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Throwing Down The Gauntlet

Posted on 30 June 2011 by actually thoughtful

The Thinker

First of all, if you are still skeptical about the science, please read the other 4,372 posts on Skeptical Science. There literally isn't a wrinkle in the subject that isn't addressed at some level elsewhere on this blog.

As Al Gore famously never said "the science is settled."

This post is about what is next. We know the earth is warming, we know man is to blame. You are either a denier; mostly convinced, but not really thinking this affects your life; or you are  convinced and have taken some action, or are considering some action (and there is crossover, I personally know a fervent denier with solar PV on his roof).

Given that the science is settled, what are the implications? Well, it means that any rational government would take the risk adverse course (that is what governments are for - see the building code) and enforce reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions to protect its citizens. This is by and large not happening. The “why” it is not happening is interesting. Each political persuasion blames the others (in the United States, Libertarians might say cap and trade is ineffective, and won’t solve the problem, the Tea Party might say there is no problem, the Republicans might say solving the debt is more important, the Democrats might say the Republicans are obstructionist, and the Progressives [both of us] might say the problem is vast – let’s just start somewhere!).

Regardless of your own personal politics, the incontrovertible evidence is that the US, China, and Russia (the top 3 CO2 emitters)  are not doing enough to avoid warming of at least 2°C above pre-industrial levels - generally considered the "danger limit" – their policies are, in fact, much closer to Business As Usual (BAU) than a serious effort to reduce greenhouse gases.  And until the warming is severe enough to quiet some of the voices of denial, this isn’t likely to change.Bad Hand

So how can we change the current policy cards we have been dealt?

I suggest the following statement as a powerful tool for understanding the position of any politician, blogger, acquaintance, etc., as well as to evaluate your own response:

“The body of evidence in climate science demands a mitigation response.”

Much has been written about systemic solutions at Skeptical Science. We need those solutions. 

But in light of the anemic response or non-response by most governments, and to have any hope of getting off the BAU trend lines, we also need personal action. And we need to go way beyond changing light bulbs CFL(although that is important too). Changing your transportation habits (i.e. mass transit, avoiding transportation, electric vehicles fueled with solar or wind power); installing a solar thermal system for water heating; installing a solar thermal system and/or ground source heat pump (GSHP) for space heating and/or cooling; installing site-located solar PV or wind; insulating buildings and upgrading windows; consistent communication with politicians (note talking to politicians is a distinctly weaker choice than the previous elements in the list).

Indeed, the almost automatic response of calling for government actions is as predictable as deniers focusing on a tiny piece of the puzzle to avoid the overwhelming body of evidence, and the similarities don’t end there, just as the denial movement serves the status quo by creating noise instead of understanding (even though, on a micro-level, a particular denier statement might be true), the call for government action (at the expense of personal action) serves the status quo by creating the illusion that action has been taken. 

No government action is required for any of the energy saving actions described above, and indeed incentives available in many jurisdictions make this something that has a high (although long-term) economic pay off.

To continue with the idea of "what’s in it for me", consider the following outcomes from personal action:

1. Taking action reduces stress. You can sleep at night that you have done the best you can for yourself and future generations.

2. Many/most governments/utilities (sometimes both) are currently offering incentives. Come the next heat wave and therefore serious push for action, this carrot will become a stick. If you pay for your renewable energy systems with discounted money before the price of fossil fuels necessarily skyrockets rises to reflect the true cost, you win twice (once with a discount on the installation, and again when prices rise).Savings

3. It is FUN to watch the electric meter spin backwards (wind or solar PV). It is FUN to thumb your nose at the propane truck or the gas meter reader as they drive by in frustration.

4. It is economically preferable to pay once, in 2011 prices, for your energy supply for the next 50 years or more (PV, wind, solar thermal (residential heating, DHW)). Inflation and avoided energy costs alone, not even counting on the inevitable carbon tax, will mean you save money over the life of the system.

5. Experts tell us we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050 to have a good chance of limiting global warming to 2°C. This will take direct actions by individuals, no matter how governments exert pressure on their citizens to change. By taking that action, you are part of that 50% reduction. You move from slightly-guilty observer to active participant in the most important issue of the 21st Century. Action begets action, both in your own life, and in the living organism that is your community.
 
6. You will be a leader in your own community (which could lead to new job opportunities, new social opportunities, or just watching your neighbors slowly add renewable systems to keep up with you [you could go to the courthouse and rename yourself "Jones" - but that is probably overkill]).

7. You become a real live human being for politicians to follow in developing a rational response to the threat of climate change.  And, by your actions, you will be creating those elusive green jobs.

In other words, voluntary action by those of us enlightened by the science, passionate enough to act, and having the financial where-with-all to act may not only be virtuous, but actually necessary to bring about the required societal change.

Many lament that we need political leadership on this issue. In a democracy, political leaders get fired. Politicians are, by trade, followers. If they follow what enough of their constituents want, they get to keep their job (although it is true they can exert some influence on what issues are discussed [see the recently resigned US Congressman from NY]). So the easiest path to getting the policy we need might be convincing a critical mass of constituents to take meaningful personal action.

So how about it – do you agree that the balance of evidence in climate science requires a mitigation response? Are you willing to take personal action (and if you have already, are you ready to take more action)?

It can be as easy as just picking one small, achievable thing to change in your life...and changing it.  After all, a journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step.  Take an actual, real world step to mitigate climate change - anything to avoid the leopard outcome:

Indifference

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Comments

Comments 1 to 24:

  1. I like the blunt way this is going...

    Bottom line, shut down the denial machine now and do not let the MSM get away with underreporting the story of the century.
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  2. That is fine, but the trouble is that personal action (and I have taken actions along the lines you suggest) is nowhere near enough - only a fraction of the response needed.
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  3. What is surely more important is that others learn by your example and the behaviour spreads. There is little to be gained in being an isolated example and making oneself feel better.

    Surely the community as a whole needs to be encouraged (or made) to participate. Otherwise it becomes the mentality of sandbagging your stretch of the river whilst your neighbour does nothing. It only works if everyone does it.
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  4. I think the economic argument for some sorts of action is quite strong (thus the comment about the denier with the rooftop PV). A few years back, our (electric resistance) hot water system failed. We paid a premium of ~$1,000 or so to go solar. Since then, our electricity bill has been about $100/quarter less. In another few years, the savings will have completely paid for the hot water system - total cost, not just the 'solar premium'. Given the prospects for ever-rising electricity prices, I think a rooftop PV array may be in our near future as well. I'd love to get one big enough to offset our entire daily use, but not sure the budget will stretch that far.

    Perseus, I like your analogy - it fits in well with the government motivation. If 50% of people with riverfront properties sandbag, then the government will probably step in and do the rest. You're certainly not going to ever get 100% community buy-in, waiting for that means the whole enterprise is doomed because of the cranky denier on the corner who claims the river has flooded before, it's entirely natural, we shouldn't do anything about it...
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  5. Given perseus's point above I'll tell you about my new electric motorbike:

    It costs not significantly more than an equivalent (125cc) petrol driven bike, £3000 new, and has similar performance. Top speed 60mph. Range 40 miles, and possibly up to 70, which is more than adequate for my commute to work and back each day. Cost of charging less than 1p per mile and the batteries should last 2000 charging cycles, or about 4 to 5 years of regular use, before they need replacing (current price about £800).

    Even with the current energy mix this gives emissions reductions compared to a petrol bike over its lifetime - and if you're replacing a car then the savings, both financial and environmental, are massive.

    This is a realistic solution that's available now. I enocurage you all to participate in it.
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  6. David, I think the personal/ domestic action is worthwhile. Mainly because of the general perception that running the government is much the same as running a household or a business. (I think this is a bit misguided, but nevertheless it's there.)

    If people see that it's 'normal', 'economical' or even 'cool' to take these actions, the stage is set for more general economy wide action. ('Cool' refers to the opinion of school students about a teacher happily coasting straight past school buses held up in traffic - on an electric bike, not a motorbike. It actually looks more like a Vespa scooter.)

    When lots of people in your street have solar PV, you're not becoming a 'hippie' or a 'greenie' if you instal it too. And it's easy to get bragging rights in your retirement village - my mum always checks the readings on her system before she goes anywhere.
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  7. I went with a Continuous Flow Gas Hot Water system myself. Cost a few hundred dollars more than an electric hot water storage system but, in the 5 years since I installed it, its paid for itself several times over. Plus its generating a fraction of the CO2 emissions that my old water heater used to generate, because its much, much more efficient!
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  8. Oh, & I've also gone with a Green Power scheme recently. I only use around 5-6kw-h of electricity per day, so its only costing me an extra 1c/kw-h for 100% Green Energy. That's a *bargain* in my opinion-especially once the carbon tax kicks in ;-)!!!
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  9. "Cool", yup, that's definitely what they're thinking Adelady, no doubt about it. Well, actually it might be bemusement, it's difficult to tell sometimes.

    I'm sticking with 'electric motorbike' though, electric bike means electric bicycle to me.

    And plenty of bragging rights when it comes to mpg conversations.
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  10. When my old electric water heater blew, I replaced it with another because it was my most energy efficient option. After I installed it I turned it down to the lowest possible setting (meaning the shower is just hot enough in winter when turned all the way to hot). But I also added 100 feet of PEX on the cold input so I can add some sort of preheater. Right now my preheating comes from a south facing outside wall painted black, but I can do better (for one thing PEX doesn't transfer heat well). I have more black-painted wall for passive solar heating (covered in plastic with a PV-powered fan to draw warm air in). I have enough PV electric and batteries for 100% solar computing and some emergency refrigeration.

    Bottom line is my electric bill is $30/month but up to $50 last summer when it was so blazing hot (60 days at 90F or above). In winter about $35 since I use a bit more hot water. My propane use for heating and cooking is minimal since I used wood for most heat and winter cooking. The electric bill includes all water (lots of new trees to water) and pumped septic.

    What's next? I would love to experiment with hydro electric, but 30 foot floods make that challenging (no trend since 1930 http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/monthly?referred_module=sw&site_no=01631000&por_01631000_2=188914,00060,2,1930-09,2010-11&format=html_table&date_format=YYYY-MM-DD). I would gladly give up land to dammed waters (I would get better kayaking and fishing) and a right-of-way. Other ideas: passive solar greenhouse, more passive solar heating and cooling.
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  11. Another element to taking personal action is that when society finally does catch up to the true costs of carbon you will be more prepared emotionally and economically - ie your life will not have to change drastically to move away from carbon-intensive activities/habits.
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  12. Eric's post is interesting. There are so many ways to conserve and make the entire system more efficient it's not even funny. These low hanging fruits can really go a long way and should be the first thing to be addressed. It has the advantage to be empowering and satisfying for individuals and applicable regardless one recognizes AGW or not.

    Next, it would be nice if the kind of creative ingenuity displayed for instance by the Enron traders to screw their customers could be instead applied to optimize the grid. That will not happen without some sort of incentive.
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  13. I understand that there is no longer any room for reasonable doubt, but I also understand that it does NOT help to say, "please read the other 4,372 posts on Skeptical Science."

    This is especially silly when one of the star strong points of Skeptical Science (SS) is that it IS so well organized that a rational person need not read all 4372 posts to remove all reasonable doubt: such a rational skeptic can find the specific rebuttal he needs to read and focus on that.

    Let's give SS credit for its achievement: this is a wonderful organization of the data.
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  14. Heraclitus - they didn't think it, they said it. My suspicion is that it's just like a car - if it's red, it's the real deal.

    The reason this one's called a bicycle is that you don't need a license to ride it. It's nowhere nearly as powerful as yours. Not been used for a couple of years now - trying to decide between getting a new battery pack for this one or replacing it altogether. (And on country roads, the car will do 100 clicks going up a hill, the bike can't. With more work around the city, the bike might get the nod again.)
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  15. Eric. No need for massive flooding to provide Hydro-electric power. There are a number of hydro-power options that don't require large dams or back-flooding.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_hydro

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Run-of-the-river_hydroelectricity

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microhydro_systems
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  16. Ah... I see. Note to self - choose red in future.
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    Response:

    [DB] Ex-actly. Red

  17. “The body of evidence in climate science demands a mitigation response.”

    That jargon makes little sense to many people. Can you say "Burning carbon is causing a host of problems.... The logical conclusion is Stop burning carbon!"

    Eric (Gothic) Since you're into black paint, why not build yourself a hotbox or two (after De Saussure)? You could tell us how they work for both cooking and hot water.

    Here is another level of engagement.
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  18. Pete Dunkelberg,
    I appreciate you are talking to rational people, so you can your very true, simple statement.

    My statement was an attempt to stop the Camburns, Ken Lamberts RSVPs, Humanity Rules, Normans, BobJs, etc., etc., from focusing on this TINY little issue or that, and to admit, on balance, looking at the totality - that we need to take action.

    That action should be both personal as well as at the whole-economy level - ie both micro and macro economics.
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  19. Pete, interesting link, thanks. Here are a few more details: http://solarcooking.org/saussure.htmThere are lots of solar heater designs on the web that I loosely followed, but I made one error using acrylic instead of polycarbonate. I still need to replace that. Believe it or not, the black foundation doesn't look that bad from down the hill.

    Marcus, I would not mind at al having part of my yard flooded although some of my neighbors might. The key benefit is a more stable river level, right now a normal flood is 10 feet of rise and an extreme flood is 30 feet making it impossible to have any kind of dock and difficult to do the small scale hydro (it would have to be anchored and completely waterproof).
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  20. I have a modest suggestion. I believe we need to actively introduce climate change into the presidential primary debate. The news media considers it a “second tier” issue and will not do it. But in the early primary states of NH (my home), Iowa, and North Carolina, we have a unique opportunity. We can use the “retail” face-to-face forums in these states to confront the current primary field with intelligent questions about climate change.

    The problem we face, though, is that candidates are good at providing easy talking points and individuals do not have a chance to ask follow ups.

    This strategy, sometimes called “bird dogging” means have thoughtful and informed questioner’s at every “town hall”, debate, and rally. Asking follow up questions based on the candidate’s earlier responses. I have already asked Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann questions. The Romney query set off a huge amount of discussion and debate. Bachmann’s response, much less. But we need others to continue to the “discussion”.

    For that reason I have started a FB page to track the current candidates answers on climate change with the hope that others can ask follow up questions. Individuals can use this page to learn about prior positions, suggest possible questions, and post information about any coverage their question gets. I can also suggest a few strategies to increase the likelihood that you will be picked to ask a question.

    Stop by at the page and get involved.
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  21. Actually Thoughtful@18:
    I have made a suggestion in another thread that to take action does not require even talking about climate.

    1. Base action on economics. We know that coal/oil/gas etc are finite. We know that in an expanding world energy use will continue to rise as that raises the standard of living.
    2. We know that energy costs are going up. That premiss is born from pricing facts and is indisputeable.
    3. We know the reason they are going up. Inelastic demand as well as inelastic supply.
    4. The way to address the supply side is with another source of energy.
    5. Given demand curves, given supply curves are easy to observe with the naked eye, and are indisputeable.

    The above items are well known.

    Rather than focus on an elastic sensativity, focus on the inelastic reality.

    It would be a very easily sold concept in the USA where the population as a whole is well educated. It will take leadership, of which the USA seems to be short on at this time.

    China is a different story. The Chinese have money, they are building 2 new coal fired power plants every week. India is not far behind. The environmental record of both of those nations is certainly not something to be proud off. To get the Chinese and Indian people to stop consuming coal at the present rate of increase is going to be extremely difficult.

    Rather than focus on co2, I still suggest focusing on finite resources, and the way to overcome the disadvantage of consuming these.
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  22. Camburn,
    The problem with your analysis is you are focusing on the wrong problem. While you are correct that oil will become fairly scarce in the next 2 decades, natural gas and coal are very plentiful. The chart below

    (source:http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/n3010us3M.htm) shows you the cost of natural gas - it spiked in 2008, but is now back to 2005 levels.

    Once oil prices start their inevitable rise, the world will be at a crossroads - do we convert to natural gas and coal for transportation? Or do we get off the fossil fuel roller coaster. At this moment, even with President Obama's leadership, the politics of the extreme right in the USA will not allow the rational choice. This is a HUGE problem.

    So it is important to solve the right problem. You have us solving a fuel shortage - that is not the problem.

    The problem is CO2 - which says eliminate coal first, then other fossil fuels as soon as possible. I am in favor of a full court press to eliminate any fossil fuel I find in my life. I think being carbon free is the most patriotic thing you can do.

    As for China - PLEASE! let's bring the debate above kindergarten "but so-and-so did X" - let's get our house in order, then profit like bandits helping the other countries (see Germany as but one example).

    This is why it is critical to focus on the ACTUAL problem - which is warming due to CO2 - so you don't end up with bizarre policy solutions that have no relationship to the problem (with your model you could end up with the US government actually supporting "clean coal" - what could be a dumber policy!?
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] adjusted width of image
  23. I am afraid in my case stress is increased .... Because of the relative paths my partner and I are idown the line in addressing GW.
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  24. Good links....
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/ClimateFlightAction/165484890164497
    Its a moral issue….
    >Yes, our lives must be an expression of what we most deeply value.
    >Yes, we can and must make conscience-driven choices about how we spend our money and time.
    >Yes, we must provide a safe and thriving future for our children.

    By signing up to reducing your non-essential flying you make a big impact on emissions reduction in multiple ways.
    >Your emissions are substantially reduce.
    >Your resolution highlights and focus the urgency of the issue and the sort of effort that will be required to address the problem with your peers.
    >You reenforce and provide suport
    to consolidate action in tackling global warming.
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