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Climate Hustle

Global weirding with Katharine Hayhoe: Episode 7

Posted on 30 December 2016 by Guest Author

Global Weirding is produced by KTTZ Texas Tech Public Media and distributed by PBS Digital Studios. New episodes every other Wednesday at 10 am central. Brought to you in part by: Bob and Linda Herscher, Freese and Nichols, Inc, and the Texas Tech Climate Science Center.

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Comments 1 to 20:

  1. Katharine argues that the science can only describe the nature of the climate problem and suggest technical solutions, and religion can offer moral guidance on what we do.

    Well the new testament does talk some real sense on morality, however science also provides some guidance on morality. (decaration of personal interest, Im an athiest) Altruistic behaviour and looking after people is a trait in early human societies, and even the animal world sometimes, which suggests basic morality has an evolutionary adaptation, with biological origins. I would suggest its one we should not ignore. However its clear that not all people have this altrustic tendency.

    However if anything this shows that the new testament and science are speaking the same language at least on some aspects of morality.

    It certainly doesnt seem moral to lock in many centuries of sea level rise when renewable energy is dropping fast in price and is eminently affordable now.

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  2. Does anyone know if this series is on free to air TV in Australia?

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  3. nigelj@1,

    That's a very interesting topic.

    Altruism in a group has indeed developped as an evolutionary adaptation: group's survival odds turned out to be, in some cases, more important than the individual's selfish & competitive desire to pass their rown genes. After few trials and errors (no doubt involving eradication of "selfish" groups, as well as overwhelmingly "altruistic" groups), those groups that developed a perfect balance of altruism vs. classic darwinian survival of the fittest strategy, survived.

    Now, how can we apply that knowledge to find out the solution to AGW problem, which is not an environmental but a social problem? Surely, we must find social solutions to it. Here, in XXI century, we have a global civilisation consisting of 7bln sofisticated, predatory individuals whose immediate survival strategy is a typical darwinian survival of the fittest. Their altruism is often limitted towards their immediate and extended familly, to pass on their genes. Then, for many of them, the next altruistic level is the well being of their friends, neighbouring community (like a church community in case of Katharine), then entrire town/county. Vast majority of people never goes, not even understands the altruism past this level. Those who do (local politicians) often fail, e.g. encumbered by corruption. Then, we have the countries (almost 200 of them) as the largest groups. Here, the moral standards are even more shaky, vulnerable to all sort of conflict of interest and encumbered by individualistic predatory thought process. The failures can be even more spectacular. This past year, we had two big failures in politcs at this level: the election of a serial criminal in Philipines and the election of an inept but self-boasting liar and sexual predator with a brain of 12y o child in US. I hope, after president Obama, that it's just a circuitous path this nation decided to take, and it will learn from, and it will eventually emerge from, stronger. But the signs are pointing to even bigger problem: one major polical party denies most environmental sciences like Flat Earth Society, and president-elect shares that denial.

    From above examples, you can see the "natural evolution" did not develop adequate group morality at the national level. Now, what about hte morality needed to fix AGW problem? We have only one global civilisation "supergroup", and evolutionary trial and error approach does not apply at this level. You would need to have an "alternative" civilisation that would develop different standard allowing it to survive while the primary civilisation fails. Unfortunately, it's impossible now. It was possible when we had smaller mini-civilisations in the past. Now, global civilisation (dominated by white man) has ransacked all planetary resources and pushed alternative civilisations into oblivion.

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  4. Chriskoz @3, I agree with all that. A lot to ponder over. An interesting related book is "The Moral Arc" by Michael Shermer.
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  5. newairly

    As far as I know, no. Internet only.

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  6. Chrikoz@3,

    Love your take, without the pejoratives and jusdgements on others. Your bottom line is what I like: We must develop a global perspective.

    I think we are in the process of doing that, and really, one could say this is the point of the video. Our perspective is tribalistic and religious: That's how our conception of political reality and divinity has been honed; from Gilgamesh to current Abrahamics, and Eastern Strains it's what we could put together without the scientific method and subsequent tool.

    Now with a scientific perspective, it is time to create a new awareness of a common humanity, and a common morality. We are on the way, this website, and this video attest to this quest.

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  7. I love her videos on climate change but that is a very rosy view of religion.

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  8. Altruism has benefits including helping people and promoting stability and peace, and it brings a sense of satisfaction as well. Many people seem drawn to altruism, maybe most at some level. Many societies have experimented with altruism. The Soviet Union tried, but their society was based on a flawed model. Scandinavia has got the balance better with good results.

    However like Chriskoz says evolution of altruism by competition between nations slows down in a globalising world. The lessons and advantages of spacific nation states become diluted.

    But societies at either the national or global level can still consciously choose altruism just as they can consciously choose climate policies. In democracies the will of the majority ultimately tends to prevail, and in a global average sense seems to currently favour an emerging if somewhat limited altruism.

    We do seem to be slowly heading towards a global common humanity and morality with a recognition altruism is important. Of course more self interested motivations have their place as well, and it may be about finding a workable balance.

    However some people oppose altruism. We have people like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and others, using either misleading rhetoric or fake news. This poor quality information makes it hard for voters to make informed choices. Last year the battle lines were drawn most firmly in America.

    But other countries do not have to follow America.

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  9. william @7: the "rosy" view of religion's relationship to science has a name: NOMA, or "non-overlapping magisteria of authority." Stephen Jay Gould coined the term and described it in his (lamentable, in my view) book Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.

    NOMA is essentially the official position of the National Academy of Sciences.

    NOMA has been heavily criticized by a number of prominent scientists, philosphers, etc., including Richard Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion gives it a working over.

    The claim that "religion has nothing to say about climate change" is a category error. (It's similar to claiming that nothing about climate change could feature in a J.K. Rowling novel - which is nonsense, because Rowling can write whatever she wants in her novels.) To understand the error, we have to understand what religion is. To understand what religion is, we need only look at where religious knowledge comes from, by posing the question to a religious believer: "What do you know about God (or spirituality, etc.) that you did not learn from men?"

    Very few people claim to have received a religious revelation directly from God or from some supernatural source. There is, to my knowledge, no documented case of any two people independently receiving the same religious revelation, identical in all respects. For example, if you make first contact with some tribe in the Amazon rainforest, there is zero chance that they will have independently received even an approximate copy of the Bible (or a copy of any religious group's doctrine or theology) directly from the alleged source (God). If you find a tribesperson with a Bible, you know it had to come from missionaries or someone else who in turn got it from a long chain of middlemen tracing back to the original writers, redactors, editors, and compilers of the Bible. It wouldn't have come from "God" revealing the same thing twice to different people who had no prior knowledge, because that never happens.

    Religious people, therefore, do not put their trust in "God," but rather in some particular man or group of men who tell them some particular set of claims about God. Believers put their faith in whatever their religious leaders tell them to believe. As religious claims are unconstrained by any requirement for evidence, the claims of various religious groups are as diverse as human imagination itself. If some religious leader wants to make a religious claim about climate change - just as many religious leaders make claims about the age of the Earth and whether humans share a common ancestor with turnips - he is perfectly free to do so. Just as Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, was free to claim that the second coming of Jesus would occur at Jackson County, Missouri.

    For comparison, suppose I claim Elvis Presley is still alive and he told me to tell everyone to give me all their money. If someone accepts my claim and gives me all their money, who does that person believe?

    • Elvis, or
    • Me

    Even if I somehow persuade a million people to repeat my claim, anyone who accepts the claim is still placing their faith in me, not in Elvis. There is no option to believe Elvis, because Elvis has not verifiably shown up to make any claim. You can only choose to believe, or not believe, a real person who verifiably shows up and claims something. However, for me to qualify as a religious leader, rather than just a swindler, I must convince my followers that they have placed their faith in Elvis, rather than in me. Every religious person you talk to on this point will be deeply confused about where they have actually placed their faith, thus demonstrating the triumph of religion over reason. Religion benefits from the common human tendency to be better at remembering claims than at tracking their sources. It's easier for people to say "God wants me to do X" than the more accurate "My pastor tells me that God wants me to do X."

    Given that America's white Evangelical Christians just voted for Trump in a higher proportion than they've voted for any Presidential candidate before, and given that Trump appears to be waging war on climate science, Occam's Razor suggests a productive strategy for fighting climate change is to talk people out of putting their uncritical faith in the mere words of men. Since uncritical faith in the words of men is the basis for America's $1 trillion religion industry, eradicating the fossil fuel industry might require eradicating (or at least greatly diminishing) the religion industry, by persuading people to put their trust in facts and evidence.

    A religion like Mormonism relies on getting millions of people to take seriously claims as unlikely as the one about Jesus returning to Jackson County, Missouri. But all religions make equally far-fetched claims - some just do a better job of disguising them. It's hard to imagine humans are going to tackle tough problems like climate change, and whatever as-yet-undiscovered environmental catastrophes are coming next, as long as we have a trillion-dollar industry actively working to destroy peoples' reasoning capacities (and starting on them at very young ages).

    Sure, a few religious people subscribe to creation care philosophies. But in the USA - a nation critical to Earth's climate future - religion appears to be mostly an obstacle to long-term human survival.

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  10. william #7

    Rosy? I suspect that is intentional. Trying to use a non-rosy view of religion isn't likely to help you with communicating to people who are religious. And lets be quite clear. Katharine has set herself a specific task - communicating to that demographic.

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  11. Daniel Mocsny@9,

    Since uncritical faith in the words of men is the basis for America's $1 trillion religion industry, eradicating the fossil fuel industry might require eradicating (or at least greatly diminishing) the religion industry, by persuading people to put their trust in facts and evidence.

    You confuse FF industry with "religion industry". They are different industries and their interests are often different. Maybe interests of mormonism or evengelical christianism in US that you give as examples do overlap with FF interests but first, these are not the only religions, second the reasons people are coming and "trusting" those two industries are fundamentally different. People trust religion, because they want rationalise the existential questions they don't know the answer or fear the answer (like fear of death), while the same people trust FF, because they want to have energy to fuel their lifestyle. One has nothing to do with each other and eradication of the later (to combat AGW) does not imply eradication of the former (if you want to reform religion or replace religion by other rationalisative mechanism).

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  12. chriskoz @11: I do not confuse the fossil fuel and religion industries. Rather, I note that their interests have increasingly aligned in recent US elections. To believe the two industries "have nothing to do with each other," one must imagine this remarkable alignment of interests is purely coincidental. For evidence of shared values and their deliberate construction, read the book: One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. There are several similar books. Expect more to come out once commentators have digested the implications of the Trump win and the overwhelming support for the profane and immoral Trump from white Evangelical Christians. 

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  13. Glenn Tamblyn @10: "Trying to use a non-rosy view of religion isn't likely to help you with communicating to people who are religious."

    We have to use a non-rosy view of fossil fuels when communicating with people who are habituated to burning fossil fuels, because that's reality. Continuing to burn fossil fuels and dump the resulting greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere will severely damage civilization or perhaps even destroy it. If people are hostile to reality, then we have to solve that problem before we can make any headway. If a patient has cancer and needs chemotherapy, it's bad news any way you slice it.

    Taking a non-rosy view of religion enabled writers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and many others to sell millions of books. The fastest-growing "religion" in America today is "none." We have an opening here to accelerate a trend that is already well underway. The "Nones" typically vote Democrat, which correlates with being more likely to accept the scientific reality of man-made climate change. The available evidence suggests that talking people out of faith is one way to make them more likely to support action against climate change. Given the overwhelming support for Trump among white Evangelical voters, talking them out of their faith may be the most productive way to make progress on climate change.

    Consider that the magnitude of mind-change is similar for abandoning religion and fossil fuels. People are deeply attached to both of these bad habits because they have spent a lifetime being indoctrinated into them. If you can get people to question their faith in the religion of their childhood, then they have made the same type of cognitive headway they must make to question their faith in fossil fuels. It's probably easier to talk people out of religion, given that millions of Americans are abandoning it - how many people are abandoning fossil fuels yet?

    All religious people have doubts. Even the sainted Mother Teresa struggled with doubt during her life. Some fraction of religious professionals have lost their faith, and are just faking it to keep getting paid and to maintain family and community ties.

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  14. Chriskoz @11, I think your points are all true enough, but the real point being made is religion is based on faith so arguably diminishes trust in hard evidence in a "general sense". This may in turn diminish trust in global warming. This is of course speculative, but there does seem to be evidence that religious people are more sceptical about global warming from various polls.

    However I doubt its a big issue for the climate debate. Polls dont show a massive difference. Europe tends more towards athiesm, and their efforts to reduce climate change are limited at best.

    I do think this suggests climate change scepticism is more related to other factors to do with reliance on oil, psychological issues, vested interests and subconscious feelings cold climate are hostile etc. Its a whole combination of things so very hard to untangle.

    I suspect 10 more years of elevated temperatures will start to really register with the public and politicians, and policy may start to change quite rapidly. It could happen before then and hopefully does. Climate reaches tipping points, and so do human responses to events.
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  15. Daniel Mocsny @9, I think you are partly right that real religious revelations are rare, and people tend to simply believe what other people say, including religious authority figures etc. It's obviously not exactly a terribly rigorous way of getting at facts.

    However many people I know believe the writers of the gospels personally knew Jesus, and they don't realise the gospels were written significantly later, and are second or third hand accounts. So people do at least believe there is some direct evidence. This unfortunate things compounds it all even further.

    However Katharine might be rose tinted in her views, but seems like a good person in many ways, and even as an athiest I think it makes sense to support her outlook on this particular climate issue.

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  16. nigelj@15: The fundamental danger of religion is that it brainwashes people to place their trust in human authority while at the same time fooling themselves into thinking they are trusting something else (such as "God"). That leaves religious people vulnerable to being led anywhere the human authority wants them to go. That can either be bad or good.

    Some religions forbid behaviors that science has found to be lethal, such as alcohol consumption. Alcohol kills around 75,000 Americans per year, with many of the victims being young enough to have had decades of life expectancy remaining. If Americans were to adopt a religion that bans booze (for example Islam), the reduction in deaths might make up for the increase in honor killings, stonings, beheadings, suicide bomings, etc. Religiously motivated violence is deplorable, but it gets far more news coverage than the numerically greater killings from substance abuse. Then again, Islam was invented in a time and place where people didn't yet know about tobacco. Tobacco is now the world's number one cause of preventable death, accounting for about 10% of all human deaths! (Over 5 million deaths/yr globally, and over 400,000/yr just in the USA.) Yet the fixed doctrine of Islam does not change to account for this new poison, with the result that tobacco use is prevalent throughout the Islamic world. In part this is because tobacco is one of the few vices Islam does not forbid.

    A key aspect of religion, which secular policymaking lacks entirely, is the ability to change people's values. When economists try to change people's behavior, the best they can do is try to change the incentive structure in which rationally self-interested players try to maximize benefits to self. That is, economists can only appeal to individual greed and selfishness. They cannot fundamentally change that aspect of people. Furthermore, as the rise of Donald Trump illustrates with horrifying clarity, economists cannot insulate the incentive structure from being manipulated by the very people the economists are trying to incentivize. They can't keep the monkeys in their cages. If we try to incentivize people to emit less greenhouse gas by slapping them with a carbon tax, we equally incentivize them to look for ways to undermine the carbon tax - such as by funding think tanks to spread disinformation, buying policians, or voting for Trump. If the selfish value-maximizers figure out it is cheaper to get rid of the carbon tax than to comply with it, they get rid of it.

    We saw the same thing with Prohibition in the USA. Boozers weighed up all the costs and decided it made more sense to undermine Prohibition than to comply with it.

    As another analogy, imagine a group of economists try to find an incentive structure that would transform a Supermax prison facility into a social utopia. You can't reach the Moon by climbing a tree, and you can't turn hardened criminals and sociopaths into productive, law-abiding citizens by adjusting the tax code. To have a civil society, you need most people to behave morally most of the time, even when it goes against their short-term selfish interests. Changing the economic system at most causes small adjustments to human behavior. To get transformative behavior change you need transformative moral change - you must transform what people value. Eliminating crime requires persuading everybody to view theft, violence, and harming others as wrong, even when you personally benefit. You need a large fraction of people to be so honest and morally upright that if they find a bag full of money on the street they will return it to its rightful owner rather than keep it.

    Religion can change people's values, but so can secular philosophy. Secular philosophy has the added advantage that it can be based on evidence, and can improve by taking new evidence into account. Religion is extremely poor at accounting for new evidence, because religion is fundamentally about rejecting evidence.

    As to the goodness of Katharine Hayhoe - I fully agree. She comes across as a genuinely good person. If all religious people were like her, religion wouldn't be much of a problem. So let's hope she succeeds.

    However, she has certainly picked a tough fight. Even if she does somehow persuade significant numbers of Evangelicals to accept the scientific facts of climate change, they're still going to vote Republican because they don't accept the Democratic Party's positions on other issues like gay rights and reproductive choice. Thus you have to ask: how many decades would the Hayhoe approach take to bear fruit? Remember that Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million, and only won the Electoral College with a tiny margin in three critical swing states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, by 100,000 total votes or less). It would be far more efficient to turn a few hundred thousand Evangelicals into atheists and thus into liberal Democrats than to turn tens of millions of them into science-acceptors who remain social-religious conservatives who might then be able to shift the entire Republican Party into supporting climate policy.

    But even so, I don't believe policy is where the future of Earth's climate gets decided. I believe morality is the real playing field. Humans are changing the climate because individual humans obtain benefits to self by contributing to climate change. There is no combination of policy and foreseeable technology that will change those game rules soon enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. (That is, zero-carbon alternatives will not become cheaper than existing dirty alternatives for everything we currently do, such as power generation, transportation, agriculture, cement manufacture, etc., before we have locked in catastrophic amounts of climate change. If you want to take an airplane flight in the year 2050, you will almost certainly burn fossil-fuel derived kerosene to do it.) Our only way out is for people to become far less selfish. People must come to value not contributing to climate change more than they value the benefits to self from contributing to climate change.

    In a similar way, we didn't fight World War II by appealing to self-interest. You didn't get soldiers to land on Omaha Beach and charge into the German MG 42s by adjusting the incentive structure. You needed soldiers who had an abstract value that overrode their rational self-interest.

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  17. Daniel Mocsny @16, your comments are perceptive, and I agree with much of what you say, in general terms. Here are a few thoughts:

    One of the problems with religious doctrine is indeed its fixed nature. This is one reason I'm an athiest, along with the singular lack of hard evidence for religious belief. However, looking at it positively at least some churches have recognised the difficulty and have a mechanism for "new revelations" that allow some flexibility of doctrine. It's a contortionist exercise of course but I do admire The Popes repositioning on at least some things, including climate change and this could ultimately be quite influential.

    I take your point about the problems of prohibition. I'm not a great believer in prohibition, and you would need a compelling case and wide public support. Forcing fossil fuel companies to keep fossil fuels in the ground may be unlikely to gain public support.

    I disagree somewhat about a carbon tax.  I think such a thing can change behaviour and also provide an income that can be directed as we choose. The proof is reductions in tobacoo use  due to tobacco taxes. Rates of use have dropped immediately taxes have been introduced or increased. Clearly other things have helped as well.

    I don't think such a tax is playing quite to self interest, as much as it would just be sending a signal.

    Clearly government regulation of electricity companies has also led to some real gains in promoting renewable energy. Subsidies have also helped kick start things.

    However most people clearly do support some degree of taxation, and / or regulatory control of unsafe activities. Mainstream economics accepts markets sometimes fail to self regulate and require government regulation or taxation as appropriate, but the case needs to be strong.

    However clearly for the public to support such things as regulations or taxes, they must be convinced they need supporting. We are a democracy and regulation or prohibition (if it was to go that far) need quite substantial public support.

    Perhaps this is where I agree with you that it becomes a values or moral decision by the public. Right now everyone is confused and a bit scared about costs of reducing climate change, and about giving up the oil addiction etc. Theres still a lot of climate scepticism of various types and the variety of scepticism makes it a confounding sort of issue, although a lot of it is ultimately rooted in ideological beliefs about role of government.

    However I'm inclined to think changes in public perception tend to be generated by good knowledge about climate change and the foolish nature of climate scepticism. In the end, "facts" matter and they matter a lot in ultimately winning debates. Europe is more enlightened on climate change than America for example. It's a question of whether the debate can be won in time to convince governments and individuals to take firmer actions.

    You make the comment that WW2 was won not on self intererst but more on abstract notions of national interest and doing the right thing. One could argue the British took an altruistic view of doing things for the good of the country. It's an interesting thought. One could appeal to peoples concern for the welfare of future generations, however I dont think this alone would be enoughand we probably need a range of things to motivate people.

    In fact I think self interest is taken sort of the flip side of altruism but both things are actually more closely related than we think.

    The other possibility that may galvanise people to demand strong action on climate change, and also to take it themselves could simply be physical reality. Last years temperature record will slowly sink in. Things reach tipping points, including human beleifs and behaviour and can suddenly and dramatically change.

    You may find this book interesting:  "The Moral Arc", by Michael Shermer, which argues morality is improving and its largely due to science. He provides a lot of hard evidence.

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  18. nigelj@17:

    "I don't think such a tax is playing quite to self interest, as much as it would just be sending a signal."

    Sending a signal to what? To the self-interest-maximizing brains of market players. Prices and taxes send signals to buyers and sellers who use the information as they seek to maximize their individual self-interest. You're not going to spend $300 on a banana when you can buy one for $0.30. That's a basis for economic theory, that individuals are selfish and we use money to keep score of how many benefits to self we manage to gouge out of other people and avoid giving away to other people. Adam Smith's concept of The Invisible Hand is how economists transformed the individual moral vices of greed and selfishness into public virtues. (Free market fundamentalists go too far, by ignoring the negative externalities that can wipe out the unintended public benefits from individual greed.)

    A carbon tax is a type of Pigovian tax which internalizes a negative externality - it forces a greenhouse gas emitter to pay for some or all of the damage his or her emissions will inflict on other people or the natural world. But only an immoral selfish person needs to be forced to take responsibility for the harm he or she inflicts on others. Inflicting external costs on other people is a form of theft, and moral people don't steal. If people weren't selfish, they would already be treating fossil fuels as if their real prices were much higher than the selling prices. Morally responsible people would already be behaving the way the carbon tax signals the selfish people to behave.

    By analogy, consider a person who only refrains from committing crime because he thinks he'll be caught and punished. That's why we have police and jails - because a fraction of people lack the moral integrity to behave civilly.

    Criminals try to resist and undermine the justice system. Every form of coercion has its limits. We tax tobacco, but we are far from eliminating tobacco, even after decades of taxing it. Tobacco still kills over 400,000 Americans every year, and vast numbers of children still take up the habit.

    There are limits to coercion - if you push people harder than they want to be pushed, they push back. If tobacco taxes go too high, you get more tobacco smuggling and black market activity to circumvent the tax. You have to spend more resources on enforcement. Similarly with income taxes - the higher the tax rate, the more you stimulate an industry of tax evasion.

    There is really no substitute for changing people's moral values. A person who actually wants to do something will do it better than someone you have to coerce.

    But merely telling people the facts about climate change doesn't cause them to stop contributing to climate change. Just look at all the climate meetings filled with activists who burned jet fuel to get there. The problem is that no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. When people take an interest in climate change, their first response is usually to think about grandiose government action rather than their own action - even though the goal of all the high-level actions is to nudge individuals to burn less fossil fuel. Almost all of the official messaging on climate change contributes to this denial of individual responsibility. This is because almost every influential person is in the top few centiles of the carbon footprint distribution. Politicians, journalists, prominent activists, etc. - they all ply their trade with jet fuel. This is an enormous barrier to getting honest discussion and real action on climate change. Imagine trying to get rid of heroin if everybody in government, the press, etc. was a heroin addict. No politician is going to propose that we limit everyone to their individual fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, because you can't have a political career on a fair share. Most people have no idea there is such a thing as an individual fair share of greenhouse gas emissions - that's one of the best-kept secrets in the whole climate issue.

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  19. Daniel Mocsny @ 18, ok I concede taxation relates to self interest and weighing costs and benefits.

    However I'm a pragmatist, and carbon taxes are highly likely to work at least to some extent! Remember rates of smoking have declined from almost 50% of the population in the 1960s to 15% (in my country), and theres strong evidence tobacco taxes form a large part of that drop.

    Humans are indeed self interested creatures. I just think this is pretty deeply coded in our genes, and won't be changing fast. Therefore we might as well target this with something like a carbon tax.

    However we also have evolved to have an altruistic tendency that helps us make moral choices. However you give no indication of how you would promote this. So far appeals to consider the third world or future generations "fall on deaf ears" with some people.

    I dont think its an "either or" situation where we must go with self interest or altruism. It is more likely to be a combination of both. They are not mutually exclusive and history shows they have co-existed for a long time. However right now we probaly have the balance a bit too tilted to self interest.

    I think the air travel argument is wearing very thin. This is the only option to attend multinational conferences. I also know for a fact plenty of greenies do take personal responsibility and have voluntarily made some better lifestyle choices.

    Of course there are also hypocrites who talk about the need for climate action but do precisely nothing, but not everyone is like this.

    A big factor in the climate issue is renewable energy generation, and practically speaking only governments can really push this. Polls show popular support even if it does introduce some costs in the short term (and studies are showing these costs are very small or near break even). Governments however are ignoring the will of the people in some countries, maybe because they are captive to campaign donors.

    My point is things are complicated.

    But coming back to your moral values point, you offer no indication of how you change peoples moral values. At least a carbon tax sends the signal that fossil fuel use is considered a problem. This at least provides the information people need in order to make moral choices.

    Hopefully people learn to do the right thing and rather fast! Sometimes it takes a while for people to make these sorts of decisions but if you look at history, many things in life reach "tipping points" and suddenly there is quite rapid mass change in attitudes, actions and laws.

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  20. Daniel Mocsny @18, one point you are missing is that the price of an item gives a signal as to the amount of resources, including energy and labour resources, used in manufacturing the item.  Currently that signal does not include any information about carbon pollution generated by the item.  A carbon tax changes that.  It means that, all else being equal, an equivalent product with a lower price also generates a lower carbon foot print.

    Given the complexity of the manufactoring process of most modern items; and the contradictory claims made about what goes into their manufacture; it takes substantial research to determine which of two otherwise equivalent products has the lower carbon footprint.  You need to research the sources of material, transport methods and distances, energy mix at point of manufacture, energy source at point of production of raw materials, and so on.  These problems apply even if you are not avaricious, and own relatively few goods.  They are excacerbated in that manufacturers often try to conceal this data so as to avoid being excluded from consideration by ethical purchasers.

    A carbon tax, however, would introduce a signal on carbon production in manufacture and transport that could not be concealed.  It would be imperfect because of other price inputs, but it would be there.  It follows that a carbon tax is helpful for those who are interested in doing the right thing ethically.  Indeed, even if 100% of consumers were determined to act ethically, a carbon tax would still be a good thing.  That it would also shape the behaviour of those who had no interest in ethical consumption is a bonus.

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