities. Even among those contributing to the literature, we have the likes of Judith Curry, whose studies always seem to be motivated by an unshakable belief that this time she will prove its all a hoax. She never seems to change her tune, even after many studies where she admits she has failed. So there does seem to be a core of people who are at least fluent enough with the ways of science that they can get “climate” studies published in at least semi-legitimate journals, who just cannot seem to accept the evidence.

59

cassander 07.25.16 at 7:39 pm

>Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis.

Why would you do this when the warming has been much below that predicted by the hypothesis? Hell, even the James Hansen claimed as much. Even if you don’t doubt the basic truth of the model, you have to at least doubt the predictive power of the modelers.

>I can only recall one instance of someone described as a “sceptic” changing their view in the light of the evidence.

When’s the last time you changed your mind as a result of the evidence? It’s not something people do very often.

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cassander 07.25.16 at 7:52 pm

@Tom West 07.25.16 at 1:59 am

> Without exception, the skeptics that I have tried to corner who were amenable to reason fell back to what I suspect was their base justification: the economic sacrifice and damage that attacking climate change would incur is not worth the small chance of successful mitigation.

There’s no falling back necessary here. This is a perfectly logical position.

@ZM

>I think it is a real problem that climate change gets seen in this way. I’m not saying that is what you are supporting with your comment, but just generally, climate change can’t be seen as a left/right issue, both the impacts of climate change and the actions needed to mitigate climate change will affect everyone.

If you want climate to not be treated as a left/right issue, then you need to get the left to stop using it as an excuse to do a bunch of things they wanted to do anyway. They’re no better in this regard than people who use terrorism as a justification for why they wanted to build a border wall.

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bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 8:01 pm

Lee A Arnold: Not sure how you would rule out near-mass-extinctions in the northern hemisphere.

If a species was reduced to a small refuge population for even a very few generations, it would show up in the gene pool as a diversity bottleneck. That has happened, of course. We know it happened to the woolly mammoth at least once prior to its final extinction, just to take an example of a species emblematic of the ice ages.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.25.16 at 8:33 pm

The AR5, p. 433-434, reports there is reconstructed evidence that sea surface temperatures rose up to 5 °C during D-O events. No evidence is given there on land surface temperature, but I think that sea and land temperature changes are presumed to run closely in concert. Of course even 5 °C is in the vicinity of, “Armageddon outta here!” There have been dozens of papers on abrupt paleoclimatological change in the paywalled journals since the AR5 (2013).

63

bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 8:56 pm

The bathtub analogy to convey the basic intuition of stocks and flows is useful, I suppose, as a training device. It says something — I am NOT sure what — about science and education, that people who can do calculus do not necessarily readily grasp that the bathtub will continue to fill as the flow in thru the tap exceeds the flow out thru the drain. Just reducing the flow in will not stabilise the stock until the flow in is low enough to match the rate of drain.

The bathtub analogy improves intuition, but does not perfect it. There’s no drain, just sinks — so bathtubs all the way down, I guess.

Also, while the bathtub fills rather smoothly, in real life, in terms of the effects on climate and ecological systems, it is if a three-year-old is in the tub sloshing the water around with increasing vigor. The tub isn’t going to fill steadily, but uneventfully toward a smooth cascade as its level finally finds the ultimate drain by going over the rim.

There is no rim, limiting our folly. Our drain is into the sinks of the global carbon cycle. Our drain will back up and the carbon cycle will push more out the tap, even after we try to close the valve. The effect on ocean chemistry, particularly acidity, may be more profoundly catastrophic ecologically than the effects of atmospheric temperature.

The rising level of CO2 does not correspond to a smoothly rising global temperature: instead, the immediate effect is often increasing variation, increasing extremes, increasing chaos. More and bigger floods, greater drought. Fewer hurricanes for a time, than bigger and more frequent storms for a time. One threat to Europe is being frozen by a slowing of the Gulf Stream.

That we do not have a clear and shared intuition on the climate science, though, may be less important politically than that we do not have a good, shared intuition on the economics.

64

bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 9:41 pm

Ed: The interesting question is why there has been so little progress despite there being a consensus.

I’ve thinking about this in relation to the parallel example Peter T gave @ 19 of failure to anticipate and prepare for WWII:

Refusal to believe that the German elite would accept the risks of another great war was behind much British, French and Soviet policy of the 20s and 30s, and was not abandoned by substantial sections of opinion until after the war had started. Some things are so unwelcome that almost anything else will be grasped with eagerness.

I wade into this example with more than a little trepidation since on another current thread people are arguing Trump = Hitler and I don’t want them coming over here. ;-)

“Refusal to believe” seems to define the problem as incredulousness, but I think it would be more accurate — and makes the case for a useful parallel clearer — if we see that the problem was ambivalence and the usual chaos of political competition between rival coalitions, ideas and interest: if you like, the kinds of political tribalism that naturally arise from human ambivalence and political conflicts of interest within political economies and between societies.

The basic problem of WWII — what made mass consensus on the possibility of war and the need to prepare so important — was that the evolution of industrial capability had made possible what the Germans called blitzkrieg, very rapid and decisive movements over great distances, provided sufficient advanced preparation and mobilization of industrial capacity.

Once a war had started, of course, national consensus was galvanized, but the lead-time on effective industrial mobilization was months stretching into years, so in a war against an already fully mobilized enemy, waiting for an act of war to galvanize a political consensus could be too little, too late, as it proved to be for France and Poland.

Ironically for Peter T’s thesis, realistic fear of German aggression was abundantly available in 1930s France and Poland. It wasn’t enough.

The cacophony of political ambivalence in France where a reactionary rump continued in control of the military and much of the left was torn between its traditional anti-militarism and hostility to the rise of fascism in neighboring Spain, Italy and Germany, revolved around a sense of betrayal and hopeless isolation, as doubts rose about the possibility of alliance or support from Britain, from the Little Entente countries in Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union or the U.S.

The remarkably wrong-headed strategy that France famously invested deeply in — the Maginot Line — demonstrated that the problem was not that France did not realistically fear German aggression; France was willing to make a large effort. The problem was that its politics, domestic and foreign, could find no feasible response capable of meeting the threat.

In the U.S., FDR was far-sighted even if his countrymen, by and large, were complacent. How the President managed the U.S. response strategically and found politically creative ways to devise institutional responses and build the political institutions and consensus for full industrial mobilization is remarkable. Right up to Pearl Harbor, the urgency of the need penetrated popular consciousness only very imperfectly, even after the war in Europe dominated the headlines. The weakness of the Republican Party, discredited by the Depression, made it possible for FDR to make good use of carefully selected Republicans as spokesmen for internationalism and war preparation.

In retrospect, we can make the story of the 1930s one of incredulousness, because the coming of war created a moment when powerful leadership could conjure not just consensus but a genuine solidarity that included key elements of the elite.

I don’t know that Mother Nature would be kind enough to provide a Battle of Britain or a Pearl Harbor or a siege of Stalingrad or Leningrad.

We have to navigate with a consciousness of interest fully intact. The science geek at Reason magazine may be willing to concede the science, but he’s still going to want to solve the tragedy of the commons with a re-enactment of the tragedy of enclosure.

The capitalists are going to want to use their wealth to adapt more than to mitigate by constraint, especially if mitigation by constraint in any way diminishes their wealth.

In the end the hockey stick graph that is biting us is the one that records population growth.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population#/media/File:World-Population-1800-2100.svg

65

Trader Joe 07.25.16 at 9:56 pm

@61
Further to your points, is part of the problem that people simply don’t know what to ask for or demand from their leadership? In the case of WWII the leadership of the various allied forces acted as though they believed ‘peace’ was what they wanted. This morphed into containment and then finally, when in fact there was no alternative, capitulation and/or resistance depending upon which chunk of Europe you’re talking about.

Part of the parallel to climate change is, in my opinion, not knowing really what to ask for. Do I want taxes? Do I want renewable? Do I want to public transport? What should I be willing to sacrifice for these? As noted above, consensus about the threat isn’t the same as consensus about the solution.

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Teachable Moe 07.25.16 at 10:25 pm

Miami streets are being flooded during king tides. No boost from a storm needed. Regular flooding. The predicted “ocean rising up to take away our cities” has started.

Exactly how much honest skepticism about AGW really exists? None.

67

Faustusnotes 07.25.16 at 10:27 pm

Cassandra, you need better sources. That first graph you linked to is a thoroughly discredited joke. As for the pause … Do keep up, the current “skeptic” argument is that it’s all El Niños fault, the pause is very 2014.

The climate sensitivity skeptics are just being dishonest – there’s no historical evidence of a sensitivity that low and to get it they have to play fast and loose with Bayesian stats. There are also not “plenty” of them, just three from a denialist organization.

Cassandra is a good example of how the majority of skeptics have reacted to unprecedented warmth – shifting the goalposts. They won’t change, but they are being increasingly ignored. Today stern released a report showing China’s coal use began to decline in 2014. They’ve lost, now it’s just a matter of coming to terms with it, so watch as their arguments get ever more desperate and pathetic.

They are without a doubt the most heinous and irresponsible intellectual movement of our age. It will be nice when they finally slide out of view…

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bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 10:46 pm

is part of the problem that people simply don’t know what to ask for or demand from their leadership?

Sure. There’s a certain moral clarity about a war for national survival where the integrity and solidarity of the leadership is never in question. The complexity and ambiguity of operational choices does not have to be investigated. If mistakes are made, they are mistakes.

We’re unlikely to have that with the response to global resource limits.

And, we shouldn’t want the totalitarianism of mass and industrial mobilization for war anyway. Various people for various good and sundry reasons will not want to hand power to a multifarious global authority, even if it were possible to negotiate the division of costs and benefits.

We need some political inventiveness. Economically, we need some kind of global constraint, but one that leaves us free to be our diverse and ambivalent selves, working out our various ambitions, even while it informs both radically decentralized efforts the inevitable centralized coordinating decisions (you know, like transportation planning or food production and distribution) of various countries and regions.

I thought James Hansen was trying to do that with his suggestion of that a 2°C threshold be a policy target. McKibben tried to rally around 350 ppm CO2. And, the IPCC seems in its constipated way to be pinning some hope on 450 ppm (after projected overshoot, of course, because why hold any line?) Of course, the science doesn’t confirm that there is such a threshold. But, we need something like that. If we are too respectful of the actual science to take it as dictation from the Oracle of Science, so much the worse for us.

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Trader Joe 07.25.16 at 11:36 pm

“We’re unlikely to have that with the response to global resource limits.”

I agree.

We’re also unlikely to have the proverbial ‘bloody shirt’ where people can stand in the street and chant “450 ppm matters” or some other simple to say slogan that lends itself to t-shirts and sound-bites and in its own way informs the citizenry that a) something is happening that demands a response and b) is suggestive of a response.

Maybe the flooding of Miami or some similar metropolis would motivate that location, but more likely than not it would be a ‘those poor people in Ferguson’ moment unless it became more widespread.

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John Quiggin 07.25.16 at 11:41 pm

Cassander @57 I was counting on you and you didn’t disappoint. BenK, close but no cigar.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.25.16 at 11:53 pm

Trader Joe: “Maybe the flooding of Miami or some similar metropolis would motivate that location, but more likely than not it would be a ‘those poor people in Ferguson’ moment unless it became more widespread.”

Didn’t we already have a “black people in New Orleans” moment? Katrina proved that the response to weather disaster wouldn’t be to galvanize the public to demand action, not when the response could so easily instead go down familiar channels.

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alfredlordbleep 07.26.16 at 12:11 am

. . . so in a war against an already fully mobilized enemy, waiting for an act of war to galvanize a political consensus could be too little, too late, as it proved to be for France and Poland. BW ~@61

FWIW Albert Speer claimed Germany wasn’t fully mobilized until ’44 (related: there are others sources that aver that Hitler didn’t plan a long war).

73

Lord 07.26.16 at 12:20 am

The Onion doesn’t quite do them justice though. There are those who believe the world is what they believe it to be, and can be made so if only they believe it enough. That their belief can be sufficient to make it so. There is a large overlap between them and those who feel it is about feeling. Not feeling it so makes it (not) so. It is a world of feeling and feelings are all that matters.

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Chris G 07.26.16 at 12:23 am

1) Muller is the only well-known skeptic I can think of who changed his mind. I considered Lindzen a serious skeptic in that his “adaptive iris” theory was plausible but he doesn’t appear to have gotten any less skeptical even though it hasn’t held up.

2) “Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis.”

Indeed. Consider two (reductionist) hypotheses…
H0 = CO2 emissions from human activity aren’t causing the planet to warm
H1 = CO2 emissions from human activity are causing the planet to warm

If you’re a serious skeptic then what you should be trying to do is calculate Pr(H1|data)/Pr(H0|data).

3) Re Item #2, check out the Climate Model Hindcast figure towards the bottom of this page – http://blogs.agu.org/wildwildscience/2009/04/09/weather-climate-models-trust-me-this-is-interesting/

4) Eli Rabett noted recently that science is characterized by “consistency, consensus and consilience”. Texas A&M prof Andrew Dessler speaks to consistency and consilience (coherence) in a debate with Lindzen here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9Sh1B-rV60&feature=youtu.be

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cassander 07.26.16 at 12:52 am

@Faustusnotes 07.25.16 at 10:27 pm

>Cassandra, you need better sources. That first graph you linked to is a thoroughly discredited joke. As for the pause … Do keep up, the current “skeptic” argument is that it’s all El Niños fault, the pause is very 2014.

One, I never claimed to be a skeptic. Two, is Hanson a joke? Because he says the same thing as the chart, so if you’re going to condemn, it’s both or neither. Three, the fact that other people are not being rigorous in their arguments does not mean that you don’t have to be. Warming slowed or stopped for a decade or more. This was something that essentially none of the models predicted. Forgive me for not wanting to spend trillions of dollars on the argument of models that have been demonstrably wrong.

@alfredlordbleep 07.26.16 at 12:11 am

>FWIW Albert Speer claimed Germany wasn’t fully mobilized until ’44 (related: there are others sources that aver that Hitler didn’t plan a long war).

Speer was basically lying. Speer came into office at exactly the right time to benefit from a “miracle” that was really the result of investments that were made in 39-41 vis-vis factories coming online, kinks getting worked out of designs, etc. The german economy was very mobilized throughout the war, thought the emphasis of that mobilization shifted over time.

@Lord 07.26.16 at 12:20 am

>The Onion doesn’t quite do them justice though. There are those who believe the world is what they believe it to be, and can be made so if only they believe it enough. That their belief can be sufficient to make it so. There is a large overlap between them and those who feel it is about feeling. Not feeling it so makes it (not) so. It is a world of feeling and feelings are all that matters.

Funny, that’s what we on the right say about the left.

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faustusnotes 07.26.16 at 1:23 am

Cassander (sorry for calling you Cassandra, autocorrect hates you). The first graph is a joke because a) it doesn’t have a common baseline, b) it doesn’t specify which satellite datasets it uses (but likely uses UAH that is now discredited due to orbital decay and super-dodgy adjustments), c) it doesn’t specify the forcing used in the model runs (likely they are forcings from 2005 that need to be updated), d) it doesn’t specify the models used, e) it compares predicted surface temperatures (models) with troposphere temperatures (radiosondes and probably the satellite datasets), e) it doesn’t specify where the data is from. What you’re linking to there is literally a joke. But you knew that, right?

The Hansen paper is more serious, of course. It stops in 2013, and it doesn’t say what you think it says. The “pause” was a statistical anomaly, nothing more, and is now in the past. But by all means, if you think that analyzing short term trends of less than 5-10 years is a valid form of scientific inquiry, you must be just itching to get into a discussion of how to prevent the current runaway warming. Funny how none of the skeptic sites you used to get that joke figure from are suddenly worried about the anti-pause. Why do you think that might be?

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Chris G 07.26.16 at 1:35 am

How accurately do the skeptics’ preferred climate models capture historical data? How do hindcasts with those models compare with those from models favored by the believer community?

Spend a couple hours with IPCC reports and/or Google Scholar and you can dig up a lifetime’s worth of reading on the strengths and limitations of standard models. What do the skeptics bring to the table when it comes to climate modeling? If the skeptics had a Hansen we’d read him, no?

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John Quiggin 07.26.16 at 1:36 am

To be clear, I was looking for someone who has changed their mind in the light of the last couple of years of data. But even going over the whole 25 years or so since the IPCC was set up, the number of sceptics willing to be convinced by the data is tiny.

Most of the examples listed @27 and elsewhere don’t actually work. Lomborg has consistently presented himself as a “lukewarmer” (I have no idea what he actually believes), as has Tol. Tony Abbott is not a counterexample. His “absolute crap” comment, in context was something like “You might say it’s absolute crap, and I might agree, but we have to go along with this stuff”. This was entirely consistent with his conduct as PM, notionally accepting climate science, but doing his best to sabotage any action on the issue.

Shermer and some other members of the Skeptic movement (James Randi, I think) did indeed sympathise with self-described climate “sceptics” before realising that they were nothing of the kind. But they were never prominent sceptics.

Ron Bailey is about the best example of a prominent skeptic who has publicly changed his mind. But that was a decade ago, and he has found it just about impossible to convince anyone else on his side of politics. Indeed, this post just about matches the OP, and the comment thread illustrates it

https://reason.com/archives/2015/04/03/what-evidence-would-persuade-you-that-ma

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Chris G 07.26.16 at 2:06 am

Slightly off-topic but couple posts worth reading re climate modeling:

1) Michael Tobis, “Some thoughts on Climate Modeling” – https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/guest-post-some-thoughts-on-scientific-software-in-general-and-climate-modeling-in-particular/

2) G. A. Meehl, et al., “Decadal Climate Prediction: An Update from the Trenches” – http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/BAMS-D-12-00241.1

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Tom Slee 07.26.16 at 2:32 am

Does such a sceptic exist? I haven’t seen one

Well, ten years ago I posted on my blog that I didn’t believe global warming is a big deal, and now I believe it is a big deal. So I guess you’ve seen one. Of course, like pretty much everybody, I am not an active part of the debate, so I doubt that I qualify.

I know enough about science (PhD in chemistry with a lot of computational modelling) to know that I could not make an *independent* opinion based on the evidence and models without immersing myself in it for months or, more likely, years. So what has changed my mind is not evidence, but authority and the increasing drumbeat of consensus opinion. That also is, I think, like pretty much everybody, including some here who are very happy to mock sceptics as feebleminded or mendacious or tribal for their irrationality while maintaining their own devotion to fact-based argument.

But then, I don’t really get what the OP is looking for. If I read it right, JQ is asserting that there are no honest climate change sceptics in the climage change denial movement, which is hardly where one would expect to find them.

(Aside: people here may be interested in a couple of posts by one “Dipper”, late of this parish, starting here http://dorsetdipper.blogspot.ca/2016/06/is-world-warming-pt-i.html. They are written, it seems to me, as honest and genuinely sceptical personal inquiry.)

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faustusnotes 07.26.16 at 2:48 am

Didn’t Abbott announce an inquiry into the health effects of wind farms? So he’s very skeptical and much sciencey.

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Chris G 07.26.16 at 2:56 am

Tom Slee @ 07.26.16 at 2:32 am wrote “… [Posts by Dipper] are written, it seems to me, as honest and genuinely sceptical personal inquiry.”

Reading a couple of those posts invites the question, “How much is the questioner obligated to bring to the table?” When you don’t know and want to learn then ask questions for the purpose of educating yourself. That’s a good thing. That stated, it’s one thing to question for the sake of learning – with the understanding that your knowledge is limited – and it’s yet another to ask questions from the standpoint that because you don’t know then neither does anyone else. There’s an element of the latter in the two posts of Dipper’s I read.

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cassander 07.26.16 at 4:34 am

@The Hansen paper is more serious, of course. It stops in 2013, and it doesn’t say what you think it says. The “pause” was a statistical anomaly, nothing more, and is now in the past.

That remains to be seen. It could be this year that’s the fluke, and the pause era the new normal. We’ll know in 10 years. But in the meantime, all good bayesians should be downgrading their belief in AGW, not upgrading, at least for a few more years.

>But by all means, if you think that analyzing short term trends of less than 5-10 years is a valid form of scientific inquiry, you must be just itching to get into a discussion of how to prevent the current runaway warming.

You mean how dare I look at the empirical evidence? 10 years is not an insignificant timeline when you’re talking about predictions on the scale of 50-100 years, which is precisely what we’re doing. Now, if I saw the slightest bit of humility on your side of the aisle, the merest hint towards admitting that yes we got some things wrong but our new models are better, I’d be much more inclined to take them seriously. But, as you’ve just demonstrated, there’s none of that. The pause was denied, now it is claimed to be old news not worth considering. Nowhere is there anything but religious conviction that your cause is righteous.

As a rule, I don’t give much heed to preachers who promise that I will roast in hell unless I send them money. Their track record is poor.

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faustusnotes 07.26.16 at 4:39 am

No mention of the first, joke plot that you put up as if it were serious? No comment on the multiple egregious errors that indicate it was designed to mislead? Anything to say about what kind of person bandies about deliberately misleading figures posing as scientific evidence? Any reason I should take your opinions seriously if you can’t understand even something as basic as a figure?

10 years may or may not be an insignificant period for looking at physical processes but it is definitely an insignificant period for looking at statistical results, especially in a serially-dependent data set – but you knew that, right, because you’re a good Bayesian, right?

I didn’t say the pause was significant – I simply pointed out to you that your skeptic buddies have dropped it from their rhetoric, and are now pretending that it was never an issue. You need to keep up with the lies you’re being fed if you want to be an effective denialist.

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John Quiggin 07.26.16 at 5:58 am

Cassander isn’t arguing in good faith, but simply putting up talking points in support of a position determined by tribal affiliation (he pretty much admits this @57). By all means knock his points down, but don’t expect anything except more talking points in response.

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GMcK 07.26.16 at 6:23 am

Thankfully, nearly all of the climate change argument is still stuck in first gear. That the global average temperature is increasing due to anthropogenic CO2 is incontrovertible — some people are going to suffer, and slow-adapting ecosystems are going to be badly damaged, but the science is very much unsettled about the regional effects — who’s going to be hit and where and how hard is not so clear.

Everyone in the southern half of the US should know about El Nino and La Nina by now; fewer people pay attention to the Pacific decadal oscillation and the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation. What’s going to happen to them as the global temperature increases is quite uncertain. And then there are the jet streams and ocean currents and the Rossby waves that bring blasts of cold air from Canada down into mid-America in winter — are they simply going to move north or south by a few degrees of latitude or are the loops going to get bigger or are they going to circulate around the planet faster or slower or what? What’s going to happen to the 30-60 day Madden Julian Oscillation? The latest models of tropical storm changes with global temperature that I’ve seen simply leave out the effects of wind shear and dust from the Sahara desert. And then there’s the Atlantic overturning circulation – how will that be affected by all the fresh water from Greenland’s melting icecap? If we lose the Gulf Stream, Europe’s climate becomes like Labrador’s.

“All politics is local” but climate scientists’ models are simply not fine-grained enough (need more exaflops!) to predict local effects that will answer the question “but what does this mean for me?” If you’re snowball-in-the-Senate Jim Inhofe, the fact that some regional predictions show that Oklahoma’s climate is going to be unaffected regardless of what happens elsewhere means that for his his constituents, regulations motivated by climate change are all cost and no benefit, and Inhofe would be opposed to them even if he believed in the global phenomenon.

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derrida derider 07.26.16 at 8:24 am

Yep, Cassander’s syllogism is clearly:
1) If AGW is true, the hippies will be proved right
2) I don’t like hippies
3) Therefore AGW is not true.
Cassander should understand that something can be true even if teh Left says it.

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casmilus 07.26.16 at 9:31 am

“If AGW is true, the hippies will be proved right”

Would they? Actually in the 70s and 80s there were alternative “global warming” and “global freezing” scenarios, and each spawned its own apocalyptic sci-fi. For example, the Doctor Who story “The Ice Warriors”.

Myself, it’s much simpler: when I started at university I was studying chemistry, and one of my tutorial buddies went on to do a PhD in atmospheric science and thence to the UEA department on climate science. I have had conversations over the years about environmental and I am quite confident he is a serious person who changes his views in the light of evidence. In Moorean terms: I have better reason to believe my friend is correct, than I have to believe a lot of vague sceptical arguments from strangers that are not even clearly articulated, never mind whether they are put in good faith.

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Chris G 07.26.16 at 10:05 am

Cassander wrote @84: “Now, if I saw the slightest bit of humility on your side of the aisle, the merest hint towards admitting that yes we got some things wrong but our new models are better, I’d be much more inclined to take them seriously.”

Read Chapter 9 of IPCC AR5, “Evaluation of Climate Models” – http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter09_FINAL.pdf
If you don’t have time or inclination to read the whole thing then just read the Executive Summary. It speaks to strengths and weaknesses.

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ZM 07.26.16 at 11:31 am

cassander @61,

“If you want climate to not be treated as a left/right issue, then you need to get the left to stop using it as an excuse to do a bunch of things they wanted to do anyway. They’re no better in this regard than people who use terrorism as a justification for why they wanted to build a border wall.”

I have heard people in Australia talk about the war time cabinet we had during the second world war as a potential model — where cabinet (formally called the executive council) is made up of MPs from both sides of politics.

But what policies would you like to see for climate change? I am studying urban planning so I have mostly learned about built and natural environment responses rather than social or economic responses.

I don’t know if the policy options really fall neatly into left/right to be honest.

The environment policies are probably more along the lines of technological smart city solutions, more compact and dense cities, more green and blue infrastructure in cities and towns and urban farming, more small scale or community farming and simpler living with less consumption.

I think all these will end up being implemented together, with the specifics developed to suit the city, and then even more specifically to suit the suburb or neighbourhood.

You can probably see I tried to order them in a spectrum from more technological approaches to more traditional old fashioned approaches. But the smart city approach will have to combine lower consumption and move towards a circular economy (this is where you avoid waste basically, everything should be designed to be recycled in some way) and depending on its location a smart city might still need more urban plant and water infrastructure to cool the city since there will be some raise in temperature from climate change. And while some people could opt out of a technological approach if they wanted to, like people do now, I think most people and most towns or cities would employ a mix of these solutions.

I don’t think they fall neatly along a left/right policy divide. Maybe if you are talking at a very general level of more government regulation versus less government regulation, or something like that. But the actual environmental responses fall more on a spectrum of high tech to low tech, than left/right I think.

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Ogden Wernstrom 07.26.16 at 3:41 pm

Yes, climate skeptics exist – but most of them have moved to the bargaining stage, which may require frequent reconstruction of goalposts.

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Sandwichman 07.26.16 at 4:08 pm

cassander: “…get the left to stop using it as an excuse to do a bunch of things they wanted to do anyway…”

Doesn’t it depend on whether those things are worth doing anyway? Some of the things that “the left wants to do anyway” were once cherished conservative principles. The contemporary right has embraced the statist growthmanship that was conceived by a Soviet economist in the 1920s.

One of the great obstacles to rational, ethical dialogue, in my view, is the polemical illusion that people you disagree with believe “the opposite” of what you believe. The real differences tend to be differences of emphasis, degree and timing.

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Walt 07.26.16 at 4:19 pm

Cassander is a good representative of how politics has decayed over the years. We face an actual problem — the world is heating up, with unknown consequences to the climate and agriculture. Once upon a time, this is when we would have moved to the “looking for a solution” phase. There are still issues to debate that break down along left/right lines: command solutions? market solutions? But instead, the really important thing for cassander is sticking it to the left. For him, all of politics has been reduced to the level of a fight between cliques over who gets to be prom queen.

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cassander 07.26.16 at 4:34 pm

@ZM

>I don’t know if the policy options really fall neatly into left/right to be honest.

This is the fish not seeing the water. Prior to global warming rising up as an issue, the left broadly wanted more environmental regulation, more investment in alternative energy, more taxes on fossil fuels, and was against the use of nuclear power. Then climate change arose as an issue, and today the left wants……more environmental regulation, more investment in alternative energy, more taxes on fossil fuels, and is against the use of nuclear power.

>But the smart city approach will have to combine lower consumption

I don’t want to do that. I want people to consume more.

>and move towards a circular economy (this is where you avoid waste basically, everything should be designed to be recycled in some way)

If this were cost effective, you wouldn’t need governments to mandate it. And while they are not perfectly aligned, cost and environmental impact are usually closely related.

>But what policies would you like to see for climate change?

At present, I’m not convinced enough of the need for massive changes to justify their expense. Today, the only policy I would endorse is a revenue neutral carbon tax. That is, a carbon tax that actually replaces other taxes, not that is added to them as some sort of rebate program. This would reduce carbon output and make less likely any sort of carbon related catastrophe with minimal economic disruption.

If I became convinced that the threat was more dire and in need of a more urgent solution, the first policy I would look to would be a massive program of building modularized nuclear reactors. The ideal is to have a cargo container sized unit as efficient as a modern gigawatt reactor plant that can be parked anywhere and plugged into, like a shed sized nuclear battery, periodically checked up on by a GE serviceman. that ideal is also not possible, but the goal of this program would be to move us in that direction. Design reactors for maximum automation and passive safety (these are much the same thing), in cargo container sized modular units then put together on site with a minimum of expertise, then crack them out like liberty ships. Ideally they’d use thorium rather than uranium to minimize the proliferation risk. These would certainly be less efficient and powerful than current reactors, but the cost advantages from automation, mass production, and reduced regulatory overhead would make up for that.

Failing that, I would seriously look at geo-engineering.

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bruce wilder 07.26.16 at 4:42 pm

GMcK: Thankfully, nearly all of the climate change argument is still stuck in first gear.

Thankfully?

It seems to me from what I know of climate models, they have gotten down to pretty decent resolution. If you follow some the links in comments above, you can see model output in the form of a weather map of the world that looks pretty much like an actual weather map of the world. Climate models don’t predict the weather, of course; they predict the climate: the bounded and recurrent fluctuation of the weather.

You mention several of the oscillation patterns that have become the foci of climate modeling studies and are gradually becoming better understood. I think it would be fair to say that they are only somewhat vaguely and imperfectly understood. I live in Southern California and, of course, we are treated to regular reports on the fluctuations of the twins, El Niño and La Niña, as well as the almost maddeningly qualified statements about the implied consequences of, say, a strong El Niño. Apparently, it depends. On a lot of things. Like what happens with neighboring oscillations and other recurring phenomena.

What I hear from climate scientists is that global warming will make the fluctuations and extremes more extreme. Fundamentally, the weather systems of the earth are chaotic. They produce extremes of weather; rarely “average” weather. That’s kind of the nature of weather: the recurrence of fluctuating extremes, rather than smooth distributions centered stably on a main tendency. And, switches of state — as in the back-and-forth of El Niño and La Niña are the rule rather than the exception.

It is not a problem of modeling resolution that it is hard to convey a realistic message, which must eschew a description of main tendency. Increasing drought; also more frequent and larger floods. That might be a realistic prediction, but it is hard to communicate, because it contains an apparent contradiction, at least to minds that expect to hear a summary built around a single, main tendency.

Some of the most profound and consequential effects won’t be on the weather. The increasing acidity of the oceans will bring about an ecological collapse. That will happen in unevenly. A big El Niño bleaches a lot of coral.

Florida won’t drown slowly; they will drown in monster storms coming at infrequent and irregular intervals.

It is not a matter of resolution. Even the most global indicators, like the rise in global or regional temperatures will not happen with steady smoothness. There will be a rhythm of “pauses” and accelerations. There may be climate “switches” in some regions, just as there have always been: long heat waves or droughts or rainy periods, monsoons that fail and so on.

The “skeptics” can always tendentiously demand that the world be simpler than it is. That’s what many of the reactionaries typically want, anyway, a simpler world that they understand, with gods they can appease or ignore as their whims require.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.26.16 at 4:44 pm

The premise that economic disruption would be caused by more environmental regulation, more investment in alternative energy, more taxes on fossil fuels, and avoiding nuclear power, is false.

It is ignorant of the principles of economics esp. in regard to reduction of costs, ignorant of the current rate & direction of innovation and of how innovation responds to policy, and ignorant of the energy & thermodynamic requirements of future goods and services.

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Sandwichman 07.26.16 at 5:00 pm

“Failing that, I would seriously look at geo-engineering.”

Not to dismiss geo-engineering out of hand but it is ironic that a professed skeptic would seriously consider an approach that presupposes 1. a one-world government and 2. a much greater degree of climate modeling reliability and certainty than now exists or can be expected.

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bruce wilder 07.26.16 at 5:28 pm

cassander: This is the fish not seeing the water. Prior to global warming rising up as an issue, the left broadly wanted more environmental regulation, more investment in alternative energy, more taxes on fossil fuels, and was against the use of nuclear power. Then climate change arose as an issue, and today the left wants……more environmental regulation, more investment in alternative energy, more taxes on fossil fuels, and is against the use of nuclear power.

OK, so the left wanted to respond to environmental problems and risks with constraint and regulation and when yet another major environmental problem was identified, the left wanted to respond with constraint and regulation. It seems like the fish is seeing the new water is much like the old water and, therefore, wants to swim in the same direction.

cassander: I want people to consume more. . . . I’m not convinced enough of the need for massive changes to justify their expense. . . . If I became convinced that the threat was more dire and in need of a more urgent solution, the first policy I would look to would be a massive program of building . . . nuclear . . . . I would seriously look at geo-engineering.

That, too, seems like rounding up the usual suspects. Just conservative suspects, instead of left suspects.

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cassander 07.26.16 at 5:29 pm

@Sandwichman 07.26.16 at 4:08 pm

> Doesn’t it depend on whether those things are worth doing anyway?

Yes, it does. I didn’t think those things were worth doing before, and I don’t think they’re worth doing now.

> One of the great obstacles to rational, ethical dialogue, in my view, is the polemical illusion that people you disagree with believe “the opposite” of what you believe. The real
differences tend to be differences of emphasis, degree and timing.

I agree with the first part of this, not the second. You don’t believe the opposite of what I believe, but that doesn’t mean we believe in the same things. We might, and probably do, have fundamentally different core values, but your values are not a simplistic mirror of mine.

@Walt 07.26.16 at 4:19 pm

>But instead, the really important thing for cassander is sticking it to the left. For him, all of politics has been reduced to the level of a fight between cliques over who gets to be prom queen

That the climate is changing is fact. How much it will change in the future is not. the standard position on the left is that it will change a lot, that we need to spend trillions of dollars on their “solutions”, and that anyone who disagrees with their proposed solutions is denying the fact that the climate is changing at all. I am not certain how much the climate will change, and don’t think anyone should be. However, even if I was on board with the left on how much things will change, I don’t think their solutions will work. This gets me labeled a denier by people like you, who act like calling someone a witch wins the discussion. It’s not me who’s dragging down the level of discourse in this conversation.

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Matt 07.26.16 at 5:34 pm

Not to dismiss geo-engineering out of hand but it is ironic that a professed skeptic would seriously consider an approach that presupposes 1. a one-world government and 2. a much greater degree of climate modeling reliability and certainty than now exists or can be expected.

Why is one world government required? Because otherwise non-cooperative countries would just free-ride to emit more if another country is geoengineering? It seems like the same risk exists in the non-OWG present where non-cooperative countries could overwhelm efforts to prevent emissions. Or if the problem is “bad effects of geoengineering could cross national borders, therefore OWG approval required” then it seems like the same risk is already here with emissions business as usual. Inaction by big emitters already has cross-border effects that were not universally consented to.

I wish I lived in the timeline where governments had been prudent enough to reduce emissions early enough and deep enough that active carbon dioxide removal measures were unnecessary. It looks to me like there is no way that current plans are enough to stabilize temperature rise at 1.5-2 degrees above the pre-industrial baseline even if the plans come to fruition. Therefore I expect active carbon dioxide removal efforts to start in the second half of this century if not earlier. (Unless industrial civilization collapses to a degree that active CDR measures are no longer possible. That’s an option also.)

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Sandwichman 07.26.16 at 6:21 pm

Matt: “It seems like the same risk exists in the non-OWG present where non-cooperative countries could overwhelm efforts to prevent emissions.” (wrt “free rider” and “free driver” problems)

Absolutely.

cassander: “the standard position on the left is that it will change a lot, that we need to spend trillions of dollars on their ‘solutions'”

There is no “standard position on the left” but one would be hard pressed to find anyone advocating “spending trillions of dollars” on some undefined “solutions”. The establishment solution is ecological modernization, a technological green growth panacea that would pay for itself through the economic expansion it would stimulate. I don’t endorse this solution, but it is the closest to “spending trillions of dollars” that I know of.

The alternative ecological economist “prosperity without growth” position involves a transition away from the perpetual growth imperative. It involves shifting spending from subsidies to fossil fuels to subsidies for alternatives and shifting consumption from more stuff to more leisure.

The eco-socialist position is similar to the ecological economist position but argues the latter is not tenable under capitalism.

Which one of these is the “standard position on the left” for “spending trillions of dollars”?

“LOOK! Over there! Weapons of Mass Destruction!” Trillions squandered on death and destruction on false pretences and skeptics don’t bat an eye.

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sidd 07.26.16 at 6:38 pm

Re: Rates of global temperature increase.

The so called “pause” in warming disappears when coverage bias is accounted for. See Cowtan and Way doi: 10.1002/qj.2297
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/qj.2297/abstract

” Coverage bias causes a cool bias in recent temperatures relative to the late 1990s, which increases from around 1998 to the present. Trends starting in 1997 or 1998 are particularly biased with respect to the global trend.”

Nice paper, open access.

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mbw 07.26.16 at 6:46 pm

Cassander says that nobody on the left has changed views about what should be done on account of global warming. Many of us who used to be opposed to nuclear power are now for it. Whether his little modules could ever be made reasonably safe is another question. A greatly accelerated program to develop thorium-based reactors is definitely in order.

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John Quiggin 07.26.16 at 8:18 pm

Back in the 1990s most on the left opposed any kind of market solution to global warming, while the free-market right pushed it, particularly in the form of emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes. As soon as the hippies came round to the idea, Cassander and others discovered they hated it.

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cassander 07.26.16 at 8:36 pm

@John Quiggin

>Back in the 1990s most on the left opposed any kind of market solution to global warming, while the free-market right pushed it, particularly in the form of emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes. As soon as the hippies came round to the idea, Cassander and others discovered they hated it.

You’ve stated this claim before JQ, repeating it doesn’t make it true. In the 90s, the left was pushing energy taxes and the right didn’t like it. It did admit that such taxes were a better idea than command and control allocation, but that’s damning by faint praise if I ever heard it. Some on the further left didn’t like the idea, but eventually came around. To call such taxes a right wing goal is pure nonsense. Don’t accuse me of arguing in bad faith when you’re perfectly comfortable just making shit up.

@sandwichman

>There is no “standard position on the left” but one would be hard pressed to find anyone advocating “spending trillions of dollars” on some undefined “solutions”.

Really??

>The establishment solution is ecological modernization, a technological green growth panacea that would pay for itself through the economic expansion it would stimulate.

In other words, magic. Economies can grow, but in the short run, resources are limited. A dollar spent now on a solar farm replacing a perfectly good gas plant is a dollar that cannot be spent on other things. Spending cannot pay for itself, except in highly usual, and largely theoretical, circumstances.

>Which one of these is the “standard position on the left” for “spending trillions of dollars”?

They all advocate spending trillions.

>“LOOK! Over there! Weapons of Mass Destruction!” Trillions squandered on death and destruction on false pretences and skeptics don’t bat an eye.

Yes. someone else wasted money, therefore we should waste 10 times as much! That’s brilliant! I haven’t heard an argument that clever since the 4th grade.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.26.16 at 8:46 pm

Bruce Wilder #62: “If a species was reduced to a small refuge population for even a very few generations, it would show up in the gene pool as a diversity bottleneck.”

I searched for papers about this, and it would appear that genetic data do not have enough resolution and/or may not meet other assumptions, to validly identify every kind of population size bottleneck.

It is hard for me to imagine how this would work, but I will guess that an animal population size reduction to 1% or 2%, but spread over a wide area or in separated populations which then interbred after a very short climate catastrophe, might be the sort of thing that prevents a clear identification now. Meanwhile plants many be too genetically diverse and changeable to be of much use.

The human population had a well known population bottleneck about 2 million years ago, and obviously humans survived through the “recent” D-O events. But genetic evidence for human bottlenecks during this era is not clear enough. This is an older study, perhaps there is newer information:
http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/1/2.full

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Sandwichman 07.26.16 at 9:14 pm

cassander “I haven’t heard an argument that clever since the 4th grade.”

That would appear to be more true than you realize.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.26.16 at 9:26 pm

Cassander #106: “anyone advocating spending trillions of dollars… Economies can grow, but in the short run, resources are limited. A dollar spent now on a solar farm replacing a perfectly good gas plant is a dollar that cannot be spent on other things.”

This combines a misreading with a fallacy.

The article you link to is not about “spending trillions of dollars”, it’s about the fact that petro companies will not SELL $20 trillion from all the carbon resources which remain in the ground. That’s receivables, not “spending”.

And it’s over an unspecified number of years in the article, so let’s say 50 years. And in the whole global GDP, which is somewhere around $70 trillion a year. So even if global GDP didn’t grow annually, we are talking about a $20 trillion drop in $3.5 quadrillion total GDP. A grand total of 1/2 of 1% of global GDP that would have to be earned in some other way that doesn’t make the climate inhospitable.

The fallacy on the other hand is that when a dollar is spent on other things, it is somehow lost to growth. But “growth” in all of these sentences means growth in the GDP, where that same dollar shows up anyway. So it need not damage growth in the slightest. People can do something else for a living, and create growing value.

The two real issues to date have been 1. can non-petro economy grow as fast as petro and the answer now is Clearly: because most of the new growth is showing up in weightless sectors (infotech, finance, medical, etc.) and service sectors. That’s where the world is going; along with:

The other issue to date has been 2. whether the alternative energy sources have enough availability, and enough electromotive force, to do all the things we need them to do.

That question is being solved for “in the affirmative” so quickly that it is hard to keep up with all the developments. The solutions there are various applications of computation and materials science technology which are showing lots of proofs of gains in energy production and reductions in product energy use (i.e. thermodynamic efficiency).

There is no downside, except to the ownership of fossil fuel resources.

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cassander 07.26.16 at 10:34 pm

>The article you link to is not about “spending trillions of dollars”, it’s about the fact that petro companies will not SELL $20 trillion from all the carbon resources which remain in the ground. That’s receivables, not “spending”.

It amounts to the same thing. If you have 10 trillion in the bank, and force someone not to spend it, the economic effect is the same as if you spent it all on lottery tickets then burned them.

>because most of the new growth is showing up in weightless sectors (infotech, finance, medical, etc.) and service sectors.

All of those sectors are powered by petro. If you impose higher costs on energy, you make EVERYTHING more expensive.

>That question is being solved for “in the affirmative” so quickly that it is hard to keep up with all the developments.

No, it isn’t. Breakthroughs in a lab take years, if not decades, to come to the real world, assuming they ever do. The amount of energy provided non-hydro renewables is tiny, and the vast majority of that is wind which, while excellent, has a definite capacity ceiling. These methods have orders of magnitude to climb before the problems they face are even understood, much less solved.

>The fallacy on the other hand is that when a dollar is spent on other things, it is somehow lost to growth.

that would be a fallacy, which is why I didn’t claim that.

> So it need not damage growth in the slightest. People can do something else for a living, and create growing value.

Here, you have indulged in a classic broken windows fallacy. Value and GDP are not the same thing. Paying someone to dig ditches and someone else to fill them contributes to GDP, it does not contribute to value. Needlessly replacing perfectly good physical capital is like breaking windows, it doesn’t make society richer. It makes it poorer to the degree that the value of the new capital is exceeded by the value they would have gotten from the old plus the opportunity cost of the new.

>There is no downside, except to the ownership of fossil fuel resources.

If that were true, why are resource poor countries like India building huge numbers of fossil power plants? Hell, even china is importing coal to fire their plants. is everyone but you just too stupid to realize that there’s free money lying around?

110

Russil Wvong 07.26.16 at 11:00 pm

Ed @ 51: “The interesting question is not why some people question the consensus. The interesting question is why there has been so little progress despite there being a consensus.”

That’s easy: it’s a collective action problem. The costs of action are borne by the individual actor, while the benefits are spread over the entire planet. Therefore individuals have a very strong incentive to free-ride.

In Hobbes’s difficult idea, Joseph Heath describes how baffling it is when you don’t understand collective action problems:

“Outcome x is really bad, and our doing y is making it worse. We should all stop.”

Time passes

“Nothing happened. People are still doing y, and we’re still getting outcome x. How could that be?”

“It must be that they don’t understand how bad outcome x is going to be. Guys! Outcome x is going to be REALLY BAD, don’t you get it?

Time passes

“Nothing happened. People are still doing y, and we’re still getting outcome x. How could that be?”

“It must be that they don’t understand how bad outcome x is going to be. Guys! Outcome x is going to be a FUCKING CATASTROPHE, don’t you get it?

Time passes

“Nothing happened. People are still doing y, and we’re still getting outcome x. How could that be?”

“It must be that they don’t understand how bad outcome x is going to be. Guys! Outcome x is going to be the END OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, don’t you get it?

Time passes

“Nothing happened…”

Repeat ad infinitum….

It could be that complacency on the part of climate “skeptics” is due to a similar misunderstanding. If the problem is really as terrible as everyone says, wouldn’t we have done something about it by now? Since we haven’t done anything, it’s probably not a real problem.

Of course I assume most people on this thread understand that it is indeed a real problem. It’s just conservation of energy: incoming energy from the Sun is balanced by outgoing thermal radiation into space (Fourier, 1824). A warmer object radiates more heat, so we can calculate the equilibrium temperature where incoming energy = outgoing energy. The atmosphere reduces outgoing energy, raising the equilibrium temperature (Tyndall, 1862), like a dam thrown across a stream. The CO2 level is shooting up rapidly, raising the equilibrium temperature (the top of the dam), far faster than the actual temperature can keep up; even after we stabilize the CO2 level (which requires bringing fossil CO2 emissions down to zero), the elevated level of CO2 will continue trapping more and more heat until the Earth reaches the equilibrium temperature.

The best visualization I’ve seen of what this looks like is Figure 3 in Hansen Sato Ruedy 2012. We can see large areas where summertime average temperatures are more than three standard deviations from the 1951-1980 baseline. And the warming is just getting started.

We need to do two things:

(1) Stabilize the CO2 level, which means bringing emissions to zero. Carbon pricing (like the revenue-neutral carbon tax that Cassander mentioned; British Columbia has had one since 2008) seems like the most promising approach to distributing the costs. The IEA estimates that the price would need to be $120/ton by 2035 (about 20 years from now) to stay on a 450 ppm scenario.

(2) Use geo-engineering to reduce the equilibrium temperature. Of course this is likely to be extremely expensive (e.g. a sun-shade in space would cost something like $1T to $10T), so it raises further collective action problems — who pays for it?

111

Layman 07.26.16 at 11:14 pm

cassander: “I am not certain how much the climate will change, and don’t think anyone should be.”

You will never be certain about anything in the future. Even when the future arrives, you will at best be certain about the present and the past, and probably not even that.

Do you have health insurance? Home insurance? A savings account? A job? Why ever for? How can you be certain you’ll need any of them in the future?

112

Lee A. Arnold 07.26.16 at 11:22 pm

Cassander #110: “If you have 10 trillion in the bank, and force someone not to spend it…”

You have confused “scarcity” with the scarcity of money, which is partly artificial. This confusion is shared by some economists! But there are no scarce resources of any importance in the developed world. The developed world has surplus raw materials, surplus labor, surplus productive capability to make surplus goods and services.

And at the present, money is not actually scarce in the developed world, either. There is a surplus of money. Interest rates are very low, due to the global surplus of savings, and are likely to stay that way for many decades to come.

Cassander #110: “the economic effect is the same as if you spent it all on lottery tickets then burned them.”

This is false, although it is an unrelated issue. The economic effect of spending on (state) lottery tickets is to fund public goods and services.

Cassander #110: “If you impose higher costs on energy… Needlessly replacing perfectly good physical capital… you have indulged in a classic broken windows fallacy”

No one who is serious, is writing about doing that. If you quote someone who is writing that, then they have little understanding of the issues. In the developed world, fossil fuel sources are already being replaced without raising the cost of energy. This isn’t paying someone to dig and fill ditches — although that is a good way to get immediately out of a depression.

Cassander #110: “why are resource poor countries like India building huge numbers of fossil power plants?”

Because the coal industry has a lot of money to bribe foreign politicians and is looking for markets, now that the developed world is slowly saying bye-bye.

Cassander #110: “Breakthroughs in a lab take years… orders of magnitude to climb before the problems they face are even understood…”

If you paid close attention to the daily science news you, would form exactly the opposite idea of the change in rate of energy innovation — on both the production and consumption side — now that the climate science is settled and the surface temperature increases have not slowed. What is the mother of invention?

113

Layman 07.26.16 at 11:23 pm

cassander: “Breakthroughs in a lab take years, if not decades, to come to the real world…”

Aren’t you the one who just said (#95) that if solutions are necessary, you would look to mass-produced transportable nuclear reactors and geo-engineering?

114

Faustusnotes 07.26.16 at 11:46 pm

Notice how, having been humiliated on the use of a deceptive and mendacious graph that even a high school student could deconstruct our “good Bayesian” cassander has moved on without even a hint of embarrassment to questioning an entirely unrelated part of the issue, still affecting the same disinterested critical air even having shown himself to be a deeply ignorant politically motivated liar.

This is the shameless destructiveness of the denialist movement of the past 20 years, encapsulated in a day of blog comments.

115

cassander 07.26.16 at 11:57 pm

>?You have confused “scarcity” with the scarcity of money, which is partly artificial.

No, I haven’t, I’m just using dollars as a proxy for real resources rather than being needlessly pedantic and insulting.

>This is false, although it is an unrelated issue. The economic effect of spending on (state) lottery tickets is to fund public goods and services.

Remember what I said about being pedantic and insulting? It wasn’t a compliment.

>No one who is serious, is writing about doing that.

That is precisely what you just argued for. the existing capital stock, which consists of the existing physical plant, the support systems, knowledge needed to building and maintain it, etc. is an unbroken window. you want to throw it out and buy new capital.

> In the developed world, fossil fuel sources are already being replaced without raising the cost of energy

No, they aren’t, they aren’t even close. what part of 2% of electricity production did you have trouble with? And it’s less than one percent if you look at total energy use.

>Aren’t you the one who just said (#95) that if solutions are necessary, you would look to mass-produced transportable nuclear reactors and geo-engineering?

Geo-engineering would take years. I didn’t endorse it I said it was worth looking into. If we had to put something into effect today, though, we’re a lot more capable of sprinkling dust in the stratosphere than we are building an all solar electrical grid. As for nuclear, we have sufficient reactor technology today. going to a nuclear would not require anything like the transformation of the grid required by solar power. The reactor technology already exists it’s just a question mass production, and we’ve gotten pretty good at those sorts of problems.

The whole point of my solutions is to mitigate climate change with as little disruption to people’s lives as possible, because I consider it a potential problem to be solved, not an opportunity to be taken advantage of. The attitude from most people who are passionate about the climate is precisely the opposite.

116

John Quiggin 07.27.16 at 12:50 am

Cassander is doing a great job of making the point of the OP, by example.

117

ZM 07.27.16 at 1:30 am

casander,

“The whole point of my solutions is to mitigate climate change with as little disruption to people’s lives as possible, because I consider it a potential problem to be solved, not an opportunity to be taken advantage of. The attitude from most people who are passionate about the climate is precisely the opposite.”

This is really standard strategic planning though. If you are doing any sort of strategic planning or just making an appraisal of the situation, the first thing you do is research into the site, and then a Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Challenges/Threats analysis.

Working out what the opportunities are is very standard practice if you are doing any sort of strategic planning. You would get in trouble from a project manager if you didn’t do this.

“>But the smart city approach will have to combine lower consumption
I don’t want to do that. I want people to consume more.”

Over consumption is actually probably not the main climate change problem. I maybe shouldn’t have put it here. It is an environmental problem, but it is not necessarily a climate change problem. Sometimes I link sustainability issues together. It is only where over consumption is linked to greenhouse gas emissions that it is a climate change problem. Such as over consumption of animal products creates too many greenhouse gas emissions, over consumption creates rubbish which releases greenhouse gasses when it decomposes. Energy used in manufacturing, transport, and storage needs to move to renewable energy technology.

“and move towards a circular economy (this is where you avoid waste basically, everything should be designed to be recycled in some way)
If this were cost effective, you wouldn’t need governments to mandate it. And while they are not perfectly aligned, cost and environmental impact are usually closely related.”

If governments implement policy to move towards a circular economy it is more likely to happen quicker. In some cases there may be more expenses, but moving the economy to this overall would actually free up more resources to use, so it would be collectively more economical on costs, even if the transition to a circular economy involves costs in some cases.

Think about it like the Industrial Revolution, people had to make significant individual investments to actually industrialise the economy.

“>But what policies would you like to see for climate change?
At present, I’m not convinced enough of the need for massive changes to justify their expense. Today, the only policy I would endorse is a revenue neutral carbon tax. That is, a carbon tax that actually replaces other taxes, not that is added to them as some sort of rebate program. This would reduce carbon output and make less likely any sort of carbon related catastrophe with minimal economic disruption.”

I have looked into this, and I don’t see there is the evidence a carbon tax can do this. Even the economic modelling shows that a carbon tax would have to be quite high and definitely not revenue neutral to reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere near the needed amount. And I am suspicious a carbon tax can do that anyhow.

Climate change is a physical problem not an economic problem. The solutions are physical. Economics needs to answer how we can finance those changes. You could maybe have a revenue neural carbon tax as part of a solution, our Federal Government implemented this, then we had an election, and the next government abolished it.

Our State Government in Victoria just launched its first Green Bond scheme, which was fully subscribed in a bit over a day. This is a good way of raising money.

I think economic growth is an environmental issue, but I think it is probably not a climate change issue as much, so it is better to keep it separate if you don’t want to discuss general environmental issues here and stick to climate change.

“If I became convinced that the threat was more dire and in need of a more urgent solution, the first policy I would look to would be a massive program of building modularized nuclear reactors.”

Well I disagree with this. Solar and wind are much safer — they don’t have problems with accidents and dangerous meltdowns, and they don’t create highly toxic waste like nuclear energy. I support using nuclear reactors for medical purposes, but I think it is better to move to Solar and Wind RET they have a lot less negatives than nuclear, and recent research done over the last 6 years or so has shown they are capable of providing energy for the world, and more local research has shown that they are fine for Australia.

I have heard anecdotally that some countries are not as well suited for year round Solar and Wind energy potential as Australia, but just the other week I read that China has proposed building a worldwide energy grid to connect all the countries up by 2050. This would solve the problem of some countries not having as good year round Solar and Wind RE potential as Australia. Although I would like it to be the UN doing this rather than just China. Although if China is offering and the UN isn’t then I guess it is better to be grateful to China.

“Failing that, I would seriously look at geo-engineering.”

This is a terrible option.

Also you are being contradictory here. On the one hand you have said you don’t think the climate scientists understand the climate well enough to be certain climate change presents an urgent risk which they are saying — and then now on the other hand you have suggested using a very risky climate science technology where there is hardly any research into it and it is likely to be uncontrollable and dangerous.

Geoengineering would be my last option, because the science of GHG related climate change is more sound and well researched than the science of geoengineering the climate, and you cant’ really practice it in a lab very well, and it is risky and could do great damage.

Implementing Solar and Wind Renewable Energy Technology is far less risky and a lot of research has been done into it by now.

118

Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 1:31 am

“…still affecting the same disinterested critical air even having shown himself to be a deeply ignorant politically motivated liar.”

This is unfair to cassander. He is not affecting a critical air. He is bloviating feces.

119

Layman 07.27.16 at 1:38 am

cassander: “Geo-engineering would take years. I didn’t endorse it I said it was worth looking into. If we had to put something into effect today, though, we’re a lot more capable of sprinkling dust in the stratosphere than we are building an all solar electrical grid. As for nuclear, we have sufficient reactor technology today. going to a nuclear would not require anything like the transformation of the grid required by solar power. The reactor technology already exists it’s just a question mass production, and we’ve gotten pretty good at those sorts of problems.”

Am I to take this to mean that, unlike geo-engineering, your vision of mass-produced portable untended nuclear reactors will not take years?

120

Lee A. Arnold 07.27.16 at 1:54 am

Cassander #115: “I’m just using dollars as a proxy for real resources…”

You objected to the statement, “one would be hard pressed to find anyone advocating spending trillions of dollars on some undefined solutions”, by citing an article that there will be $10-20 trillion of fossil fuels left in the ground.

But not using $10-12 trillion of fossil fuels by leaving them in the ground, is not a expenditure of that amount of money on something else.

It isn’t even a real “cost” to the economy. A cost is a debit from that which was produced.

If you don’t get to do something that you wanted to do, you can say colloquially that it “costs” you, but not $10-20 trillion.

And it doesn’t cost that amount to the owners of the land under which the fossil fuels sit, either, because that isn’t the price of the land. (In some cases they didn’t even pay for the land, or pay market price for the land.)

121

ZM 07.27.16 at 2:52 am

Lee A Arnold : “You objected to the statement, “one would be hard pressed to find anyone advocating spending trillions of dollars on some undefined solutions”, by citing an article that there will be $10-20 trillion of fossil fuels left in the ground.”

Trader Joe : “We’re also unlikely to have the proverbial ‘bloody shirt’ where people can stand in the street and chant “450 ppm matters” or some other simple to say slogan that lends itself to t-shirts and sound-bites and in its own way informs the citizenry that a) something is happening that demands a response and b) is suggestive of a response.”

The divestment movement is one of the best examples of this I think. People are demonstrating for universities to divest from fossil fuels all around the world, and people are demonstrating against banks not to fund coal mines, and also there is pressure from within in churches to divest, and local governments are being asked to divest as well. My local council just announced they are changing their investment strategy to divest from fossil fuels this year, it was really exciting news. We are the 20th local government association to do this in Australia.

122

Peter T 07.27.16 at 3:02 am

In cassander’s mind, anytime anyone is prevented from selling anything at all, they have been despoiled by the state, at cost to themselves. To be fair, it’s not far from the concept of opportunity cost to this, so he at least adjacent to nominally sane people.

One might note that the ranges of many plant, insect and animal species have moved poleward over the last several decades, in response to climate change. Yet humans are still arguing about whether it’s real and what to do. In this, we are collectively dumber than carrots – literally so. One might think this might cause a re-think of the reigning paradigms, but one would be wrong.

123

Dr. Hilarius 07.27.16 at 3:15 am

Peter T @ 123: It’s not just poleward species movement. Some species, such as cloud forest species in Costa Rica, are moving up elevational gradients as lower elevations become warmer and drier. That is, until there’s no higher elevation to move to. Friends of mine working on desert lizards in North America are finding that increasing temperatures might be resulting in starvation. Diurnal lizards like sun and warmth but only up to a point. Temperatures above physiological tolerances reduce the amount of time available for activity, including foraging for food. Their models predict widespread extinction of now common species if current trends continue.

A couple of years ago my mother told me there were some unfamiliar birds in her yard. They were Scrub Jays, rarely seen in Western Washington until recently. Now they are breeding here, having found parts of California and Oregon too hot. Climate change is visible to anyone willing to look.

124

David of Yreka 07.27.16 at 4:10 am

Lee Arnold (56) IMHO makes a good point but it seems to me that it’s hidden between the lines.

> The economy is lots more resilient to change than the climate

OK, suppose we have two (maybe) countervailing phenomena, called “the economy” and “the climate”. One of them pays our bills from one day to the next, the other allows us to grow food, and BTW also lets us maintain some high-priced real estate that’s getting wetter (qv Miami Beach).

Lee’s remark that economies are more resilient, I would rewrite as that economies are (being works of man) more pliable; that is, they can be repurposed, adapted, tweaked, and so on rather easily. Indeed, it’s hard to prevent. And we have some well-known control points: e.g, the selling of bonds, such as we did back in the dream time. The climate, on the other hand, being the work of Moby himself, isn’t quite so malleable: it’s going to do what it does, and the changes are largely not all that controllable. That we now seem to be the agents of a shift in climate does not refute my point: it isn’t something we are doing intentionally.

I would also add the codicil that it seems that we understand economies better than we understand the climate. That should find little doubt among the skeptical. And I would argue that lack of understanding is a major contributor to lack of controllability.

My own training is as an engineer. Sometimes I build complicated things; sometimes I change them. I try, when making changes to complex systems, to avoid changes that may derange things I don’t understand and can’t control. It’s just safer that way.

In the question of (maybe) changing the economy as opposed to (maybe) making the planet uninhabitable, I think we have a pretty good record on changing the economy around (I cite, e.g. the Industrial Revolution). Our record of intentionally and successfully manipulating the climate to reduce the effects of droughts, floods, famines, plagues, and wars isn’t so good. I can’t, in fact, think of an example.

Trillions of dollars, humbug. The invisible hand will flourish. Four degrees hotter? We may not.

125

Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 4:42 am

David of Yreka

B I N G O !

The very idea that “The Economy” is sacred and immutable while messing with the climate is a piece of cake is an idolatrous desecration of human history and human agency. It is worship of Moloch.

126

William Berry 07.27.16 at 4:47 am

@David of Y: Great comment. And a good example of why I read CT.

If there is a redeeming feature of humankind, it is that it is capable of a prodigious quantity of work. Which is the very fundament of economic activity.

So, let’s get to work, then.

127

Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 4:54 am

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

128

cassander 07.27.16 at 5:00 am

@ZM 07.27.16 at 1:30 am

>Working out what the opportunities are is very standard practice if you are doing any sort of strategic planning. You would get in trouble from a project manager if you didn’t do this.

I agree, which is why it’s a shame that the climate mitigation people aren’t doing this.

>Over consumption is actually probably not the main climate change problem. I maybe shouldn’t have put it here. It is an environmental problem, but it is not necessarily a climate change problem. Sometimes I link sustainability issues together. It is only where over consumption is linked to greenhouse gas emissions that it is a climate change problem. Such as over consumption of animal products creates too many greenhouse gas emissions, over consumption creates rubbish which releases greenhouse gasses when it decomposes. Energy used in manufacturing, transport, and storage needs to move to renewable energy technology.

>If governments implement policy to move towards a circular economy it is more likely to happen quicker.

Only if you assume governments are competent, honest, and capable, none of which is a given.

>In some cases there may be more expenses, but moving the economy to this overall would actually free up more resources to use,

Expensive, by definition, means “uses more resources” something that is more expensive is not going to use fewer resources. the most you can claim is that a large initial investment in some of these systems can pay off in the long run, not that spending more will magically result in spending less. But that promise is always made and seldom borne out.

>And I am suspicious a carbon tax can do that anyhow.

There’s a level of taxation at which air travel, power from coal plants, or eating beef ceases to be economically viable for the vast majority of people. A carbon tax can drive down consumption to almost any level, assuming its enforced. And if it isn’t enforced, you’ll have the same sorts of difficulties enforcing a ban on those things as well. If you don’t think a carbon tax can work, I don’t see how you can think anything can work.

>Climate change is a physical problem not an economic problem.

Any problem involving resource allocation is also an economic problem.

>I think economic growth is an environmental issue, but I think it is probably not a climate change issue as much, so it is better to keep it separate if you don’t want to discuss general environmental issues here and stick to climate change.

They aren’t separable, given the likely consequences of severe climate mitigation efforts, particularly for developing countries.

>Well I disagree with this. Solar and wind are much safer — they don’t have problems with accidents and dangerous meltdowns, and they don’t create highly toxic waste like nuclear energy.

THey most certainly do have accidents, just more often nad less spectacular ones. Nuclear is actually the safest form of power, by a wide margin.

>This would solve the problem of some countries not having as good year round Solar and Wind RE potential as Australia.

No, it wouldn’t. the transmission losses of shipping power around the world would be enormous, even if you could work out a political solution, which you probably can’t.

>This is a terrible option.

Why is that?

>Also you are being contradictory here. On the one hand you have said you don’t think the climate scientists understand the climate well enough to be certain climate change presents an urgent risk which they are saying — and then now on the other hand you have suggested using a very risky climate science technology where there is hardly any research into it and it is likely to be uncontrollable and dangerous.

My support for geo-engineering is premised on the condition that climate science becomes more certain. You are claiming that climate science can say with a high degree of certainty what the temperature will be in 100 years, but not what the effect of geo-engineering will be. Either we can accurately model the climate or we can’t. You’re the one being contradictory.

>Implementing Solar and Wind Renewable Energy Technology is far less risky and a lot of research has been done into it by now.

nuclear is less technologically risky, safer, and has had much more research done.

129

cassander 07.27.16 at 5:07 am

@David of Yreka

> I think we have a pretty good record on changing the economy around (I cite, e.g. the Industrial Revolution). Our record of intentionally and successfully manipulating the climate to reduce the effects of droughts, floods, famines, plagues, and wars isn’t so good. I can’t, in fact, think of an example.

If you’re going to consider the industrial revolution a change of economy, then I submit more than half of the netherlands, thousands of years of forest management and reforestation projects, and every river that’s ever been purposely diverted as successful attempts to manipulate the environment.

You have the economy and environment precisely backwards. It’s the economy that grows our food, not the environment. On it’s own, the environment is just nature, which means getting eaten by lions on the savannah. It’s precisely the desire to keep food on the table that makes me disinclined to spend trillions on climate mitigation.

130

faustusnotes 07.27.16 at 5:19 am

Oh that last paragraph is a gem for the ages …

131

cassander 07.27.16 at 5:22 am

@Layman

The sorts of reactors I’m talking about already exist, are already in production. To do what I want, you need to solve precisely one problem, how do you mass produce them economically. The problems of a largely renewable grid aren’t just not solved, we don’t even know what many of them are yet.

132

Matt 07.27.16 at 5:46 am

The small modular reactor concept tantalizes with several advantages over the way new nuclear power reactors are built today. I think that it should be pursued in parallel with other ideas, because it takes a long time for any one idea to be fully explored and I don’t want to start looking at alternate ideas only if/after we stop making headway with other paths to decarbonization. I disagree with cassander that “The sorts of reactors I’m talking about [small modular reactors with passive safety features and minimal onsite labor requirements] already exist, are already in production.”

The closest I can come to matching this description is referring to the naval reactors used in e.g. the US submarine fleet. But these operate on highly enriched uranium, which is a much more expensive fuel than commercial reactors use plus needs extreme safeguards against being diverted to bombs. Maybe the cost of HEU gets offset by design simplicity, but it’s not the sort of thing you export everywhere to help the developing world develop without fossils. There are small modular reactor concepts intended for civilian power that don’t rely on highly enriched uranium, but none of them are in production yet.

133

Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 5:51 am

“It’s the economy that grows our food, not the environment. On it’s own, the environment is just nature, which means getting eaten by lions on the savannah.”

Uh, cassander, listen… tell me, tell me, cassander. When did you first… become… well, develop this theory?

Was it during the physical act of love?

A profound sense of fatigue?

134

Steve Williams 07.27.16 at 10:02 am

cassander @130:

‘You have the economy and environment precisely backwards. It’s the economy that grows our food, not the environment. On it’s own, the environment is just nature, which means getting eaten by lions on the savannah. It’s precisely the desire to keep food on the table that makes me disinclined to spend trillions on climate mitigation.’

Does it really need to be explained that I can’t sleep in a 401(k) if my house washes away? Or that I can’t get enough nutritional sustenance from eating share certificates if the global food chain collapses?

135

TM 07.27.16 at 11:13 am

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize …”

oh never mind. Some will never realize.

136

Chris G 07.27.16 at 11:22 am

“You have the economy and environment precisely backwards. It’s the economy that grows our food, not the environment. On it’s own, the environment is just nature, which means getting eaten by lions on the savannah.”

That is the funniest thing I’ve read in as long as I can remember. I’m going to enjoy it all day and probably for the rest of week.

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Chris G 07.27.16 at 11:28 am

cassander @ 132 wrote: “The problems of a largely renewable grid aren’t just not solved, we don’t even know what many of them are yet.”

Dave Roberts has written a number of pieces on the topic:
1) “Utilities for Dummies” series at Grist – https://grist.org/series/utilities-for-dummies/
2) “Why wind and solar power are such a challenge for energy grids” – http://www.vox.com/2015/6/19/8808545/wind-solar-grid-integration

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Lee A. Arnold 07.27.16 at 11:40 am

David of Yreka #125: “resilient, I would rewrite that as (being works of man) more pliable”

This is a good point, and it helps to bring out the notion that many people see the economy, erroneously, as non-pliable — as a pre-existing structure of buyers and sellers trading freely, which leads to both the freest and most efficient outcomes over all. The only pliability is that which is allowed within the free-market structure. Any deviation from this state of things is therefore both less efficient, less free, more prone to error.

This is a very recent deformation in the history of ideas.

The economy is almost talked about, by these people, as an eternal thought-structure, set into stone, and into which humans should be molded, to fit. (This is the reverse version of the Communists, who expected a “new Communist man” to emerge, the new kind of citizen who would make their system work, without need of the thought police.)

The standard economists have been quite guilty of this over the last 50 years or so, always being sure to mention to their students briefly that the modern economy is properly a “mixed economy”, of course, but then promoting the “invisible hand” in their classrooms, as always more free and efficient than non-market institutions.

The first 150 years of modern economists never thought this. They had a broader view of humanity than the mid-20th Century intellects have been able to muster, pretty much across the board.

But the last 50 years of deformity in economics education has been especially damaging, as it spread subsequently into the opinion-makers and the op-ed pages, and this has added much fuel for the “dumpster fire” of the current political scene.

The individuals most responsible are the later Austrian school, followed secondarily by Stigler and Friedman. Hayek was especially concerned with proving scientifically that Capitalism is better than Communism, and he was especially dazzled by the intuitions of early systems theory.

Hayek hypothesized that a structure of buyers and sellers trading freely would lead to an emergent state (spontaneous organization) that was the best, freest, most efficient. So it shouldn’t be tinkered with much.

This hypothesis is unprovable. Hayek took a inductive description in systems thinking, a part of systems grammar, and then declared that it is a deductive, ontological end-point. Intellectually faulty.

It is however emotionally very reassuring, which has made it dangerous. It spilled right over into the teaching of economics, indeed spilled right into the brainpans of many economists. This is of a necessity, however fallacious: People — individuals — need to know that their system “works”, so they can feel secure in engaging with it, feel secure in doing their daily buying and selling. (This is a major social-psychology component in the study of risk assessment.)

Since we don’t really know where it’s all going, i.e. we don’t know what the future will bring, then being told that the daily buying and selling leads us spontaneously and scientifically to the best outcomes over all, is instantly reassuring.

And it has inflated from being reassuring, to becoming a bedrock social belief that there is an eternally pre-existing economic structure of atomized buyers and sellers, which gov’t intervention can only damage, or within which gov’t actors must be especially inept or corrupt.

In this way libertarians have become the capitalist thought police.

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Lee A. Arnold 07.27.16 at 12:05 pm

Cassander #129: “likely consequences of severe climate mitigation efforts, particularly for developing countries.”

Cassander does not link thoughts together other than those which confirm his emotional dispositions, so it is rather useless to provide further corrections without being able to flunk him out of school.

But this idea is repeated among climate sceptics who care (or profess to care) about developing countries, so it may be important to prevent the misleading of others, by briefly pointing-out that is wrong.

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Tom West 07.27.16 at 12:43 pm

Ed @ 51: “The interesting question is not why some people question the consensus. The interesting question is why there has been so little progress despite there being a consensus.”

Almost everyone realizes that obesity related diseases have a significant chance of killing *you* (not generations down the line, *you*). For most of us, there is a clear, but unpleasant solution.

And yet we have an obesity problem.

Simply put, we human beings are not really built for avoiding long-term, somewhat-nebulous disasters down the road, no matter how inevitable they are. It’s difficult to coordinate a family, hard to coordinate a nation, and nearly impossible to coordinate a planet.

Asking people to make real sacrifices is the *right* way to fight climate change. But I don’t think it’s likely to be the successful way. We’ll likely need science to bail our selfish backsides out of this one until the sacrifice becomes trivial (like separating recyclables – we can sort of manage that).

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Layman 07.27.16 at 12:58 pm

cassander: “The sorts of reactors I’m talking about already exist, are already in production. To do what I want, you need to solve precisely one problem, how do you mass produce them economically.”

Here is how you described these reactors (#95):

“The ideal is to have a cargo container sized unit as efficient as a modern gigawatt reactor plant that can be parked anywhere and plugged into, like a shed sized nuclear battery, periodically checked up on by a GE serviceman. that ideal is also not possible, but the goal of this program would be to move us in that direction. Design reactors for maximum automation and passive safety (these are much the same thing), in cargo container sized modular units then put together on site with a minimum of expertise, then crack them out like liberty ships. Ideally they’d use thorium rather than uranium to minimize the proliferation risk. These would certainly be less efficient and powerful than current reactors, but the cost advantages from automation, mass production, and reduced regulatory overhead would make up for that.”

Now, as you describe them here, I doubt they exist. In fact, as you phrase this description (‘the ideal is to have’, ‘that ideal is also not possible’, ‘move us in that direction’, ‘design for’, ‘ideally’), I would say you don’t think they exist, either.

So, which is it? Real, or ideal? And, again, how long do you say it would be before these ideal reactors were being mass produced?

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Brett Dunbar 07.27.16 at 1:00 pm

Russil Wvong @111

It isn’t actually correct to say that in order to keep CO2 levels constant you would need to reduce fossil fuel use to zero. There are a number of processes that remove carbon permanently. Such as forming peat bogs chemical weathering and the deposition of carbonate rocks.

One minor advantage of a emission permit over a carbon tax is that a permit can be issued to for example the owner of a peat bog who halts peat cutting. Peat is a fairly impressive sink. About 25% of the carbon in soils is in peat even though it is only 3% of the world’s land area. Restoring drained wetlands would make a very useful contribution to CO2 control. Currently the alternative uses such as farming, forestry and peat sales have a direct cash value to the owner while the carbon sink use does not. This is a market failure due to failing to price in externalities. Emission permits can deal with this directly while a carbon tax system would need some some sort of supplementary grant system.

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Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 4:18 pm

“Asking people to make real sacrifices is the *right* way to fight climate change.”

I have a different view. I don’t think people have to make sacrifices. They have to break shackles. A transitional slogan might be: “higher wages, shorter hours, full employment.” Does that sound like such a big sacrifice?

I apologize if this sounds simplistic but the bulk of greenhouse gases are emitted for the sole purpose of keeping the .01% plutocrats on top. There is really no way of saying it without sounding like a crank. But go back and read the debates from the early 1970s around the Limits to Growth study and what becomes abundantly clear is that the reasons presented at that time by the critics of the study have been discredited by the historical record of the subsequent 45 years.

In fact, some of the anti-LtG arguments were obviously bogus on their face. Here you have Robert Solow, growth theorist and technocrat of internationally co-ordinated growth targeting, appealing to a “built-in mechanism” of substitution that would automatically spare the earth from resource depletion.

A BUILT-IN MECHANISM? Yes, the very same one that Keynes showed didn’t exist and that the non-existence of made necessary fiscal stimulus policies of governments and international coordination to those economic growth policies to prevent balance of payments and inflation difficulties.

A BUILT-IN MECHANISM would be something in its own right. But a built-in mechanism that is both there and not there is truly a wonder to behold!

You see, the “free market” NEEDED government intervention and international coordination of this intervention to ensure that capitalist countries grew faster than those in the Soviet bloc. But the social and environmental costs of this growth can take care of themselves through Adam Smith’s “system of natural liberty.”

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cassander 07.27.16 at 4:38 pm

Steve Williams@

> Does it really need to be explained that I can’t sleep in a 401(k) if my house washes away? Or that I can’t get enough nutritional sustenance from eating share certificates if the global food chain collapses?

No, but it apparently does need to be explained that without an economy, you don’t have a house at all, because you don’t know how to build one, or food, because you don’t know how to grow food. High finance is not “the economy”. It’s part of it, but to pretend it’s the whole thing is sophistry.

@Layman
>Now, as you describe them here, I doubt they exist

I was imprecise in my language. Reactors of the size and core life I am talking about already exist, but they are not mass produced. Matt is correct in thinking of submarine reactors, which are my model. The challenge here is not to come up with a fundamentally new technology, but to take the existing technology and optimize it for mass production. That sort of problem is not simple, but it is well understood and robust capacities for doing it efficiently and well already exist. It’s the sort of problem that western governments in general are pretty good at. Hell, the French already did something similar in the 70s.

@Matt

The decision to use HEU is military reactors is basically economic, not technological. Submarines reactors are required to be inside the submarine’s pressure hull. Reactors in surface ships are placed behind armor and other protection systems, under the waterline. In both cases, this makes extracting the reactor to refuel it an expensive and time consuming process that requires cutting big holes in the ship, so it’s extremely desirable to minimize how often this needs to be done. HEU lets the Navy pack more fuel into a single core, so much so that the last 2 classes of submarine won’t need refueling at all.

Civilian reactors don’t have to be placed behind armor under the waterline of a ship’s hull or inside a submarine pressure hull, so the cost refueling is lower. This means you don’t need to use HEU.

@Chris G

Vox articles are not proof that the problems have been solved.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.27.16 at 4:43 pm

Sandwichman: “A transitional slogan might be: “higher wages, shorter hours, full employment.” Does that sound like such a big sacrifice?”

It’s a sacrifice of a social order that they’re used to and that gives people a sense of social place (inevitably associated with looking down on other people). For instance, the fastest-growing center/right wing thing in the U.S. seems to be white people hatefully looking down on other white people who don’t have jobs. You can still be “a good person” because you’re “not a racist” but there’s a whole lot of sense of personal value being built on not being one of those lazy shiftless non-job-having people. So they don’t really want full employment. Who would they look down on?

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Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 4:48 pm

“The challenge here is not to come up with a fundamentally new technology, but to take the existing technology and optimize it for mass production. That sort of problem is not simple, but it is well understood and robust capacities for doing it efficiently and well already exist.”

If this was true, then there must be a very dark indeed international conspiracy afoot to prevent the free market and the laws of comparative advantage from making it happen. Those fiendish commies! First it was fluoridation impurifying our precious bodily fluids and now this.

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Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 4:57 pm

“there’s a whole lot of sense of personal value being built on not being one of those lazy shiftless non-job-having people”

A couple of marketing profs wrote a paper a few years ago in which they described this phenomenon as “commodity narcissism” (as distinguished from Marx’s commodity fetishism). Definitely worth considering.

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Russil Wvong 07.27.16 at 5:00 pm

Brett Dunbar @142: Given the enormous scale of fossil fuel use (fossil fuels are awesome, which is why it’s so painful to give them up), aren’t natural carbon sinks, even peat bogs, basically a rounding error?

Has anyone done calculations showing that it’d be possible to continue burning jet fuel for air transport, for example, while keeping atmospheric CO2 stable?

Freeman Dyson suggests that one possible form of geo-engineering would be to use some kind of genetically engineered fast-growing plant to suck CO2 right out of the atmosphere. That sounds promising, but I doubt it would ever scale up enough to be able to compensate for continued fossil fuel use. It’d be more useful after we’ve stabilized CO2 levels, as a way of slowly lowering them.

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Rich Puchalsky 07.27.16 at 7:01 pm

Nothing could go wrong with having large-scale plantings of fast-growing plants that are genetically engineered to suck CO2 right out of the atmosphere (and presumably then not degrade quickly, or the CO2 would get released right back).

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AcademicLurker 07.27.16 at 7:08 pm

@149: What we really need is one of these. What could possibly go wrong?

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Russil Wvong 07.27.16 at 7:21 pm

Rich Puchalsky @149: Lots of things could go wrong. But even after we bring fossil-fuel emissions down to zero and stabilize CO2 levels, warming will continue until we reach the equilibrium temperature. Not sure how many centuries or millennia that will take. If we want to get back to a stable climate, we’ll need geo-engineering.

I think part of the difficulty with global warming is that it’s hard to prepare for a catastrophe that’s never happened to us before! We’ve learned to deal with earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, terrorist attacks etc. through painful experience; but we’re not going to be able to deal with climate change that way. So our ability or inability to imagine science-fiction-like changes to the climate becomes a key part of the equation.

My favorite mad-scientist geo-engineering solution would be a giant sun-shade in space. A side benefit is that we could then have James Bond or Mission: Impossible movies in which an evil genius tries to blow it up, uses it to shroud the world in perpetual darkness, etc., and must be thwarted by our hero.

For an imaginative illustration of the dangers of geo-engineering, I’d recommend the movie Snowpiercer.

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afeman 07.27.16 at 8:19 pm

Some discussion of why geoengineering might not go down well, politically speaking, with the sort of people who appeal to it:

http://www.samefacts.com/2009/10/international-affairs/geoengineering-from-black-helicopters/

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cassander 07.27.16 at 8:32 pm

@Sandwichman

> If this was true, then there must be a very dark indeed international conspiracy afoot to prevent the free market and the laws of comparative advantage from making it happen. Those fiendish commies! First it was fluoridation impurifying our precious bodily fluids and now this.

Thank you for perfectly demonstrating the shallowness, laziness, and genuine ill will on your side of the debate. I’ve not mentioned markets much. I certainly didn’t declare that markets can solve a commons problem. I invoked both the US Navy and French government as examples and explicitly said that the project I was talking about was something that “governments are good at”.

You clearly don’t even bother to read my arguments, much less actually think about them. You are so self righteous that, confronted with any opinion outside a narrow band around your own, you are incapable of actually processing it. All you can do fall back on labeling whoever holds it as stupid, evil or both, then fling tired old insults to that effect regardless of their relevance. I’m not sure what you get out of this, but it’s display of sophistry and sanctimony that makes your average bible thumping creationist look positively open minded.

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Russil Wvong 07.27.16 at 9:01 pm

afeman @152: Excellent link, thanks. I’m imagining geo-engineering taking place after we’ve already stabilized CO2 levels. But it’s probably more likely that it’d be taking place in an unprecedented emergency situation.

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Brett Dunbar 07.27.16 at 9:10 pm

Russil Wvong @ 1448

Some of the carbon sinks are enormous according to Wikipedia the Rodale Institute says that regenerative agriculture, if practiced on the planet’s 3.6 billion tillable acres, could sequester up to 40% of current CO2 emissions. While this may be an overestimate it appears that changing farming techniques can allow for a significant use of fossil fuels. Currently the largest active carbon sink are the oceans which absorb about 25% of human CO2 emissions. Biological carbon sequestration is pretty substantial and substantially increasing it can play a major role.

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David Heasman 07.27.16 at 9:28 pm

Regenerative agriculture eh? There’s a guy in Siberia who’s reintroducing megafauna, reindeer, musk oxen and bison, churning up the permafrost and turning it into savannah. He can’t reintroduce woolly mammoths to tear down the trees so he uses a surplus tank.

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Russil Wvong 07.27.16 at 9:32 pm

Brett Dunbar @155: Thanks. Annual global carbon emissions are about 10 billion tons. I did a quick search and found a paper saying that carbon sequestration could offset emissions by 0.4 to 1.2 billion tons each year; a more recent estimate says 1-3 billion tons. More like 20% than 40%, but still pretty substantial.

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Omega Centauri 07.27.16 at 9:48 pm

There are two major categories of geo-engineering that are useful to separate. Discussed here are means for drawing down CO2. This should be relatively uncontroversial -except regarding the local effects and stability of the new sinks, as it is simply turning the CO2 control knob back down. But, usually people who propose geo-engineering usually propose solar radiation management, i.e. artifically increasing the reflectivity (albedo) of the planet. On an micro scale, we all engage in this by, for example putting up a highly reflectve beach umbrella, but to have a substantial effect on global -or even local temperature it has to be done on a massive scale. The most common proposal is sulphate injection into the upper atmosphere, which mimics the cooling effect of a major volcanic eruption. But other things can be proposed that operate at or near the surface. For example adding higher albedo as one selection criteria for the selection of what kind of plants to cultivate, and painting roofs/roadways white, and so on. It is this later sort whose climate effects are harder to predict. But it also works (to the extent it works) rapidly, because solar radiation’s effect of temperature is a flow type variable, whereas CO2 drawdown works on a store, and building up the needed amount of removed CO2 will take a long period of time.

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bexley 07.27.16 at 9:51 pm

Nothing could go wrong with having large-scale plantings of fast-growing plants that are genetically engineered to suck CO2 right out of the atmosphere (and presumably then not degrade quickly, or the CO2 would get released right back).

I’ve sometimes idly thought along these lines. Didn’t realise Freeman Dyson had too.

Anyway you don’t need to genetically engineer them to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere since they’ll do that anyway. My own thoughts were that you could use some fastish growing trees then chop them down, turn them into charcoal and bury them in former coal mines and oil wells.

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Omega Centauri 07.27.16 at 10:20 pm

bex.
You don’t even need to reduce the CO2 letting plants use the energy to sunlight. CO2 naturally combines with silicate minerals to form carbonates to form carbonates and silicon dioxie(sand). This is the mechanism by which the planet has approximately balanced the climate over millions of years. All you need do is breakup a lot of rocks, and let them chemically weather, the CO2 in rainwater is the CO2 source. So increased (land) erosion is all that is needed. But the increase over the “natural” rate must be pretty large, a few tens of cubic kilometers per year to offest current emissions.

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Matt 07.27.16 at 11:11 pm

Accelerated silicate weathering is my favorite candidate for carbon dioxide removal too. It’s energetically efficient and irreversible, though kinetically hindered. It deals with distributed emissions as well as point sources. It reverses ocean acidification as well as radiative forcing. Since it binds CO2 as chemically stable species instead of relying on physical containment, it requires neither the CO2-stream-purification nor the stable underground storage geology demanded by carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) concepts. That said, the required volume of weathering minerals is vast if we wanted to zero out present emissions.

IMO emissions need to fall drastically and active carbon dioxide removal efforts will be needed even after those cuts. See Negative Emissions Key to Meeting 2°C Threshold, for one recent example of others saying the same.

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Sandwichman 07.27.16 at 11:42 pm

cassander,

Your self critique would be spot on if only you would learn to stop projecting it onto others.

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Faustusnotes 07.28.16 at 12:37 am

I read an article about apex predators recently (forget where) that suggested our carbon budget would be better off by 10 billion tons of co2 if sea otters had not been hunted to near extinction, due to their huge role as managers of kelp farms. Same applies to whales and beavers. So we could reverse geo engineer some of our mistakes to buy some time without any major negative risks.

We need something like these programs in order to be able to maintain some processes like jet travel and steel production that may never be carbon zero. We need at least to buy time so we can adapt them.

Just a few days ago we had a thread on ct about nuclear power in which it was pointed out that the huge delays in production in Egypt and China suggest the barriers to speedy roll out of nuclear aren’t just hippy radiation fear. It doesn’t surprise me that Cassandra is ignoring this, because blabbering about next gen nuclear power is just another form of denialist obfuscation.

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Chris G 07.28.16 at 1:04 am

Cassander @ 145 wrote: “Vox articles are not proof that the problems have been solved.”

Certainly not. And that’s not what I meant to imply. Roberts’ pieces illustrate that people have thought through the issues with creating renewable grid and that there’s a reasonable path forward. We’re not starting from scratch.

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Paul Davis 07.28.16 at 1:21 am

cassander @ 142: what you appear to mean is that culture makes civilization possible, which is I claim I suspect few will disagree with. But this is a very different claim that “it is the economy which grows our food”.

Knowledge about how to do things (build houses, grow food) preceded anything that bore even a remote resemblance to a modern “economy”. There is no sense in which our ability to do things is based on the nature of the economy, even though in a contemporary society it clearly mediates in the distribution and allocation of resources.

It is true that we rely on culture (the transmission of information via non-genetic mechanisms), but culture is a much, much wider phenomenon than “the economy”.

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Chris G 07.28.16 at 1:22 am

Russil Wvong @ 148 wrote: “Freeman Dyson suggests that one possible form of geo-engineering would be to use some kind of genetically engineered fast-growing plant to suck CO2 right out of the atmosphere.”

Freeman Eff-ing Dyson. He is a piece work. Proof positive that if you doing something brilliant in one scientific field that you can spew all sorts of inane bullshit in another and a sizeable fraction of the population – a fraction who has no technical knowledge of the latter field – will take you seriously.

From The Starship vs. Spaceship Earth at RealClimate [1]:

“The problem is that Dyson says demonstrably wrong things about global warming, and doesn’t seem to care so long as they support his notion of human destiny… The examples of this are legion. In the essay “Heretical thoughts about science and society” Dyson says that CO2 only acts to make cold places (like the arctic) warmer and doesn’t make hot places hotter, because only cold places are dry enough for CO2 to compete with water vapor opacity. But in jumping to this conclusion, he has neglected to take into account that even in the hot tropics, the air aloft is cold and dry, so CO2 nonetheless exerts a potent warming effect there. Dyson has fallen into the same saturation fallacy that bedeviled Ångström a century earlier. And then there are those carbon-eating trees… He points out that the annual fossil fuel emissions of carbon correspond to a hundredth of an inch of extra biomass per year over half the Earth’s surface, and suggests that it shouldn’t be hard to tweak the biosphere in such a way as to sequester all the fossil fuel carbon we want to in this way. Dyson could well ask himself why we don’t have kilometers-thick layers of organic carbon right now at the surface, resulting from a few billion years of outgassing of volcanic CO2.”

Hmm, that is a real headscratcher. Why aren’t we standing are a few thousand feet of topsoil? Spoiler alert! The RealClimate post gives us the answer:

“The answer is that bacteria have had about two billion years to evolve so as to get very, very good at combining any available organic carbon with oxygen. It is in fact extremely hard to put organic carbon in a form or place where it doesn’t get oxidized back into CO2 (Mother Nature thought she had done that trick with fossil fuels but we sure fooled her!) And if you did somehow coopt ten to twenty percent of the worldwide biosphere’s photosynthetic capacity to take up carbon and turn it into a form that couldn’t rot ever, you’d have to sort of worry about how nutrients would ever get back into the ecosystem.”

Dyson’s CO2/H2O confusion is sad. His carbon-eating trees bit is hilarious. One wonders how it would work? Shrubs that piss oil and trees that shit diamonds? Really, how can you not love that?

Ref :
[1] http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/the-starship-vs-spaceship-earth/

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cassander 07.28.16 at 2:33 am

@Paul Davis 07.28.16 at 1:21 am

>cassander @ 142: what you appear to mean is that culture makes civilization possible, which is I claim I suspect few will disagree with. But this is a very different claim that “it is the economy which grows our food”.

No, I meant what I said. Knowledge, on its own, is not enough You might know how to build a factory, but without economic exchange, it doesn’t matter because you need to spend all your time growing your own food. What you need for civilization is specialization, and for specialization you need exchange.

@Chris G 07.28.16 at 1:04 am

>Certainly not. And that’s not what I meant to imply. Roberts’ pieces illustrate that people have thought through the issues with creating renewable grid and that there’s a reasonable path forward. We’re not starting from scratch.

Thinking about problems and doing things are not the same. Inevitably, the real world proves more complicated than the theory. Problems will be encountered that were not anticipated, and the greater the distance you travel, the more opportunities there are for practice to diverge from theory. 2 orders of magnitude is a long way to travel.

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Chris G 07.28.16 at 2:41 am

Cassander @167: “Thinking about problems and doing things are not the same. Inevitably, the real world proves more complicated than the theory. Problems will be encountered that were not anticipated, and the greater the distance you travel, the more opportunities there are for practice to diverge from theory. 2 orders of magnitude is a long way to travel.”

I agree with all of that. As scientist/engineer I live those first three sentences every day.

Two orders of magnitude is a long way to travel. Best to get started ASAP.

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Chris G 07.28.16 at 2:50 am

Cassander @167: “What you need for civilization is specialization, and for specialization you need exchange.”

Efficiency (specialization) and resilience are at odds. You want to strike the right balance between the two. Roughly speaking: Highly efficient systems feel good but rarely fail smoothly. Highly resilient systems tend to lumber along and, as such, may feel constraining but they don’t fail catastrophically.

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bruce wilder 07.28.16 at 2:52 am

Paul Davis: There is no sense in which our ability to do things is based on the nature of the economy, even though in a contemporary society it clearly mediates in the distribution and allocation of resources.

It may be that the doctrines of mainstream economics, by abstracting distribution and allocation, create such an illusion. As Sandwichman pointed out up thread, no less a light than Robert Solow has contributed mightily to this economics of obscurity and it makes it remarkably difficult to think thru the economic problems posed by climate change and related issues.

But, our ability to do things is very much dependent on how well we are organized for large scale cooperation. And that is the nature of the economy. This might be clearer if economics was a bit less head up its assets. (Little spell check wit, that last.)

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bruce wilder 07.28.16 at 2:56 am

Efficiency (specialization) and resilience are at odds. You want to strike the right balance between the two. Roughly speaking: Highly efficient systems feel good but rarely fail smoothly. Highly resilient systems tend to lumber along and, as such, may feel constraining but they don’t fail catastrophically.

I know you are only feeding the troll and all, but, roughly, that is fatuous bs

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Chris G 07.28.16 at 2:58 am

>I know you are only feeding the troll and all, but, roughly, that is fatuous bs

Please elaborate.

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Chris G 07.28.16 at 3:08 am

Bruce Wilder:

I wrote, “Highly efficient systems feel good but rarely fail smoothly. Highly resilient systems tend to lumber along and, as such, may feel constraining but they don’t fail catastrophically.”

I had three things in mind when I wrote that: agricultural production, software and scientific instruments. Counterexamples?

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Omega Centauri 07.28.16 at 3:15 am

A few years back I did an exercise determining the rate of allowable emissions each year if we decide to keep the atmospheric concentration constant. There is a fit called the Bern carbon cycle?, which gives a formula for how quickly a unit of CO2 leaves the atmosphere. In any case I wrote a compute program to do that, exponential increasing emissions, then each year just enough emissions to get the atmospheric concentration fixed. In any case a few numbers to show the gradual nature of the needed reduction.
Year 1 78% of peak emissions.
Year 2 55%
Year 5 37%
Year 10 36%
Year 20 29%
Year 30 25%
Year 50 29%
Year 100 13%
Year 200 8%
Year 500 4%
Year 1000 2%
So there is a long tail that could enable aviation. But of course with the current 400ppm, we will substantially melt the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps, and suffer other effects. And this particular protocol doesn’t cover CO2 released because of effect of higher temps (just linear equilibration with terrestrial reservoirs). In reality a lot of carbon, and an unknown amount of methane will be released by decomposition of thawing permafrost, and methane hydrates. But you can see that the picture is less dire that presented by many who argue from the strong stores analogy. The real world is a bit more forgiving than that.

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sidd 07.28.16 at 5:47 am

Re: CO2 drawdown by accelerated rock weathering

I like the symmetry. The scale of mining, crushing, and spreading, say olivine in Saudi Arabia, enough to move the needle on atmospheric CO2 content would be comparable to that of coal mining today. Put the miners back to work. Might have to run the thing on solar power

Re: CO2 drawdown by better agricultural methods

Rodale has been around for quite a while and repays attention, but their techniques are unsuited to large agribusiness. Ellen Ingaham is another to watch.

sidd

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bruce wilder 07.28.16 at 6:19 am

The real world is a bit more forgiving than that.

Is it? Hmmm.

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Sandwichman 07.28.16 at 6:35 am

The real world is a bit more forgiving than that.

Is it? Hmmm.

The real world is a bit more uncertain than that about how forgiving it is.

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ZM 07.28.16 at 9:20 am

cassander,

“I agree, which is why it’s a shame that the climate mitigation people aren’t doing [finding opportunities with SWOT analysis].”

At uni we are taught to do this. I think there are a lot of opportunities, because a lot of things that will work for climate mitigation and adaptation you find can have other benefits, like more economical use of resources, health and social benefits, aesthetic improvements, environmental co-benefits etc.

“>If governments implement policy to move towards a circular economy it is more likely to happen quicker.
Only if you assume governments are competent, honest, and capable, none of which is a given.”

I think the government can work with other stakeholders, like business and the community and NGOs. This usually increases transparency and feedback and improves outcomes. I don’t think many people would be proposing that the government take on doing this in a highly centralised way. A lot of businesses would have the product research and design staff who would be better at working out how their products can transitions to being recyclable for a circular economy. Government doesn’t have enough staff. Government would probably have to work out policy and some systems, if you are transitioning from waste management that includes a lot of landfill to waste management with everything being recycled, since government does waste management now. One local government area near me is starting to do separate waste management for food and green waste so it can be composted, which is really exciting.

“>In some cases there may be more expenses, but moving the economy to this overall would actually free up more resources to use,
Expensive, by definition, means “uses more resources” something that is more expensive is not going to use fewer resources. the most you can claim is that a large initial investment in some of these systems can pay off in the long run, not that spending more will magically result in spending less. But that promise is always made and seldom borne out.”

What I meant is that if you are recycling resources then it is more economical because the resource is being used again and again. There is no waste and the usage of the resource increases. I think that is more economical.

“>And I am suspicious a carbon tax can do that anyhow.
There’s a level of taxation at which air travel, power from coal plants, or eating beef ceases to be economically viable for the vast majority of people. A carbon tax can drive down consumption to almost any level, assuming its enforced. And if it isn’t enforced, you’ll have the same sorts of difficulties enforcing a ban on those things as well. If you don’t think a carbon tax can work, I don’t see how you can think anything can work.”

Well I suppose you could try to tax things out of existence, but that doesn’t necessarily achieve the built environment changes that are needed (which is my area of study), or the changes in production and consumption that are needed. The tax might decrease consumption in some ways, but it is not positively guiding and staging the implementation of needed changes over ~35 years, which is what we need to be thinking about. A tax is reasonably broad, in Australia we used to have specific sort of taxes and duties, but the government decided to try and streamline the taxes and duties and things more. And if it is a revenue neutral tax like you suggested it doesn’t give the government any extra money to change infrastructure and things. I think maybe it could be part of a plan to deal with climate change, but I am not convinced that you could just make this tax and then it should fix the climate change problem. We have quite high taxes on alcohol and cigarettes and petrol etc and all these are still in use.

“>Climate change is a physical problem not an economic problem.
Any problem involving resource allocation is also an economic problem.”

Well true, it is a problem that involves the interaction of the natural environment and human society, so it does involve the economy.

“>I think economic growth is an environmental issue, but I think it is probably not a climate change issue as much, so it is better to keep it separate if you don’t want to discuss general environmental issues here and stick to climate change.
They aren’t separable, given the likely consequences of severe climate mitigation efforts, particularly for developing countries.”

I am kind of in favour of the idea of some sort of no growth economy, but I would like to see the convergence of advanced economies and developing economies. I think this will mean decreased consumption and better managed or more thoughtful consumption in advanced economies, and increased consumption in low consumption developing countries. But I have never been really able to find much data on what sustainable consumption would actually look like. It would be nice if I could say X country has the perfect sustainable consumption level, and the other countries should converge to around this point, but I can’t since I haven’t ever found research into that.

China has a Centenary Goal policy to become an advanced economy by 2050, so this should probably mean that the world starts looking at this issue more, due to the size of the Chinese population. It would exhaust resources if the Chinese population consumed per capita at the level of the Australian or American population.

The America-China non-profit Wild Aid based in San Francisco has recently been doing work on raising awareness of the links between diet and climate change in China, as the population adopts a more Western style diet.

“[Solar and Wind] most certainly do have accidents, just more often nad less spectacular ones. Nuclear is actually the safest form of power, by a wide margin.”

It seems dangerous to me with the severity of the accidents when they occur. Plus the waste is highly toxic for such a long time, and countries always try and get the Australian government to take their nuclear waste and keep it here. Places should keep their own highly toxic waste if they are going to create it :-/

“>This would solve the problem of some countries not having as good year round Solar and Wind RE potential as Australia.
No, it wouldn’t. the transmission losses of shipping power around the world would be enormous, even if you could work out a political solution, which you probably can’t.”

China has said they can build a worldwide Solar and Wind energy grid by about 2050 so they must have done feasibility studies. I guess countries would have to opt in to it. If countries wanted to opt out they could. I really would prefer it was done by under UN auspices or something, rather than leaving it to one country, but if China has offered then I am glad at least a country has started making plans to do that.

“>This is a terrible option.
Why is that?”

There hardly any research into it and scientists can’t do experiments and see what works and doesn’t work since there is only one Earth.

“My support for geo-engineering is premised on the condition that climate science becomes more certain. You are claiming that climate science can say with a high degree of certainty what the temperature will be in 100 years, but not what the effect of geo-engineering will be. Either we can accurately model the climate or we can’t. You’re the one being contradictory.”

No, I went to a talk on geoengineering at uni. There is hardly any research into it.

Climate science is about the natural climate, and then about the climate since the Industrial Revolution when humanity started adding high amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, and other greenhouse gas emissions increased in some cases, like methane from animal agriculture.

Geoengineering is different, since it is basically a small number of researchers who are looking at what other sorts of climate change are possible, now we did this climate change with CO2 and greenhouse gasses.

It is very speculative. Some of it could be quite dangerous. There is only one Earth so you can’t do any good experiments — look how long it has taken to get to the amount of knowledge about climate change from the “experiment” we have undertaken since the Industrial Revolution with releasing extra CO2. It has taken a long time to learn this much about climate change — and geoengineering is proposing other sorts of deliberate climate change to try and reverse this climate change.

The only geoengineering idea I have heard about that seemed safe enough to meet my standards, was painting more surfaces white and light colours to reflect light back into the sky. Apparently this can help and it seems quite safe.

“>Implementing Solar and Wind Renewable Energy Technology is far less risky and a lot of research has been done into it by now.
nuclear is less technologically risky, safer, and has had much more research done.”

I just don’t think that that is true. Nuclear has had some big accidents, and you have the problem of the highly toxic waste which stays toxic for a very long time. Solar and Wind doesn’t have such big accidents, and doesn’t produce very hazardous waste. Both have been researched for a long time, and Solar and Wind RET has come a long way in the last 20 years from an alternative technology to something that can be mainstreamed pretty easily now.

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Paul Davis 07.28.16 at 11:13 am

cassander @ 167: you really do have this backward. It is civilization that allows for specialization, not the other way around. It is culture that allows for civilization.

Trading, money, manufacture – these are things that follow in the wake of a society that has already figured out how to cooperate with each other, remain in place (*), define and communicate conventions, and produce food and shelter in sufficient abundance to allow the emergence of non-farmers. These things all require communication, teaching, and tools, and the persistent presence of these things is at the heart of a culture.

It is true that once specialization becomes possible, then the presence of an economy
becomes part of a complex and open-ended dance, in which new technologies and new modes of cooperation and exchange continue to co-evolve with each other. But that path isn’t open to human societies until their culture allows cooperation, which begets specialization, which begets the technologies and skills that later make complex economies feasible. Put another way: societies were growing their own food (environments permitting) long before anything resembling a “market” appeared.

(*) yes, there are nomadic tribes that participated in some aspects of what we would consider “an economy” but in a very different sense from the groups that developed agriculture.

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politicalfootball 07.28.16 at 4:52 pm

It could be this year that’s the fluke, and the pause era the new normal.

Leaving aside other cassander silliness, I think the “pause” is a real tell. It’s simply an indefensible argument. No meaningful pause occurred – even calling it a “statistical anomaly,” as faustusnotes does, gives it too much credit. It’s not at all anomalous. The “pause” was never anything but a deliberate case of cherry-picking data to mislead the ignorant.

And the scam is easily explained. There are a lot of statistics about climate that are hard to grasp, but the bogus nature of the “pause” is ridiculously easy to understand. Anyone who claims it was ever a thing is either a nitwit, a liar, or both.

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bruce wilder 07.28.16 at 5:00 pm

Chris G: Efficiency (specialization) and resilience are at odds.

Efficiency has several dimensions, too many to make it a good opposite pole to anything.

There’s the economist favorite, Ricardian allocative efficiency, which is only tangentially related to Smithian specialization. There are several engineering meanings, such as the heat efficiency of an engine or the energy efficiency of a machine or the material efficiency of, say, a bridge. There’s the informational efficiency of a financial market. The administrative efficiency of a bureaucracy.

You might take one of those meanings — say the design of a bridge, where an engineer will add material to strengthen components and the redundancy of design. There’s a trade-off of sorts between the minimalism of design with “resiliency” but efficiency isn’t the opposite of resilience in that instance: efficiency is a rational balancing of cost and risks, including the costs of managing the maintenance of the bridge.

The important point, it seems to me, in relation to the environment — the point on which we are not clear, but need to get crystal clarity — is that in relation to global “efficiency” and global “risk” that there is a fallacy of composition. Efficiency always involves a residual allowance for error and waste, which uncertainty and our limited knowledge makes unavoidable, and we depend in specific instances of productive activity and building on an assumed resilience in the assimilative capacity of the environment to take care of things, to absorb that externalized residual. But, in toto, we are facing the reality that we have exhausted the assimilative capacity of the environment.

Talk of “renewable” designs and processes is trying to find ways to take some account of that locally, but ultimately it tends to miss the point that it still all adds up globally. Your Prius doesn’t really help; it just makes you smug.

That’s a very brief explanation. Sorry, I don’t have time for a better exposition.

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cassander 07.28.16 at 8:54 pm

Chris G 07.28.16 at 2:41 am

> Two orders of magnitude is a long way to travel. Best to get started ASAP.

Why not find a solution that doesn’t require traveling so far? Like I said, a huge amount of the resentment and mistrust directed against the pro-AGW crowd is the not incorrect sense that they’re treating climate change as an opportunity for revolutionary change, not a problem to be solved as efficiently as possible.

> Efficiency (specialization) and resilience are at odds. You want to strike the right balance between the two. Roughly speaking: Highly efficient systems feel good but rarely fail smoothly. Highly resilient systems tend to lumber along and, as such, may feel constraining but they don’t fail catastrophically.

First, while this is true in general, it leaves out how productive gains from efficiency can mitigate against failure by making more of everything. We have a lot fewer farmers today than we did 100 years ago, but they grow so much more food that we can be both more specialized and more resilient, because the cost of resilience (storing food) is so much cheaper.

@ZK

>At uni we are taught to do this. I think there are a lot of opportunities, because a lot of things that will work for climate mitigation and adaptation you find can have other benefits, like more economical use of resources, health and social benefits, aesthetic improvements, environmental co-benefits etc.

I’m sure you were. But A, that doesn’t mean you do, and B, that doesn’t mean that even if you do, the solutions you come up with are correct. Plenty of people were taught in university about the great virtues of high rise public housing projects, the wonders of DDT and asbestos, and many other ideas now understood to be terrible.

>I think the government can work with other stakeholders, like business and the community and NGOs. This usually increases transparency and feedback and improves outcomes.

public private partnerships tend to combine the worst aspects of both systems.

>I don’t think many people would be proposing that the government take on doing this in a highly centralised way.

I see those calls all the time, usually phrased as something like “An Apollo program for clean energy”.

> What I meant is that if you are recycling resources then it is more economical because the resource is being used again and again. There is no waste and the usage of the resource increases. I think that is more economical.

Recycling isn’t free, and all resources are not interchangeable. It’s perfectly possible, that some form of recycling might take, for example, more energy (and thus make more carbon) than making new, but also generate less waste, and it’s not at all clear which of those is “better”. And there are subtler trade offs, you could substantially increase the fuel efficiency of cars by taking off the catalytic converters, and thus make less CO2, but only at the cost of more traditional toxins.

> Well I suppose you could try to tax things out of existence, but that doesn’t necessarily achieve the built environment changes that are needed (which is my area of study), or the changes in production and consumption that are needed.

Not overnight, but you can’t create them overnight anyway.

>The tax might decrease consumption in some ways, but it is not positively guiding and staging the implementation of needed changes over ~35 years, which is what we need to be thinking about.

This is precisely the sort of problem markets are good at solving and governments are bad at solving. Positive guidance is neither necessary nor desirable.

>And if it is a revenue neutral tax like you suggested it doesn’t give the government any extra money to change infrastructure and things.

>We have quite high taxes on alcohol and cigarettes and petrol etc and all these are still in use.

And? the point of a carbon tax is not to make no one produce any carbon, it’s to make the price of carbon balance with the environmental cost of its production so that people less of it, and only on the things they value more. let’s say you have a carbon budget that allows for either current levels of beef consumption or air travel, but not both. There’s no way to know in advance which people prefer, so you raise the price and let them decide for themselves. This is very basic economic calculation problem stuff.

>I am kind of in favour of the idea of some sort of no growth economy, but I would like to see the convergence of advanced economies and developing economies.

You can have one of those, not both.

>I think this will mean decreased consumption and better managed or more thoughtful consumption in advanced economies, and increased consumption in low consumption developing countries.

there you go again, treating AGW as an opportunity not a crisis. You might want that, but the vast majority of people are happy with their consumption.

>But I have never been really able to find much data on what sustainable consumption would actually look like.

It looks like a pre-industrial economy, which is not particularly pleasant/

> It seems dangerous to me with the severity of the accidents when they occur.

I just showed you evidence to the contrary. What things seem like and what they are are not the same,

>Plus the waste is highly toxic for such a long time, and countries always try and get the Australian government to take their nuclear waste and keep it here. Places should keep their own highly toxic waste if they are going to create it :-/

There are many ways to reduce, store, and deal with waste.

> China has said they can build a worldwide Solar and Wind energy grid by about 2050 so they must have done feasibility studies.

Or they’re just making outrageous claims the way they do all the time. To put that number in perspective, the US has about 250 transports as big as the plane in question, and has fewer than 1000 cargo transport aircraft of all sizes, much less massive.

> No, I went to a talk on geoengineering at uni. There is hardly any research into it.

Putting aside that one talk at uni is not the be-all of science, Yes, my point is that there’s not much research. It’s being ignored by the pro-AGW crowd because they prefer other solutions, and why I said we needed to “look into” it, not run outside tomorrow and start scattering dust into the jet stream.

> Geoengineering is different, since it is basically a small number of researchers who are looking at what other sorts of climate change are possible, now we did this climate change with CO2 and greenhouse gasses.

No, it isn’t different. It would rely on the same sorts of models and evidence that AGW predictions use.

>There is only one Earth so you can’t do any good experiments

the same is true of climate change in general.

> It is very speculative. Some of it could be quite dangerous.

So is runaway climate change. One has to pick their poison.

>It has taken a long time to learn this much about climate change — and geoengineering is proposing other sorts of deliberate climate change to try and reverse this climate change.

In other words, it’s taking what we learned and applying it in a useful way. You know, the way science works.

> I just don’t think that that is true. Nuclear has had some big accidents

I’ve already explained, and provided evidence, that this perception is wrong. Chernobyl killed 31 people directly. A few sources claim as many as 6000 people had a shorter life expectancy, but the UN found no evidence of serious cancer among the cleanup crews, who got much higher radiation doses than the evacuated population. even if you take the 6000, though, that’s tiny compared to the number who are killed in ordinary industrial accidents that don’t make the news.

politicalfootball 07.28.16 at 4:52 pm

>No meaningful pause occurred – even calling it a “statistical anomaly,” as faustusnotes does, gives it too much credit. It’s not at all anomalous. The “pause” was never anything but a deliberate case of cherry-picking data to mislead the ignorant.

James Hansen is part of the vast right wing conspiracy now? Man those guys are good!

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cassander 07.28.16 at 9:17 pm

Paul Davis 07.28.16 at 11:13 am

>Put another way: societies were growing their own food (environments permitting) long before anything resembling a “market” appeared.

There are species of ants that herd and husband aphids. Anything living pursues food, and quite a few things produce their own in some capacity.

In any case, though, reciprocal behaviors are most definitely older than humans. most primates display them, maybe even most mammals, despite the lack of anything that I would consider culture.

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Brett Dunbar 07.28.16 at 9:28 pm

Chernobyl had no measurable effect on cancer rate; except for one rare childhood thyroid cancer. Which is essentially only caused by exposure to radioiodine. The cancer has a very low mortality rate and the excess was only detectable as the background rate is close to zero. For any other cancers any additional cases could not be distinguished from random variations in the background rate.

Radioiodine absorption can be prevented by giving iodine tablets for about three months. The half life is eight days and after about ten half lives the amount remaining is negligible.

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Paul Davis 07.28.16 at 11:11 pm

cassander @ 183: i would suggest “The Evolution Of Culture In Animals” by John T. Bonner (Princeton UP, 1983)

I wasn’t arguing that other animals don’t have culture (i.e. a non-genetic means of transmitting information across generations). I was arguing with your absurd claim that it is the economy that grows our food, not the environment. We have produced our food from the environment long before we ever had anything that looked like what we mean by “the economy” today. Even if the economy plays a large role today in deciding what is produced, where it is produced, how it is produced, and then later how distribution and allocation works, food starts with the soil, the air, the water and the sun, as it has always done.

I am reminded of the line from the south african man who saved spalding gray from drowning, as recounted in “Swimming to Cambodia”.

The sea is a lovely lady, Spalding. You can play in her, but never play with her.

Substitute “the sea” for the environment, and take heed.

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bruce wilder 07.28.16 at 11:43 pm

Chernobyl had no measurable effect on cancer rate

It had an effect and the effect has been to shorten lives and induce cancers, but we cannot measure those effects or identify the victims individually. Sorry. So let’s elide the effects altogether.

If we disperse the accumulating poisons sufficiently, and manipulate the methodological standards for research publication to lower the bar on “sufficiently” no one can be held responsible.

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Chris G 07.29.16 at 12:05 am

> It had an effect and the effect has been to shorten lives and induce cancers, but we cannot measure those effects or identify the victims individually.

Also worth noting, the Chernobyl exclusion zone is about 1000 sq.mi., almost the size of Rhode Island.

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politicalfootball 07.29.16 at 12:40 am

James Hansen is part of the vast right wing conspiracy now?

No, James Hansen confirms what I said, which was:

No meaningful pause occurred

Here’s how Hansen says it:

The 5-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of the net climate forcing.

When Hansen refers to “natural variability,” that’s what I’m talking about when I say “cherry-picking.” Climate change is real, and there’s nothing in the data from that period that suggests otherwise – just as Hansen says.

The actual graph is crystal clear on this.

But we’re coming at this matter with two different epistemologies, so it’s unsurprising that we come up with two different answers. I think there is an outside world that is impervious to my beliefs about it; you think your beliefs create the world. My process is more difficult, and it limits the sort of arguments that I’m able to make or the things I’m able to believe, so I understand why you make the choice you do. It must be fantastically liberating to be able to believe whatever you want to.

But my method has advantages, too.

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cassander 07.29.16 at 1:25 am

@politicalfootball

>I think there is an outside world that is impervious to my beliefs about it; you think your beliefs create the world

A more colossally arrogant and self righteous statement I have rarely seen. It’s an absurd thing to say in any circumstance, but to say it less than a paragraph after managing to completely ignore the words ‘and a slowdown in the growth rate of the net climate forcing., to say nothing of the summoning up enough goodthink to read “The 5-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, ” as “no meaningful pause occurred”, well, I simply have no words.

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Layman 07.29.16 at 1:26 am

“well, I simply have no words.”

Would that it were so!

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cassander 07.29.16 at 1:28 am

@Paul Davis 07.28.16 at 11:11 pm

>I wasn’t arguing that other animals don’t have culture (i.e. a non-genetic means of transmitting information across generations). I was arguing with your absurd claim that it is the economy that grows our food, not the environment.

The economy doesn’t grow your food. It does, however, allow you to eat food grown by others. And since you, I assume, are not a farmer, the distinction is one without difference. The environment, however, also does not grow your food. it’s people who grow it, people who have worked very hard to alter that environment to make it generate food.

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Brett Dunbar 07.29.16 at 1:37 am

bruce wilder @ 186

It had an effect and the effect has been to shorten lives and induce cancers, but we cannot measure those effects or identify the victims individually. Sorry. So let’s elide the effects altogether.

That is entirely incorrect. Extensive epidemiological study comparing areas within the plume and similar areas outside the plume showed no excess of cancer. If there is an effect there would be an increase which should be large enough to make a detectable difference in the rate of certain cancers. It only shows up for a single type of thyroid cancer which happens to have a background rate of virtually zero so even a small number of additional cases is visible. For all other cancers the effect is too small to be detected. There were 6,000 excess cases of iodine-131 thyroid cancer in children and teenagers in the immediate area (adults are mostly resistant to iodine poisoning), with 15 deaths. There is no evidence of an excess in solid cancers or leukaemia.

If there is an effect it is too small to show up as an excess over normal variation in the background rate and is small enough that it can reasonably be disregarded. The results are consistent with there being a threshold effect, as are lab results. They are not consistent with the linear no-threshold model.

For comparison Radon induced lung cancer kills about 1,000 people annually in the UK alone, about 20,000 in the EU (around 9% of lung cancer). The World Health Organisation estimate for the final death toll of Chernobyl is 4,000 that is based on the linear no-threshold model, if as seems likely there is a threshold effect that may be too high. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a generally anti nuclear group, estimate 27,000 deaths worldwide also based on the linear no-threshold model.

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

The scientific consensus on the effects of the disaster has been developed by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). In peer-reviewed publications UNSCEAR has identified 49 immediate deaths from trauma, acute radiation poisoning, the helicopter crash and cases of thyroid cancer from an original group of about 6,000 cases of thyroid cancers in the affected area. A United Nations study estimates the final total of premature deaths associated with the disaster will be around 4000, mostly from an estimated 3% increase in cancers which are already common causes of death in the region.

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Sandwichman 07.29.16 at 1:57 am

A more colossally arrogant and self righteous statement I have rarely seen.

You really ought to read your own statements, then, before you send them out.

Just kidding. The troll is not going to fall for that self-awareness humbug. The interesting thing — interesting in a clinical sense — is that the more directly people attempt to engage with the troll’s assertions, the more insulting he feels he needs to be to repel the threat.

John Stuart Mill observed, in On Liberty that “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” Mill didn’t go far enough. The pathological polemicist pursues a dynamic rather than a static ignorance in which he knows progressively less of his own side as he fends off what he takes to be offensive interpretations of his position. Potential insights dwell in the nascent ambiguities of the polemicist’s position but when an interlocutor points out these ambiguities the polemicist will have none of it.

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ZM 07.29.16 at 1:43 pm

cassander,

“public private partnerships tend to combine the worst aspects of both systems.”

I have heard of participatory public private partnerships, which involve civil society, NGOs, and individuals. I think these might be a good sort of model. But I haven’t really thought about exactly how the government could implement a circular economy; it would have to involve business and citizens, but I don’t know what the best structure for the engagement would be.

“>I don’t think many people would be proposing that the government take on doing this in a highly centralised way.
I see those calls all the time, usually phrased as something like “An Apollo program for clean energy”.”

There is a good article by Elinor Ostrom about a Poly-Centric Approach to climate change. This uses some of her earlier work looking at how cities function better if there are a whole range of levels and institutions involved in the governance, rather than being top down.

“Recycling isn’t free, and all resources are not interchangeable. It’s perfectly possible, that some form of recycling might take, for example, more energy (and thus make more carbon) than making new, but also generate less waste, and it’s not at all clear which of those is “better”. “

I think as well as recycling you would need to use things for longer as well. Apart from things like cans or something which go straight into the recycling, although I guess you could use glass jars and reuse them. You can’t really reuse cans since once you take the top off the can can’t function as a can anymore. They used to reuse milk bottles again and again, I guess you could do something like that to save the energy of recycling the container after only one use.

“>The tax might decrease consumption in some ways, but it is not positively guiding and staging the implementation of needed changes over ~35 years, which is what we need to be thinking about.
This is precisely the sort of problem markets are good at solving and governments are bad at solving. Positive guidance is neither necessary nor desirable.”

Well the markets haven’t solved the problem by themselves so far. I think there is a role for government to work with business and consumers. We have a good example in my Shire where the government partnered with an energy grid company and the community to transition one of the smaller towns to 100% renewable energy by about 2020.

“let’s say you have a carbon budget that allows for either current levels of beef consumption or air travel, but not both. There’s no way to know in advance which people prefer, so you raise the price and let them decide for themselves. This is very basic economic calculation problem stuff.”

I think you can’t have either the current levels of beef consumption or air travel. Both have to be lower. I saw recently a plane that was run on solar panels, I suppose if they manage to convert planes to using renewable energy like that then air travel could stay the same, otherwise people could take more boats and trains, or holiday closer to home if its not a business trip. But beef consumption needs to decrease definitely, and beef production produces methane directly as well as carbon through indirect inputs so it is not exactly interchangeable with air travel ghg emissions either.

“>I am kind of in favour of the idea of some sort of no growth economy, but I would like to see the convergence of advanced economies and developing economies.
You can have one of those, not both.”

You would just need to have an all around no growth economy, then the advanced economies would de-grow, so then the least advanced economies can grow, which creates a convergence to meet in the middle.

“there you go again, treating AGW as an opportunity not a crisis. You might want that, but the vast majority of people are happy with their consumption.”

But it is not environmentally sustainable at current levels, and it is not equitably shared either, with some countries having higher consumption and others lower.

“>But I have never been really able to find much data on what sustainable consumption would actually look like.
It looks like a pre-industrial economy, which is not particularly pleasant/”

I think you must be able to have an industrial sustainable economy, but I haven’t found research that says what it would look like exactly and what sort of industrial production and consumption levels are sustainable.

“There are many ways to reduce, store, and deal with waste.”

I don’t think we are going to agree about nuclear energy. For me it is too dangerous, the process is too dangerous with risks of severe accidents and the waste is too dangerous. Nuclear is not a popular technology here in Australia at all, but if you live in a country where you have a lot of nuclear maybe you are used to it.

“Or they’re just making outrageous claims the way they do all the time.”

This is an article about it in the Wall Street Journal, it seems like its in development stages. I hope the UN does it rather than just one government since it goes all around the world. This article says other countries might worry about security threats http://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-state-grid-envisions-global-wind-and-sun-power-network-1459348941

“No, it isn’t different. It would rely on the same sorts of models and evidence that AGW predictions use.” “>There is only one Earth so you can’t do any good experiments — the same is true of climate change in general.”

No, because there is no geoengineering to study. Scientists have studied the effects of what has happened with the emissions of greenhouse gasses since the Industrial Revolution and their impact on the climate. No one has done geoengineering for over 100 years for scientists to study, and you can only do one experiment on the climate at a time, since there is only one climate. And the one experiment has been with releasing CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, not geoengineering.

“> It is very speculative. Some of it could be quite dangerous.
So is runaway climate change. One has to pick their poison.”

Well we aren’t up to runaway climate change yet, this is why we have to take measures now before we are faced with runaway climate change.

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cassander 07.29.16 at 3:15 pm

ZM 07.29.16 at 1:43 pm

> I have heard of participatory public private partnerships, which involve civil society, NGOs, and individuals. I think these might be a good sort of model. But I haven’t really thought about exactly how the government could implement a circular economy; it would have to involve business and citizens, but I don’t know what the best structure for the engagement would be.

So you haven’t thought about the problem, or studied it, but you’re sure the answer isn’t markets? In other words, your choice is entirely determined by what feels good, not actual evidence? DO you not see how this is exactly the point I’m making about the left using climate change as an opportunity?

> Well the markets haven’t solved the problem by themselves so far.

That’s because carbon hasn’t been priced yet.

> I think you can’t have either the current levels of beef consumption or air travel. Both have to be lower.

You’re missing the point. You very badly need to read up on the economic calculation problem. The point is that there are some uses of carbon that are more valuable than others, and that there’s no way to know what those are except through markets.

> You would just need to have an all around no growth economy, then the advanced economies would de-grow, so then the least advanced economies can grow, which creates a convergence to meet in the middle.

making everyone poor is not a solution.

> I think you must be able to have an industrial sustainable economy, but I haven’t found research that says what it would look like exactly and what sort of industrial production and consumption levels are sustainable.

Once again, you flat out admit to relying on feeling, not evidence.

> I don’t think we are going to agree about nuclear energy. For me it is too dangerous, the process is too dangerous with risks of severe accidents and the waste is too dangerous. Nuclear is not a popular technology here in Australia at all, but if you live in a country where you have a lot of nuclear maybe you are used to it.

Once again, you flat out admit to relying on feeling, not evidence.

> This is an article about it in the Wall Street Journal, it seems like its in development stages

And the other one is in Jane’s one of the world’s premier aviation and defense publications, that doesn’t make the claims true the chinese are making true or realistic.

>No, because there is no geoengineering to study.

There most certainly is. The history of volcanoes and their effect on climate is long and well documented. And the entire discipline of climate studies is dedicated to studying the inadvertent geo-engingeering we’ve been doing by pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

>Well we aren’t up to runaway climate change yet, this is why we have to take measures now before we are faced with runaway climate change.

Which is precisely why I don’t want to spend trillions of dollars dealing with it. You, however, do, for reasons you frankly admit have more to do with feelings than evidence. Your behavior is not atypical, do you see how that makes me reluctant to trust you?

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faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 3:17 pm

Cassander says
“So you haven’t thought about the problem, or studied it”

Why don’t you tell us more about that fake graph that you put up with the wrong baseline and the dodgy data sets that conflate surface and atmospheric temperatures, Cassander. What was the problem there – had you studied the problem and were lying, or you hadn’t thought about it?

How does that affect your arguments?

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Cranky Observer 07.29.16 at 3:31 pm

= = =
> Well the markets haven’t solved the problem by themselves so far.

That’s because carbon hasn’t been priced yet.
= = =

Seems like a pretty fundamental problem with markets then: a problem is known to exist but the “market” does not self-organize and start to price it without outside, non-market intervention.

Of course we also have the example of the Republican-dominated FERC attempting to transform the provision-of-electricity industry into a web of UofC (freshwater) auction markets which is going about as well as you would imagine for a system with significant microeconomic market failures that requires 50-year planning horizons. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a continent-wide blackout in the next 10 years

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cassander 07.29.16 at 4:33 pm

>faustusnotes 07.29.16 at 3:17 pm

>What was the problem there – had you studied the problem and were lying, or you hadn’t thought about it?

I was looking for a graph I could easily link, and didn’t want to work too hard. This is why I also cited the Hansen paper, which you’ve repeatedly ignored in favor of focusing on trivialities

@Cranky Observer 07.29.16 at 3:31 pm

> Seems like a pretty fundamental problem with markets then: a problem is known to exist but the “market” does not self-organize and start to price it without outside, non-market intervention.

Commons problems are not exactly an obscure or unstudied phenomenon. The existence of a commons problem, however, is not proof, or even evidence that there is a non-market solution that does better, much less that any non-market solution is better that the status quo. As a rule, there are a lot more way to fuck up something than to improve it.

More philosophically, though, why, exactly, do you seem to think I’ve claimed that unfettered free markets are a solution to climate change? I’ve proposed three solutions, a carbon tax, massive government sponsorship of nuclear power, and geo-engineering. I suppose you could call a carbon tax a market based solution, but if you do, that would make a pretty big chunk of the commentariat here supporters of a market based solution.

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Ogden Wernstrom 07.29.16 at 5:31 pm

“I suppose you could call a carbon tax a market based solution, but if you do, that would make a pretty big chunk of the commentariat here supporters of a market based solution.”

As long as that doesn’t get twisted from supporting a market-based solution to supporting any market-based solution, I see no problem there. I would hope that such a tax would create a market…much like the market that was created by government-imposed regulations to reduce acid rain.

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Russil Wvong 07.29.16 at 5:51 pm

ZM @194:

“You would just need to have an all around no growth economy, then the advanced economies would de-grow, so then the least advanced economies can grow, which creates a convergence to meet in the middle.”

Joseph Heath on the political riskiness of “degrowth” as a strategy, in response Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (part of a series):

The second, incredibly risky response to the climate crisis that she recommends is a policy of “degrowth” (88). This is sort of a euphemism for reducing the size of GDP, which in practice means creating a policy-induced, long-term recession, followed (presumably) by measures designed to restrict the economy to a zero-growth equilibrium. Now because she plans to shift millions of workers into low-productivity sectors of the economy (126-7), and perhaps reduce work hours (93), she imagines that this degrowth can happen without creating any unemployment. So the picture presumably is one in which individuals experience a slow, steady decline in real income, of perhaps 2% per year over a period of 10 years (none of the people recommending this seem to give specific numbers, so I’m just guessing what they have in mind), followed by permanent income stagnation. (There would, presumably, still be technological change, so a degrowth policy would have to be accompanied by some mechanism to ensure that work hours were cut back in response to any increase in productive efficiency, in order to ensure that production as a whole did not increase.)

At the same time that incomes are either shrinking or remaining stagnant, Klein also proposes an enormous shift from private-sector to public-sector consumption, presumably financed by significant increases in personal income tax. Again, she doesn’t give any specific numbers, but from the way she talks it sounds like she wants to shift around a quarter of the remaining GDP. Plus she wants to see a huge amount of redistribution to the poor. So again, just ballparking, but it sounds as though she wants the average person to accept a pay cut of around 20%, followed by the promise of no pay increase ever again, combined with an increase in average income tax rates of around 25% (so in Canada, from around 30% to 55%). And don’t forget, this is all supposed to be achieved democratically. As in, people are going to vote for this, not just once, but repeatedly.

What I find astonishing about proponents of “degrowth” – not just Klein, but Peter Victor as well – is that they don’t see the tension between this desire to reduce average income and the desire to reduce economic inequality. They expect people to support increased redistribution at the same time that their own incomes are declining. This leaves me at something of a loss – I struggle to find words to express the depth of my incredulity at this proposition. In what world has this, or could this, ever occur?

In the real world, economic recessions are rather strongly associated with a significant increase in the nastiness of politics. Economic growth, on the other hand, makes redistribution much easier, simply because the transfers do not show up as absolute losses to individuals who are financing them, but rather as foregone gains, which are much more abstract. It’s not an accident that the welfare state was created in the context of a growing economy. (See Benjamin Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, for a general discussion of the effect of growth on politics.) It seems to me obvious that a degrowth strategy – by making the economy negative-sum – would massively increase resistance to both taxation and redistribution. At the limit, it could generate dangerous blow-back, in the form of increased support for radical right-wing parties.

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bruce wilder 07.29.16 at 6:32 pm

cassander @ 198: I was looking for a graph I could easily link, and didn’t want to work too hard. This is why I also cited the Hansen paper, which you’ve repeatedly ignored in favor of focusing on trivialities.

In a comment thread where the likes of faustusnotes and Layman are your critics, cassander, you have my sincere sympathy, but if you don’t need my help, let me at least assure you that you are not losing your mind. As commenters, these two are worse than useless.

Commons problems are not exactly an obscure or unstudied phenomenon. The existence of a commons problem, however, is not proof, or even evidence that there is a non-market solution that does better, much less that any non-market solution is better that the status quo.

This was certainly Milton Friedman’s argument: there is no bad situation that government in its clunky heavy-handedness cannot make worse. It has a certain rhetorical appeal and contributed to that chorus of “government is the problem, not the solution” which we have heard from your side of the political fence for lo these many years.

One right-wing response to commons problems is privatisation. Assign property rights, even where they did not previously exist or make little sense, and wait for the millennium to arrive, when Christ the King John Galt will rule. This kind of “markets in everything” formula is a recipe for rampant corruption. If we conceive of politics as entrepreneurial politicians marketing their platforms, then just let everyone bribe everyone ad infinitum. Public choice. Neoliberal and Clintonian politics in other words.

Does it make any sense to pretend that there can be markets in large-scale generation of electricity? It does, if your goal is to remove the constraints of public utility regulation and permit financial capital opportunities for economic predation.

Just because people robotically say, “market” as a political slogan does not mean that there actually is a market or could be a market. A market implies certain kinds of processes and relationships: price competition mediated by bidding, for example, and horizontal exchange among equals where price carries sufficient information for rational decision-making among the parties. Applied to most economic activities, “market” is more or less always a lie.

I could say againg, privatising as a response to perceived market failure in the face of a commons problem is substituting for the tragedy of the commons, the tragedy of enclosure. But, it is actually much worse than that.

“existence” of market failure is framing in good neoclassical fashion as if it is a defect, a deficiency in a persistent and stable market equilibrium and the job of the economist is to suggest a pareto-improving fix, if she can inventively think of one. And, Friedman would have us debate whether the move from one equilibrium — with a modest market failure — to another — with an imperfect government patch-up — is actually an improvement. Friedman asks, shouldn’t we consider just living with the imperfection?

With Friedman, one lie is piled on top of another; it is turtles lies all the way down.

Just as, typically, there is no actual market, so there is no actual stable equilibrium. Commons problems do not just sit there in constancy, waiting for us to notice the opportunity to make things marginally better with some neoliberal nudge.

In real life, a commons problem is emergent. It emerges out of the dynamics of economic cooperation and development. (No market, no equilibrium — that’s just deceptive myth-making.)

Let’s use a made-up example to illustrate what I mean. People arrive for the first time on the shores of a lake. Someone builds a boat, goes out and fishes, brings home a huge haul from the pristine lake. Others imitate. Soon there is a thriving industry of fishermen and a fish cannery on the shore and production soars. Until production approaches an apparent limit. The fishermen re-double their individual efforts, sending out more or larger boats to maintain the level of the catch.

One possibility is that this just goes on until the fishery of the lake is exhausted. Maybe the desirable fish population just settles to a very low level or evolve into smaller forms or the ecology of the lake collapses as the erstwhile top predator is fished to extinction. There’s no equilibrium, was never an equilibrium, where the commons problems was simply a persistent small annoyance. There was, instead, a dynamic where it blew up into a catastrophe.

Another possibility is that the community works out that some thing is going wrong and the resource of the lake will have to be managed. Maybe, some bright fellow gets curious about fish or ecology or whatever and develops a good theory and people figure something out, Elinor Ostrom style. Maybe, someone tells a tall tale about the god of the lake and the need for sacrifice to appease the god. Maybe the Lord of the Manor takes over the fief of the Lake and shoots some fishermen as poachers.

Climate change is, yes, a commons problem. But, not the kind of equilibrium problem of uncompensated externality Friedman and the neoclassical economists posit — if such problems ever exist outside the fevered imagination of an economist musing on a non-existent market system near general equilibrium, let it be said, this is not one.

This is the kind of emergent commons problem driven by dynamics of the developing global economic system that will surely blow up, if we don’t devise solutions. Solutions where we constrain ourselves and manage the natural resources that we hold as a common wealth before, in our ignorance, we extinguish them.

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sidd 07.29.16 at 6:59 pm

Hansen paper was in 2013, Cowtan and Way was in 2014. The latter is well worth reading. Evidence for a pause in temperature increase is vanishing quickly.

Average global surface temperature is not nearly as interesting to me as ocean heat content, which soaks up 95% or so of planetary radiative imbalance. In this regard, almost anything by Levitus or Purkey is very good, particularly with regard to heating at depth. There is a recent discussion in doi: 10.5194/os-2016-16

sidd

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bruce wilder 07.29.16 at 8:40 pm

Meanwhile in Siberia:

“Pangody, in the heart of the Yamalo-Nenets region, (on the shores of the Arctic Ocean) had high temperatures of at least 82 degrees Fahrenheit 18 straight days from July 6-23, peaking at 92.7 on July 23.”

A reindeer thawed out, triggering an anthrax epidemic among reindeer and humans. The humans are being evacuated.

https://weather.com/news/weather/news/anthrax-released-from-thawed-reindeer-amid-siberian-heat-wave

No mention of the bubbling methane. Whee!

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Brett Dunbar 07.29.16 at 9:25 pm

Markets in energy production are pretty comparable to markets in anything else. It is a mass produced highly perishable good. With a bit of regulation it is perfectly possible to set up a market.

The UK has done so for consumer gas and electricity sales. The regulator deals with the fees the distribution network (a natural monopoly) charges to the retailers. Otherwise the market sets the prices. The customer can chose from a range of retailers each offering several tariffs both variable and fixed-price separate and duel fuel using price comparison websites. You go to one of the various price comparison websites tell them your location and your gas and electricity consumption (from your metre readings) and the websites will calculate your bill under all the tariffs available to you and you can then switch fairly easily through the website.

The retailers contract with the generators based on their needs and purchase an amount of energy equal to their customer’s aggregate demand. The use of relatively long term contracts avoids much short term price volatility as relatively little is purchased on the spot market.

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Paul Davis 07.29.16 at 9:25 pm

bruce wilder @ 201: all good, except for this clinginess when it comes to “common(s) problems”.

there’s no evidence that so-called “commons problems” existed at all in any culture until mercantilism and later capitalism destroyed the social fabric and conventions that had previously “managed” the resources under question. that is to say: “commons problems” were recognized a very, very, very long time ago in human societies, and culture was used to manage them. the arrival of capitalism and somewhat contemporaneously the industrial revolution (depending on where you look) decimated the mechanisms that had existed for centuries.

i’m not arguing that the pre-capitalist cultural mechanisms were perfect. but to suggest that people in the 1600s didn’t realize that there were “commons problems” for water supply or fishing rights (in rivers, at least) or logging is just completely ahistorical. the problems were recognized and, to a large extent, solved, until a new economic arrangement appeared that demanded the end of those solutions.

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cassander 07.29.16 at 9:31 pm

@bruce wilder

I want to make sure I’m getting your argument right. Your claim is basically that as long as there were a few fishermen, there was no commons problem, because they couldn’t possibly over fish the lake, and that a commons problem only emerges once the number of fishermen reaches a certain level, correct?

If that’s the case, I don’t disagree, but I fail to see how pointing that out invalidates the Friedmanite solution of either figuring out the maximum number of fish that can be caught per year then auctioning off the right to catch them or taxing each caught fish sufficiently to reduce consumption to sustainable levels. There might be practical difficulties to such a solution (e.g. the lake is very large and prone to dense fog so it’s hard to police), but you haven’t articulated a theoretical problem with applying those solutions once the problem emerges.

On the particulars of the climate problem, I certainly is no reason why electricity generation cannot be carried out by markets. You could certainly argue that power distribution is a natural monopoly, but not generation. However, even if you assume that the whole grid is a natural monopoly, we still need to figure out the optimum amount of power to generate, what methods of power generation represent the best compromise between material cost and environmental costs, to decide to what degree we should generate electricity vs. pumping fuel into people’s homes, and so on. Removing power generation from the market sphere doesn’t remove the need to, or at least the desirability of, to finding equilibrium.

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ZM 07.29.16 at 10:26 pm

cassander

“> I have heard of participatory public private partnerships, which involve civil society, NGOs, and individuals….
So you haven’t thought about the problem, or studied it, but you’re sure the answer isn’t markets? In other words, your choice is entirely determined by what feels good, not actual evidence? DO you not see how this is exactly the point I’m making about the left using climate change as an opportunity?”

No. I have studied the problem — I have studied it at university in my masters degree in urban planning. I think that government and business and community should work together on it, I do not think the market will solve the problem in a timely way by itself. I don’t know how waste management is managed in the USA where you live, but in Australia local government administers waste management, and I think the State government regulates it. To move to a circular economy avoiding landfill would require involvement from government and also from business and consumers. I am not advocating a solution that cuts out the market — I am advocating the same governance solution that we currently have for waste management involving government, business, and consumers/citizens.

“> Well the markets haven’t solved the problem by themselves so far.
That’s because carbon hasn’t been priced yet.”

Well I don’t think a carbon price can achieve this by itself, you need other policy as well.

“> I think you can’t have either the current levels of beef consumption or air travel. Both have to be lower.
You’re missing the point. You very badly need to read up on the economic calculation problem. The point is that there are some uses of carbon that are more valuable than others, and that there’s no way to know what those are except through markets.”

It doesn’t matter if people think beef consumption is more valuable to them than air travel, it still needs to decrease anyhow. And there are other health and environmental co-benefits to decreasing beef consumption as well.

“> You would just need to have an all around no growth economy, then the advanced economies would de-grow, so then the least advanced economies can grow, which creates a convergence to meet in the middle.

making everyone poor is not a solution.”

I don’t think people would be poor. They would still have lots of things, and education, and healthcare.

“> I think you must be able to have an industrial sustainable economy, but I haven’t found research that says what it would look like exactly and what sort of industrial production and consumption levels are sustainable.

Once again, you flat out admit to relying on feeling, not evidence.”

I have researched this, consumption needs to decrease because current levels are not environmentally sustainable. Maybe a circular economy would mean there would be extra resources without environmental degradation since you are using them over and over again. But I have not found research that says “This X is what a sustainable society would look like” apart from one academic Ted Trainer who John Quiggin always says is wrong. There just isn’t research available that I have found that uses hard evidence to show what a sustainable society would look like from a material point of view. I have looked for it, and I haven’t been able to find it.

“> I don’t think we are going to agree about nuclear energy. For me it is too dangerous, the process is too dangerous with risks of severe accidents and the waste is too dangerous. Nuclear is not a popular technology here in Australia at all, but if you live in a country where you have a lot of nuclear maybe you are used to it.

Once again, you flat out admit to relying on feeling, not evidence.”

cassander, you are being disingenuous. I have a lower tolerance for risk than you do. I think nuclear energy is too risky, there is the risk of very dangerous accidents and it creates very hazardous toxic waste. You know these are the facts as well as I do. You have said you are willing to take the risks, but I am saying I think it is too risky. You are relying on your feeling about what risk you are willing to take as much as I am !!

“> This is an article about it in the Wall Street Journal, it seems like its in development stages

And the other one is in Jane’s one of the world’s premier aviation and defense publications, that doesn’t make the claims true the chinese are making true or realistic.”

The article you linked to is just about China saying it needs “”more than 1,000″ Xian Aircraft Corporation (XAC) Y-20 heavy strategic transport aircraft and that the country also plans to build transport aircraft comparable in size to that of the Antonov An-225 Mriya.” I don’t see the connection to the global energy grid. And the article doesn’t say China is making untrue claims about needing this aircraft anyhow, it is just reporting saying that is what China has said it needs since it wants to build up its airforce or something to be equivalent to the USA’s.

“>No, because there is no geoengineering to study.

There most certainly is. The history of volcanoes and their effect on climate is long and well documented. And the entire discipline of climate studies is dedicated to studying the inadvertent geo-engingeering we’ve been doing by pumping carbon into the atmosphere.”

Yes — but volcanoes and climate change is not the geoengineering they want to do. If you mean they want to release sulfur like volcanoes, no one even enjoys the effects of volcanoes!

“>Well we aren’t up to runaway climate change yet, this is why we have to take measures now before we are faced with runaway climate change.

Which is precisely why I don’t want to spend trillions of dollars dealing with it. You, however, do, for reasons you frankly admit have more to do with feelings than evidence. Your behavior is not atypical, do you see how that makes me reluctant to trust you?”

No. You are being disingenuous and misrepresenting me. I have studied a lot of evidence, I have read books and articles and gone to public lectures. I am not uninformed about evidence at all!

As above, with some things like willingness to take risks it is a matter of feeling.

I *feel* that I don’t want to take a huge risk with the future of the world, so I think it is much better and safer to act now and prevent dangerous climate change.

You are saying you *feel* like you would be willing to take a *more risky* course of action, which would be to delay taking action now, and wait until we are facing runaway climate change.

Although you have said that you would accept a carbon price as a policy now, so I guess you are willing to take some action now, but not the degree of action that I think is called for with the problem we are facing.

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bruce wilder 07.29.16 at 10:36 pm

You are moving the goal posts again, cassander.

In your earlier comment, you asserted that the “existence of a commons problem, however, is not proof, or even evidence that there is a non-market solution that does better, much less that any non-market solution is better that the status quo.”

The status quo of no state intervention is the bar you set. And, it was the bar that Milton Friedman set. Friedman’s argument made a certain sense in the context of a stasis; Friedman liked to imagine that the stability of the economy was the stability of a system of market in equilibrium in price, where the individual fisherman’s efforts were coordinated by price — not the state administering quotas and licenses.

The state interventions you propose, like establishing quotas or taxing fish, are still state interventions. The Hayekian embedded knowledge of the fishermen is not helping here. What each individual fisherman knows about fishing and decides on the knowledge individually available is completely self-destructive to the fishing industry and the ecology of the lake. We need new institutions that can manage the situation. That can, as you put it, figure “out the maximum number of fish that can be caught per year” and enforce a rationally chosen and monitored limit.

I think there are a lot of ways you can get to management of the commons and I would not here try to privilege the State Department of Natural Resources sending out a team of biologists to technocratically study the lake, followed by taxes or licenses. Politically, people can work together, as ZM says.

My point is that what are often called “commons problems” are emergent, dynamic problems that can blow up in our collective faces, because we are not organized to take into account new knowledge and feedback and use it to manage things.

The addition of CO2 to the atmosphere and to the carbon cycle on a massive scale is such a dynamic problem.

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bruce wilder 07.29.16 at 10:39 pm

Brett Dunbar @ 204

Yeah, you can set up some unnecessarily complex neoliberal kabuki, call it a “market” and fleece a lot of people.

One point I am trying to hammer home is that calling our system of hierarchies, with administered prices, “a market system” is fundamentally misleading. That’s not the world we live in.

If “market” is just a conventional label for your ideology, that’s fine — I am sure it will serve your deceptive purposes. But, don’t expect me to discuss it with you.

Paul Davis @ 205

I am not sure you read the comment I wrote @ 201.

I think we agree that commons problems have been encountered over and over again in the course of human economic development and solved imperfectly or not solved over and over again.

What I was trying to get across is that commons problems are not equilibrium problems. To the extent the system has arrived at homeostasis, there is no commons problem to solve. It is the continuing dynamics of human interaction with the environment that set up commons problems. And, being dynamic problems, you solve them, or things end badly indeed.

Historically, I expect it has been quite frequently the case that humans have unthinkingly pursued a dynamic course that resulted in catastrophe, such as an extinction event, before there was even time to do the social and cultural organizing necessary for a better outcome. The first humans in North America, their numbers still very small, nevertheless managed to hunt much of the abundant large fauna to extinction in short order, long before their descendants in many cultures developed a religious regard for living in harmony with nature.

The only thing novel about our 21st century problems is their global nature: our 7+ billion population and burgeoning industrial civilization is pressing hard on the “commons” of the assimilative capacity of the global environment.

The hockey stick of population and industrial growth is driving the hockey stick of atmospheric and oceanic CO2 and global temperature.

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ZM 07.29.16 at 10:46 pm

Russil Wvong,

I think there needs to be some sort of steady state economy or degrowth if there is going to be a convergence of advanced economies with the poorer economies, so as to avoid worse environmental degradation than we already have.

I am not an economist, I think either of these options would have to be managed and administered carefully. Another option is that growth continues but slows, and material consumption is managed to decline while the more intangible sectors, like knowledge and information technology etc. could grow, and environmentally positive sectors, like land rehabilitation for carbon farming and biodiversity enhancements, could grow as well.

From the piece you quote — “What I find astonishing about proponents of “degrowth” – not just Klein, but Peter Victor as well – is that they don’t see the tension between this desire to reduce average income and the desire to reduce economic inequality. They expect people to support increased redistribution at the same time that their own incomes are declining. This leaves me at something of a loss – I struggle to find words to express the depth of my incredulity at this proposition. In what world has this, or could this, ever occur?”

Yes, I think this is a tension. Henry did an interesting OP here a while back on The Paradox Of Thrift, so I think unemployment is a real problem, and the negative impacts on the business sector as well. Anything would have to be managed carefully, I would expect to see greater government intervention in the market until the change was achieved and seemed stable. I don’t really like the idea of going back to the 19th C with lots of booms and busts or anything like that.

I think people would accept decreasing material consumption, with higher redistribution and rising equality, if it was managed well enough and was justified and they thought the type of economy they were moving towards would be better than the type of economy we have now, which I guess is the 40 year neoliberal economy of 1975-2016 or thereabouts.

But this is something for economists to work out, I am studying urban planning, I can’t make up policy for the economy — the government would never hire me to do that since I am not qualified.

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bruce wilder 07.29.16 at 11:00 pm

Roughly half the U.S. labor force is engaged in sales and marketing and financing activities that have no genuine value-added. They are just churn, much of it driven by the desire of a few to greedily concentrate wealth and resources and income in their own few grasping hands.

We could drastically cut energy consumption in the U.S. by simply eliminating this unnecessary economic activity. And, spread out employment by limiting the work day, the work week or just funding desirable economic activities that the market fails to finance due to any number of well-known “market failures”.

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Brett Dunbar 07.30.16 at 12:09 am

bruce wilder @ 209

Your assertion that something “isn’t a market” basically consists of you asserting that something that looks and acts like a competitive market is in some way not a market. This is not convincing.

The UK electricity and gas market have consumer prices determined by direct competition between multiple retailers who are themselves purchasing from multiple generators. It is a market. The only part that isn’t is the cabling, the transmission is a regulated natural monopoly with the retailers and consumer groups having the ability to complain to the regulator is the transmission fees are excessive or discriminatory. a regulated monopoly is a second best solution.

We are not in a corporatist system, the retailers are not permitted to collude to fix prices. If collusion is prevented then even a fairly small number of suppliers is sufficient to produce competition and force the businesses to keep their margins to a minimum. Your assertion about kabuki theatre is essentially that the competition is illusory and that the system is really corporatist. That hypothesis predicts that the price level would be about the profit maximising price and the business would be extracting monopoly rents. While the hypothesis that the markets that actually exist are competitive enough to approximate to an ideal market predicts that the prices would be about the marginal price. Essentially your hypothesis makes a testable prediction about the price level, specifically that prices will be excessively high.

In a market based system with anticompetitive practices regulation one sign that the regulator looks for are prices that are significantly above the marginal price.

The competition at the consumer stage (both domestic and industrial) drives competition all the way along the supply chain as minimising your costs allows you to reduce prices without cutting profits. You chose the cheapest duel fuel tariff for your gas and electricity and then your supplier has to obtain gas and electricity to supply to you for less than you are paying them so will look for the cheapest supply of gas and lowest cost electricity generation so driving a competitive market at that stage as well. The generators obtain fuel on the international commodities market as well. So you might have four different competitive markets operating between the mine and your home. In order to compete for your custom the retailers need to keep the price the generators charge them as low as possible.

Consumer
Competitive market
Multiple electricity retailers
Competitive market
Multiple electricity generators
Competitive market
Multiple mining companies.

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bruce wilder 07.30.16 at 12:12 am

Brett Dunbar: We are not in a corporatist system, the retailers are not permitted to collude to fix prices.

You are delusional.

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Brett Dunbar 07.30.16 at 12:25 am

Commons problems predating mercantilism are mostly not well documented; simply due to a remoteness in time. They tend either to have been solved, by a property right a taboo or some other mechanism for limiting consumption, or the common good was destroyed before the historical record starts. The overkill hypothesis for the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction is essentially a tragedy of the commons, similar to the way that beaver were hunted almost to extinction in Canada during the nineteenth century.

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bruce wilder 07.30.16 at 12:41 am

In a market based system with anticompetitive practices regulation one sign that the regulator looks for are prices that are significantly above the marginal price.

Do you mean prices significantly above marginal cost? Because that’s almost always the case, because production processes exhibit increasing returns to scale, and distribution takes place under a regime of monopolistic competition, rent-seeking and so on.

For almost all consumer products, prices are administered as I keep saying and you don’t seem to be able to process. When you go to McDonald’s or the Apple Store or the supermarket, you are confronting not a single price determined by competitive bidding between supply and demand; you are seeing a complex schedule of price strategically administered by a bureaucratic hierarchy.

The price of a McDonald’s hamburger can be lower on Tuesdays. The price of a movie ticket can be lower for a senior citizen or matinee. Every generation of iPhone has the same nominal price. Microsoft can give away Windows upgrades for a year. All because there’s a huge gap between the marginal cost and the price, if there is a price, which is probably going to vary, due to elaborate schemes of price discrimination.

There’s no “market”. Well, rarely a market — there are some actual markets, of course, or we would have no idea what the word refers to. But, the economy of everyday experience features very few and insisting on describing our actual arrangements as metaphoric markets obscures what is really going on. Typically, what you as a consumer confront is a bureaucratic hierarchy administering a price schedule embodying a scheme of price discrimination. And, that is precisely because actual cost structures typically involve large sunk-cost investments and increasing returns to scale and marginal unit costs that are well less than average total costs and often still declining over the relevant range of output. (I repeat myself.) If, counterfactually, there was a market with a Walrasian auctioneer calling tatonnement in such circumstances, she would not be able to find a market-clearing price, because there isn’t one — there’s no market equilibrium possible. If the firm prices near marginal cost, it fails to earn a return on its sunk-cost investments and fails financially. It must find political power sufficient to capture an economic rent and that economic rent furnishes a return on sunk-cost investments. Typically, that entails strategically managed price discrimination, so some consumers pay somewhat more than marginal cost and other consumers pay a lot more.

You have a lot of beliefs, Brett. Substitute observations. There’s no auctioneer crying tatonnement at the supermarket or dry cleaners or movie theatre. There are giant bureaucratic hierarchies looming everywhere. Look. See.

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bruce wilder 07.30.16 at 12:57 am

If I were really wasting my time on this exposition for Brett, I probably should complement the supply side analysis of cost structure with a demand of warranties. Prices can not do the function Hayek attributed to them, of encapsulating and transmitting information, because they do not vary enough. But, also, because consumers need warranties to overcome their shortage of information about products and their qualities. Cave emptor? Sure, except how could that ever work, so reputation and money-back guarantees and all that stuff.

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Brett Dunbar 07.30.16 at 1:13 am

bruce wilder @ 213

You are delusional. A fairly significant part of the activity of the state is enforcement of anti-competitive practices law. In many areas of business low barriers to entry and large numbers of businesses make collusion impossible and in others any attempt at collusion would carry serious risk of substantial fines. Basically we are aware of a significant failure mode and take steps to prevent it. Prices should provide a useful indicator of how functional the market is. The evidence for rich countries is that the markets are mostly well functioning. While places and industries that are not subject to an effective market are notable for high levels of waste, inefficiency and high prices.

https://people.stanford.edu/nbloom/sites/default/files/dmm.pdf gives some of the results of a controlled blinded study of the effect of giving Indian textile firms some fairly basic management advice. India has a rather weak competition so there is little penalty for bad practice. Western businesses face a much more effective market so unless they are efficient they go bankrupt. So best practice spreads quickly.

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Faustusnotes 07.30.16 at 1:18 am

So Cassander, you didn’t understand the chart. You don’t actually understand the problem we are trying to solve but you want to waste everyone’s time debating why we shouldn’t try to solve the problem you don’t understand.

I addressed the Hansen chart, which you also don’t understand. Why don’t you try and learn something about the topic before you debate it?

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Brett Dunbar 07.30.16 at 1:47 am

If you are unhappy with the price or quality offered by Apple or McDonald’s you are perfectly able to purchase from a competitor. Samsung or Burger King for example.

The mobile phone market is fairly competitive and while only Apple sell iOS phones there are quite a few alternative OSs Android is the single most popular and many manufacturers use it in their phones. They are not exact substitutes but are close substitutes.

The restaurant market is highly competitive as the barriers to entry are very low and as a result there are many independent retailers. Prices are then set based on the cost of supply and looking at what competitors are charging for similar products. Your competitors have the same suppliers have similar overheads and labour costs and are selling a similar product so you end up with about the same prices.

Price variations in things like hotel rooms are due to large seasonal variation in demand while supply is fixed.

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bruce wilder 07.30.16 at 1:49 am

I apologize for the thread detour. I should know better than engage any Brett, but I have my hobby horses.

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cassander 07.30.16 at 5:42 am

@bruce

>The state interventions you propose, like establishing quotas or taxing fish, are still state interventions.

And? I never claimed that they weren’t, or that state intervention was always bad. All I said was that the mere existence of a problem does not imply its solution. There are problems that the state can intervene to improve, and there are others that it can’t. This tells us nothing about the problem at hand.

>My point is that what are often called “commons problems” are emergent, dynamic problems that can blow up in our collective faces, because we are not organized to take into account new knowledge and feedback and use it to manage things.

Again, I don’t disagree, but this is almost tautological.

>The addition of CO2 to the atmosphere and to the carbon cycle on a massive scale is such a dynamic problem.

Alright, but again, so what?

@ZM 07.29.16 at 10:26 pm
cassander

>No. I have studied the problem — I have studied it at university in my masters degree in urban planning.

You said, specifically, “But I haven’t really thought about exactly how the government could implement a circular economy;”

>Well I don’t think a carbon price can achieve this by itself, you need other policy as well.

Why not?

>It doesn’t matter if people think beef consumption is more valuable to them than air travel, it still needs to decrease anyhow. And there are other health and environmental co-benefits to decreasing beef consumption as well.

In other words, you know what’s good for people, and you’re going to give it to them whether they like it or not?
Who gave you the right to decide what people should and shouldn’t get?

You can argue that carbon production needs to decrease, and that’s fine, but if people prefer to use their budget to eat beef instead of driving cars or flying on aircraft, how on earth do you think you have the right to tell them they’re wrong?

>I don’t think people would be poor. They would still have lots of things, and education, and healthcare.

But no beef, apparently. Again, why do you think you’re smart enough to decide for everyone what they should have?

“> I think you must be able to have an industrial sustainable economy, but I haven’t found research that says what it would look like exactly and what sort of industrial production and consumption levels are sustainable.

Once again, you flat out admit to relying on feeling, not evidence.”

>cassander, you are being disingenuous. I have a lower tolerance for risk than you do.

You want to gamble with the lives and welfare of billions of people on ideas like circular and zero growth economies that have never been implemented anywhere, much less planet wide. I want to generate electrical power by a method that’s killed, in its entire lifetime, dozens of people. I’d say you’re the one with the appetite for risk

>I think nuclear energy is too risky, there is the risk of very dangerous accidents and it creates very hazardous toxic waste.

I’ve given you very solid evidence that it does not, in fact have dangerous accidents relative to other forms of power, that the number of people killed by nuclear power is tiny. Why do you continue to ignore this evidence? If you think you have different evidence that contradicts me, fine, please show it to me. Don’t just continue to assert what you think.

> don’t see the connection to the global energy grid. And the article doesn’t say China is making untrue claims about needing this aircraft anyhow, it is just reporting saying that is what China has said it needs since it wants to build up its airforce or something to be equivalent to the USA’s.

An Chinese air force with a 1000 transports of that size would be several times the size of the USA’s. The connection is that both are being reported in reputable places, because it’s true that a chinese government official made them. That the claims were made does not mean that they are true. They are not true. the PLAAF will not buy 1000 Y-20s, nor will it build a global solar grid. They will, however, enjoy some good press by making those claims.

> — but volcanoes and climate change is not the geoengineering they want to do. If you mean they want to release sulfur like volcanoes, no one even enjoys the effects of volcanoes!

It’s exactly what they want to do, and if you planet is too hot, you most definitely do enjoy volcanoes, at least as long as you don’t live too close to them.

>You are saying you *feel* like you would be willing to take a *more risky* course of action, which would be to delay taking action now, and wait until we are facing runaway climate change.

We come back to risk. Again, I have to point out that your path is not without risk. You want to spend trillions of dollars on unproven systems for power generation and adopt radically new social systems. These are extremely risky actions, radical change on this scale has a very long, and very bloody, history. The most you can claim is not that I am more willing to take risks than you, but we disagree on which course is most risky.

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Brett Dunbar 07.30.16 at 10:53 am

Your hobby horse mostly consisting of making an obviously false assertion, once you have competition at the consumer level it propagates along the supply chain as businesses look to reduce costs. You have entirely failed to make any argument that supports your proposition or suggest any way of testing your assertion. I have made several specific predictions, for example that in uncompetitive markets prices will be high compared to similar competitive markets and that either profits will be excessive or that efficiency will be low.

The examples of supposedly uncompetitive markets you gave, mobile phones and fast food were both competitive markets. Fast food indeed is notable for very low barriers to entry and large numbers of small independent businesses.

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Peter T 07.30.16 at 2:11 pm

cassander brought up the “pause” in warming in land temperatures. It’s a good example of a style of thought that – whatever its outward seeming – is simply not connected to any scientific understanding at all.

We know from direct measurement that the earth is in energy imbalance – more coming in than going out (and the gap is in the radiation bands absorbed by CO2). This energy has to be going somewhere – if it’s not raising land temperatures it has to be doing something else (and it now appears that the energy was being absorbed in the deep oceans). In this and other instances, the laws of thermodynamics – which are fundamental to the operation of the universe – apply. Any supposition to the contrary evidences a belief in magic – that because one can see the lady in tights in mid-air, levitation is possible (and all those scientists are wrong). cassander uses the words of material realist discourse, but the thought pattern is a much older one.

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cassander 07.30.16 at 4:27 pm

@Peter T

Please point to anything I said where I disputed that emitting CO2 will make the earth warmer. Failing to do that, because I’ve said no such thing, will hopefully teach you a valuable lesson about the pointlessness of debating straw men instead of the arguments people actually make.

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bruce wilder 07.31.16 at 2:37 am

Brett Dunbar @ 222

You transmuted “market” into “competition”. That wasn’t anywhere in what I said.

There can be rivalrous and strategic competition aplenty in the economy as it is.

Strategic competition means that the actors and agents decide on their own behavior with a speculative awareness of how others will react. And, they make sunk cost investments and try to change the institutional rules of the game in their own favor.

What does not happen, or happens rarely, is competition in price.

If there were actual markets in operation, as there actually are in some commodities, in some financial securities, in art objects and so on, there would be competitive bidding by either buyers or sellers or both and frequent adjustments in price. This does not often happen, because most transactions are not mediated by actual markets.

I go to the supermarket, and I pay the posted prices. Maybe I have some coupons and a buyers’ club card that gets me a discount. But, this is all the result of administrative processes. There’s no Walrasian auctioneer crying tatonnement over the tapioca in Aisle 6.

There’s certainly competition. The Coke distributor and the Pepsi distributor, I’m sure, have their people in the store every other day. They probably pay the supermarket for shelf space and placement. They run an endless round of promotions, featuring regular small adjustments in product price, coupons and the like.

There’s a lot of competition in the movie business. But, movie theatres will not bid against one another for your patronage. Ordinarily, they will charge more or less the same price for the most popular movie as for the least popular; they don’t offer to adjust it when you come to the ticket counter. Nobody says, make me an offer. If somebody, in the presence of predictable excessive demand offers to scalp the ticket, the theatre manager may well call the police.

These are all administrative processes. People do market research and plan advertising and promotions. If the supermarket runs low on root beer, the distributor sends more root beer; they don’t jack the price of root beer for a few hours. If few people show up to see a movie, the movie theatre chain transfers exhibit to fewer, smaller screens or drops it altogether. For the penurious but patient consumer, there’s the option of waiting for the movie to show up at the dollar cinema or on Netflix or free broadcast teevee. But, again that’s not bidding; those options rest on strategic choices by the distributor and deals with the firms with control of various distribution channels, followed by administrative management in the actual execution of scheduling and promotion.

All of this matters to how people think about the economy and policy. First of all, it matters to macroeconomics because the economy does not have the capacity in all situations to smoothly adjust prices. This is known of course as “sticky prices” but often treated as something mysterious. Economists have very unrealistic ideas about how to go about estimating the costs of monetary inflation for example in terms of forcing more frequent price adjustment.

It matters to the problems of competition policy, which you mention. If there were markets, we might imagine that the number of buyers or sellers was critically important. But, in a world of administered prices, the rules of administrative enforcement are more important. Resale price maintenance, if it is allowed, may have significant effects. In a world of administered pricing and strategic competition with sunk-cost investments and gateway rents (distribution chokepoints like the availability of supermarket shelf space), we’d worry more about ratcheting up prices over time. A financing scheme for vet services or dental work becomes worrisome as a source of dynamic increases in prices and costs. The deal between cell service carriers and smart phone makers is more important that the fluctuations in consumer demand.

But, all of that is beyond our capacity to notice if we keep saying, “market” while looking straight at arrangements which are not markets.

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faustusnotes 07.31.16 at 6:47 am

Oh dear Cassander. You blabbered on about models outside of parameters and put up an embarrassing chart. Now you want to claim you didn’t deny the greenhouse effect?

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Brett Dunbar 07.31.16 at 9:31 pm

Ah I think I understand. You are using an excessively narrow and idiosyncratic definition of market; which is why you are making such an apparently absurd claim. The fact that prices in many cases aren’t set by some form of explicit auction process doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market, it’s not as liquid as an auction, but it is still a market. You have a fairly extensive range of products from different manufacturers of different qualities and at different prices. All of which are competing. That is a market. The price setting takes place over a somewhat longer timeframe.

Pure price competition is somewhat unusual as in most cases there are qualitative differences. Gas and electricity are unusual as the products are absolutely identical so only price and mode of generation matters.

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Brett Dunbar 07.31.16 at 9:59 pm

In a corporatist system you have price fixing by cartels, such as retail price management. That an explicitly non capitalist and anti market economic ideology would hinder the operation of the market is not exactly surprising. If you have price fixing then not having the natural market price is expected.

There might not be an explicit auction of tapioca but there are several different brands putting in bids for your custom. You can accept any or none of the offers. That is a market. Then at a later date given both sales figures and manufacturing costs they adjust prices based on market conditions.

The operation of a market isn’t all that dependent on the number of participants provided there isn’t collusion, monopoly or monospomy. A very large number of participants makes it impossible to collude without state support. A small number of participants may require intervention to promote competition in the interest of the consumer, the authorities in a democracy are accountable to the voters, who are consumers. This may have a connection to why democracies are better at capitalism than dictatorships.

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Cranky Observer 07.31.16 at 10:21 pm

= = = Gas and electricity are unusual as the products are absolutely identical so only price and mode of generation matters. = = =

Yeah, no. The FERC and its Chicago School minions have so far identified 25 mandatory auctions that entities in the bulk electricity industry (generation, transmission, wholesale) must participate in and about 50 more that it would like to mandate or “recommend”. These auctions are supposedly going to take the place of the mixed system of internal planning, cooperative planning, and bulk sales that existed between 1935 and 1994/2003. Let’s just say that MISO’s first 30-year forward capacity auction didn’t go exactly as expected by Chicago School theory. Not to worry though: I’m sure the necessary capacity will appear in 2044 provided as if by an invisible hand.

[yes, the day ahead and 5-minute systems are much closer to an auction market and are currently run as such. Of course, even there the auctions results require an additional level of non-market oversight to ensure system security {security-constrained economic dispatch}. FERC is adding more and more epicycles to the auctions in an attempt to replicate the old system where dispatchers simply called one another, exchanged data, and worked things out. Much more efficient I’m sure, at least it will be when all the kinks are worked out. I’m sure it will be quite stable and reliable over the next 10 years too…]

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bruce wilder 07.31.16 at 10:32 pm

Resale price maintenance is legal in the U.S. in most cases. It didn’t used to be. It is now.

Competition ≠ market.

There’s competition of a sort in the economy as it exists, among rival hierarchies, but it is the strategic competition of rivals and rent-seekers. You don’t have to like it or dislike it; it is what it is. I’m just trying to get you to see it as it is and stop talking about irrelevancies. Blathering on about collusion without state support or a large number of participants is completely without relevance, because it makes no sense to apply concepts of market competition, like monopoly, where there are no actual markets and price is formed and maintained by administrative processes.

A market doesn’t present take-it-or-leave-it posted price offers. That’s in no useful sense a market. People who call that a “market” whether a labor market or a market for Tapioca or a housing market (or pretty much any setting for economic exchange transactions where bidding doesn’t discover price and price doesn’t control the flow of goods or services) is using the term, “market” metaphorically. I am saying the metaphor doesn’t work well enough to justify itself as anything better than a misleading falsehood.

Anyway we are badly off-topic, for which I have already apologized once. I have written enough for you to be able to figure out what I meant and no volume of prose can convince you of anything.

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Brett Dunbar 08.01.16 at 12:19 am

So basically you are wrong. Competition=market. If you have a number of retailers competing for your business then you have a market. Market is not a synonym for auction an auction is one way of structuring a market it is not the only one.

The lack of haggling does not make it not a market. As long as you have multiple competitive suppliers and buyers you have a market.

When I said that electricity and gas were identical regardless of supplier, I was talking about the consumer’s position. Electricity and mains gas from EDF is exactly the same as that from MAWEB, Powergen or Co-op. Several of the suppliers offer a green tariff where all of the electricity is supplied from renewables, so some tariffs are sold based on mode of supply rather than just on price. The retailers often own some generation capacity and have various duration supply contracts with other generators the contracts are often on an annual basis so consumer prices are often adjusted annually.

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ZM 08.01.16 at 3:41 am

cassander,

“You said, specifically, “But I haven’t really thought about exactly how the government could implement a circular economy;””

Yes, that is true, but I have studied about why we need a circular economy and why it makes sense. I just haven’t studied about the best way to implement it. I think you would need government working with business and the community sector, but the exact way to structure that engagement is something I haven’t studied.

“>Well I don’t think a carbon price can achieve this by itself, you need other policy as well.
Why not?”

I have read that the carbon price would have to be very high in the models to achieve a move to renewable energy. I think there are problems with economic models generally speaking and there are other elements that need to be considered and implemented as well as just moving to renewable energy.

“>It doesn’t matter if people think beef consumption is more valuable to them than air travel, it still needs to decrease anyhow. ….

In other words, you know what’s good for people, and you’re going to give it to them whether they like it or not?
Who gave you the right to decide what people should and shouldn’t get?
You can argue that carbon production needs to decrease, and that’s fine, but if people prefer to use their budget to eat beef instead of driving cars or flying on aircraft, how on earth do you think you have the right to tell them they’re wrong?”

There is a growing literature on the topic of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and the livestock sector is the biggest contributor to agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and within the livestock sector beef and lamb are the greatest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. I didn’t just make this up because I want to decide “what people should and shouldn’t get” it is based on facts.

Also I can only advocate for this, I am not a dictator who tells everyone in the world what to do and they have to do it, so I don’t have any sort of “right to decide what people should and shouldn’t get” I can just advocate for things exactly the same as you can! :-/

The beef emissions are not interchangeable with the airplane emissions, and unless airplanes can be made to run on renewable energy, air travel is not a feasible popular mode of transport in the future. Most people would need to switch to trains and boats, and air travel using bio-oil be reserved for important work by heads of state and diplomats and that sort of thing.

“>I don’t think people would be poor. They would still have lots of things, and education, and healthcare.
But no beef, apparently. Again, why do you think you’re smart enough to decide for everyone what they should have?”

Beef production and consumption would need to decline. According to my research people could still eat beef as an occasional luxury item, like maybe one 300g steak a month or something if they ate a predominantly plant based diet for the rest of the month. You would have to factor in the greenhouse gas emissions of their whole diet to work it all out.

“You want to gamble with the lives and welfare of billions of people on ideas like circular and zero growth economies that have never been implemented anywhere, much less planet wide. I want to generate electrical power by a method that’s killed, in its entire lifetime, dozens of people. I’d say you’re the one with the appetite for risk.”

A circular economy is really just about waste and recycling, I don’t think it is very risky, you just have to work out how to recycle products and their components better.

I think the economy has to change so the environment isn’t getting more and more degraded. I acknowledge that you would have to be careful about any changes, and wary of things that have gone wrong in the past with large scale economic changes.

You’re not going to convince me about nuclear energy. It is not a popular technology in Australia where I live, I am not worried about my State deciding to implement nuclear energy, and if the USA wants to have nuclear energy that’s your business, but I wish you wouldn’t keep trying to get us to take your hazardous nuclear waste.

“An Chinese air force with a 1000 transports of that size would be several times the size of the USA’s. The connection is that both are being reported in reputable places, because it’s true that a chinese government official made them. That the claims were made does not mean that they are true. They are not true. the PLAAF will not buy 1000 Y-20s, nor will it build a global solar grid. They will, however, enjoy some good press by making those claims.”

Well, I don’t know. I suppose China could be pretending to be wanting a global renewable energy grid, but I don’t see why. Even if they just connected all the countries in the Asia Pacific to an energy grid it would be really good. And Africa would probably want to be connected too.

“> — but volcanoes and climate change is not the geoengineering they want to do. If you mean they want to release sulfur like volcanoes, no one even enjoys the effects of volcanoes!
It’s exactly what they want to do, and if you planet is too hot, you most definitely do enjoy volcanoes, at least as long as you don’t live too close to them.”

Yes, well living in a world which is like the affects of a permanent worldwide volcano eruption due to geoengineering is not my cup of tea.

“We come back to risk. Again, I have to point out that your path is not without risk. You want to spend trillions of dollars on unproven systems for power generation and adopt radically new social systems. These are extremely risky actions, radical change on this scale has a very long, and very bloody, history. The most you can claim is not that I am more willing to take risks than you, but we disagree on which course is most risky.”

I think you are wanting to leave the social risk to the end, and keep acting on a path that is environmentally risky, but I would prefer to take some social risks as long as I think they are well managed and ensure human rights aren’t abused, and avoid the environmental risks as much as is still possible at this point in time.

Geoengineering is not without social risks. I can’t imagine people being very happy living in a world which is like a permanent global volcano eruption. Everyone would be bad tempered to say the least. Who knows what wars would happen. There might be economic effects. People would be angry at the older generations for not acting on climate change earlier. It would be a socially risky course of action and you don’t know what the social affects would be since there has never been a world like that to extrapolate from.

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cassander 08.01.16 at 4:11 pm

@ZM 08.01.16 at 3:41 am

cassander,

> I have read that the carbon price would have to be very high in the models to achieve a move to renewable energy.

Yes, and? the reason this is true is because producing carbon has high utility. Banning it instead of taxing it doesn’t reduce the cost of that forgone utility.

>I think there are problems with economic models generally speaking and there are other elements that need to be considered and implemented as well as just moving to renewable energy.

All the models of your circular economy are economic models.

> Also I can only advocate for this, I am not a dictator who tells everyone in the world what to do and they have to do it, so I don’t have any sort of “right to decide what people should and shouldn’t get” I can just advocate for things exactly the same as you can! :-/

> The beef emissions are not interchangeable with the airplane emissions, and unless airplanes can be made to run on renewable energy, air travel is not a feasible popular mode of transport in the future.

Yes, they are. the climate does not care whether a given pound of carbon comes from a cow’s ass or a jet engine. and that is how a carbon price works, by letting people choose for themselves if they’d rather eat a pound of beef or fly rather than train across the country.

>You would have to factor in the greenhouse gas emissions of their whole diet to work it all out.

No, you don’t. That’s the point of prices! if you have a carbon tax you don’t need to figure everything out, which is good because you can’t actually figure everything out. You just tax carbon production and let the market figure everything out. consumption of those goods will decline if you raise their price.

> A circular economy is really just about waste and recycling, I don’t think it is very risky, you just have to work out how to recycle products and their components better.

“Communism is just about rational scientific planning of the economy, I don’t think it is very risky”

radical new social systems are ALWAYS risky.

> Well, I don’t know. I suppose China could be pretending to be wanting a global renewable energy grid, but I don’t see why.

You also don’t see why they’re pretending to want 1000 Y-20s, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. There are lots of reasons, but the fact that the Chinese have a history of making these outlandish claims is good reason to take them with a grain of salt.

> Yes, well living in a world which is like the affects of a permanent worldwide volcano eruption due to geoengineering is not my cup of tea.

It’s not my cup of tea to live in a world where I can’t eat beef every night. We can’t always get what we want, the question is which of several bad options do we dislike the least.

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John Jakes 08.01.16 at 8:06 pm

As a very definite skeptic of the AGW hypothesis, I’d ordinarily debate it. But I won’t do it here. I’m leaving this comment for only one purpose: to call out this blog for its laughable and highly stereotypical liberal arrogance. Not only do you hold a position on the issue, but you imagine that NO ONE disagrees. If that’s actually true, why do you even bother?

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Brett Dunbar 08.01.16 at 9:00 pm

CO2 produced from beef production is exactly the same as CO2 produced from burning aviation fuel. CO2 is CO2 it is all fungible the source is largely irrelevant.

Farming tends to involve crops so should be carbon neutral as growing the grass on the pastureland takes carbon out of the atmosphere which is then re-emitted. It isn’t using carbon sequestered millions of years ago. Some farming practices lead to carbon being permanently sequestered in the soil, so altering agricultural practices may help.

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