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Roy Spencer's Bad Economics

Posted on 15 March 2012 by dana1981

While they can't seem to agree about what is causing global warming (except that it must somehow mainly be something other than human CO2 emissions), the few climate scientist "skeptics" do all seem to agree on one issue - that somehow reducing greenhouse gas emissions will harm the economy.  Why these climate scientists consider themselves economics experts is a mystery, but as we have frequently detailed, climate economic studies consistently show that CO2 limits will actually save money.  Yale economist William Nordhaus, who is quite conservative in his estimates regarding future climate change costs (also see this explanation of Nordhaus' optimism by Joe Romm), recently made this point emphatically:

"...the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion....The claim that cap-and-trade legislation or carbon taxes would be ruinous or disastrous to our societies does not stand up to serious economic analysis."

Even economists who are conservative and relatlively optimistic about the potential impacts of climate change agree that limiting CO2 emissions will save trillions of dollars.  Yet certain individuals (who lack economics expertise) are convinced that taking these measures will somehow cripple the economy.

No climate scientist "skeptic" embodies this trait of bad economic arguments more than Roy Spencer, who has gone as far as to publish a book about free market economics.  Ironically, the proposed solutions to climate change which Spencer opposes are free market concepts, originated by the Republican Party.  As we will see in this post, Spencer has a very incorrect view on a number of climate-related economic issues.

Particulate Pollution

In a recent post on his blog, Spencer criticized the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations of fine particulate matter.  This is a poor choice of regulations to criticize from an economic standpoint.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates the costs and benefits of US federal regulations every year.  In 2011, the OMB report concluded as follows (emphasis added).

"the rules with the highest benefits and the highest costs, by far, come from the Environmental Protection Agency and in particular its Office of Air. More specifically, EPA rules account for 62 to 84 percent of the monetized benefits and 46 to 53 percent of the monetized costs.18 The rules that aim to improve air quality account for 95 to 97 percent of the benefits of EPA rules.

It is important to emphasize that the large estimated benefits of EPA rules are mostly attributable to the reduction in public exposure to a single air pollutant: fine particulate matter. Of its 20 air rules, the rule with the highest estimated benefits is the Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rule, with benefits ranging from $19 billion to $167 billion per year."

In the blog post, Spencer also shows Figure 1 below, claiming

"You will note that the most “polluted” air occurs where almost no one is around to pollute: in the deserts. This is because wind blowing over bare soil causes dust particles."


Figure 1: fine particulate measurements

The people in China and India would undoubtedly object to Spencer's claim that the most polluted air only occurs in deserts.  The Chinese government is taking steps to better monitor and reduce fine particulates because of their detrimental health effects. 

Additionally, one of the biggest pollution threats in developing regions like Africa is indoor combustion from biomass fires without proper ventilation, which may be responsible for 800,000 to 2.4 million premature deaths each year.

Spencer's reason for discounting pollution in India and China and biomass burning in Africa is to support this argument:

"...the most “polluted” air occurs where almost no one is around to pollute: in the deserts...If you really are worried about fine particulate air pollution, do not go outside on a windy day."

However, most dust and sand particulates are larger than the small particulates addressed by EPA regulations.  Moreover, the USA is not covered in deserts, and thus Spencer is comparing apples (supposed particulates from desert sand) and oranges (supposed particulates from airborne dust). 

Particulates from combustion are typically much smaller than sand or dust, remaining suspended in the atmosphere and penetrating deep into the lungs. They can also be coated with carcinogenic compounds, which explains their much greater adverse health effects and why the EPA regulates their emissions in order to protect public health and welfare.  To equate larger dust particulates with smaller combustion particulates reveals a lack of understanding of the health threats Spencer is dismissing.

Spencer's Tragedy

Spencer finishes the particulates blog post by trying to connect the dots to climate mitigation efforts.

"And I haven’t even mentioned carbon dioxide regulations. Even if we could substantially reduce U.S. CO2 emissions in the next 20 years, which barring some new technology is virtually impossible, the resulting (theoretically-computed) impact on U.S or global temperatures would be unmeasurable….hundredths of a degree C at best.

The cost in terms of human suffering, however, will be immense."

The main error in this argument is the Tragedy of the Commons - a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen.

There is a nugget of truth to Spencer's argument, but if every nation were to make his argument (and if the USA can make it as one of the world's largest emitters, then every nation can make it), then nobody would reduce their CO2 emissions.  However, the most optimal result involves every nation reducing emissions, which is why there are international climate conferences like Kyoto and Copenhagen, to try and achieve international agreements for all nations to reduce emissions.  If everyone thought like Roy Spencer, this most optimal result would become impossible to achieve.

Moreover, the USA is one of the world's largest per capita CO2 emitters, and the largest historical CO2 emitter.  We should be leading the way in reducing CO2 emissions, not making excuses that our emissions are too small to matter.  Spencer's argument is simply irresponsible.

And of course, Spencer's argument that CO2 limits will result in 'immense human suffering' is entirely without basis.  CO2 limits will both help the economy and the poor.  In fact, one of the worst climate ironies is that the poorest nations, which contribute the least to the problem, will tend to be the most impacted by human-caused climate change (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Per capita emissions vs. vulnerability to climate change, from Samson et al. (2011)

Thus Spencer has it exactly backwards - if we follow his advice and fail to reduce CO2 emissions, that is the scenario in which human suffering will be maximized.

Spencer's Ill-Conceived Motivation

Spencer of course sees things differently, and does not intend to harm the poor.  In a recent interview, Spencer discussed his motivations for speaking out on climate and economics issues (emphasis his):

"[the journalist] provided several paragraphs alluding to why scientists on the other side of the issue speak out, but nowhere could I find reasons why WE speak out.

I had told her that ill-conceived energy policies that hurt economic growth kill poor people."

This is consistent with Spencer's previous statement that

" job has helped save our economy from the economic ravages of out-of-control environmental extremism.

I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government."

In short, Spencer thinks government (especially environmental) regulation harms the economy, which he believes in turn kills poor people.  Of course, we have already seen that Spencer's views could not be further from the truth, as EPA particulate regulations are saving tens to hundreds of billions of dollars per year in the USA, and climate economics experts agree that reducing CO2 emissions will similarly save money.  Moreover, exactly what "ill-conceived energy policies" does Spencer refer to?  Most climate mitigation policies center around putting a price on carbon emissions, which does not hurt economic growth.  For example, aggressive installation of solar panels has lowered electric prices in Germany, and renewable energy standards have no statistically significant impact on electricity rates.

Spencer's misunderstanding of climate economics is based on his anti-government views, as he further illustrates in his pollution-defending blog post:

"government jobs programs...only create special interest jobs at the expense of more useful (to the consumer) private sector jobs."

This concept that the government cannot create jobs because any government jobs will "crowd out" private sector jobs is fairly common among political conservatives, but simply has no basis in our current reality.  Note that fellow climate "skeptic" Bob Carter made a similar argument.

In reality, there are only a few circumstances in which this "crowding out" argument holds true; generally when the economy's resources are being fully utilized, which is rarely the case.  It's certainly not true in today's stagnant economic conditions, when private investment and growth is low.  Under these conditions, public investment provide jobs to the unemployed without "crowding out" private investment.

In fact, reality is disproving Spencer's "crowding out" argument at this very moment.  If Spencer were correct, then cutting government spending (a.k.a. "austerity") would lead to private sector job growth and decreased unemployment.  On the contrary, in countries currently practicing austerity (such as Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and the UK), unemployment is rising.

Demonizing James Hansen

Spencer has also claimed that

"James Hansen...actively campaign[s] for Malthusian energy policy changes"

Malthusianism generally refers to the concern that human population growth and resource depletion are unsustainable and will eventually lead to an ecological collapse or other catastrophe.  While this may be an accurate description of Hansen's concerns (that human fossil fuel combustion will lead to catastrophic climate change if it continues unabated) Hansen's suggested energy policy is in no way Malthusian.

A Malthusian energy policy would involve limiting the human population, or rationing consumption for the sake of sustaining energy supplies.  On the contrary, Hansen thinks we have more fossil fuel resources than we can afford to burn (i.e. Kharecha and Hansen 2008).  The energy policy changes Hansen advocates for are quite straightforward - transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels by taxing carbon emissions, and return 100% of the taxed funds to the public through a dividend.  This is a free market solution, and thus a proposal that Spencer, as a free market proponent, should support, rather than attaching negative labels to it.  Hansen's straightforward explanation of this simple market-based approach is well worth viewing towards the end of the video in the link above.

Simple Economics Misunderstood

The economics of carbon pricing are actually quite simple.  Even climate scientist "skeptics" like Spencer agree that human CO2 emissions are causing some climate change.  There is a price tag associated with that climate change, just like there is a price tag associated with the detrimental health effects of particulate pollution.

When that cost is not reflected in the market price of the products which result in those emissions - as is currently the case with fossil fuels and CO2 - this is called a negative economic "externality," which economists consider a market failure.  The problem is that when these externalities are not reflected in market prices, consumers are unable to factor them into their decision making.  For example, putting a price on particulate emissions reflects their true cost on public health, encourages consumers to consume less of the products which result in these emissions, and demand lower-emissions products, which drives technological innovations and thus leads to lower overall emissions. 

The same principle would hold true for greenhouse gases.  Prior to putting a price on particulate emissions, industries claimed the costs would be immense and damage the economy, as "skeptics" now claim about CO2 limits.  In fact, industries and researchers have consistently overestimated the costs of environmental regulations.  As we saw above, the costs of reducing particulate emissions have been much smaller than claimed, and have been far exceeded by the economic benefits.  In fact, two of the largest externalities associated with coal combustion come from air pollution and climate change (Figure 3).

coal externalities

Figure 3: Average US coal electricity price vs. MMN11 and Epstein 2011 best estimate coal external costs.

That is not to say the costs will be small - the OMB found that environmental regulations have been among the most costly government regulations, but they have also resulted in the largest savings, and the largest net benefit to the economy of any government regulations.  There is no reason to expect CO2 limits to cripple the economy, especially since economic studies conclude they will save money.

Spencer appears to think otherwise because he believes that all government and environmental regulations will harm the economy.  However, Spencer's belief is factually wrong, and he should leave economics to the economists (Figure 4).

should US reduce emissions


Figure 4: New York University survey results of economists with climate expertise when asked under what circumstances the USA should reduce its emissions

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 89:

  1. Dana -very informative article - thanks I think there's a typo about halfway down where you wrote "And of course, Spencer's argument that CO2 emissions will result in 'immense human suffering' is entirely without basis." Did you mean to say CO2 "limits" instead of "emissions" in that sentence.
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    [dana1981] Yes, thanks.  Corrected.

  2. I've often wondered just how many Deniers aren't also Free Market™ Zealots? I can only offer Alexander Cockburn as the one anomaly that I can think of - the exception that proves the rule? In my experience the FM™Z figure runs damn-close to 100% among anti-'C'AGW commenters, commentators, and 'think'tanks, too.
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  3. Interesting article Dana, My reflections to Fig3: The coal price on this figure maybe a little out of date. The recent prices on quality AU coal commodity market can be found see here. They've been volatile for last couple years but current 10¢/kg is a decent average. Given anthracite coal energy density and recovery efficiency of 32MJ/kg: I've calculated the maximum 3kWh/kg, therefore the cost to produce your coal electricity at peak performance is only 3¢/kWh. On your graph is looks some 6¢: twice higher. That indicates the average coal power plant efficiency of ~50%, so the useful energy density from coal is only 1.5kWh/kg. On the other hand, the carbon tax in AU is initially set to AUD23/t (C; not CO2) which is ~US2.4¢/kg. Comparing that figure to my 1.5kWh/kg above, I deduce the coal plants in AU will be paying 2.4/1.5 == 1.6¢/kWh for their CO2 pollution. That is some 2 times less than even MMN11 external cost estimate on your figure. Less conservative external cost estimate by E11 looks more than 10 times as much as AU carbon tax. Conclusion: AU carbon tax is cheap: it is far from covering even the most conservative external estimates. Did anyone make calculation like that for other externals? For example how is EPA taxing PM2.5 pollution, given PM2.5 cost estimate?
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  4. Bill @2: Plenty of deniers in far left also. Environmental issues threaten their Marxist-Leninist vision of heavy industry heaven of the working class. Rare breed those old school communists nowadays, but there are some. Ideological map is sphere, as a planet. On the far side they all meet :)
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  5. jatufin @4; Hmmm, I know a reasonable number of solid old Lefties in Australia, and yet I know none who believe what you suggest they ought to. But I thought I ought to test it out, so I just went along to the Communist Party of Australia's website, and, lo and behold, the headline is 'Floods reveal twin scourge: Climate change and neo-liberalism'. No. 1 in the list of books they're selling? 'Hot Earth - the case for planning and regulation to deal with the climate crisis.' The Socialist Party of Australia's website yields 'Climate change: Dithering in Durban':"Once again, a United Nations-sponsored climate change conference has completely failed to address the issue of global warming." The International Socialists decry the Carbon Tax as a hand-out to major polluters and urge their followers to "get involved to demand real action on climate change." And no urban Australian who has ever rallied for anything even vaguely green can have failed to be exposed to the earnest young hawkers of the Democratic Socialist Party's Green Left Weekly, so further research not required there, methinks. So, as far as the, if you'll allow me, mainstream 'extreme left' goes in Australia - and, I suspect, much of the Western World - I'm still far from convinced of the whole 'so far Left they're Right' thing. I'm still putting up Alexander Cockburn. Any other names, readers?
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  6. Bill, there is a low-level wackaloon I run into regularly who peddles Lindzen, Spencer, Ernst Beck & G & T (despite the fact that they are not all mutually compatible), and who claims to vote Socialist--ie., New Democrat--in Canada. Other than that claim, though, he sounds pretty much like a Tory.
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  7. Agreed with jatufin that there those on the left that either don't believe in AGW or struggle to support green policies when it comes to creating/protecting jobs. Examples: 1. Some major unions in the UK support the expansion of major CO2 producing industries, especially the expansion of airports, which would also lead to increasing CO2 emissions in other industries. I also don't see them complaining about the growing success of the UK car industry, especially petrol guzzling Landrover. 2. The organiser of the local 'occupy' campaign doesn't believe in AGW. 3. The Labour party representative on the UK Parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee is a Skeptic. In fact on the same committee there are probably more Conservatives that agree with AGW. 4. I also recently came across a lefty that was attacking the owner of a UK green electricity company for being capitalist because they were making electricity prices go up. Admittedly he could have been a troll with completely opposing views, pretending to be a lefty. But I have seen other mixed up views from those that are transfixed by left political ideology. All to often, like the right, if something doesn't fit their world view, then they suspect a conspiracy.
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  8. Paul D which of the Labour party representative on the Committee is a "Skeptic"... Andrew Miller, Pamela Nash, Graham Stringer or Jonathan Reynolds?
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  9. Chris it is Graham Stringer. In fact he was the only one that gave Phil Jones a hard time when he was interviewed by the committee.
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  10. A particular annoying theme of climate "skeptics" is their faux concern for the poor. They argue that any attempts to limit CO2 emissions will condemn the poor of Africa and Asia to eternal poverty. I have a suspicion that there are much more relevant reasons for poverty than attempts to limit CO2 emissions.
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  11. John Brookes@10, For anyone really interested in reductions of global CO2 emissions, solving the poverty issue is your main, and most problematic hurdle. China and India know that the fastest way to bring their people out of poverty is to build coal power plants as fast as they can. And that is why they are doing so. No matter what the west does, China and India will soon surpass the west in CO2 output per capita. "Leading the way" makes for a nice, costly symbolic gesture, but if you can't get India and China on board, the results will be difficult to measure. Poverty in Africa and Asia is not a result of attempts to limit CO2 emissions. It is because they don't have access to cheap power, yet. 20% of the world's population has no electricity. These areas have little access to clean water and very poor agriculture. How do you solve that without increasing CO2 output? How do you get China and India to stop increasing CO2 output?
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  12. I disagree as well, jatufin. It's not a planet. Ron Paul enthusiasts do share some of the same policy positions as some on the "far" left (is "near" the "right" place to be, then?). However, the reasons for those positions are diametrically opposed. Real world socialism encounters environmentalism in the same way that religious conservatives do: it's the right thing to do, but life under capitalism limits choice. It's an easier choice for university professors (including the academic left) and managerial class folk, but capitalism doesn't result in a class structure comprised of an overwhelmingly large middle class (regardless of typical middle class representations of the world). Most of the consuming world is made of people who live day to day, week to week, or month to month, hoping for a break, accepting their lot in life, or fighting to get the rest of their compensation (the working left). These people are not operating on a level field. Their representatives are not operating on a level field. The core mechanism of capitalism works to concentrate economic power (real power) into the hands of the few, and economy trumps democracy all day long. Economy trumps all, no matter the mode. Environmentalism is simply the higher-order realization that most economic modes (capitalism very much so) are short-sighted with regards to the relationship between resources and economic growth. Environmentalism is the alternator to the engine of economy. Take it away, and your engine runs with a little less drag, but then all you have left is a battery. Those in the trenches of class warfare don't have much time to think about the charge left in the battery. The owners of the means of production certainly do, as do the managerial classes whose comfortable lives are ensured by continued protection of property owners' interests. Yet, when faced with the scientific revelation that the battery is running out of charge, these folk go into denial (well, publicly anyway). Why? Why would an information manager like Jeff Condon seek to limit or cast doubt on the information that his ethics "chip" has access to? That is the bizarre condition of those on the economic right in the managerial classes, but it is a condition that they share with the religious right: living one's life according to the interests of one's master(s) allows a kind of freedom--the freedom to act with absolute certainty that one is doing the right thing and that it will always be (always will have been) the right thing. Quite different from the OS of the dialectal left, for whom life is a series of shifting probabilities, shifting as the evidence is compiled each minute, each day. If you want the mid-left on environmentalism, here's a shot. I'd like to get Ian to do a guest post on AGW and the left.
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  13. Ironically the current level of poverty is precisely what's giving us a bit of extra time to deal with the issue of climate change. If the billion or so people living in conditions of extreme poverty were actually energy-demanding consumers things would probably be out of control already. Cold comfort to them though. Regarding the prevalence of libertarian views among deniers, one needs to look no further than the inhabitants of Nova's blog. It's all fiat money conspiracy and free market nonsense.
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  14. Re: Far Left Wasn't Martin Durkin, director of Great Global Warming Swindle, (self?) cast as a socialist? On SkS there was a long time poster called "HumanityRules" who proclaimed a socialist viewpoint whilst having denier tendancies. Perhaps the hijacking of the AGW denialism by the free marketters was made it less appealing to the far left now ?
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  15. And that is why they are doing so. No matter what the west does, China and India will soon surpass the west in CO2 output per capita. That's nice. Why does it matter? As has already been shown in the OP, a majority of US economists with knowledge of climate economics suggest US CO2 emissions should be cut without any regard for what other countries are doing. Are you suggesting that countries who have contributed to the vast majority of past CO2 emissions and who continue to contribute to a large portion of present emissions should wait for India & China to start cutting emissions?
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  16. About particulates/wind etc...I live in Salt Lake (the little red spot out in the intermountain west in the map!) where we oftentimes have auto/industry pollution trapped in our mountain valley. The wind comes from the West/SouthWest (where it is desert-think Salt Flats). Rarely we get a sandstorm that raises particulates (more often PM 10 than PM 2.5). More often we pray for wind to clear out the valley of our absolutely manmade particulates... As for the Eastern US, those "red zones" sure ain't coming from desert dust storms, but from all the coal plants out there (note scale difference in Red from World Map in OP).
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  17. "Why does it matter?" Because without the developing countries on board, you won't be able to measure the difference that will result from a CO2 emissions cut. So then, it depends on your goal in implementing the policy. Is it a symbolic gesture? A "punishment" for past emissions? Or is it a policy that will have a measurable result? It is a practical problem that doesn't depend on one's ideology. Appealing to economic authority doesn't make that practical problem any less of a problem.
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  18. John Brookes @10 - yes, the 'CO2 limits will harm the poor' argument seems to be a favorite of Christy (who spent some time in Africa) and Spencer. Since they're 'skeptics' that CO2 will have much impact on climate, I suppose they have plausible deniability to the fact that they're actually advocating a path that will harm those same poor. jzk - as noted in the OP, the USA is most responsible for overall CO2 emissions, and thus is (or at least has been) expected to take a lead role in reducing them. The Chinese in particular have expressed concern about climate change, but you certainly can't blame them for waiting on the USA to take the lead considering our much larger proportion of historical emissions. Yes, we need China and India on board, but they will be. The problem is that the train isn't even ready to leave the station.
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  19. Jzk, although China's per capita co2 emissions are increasing , current rates at 5-6 tons per person are far below U.S. Or Australian rates at 17 tons per person.
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  20. thanks Paul D (re #9), I've had a look at some of Graham Stringer's statements re "climategate" and he does seem tediously ill-informed and way-over-the-top belligerent about this. tedious...
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  21. I suspect that the essential difference between those people complaining that green measures will harm the economy and those who advocate action to limit emissions, is simply one of mind set. The 'business-as-usual' crowd are pre-conditioned to think short-term and will say that either something will come along to fix our problems (because something always has), or that we should let future generations look after themselves (like they always have). On the other hand those seeking to limit emissions are cautious (dare I say conservative?) and prepared to make short-term sacrifices for long term benefits. I'm convinced that essentially there are ways that the brain is wired (or programmed) that distinguishes these two personality types. Of course, confusing the issue, is the fact that there are also minorities on both sides who don't really care about the functioning of our biosphere but see the global warming issue as providing a focus to latch onto in pursuit of their personal ideologiocal agendas.
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  22. Bruce@19, For 2010, China's CO2 emissions per capita were 6.8 tons, and the US was 16.9. The amounts are not as important, however, as the trend. I suspect that 2011 will come in 10% higher than 2010. Total output for China was 8.94 billion metric tons, and US 5.25. And, India hasn't even gotten started yet relatively speaking, as they are only at 1.5 tons per person.
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  23. Bruce and jzk @ 19 and 22... I always like to point out that a large portion of China's per capita carbon emissions are the result of being, essentially, as "factory state." They're mostly making products for western consumption. Around two thirds of Chinese are still living an agrarian lifestyle. (I had the wonderful opportunity once to attend a rural Chinese wedding and see how farming was done and see the setting in which these people live.) There are a certain fraction of Chinese who have attained US style first world status and I'm sure their personal carbon emissions are similar to anyone in the west. It's just not the case for most middle class Chinese. I hold that a large portion of those per capita Chinese emissions should be assigned to the west since they are primary a result of us "out sourcing" our carbon emissions. Apologies for veering off topic.
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  24. Rob@23, What are your thoughts about the "agrarian lifestyle?"
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  25. bill@2 One example of a left-wing climate denier is Claude Allègre who is a scientist, is a member of France's Socialist party, was Minister of Education from 1997-2000 in Lionel Jospin's cabinet and is probably the most prominent climate "skeptic" in France. He was debunked by RealClimate in 2010. Allègre his fellow fellow-traveller, Vincent Courtillot, were debunked in 2007, again in RealClimate. Both Courtillot and Allègre are, in their field--ahem, geology--genuinely distinguished scientists and they are both still active. I attended a talk given by Allègre at the 2011 AGU Fall Meeting and spotted Courtillot in the audience.
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  26. jzk... I'm certainly not an expert on the matter. I know what I've seen, which I believe is probably a tiny snapshot of the overall picture. But my observations are this... First, I'd say farmers in rural China are living pretty much as they have for many hundreds of years, at least. The region I visited was central China, outside of Chongqing, where my wife is from. The home we visited was similar to this. It was a multi-family home. The first floor rooms were all only three walls. No heating. These were the living and dining areas. I don't remember off hand if they had electricity. I think they did not. A side room on the first floor was a kitchen with two extra large woks for cooking. Fuel for cooking was coal. The surrounding farm was very well kept. They were very proud of the quality of their produce and we had fun going out into the gardens with the kids to help pick some of the food that was cooked. The people are very cheerful and happy, but I don't think it's lost on them that they are poor. They're clearly not suffering like poor people in other regions. But they've seen what other family members have achieved in moving to the cities and, I suppose, some are inclined to such aspirations and others are inclined to remain with the lifestyle they've always known. My wife and I have been married 10 years and she's very open to discussing the good, the bad and the ugly. I don't hear horror stories about factions of the family that live on the farms. I hear more horror stories about dealing with small town government officials who make it impossible for anyone to accomplish anything. The larger cities are more reasonable with respect to that. I know the government is intent on getting more people off the farms and into urban housing. I don't know any stories of this happening forcibly. I hear stories about farmers who do sell their leases back to the government (there is no private ownership, just renewable leases) and make a pot of money. They often have a hard time coping with the change.
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  27. jzk: The physics quite clearly shows that action to reduce CO2 emissions must be taken, contra Roy Spencer's claims. The economics quite clearly show that (a) based on the current and expected costs of climate disruptions, action to reduce CO2 emissions must be taken and (b) such action will not cause economic harm to polities which undertake it, again contra the claims of Dr Spencer. The ethics of the situation (following from the disproportionate burden of climate change impacts) quite clearly show that "old rich" countries have an obligation to take the lead in reducing emissions (and as Rob noted, emissions in developing economies are often "outsourced" developed-world emissions) - yet again, contra the claims of Dr Spencer. Developing countries are designing & implementing their own emissions control regimes, so they will catch up. When there is a consilience of imperatives for action, endorsement by several bodies of relevant experts, and the means to track national emissions - which you acknowledge given you cite them in #22 - then there is both the obligation to proceed with emissions reductions, and the practical means of showing who is undertaking them and how effective they are.
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  28. jzk - I agree that China and India need to expand energy production but poverty-stricken countries are also most vulnerable to climate change. For this reason, the West has to reduce CO2 consumption and do it very hard. You can encourage non-carbon energy generation in other countries by whacking a carbon tax on incoming goods at the border - just as an example. Good luck getting China and India on board if the West - responsible for most of the extra CO2 in the atmosphere - arent willing to make major reductions.
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  29. About figure 1: -When was it taken?(what month of the year? seasonality is important because a lot of pollution comes from fires during the dry season in tropical forests ) -Roy Spencer blames the wind above the dust for the small particulate matter(PM) 2.5 pollution, but that should liberate medium-sized particulate matter, not small PM 2.5. And the Spencer statement is inconsistent with the fact that other deserts (Western North America, Namibia-Kalahari in South-West Africa, Gobi Desert north of China, Central-Western Australia) there is little PM 2.5 pollution. So: What is the source of of PM 2.5 pollution in the Sahara Desert and Arabic desert?
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  30. Why Roy Spencer holds his position is not clear to me, but the appeal of his argument to many working and middle class Republican (and I'm sure many similarly situated Democratic voters) in the US is readily understandable: They already have suffered serious drops in their living standards from changes that have impacted American society over the last thirty or forty years. Some of these changes, such as free trade, were claimed by the government to be good for working class people, but that has not turned out to be true for many people, including many middle class voters. Now we are at a point where we are trying to persuade people that radical changes need to be made to our energy infrastructure--in effect, our fundamental way of life. And the plain truth is that the changes that are necessary will result in economic pain. Arguing that suffering the pain now, rather than experience much more pain some nebulous number of years or decades down the road is a very hard sell. Remember, the same part of the political spectrum that is in denial about the threat posed by climate change is also opposed to big government in a general sense. Many of the people in this segment of society have bought into the fantasy that if only big government can be dismantled, they will suddenly be free to become fabulously wealthy. With thoughts like these dancing in your head, I suspect it is much easier to listen to people like Spencer (including Rush Limbaugh, and the various other voices on that side of the debate) who, claiming to speak from positions of impeccable authority, argue we should not change rather than go down a path whose advocates admit has costs associated with it that are measured in the trillions of dollars. Many of the things that scare me about global warming are also less likely to scare people focused on narrow self-interests, like the rising cost of gasoline, which somehow Obama is being held responsible for. For example, only about 1% of Americans make their living as farmers, so those who don't have intimate connections to farming are not likely to worry about the predicted future the US faces of a much higher frequency of agricultural droughts for almost the entire lower 48 states if things keep moving along on the present course. Similarly, few residents of interior states have immediate reasons to worry about the potential for a future global sea-level rise of a meter or so by 2100, and some of them probably think that many residents of cities like New York, Boston, Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Miami may well deserve to be deluged. Also, when politicians like Obama advocate investing in alternate energy sources, few Americans can see a direct benefit to having wind turbines installed in areas they consider scenic when they know that the installation will also directly result in a higher cost at their electric meters, and even fewer like the idea of having a nuclear power plant built in their proverbial back yard. Finally, when anyone tries to argue that the best way forward is to impose a carbon tax, most of these Americans hear that dirty three letter word and know they don't agree with anything that a person advocating such a step may say. Many people in the US, from all points in the political spectrum, including, I suspect, many politicians, are quite simply woefully lacking in the knowledge or interest necessary to assess the merits of the debating points in this particular argument, and thus the person who offers up a rosy scenario where radical change is unnecessary has a huge advantage. For these reasons, I feel Spencer's message has a deep appeal. This situation points to the profound dangers present in a democracy where the voters are poorly informed. Since the US is a giant in this quagmire, I believe a necessary step is for President Obama, either with the cooperation of the Congress, or without it, to begin an official and extensive formal review of the science and economics, bringing in experts from all different fields to testify about the science and the consequences of action and inaction, etc., and he should by all means include accredited dissenters since we want and in fact need their bad arguments to be exposed, but the initial goal of this lengthy course of public hearings would be to get on the record the best arguments from both sides in a public forum that the deniers cannot simply dismiss as the workings of the UN. In short, I think we should want our scientists to debate the other side's scientists quite visibly and loudly. Over the course of 6 months or so of hearings and testimony that explores all the details we are familiar with on this site, with interim reports being released on a steady basis, and as much televised coverage as possible via C-SPAN and various news outlets, Obama could do a lot to get the debate moving. I even think this kind of bold action may be necessary if he hopes to win a second term, since the half-measures he's adopted or advocated to date have of course made it look like he wants to do more if given the chance, so the opposition uses that suspicion to gin up its base, even while he holds back the really weighty other shoe. I'd rather have Obama damned for something he did than condemned to failure because he's afraid to even open up the debate. For that matter, if he barely wins a second term without bringing this debate into the open before that victory, I suspect he will not be able to do much at all given the gridlock in Congress. For these reasons, I feel the debate in the US desperately needs to come out into the full glare of political daylight, since even if it costs the Democrats the Senate and the White House this fall, the seeds of change it will plant will be increasingly hard to ignore as climate change proceeds apace. The alternative, more half-measures and a general paralysis, will otherwise likely persist until the 2016 election cycle.
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  31. "The alternative, more half-measures and a general paralysis, will otherwise likely persist until the 2016 election cycle." I have no idea how your political scenario might pan out this year and the next. But there will certainly be at least one El Nino year between now and 2016 and there will probably be a near-as-dammit-is-to-swearing ice-free summer period in the Arctic by then. A hot period will have horrible fodder from some places for TV news - a re-run of Russia or Europe's worst summer, Australia and/or the Mediterranean and/or California burning or poor old Pakistan getting drowned out again - will have an effect. And if there are any repeats of hurricanes dumping unprecedented rainfall in those unexpected more northerly regions of the East Coast of the USA, the power of those messages will be mutually reinforcing. In my jaundiced view, getting the message in the second decade of this century will be on the too little, too late spectrum. But I suppose it's not as bad as the next decades.
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  32. "Now we are at a point where we are trying to persuade people that radical changes need to be made to our energy infrastructure--in effect, our fundamental way of life." I disagree strongly with that. People don't see the infrastructure at all when considering their "way of life". All they want is for the power to come on when they hit the switch. And if building or retrofitting housing with higher standards of insulation and other energy saving measures results in more comfortable lives with lower power bills, that's a win. In rural areas, communities often favour wind and similar renewable power generation because it keeps jobs and livelihoods in areas which would otherwise lose population.
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  33. Actually another bad socialist example in the UK is the '1 million climate jobs' campaign. It is run by the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) group, which is frankly a group of union members. Hence the emphasis on creating jobs in the campaign title, rather than finding realistic solutions that would cut carbon emissions but maybe not produce 1 million jobs. The problem with this approach is that they often want technology solutions that may be inappropriate or not even available yet. OK they aren't skeptics, but their approach starts with socialism, then tacks on climate change policy on the side.
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  34. Moderator, I have posted a question about how are calculated the costs of externalities here wondering if the discount rate is just a way to hide costs.
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  35. Dana two specific issues with your analysis (though i agree with the overall rebuttal you have presented of Spencer. 1) in relation to Co2 emissions it is important to understand the relationship between Co2 and factor production. Just looking at emission to population is an incorrect use of this ratio. For example US emits the same amount (almost) of Co2 as does china BUT china produces only 40% of US GDP with this level of emissions (India is similar although a little better than China). Thus problem in India and China is manifold not just simple emission reduction. 2) This takes us to Nordhaus analysis. Th economic discounts rates he has used are based on all things being equal. In relation to Co2 emission and its relationship with factor production they are not equal and thus Nordhaus actually overstates the costs and overstates the impacts in $$ terms. I can address this in detail with a submission if you allow me. thanks
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  36. John Brookes at #10:
    A particular annoying theme of climate "skeptics" is their faux concern for the poor. They argue that any attempts to limit CO2 emissions will condemn the poor of Africa and Asia to eternal poverty.
    This is a point that I have intended to highlight myself in the past, but which has usually ended up slipping under my radar. I'm pleased that you make the point here. The "faux concern for the poor" that you mention is exactly that - false - because none of the self-professed proponents is ever actually involved in humanitarian work, or even in the active promotion of such beyond their righteous umbrage, in letters to the editor or on blogs, against reducing carbon emissions. In all real Western concerns/efforts that I've come across to reduce Third World poverty, I've never once seen anyone oppose immediate and decisive action to curtail carbon emissions. Further, I've had visitors from developing countries come to experience ecological fieldwork here (one was from a a very remote jungle village, in fact), and they were all adamant that the developed world should pull their collective fingers out and change the way they do business, especially with respect to fossil fuel use. Really, anyone who is truly concerned about Third World poverty should be focussing their efforts on addressing matters of political and economic inequity, and especially where Western influences are involved up to the elbows in such... At #11 jzk says:
    For anyone really interested in reductions of global CO2 emissions, solving the poverty issue is your main, and most problematic hurdle.
    Sadly, this is a gross over-simplification of the issue. Of multiple issues, in fact. There are many factors involved in poverty. These include (for example): 1. limitations of resources other than fuel/energy resources 2. political interference in equitable use of a community's/region's/nation's available resources 3. logistical ability to distribute resources 4. population size (the problem that dare not speak its name...) 5. a society's efficiency (or otherwise...) in using available resources 6. the very definition of 'poverty' in the first place. On the latter point, some of my friends are an example worth considering. They have no town water (instead collect rain water), no sewerage (have a composting toilet), and no reticulated power (have solar hot water and photovoltaics). They have no refrigerator, no television, and a pedal-operated washing machine. They are largely self-sufficient (= 'subsistent', apparently) for food. One of them spins her own wool and knits clothing. They live within 50 km of an Australian state capital, and with the limited income from their primary production business, they would be considered by many to be living in poverty. And yet they have a wonderful quality of life, are very fit and healthy, and live a life with more meaning and purpose than most who are glued to the tube watching fake reality programs, or who think that the local strip mall is the height of human achievement. And yet it is this latter to which most of the world seems to aspire... One thing both the 'developed' and the developing nations need to acknowledge is that no amount of fossil energy replacement is going to solve the fundamental problem. The simple fact is that humanity is demanding too much from the planet. Yes, there is a great deal that can be ameliorated by weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, but the underlying imbalance of resource requirement is more pervasive than even this issue. It would not be possible to discuss this without going wildly off-topic, but anyone interested will find some good analyses by the likes of Heinburg, Gilding, Kunstler, and Greer. Heinburg's and Lerch's Post Carbon Reader, as a compendium of dozens of essays by renowned thinkers, is especially worth a read. And a general comment directed at those who say that reorganising the global economy so that we can cut emissions is not democratic... If generations yet unborn were given a vote about how we handle current economic decisions, and if non-human species were also given a vote, then I suspect that we'd already have priced fossil fuels from out of the economy. I note on refreshing the page that the conversation has moved on somewhat, and that jzk asks:
    What are your thoughts about the "agrarian lifestyle?"
    This is a curious question, as it is culturally loaded. There is no inherently greater or lesser value of an "agrarian lifestyle", except where such provides more secure long-term protection for the biosphere that sustains all life on Earth. Of course, many would argue that a consumerist lifestyle in inherently "better" (or worse), but again this is a cultural perception - except where matters of sustainability are again relevant to the question.
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  37. Curiously, this has evolved into a political discussion about left vs right takes on things. What fascinates me is the faith vs evidence bit. One of the claims (or rather diversions) made by deniers is that AGW is like a religion. But as noted so many of the deniers are advocates of an Americanized version of the Austrian School of economics....something that lacks empirical evidence and is instead a series of rhetorical postures. Thus there are (at least) three articles of faith that they wish to hide from discussion: 1) Because pure central management of the economy (coupled with totalitarian governments) have failed, the opposite extreme of pure free market economics must be right. 2) Everything will be cheaper in the future. (and we'll have flying cars, moon and mars colonies etc.) 3) Since Erhlich and the Club of Rome didn't get the timing right for the population bomb, there will never be any limits to growth. And let us not forget in the context of Spencer, that not only does he run a website dedicated to 'conservative' economics, but he is a signatory to the Cornwall Alliance declaration on God's beneficent managment of the environment and the impossibility of man mucking it up.
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  38. Bernard J@36, If there are people that prefer living without electricity, clean water and television, I have no interest in forcing them to do so. But it ought to be their choice. I have a feeling that people living with out refrigerators, automobiles, wash machines and gas stoves aren't living that way as a matter of choice. Further if one wants to promote that lifestyle and disconnect their electricity, etc., I wouldn't stand in their way. But China is building coal power plants as fast as they can because their people want out of that lifestyle. That is the reality that someone needs to deal with. "Leading the way" is a meaningless, damaging, unmeasurable exercise without global participation.
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  39. A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step... Someone must be first, just as someone must be last. Lead or follow, but get out of the way.
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  40. 38, jzk, Except you offer yet another false dichotomy. The choice isn't "burn every ounce of fossil fuel and destroy the planet" versus "force most of the human race to live in abject, stone-age poverty." First, the problem is not that we use energy for our lifestyle, it's that we foolishly waste it. The amount of needlessly flippant waste in our economy is absurd. You don't need to be eating fresh fruit shipped in from 1,000 miles away. You don't need to drive daily to the store in a 4 ton SUV to buy bread. You don't need to live in a 70 degree, humidity controlled environment everywhere you go, at home, the office, stores, everywhere. It's nice, but you don't need it. Every other society before ours (say, circa 1970 on) has lived with a balance of pleasure and sacrifice. No one got to have everything. Their lifestyles were fine. Sure, everyone wants more, but that doesn't mean they should or could have it. Today's conservatives seem to think that this brief period of excess has become an entitlement. They love to cry about entitlements, but really the problem is that they will not give or sacrifice or moderate their behavior in any way now... they are entitled to rape the planet of natural resources for their own, short-lived lives and lifestyle. Huge advances could be made in reducing emissions simply by adjusting behaviors and living within our means (something that hasn't been done, either with energy or budgets, in the past forty years), not to mention making some sacrifices to use new technologies instead of just saying "it's too hard, it's not mature, nothing could truly replace fossil fuels." In every generation before ours, people have made huge, huge sacrifices to deal with the challenges and problems of their age. What we need to do is absolutely nothing like that, yet today's blind-folded conservatives find pathetic excuses like the welfare of the distant poor to do nothing at all, changing neither our destructive use of fossil fuels nor our social intransigence in addressing the plight of others that becomes their excuse for inaction. It's such a convenient, and empty, and incongruous line of reasoning. Secondly... how in the world can one justify damaging the habitability of the planet and the future of multitudes by putting forth the argument that today's poor must be given what you have? Burning fossil fuels at this (or an accelerated) rate is going to severely handicap civilization and that very ability to improve on the status of others. We will instead actually backslide from the gains we've already made, so that all of our efforts must go into simply finding a way to keep what we have, to feed more with less because agriculture will have to change and the bounty of the seas will diminish, and to build and rebuild as the oceans creep in and the land erodes. How can you justify a short-term, one-time advance for today's poor, in exchange for destroying that future for everyone, across the globe, for far too many generations?
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  41. 39, DB,
    A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step...
    But you see, that right there is the problem. People don't want to walk. They want to drive there. They don't even want to walk too far to get to the car.
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  42. Sphaerica@40, Much of what you say may be true, but the issue I am trying to present is the reality that we do not have control over what the entire world does. Without developing world participation/solutions, the effects of the measures you suggest will be hard to measure.
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  43. Daniel@39, That is an excellent point that I often wonder about. Why is it that those that believe that AGW will cause significant harm to the planet are still "on the grid" washing their clothes and drying them with powered machines, watching cable TV, driving automobiles, using computers, and all the other "excesses" that are leading to destruction of our planet? Personally, I am undecided about what will be the effects of our fossil fuel use, but I would be much more likely to "believe" if the believers were taking the action that they advocate. If I found out that something I was doing was releasing a poison gas that would harm my children, I would never do another thing to release that gas ever again. And if the answer is that it won't have any effect without everyone doing it, then there you have it.
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  44. You offer sophistry. You profess delay. You practice denial. You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts. The facts are that the world is warming, the primary forcing of temperatures over the past 40 years is from our fossil fuel emissions. Period. Again, lead or follow, but get out of the way.
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  45. Daniel@44, This whole conversation assumes your premise, that we are on track for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. If we aren't then we don't even need to talk further. The point is that without participation from the developing world in a very meaningful way, CO2 emissions will not only continue to grow, but that growth will accelerate. That is a practical problem that you must face. I am not the emperor of China, so I have little say in what they do. [JH] Snipped
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    [DB] Note:  This comment was inadvertently deleted and has been restored.

  46. @jzk: The false dichotomies that you post ad naseum are patently absurd. The human race can individually and collectively take actions to curb GHG emissions and to mitigate the impacts of the warming that is currently built into the system.
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  47. At #38 jzk said:
    If there are people that prefer living without electricity, clean water and television, I have no interest in forcing them to do so.
    and in so doing managed in one sentence to set up several straw men. I did not say, and I do not suggest, that people should be "forced" to "live without electricity, clean water and television". Further, our rainwater is perfectly clean, and much more palatable (and hundreds of dollars cheaper per quarter) than the town water which is available a bit closer to the city. It says a lot that you don't understand how easy it is to live simply, when one knows how to do so. Of course, it didn't stop there:
    I have a feeling that people living with out refrigerators, automobiles, wash machines and gas stoves aren't living that way as a matter of choice.
    I did not mention "automobiles" or "gas stoves". More verballing. And for what it's worth, I know of at least three families that have chosen quite voluntarily to "live without" a refrigerator. It's not actually that difficult... But you persist in missing the point. If seven billion people, or nine billion people, all try to live as the Western world currently does, there will simply not be enough planet to go around, alternative fuels or no. There aren't that many choices available - either we keep our jackboots on the throats of the Third World, or we settle on a more equitable 'middle-road' of lifestyle, or we try to give every willing family in the world a widescreen TV and an SUV and then watch as the laws of physics and biology whack us in the solar plexus. Sooner or later that choice will have to be made - and the consequences faced...
    ...the issue I am trying to present is the reality that we do not have control over what the entire world does. Without developing world participation/solutions, the effects of the measures you suggest will be hard to measure.
    As others have already pointed out, the developing world will do nothing if the Western world does not lead. Why should they? And with equivocators such as yourself making so much noise, the chance of Westerners actually working en masse to move forward to a more sustainable economic model is so slim as to make it almost inevitable that serious damage to human society and to the biosphere will occur.
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  48. jzk @43 - as someone who has done quite a lot to reduce his own personal CO2 emissions, I don't really appreciate the suggestion that 'all those who believe that AGW will cause considerable harm' are living lives of excess.
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  49. dana1981@47, How do you solve the problem of the CO2 emissions of the developing world? If you don't, you aren't going to get much buy-in from the rest of the world. As someone that clearly believes in his cause, and is willing to put his money where his mouth his regarding lifestyle, how do you feel the rest of the AGW community is doing? How are the celebrities doing? Gore, Hansen, Mann. How are they doing? I am making no statement here, just asking your opinion. Can you say that they are "taking the lead?"
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  50. jzk,
    Without developing world participation/solutions, the effects of the measures you suggest will be hard to measure.
    False. First, their contribution to the problem is minimal. Second, even of the developed world didn't unanimously participate, the USA could do as China and Europe are doing as best they can, which is to evolve and engineer itself towards a more renewable and sustainable energy base. But unlike Europe and China, the USA could do it fast, efficiently, and make tons of money doing it. We're one of very few countries with the power to define the energy future of the world and to have the world come to us to help them get there once we've shown the way. Instead we're passing on that opportunity so we can luxuriate in the short-lived, seemingly luxurious lifestyle we've developed around fossil fuels. That's what's really laughable about your position, and that of others. This is an opportunity that we could make so much of, but instead you want to paint it as a disaster or an impossibility which would destroy our economy. This nation has retooled dozens of times as times and technology have changed, and it will retool again and again. The people resisting this change now are the same ones who have fought against inevitable progress throughout history, always by painting it as bad or naive or unattainable. And that's the bottom line. This change is inevitable. You do it now, as painlessly as you can, and maybe even reap huge benefits, or you do it later, scrabbling to stay afloat and keep a grip on one tenth of what you once had, because you refused to take action until it became an undeniable necessity.
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