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Yes, EVs are green and global warming is raising sea levels

Posted on 21 May 2018 by dana1981

Last week, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held yet another climate science hearing similar to those from April 2017February 2017January 2016May 2015June 2014December 2013, and so on. It seems as though disputing established climate science is House Republicans’ favorite hobby. This time, it was Philip Duffy’s turn to spend two hours playing whack-a-mole with the committee Republicans’ endless supply of long-debunked climate myths.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) claimed that sea level rise is due to the White Cliffs of Dover tumbling into the ocean (yes, really), and his colleagues argued that scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling, that Earth is just returning to its “normal temperature,” that Antarctic ice is growing, and sea levels are hardly rising.

Self-contradictory sea level rise denial

Those last two claims originated from a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorialentered into the Congressional record by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), written by Fred Singer. As the group Ozone Action documented, Singer has been a lifetime contrarian on virtually every scientific subject imaginable - acid rain, nuclear winter, nuclear waste, nuclear war, ozone depletion, secondhand smoke, amphibian population loss, and even minimum wage benefits. In recent decades he’s worked for a plethora of fossil fuel-funded think tanks, denying established climate science.

Singer’s WSJ editorial is difficult to follow, largely because it contradicts itself several times, saying:

there is also good data showing sea levels are in fact rising at an accelerating rate ... to keep the rate of rise constant, as observed...

Obviously if sea level rise is accelerating, it’s not increasing at a constant rate. The WSJ later “corrected” that first sentence, thus removing one of the few accurate statements in the editorial - sea level rise is indeed accelerating.

Singer’s explanation for why the accelerating sea level rise isn’t accelerating likewise contradicts itself:

the temperature of sea water has no direct effect on sea-level rise … accumulation of ice on the Antarctic continent has been offsetting the steric effect [sea level rise due to warming temperatures] for at least several centuries.

Here, Singer first claims that the basic physics of thermal expansion is wrong, or at least somehow doesn’t apply to ocean water, but then argues it is real and is merely being offset by ice growth on Antarctica. The latter claim is of course also wrong – Antarctica has been losing land ice and a recent study found that it’s responsible for 8% of sea level rise since 1993 (thermal expansion is the biggest contributor, at 42%). 

As one sea level researcher at Climate Feedback described Singer’s editorial, “If this were an essay in one of my undergraduate classes, he would fail.” The whole thing is complete nonsense, denying basic physics, and yet was published in the WSJ and entered into the congressional record. This is the material that House Republicans and their conservative media allies who reject climate science and oppose all climate policies find most compelling. That says a lot about the state of climate denial on the American right today.

Clean Electric Vehicles Denial

Around the same time, Politico ran a story written by Jonathan Lesser, who’s an energy industry consultant with the Koch-, Mercer-, tobacco industry-, and Exxon-funded Manhattan Institute (which Politico failed to mention). It claims, based on a Manhattan Institute report written by Lesser, that “more electric cars and trucks will mean more pollution.”

This conclusion rests upon a number of shaky assumptions. First, it considers not today’s power grid mix, but rather the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s projections out to the year 2050. The EIA is notorious for underestimating the growth of clean energy, and projects that coal will continue to supply 22% of US electricity 32 years hence. To put this in perspective, the share of US electricity supplied by coal fell from 51% in 2008 to 31% in 2016. According to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, nearly half of the remaining coal plants will likely retire or convert to natural gas in the near future. In short, the EIA is unrealistically bullish on fossil fuels.

Electricity generated by burning coal produces significant air pollution, and so using these assumptions, Lesser concludes that American electric cars will generate more air pollutants that are harmful to human health than gasoline-powered cars. But if the electricity generated to charge electric vehicles is cleaner than in his assumptions – a near-certainty – the conclusions won’t hold.

Lesser also admits that even with these conservative assumptions, carbon pollution emissions from electric cars would be at least 70% lower in 2050 than those from gasoline-powered cars. He dismisses this result by claiming “the [carbon pollution] reductions will have no impact on climate” (because it’s a small change relative to the carbon pollution from all American power generation), but this argument could apply to any individual effort to cut carbon pollution (it’s called a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’). In fact, transportation currently accounts for close to 30% of US carbon pollution, so switching to electric cars is a critically important step to tackle America’s large contribution to climate change.

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Comments 1 to 30:

  1. We drive an EV in Minnesota, and Connexus power company has a program for off-peak charging that uses 100% wind power. Obviously not every electron coming over the grid came from a wind turbine, but Connexus explains it this way.

    Energy comes from all kinds of sources: wind, natural gas, coal, and more. Once it hits the power grid, there’s no way of telling where it came from. However, when renewable energy is added to the mix, a renewable energy credit (REC) is created that embodies all the environmental benefits of that energy. When you enroll in the Time-of-Day Program, we’ll dedicate wind energy RECs on your behalf, completely offsetting that energy used to power your electric vehicle.

    Enrolling in such a program moves us closer to cleaner transportation and sends a clear signal to the power company that one more person is encouraging them to put up more wind turbines.

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  2. Jonathan Lesser: "electric vehicle proponents... fail to consider just how... efficient new internal combustion vehicles are. The appropriate comparison for evaluating the benefits of all those electric vehicle... mandates isn’t the difference between an electric vehicle and an old gas-guzzler; it’s the difference between an electric car and a new gas car."  Did Lesser forget to mention that half the CO2 produced by a gas car was produced before the gasoline ever got into its gas tank?  Funny how these fossil-fueled wonks keep leaving that little detail out of their analysis.  By force of omission, they let the public keep the fantasy that the gasoline you put in your tank just came out of the ground that way, right there at the station...

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  3. ubrew12@2

    To emphasize your point, a big reason we bought an EV is that apparently most of the Minnesota gasoline comes from the Canada, which I assume means  tar sands oil. So it's not just the at-the-pump savings, but everything before that as well.

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  4. Fred Singer is a conservative leaning ideologue with strong ties to corporations and right wing think tanks. He is far from impartial and disspassionate.

    America has effectively become a dictatorship, or oligarchy, ruled by politicians linked to lobby groups, corporate interests, and crank scientists like Singer, who regulary ignore the will of the majority. Most Americans want renewable electricity, fuel efficient cars, and better gun control according to polls by Pew Research etc, but are being ignored. The scale of this is breathtaking. Article on attempts to overturn Obamas fuel efficient car legislation.

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  5. nigelj @4

    There seems to be a big disconnect between what polls and elections indicate. Nobody forced anybody in the US to vote for the current batch of politicians. We chose them, and the current president was blatantly obvious about what he stood for during the past election. In a country with as many personal freedoms as Americans enjoy, there is not much excuse for inaction. We must stop waiting for people above us to act in our best interest. There is no way out of the climate problem without personal initiative, and in the US we still have the freedom to act.

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  6. Evan @5, would it be much different with a democratic president and congress? I would suggest only to a limited degree. The influence of lobby groups on them is still huge, and thats where they get a lot of campaign funding. It seems like a systemic problem that is very strong in America.

    But yes, a  lot of this is about personal initiative.

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  7. nigelj@6

    No amount of campaign funding will elect a candidate that nobody votes for. Once elected, those who go against the voters and side with lobby groups will not be re-elected. At least this is the way it should work if people vote in line with what matters to them, but clearly you are correct in that the lobby groups have been effective in telling people what they should care about.

    Are climate issues at the top of the list for a majority of voters? I think not (peronsal opinion), because otherwise it is difficult to see how the current crop of politicians were elected. SkS is trying to move climate issues higher up on the priority list of voters.

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  8. I think most people, most places, vote for their party of identity. If the candidate really doesnt appeal, then more likely to not vote than to vote for the opposition. The US electoral system also seems to be more focussed on local issues than national issues compared to ours (NZ).

    Money spent on PR is to convince voters that what is good for the wealthy lobbiests is good for the voters. This PR is often successful. The whole existance of lobbiests ( people talking to representatives rather than to voters) smacks of broken system to me.

    I also think that many of the problems are so big, and so many dont care, than you will not solve the climate problem without some government help even if only at local level. The real guts of it is about using non-FF energy sources. For a lot, there is no choice. Non-FF has to be cheaper than FF. We also need tech not yet invented (like better batteries) and that takes investment.

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  9. Evan @7, yes some of those politicians who have let lobby groups influence them too much will not be elected again, but they will just be replaced with politicians subject to the same lobby group pressures, in a sort of merry go around. No doubt politicans largely start with the best of intentions, but the pressure will be there. 

    Politicians are reliant on lobby groups for campaign financing and the fossil fuels sector is wealthy for example, and its obviously in their interests to gain influence and so politicians are somewhat captive to what donors want, even if it's subtle pressure, and they arent consciously aware of it. The proof is obvious in the way politicians ignore overwhelming majority views, and what appears to even be their own beliefs at times.

    This can all be reduced by limits on campaign financing as some other countries have, or better still tax payer funded election campaigns. But in Amerca this is regarded as "unconstitutional" which begs the question of whether the constitution really makes sense.

    I think lobby groups do indeed influence voters, but this is a separate problem. Its a tough issue as I support free speech, but we could do so much more to allow the public to make informed decisions if we taught much more rigorous skills on logic and identifying misleading rhetoric at school. Of course the lobby groups would probably lobby against that. Sometimes the behind the scences lobbying has leaked into our media and it's really insidious what goes on,  and more than people realise, and I hope you don't underestimate it.

    I would go so far as to say modern politics has become defined by lobbying, and in this large corporates are obviously disproportionately powerful in influence and hard to counter. That's not to say their views should not be genuinely considered of course, its a question of how the system works.

    I agree with the rest of what you say. We can raise awareness about the climate issue. Every bit helps.

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  10. But then there was Bernie Sanders. I am not endorsing him, just noting that he ran a pretty successful campaign with little funding.

    And then there is Tesla. Wildly successful, and no advertizing.

    Social media has a powerful effect these days.

    Bernie and Tesla have been successful going against modern norms. To turn the climate problem around, we must learn to energize individuals, even if at the same time we rely on big organizations.

    There is no simple answer, but there are lots of clues around us about how to circumvent the current political environment.

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  11. Yes government has a significant part to play in resolving the climate problem, and it does indeed start with renewable energy. Ordinary people cant do much about that, and companies won't move to adopt renewable energy unless theres some level of subsidy or regulation pushing them. However history has shown it doesn't need much, for example the UK, so the ideological objections seem like nit picking to me.

    Individuals can cut their carbon footprint and buy electric cars etc. It's challenging,  as it requires change, and a less materlastic lifestyle and traditionally materialism has come to define status in western countries. Perhaps humanity just simply has to learn new ways of defining personal success and identity. And at least electric cars are pretty cool (or getting that way) and perform remarkably well. 

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  12. I like Kevin Anderson's message that we won't solve the climate problem by subsituting fussil-fuels with renewable energy. According to Kevin Anderson, there simply is not enough time to bring renewable energy online to meet current energy consumption. We need to cut back. And that will be difficult.

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  13. Evan - your logic is selective. We don't get to choose who we vote for, we get to choose between two people who WE had nothing to do with selecting. If I ask you you have a choice of me shooting you or me stabing you are you the one choosing to die?

    Also all of the FBI,CIA BS in the news is about how the DNC and Clinton got rid of the hands down #1 choice of the American public, Sanders!

    If we were to ramp up EV production to replace the current IC auto inventory it would be an environmental catastrophy.

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  14. The EV vs IC choice is as reasonable or I should say as unreasonable as choosing between shooting or stabing. The assumption is that there is no choice other than everyone of us 7+ billion eventually getting his or her own car, anything less is economic repression and unfair. This is the crux of the problem not electric vs gas.

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  15. jef@13 and 14

    We get to choose between more than 2 candidates. Remember there are primary elections where it all starts.

    I agree that the answer is not equipping all 7 billion with private electric cars. That is why I refer to Kevin Anderson's message about cutting back. Our going to an electric car does reduce carbon emissions, but in the long run we need to cut down on ownership to reduce emissions even more. It takes a while to revamp society and to modify our lifestyles. Right now EVs are better than ICs given the constraints we have of dismal public transportation in the US.

    It will take time to transition to low-carbon transportation. EV cars are a step, but a much better solution will be EV public transportation, or shared EV vehicles. The solution is certainly not continuing to burn fossil-fuels in IC cars. This we know, because it is impossible to apply carbon capture and storage at the personal vehicle level.

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  16. Let's agree on the following. If everyone committed to reducing their carbon footprint 10%/year, however they did it, we would quickly start moving towards a solution. Even a person driving a Hummer could reduce their carbon footprint if they simply drove their Hummer less each year.

    The reality is that it takes a long time to transition from our current way of doing things to a sustainable way of doing things. EVs are part, but not all of the solution.

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  17. can you give a link for Kevin Anderson's analysis? Others contradict that. There are several ways to get those numbers very wrong. (eg looking a primary energy production).

    For much of world, cars are only part of the problem. Getting off coal generation is single most important step. If you cant put up solar panels (live in an apartment) and cant choose a supplier of green energy, then you have limited options for getting off coal. I dont think you can get around the important role government has here.

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  18. Also Evan, for us in NZ, our electricity is 80% renewable already. 50% of our emissions roughly are agricultural (milk powder to large degree). A meaningful reduction in our carbon emissions isnt easy. Flying and reducing the amount of stuff (embodied energy) we consume are the main personal pathways.

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  19. scaddenp@17

    Here is a quote from Kevin Anderson when he was being interviewed by Democracy Now in November 2013, and here is the link. He says the same thing in most of his talks, such as this one here. I've heard both sides, and to me Kevin sounds much more realistic, accounting for the way things really work. I hope Kevin is wrong, but I think we should act assuming he is correct.

    KEVIN ANDERSON: In the short term, the only way we can get our emissions down is to actually reduce the level of energy we consume. Now, we can also put low-carbon energy supply in place, you know, power stations that are renewable—wind, even nuclear, as well. These are all very low-carbon power stations and other energy sources. But they take a long time to put in place. And we now—we’ve squandered the opportunity we had to make those changes. So, we still need to do that, but it’s going to take us 20, 30 years to do that. So what we need to do in the interim is to reduce the amount of energy we consume, and therefore reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we emit.

    And the levels of reduction we now need in carbon dioxide, and therefore energy consumption, are such that for many of us—for the wealthy of us, certainly—we can’t carry on as we’re going now. So we’ll have to consume less. And there’s absolutely no way out of that. The maths are absolutely clear.

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  20. scaddenp@18

    I respect that agricultural emissions are really tough. Currently there are about 5 people per cow in the world. That seems like a lot of milk and steaks! Learning about the methane emissions from cows helped me go vegetarian.

    I am impressed that in NZ 80% of your power is renewable. Obviously we in the US have a lot of catching up to do.

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  21. I think we could quite rapidly and completely convert to renewable electricty and possibly resolve the other issues in just a couple of years, if we really, really wanted. Most analysis puts the cost of converting Americas fossil fuel electricity grid to renewables at about 4 trillion dollars total, and America spent about 8 trillion dollars in 1945 alone on the war effort in todays money (40% of annual gdp, so almost half their economy was devoted to the war effort!).

    But it would be very harsh, requiring huge cuts in spending elsewhere, and politically unlikely, because theres not that sense of desire for sacrifice, especially over such a short time frame,  or the sense of urgency like the war.

    Anderson is probably right. We will build renewable energy more slowly over 20 years at best, so Anderson is also right we also need to reduce personal consumption. In fact theres are many reasons to cut our levels of personal consumption of both energy and raw materials. There's a sort of confluence of reasons, all well known to anyone interested in the environment and economic issues.

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  22. What is missing the numbers. However, I see from his publications more about meeting the 2 degree challenge which should contain the detail. I am not all convinced that we will build renewables more slowly. With costs dropping on wind and solar, I would say the reverse.

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  23. ubrew12@2, Are you referring to the emissions cost of refining crude oil into petroleum? I suppose you could go a step further and add the cost of mining and exploration etc, but it should also be said that EV's themselves incur significant emissions costs during manufacture, and then there's the new problem of battery waste and recycling. Pointing to this article also from the Guardian - Given that future battery tech will likely be "super capacitor" and not a chemical storage cell, and will thus overcome charge cycle limitations as well as environmental impacts, I'm personally incined to wait until EV's are a little further evolved  

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  24. What is missing in so much of the discussion and what Kevin Anderson brings home is that we are out of time. The real question is whether we can stabilize at 2C or whether we will slowly lose control to feedbacks. We cannot wait for perfect answers. We must take the best we have and cut down however we can.

    As I write this I know that I am a hypocrite, and although I am trying to cut back, I need others on the outside to remind me that I need to continue to cut back. This is part of the value of people like Kevin Anderson. They are out there telling us directly that we are out of time and that we must act now. EVs are not perfect and hopefully their carbon footprint will be lower in the future. But an EV is likely much lower carbon than the truck we traded in to buy the EV.

    We must take steps in the right direction. And then take additional steps.

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  25. Evan@24, I would add too that buying an EV before your existing vehicle needs to be replaced is also an exercise in emissions creation. The answer is to consume less, which mostly means that we should wait until our electronics and household consumables need to be replaced before we actually replace them.  Governments are best placed to take the lead on EV's, which means making them mandatory in the gov't sector.   

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  26. Art@25

    We never sold a vehicle until trading in the truck for our EV. We always drove them into the ground. But I figure that there is a demand for trucks, and if I sell mine then theoretically one less will be manufactured, because there is a certain level of demand. Had we parked the truck and then bought the EV I would agree with you. But I also readily admit that somewhere there might be a flaw in my thinking. I honestly believed it was the right move.

    But to be perfectly blunt, it became impossible for me to study and write about climate change and continue to drive our truck. We still have an IC vehicle as our second vehicle, and it mostly sits. For that vehicle I agree with you, because for the small amount we drive it it would be a waste to replace it with an EV.

    A year from now I might agree with you, but it seemed like the right move. Especially considering we burn tar-sands oil in Minnesota.

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  27. Vandelay@23 said: "I'm personally incined to wait until EV's are a little further evolved"  The planet is also 'evolving' while you wait.  Yes, the figure I saw is that half of the CO2 developed by a gasoline-powered vehicle was developed turning oil into gasoline, before the fuel ever got to the car.  When Lesser asks us to compare electric with modern gas-powered vehicles (full disclosure: I own a Prius), he is talking just about the vehicle, and not the fuel.

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  28. Art Vandealy " I would add too that buying an EV before your existing vehicle needs to be replaced is also an exercise in emissions creation."

    No, because the lifetime emissions of electric vehicles are lower (the short answer). But I agree it makes sense in terms of emissions in manufacturing to keep appliances as long as possible, and especially don't just throw them out if they still work. 

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  29. My understanding has always been along the lines of the Kevin Anderson quote in Evan's comment @19. And I own a hybrid because where I live it is better than running an all-electric off of the power from the crappy Alberta regional electrical grid that still includes coal burning as a part of the base-load (meaning that even though there are renewable generating options built, the use of coal burning is maximized and the renewables are minimized (even a grid fully powered by burning natural gas produces about 0.6 kg of CO2/kWh which means 1.2 kg of CO2 per 100 km driven based on an electric vehicle efficiency of 20 kWh/100 km. My hybrid annual efficiency is 4.5 l/100 km (closer to 4.0 in the summer and closer to 5.0 in the winter). And burning gasoline is about 3 kg CO2/l when allowance is made for the CO2 associated with extraction, refining and transportation. So in the future my hybrid at 13.5 kg CO2/100 km will only be marginally poorer than an all electric that is powered from Alberta's future grid, after Alberta stops burning coal in 2030, which may not happen if the new United Conservative Party wins the next election).

    The only advancements that are true advancements are the ones that reduce consumption of materials or energy to achieve an objective. Kevin states that because of the lack of responsible action in the past to shift to more sustainable ways of getting energy dramatic reduction of energy consumption is now required while the required corrections of energy production are implemented. My understanding has always been that reduction of energy consumption is the proper objective of efforts to develop new things. And I add that 'All of the richest' need to be required to lead the way to sustainable ways of living (not just the richer ones who care to behave better), because the richer ones are the ones who can afford to behave better.

    Cheaper quicker flashier 'New'ier ways to do things will always be around and get created. But to sustainably advance humanity any unsustainable or harmful way of doing things ultimately needs to be excluded from competing for popularity and profitability.

    Significant effort is undeniably required to overcome the damaging developed popularity and profitability of unsustainable developed ways of doing things. Sustainable ways of doing things cannot compete with the unsustainable alternatives, especially when more people get used to benefiting form the unsustainable or harmful activity. That reality is a Truly Inconvenient Truth.

    The best any of us can do is pursue better understanding of what is going on and determining how our actions can best help achieve a sustainable improved future for humanity. That requires constant skeptical investigation of things, with a critical eye always looking for truly sustainable developments and identifying unsustainable things that have developed that need to be corrected or curtailed.

    A Good first step is recognising/admitting that self-interest can severely cripple skeptical critical thinking, leading to damaging developments of popular and profitable activity that can develop tremendous resistance to being corrected. A self-interested person will skeptically and critically understand that they have less potential for personal benefit if the accept a true better understanding in pursuit of sustainably improving things for the future of humanity.

    Another good step is understanding that the understanding of how to get away with misrepresentations and other misleading marketing is potentially the most destructive thing that humanity has ever developed. And promoting a belief that people should be freer to believe whatever they like and do as they please in pursuit of 'their personal interest' will likely create a massively destructive society, because many people will be tempted to like unjustified damaging and ultimately unsustainable beliefs.

    The result of promoting self-interest and people having more freedom to believe and do as they please, will be a society that John Stuart Mill warned about in the following quote from "On Liberty" - “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    But the damage is done to future generations who can blame their predecessors, but as stated in the following quote from the 1987 UN Report "Our Common Future", the future generations have no ability to actually get even with the ones who caused their problems.

    "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."

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  30. @nigelj

    I wouldn't call Singer a conservative; he is not advocating for any traditional viepoint or program. In my humble opinion, he's just a) shilling for dollars and b) is an old crank. 

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