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2020 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #4

Posted on 25 January 2020 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles linked to on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week, i.e., Sun, Jan 19, 2020 through Sat, Jan 25, 2020

Editor's Pick

The companies that have contributed most to climate change

Thought-provoking readings on those most responsible for the pollution.

Jackpump in Texas

Sometimes, in our struggle to address climate change, we need to see ourselves as facing not an incredibly complex (or “wicked”) problem (and one to which most of us contribute) but a clear-cut adversary. The world’s biggest fossil fuel companies inevitably make good candidates for that role, partly because they have done so much to delay political action, but also because they are literally the biggest source of the problem.

To learn more, an excellent place to begin is with a recent series from The Guardian. Starting on October 9, 2019, that paper published a significant cluster of stories in conjunction with the Climate Accountability Institute. The lead story is “Revealed: The 20 Firms behind a Third of All Carbon Emissions“; here is the first of three pages of links to the complete series (and a few later pieces).

Still, even identifying a clearly responsible party to blame might not make the climate problem look tractable: Getting off fossil fuels is a truly daunting challenge. Chris Turner’s essay “We’re Doomed. Now What?: An Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis” (The Walrus, November 2019) is more about its subtitle than its title. This thoughtful and thought-provoking look at some realistic but encouraging practicalities of converting the energy system makes a stimulating counterpart to the Guardian series. These stories update the 2017 Carbon Majors Report about the 100 most-carbon-polluting companies.

An important element in getting the world off fossil fuels involves how best to address the attendant, and fully understandable, concerns of all those who have been involved in the carbon economy, through employment or investments – including through retirement funds and pensions. A good starting place to learn about “stranded assets” is again in The Guardian.

The companies that have contributed most to climate change by SueEllen Campbell, Yale Climate Connections, Jan 24, 2020

Articles Linked to on Facebook

Sun, Jan 19, 2020

Mon, Jan 20, 2020

Tue, Jan 21, 2020

Wed, Jan 22, 2020

Thu, Jan 23, 2020

Fri, Jan 24, 2020

Sat, Jan 25, 2020

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. "The companies that have contributed most to climate change"

    These sorts of scapegoating views don't help much. The trouble with this is leads to finger pointing, where people will say "governments should do something about oil companies then". "The climate problem is nothing to do with me". Now this totally distracts attention from pushing for clean electricity grids and lifestyle changes.

    And what can governmnets practically do about fossil fuel companies? They are legal entities so attempts to shut them down, or cap how much oil they are allowed to produce would require massively draconian policies and people would rightly be concerned about government abuse of power. And simply shutting the companies down would cause massive economic dislocations. Although I have to say its tempting.....

    Concentrate on the things that could work and are compatible with a reasonably free society. Carbon taxes, cap and trade, subsidies, fuel efficiency rules etc but set at robust levels that make a real difference. its going to hurt a bit, but there will be multiple benefits.

    Shame the oil companies if you want, and executives that put personal self interest above all other things.

    No doubt I will be called a denier. However Im not going to go along with stupidity.

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  2. nigelJ: I find your comment to be a tad wishy-washy. Re its final sentence, what "stupidity" are you talking about?  

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  3. John Hartz, by stupidity  I mean trying to find scapegoats to blame for the climate crisis, and this includes oil companies. It just looks like it would be counter productive.  We need to be  a whole lot more solutions focussed.


    Of course its good to remind people of how oil companies have contributed to the denail campaign. This is a bit different.

    I don't see where my comments are wishy washy. Calling my comments wishy washy actually sounds wishy washy.  You need to show me specifically where you think I'm wrong and why.

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  4. nigelj: I did not say your comments were wrong. I also withdraw my claim they are "wishy washy".  My bad.

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  5. Further to Nigel's remarks, a couple of nights ago this matter of producer vs. consumer culpability came up in conversation over dinner over in these here parts. My  initial sour remark was that 90% of people blaming oil companies for our problems would be begging them to resume production after a week of cessation, were "they should just stop" actually to happen. 

    Remembering that I was in a dark mood, I amended my estimate to 60%.

    What does distinguish oil majors is their concerted attempt to gaslight us— to reach into our heads and twist our grasp of reality— so as to preserve the money vector they enjoy. That's an offense against society unique to a select group. It's an act of calculated harm with effects similar to antisocial behavior covered in statutory law, even if no actual criminal code encompasses the transgression.

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  6. Doug Bostrom: Well said. I would add that the fossil fuel industry is going full bore with BAU for the foreseeable future. It simple must be prevented from doing so using every tool available.

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  7. John Hartz @4, ok, but I was looking forward to a bit of a debate with you on the issue! I dont care if people attack what I say, as long as it doesn't become personal, which is clearly not your style anyway.

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  8. Doug:

    THe thing that particularly galls me is how the fossil fuel industry (particularly in the U.S.) actively lobbies to place regulatory and financial hurdles in front of competitors via government intervention.

    I wish that, as a consumer, I had freer access to alternatives, so that I could make more individual choices to avoid fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry keeps its "competitive" advantage when it succeeds in reducing the availability of alternatives. Free market, my @$$.

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  9. Bob Loblaw @8 now you are talking. That is exactly the problem.

    In many places globally electricity generation is effectively a government run or privately run local monopoly, often with fossil fuels. Because its a monopoly they will try to lock out new alternatives that upset the prevailing comfortable arrangements. Customers have no choice.

    In my country (and I believe in Texas) we have a different system, an electricty market system effectively run by the transmission lines company (which is a natural monopoly you can't change that). But the system is structured to prevent generating companies joining together to create a big monopoly, especially one that excludes any particular form of generation.

    So the system is designed to provide customer choice between mutiple generating companies and to to ensure all generating options get a fair go including renewables. So we have generating companies with different mixes of types of generation,  and customers can pick and choose.

    A cap and trade scheme pushes up the prices of fossil fuels to encourages clean energy. 

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  10. nigelj@7: For better or for worse, I don't have much time these days to debate with anyone.  Sifting and winnowing trhough the myriad of Climate related articles being written and published to find the best ones for posting on the SkS Facebook page is labor intensive. In my spare time, I'm attempting to honcho the creation of a South Carolina Chapter of Elders Climate Action

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  11. John Hartz @10 fair enough and good on you. I always appreciate your list of articles. I'm probably just argumentative. Should have been a lawyer.

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  12. It seems we have the modelling capacity to predict the impact of what the current usuage of fossil fuel will have on CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and subsequent effect on global temperature.  That being the case, it should not be too difficult to predict the impact that would have occurred if fossil fuel use was halved in 1990.  We could then compare any positive outcomes (e.g. temperature reduction) that would have resulted if we took that course of action versus what is in place today.   Maybe we  could also get a handle on any negative outcomes, e.g. reduced development in poorer countries or inconveniences in richer countries.  Thus we could better determine how important it is to pursue reduction of fossil fuels use into the future.  Surely that would provide "hard" data that any skeptics could not refute.  It would also provide firm targets for emission reduction that would make a real difference as we go forward.

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  13. Bob @12 , you are superbly optimistic.

    But the past 30 years are almost certainly going to be very different to the coming 30 years.   Past and future changes in technology & social attitudes (and consequent economics)  . . . ensure that the past cannot be extrapolated linearly into the future.  Which makes it pointless to attempt to model a "re-run of history" from 1990.

    If the Byzantine Empire had not fallen to the Turks . . .  if Kaiser Wilhelm's father had not died prematurely . . .  if Adolf Schicklgruber had died in childhood . . . if . . . if.    So many broadbrush and "narrowbrush" events which might have been, and could have disrupted the course of history.   And nowadays, the course of history is mutating ever faster.

    No, the provision of data has no beneficial effect on the climate pseudo-skeptics.   They do not "refute"  ~ they have had decades of experience in unrelenting denial of reality.  It is rare for any of them to change, short of death.   They will continue to pervert (in their own minds) the logical scientific analysis of evidence.   And when backed into a corner, they resort to playing the "political conspiracy"  card.   Really, Bob, it's all just a form of intellectual insanity.

    And unless you can discover a cure for intellectual insanity . . . well then, your time would be better spent on more practical aims.

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  14. It is indeed challenging to ‘now’ correct what has ‘now’ developed. Development down the slippery slope of allowing potentially harmful, or actually harmful, activity to compete for popularity and profit has produced the expected result. The cheaper and easier harmful unsustainable activities are more popular and profitable. And popular and profitable activities develop powerful resistance to being corrected or terminated. And people have an aversion to losing perceptions of status or opportunity. That aversion includes a resistance to learning that what they developed a liking for was actually unsustainable and harmful and needs to be stopped. And that may have been one of the hoped for results of the fossil fuel power players who chose to pursue maximizing the development in the harmful incorrect direction they could benefit from.

    The current day fossil fuel majors cannot be defended. It is proper to identify them, and other harmful unsustainable organizations like them, so that people can take corrective actions.

    An important understanding is that everyone’s actions add up to create the future of humanity. Everybody needs to reduce how harmful they are and try to be more helpful. And all of the wealthiest should be required to lead the correction, or give up their position of higher wealth (become a commoner).

    One of the most powerful influences that individuals can have is doing whatever they are able to do to stop supporting these organizations and their activities, with all of the wealthiest leading the correction. Since everyone’s actions add up, it is not acceptable for any wealthy person to continue to be a trouble-maker requiring others to clean up the mess they make in pursuit of personal benefit.

    However, it is important to deal with the identification of the 6 major fossil fuel companies within the context of an expanded awareness and improved understanding of economics (see p.s. below).

    An important economic understanding is that nobody’s actions should be allowed to be harmful to another human no matter how much more profitable or popular that action may be. It is a slippery slope to start allowing benefit to be obtained by harming others or the future of humanity.

    The current reality is that humanity is well down the slippery slope of harm due to the actions of people trying to benefit from organizations like the identified 6 major fossil fuel corps. That position down the slippery slope is due to the actions of the harmful resistors of expanded awareness and understanding and the related required corrections (Read Jeffrey D. Sachs’ book “The Age of Sustainable Development” or take the MOOC of the same name).

    It is fair to ‘not blame’ the developers of an economic activity that developed before it was possible to understand the harm it was causing. But it is also fair to criticize any current day pursuers of benefit from economic activity that has significant doubts regarding its harmlessness. And it is fair to penalize those already more fortunate people who pursue benefit from activity that is undeniably harmful and who are trying to defend it with misleading marketing to influence public opinion, especially those arguing about the degree of harmfulness, and most especially those who discount future negative impacts when they do it.

    Sustainable development for the benefit of the future generations of humanity includes understanding the need to have no harm done to the environment of this planet, especially no harm done to the robust diversity of life. An economic action cannot be justified if it is beneficial to an already fortunate person but is contrary to developing sustainable improvements for the future of humanity.

    The consensus understanding regarding the need for corrections to achieve sustainable development can be understood to have been reached by global leadership in the 1960s, because that consensus awareness produced the understanding of the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the continued pursuit of expanded awareness and improved understanding of the diversity of topics related to sustainable development, including but not just climate science evaluations of climate change.

    That improving awareness and understanding includes learning that many of the current developed economic activities are not ‘steps along a path to a sustainable improving future’. Many developed economic activities are harmful unsustainable actions that have developed ‘resistance to correction’. They are in the wrong direction and go further in the wrong direction and set up barriers to resist redirection to a sustainable path. And they will require Responsible Leadership to rapidly correct them as required to limit the harm done to the future of humanity. Had they responsibly self-led their correction they would not be facing the external imposition of correction that is ‘more harmful to their current more incorrectly developed status’. A related criticism applies to all of the automobile producers. The ability to pursue the development of sustainable corrections has existed for a long time. All that was lacking was the responsible leadership. Decades after an established automaker could have aggressively started the pursuit of development of sustainable alternatives, Elon Musk came along. What Elon did was stimulate the development in a direction it could have been stimulated in long before he started Tesla. And against massive resistance Elon made happen what a responsibly led major automaker could have made happen far earlier.


    p.s. A lot of “Economic” presentations people see today, and the related opinions people develop, are ideological political misleading marketing. It is rare for people to be significantly more exposed to presentation by serious pursuers of expanded awareness and improved understanding of economics. What most people are exposed to are people who ‘sound like economists’ being talked to in News-Bity style situations where the details, nuances and complexity are not communicated, because that would take too long, and who has time for that. And some people read books by those misleading marketing ‘economic sounding people’ in the belief that the fuller story is being presented ‘because it is a Book’.

    A good understanding of economics is presented in the 2019 book, “Good Economics for Hard Times” by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Ester Duflo.
    The authors are serious economists who have spent decades pursuing expanded awareness and improved understanding of how to get sustainable economic improvements of conditions for the less fortunate. Though their focus is on policy recommendations for developing nations, they also apply their knowledge to efforts to assist the less fortunate in more developed nations. And their understanding is also based on awareness of how the currently most developed nations developed.

    The reality of economics is that very little economic theory has been able to be rigorously tested in controlled repeatable experiments. The understanding develops as a result of more wholistic and comprehensive evaluations of the diversity of economic results in the total global history.

    Their book makes many points, but a major point is that among serious economists there are a number of consensus understandings on issues where the public opinions are dramatically incorrect, lagging significantly behind the expanded awareness and understanding of the serious economists. One, but not the only one, that they include that is relevant to interface of climate science with economics is the consensus understanding among serious economists that: A Carbon Tax can help sustainably correct economic development, especially if the collected funds are fully rebated to the middle and lower income groups (the higher income people do not need any rebate assistance).

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