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Stop blaming ‘both sides’ for America’s climate failures

Posted on 5 March 2018 by dana1981

Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist, linguist, and author of Bill Gates’ two favorite books. However, his latest – Enlightenment Now – has some serious shortcomings centering on Pinker’s misperceptions about climate change polarization. Pinker falls into the trap of ‘Both Siderism,’ acknowledging the Republican Party’s science denial, but also wrongly blaming liberals for the policy stalemate, telling Ezra Klein:

there is implacable opposition to nuclear energy in much of the environmental movement ... There are organizations like Greenpeace and NRDC who are just dead set opposed to nuclear. There are also people on the left like Naomi Klein who are dead set against carbon pricing because it doesn’t punish the polluters enough ... the people that you identify who believe in a) carbon pricing and b) expansion of nuclear power, I suspect they’re a tiny minority of the people concerned with climate … What we need are polling data on how many people really would support carbon pricing and an expansion of nuclear and other low carbon energy sources.

Here Pinker has created a strange straw man that bears no resemblance to the real population of American liberals and environmentalists. In fact, the polling data he wonders about already exists.

For example, a 2016 survey by Yale and George Mason universities found that 73% of Democrats support a carbon tax or a combination of tax and regulations (a further 17% favored carbon pollution regulations only). In fact, most consider putting a price on carbon pollution the single most crucial step in tackling global warming. Even Naomi Klein has said, “I don’t think a carbon tax is a silver bullet, but I think a progressively designed carbon tax is part of a slate of policies that we need.”

While it’s true that a majority of liberals oppose building more nuclear power plants, 38% support the idea. Some environmental groups like Greenpeace do oppose nuclear power, but Pinker’s other example, NRDC merely points out that new nuclear plants are currently uneconomical, and even suggests, “The federal government should continue to fund research into nuclear energy.” There are strong economic reasons to oppose building new nuclear power as an inefficient use of resources when renewables today are cheaper and can be deployed more quickly. That being said, were nuclear power funding included in comprehensive legislation to tackle climate change, most liberals and environmentalists would accept that deal in a heartbeat.

Science rejection is predominantly a conservative phenomenon

There’s cultural pressure to place the blame on ‘both sides,’ for example by claiming that while conservatives reject science on climate change and evolution, liberals reject it on the safety of GMOs and vaccines. However, research has shown this is simply not the case – Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to distrust GMOs, and conservatives are the group that most opposes vaccines.

It’s also important to remember that the Republican Party is the only major political party in the world whose leaders reject the need to tackle climate change. And their president made America the only country to reject the Paris climate agreement. There simply is no equivalent on the political left.

In The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof pointed to research led by Yale’s Dan Kahan showing that when presented with data about a politically charged issue like gun control, the mathematical and cognitive abilities of “Democrats and Republicans alike went to pieces,” as Kristof interpreted it. But Kahan’s data showed the problem was much more pronounced among conservatives. 

In the experiment, numerically-adept Democrats were about 33% more likely to misinterpret (made-up) data when it suggested that gun control increases crime, but numerically-adept Republicans were 70% more likely to misinterpret the same data when it suggested that gun control decreases crime. Democrats who are weak at math weren’t biased at all, whereas Republicans who are bad at math were 50% more likely to get the answer right when it confirmed their ideological biases. The difference between conservatives and liberals in both cases was stark. 

View image on Twitter

Surveys have shown that increased general science knowledge makes Democrats more likely to accept human-caused global warming – the same is not true for Republicans. Thus, it’s certainly true that ideology is preventing conservatives from accepting certain scientific realities. The problem is in the temptation to assume ‘both sides’ are equally guilty of letting ideological bias cloud their judgment. As Kahan’s research showed, some liberals are certainly guilty of this sort of bias, but it’s a far bigger problem among conservatives.

Blame the Fox Newsification of America

So how did America get here? Political polarization has been on the rise in America on both sides of the political spectrum for the past four decades. But a rating of ideology-based voting in Congress created by Kenneth Poole and Howard Rosenthal found that while Democrats are gradually becoming more liberal, Republicans in Congress have become radically more conservative since 1980.

In 1987, the FCC under Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine, which required television and radio stations to be equitable and balanced. The Rush Limbaugh Show then launched in 1988, and so came the rise of right-wing radio. Fox News launched in 1996, providing conservatives a source of politically-biased news coverage. Combined with conservative news websites like Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars, the right-wing echo chamber can envelop anyone who seeks only news spun to confirm their ideological biases.

In a 2012 survey, participants who only watched Fox News were less likely to correctly answer questions about domestic or international events than viewers of any other news source (NPR, Sunday political shows, The Daily Show, talk radio, MSNBC, or CNN), or even people with no news exposure. And on the subject of climate change, the vast majority of Fox News coverage has been factually inaccurate.

Unsurprisingly, public trust in science over the past 40 years has only fallen among one group – conservatives. That aligns with research showing that watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh decreases viewer trust in scientists.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 54:

  1. Yes the Republicans figure more strongly in climate science denialism. However I suggest they are never going to accept the science. Just look at the history of various scientific debates, and we still see a core group of non believers, typically around 20% of the population.

    If the Democrats owned the climate issue more powerfully at a political and personal level, it might gain them some traction with the public, because people would take it more seriously. This may at least force the Republicans to adopt renewable energy policies and a carbon tax, as they would be worried about losing votes to the democrats. Various commentators have suggested this.

    You will only ever convince rational people in the middle of debates. There's probably room to convince a few more in America. Climate scepticism is higher in America than other countries, so they just may be slower to accept things for a range of reasons. But things will only change dramatically when the Democrats take a more powerful position on the issue.

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  2. "In 1987, the FCC under Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine, which required television and radio stations to be equitable and balanced. The Rush Limbaugh Show then launched in 1988, and so came the rise of right-wing radio. Fox News launched in 1996, providing conservatives a source of politically-biased news coverage. Combined with conservative news websites like Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars, the right-wing echo chamber can envelop anyone who seeks only news spun to confirm their ideological biases."

    And in 1978 the UN Report "Our Common Future" was published. THta clear-eyed look at waht was going on including the following blunt evaluation:

    "25. Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable - in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource accounts to be affordable far into the future without bankrupting those accounts. They may show profit on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. They may damn us for our spendthrift ways, but they can never collect on our debt to them. We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.
    26. But the results of the present profligacy are rapidly closing the options for future generations. Most of today's decision makers will be dead before the planet feels; the heavier effects of acid precipitation, global warming, ozone depletion, or widespread desertification and species loss. Most of the young voters of today will still be alive. In the Commission's hearings it was the young, those who have the most to lose, who were the harshest critics of the planet's present management."

    It seems the changes the Reagan Administration over-saw in 1987 helped amplify a caustic environment that had already been understood to be developing damaging results, encouraging people to be develop damaging attitudes and actions.

    Team Trump winning would appear to be a natural inevitable development in such an environment. Hopefully it is a last gasp unsustainable Win by those type of people. Hopefully, they won't make things too much worse before they Lose the ability to significantly influence things.

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  3. I transposed the date of the UN Report. It was also 1987.

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  4. Recommended supplemental reading...

    Millennials’ Climate Views Could Sway 10 House Elections This November by Josh Kurtz, E&E News/Scientific American, Mar 5, 2018

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  5. In addition to an unfortunate lack of balance in the media, the media seem to be increasingly inflammatory in things they say by my observation. I suppose its competition due to the internet, so they are crying out for attention.

    Unfortunately this is creating a sort of monster of lowest common denominator flawed, ridiculous information. This is market competition that has gone seriously crazy, and its seriously dumbing down the population.

    People are influenced by people like Rish Limbaugh above all else, and I doubt even that the leaders of the Republican party can now do much to counter this media monster even if they wanted to. The genie is out of the bottle. The voting "base" listen to the media directly now and its all they listen to.

    Attitudes to climate change will improve with young people. They get the science at school. with less of the "noise".  If only their climate denialist parents would shut up on the issue. But all this takes time.

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  6. All these analyses are nibbling around the edges and misdirecting our attention from the basic problem.  There is one overwhelming reason for climate change dinial and one reason only.  It is the same reason that kept cigaretts being extoled as the best thing since sliced bread and lead added to petrol being a good thing.  Pick any cause you want and any year 12 student could tell you what the solution is.  The only reason that  trying to sort out these problems is so hard is money in politics.  Who pays the piper calls the tune and it was never so true as in human affairs.  If we want our governments to do what is so blindingly obviously needed, politicians need to be financed from the public purse and anyone giving them money or favours must be jailed.  Only than will we begin to sort out the mess.

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  7. Money in politics is a huge problem. And the answer is what exactly? The system resists change.

    The Democrats need to at least stop relying on the fossil fuel lobby and company donations. At least find some wealthy campaign donors sympathetic to environmental issues. Find your answer to the Koch Brothers.

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  8. This article seems to conflate politicians with voters.

    The politicians all serve corporate interests, though the Democrats may tend to do it to a lesser degree or, I would argue, through sneakier strategies. A recent study from Princeton University found that US government policy is determined by economic elites with little or no independent influence from the grassroots:

    The Obama administration drove a boom in unconventional oil and gas, sabotaged the Copenhagen climate talks through NSA shenanigans, attempted to cede the sovereignty of democratic nations to unelected corporate litigators via the Trans-Pacific Partnership, expanded the military which is one of the world's biggest polluters, and oversaw a rise in the wealth inequality which gives power to corporate lobbies like fossil fuels.

    So when it comes to the politicians, "Both Siderism" is very much correct. The Democrats are barely better than the Republicans, and arguably worse because they pretend to be better by saying the right words about climate change.

    Republican voters are worse in large part because they have been subjected to decades of propaganda from the fossil fuel lobby. Democratic voters may be better informed, but they are likewise subject to the propaganda of the Democratic Party which is paving the road to hell. If you think voting Democrat will solve anything, you are in my view extremely misled and part of the problem.

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  9. James Wight @8

    I don't live in America, so here is a view from the outside loooking in. It does look like both Republicans and Democrats serve corporate interests, however theres clearly a difference in quite a few respects:

    1) The Democrats have provably had more powerful climate mitigation policies than Bush and the current Trump / Republican administration. This has been openly documented and is not seriously disputed.

    2) It appears Obama at least tried to regulate other environmental and business issues, (The Dodd Franks Act comes to mind). Trump and the Republican Congress has done his best to dismantle all this. Notice how this study below just released shows the benefits of these regulations outweighed the costs.

    "Trump White House quietly issues report vindicating Obama regulations. It was easy to miss, but OMB demolishes the GOP’s deregulatory claims."

    3) I dont know how you say Obama drove a boom in fracking. Didn't the free market drive that?

    4) Regarding the TPPA (trans pacific partnership agreement), this involved America and various pacific nations such as NZ, latin american countries, Japan etc. I like free trade agreements, but I agree the investor state dispute resolution process involves closed door hearings by lawyers, with arguably conflicts of interest that have been well discussed. It needs to be more open and transparent.

    However it's a simple fact (because I followed the negotiation process closely) that America was getting by far the best deal out of this TPPA agreement, so the fact Trump has pulled out makes me laugh at how little he comprehends these things. America is also one of the most litigious countries in trade disputes, and generally does ok in these disputes. So I'm not entirely sure why you are so upset and blaming Obama. America has also benefited a lot from free trade, according to economists.

    5) Saying Obama "oversaw a rise in wealth inequality" is rather general and meaningless. I dont think he personally caused it, unless you can show me some evidence. He certainly at least tried to help poor people with various programmes, but was defeated by a republican dominated congress.

    Perhaps you can explain to me how Trump and the Republicans attempts to cut taxes for the wealthy, cut death duty taxes,  and cut food stamps and welfare entitlements help reduce wealth or income inequality? Because it sure doesn't look like it will help.

    6) Obama increased the military spending. Can't disagree, however Trumps spending increases appear considerably more ambitious. I'm not a pacifist, but I would have thought America has enough nukes to last a million years.

    So there's actually a  very significant quantitative and qualitative difference between Democrats and Republicans, and it is in favour of the Democrats.

    And remember, the point of the article was related to differences in respect of climate mitigation and science between the parties.

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  10. James wight @8, on second thoughts it appears you are wrong. Obama didn't increase military spending,  as per this graph.  

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  11. nigelj @9

    I'm also on the outside looking in, so we are equal in that regard!

    #1 I don't dispute Obama's climate policies were less bad than Bush and Trump, but that's not saying much. They still fell far short of the phaseout of fossil fuels which is necessary to actually stop the rise of CO2, indeed Obama was still subsidizing fossil fuels. Despite his policies being less bad in a technical sense, I think there's a case to be made that Obama's net effect was worse than Bush and Trump, because Obama placated environmental concerns a bit. At least under the Republicans, everyone knows the government does not have climate change under control.

    #2 Yes, Trump's dismantling of climate and environmental policies is a total disaster and insane at a time when humanity's impact on the planet is far outstripping anything sustainable. But the fact remains that those policies were already woefully inadequate and served primarily to reassure the public that something was being done. It's come out that some American towns have lead poisoning in their water supply, so clearly Obama-era environmental regulations weren't doing a great job.

    #3 The fossil fuel industry has benefited from all kinds of government subsidies as well as other favorable rules. US fossil fuel subsidies increased by over a third under Obama: Also under Obama, the government worked with mining corporations to run psyops against anti-fracking movements.

    #4 You shouldn't assume the TPP is dead, because other countries are still developing it and Trump is now making noises that he might be open to getting back into it. Anyway, the TPP does not benefit the people of any country because it is inherently anti-democratic. Investor-state tribunals only benefit corporations and their shareholders, by allowing corporations to sue foreign governments for lost profits, hamstringing governments' ability to regulate corporate activities - such as pollution. So when you say it benefits "America" I think you mean it benefits American corporations. The TPP was negotiated under Obama's watch.

    #5 Well I've just explained how the TPP is bad for anyone who's not rich. The Obama administration also infiltrated and shut down the Occupy Wall Street protests among other things. But yes, I agree the Republicans are making it even worse. That doesn't mean the Democrats were making it better. And the excuse of "We can't do anything because of the Republicans" wears pretty thin after eight years, especially since the Democrats controlled Congress for the first two years.

    #6 I stand corrected on Obama's military spending. However, the Democrats voted in favor of Trump's massive increase in military spending, so my point still stands that the two parties are similar if not the same.

    The difference between Democrats and Republicans is at best quantitative, and at worst good-cop-bad-cop. I don't particularly blame Obama as an individual any more than I blame Trump for the policies being implemented now. I'm saying that voting for the other party won't solve the climate problem, because both parties are controlled by the same corporate interests including the fossil fuel lobby.

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  12. James Wight @11

    Thanks for the comment, and I agree with much of what you say now that you have clarified it. It initially has some mixed messages on where you were going.

    I still think its important acknowledge Obama tried to do the right thing in many respects and was clearly doing better than the current administration. Remember he was up against a republican congress that was extoradinarily hostile to him.

    However I agree Obama fell short of the ideal on many things, and you make a good point that the situation can create a false sense of security that enough is being done. This includes the climate issue because the only substantive federal policy was really the EPA legislation and this was more their doing than Obamas. I pretty much said so myself above in saying that only when the Democrats take a stronger stand on the climate issue will things move forwards, and they will start to give the Republicans a scare on the issue and force them to move.

    The TPPA is far from dead. Its been given a slightly different name and approved in principle, and it only remains for individual countries to make a final decision on whether they join.

    I live in New Zealand, and I support such agreements like the TPPA in principle. As a small nation we benefit massively from free trade and I think America would have as well.

    Having said that, I was a vocal critic of the agreement in respect of the details and the investor tribunals precisely because they hamstrung governments, however my country was able to modify this provision to some extent. I can live with the TPPA in its revised form.

    And its important to ensure the benefits of free trade are spread widely, and not captured by the top 10% in society. But that sort of corporate capture does not make free trade wrong in principle, and the last thing the world needs is bringing back tariffs and trade wars.

    You say "The difference between Democrats and Republicans is at best quantitative, and at worst good-cop-bad-cop. I don't particularly blame Obama as an individual any more than I blame Trump for the policies being implemented now. I'm saying that voting for the other party won't solve the climate problem, because both parties are controlled by the same corporate interests including the fossil fuel lobby."

    I hear where you are coming from. I think the democrats need to face some realities and deserve some robust criticism. Hilary Clintons policies were just barely "ok" overall, and certainly almost non existant on climate change. However if you put the boot into the Democrats too much, it could have the reverse affect of what you want.

    And I disagree about Trump. He is the author of many of the policies now being implimented. People need to fight this sort of policy every way they legally can.

    How do you suggest the excessive power of the corporates over politics gets changed?

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  13. Point of clarification: we are allowing the misuse of the term "Conservative." Today's Republicans are anything but conservative, they are on the opposite end of the political spectrum- they are "radicals." (The opposite end of the spectrum for Liberalism is Authoritariansim. Republicans are working very hard to undo the gains achieved for fairness and equal treatment in our society. I think it just confuses the picture when discussing those who accept science vs. those who live by willful denial.

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  14. The Republican / Conservative party is the party of DEATH!!

    But first a definition: CONSERVATIVE:
    adjective 1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
    synonyms: traditionalist, traditional, conventional, orthodox, old-fashioned, dyed-in-the-wool, hidebound, unadventurous, set in one's ways;

    noun 1. a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.
    synonyms: right-winger, reactionary, rightist, diehard;

    LIBERAL: tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition

    I have found that, almost without exception, stupid is a word that has almost no meaning other than being a bit mentally slow. But this does not include those who destroyed the space shuttle in the same way as they did the Columbia, or Donald Rumseld who got us involved in the ongoing expensive mess that is Iraq, thus showing that they learned exactly nothing from our adventures in Viet Nam. So I define STUPID as being unwilling or unable to learn new stuff. Note how this fits with the definition of Conservative above.

    As nouns the difference between conservative and conservation is that conservative is a person who favors maintenance of the status quo or reversion to some earlier status while conservation is the act of preserving, guarding, or protecting; the keeping (of a thing) in a safe or entire state; preservation.

    Life is all about change. Systems and people that can change and adapt to a changing environment thrive. The only things that do not learn and change are dead. In order to live and thrive in fast changing environments, like the one in which we live, requires the ability to quickly learn new stuff about the environment, like Anthropological Global Warming, as opposed to living in denial.

    I hope this makes it clear why getting conservatives to learn new stuff is so hard.  And why less than 10% of scientists identify as conservative or republican.   Scientists are people who spend their entire lives working with new stuff.  That is anathama to almost all conservatives.  And it is why conservatives really are anti science.  By definition they are anti new.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Crossing the line.

  15. It seems to me life is indeed about change. Society needs to experiment and put change first, because without this we stagnate, nothing really improves, and humanity can become overwhelmed by change that is forced upon us by external circumstances.

    But we need the wisdom to not discard tradition without plenty of thought, because traditional values are obviously not always inherently wrong, and served a purpose appropriate to their time. 

    Its also an aging thing. I have always been symapthetic to new ideas, but become a bit resistant to change as I have become older.

    Moderate conservatism values tradition. But I think the Republican Party hierarchy has sadly essentially become ultraconservative for whatever reason. Unfortunately radicals and authoritarians are ruling America, no doubt driven by a complex confluence of factors. But unless the general public say stop, it will continue. 

    "Only Six Percent Of Scientists Are Republicans: Pew Poll"

    Factotum says "And it is why conservatives really are anti science. By definition they are anti new."

    There might be something in this. It's sad if thats the case, but its hard to argue against the data.

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  16. I agree that it is not helpful to use terms and scales like Liberal-Conservative or Left-Right when discussing the type of people denying climate science or the corrections of developed human activity that climate science indicates are required to develop a sustainable better future for humanity.

    The labelling of actions of people should be based on the scale 'Helpful-Harmful to Others, especially to the future generations of Humanity'. And the Sustainability of actions claimed to be Helpful is the way to rank the value of an action (how many people can sustainably live that way).
    On the Help-Harm scale a neutral action would be Zero-Value, Useless (but at least Benign which is better than Harmful). And of course Harmful by that evaluation is simply unacceptable, no matter what attempted justification is developed (no matter how Helpful people who benefit from Harmful or Unsustainable behaviour claim they are). Any activity understandably producing net-harm to others, as the others perceive it, is unacceptable.

    And if an activity is simply unsustainable, like the burning of fossil fuels, the math would say that not even one person could live that way through the many millions of years that humanity could potentially thrive on this amazing planet. Any activity like that is harmful to future generations because they cannot continue to live/benefit that way. And the ones attempting to benefit that unsustainable way owe the future generations the development of more sustainable ways of living and the rapid transition to those ways of living, especially the more fortunate, the ones perceived to be Winning more than others.

    The Sustainable Development Goals establish a robust framework for evaluating how valuable an activity truly is, how Helpful or Harmful the activity actually is.

    What can clearly be seen is that the competition to Win perceptions of superiority relative to others requires diligent refereeing to keep undeserving unsustainable or harmful activities from Winning power, popularity or profitability contests. People being freer to believe whatever they want to believe and doing as they please in pursuit of 'their happiness' can be seen to encourage the development of harmful Private Interest attitudes and desired actions.

    Those unacceptable actions include people with harmful Private Interests attempting to get people who simplistically identify themselves in the Left-Right or Liberal-Conservative scales to unjustifiably or unwittingly Unite in support of understandably harmful Private Interests, to the detriment of sustainably developing a better future for everyone.

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  17. A point of clarification in my comment @16.

    The 'refereeing' I refer to can best be done by Peers effectively responsibly professionally monitoring and correcting each other's behaviour, based on the constantly improved awareness and understanding of climate science (and other important helpful fields of learning). When that professional system breaks down, Harmful Winning Peers can Unite to the significant detriment of Others. And history has proven that those Harmful United Groups of Undeserving Winners can cause significant harm before humanity collectively Revolts against the Winners and the Systems they Exploit.

    It is far better to have Good Effective Refereeing than to let things Devolve into Fighting. Hopefully helpful people will prevail and effectively disappoint the developed harmful perceived Winners. The sooner the better for everyone except the undeserving Winners.

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  18. A correction of my comment @16 which is an understanding I am still developing:

    "... the math would say that not even one person could live that way through the many millions of years that humanity could potentially thrive on this amazing planet."

    Should be "... the math would say that a sustainable population of humans could not live that way through the many millions of years that humanity could potentially thrive on this amazing planet."

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  19. nigelj

    On another post I indicated that I lugged Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now down to Mexico instead of the Saposky book.  So it was interesting to see Steven Pinker referenced in the Guardian article.  Other than waiting for one final "instalment" on sea level rise from another website before I reply to michael sweet, the other reason for my lack of participation on this website has been reading Pinker's book which is very, very uplifting.   I have not yet reached his discussion of climate change but when I read his descriptions of what we have achieved as a human race over the last 250 years since the beginning of the Enlightenment, I am very interested to see how he will prescribe a solution to our issues presented by AGW which does not "throw the baby out with the bath water" to use an expression I have used on other posts on this website.  I highly recommend the book.  Much easier read than Karl Popper.

    Although I did not get it from this source, this book confirms my reference earlier that in the last 200 years we have reversed the 90/10 ratio when it comes to what percentage of the world now lives in extreme poverty.  He does not specifically reference cheap energy as one of the main reasons but his positive description of the industrial revolution leaves no doubt that he understands that much of our progress has been because of cheap energy delivered by fossil fuels.    

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  20. NorrisM@19,

    Any perceived achievement that is not truly Sustainable is not a Real achievement, it is just a perception, an illusion, a delusion.

    Achiving all of the Sustainable Development Goals is what is required, even if a portion of humanity who temporarily unsustainably won by over-developing in the wrong direction loses their undeserved perceptions of superiority and prosperity when the corrections to sustainably benefit the future of humanity are rapidly implemented as required to minimize the harm done to the future of humanity.

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  21. NorrisM @19

    Interesting  that you mention Pinker. I happened to have a look through Pinkers book "Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress" just yesterday in my local bookshop. I confess this is the first time I had heard of the guy.

    I think he "makes some good points" on the case for reason and the decrease of violence etc, and its good to remind ourselves its not all doom and gloom out there, but I was not impressed by the way he dismissed the problem of inequality. But then its a strange world where we agree on absolutely everything.

    And we have to be careful of not congratulating ourselves too much on human progress, and becoming in denial about various problems.  I see  people excuse problems with silly general statements about how things are good in some other area of life. 

    I'm currently reading a similar book called the Moral Arc by Michael Shermer, that also argues violence has decreased and morality has improved (on the whole, some specific aspects have not), and argues very convincingly. And it's more founded in empirical evidence, and is less preachy than Pinker.

    You keep repeating how our progress was fuelled by the cheap energy of fossil fuels. Yes it was but 1) you need to look forwards and recognise the problems with that fuel and 2) wind power is now cheaper than coal and solar power is close. So if you are concerned about cheap electricity, there is your answer.You should at least be supporting that element of progress.

    Finding cheap substitutes for aviation fuel is more challenging, but todays article on this website shows even that is getting closer.

    And regardless of the climate issue, oil and coal is not a sustainable resource. British Petroleum calculates we only have 50 years supplies left, at current rates of use, not allowing for population growth. Global coal reserves are estimated at 150 years.There may be more, but when an oil company starts saying these things it is significant and theres probably not much more left.

    Instead of burning oil and coal, we should conserve whats left for plastics, fertiliser perhaps, and essential and critical uses. 

    I have long been a futurist sort of enthusiast, and read books like limits to growth and future shock when a young teenager over 30 years ago. 

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  22. NorrisM @19 , we should not be too quick to believe that the problem of "extreme poverty" has been almost abolished.

    What has happened in many so-called Developing Nations, is that a large slice of the rural population previously existing as subsistence farmers (and/or hunter-gatherers) is now living in urban slums, in abominable conditions of housing & work-scrounging, yet earning more than the $2 per day (which saves them from being classified as "extremely poor").

    As subsistence farmers, they had zero official income (plus or minus some bartering in the unofficial black economy).

    But, now living in the slums, they have elevated their income from the previously impoverished zero dollars to a much wealthier $2+ per day, and they enjoy the benefits of work-insecurity / unhygienic & polluted working-living conditions / higher crime / and a rather different level of self-esteem.

    They have been lifted out of extreme poverty — according to the economists who like to measure Gross Domestic Product.

    As a society, we don't deserve many pats on the back or other self-congratulations, when it comes to real measures of poverty.

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  23. nigelj @ 21 and eclectic @ 22

    If you actually want to read a book that makes you feel good about where we have come from (based upon factual statistics and charts) I suggest that you both buy Pinker's book rather than just skimming it at a bookstore. 

    Pinker is ranked by Times and Foreign Policy as one of the world's most influential thinkers.  His book the "The Blank Slate" was a very interesting but challenging book to read on an entirely different topic. 

    Pinker is not a climate scientist (he is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard conducting research on cognition, language and social relations) but has been writing and conducting research for this book for the last three years (this according to Sam Harris).  He clearly has a significant research staff behind him.  If you want backup for statements made in the book, you will get the references in dividends.

    I have now got past Chapter 10 of "Enlightenment Now" where he deals with the environment.  There is not anything in that chapter that I disagree with.  I appreciate on this website that this might not be the strongest incentive to read the book but sKs gets a positive footnote reference in the book.  He clearly is a strong proponent of the future potential of nuclear power as well as other possible solutions.  I do not think any of the main contributors to this website would disagree with his analysis of the problem of AGW.  They may disagree with his suggested direction for solutions, especially nuclear power and the (last ditch) possible solution of climate engineering. 

    But anyone who wants some perspective on where we have come in 250 years thanks largely to the Enlightenment he or she will be in for a very enjoyable and educational read.

    eclectic, I challenge you to read something that is not from some conservative think tank but from a highly intelligent person (clearly left of centre) who is dealing with many issues in this book that affect our world and not just the climate.  I trust you agree there are other issues in this world that we have to consider.  See if your views are not at least modified somewhat after reading this book.  My guess is that you will not take me up on my challenge.  However, I suspect that nigelj will be so tempted.

    To escape the danger of living in an echo chamber we have to challenge ourselves to read things that we might not like but whose thoughts are from rational persons (with no axe to grind) who also backup their factual statements with references.  

    You can disagree with what you take from the facts that Pinker lays out (I challenge you to disagree with his analysis of the facts) but see if you do not somewhat agree with his analysis of where we go from here on both climate change and other areas of human endeavour.

    I personally think that this book will have a major influence on political discourse in America and elsewhere in the world.  You are cheating yourself if you just stand at a bookstore and read Chapter 10.

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  24. Norris @23, I had a really good quick read of Pinkers book (I know the owners of the shop) and overall its a good book. I have also read his wikipedia page. Like I said he makes lots of good points, and he is a quality writer. You are mistaking a criticism or two of pinkers book, for a total rejection.

    He is right that human nature is complex, however human nature is not totally genetically determined, and is more of a combination of nature and nurture. Some of his views are a little too libertarian for me, but he talks more sense than many people.

    I'm a supporter of humanism in some respects, and science and I was already familiar with many of his ideas and the history of declining violence.

    I did some psychology at university and I'm familar with ideas about language aquisition. I really like psychology, but a lot of it's still speculative and contentious. Remember this.

    Read this article  Norris, just for the alternative point of view "The limitations of Steven Pinker’s optimism. Ian Goldin questions an oversimplified model for our complex era."

    Pinker and climate change. This is an interesting article: He does indeed push nuclear power, but windpower and battery technology has improved and reduced in price since his article was written. 

    Pinker also says "New fourth-generation nuclear designs, a decade away from deployment, will burn waste from today’s plants and run more cheaply and safely." Now a decade is a long time in terms of the goals of the Paris accord, and you can probably double fourth generation nuclear power to two decades away at least. It's been promised for ages now, and still hasn't materialised.

    However I agree with pinker that linking the climate issue to problems of corporate greed etc (still very serious problems I might add) is probably not the right approach. 

    So yeah it's interesting. Like I said, I'm reading a similar book by Shermer so Pinker will have to wait!

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  25. NorrisM @23 , thank you for the suggestion re the Pinker book.  If you are already well into devouring it, then I will first await your summation of the gist of his ideas.  Regardless of whether his ideas for solutions to current problems turn out to be conservative or revolutionary in method, I hope the warmth of your advocacy will provide a worthy distillation of Pinker's thoughts.  We certainly need all the intelligent analysis available.

    The analysis of solutions.  Toujours de les solutions.

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  26. nigelj and eclectic

    Looks like Goldin's book is another one to pick up.  Both articles are very interesting.  Will get back to Pinker.  I have read Shermer's earlier book and should also pick up his new one.

    Will probably summarize my thoughts on Pinker's discussion of climate change once I am finished the full book. 

    My sense is that Pinker is primarily looking back at where we have come from and Goldin is attempting to look at the future.  Obviously not all of man's developments can be attributed only to the Enlightenment but I think what Pinker is saying is that the Enlightenment changed the way we look at the world relying much more on science and reason rather than irrational beliefs (including  religion) and superstition but also a higher respect for human life.  I have not finished the book yet but if he does not credit Darwin's (Wallace) theory of evolution and natural selection with a major influence I would be very surprised. 

    But the facts presented by Pinker about our past are pretty encouraging that we can solve the ones in the future.  I think that every generation has felt that the world is coming to an end.  It is part of our apocalyptic nature I am afraid.  It does not mean that we do not have real problems to solve but I think they can and will be solved (with the only asterisk relating to avoiding nuclear destruction).   

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  27. NorrisM @26

    Yes the enlightenment was very important, and numerous books have been written about it. Sad that America now seems to be going in the other direction. 

    Pinker is indeed more historical in prespective, and I do think it's good to acknowledge the positive achievements of humanity, and that many things have indeed improved. The media does give the opposite impression of course. As long as we have some healthy scepticism on some claims, like eclectics point about how povery is measured, something I have looked into myself. Things have improved overall in this regard, but not quite as much as some people like to claim.

    I do give Pinker top marks for trying to be logical and balanced and avoiding taking a left or right perspective. It gives value and credibility to his work.

    However I see a blunt libertarianism creeping in that I dont entirely like, and which is political ultimately, and it reminds me of Ayn Rand. But Pinker still does better than most in terms of avoiding political bias. 

    There is generational doom mongering, reinforced by a media eager to get attention. An economist pointed out to me theres always an economic crisis somewhere, but the world still moves forwards. I think the truth is in the middle on this sort of thing. The 2008 gfc was still pretty serious, and came close to a catastrophic disaster. It always comes down to  detailed analysis of whats going on, and the best way forwards. Climate and economics are no different in this regard.

    Best book I have read in years: "Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, by N Hariri." Very wry humour and easy to read style. Good bits on the enlightenment, climate and environment.

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  28. nigelj @ 27

    One more book to add to the list given that the son of my best friend (no surprise, a judge) recommended that book to him.  I left Vancouver before he had had a chance to read it.

    As to Pinker,  I am not sure that I have an issue with libertarianism if it is combined with utilitarianism which I also see in Pinker.  He clearly believes in a social security net to the extent it can be supported long term.  His Jewish grandparents are Canadian from what I gather having escaped from Europe well before the Holocaust so he comes from an interesting background.   I appreciate that this is a similar background of Ayn Rand but I do not see that kind of philosophy in Pinker.  I would call this philosophy rather than politics although obviously they overlap.  As in many things, it gets back to the continuum of personal liberties versus the collective good.  Where are each of us on this scale?  We clearly know where the Republicans are on this continuum which is problematic for the world.  Ayn Rand was at one end and Karl Marx at the other.  Most of us are somewhere in between and it clearly impacts our views on climate change. 

    Reading in Pinker's book that Naomi Klien led a group successfully opposing a carbon tax in the State of Washington astounded me. She objected to it according to Pinker because it did not punish the polluters enough.  As Pinker points out, this was a pure example of pushing a broad political agenda which plays right into the hands of those Republicans who say the climate change debate is all a massive scheme to impose socialism on the US.  I personally think the level of socialism we have in Canada is a good thing but it is anathema to Republicans as we all know. 

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  29. NorrisM@28,

    I am composing my thoughts regarding your recommendation of Pinker's book. I plan to complete that, and try to keep it short but will not limit the extent of logic/reason (philosophy) in it, but I wish to point out that Pinker may have misrepresented Naomi Klein's position regarding what is happening in Washington State. And I would add that it took me less than 10 minutes to look up exactly what Naomi Klein said on her website item "The Carbon Tax on the Ballot in Washington State Is Not the Right Way to Deal With Global Warming".

    I have to say, what Naomi Klein says appears logical and well reasoned. It appears you either misrepresented what Pinker had to say about Naomi Klein, or you were uncritically reading Pinker, maybe because it made you Feel Good.

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  30. OPOF @ 29

    Perhaps this will not make you Feel Good, but here is the exact quote from Pinker at pages 138-139:

    "In one of the most surreal episodes in the history of environmental politics, Klein joined the infamous David and Charles Koch, the billionaire oil industrialists and bankrollers of climate change denial, in helping to defeat a 2016 Washington state ballot initiative that would have implemented the nation's first carbon tax, the policy which almost every analyst endorses as a prerequisite to dealing with climate change."

    Do you think I am misrepresenting what Pinker had to say about Naomi Klien?

    As to Feeling Good, I think Pinker's book Enlightenment Now might make you Feel Good about the world we live in.

    On another matter, I do not think you could do better than appointing Steven Pinker as your benevolent dictator because from the general flavour I get from your comments (on many threads on this website) you do not seem to have much respect for the democratic process.  This lack of respect for democracy is very troubling to me and I hope for others on this blog.  Perhaps you can disabuse me of my view of your attitudes.

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  31. NorrisM and OPOF,

    Regarding the so called revenue "neutral carbon tax", this is from Naomi Kleins article.

    "Meanwhile, it would offset carbon revenues by cutting taxes for big corporations, including major polluters. (According to the Seattle Times, Boeing could see windfalls of tens of millions annually.)"

    This makes the tax largely self defeating imho, so maybe she was right to oppose it. Perhaps Pinker wasn't aware of this, or think's its unimportant.

    While something is better than nothing, this tax looks too close to a nothing. If the tax cut was simply a personal income tax cut it, would have made more sense

    I have read Kleins book This Changes Everything and it makes quite a lot of sense. Having said that, I dont think environmentalists etc should be demanding some combination of climate policies  and economic reform, because it will just make already complex things into one package too huge to deal with, and would alienate The Republicans. But I do think Klein is right in many of her criticisms of neoliberalism, and something simply has to change, but as a separate things from the climate issue.

    However when The Republicans point at Klein and claim that this shows climate science is really socialism in disguise, they are really using the views of just one person to create a false impression of climate science as a whole. Its a strawman and weak argument.

    Norris I have bought a copy of Pinkers book. I will add it to the pile of things to read. I agree Canadas level of socialism appears sensible enough. I'm liberal, but towards the middle of the bell curve somewhere.

    But America seems more to the right than NZ, even the Democrats are almost centre right leaning compared to other countries.

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  32. nigelj @ 31

    The proposed Washington state carbon tax was similar to what had been instituted in British Columbia by the provincial Liberal government (slightly right of centre) a number of years ago.  The promise was to reduce income taxes or other taxes by an equal amount so that it was "revenue neutral".   I do not have the exact details about the BC carbon tax but my understanding is that the reduction applied to all income taxes, certainly not just corporations.  I do not have those details regarding the Washington carbon tax.   I do know that our new "left-leaning" NDP government in BC has announced that they are not going to stick with the promise of the Liberals.  They are going to keep the money and raise taxes.  This little "change in plans" I am sure will not go unnoticed by conservatives in the US pointing to what happens with promises of "revenue neutral" carbon taxes. 

    But in my view a "revenue neutral" carbon tax is the only practical way to implement a carbon tax in any jurisdiction given the conservative vote not withstanding the "dividend" proposal in the US because of the distrust of many (including the writer) about handing massive additional sums of money over to governments and expecting them to spend it wisely.  Unless it is dedicated to infrastructure or R&D, I find that governments simply are inefficient. 

    A revenue neutral carbon tax puts a price on the use of fossil fuels irrespective of where the money goes unless it somehow finds its way to otherwise subsidize fossil fuel use but it would be bizarre to find any government implementing a carbon tax and then using the proceeds in that way.

    What is so wrong about generally reducing income taxes both for corporations and individuals by the amount raised by a carbon tax?

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  33. NorrisM @32, 

    I agree a revenue neutral carbon tax makes sense in principle. Where did I say otherwise? Its just depends on the details.

    You say "What is so wrong about generally reducing income taxes both for corporations and individuals by the amount raised by a carbon tax?"

    Surely this is obvious? The carbon tax taxes corporations but then effectively gives the tax back to them in the form of a tax cut, so its pointless because things largely cancel each other out. As N Klein suggests it effectively rewards fossil fuel companies. It becomes a money go around. Sorry, its a nonsense scheme that is too weak to be of much use.

    This is why I think it should be just an income tax cut.

    However I think a better scheme overall is carbon tax and dividend, where the money raised is given back to the consumers to spend as they wish, or some is given back to consumers and some is given over to subsidising electric cars for example. Its largely revenue neutral.

    I do agree a carbon tax that just hands money back to the government to spend on anything at all is definitely unacceptable.  But as I have shown there are several alternatives to this better than the one in Washington, which virtually everyone has opposed. That scheme has no chances.

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  34. Norrism:

    You have provided no information to support your wild claims in the past.

    You must provide a reference to a peer reviewed economic report that claims reducing CO2 will harm the economy or withdraw your absurd claim.

    You must say where you expect the 650 million refugeees from sea level rise to go and describe how Canada will house their share of these persons. We will leave the refugees from drought unaccounted for.

    You must link a comment you made at SkS where you support the IPCC median sea level rise as 1 meter and conceed the damage it would cause. If you cannot you must withdraw your claim at 152 that you have supported that amount of damage.

    In previous comments you have dodged these questions and changed the topic of discussion. We need to answer them so that the discussion can proceed on. Please do not change the topic again.

    When you change the topic without resolving the discussion it results in no progress.  Support your wild claims or withdraw them.  It is sloganeering to make wild claims and change the subject instead of supporting them.

    The most widely supported proposal is to return the carbon fee as a dividend to every citizen equally.  If you only reduce income taxes the rich benifit while the poor and the old (who pay little or no income tax) pay more in taxes.  In the US almost half of citizens do not pay income tax and would be taxed more to support the rich.  This would obviously be unfair. 

    Please provide a citation to support your wild claim that a reduction in income tax would be a fair way to distribute the carbon fee.

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  35. NorrisM,

    With the following in mind, I look forward to seeing a Good Reasoned, Well Justified summary of the awareness and understanding presented by Pinker. Note, I require Good Reason to Feel Good. I cannot be party to any party or group that encourages people to Feel Good about pursuing activities that understandably create negative effects that others have to deal with.

    I prefer to increase my awareness and understanding by reading a diversity of perspectives. I especially like to critically read the compiled better understanding of groups of people who have worked collectively and collaboratively through the years to develop a robust and thorough awareness and understanding of what is going on, developing a robust emergent truth.

    I learned to do that as a Professional Engineer constantly pursuing increased awareness and understanding related to my work. That including reading and critically understanding developed Standards and Design Codes related to my work, and questioning the Feel Good claims made by product sales people.

    My recommended reading list related to the understanding and application of climate science includes the following UN related documents presenting developed increased awareness and better understanding: 1972 Stockholm Conference (and the related UN Sustainable Development webpage), The 1987 UN report "Our Common Future", The IPCC reports, the UNISDR Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR), "Back to Our Common Future", and ultimately The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    These documents do not 'get it wrong by blaming both sides'. Generic, open to interpretation, emotional-trigger terms like Liberal-Conservative or Left-Right, or the names of any political groups are not used. They are all written from the perspective of helpful-harmful (see my other comments on this article).

    My evaluation of things is guided by my developed awareness and understanding of the Emergent Truth of the need for humanity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    The SDGs are the result of international pursuits of increased and improved awareness and understanding of how to make things better for the future of humanity. The IPCC summaries of understanding of climate science are a sub-set of the broad range of improved awareness and understanding (emergent truths) that have been internationally developed over the past 50 years and incorporated in the SDGs.

    International efforts to better understand what humans were developing led to the first formal international compilation of awareness and understanding in the 1972 Stockholm Conference <Insert both links - SD and the Report>. More international efforts in many fields followed.

    In 1987, “Our Common Future” was produced. That improved understanding reinforced the results of the October 1985 meeting in Villach, Austria, organized by the WMO, UNEP, and ICSU leading to the 1988 establishment of the IPCC. It also significantly influenced the 1992 Earth Summit (the follow-up to the 1972 Stockholm Conference). And it led to additional actions including the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) process.

    The collective international pursuits of increased awareness and better understanding, including “Back to Our Common Future” <Insert Link> published in 2012, all led to the compilation of understanding that is the emergent truth of the SDGs requiring global leadership to responsibly develop sustainable improvements for humanity, and undo/correct harmful developments.

    The SDGs are an undeniably robust and defend-able set of objectives for development of leadership into the future. Efforts to delay the increased global awareness and understanding of the need to act rapidly to correct unsustainable and harmful developments can clearly be seen to be 'Poor Excuses designed to Feel Good', not be based on good reason.

    As for throwing out the Good with the Bad, I agree. The corrections need to happen in ways that improve the life circumstances of the least fortunate. That is why it is important for all of the SDGs to be aggressively pursued and achieved, not just some of them. And the actions are not to be 'limited to a rate or to a degree that does not diminish incorrectly developed perceptions of prosperity or opportunity'.

    The SDGs all need to be Really achieved. The creation of temporary unsustainable perceptions of achievement among a portion of current day humanity who unjustifiably want to Feel Good about things is not 'success'.

    If Pinker's presentation points out the need for significant correction of the socioeconomic-political systems to occur in a direction aligned with rapidly achieving all of the SDGs then full marks for getting it Right. And bonus marks for presenting it in a way that will potentially be accepted by a diversity of people. However, if Pinker simply believes that future generations will 'continue an Enlightenment of figuring things out in the future' then he deserves no accolades.

    This is not a 'Glass half-empty or half-full' difference of opinion or philosophy. This is a matter of critically understanding if there is any sustainable improvement of circumstances for the less fortunate or for the benefit of the future of humanity. What is required is a blunt assessment of whether harm is being done to Others, something that cannot be justified no matter how much benefit the ones benefiting believe they get compared to how much harm they think they are doing, or how confident they are in the ability of others to deal with the challenges being created.

    Feeling Good about personal waste disposal used to be limited to the waste no longer being seen or smelled by the people feeling good about its disposal. People used to think that dumping their body wastes outside of their homes was Good Enough (from the perspective of the inside of their home). Progressive leadership based on increased awareness and improved understanding has developed municipal waste collection and neutralization. Those developments have not occurred because of the competition for appearances of superiority in games of popularity and profitability. They only developed through leadership imposing corrections and requirements that were contrary to the Private Interests of many of the people.

    The City of London, England, could have implemented proper clean-up of waste flows to the Thames River far earlier than it ended up happening. The popularity of reluctance to accept the unacceptability of not cleaning it up delayed the correction. Many people were easily impressed into feeling good about not correcting the unacceptable over-development. They wanted to Maximize their Feel Good Enjoyment of Their Life by ignoring and avoiding the cost of reducing the waste and the harm it created.

    The same can be said regarding climate change impacts. Future harmful consequences have already been created that Others who did not benefit from creating the mess are suffering from, having to struggle to adapt to. Even the best efforts to correct the wrong developments of the past will leave a legacy of harm. And the tragic part of climate change is that the burning of fossil fuels was long understood to also be creating many other harmful impacts. Yet some people today still try to defend the incorrect over-development that has occurred over the past many decades after the emergent truth (the inconvenient truth), of the need to correct what has developed was well established. They try to claim that perceptions of prosperity in places recently incorrectly developed over the past 30 years deserve to be protected, prolonged or propped-up.

    An added note regarding Naomi Klein's position in 2016 on the proposed Washington State Carbon Taxes. Her presented position in “The Carbon Tax on the Ballot in Washington State Is Not the Right Way to Deal With Global Warming” in The Nation was based on understanding help and harm. It included limited and technically accurate use of political terms like Right-Left-Conservative-Liberal. She correctly used the terms when saying “the odd Republican” and “right-wing friendly”.

    All of the most fortunate, not just the ones who care, need to be leading the transition away from burning fossil fuels. A carbon tax by itself, even a really big one, does not properly motivate the most fortunate to lead the correction and repair of what has developed (and especially not if the carbon tax is used to reduce other taxes on the wealthiest like the Washington State tax plan). The inequities of wealth distribution allow a wealthy person to continue living and pursuing profit while only suffering a minor (to them) inconvenience or cost (admittedly they often consider a penny paid to help others without a personal return benefit to be a penny lost). A rebate of the taxes to the poor portion of the population would be better. But even that would not achieve the required leadership by all of the most fortunate in the rapid transition to zero-carbon ways of living.

    The way the games have been played through the past several decades prove that the developed socioeconomic-political systems/environments currently dominating/influencing the development/activity of humans fail to responsibly respond to developed better understanding, especially when that developed understanding is contrary to the Private Interests of the Winners in the systems/environments. Correcting those developed systems/environments is clearly what needs to happen.

    A part of the required socioeconomic-political changes would be effective peer pressure among the wealthiest and most influential, acting like a collective of responsible professionals, to ensure they are all being helpful parts of the development of a sustainable better future rather than harmfully pursuing a better present for themselves (I never have claimed the need for a Dictator, but I clearly doubt that people frrer top believe and do as they please will develop Good Results. And I have Good Reason for that doubt). That peer action would be without regard for variations of beliefs/values. It would not pit Left against Right, Liberal against Conservative, Capitalist against Socialist. Everyone would focus on encouraging and rewarding helpfulness and discouraging and penalizing harmfulness. Emotional appeals would fail to create unjustified feel good distractions from the Reality of needing everyone to focus on increasing their awareness and understanding of how to be legitimately Helpful to the future of humanity.

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  36. NorrisM@30,

    My latest comment was extended but consistent with my previous commenting on this site.

    You appear to have a habit of misunderstanding what others say or 'understanding but misrepresenting' what they say.

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  37. NorrisM

    In your comment @28 you state "Reading in Pinker's book that Naomi Klien led a group successfully opposing a carbon tax in the State of Washington astounded me. She objected to it according to Pinker because it did not punish the polluters enough."

    Then after I provide a link to what Klein actually did say, then @30 you provide the quote from Pinker "In one of the most surreal episodes in the history of environmental politics, Klein joined the infamous David and Charles Koch, the billionaire oil industrialists and bankrollers of climate change denial, in helping to defeat a 2016 Washington state ballot initiative that would have implemented the nation's first carbon tax, the policy which almost every analyst endorses as a prerequisite to dealing with climate change."

    After reading what Naomi Klein was saying, which would mean taxes on carbon in Washington State with reduction of taxes on Washington State businesses which would exclude the Koch businesses and could trigger similar actions in other states, you failed to see that Pinker did not fully correctly represent what had happened. And Klein's presented position clarified legitimate effective carbon tax in a way that the quote from Pinker does not clarify.

    Implying Klein 'joined or led' the Koch brothers in that action is like saying that Nicaragua 'joined' the USA in opposition to the Paris Agreement (Nicaragua opposed the Paris agreement for being too weak, going too easy on the ones creating the problem). Klein's motivation was understandably very different from the motivation of the Koch Brothers. And Motive is what Matters (Help vs. Harm).

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  38. michael sweet @ 34

    I have not ignored our discussion regarding sea levels. 

    I have made it clear that I have been waiting for the last instalment on sea level rise on another website before I respond to you because I would like to have as much technical information as I can before I explain where I am on sea level rise.  I have my doubts about the Nerem 2018 paper and how much it will be followed by the IPCC in its next assessment for reasons that I have not fully discussed only because my understanding is that the last instalment of the Judith Curry essays on sea level rise is expected to address the Nerem 2018 paper.  Some of the blogs on the earlier instalments on her website have effectively said that if you eliminated the reliance by Nerem on the adjustments to the first 6 years of the TOPEX satellite measurements and removed the assumptions about what sea level rise would have occurred without Mt Pitabo (sp) eruption it would eliminate all of the acceleration.  Fuerthermore another blogger has said that Nerem's method of removing ENSO is patently wrong.  I want to hear what Judity Curry has to say about Nerem in the body of one of her instalments rather than rely on a couple of the bloggers who do sound like they know something about climate science.   I will get back to you on this as soon as this last instalment appears.

    So right now for 2100 we are at a projected linear increase of about 11" if the present rate holds, with Nerem's adjustments, we are at around 26" and the IPCC at 1-3 feet and the US Climate Report at 1-4 feet with what can only be described as an outlier suggestion that we cannot rule out 8 feet but refusing to risk this outlier.  Having said this their risk analysis of sea levels increasing beyond 4.9 feet lies around 1.3%  so why they would even mention 8 feet in the Executive Summary makes me pause to wonder why (See Charts 12.1 and 12.4).  According to their own classifications, such a chance is either "Extremely Unlikely" of "Exceptionally Unlikely".  Take your pick.  

    So I would appreciate it if we could stick to the best estimates for now.  But I would really ask that we just put this on hold until I have read the last instalment of Curry.  It may or may not help but I would like to see what she has to say about Nerem before I make any futher comments on projections about sea level rise.

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  39. Correction: Mount Pinatubo

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  40. nigelj, michael sweet and OPOF

    As for carbon taxes, unless I am missing one, there are really only three (3) options relating to the use of the taxes: (1) keep them in government coffers (this one branches off into a mulitude of possible uses), (2) reduce other forms of taxes equal to the amount taxed, largely through a reduction of income tax, either personal, corporate or both, or (3) distribute the taxes to all citizens by way of a form of refund or dividend which would be to every adult in the country. 

    As usual, I tend to like to focus on what is doable given the political realities existing in most modern democracies which are composed of voters all over the political spectrum.  With a leftist government (as we now have in BC), it seems that they are going to keep it going for option 1 when the previous government had promised it would be option 2.  But in most countries, to appease the conservative voters, this is simply not an option.  So we are left with options 2 and 3.  In my view, the only practical one is option 2 which reduces other taxes and is "revenue neutral".  Conservative voters may be conservative but they are not dumb.  The distribution of the carbon taxes by way of a dividend as in option 3 would be a massive wealth transfer.  Do you seriously think they would approve this?  That is exactly why Washington state opted for option 2.

    I trust Pinker would echo my analysis for the same reasons. Political reality.  As soon as you go for option 3 you are mixing climate change with other political and economic issues and we have the stillborn result in Washington state.

    Is it not better to have a carbon tax which is revenue neutral by way of a reduction of income taxes?  I appreciate that this will hurt the poor, many people have said that reducing carbon use will hurt the poor.  In our advanced countries we can at least institute some form of carbon tax rebate for the poor.

    But this worry about corporations not reducing their carbon use because their taxes will be reduced I think is misguided.  The carbon tax will have the effect of imposing a price on fossil fuels that will then allow other forms of energy to more easily compete with fossil fuels.  What percentage of the total income generated by corporations in the US is allocable to oil and gas corporations?  I would hazard a guess that it is less than 10% (this assumes Google et al pay income taxes in the US).    

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  41. NorrisM @38

    Regarding Nemes sea level rise paper. The IPCC Isn't  going to care too much about Judith Curries and other peoples blog entries or "essays" because they are just informal opinion. They will only care about published peer reviewed sea level rise papers, and there's other such papers raising concerns about possible rapd sea level rise such as by J Hansen. I think you will definitely see the next IPCC report change sea level rise predictions upwards.

    And given the grave consequences of sea level rise over 1 metre, even if probabilities are low, it would be amazingly reckless to be unconcerned.

    So what if Nermes paper relies on 6 years of topex data and issues around Pinatubo? In what way are these insignificant and / or not appropriate to include?  They are facts, they are there, so need to be considered even if they are inconvenient for "sceptics".

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  42. NorrisM @40

    I'm not sure on what basis option 3 is a wealth transfer any differently to your preferred option 2. Both take from fossil fuel companies etc and give to the citizens one way or the other. The carbon tax and dividend just does it most fairly, by treating everyone the same.

    I'm not too sure that even option 2 based purely around income tax changes will be too popular with either politicians or the public, because the inequities highlighted by M Sweet are so obvious and glaring perhaps even to plenty of republicans. I take your point in suggesting avoiding some form of economic restructuring exercise in general climate change matters, but its hard to avoid in this particular case, and its on small scale. And nobody is suggesting the rich be excluded from a dividend. Ultimately the public will come around to the best option overall, which is likely to be option 3.

    Option 3 is also far more flexible, because if the carbon price changes as is likely, it's much easier  to adjust a rebate than income tax law. When ideas are intrinsically good, its usually because they have a range of merits.

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  43. Norrism:

    If you believe that the only way to get a carbon tax is to take money from the majority of people who are low income and give that money to the rich go for it.  I doubt that the majority of people would vote for a tax increase on themselves to subsidize the people who are responsible for the problem.

    I have provided you with peer reviewed data  that shows the majority of scientists studyinig sea level rise think that the IPCC estimate is much too low.  You have just failed to read the data provided to you.  Instead you waste your time at Curries blog.  Curry has published nothing on sea level rise and is not an expert.  

    Expected sea level rise by 2100 is at least 1-2 meters.  Scientists are very confident that your 11 inches will be exceeded and are worried that sea level might be 8 feet or more.  That means it is much more likely we will see 8 feet than 11 inches.  Upthtread Rignot, one of the top glacier scientists in the world, was recorded saying he thought at least 3 meters during the lives of people now living was likely and over a meter during his life was possible.  

    Planning for the best imaginable case as you are doing for sea level rise and than claiming we should act on the worst imiganable case for economic effects is illogical and contradictory.   You have provided no data to support your contradictory claims.  Using Curries estimates instead of an expert like Rignot is simply stupid.  

    NorrisM should not be allowed to post until he provides data to support his contradictory claims.

    When you post on the same topic on different threads it becomes impossible to follow the thread of the discussion.

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  44. [Sigh]

    Once again, NorrisM pulls out the "projected linear increase" for sea level.

    Once again, the answer is that there is no reason in physics to expect that a linear trend will be the future. The projections of sea level rise are not based on a simple statistical extrapolation of past observations.

    NorrisM has absolutely no justification for assuming that the future path will be linear. He keeps arguing that he doesn't see a justification for acceleration. He keep ignoring the fact that there is no justification for assuming a linear trend to 2100.

    Until he does provide an argument for why a linear trend would be expected, then he should stop talking about it.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB]  Agreed.

  45. michael sweet and Bob Loblaw,

    I did not want to get back into a discussion of sea level rise until I had further information in front of me.  Obviously, a lawyer even trying to discuss "sea level" rise is problematic and I appreciate this (but it seems there is a judge in San Francisco who has just asked each side to present a brief on climate change as part of one of these actions against oil companies).  But I only replied to michael sweet accusing me of avoiding the issue and moving onto Pinker notwithstanding that I specifically said in one comment that I would reply to michael sweet when I had further information.  michael sweet in fairness may have missed this.

    So again, I will defer any further comments on sea level rise. 

    But I think I should address this desire of michael sweet to bar me from any participation on this website unless my comments are backed up by "peer reviewed" papers.  Does this mean that there can be no criticism of the Nerem 2018 paper unless it is backed up by a peer reviewed paper that criticizes the results or methodology of the Nerem 2018 paper?

    And, if the answer to that is "no", then what is the standard?

    PS  There is a JimD on the Curry website who is light years ahead of me in technical expertise who regularly posts questions and comments which drive Robert Ellison and other regulars on that site crazy. There are constant requests for Judith Curry to prohibit his comments.  Judith Curry does not even respond to any such requests.  Not that I compare myself to JimD in any way but I respect this website for also not responding to michael sweet's entreaties.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB]  If you are unwilling or unable to support your claims on SLR with citations to credible sources, then it is suggested that you avoid discussing the subject further.  And all formerly contesting with you on the topic are then entitled to claim the silence as a concession of the weakness of your previous position.

  46. nigelj @ 42

    I personally would have no problem with Option 3 and in fact, contrary to michael sweet's accusations, I personally would prefer Option 3 but this would be bringing into the equation something else (income inequality) which complicates the issue.  So, again, I would like to deal with  "realpolitik".  Is it not better to have an Option 2 carbon tax than no carbon tax at all because that is what I think is political reality.  Or do you think Option 3 could be sold to the Republicans? 

    For that matter, could it be sold to Canadians?  Trudeau certainly has not stepped into this.  I actually should have researched the Alberta NDP carbon tax as to whether it is "revenue neutral" but that government is an abberation in Alberta.  Now that the two right of centre parties have united, I do not think we will see the NDP in Alberta for long.

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  47. NorrisM,

    Things Actually can Change, and quickly when there is Good Reason for the required correction to occur.

    In the 1950s the idea that the global community would collectively collaborate over 50 years to develop something like the Sustainable Development Goals was generally unthinkable, as was getting Americans to stop allowing members of their population to unjustifiably persecute people who had darker skin.

    I will give you some benefit of the doubt and believe that, to a degree, you are genuinely stuck in the 'Things are what they are and will only ever change very slowly' mind-set. However, by striving to make others more aware and better understanding of the required corrections of what has developed you can be Part of the more rapid Change/Correction of awareness and understanding that undeniably needs to happen.

    However, by your comments, you do not appear to be interested in properly raising awareness and understanding so that the current damaging developed realities in some parts of this planet are corrected. I suspect you also play a game of misleading marketing to try to delay the correction from developing. It could be that your Private Interest actually does not want the changes of awareness and understanding to develop too quickly.

    Misinterpreting and Misrepresenting things in an attempt to unjustifiably manipulate opinions of others in order to benefit from limiting the development of corrected awareness and understanding is one of the worst things that 'competition to appear to be superior to, or more prosperous than, others' has ever developed. One interpreter of satellite data to determine temperatures in the atmosphere clearly does it in his Blog Posts which are slanted to make it appear as if things are cooling, or that any observed warming is somehow not significant. Many economists do it as well, claiming that doing harm to future generations can be economically justified, or that not harming the future generations is "Too Hard". And a cognitive psychologist may also be doing that, using knowledge of how to influence people in ways other than maximizing the rate of correction of awareness and understanding in the general population.

    It all comes down to Motivation, and how helpful to others, especially to future generations, a person genuinely wants to be.


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  48. NorrisM @46, my understanding from Naomi Kleins article is that option 2 has been proposed in Washington, and has been opposed by Democrats,Republicans and most environmental groups. It has not been put to the public for some sort of vote, but it certainly doesn't look like it will be popular.  Its a dumb idea, and anyone should be able to see it regardless of their politics. The failings have been pointed out enough and dont need repeating.

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  49. NorrisM @46, I also see a difference between trying to deliberately link climate mitigation with some form of economic reform, and a carbon tax that makes inequality worse and is just patently unfair. I can't support option 2 and I'm not even sure enough Republicans would like it to get it passed.

    Option 3 has a range of different advantages, and the only objection would be its "too fair" which would be a silly objection.

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  50. eclectic @ 25,

    You asked me to provide a summary of Steven Pinker’s new book “Enlightenment Now” when I had finished reading it. I will take this opportunity to recommend this book highly to all readers of this website. I have no doubt that John Hartz Cook, who I understand is now doing research in the area of cognitive psychology (as it relates to reaching people or changing people’s views on climate change), will have read it by now.

    I recall nigelj concerned that tones of Ayn Rand seem sprinkled in Pinker’s views generally. I only suggest you and nigel read the last chapter on Humanism to be disabused of that opinion. Pinker does not have nice things to say about Ayn Rand in this chapter. Although he clearly supports the general concepts of utilitarianism he comments on its flaws as well.

    There are some very interesting observations in the book that contradict the general view that Trump’s road to victory was from voters left out of the globalized economy. In Pinker’s view, the populism rise has not been economic but rather a racial and an anti-immigration backlash both in the US and in Europe. But Pinker holds out hope. In his view, populism has seen its “Peak Populism” because it is largely demographic and the early Baby Boomers are dying off.

    As well, Pinker is not just looking backwards in this book but is also looking forward. This becomes clear later in the book after his description of where we have come from in the last 250 years.

    I obviously cannot provide a summary of the book but just to tempt you, here are the chapter headings:

    Part I: Enlightenment

    1. Dare to Understand
    2. Entro, Evo, Info (a fascinating view of the world in 3 words)
    3. Counter-Enlightenments

    Part II: Progress

    4. Progressophobia
    5. Life
    6. Health
    7. Sustenance
    8. Wealth
    9. Inequality
    10. The Environment
    11. Peace
    12. Safety
    13. Terrorism
    14. Democracy
    15. Equal Rights
    16. Knowledge
    17. Quality of Life
    18. Happiness
    19. Existential Threats
    20. The Future of Progress

    Part III: Reason, Science and Humanism

    21. Reason
    22. Science
    23. Humanism

    Whether this is a positive or a negative to you, the precursor to this book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” was described by Bill Gates as “the most inspiring book I’ve ever read”. I suspect this one will supplant it.

    My sense is that this book will have an impact on the discussion of where we are going as a human race whether or not you agree with all of his observations. For that reason alone, I suspect most should read it.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Your reference to John Hartz is in error. It is John Cook, the founder of this website, who does research in cognitive psychology. 

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