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Climate Hustle

GHG emission mitigation solutions - a challenge for the Right?

Posted on 22 August 2011 by scaddenp

This article is an enlargement on a comment I made here on the "Are you are genuine skeptic or a climate denier" thread. It concerns the thorny issue of right-wing political values and climate change, but rather than discuss the politics, I am interested in possible solutions to GHG mitigation that don't offend the political Right.

In particuar, I've been thinking pretty hard about the question of mitigation policies for libertarians. Scratch a skeptic and you tend to find a right-wing/conservative. Furthermore, I struggled to find  libertarians that are not somewhere on the not-happening/not-us/not-bad spectrum. The conundrum faced was discussed here by Grypo along with some solutions from libertarian thinkers which didn't find favour with commentators. While I guess that it's possible that right-wing genes somehow provide a better understanding of climate physics than climate scientists have, it seems more likely to me that a clash with political ideology inhibits a proper evaluation of scientific evidence. Some of this might be simply a conservative resentment of a changing world, but I am hypothesising that for many (most?), the first inkling of global warming comes from hearing about an unacceptable proposed solution. If it is better to mitigate GHG emissions rather than adapt to rapid climate change (which certainly appears to be the case), then we need effective proposals that don't offend these values.

I am taking right-libertarian political theory in a nutshell to be:

  • The right to individual liberty of action providing it does not infringe on the rights of other rights-respecting citizens.
  • Individual responsibility for the consequences of these actions.
  • Government is as minimal as possible with roles of protection from external aggression, maintenence of legal system to enforce contracts, and such police as needed to protect citizens from rights violation by theft, fraud or force.

The solutions to climate change most acceptable to this group are ones that also promote the libertarian agenda. Suggestions I have heard so far include insurance companies regulating safety and privatization of roads with appropriate cost. Unfortunately, these mostly dont seem to be very effective solutions - they depend on somehow getting alternative energy costs below coal without raising coal price to be effective. But what if you can't? The problem is that the costs of producing power from coal don't include external and future costs, but there is no easy mechanism that I can think of for adding in uncertain future costs. What does right wing political theory do in these cases?

"Cap and trade" attempts to add these cost to carbon emissions, but it is an anathema to the Right for which it is designed to appease (even though cap and trade was originally an invention of free market conservatives). It is quite rightly pointed out that these schemes are complex and costly to administer with abundant opportunities for cheating, even with Big Government oversight. Pigovian taxes (much like Hansen's "fee and dividend" scheme) are another possibility but these also don't seem to find much favour.

Another popular proposal is to leave it to market to solve the problem with more energy-efficient products. This also fails the test of effectiveness. There is only so much that be gained from improving efficiency and market forces have already pushed many technologies (like planes) to close to their theoretical limits. In the USA, less than one quarter of energy use is residential anyway, and only about one third of that drives gadgets. Transportation, industry, and commerce are roughly equal consumers of the rest. Focusing on personal energy use will not effect major saving except in transport.

Killing subsidies on fossil fuels should be a no-brainer - in fact killing all industry subsidies and returning the savings as reduced taxes should be more than acceptable, since subsidies imply coercive support of government-favoured industries. Libertarian think-tanks like Heartland and Cato Institute should be waving this banner, but I suspect that subsidy removal would cut deeply into the pockets of important donors to these institutions. A bigger sticking point, however, is likely to be that subsidy removal is proposed by a Democrat president.

Government action is portrayed as theft of the rights of fossil fuel-rich property holders, but is their situation any different from asbestos-containing property holders? Our knowledge of the ill effects to the public has improved in both cases (and both cases, met with industry denial).

As far as I can see, libertarian theory struggles with issues where the free action of many individuals results in a violation of the rights of another. Examples would be passive smoking, pollution control, and yes, climate change. How can a citizen with say, a lung condition, sue those who choose to smoke in public, or not buy emissions-control for their vehicles? No one individual is at fault, and no mechanism exists for rights protection that I can see. It is interesting to see libertarians responding with denial of the adverse health effects caused by passive smoking, too.

Government action is permitted by the Right in the case of external aggression, so it seems self-preservation values override those of liberty. This I think explains the ghoulish preoccupation by AGW-activists with ice-melt and extreme weather. They are trying to trigger a self-preservation response. But suppose your country won't suffer too badly under the effects of climate change, and the really bad stuff happens elsewhere? Does rights-respecting only apply to citizens of your country? Your state even? If not, then how is this rights-conflict arbitrated? Do libertarians truly think that one group of people are free to create a problem while others should pay the cost of adaption?

In an ideal world, it should be possible for a person to choose to take no mitigating action in belief that science is wrong, provided that person is also willing to take their share of the responsibility for liabilities for adaption and compensation. However, I cant think of any mechanism by which this could work for a multi-generational problem like climate change. People object to paying for the "sins of their fathers" (though the same people appear to be quite happy to pass the costs to another generation).

This is a tough problem. We are born with a desire to do what we like and an instinct for self-preservation, whereas respecting others' rights and taking responsibility are learned behaviours. I would really like Right-wing supporters, and libertarians in particular, to face up to the problems above with some workable solutions instead of denying such problems exist. Solutions that would get whole-hearted support are needed, and for that I think values other than liberty/preservation need to be invoked.

So here is the challenge:

If you were convinced (this is a hypothetical question) that it was cheaper to mitigate GHG emissions than to adapt to rapid warming, what effective methods of doing this are compatible with your political values?

My definition of "effective" would be something equivalent to phasing out coal-fired generation over a period of 30-50 years but I am open to alternatives. Anything that would hold CO2 below 450ppm really.

If a skeptic cannot this (or the answer is "none, I'd rather pay the cost"), then it is hard to accept that their skepticism is truly based on a dispassionate appraisal of the scientific evidence.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 164:

  1. Great challenge.

    Paraphrasing the question:

    Does the right really have solutions to offer or is its only way out to deny the problem?
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  2. A major solution is so obvious, yet is met with so much resistance.
    1. Thorium reactors.

    Cap and Trade:
    The idea of Cap and Trade was started by Enron, endorsed by Goldman Sachs. It was looked at as a money making scheme with government blessings. Goldman Sachs had thought they had found a new gold mine with this.

    What you fail to discuss here is economics. Economics, in and off itself, will dictate lowered energy consumption. Part of the reason that you see USA co2 emissions declining is the recession. But a larger part is increases in effiencies of energy consumption.
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  3. I agree, Camburn.

    The effort to deal with denialist crap (I would not deign to call it "arguments", let alone "scientific arguments") effectively prevents the debate to reach what really matters at this point: policy and technological solutions.
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  4. Camburn,
    How many thorium reactors have actually been built?

    Why don't you propose a solution that we can start on today?
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  5. There are many solutions, but some fear that discussing real solutions will lessen the pressure to do something now. It's an odd political conundrum on the blasphemer/true believer scale.

    Here is one of the new literally melt-down proof nuclear plants. On a political level it has been known to separate watermelons from independent minds.
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  6. Nice summary in the challenge, but I would not hold my breath waiting for a sensible answer.

    I once engaged a libertarian who objected to the US health care act largely on the grounds that, as it stood at the time, it would have forced individuals to buy insurance or pay tax penalties, and he felt that, as a young and healthy individual, it should be his choice whether to buy insurance or not. When I finally pinned him down to _if_ he was in a major accident or got cancer, which would result in treatment costs beyond his ability to pay, who did he think should pay for his care? His response was something to the effect that he was willing to run that risk. What risk? If something bad happens to him, someone else has to pay for it. So much for the libertarian ideal of personal responsibility.

    Humans are feeling creatures that think, not thinking creatures that feel. Strong feelings often get in the way of rational thought, and it is rare that the person with strong feelings will be convinced to change his course through reason.

    Still, it is a good question to ask because it can help bystanders see which side has a rational argument.

    We are at an unfortunate intersection of a commons problem and the other golden rule - those that have the gold make the rules.

    Camburn, Alexandre, I agree, with the exception that I make no personal claim as to the most effective alternative, or combination of alternatives. I must have a little libertarian in me because I'm willing to let the market sort that out. Economics will drive the masses where no amount of information or brow-beating will. The only way I see is to make fuels which produce GHGs more expensive that ones that don't. The delays caused by the "debate" serve the purposes of those that have the gold. It might be that the public will not endorse policy changes until the majority understand that the current policy serves those that have fossil fuel interests more than it serves them.

    The fossil fuel people are not stupid. They see this, which is why we have green-washing of FF companies, fear campaigns of economic catastrophes if we quit buying their goods, and merchants of doubt.

    Oh, sorry for the length; this topic must have struck a nerve.
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  7. 2, Camburn,

    Economics... so you're counting on a huge, global depression to keep CO2 levels below 570 ppm?

    Efficiencies... so you're counting on some technology to just appear, without free trade pressures amidst an environment of cheap, heavily entrenched fossil fuel infrastructure, to keep CO2 levels below 570 ppm?

    Both of these answers are more "oh, don't worry, the problem will solve itself eventually". Sorry, your answers are a complete failure.
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  8. Chris G at 05:17 AM on 22 August, 2011

    You said:

    The only way I see is to make fuels which produce GHGs more expensive that ones that don't.

    I don't see any other alternative that would be as effective or would allow for more market freedom than your suggestion.

    Internalize the externality and let the market creativity sort it out.

    There will be no market for great solutions if causing the externality is free.
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  9. Camburn, what measures do you propose that would advance an increase in such technologies? (ie what are the barriers and how would you reduce them?).

    "Part of the reason that you see USA co2 emissions declining is the recession. But a larger part is increases in effiencies of energy consumption."

    Can you back that assertion please? How much reduction do think efficiency can bring you?
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  10. Camburn, how would you get those reactors online? That, I am afraid, is the rub...
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  11. Chris@6 said: "I once engaged a libertarian who objected to the US health care act largely on the grounds that, as it stood at the time, it would have forced individuals to buy insurance or pay tax penalties, and he felt that, as a young and healthy individual, it should be his choice whether to buy insurance or not."

    This self reliance stuff is largely bull and in any case is based on a particular culture (Anglo-saxon and specifically American). What would this person do if his parents ran into financial trouble in retirement, just ignore them??
    Most people are 'forced' to do something, it really is no big deal and libertarians should quit being two faced and start being realistic.
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  12. I actually disagree there is a left or right stance on the climate change issue. The science is clear and is independent of politics. What both the left and right have to do is act on the science, how the right or left achieve this is their problem.

    Do not forget that both 'western' political ideologies grew out of the industrial revolution, so by definition 'capitalism' and 'socialism' resulted in high GHGs and caused climate change.

    Ideally we need new politics and new economics, whether this will happen is questionable, the second best option is to radically change the existing ideologies.
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  13. scaddenp in article said: "As far as I can see, libertarian theory struggles with issues where the free action of many individuals results in a violation of the rights of another."

    Well that is the problem with the libertarian idealism, it works as an intellectual discussion (like all politics) but fails because science tells us that animals don't live as individuals. Humans are manipulated by their peers and hence act as 'many'. Even at the most simple level such as crowd behaviour, this is true.
    Geez, if we didn't act as many, then most commercial corporations wouldn't be able to function. Big supermarkets would have the wrong food in stock at nay given time.
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  14. PaulD, arguing whether the left or right is wrong isn't going to help. I would prefer this discussion didnt descend into arguing about politics. What we want to see is solutions that the Right wing think palatable. Camburn is stepping up to the plate and it would be a shame to get distracted.
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  15. scaddenp @14, well yes, but if I bite my tongue any harder I won't have one by this afternoon.
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  16. Wait...You aren't really presenting a premise of Adapt OR Mitigate? Are you?

    Because all the science that I see here and with IPCC models suggests that we face 2 degrees of warming no matter what we do. And now we perilously flirt with runaway tipping points - and all the interesting scientific doubt I see is about whether it is too late to do anything about it.

    Multigenerational survival requires co-ordinated adaptation combined with mitigation. The political Right and other irrational fringe groups has already foisted politics of distraction based on religion, wishful-thinking and hyper-carbonized materialist greed.

    The question should not be posed to the right wing deniers - rather a question falls on the majority of the population who know the science and know the inevitable impact to all humans (of any political and religious stripe) - the question is: How do we change? How do we handle the political obstacles that block necessary change?

    The question is for those who intend to survive. It is not theirs to obstruct, it is ours to face. They will not ever entertain such questions.

    The ultimate question is have we as a species decided that we want to survive?
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  17. rpauli-

    Species survival? Your typical right winger will respond that the species will survive and's our civilization I want to preserve as much of as possible.
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  18. @Camburn #2:

    You state: "The idea of Cap and Trade was started by Enron, endorsed by Goldman Sachs. It was looked at as a money making scheme with government blessings. Goldman Sachs had thought they had found a new gold mine with this."

    This statement is poppycock.
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  19. Free Market Capitalism has no mechanism for dealing with long-term existential threats. Its response to overfishing is to continue to overfish. Its response to the threat of a major asteroid strike would be straight out of the Onion,19025/. Do we want to survive? Probably not.
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  20. AGW has been caused by mankind's activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation)s ince the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Thus, the actions of numerous prior generations throughout the world collectvely created a global problem. The soultions therefore must be collectively created and applied world-wide Collective action is anathma to many Libertarians and right wing-nuts in the US. We waste our time and energy trying to find ways to accommodate their ideologically-driven belief systems.
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  21. please, please, do not use thread for criticizing the right. You aren't going to convince them and doesnt add anything constructive. I would ask the moderators to please rule that comments that are primarily criticism or defense of a particular political stance as opposed to discussion of proposed solutions as breach of "no politics" Comments Policy.
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  22. scaddenp#21: "You aren't going to convince them ..."

    Phil, they have already convinced themselves. I don't want to rain on this parade, but:

    Look at Heartland's environment page. These folks are in deep denial, but physics doesn't care.

    The global warming scare has fizzled. The sun has entered a new “quiet” phase, and average global temperatures have been stable for 15 years.

    Look at American Enterprise's page on Energy and Environment. They're even against energy efficiency!:

    When you dig into proposed "efficiency" measures, you find that usually, there's a good reason why someone has chosen not to perfectly insulate their house, or use fluorescent lights, or drive a compact car, or use a clothes dryer rather than hang their clothes out to dry.

    Look at Heritage Foundation's Energy and Environment page.

    The science behind global warming is anything but certain, but one thing is certain: The policies to cap carbon dioxide and mandate “clean” energy production are very expensive.

    And these are the 'think tanks'. Don't look for any kind of forward-looking leadership to come from this camp; they are only interested in the money they make here and now (well, they will probably get inheritance taxes reduced so their kids will be as fat and happy as they are). When it gets really hot, they'll just turn up the AC.
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  23. Badgersouth#18: " ... poppycock."

    Actually, I have to go with Camburn on this one (first time!) I worked for a company that had extensive deals with Enron before the bust; those were the anything-for-a-buck days.

    Washington Post, Jan 13, 2002

    On Aug. 4, 1997, Lay and seven other energy executives met with Clinton, Gore, Rubin and other top officials at the White House to discuss the U.S. position at the upcoming conference on global warming in Kyoto, Japan. Lay, in a memo to Enron employees, said there was broad consensus in favor of an emissions-trading system.

    Enron officials later expressed elation at the results of the Kyoto conference. An internal memo said the Kyoto agreement, if implemented, would "do more to promote Enron's business than almost any other regulatory initiative outside of restructuring the energy and natural gas industries in Europe and the United States."
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  24. muon, if they are real skeptics as opposed to deep in denial, then they should be able to accept the challenge? If they cant take the challenge, then we have every reason to doubt the sincerity of their skepticism, and they have every reason to doubt the efficacy of their political beliefs for solving real world problems. I am only asking a hypothetical question - IF you were convinced...

    I think you should direct "skeptics" to take this challenge when you suspect their skepticism is actually political denial rather than scientific.

    On the other hand, you might see useful new thinking that would make a positive contribution to the debate on solutions.
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  25. Muon, Camburn. Interesting. I way prefer the pigovian tax to cap and trade anyway and Enron's support makes me like it even less. Suitably right-orientated in theory but lousy in practise.
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  26. muoncounter #23:

    Cap and trade was not "started" by Enron as falsely asserted by Camburn. Your news clip only prooves that Enron was licking its chops over its potential implementation in the US.
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  27. scaddenp #21:

    Why on earth would you believe that an article posted on SkS challenging the right to provide solutions to a problem that it denies exist, prompt anyone on the right to respond?

    In addition, you seem completely oblivious to the fact that the right's position on climate change has been and continues to be dictated by the fossil fuel industry.

    Personally, I do not believe your article serves any useful purpose and is not consitent with the core mission of SkS.
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  28. scaddenp#24: "you might see useful new thinking"

    Take a successful project as a model: The Dutch Delta Project could only get moving in earnest after a major disaster (1953 North Sea flood). The success of this project required massive government spending and a long-term outlook.

    I'm no expert in Netherlands politics, but it looks like the Dutch governments that made these decisions were centrist coalitions. Coalitions that could work together to solve big problems. Those were the good old days.
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  29. Scaddenp @25, Camburn and Muon may be right about the conception of emissions trading schemes, but that is irrelevant.

    The equation is quite simple. If we want a reasonable chance of preserving our children's future, we need to reduce carbon emissions at a rapid rate. Given that its already too late, to start radical reductions in 2011, we probably want to catch the blue curve (below) and aim at globally averaged reductions of 5.3% per annum.

    However, that is the globally averaged figure.

    If we are to deal with global warming, we must treat the right to emit CO2 as a scarce good. At the moment this scarce good is a commons, but in order to ensure that it is not arbitrarily consumed, rights must be explicitly allocated, either on a national or individual basis. Because these rights are to a scarce good which is in demand, they have economic value.

    The issue then becomes how do we allocate the goods. A Libertarian (and any sensible person) is committed to the view that societies are just things that people do, ie, that the fundamental ethical unit is the individual, not the society. That being the case, a "fair" distribution of this scarce good must be a fair distribution based on the number of individuals involved, not the number of societies (or nations). In other words, a fair distribution is an equal per capita distribution.

    But based on an equal per capita distribution of emissions rights, the US (and Australia) is committed to reducing emissions at greater than 10% per annum:

    Frankly, that is an impossible ask, even on a war footing.

    There are only two ways to resolve this paradox. The first is to allow the exchange of rights to emit in some form of regulated market. The second is to insist in negotiation that the people of the third world surrender their emissions rights gratis because we all are finding it to hard. That second stance is the current preferred stance of western nations in international negotiations. It also directly contradicts claimed Libertarian principles.

    Given that the second method contradicts Libertarian principles (and any reasonable principle of fairness), whether a the US adopts cap and trade, or fee and dividend, or whatever, it is going to have to allow for the use of traded carbon credits as offsets against the scheme it uses. Consequently the supposed advantages of Pigovian taxes is illusory. The potentially flawed carbon market will still need to be introduced anyway; and ways found to overcome those potential flaws to do so.
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  30. Badgersouth#26:

    Ok, so take the legal concept back to the Clean Air Act of 1990, but that dealt with trading SO2 allowances.

    In this 1997 US House document, carbon trading was a 'possibility':

    Using tradable emissions to achieve regulatory goals can be expanded to cover additional pollutants. Two possibilities are particulate matter and ozone under the Clean Air Act and carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    That's about the time Ken Lay was dumping campaign contributions in Democratic pockets and living large at the White House.

    Do you have a different timeline?
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  31. I am posting this separately from my preceding post even though it is logically connected, in order to give the point some space. The point is simple:

    Any purported Libertarian solution to the problem of climate change must be able to eliminate global emissions by 2050 as per the first chart in my preceding post.

    Further, any purported solution that rejects a carbon market must reduce US emissions to zero by 2020 as in the second chart above.

    Anything else is not a solution.

    That also means Camburn's one word solution needs to be elaborated. How exactly will sufficient thorium reactors be introduced to the US by 2020 to eliminate all use of fossil fuels for standing power and transport, based on Libertarian principles. In the absence of a discussion of that point, just saying "Thorium Reactors" is an evasion, not a solution.
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  32. Muoncounter #30:

    I concur with your timeline. You have also convinced me that Ken Lay may have influenced the Clinton Administration on cap and trade. I suspect a lot of others did as well.
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  33. Badgersouth - I didnt have ambitions beyond people already arguing at Skepsci. I am looking at the root of denial, where political values are involved. I think that if someone interested enough to look at skepsci can see ways of looking at the problem without an assault on political values, then they can then be more open to looking at the science objectively.

    TC - I think that it is also true some significant reduction in emissions is better than no reduction. However, "significant" does mean some serious dent. I dont think "fee and dividend" or trading schemes are going to make massive reductions quickly - they just remove some barriers to switching technology.

    Just for my 2c. I'm all for just a ban on new coal generation - that gives you 30 years to replace generation and let the market figure out what's the best replacement. Definitely not a solution to appeal to the right however.
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  34. I personally have no problem with restricting access to technology that is known to be damaging, do the right??
    You have to be an extremely dishonest person to be happy that you are allowing humanity to destroy itself and that it was possible to prevent that destruction.

    Surely the question (put simply) is if one wants to travel from A to B, no one is stopping you doing it, but they might want to restrict how you do it, depending on what is available at the time the person wants to travel.

    And what happens under such circumstances? Well one thing that often happens is people become innovative and invent new systems that can do something better within the restrictions. This happens all the time.

    There isn't much in the way of politics involved here, just that people are creative and adapt. Commercial companies are free to develop within a (environmentally) sustainable legislative structure.
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  35. I forgot to add that part of the issue is to do with knowledge itself. The right in particular believe that if you have knowledge of something than that knowledge must be utilised.
    eg. If you know coal can produce electricity, it is the right of everyone to exploit it.

    But what if we didn't today know how to use coal to make electricity and only knew about wind turbines and even nuclear reactors??

    This clearly shows that it is knowledge that allows people to say 'we must use this resource'.
    What restrictions do is to place an artificial barrier to specific knowledge because other knowledge (about climate in this case) says using the coal knowledge would be harmful.

    So ultimately it is a battle of knowledge and some rejecting specific knowledge. Those that support AGW accept that the knowledge of coal producing electricity, they also accept the knowledge of climate changing.

    The other people accept coal knowledge but question climate science or reject it completely. Which really points to focusing on climate science, since all sides accept coal can
    produce electricity!
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  36. Tom C#31: "Any purported Libertarian solution ... must be able to eliminate global emissions by 2050 ...

    any purported solution ... must reduce US emissions to zero by 2020."

    Those are verrry tough deadlines; given the disordered political picture in the US at the moment and the likelihood that it will continue moving in the wrong direction. Accepting my analogy to the Dutch Delta Project for the scale of this type of problem, I do not see how the 'free market' accomplishes such a task. It would be interesting to find an analog for a project of such complexity and scope carried out primarily by private interests.

    Even if you put together a coalition of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and the Sultan of Brunei (representing all the money you might need), you would still have to counter the inertia of opposition from deeply entrenched corporate lobbies. Like the dinosaurs, the ExxonMobils of the world do not adapt quickly. And like the dinosaurs, the world may be very different before they know what hit them.
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  37. I think climate change denialism is an aspect of political polarization. Over the past, oh, twenty years or so most sides of politics have become more eager to demonize the other. Many have been constructing echo chambers over that period, seeking information from those who will not challenge their preconceptions, who will tell them things that they find comfortable to hear.

    Many of the politically active have come to see their political opponents as not just wrong but as stupid and/or evil. And to come to these conclusions they are attributing motives to opponents that I think have only a tenuous connection to reality. Rather than accept political opponents declared motives they attribute motives that allow them to see themselves as fighting evil. They look at what they might loose if their opponents win and think that that loss has to be because their opponents desire it father than because their opponents have different moral priorities to them and their possible losses are side effects of those different priorities. They refuse to accept that an intelligent person of integrity could come to different conclusions to them on moral issues.

    What is happening in climate denialism is that since most of the left accepts the reality of anthropogenic climate change and at least says it is trying to do something about it and is proposing measures that at least seem to have the effect of furthering the left's other goals then they see it as a power play by the left. Much of the right has become obsessed with fighting the left and often forgets their own aims in the service of this obsession. What is behind this? Some of it is so that they don't have to question whether they are in the right or accept that even if on balance their position is the best one it still had disadvantages and costs and undesirable consequences. Some is satisfaction of fighting evil, which of course requires someone that you can see as evil. Some is the bonding that comes from joining together against an external foe. The attitude is that if something is pushed by the left it has to be evil.

    For conservatives at least this obsession is actually a betrayal of their principles. In contrast to libertarians and progressives conservatives place a high importance on social cohesion. They are exactly the party that should be most in favour of prudent actions to safeguard our future. But for some reason, probably in part the religious motivation of many of them, they have have become especially likely to see the left as evil.

    Libertarians are not accepting that the market has limitations and that there are things that require centralized rather than distributed decision making. The market cannot deal with common goods because they are not traded. And it does not handle emergencies well because they require centralized decision making by a hierarchy, anything else is too slow. They don't want to accept that the market has to be modified and their principles are in some cases inadequate. And so many of them engage in wishful thinking. Ironically they are usually the group that is most likely to rightly point out the undesired consequences and costs of others pieces of wishful thinking.

    Sorry this has been a long post but sound bites got us into this mess. This is not a subject that can be dealt with in a couple of sentences. I'll post the rest of my comment tomorrow.
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  38. First, I should thank the owners of this blog and the community for this site was the final nail in the coffin of my former world view and AGW denial.

    All it took was reading the well-digested blog posts here, and the truth became evident. I actually first found this site while searching for an arguement against AGW. So it works!

    I say that to say this, I think the key to creating some kind of future that isn't based on fossil fuel can only be driven by science and bottom up support for action.

    Politics and Policital parties are a moving target. They are in the world of short term gain.

    I do not know how to involve the "political right" in the US other than by convincing them one at a time that we have to take action, both in abandoning fossil fuels and mitigating AGW impact.
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  39. We need to look at what the left has done to contribute to the polarization and what everyone can do to reduce it.

    The left does its share of demonizing opponents. Thirty years ago I think it was the worse offender. And of course when the right hears itself misrepresented it tends to not listen to messages from those doing the misrepresenting.

    And the left does plenty of things which damage its credibility on climate change. The biggest one of these is the opposition of most of it to nuclear power. I've heard those on the right who said if the left was genuine it would be advocating the building nuclear power plants. Since it isn't therefore it is said it must not be genuine in its concern over AGW. And it gets pointed out that coal is more dangerous than nuclear power. So yes there are downsides to nuclear power. This is an emergency and it is better than coal. Bite the bullet!

    Another thing is that any attempt to use environmental concerns to bring about actions wanted for other reasons damages credibility. Don't even think of using this crisis to bring about other changes no matter how much you want them. The situation is too grave for support to be squandered.

    And there are the allegations that environmentalism has become a quasi-religion. In some though not most cases this is true. Libertarians especially often see this as a put down of humanity and human accomplishment.

    So be very wary of calling the right's behaviour greed. It gives them reason not to listen just as you don't listen when a right wing shock-jock blathers on about power lust. And any solution that looks like you are seeking the satisfaction of asceticism is not an acceptable solution.
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  40. scaddenp:

    I apologize for being super-critical of your post on this thread. I was not able to review it in draft form because I was out of town on family business. I was also over-tired when I commented late last night.
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  41. Lloyd, polls in the United States showed for many years that majorities on both the 'left' and 'right' supported more nuclear power... unless it was going to be located near them. So, most people (more than 50%) on 'the left' WERE "advocating the building nuclear power plants (sic)".

    Of course, that changed with Fukushima. Support for nuclear power has dropped sharply this year... just as it previously did after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. A recent CBS poll had 50% of Republicans against a nuclear power plant being built near them.

    Nuclear power won't take off until a significant majority support building plants in their own area... which typically lags around 25% behind support for nuclear power 'somewhere else'. If past history is any guide, for that to happen in the U.S. we'd have to go 20 to 30 years without a major nuclear accident anywhere in the world.

    For the record, Republicans DO generally support nuclear power about 15% more than Democrats and Independents... but this doesn't change the facts above: Most Democrats DID support nuclear power in general before Fukushima, and most Republicans now DO NOT support nuclear power near them. Ergo, 'left' vs 'right' isn't really the issue.
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  42. 39, Lloyd Flack,
    The left does its share of demonizing opponents. Thirty years ago I think it was the worse offender.
    I disagree. It was mutual and equal, but a limited if necessary aspect of politics, and it did not ever get in the way of government by compromise. The right from the start of the Reagan years absolutely crossed this line a lot, demonizing the left for the state of the economy and at the time was an unstable and uncertain position for the west in world politics.

    The Karl Rove era (continued brutally today by Fox News) learned how politically valuable it was to sabotage the need to compromise by vilifying one's opponents and painting them as evil instead of simply misguided or wrong on the issues or solutions.

    We now see the same thing done by deniers... climate science isn't just wrong, but it's purposely wrong for nefarious purposes (making money, world domination, exporting socialism, whatever). This is Monckton's favorite mantra, in fact.

    The biggest one of these is the opposition of most of it to nuclear power. I've heard those on the right who said if the left was genuine it would be advocating the building nuclear power plants.
    That's a bit unfair, because opposition to nuclear power (due to ecological issues) has long been a left of center position. The fact they the left is now faced with the lesser of two evils is not going to quickly change the group or individual position on nuclear power over night. Expecting the left to quickly abandon a long held position is unfair. The left should do so, but it won't because the left isn't a hive mind, it's a collection of individuals and individual groups, and the fact that such change encounters friction is not to me evidence of culpability by the left.

    [As an aside, the right is now faced with a similar "lesser of two evils" issue concerning U.S. debt and raising taxes, and left with U.S. debt and cutting entitlements... a challenge that recent history shows was much more readily accepted by the left than the right.]
    Another thing is that any attempt to use environmental concerns to bring about actions wanted for other reasons damages credibility.
    Again, you present this as if the left gets together for their weekly strategy meetings and decides to take advantage of the situation. There are individuals and groups who have other primary interests that will unwisely use climate change to their advantage, but to interpret this as collective action by the left is naive and unfair. Vilify the groups that do it, not the entire left or the whole idea that climate science is valid and important. That's cutting off your nose to spite your face.
    ...any solution that looks like you are seeking the satisfaction of asceticism is not an acceptable solution.
    Agreed, but a giant straw man. I rarely see anything remotely like this presented by anyone except deniers who want to scare people away from reasonable but prompt mitigation. And, oddly enough, it is exactly by ignoring that problem that this outcome will become likely... that your descendants will be living in a backwards, purely agrarian society because infrastructure and access to energy and technology have broken down, because people waited too long to act and the existing infrastructure imploded under the stress.
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  43. Lloyd Flack at 00:57 AM on 23 August, 2011

    Have you ever watched the video featuring Richard Alley on AGW?

    He's a republican American, apparently conservative, explaining the science and the reasons why we should act now.

    The readiative properties of greenhouse gases do not depend on political views to be true. OTOH, picturing this as a leftist conspiracy, as some do (not you), is a politically-based distortion that is widely used.
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  44. Chris Mooney hit the nail squarely on the head when he recently wrote:

    “You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a ‘culture war of fact.’ In other words, paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.”

    Source: “The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science: How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link,” by Chris Mooney, Mother Jones May/June 2011

    To access Mooney’s insightful article, click here
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  45. @Lloyd Flack #39,

    Others have responded to your scatter-gun shooting at "the left" as if that was actually going to help us progress. But you claim that support for nuclear power should be an acid test of seriousness is way off.

    A few years ago, I would have said "why not nuclear power?". Now I think it has fallen so far behind other power sources, that it is a waste of time and money doing the research necessary to help it catch up. It would just consume resources that should be used researcing and developing renewable sources.

    Australian experts believe solar energy can replace coal AND nuclear in their country. Why not elsewhere?

    The Conversation
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  46. Congressman Ron Paul is sort of thinking man's libertarian politician.

    His thinking on teh environment, which you can find by doing a search on Grist is very shallow and not very well considered. He sees pollution in terms of property rights, adn says that if courts enforced propoerty rights, the problem of pollution would be solved. He considers you "own" the air you breathe so if someone pollutes it, you can sue them.

    He argues that court judgments against pollution would solve the problem. How he can draw a distinction between a set of case law, interpreted by lawyers and scientists, and regulation beats me.

    It also leaves hanging a whole pile of issues around equity and timing. The inhabitants of Kivalina, Alaska are suing Exxon Mobil for destroying their community. What are the chances of a poor community up against a $billion corpration that can hire the best lawyers around, not to mention making significant contributions to the election expenses of judges and politicians?

    As for timeliness - do you wait for the children to start dying before you sue? Watching a coal-fired power plant being built, do you have to wait for the asthma to kick in first, before you hope you draw a sympathetic judge.

    He does not consider global warming at all, and trans-national effects of pollution seem to have escaped him. More recently, he seems to have joined the Bachmann-Perry school of political climate deniers.

    Just as disappointing are libertarian "institutes" like Cato, backed by rich foundations, which spend their time "proving" climate change in not a problem, rather than considering what might be feasible should it come to pass.

    Libertarian ideas on the environment are ill-considered and not thought through. Right-libertarians seem to have just monetized everything and lost their humanity in a scramble for power. Most of them believe that a change in society will change people's characters - an odd belief they share with socialists.

    Interview with Ron Paul (2008)
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  47. "The Karl Rove era (continued brutally today by Fox News) learned how politically valuable it was to sabotage the need to compromise by vilifying one's opponents and painting them as evil instead of simply misguided or wrong on the issues or solutions."

    I think you make Lloyd's point if you don't realize how much the Left also demonized and vilified the other side during the last ten or so years. I know, I was there, on the Right, and what was being said about the Right often bore little resemblance to most of the people I knew who were Right leaning. You talk about how Rove and Fox distorted things, and no doubt there was enough of it, but my Gods the other side gave as good as it got and them some. The Right is doing it now with Obama, and they are just as blind to their own distortions as the Left was to theirs. As Lloyd said, it is *very* difficult to see your opponents as real people who think they are doing what is best, out of decent intentions. It's a lot easier to see them all as the new incarnation of Karl Marx or some villain from Captain Planet bent on World destruction/domination. Sure, some really are bad, but assuming this to be the case is not a good starting point for a discussion.

    "Again, you present this as if the left gets together for their weekly strategy meetings and decides to take advantage of the situation."

    They don't have to, that's the point. It's done reflexively by some, in the same way many on the Right reflexively dismisses climate science. The Left needs to rethink how it presents itself (as does the Right). I don't know, maybe it isn't possible because there isn't a centralized "Left", as you say, anymore than there is a centralized "Right" that speaks for everybody on one side. There are all sorts of divisions on all sides, even if the main one is a fault-line dividing Right and Left. I can't control the deniers on the Right anymore than a climate scientist can really control those on the Left who use the science as a way to get whatever other goals they might have.

    I know people who couldn't tell you the first thing about the scientific issues involved in AGW, but who nonetheless are adamant that it's happening and it's all the fault of Capitalism, free markets, and so on, because they *already* distrusted those things. They may have come to accept AGW, but not for the right reasons. The right reasons are because of the scientific evidence that points to AGW, not because it happens to be inconvenient to your opponents' ideology. Obviously there are plenty on the Right who never seriously looked at the science either and who reject it out of ignorance. If they have looked, they have not looked to what most scientists are saying but screen things through a denialist mesh provided by *accepted* sources. They might *think* they have a good understanding of the science, and perhaps that is worse than not paying attention at all.

    After all that typing I don't have any solutions. People have become more entrenched in their positions than they have in a long time. I don't honestly see it getting better any time soon. Maybe I've gotten too damn cynical and pessimistic, and I'm only 40. I hope it's better when I'm 50 or 60.

    Now I know why I never mention politics on the climate blogs. I'm long-winded. :)
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  48. Can I note that all this talk about who vilified who first is of topic and unproductive. Can I ask the moderators to clean out the nonsense before I loose my patience.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Reasonable request. From this point on, discussion of how the challenge may be met only. If it will help, imagine only the right actually exists and discuss how the challenge could be met if they had free reign to conduct any policy consistent with their principles. No more recrimination about events in the past; this is a thread about the future.
  49. I have posed this question before on 'skeptic' blogs:

    If you were to believe (just as a what-if) that our CO2 emissions were going to cause these problems, what, in your political framework, would be the right way to approach the issue?

    The person I initially asked this of ranted for a while about 'enslavement by the left' and left. Another one or two indicated that they just could not trust any statements claiming that AGW was an issue.

    But I did get a reasonable response, one that I feel provides an interesting point of view:

    (JoNova thread) Twodogs:
    August 9th, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    KR asks the correct question finally, as to what we would do if human CO2 production was the cause of significant global warming with significant adverse effects. We would act to limit production to the extent that it would negate the adverse effects subject to a proper risk assessment and subsequent cost/benefit analysis.

    Firstly, the risk analysis would require certainty not only of warming, but to what extent. As such, the positive feedbacks claimed would require the same level of scrutiny as the principle of global warming via human CO2 production, in order to ascertain the impact. This leads into the benefit of mitigating action, to be compared against the cost of doing so.

    All costs and benefits can be quantified to some extent, so no matter how bad global warming may be at a given extent, any cost is comparable. A trillion $ of benefit still ain’t worth it if it costs 2 trillion $ to achieve it, no matter how warm and fuzzy it makes you feel inside. That said, it’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy inside with other people’s money.


    In other words, balance (spreadsheets and all) costs and benefits of AGW mitigation, and use that to decide on policies.

    I realize that most of the readers on this site are already quite convinced of the costs of global warming - but I would suggest that focusing a bit more clearly on those costs (as Scott Denning did in his presentation) may be a reasoned approach to discussing matters with the political Right. Not just why, but by how much.
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  50. One obvious solution that might be palatable to both sides is to ramp up both renewables and nuclear. But both have "not in my backyard" aspects that make such new energy construction problematic. Specifically most solar and wind resources, in the US at least, are located pretty much in the middle of nowhere as opposed to where most people live due to noise and aesthetic considerations. Likewise, most nuclear power plants are currently built near to where the energy consumers are, but because we see these plants occasionally have a Murphy's Law melt-down event, people are psychologically (though understandably) reluctant to have a nuke built upwind from them.

    Here is one solution that I'm sure has been thought of already: build the Smart Grid, including high voltage (up to 1 MV) DC transmission lines for sub continental transmission with minimal losses, to connect the "middle of nowhere" to population centers with both renewable and nuclear energy. Then we could dedicate huge swaths of more or less under utilized desert for renewables (where those solar and wind resources are generally located) and also for new nuclear plants. These remotely located nuclear plants would then not only provide baseload power for the renewable plants next door, but would also not be located near population centers in the event of a technological, natural or terrorist disaster.

    There is the issue of water for cooling the nukes but that doesn't seem an impossible hurdle to overcome.
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