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How to Solve the Climate Problem: a Step-by-Step Guide

Posted on 14 September 2012 by dana1981

Recently we have seen that if we fail to take serious action very soon to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the future climate will be much less hospitable than today's, with potentially catastrophic results.  We have also seen that our political leaders are currently failing to take the necessary steps to avoid a potentially catastrophic future.  This begs an important question - how do we change that?  In this post we will begin with the large-scale changes that are necessary, and work backwards to see what we can do as individuals on a smaller scale to make those big changes happen.

Pricing or Regulating Carbon Emissions?

In order to achieve the necessary large-scale greenhouse gas emissions reductions, some form of government action is required.  There is simply no way we can stay within our carbon emissions budget with only individual or small-scale efforts.  On a national level, emissions can be reduced through simple government regulation, as the USA  has begun implementing through the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, putting a price on carbon emissions will generally have a smaller economic impact than government regulations.  A carbon emissions price allows consumers to consider the costs of these emissions and adjust their purchasing decisions accordingly, effectively allowing the free market to assist in the emissions reductions.  Currently, carbon emissions are what's known as an economic "externality" - a factor whose true costs are not included in the price of associated products (i.e. fossil fuels). 

Carbon emissions do damage through their impacts as a result of climate change (for example, economic losses via damaged crops from increased drought frequency), but that cost is not currently reflected in the products' market price, so consumers cannot take them into account when they purchase fossil fuels.  Economists consider this type of externality an economic and free market failure.

There are many different options in implementing carbon pricing - a carbon tax, cap and trade system, cap and dividend, etc.  Each has upsides and downsides which are worth debating, but the important first step is to remedy this market failure and put some sort of price on carbon emissions.

Fortunately, some governments have listened to these economists and implemented carbon pricing systems.  The European Union (EU) has long led the way, implementing a cap and trade system in 2005.  Australia just recently set a carbon tax and plans to join the EU emissions trading market (although the opposition party is trying to kill the Australian carbon pricing system).  In the USA, nine northeastern states have a modest cap and trade system, and California is poised to implement a much more ambitious system in 2013British Columbia has implemented a successful carbon tax, but the USA and Canada do not have national carbon pricing systems.

fig 3.2

Implemented and planned climate change actions in some major emitting economies.  Blue represents a sub-national action, pink represents a planned national action, and red represents an implemented national action.

So how do we ensure that the countries with national carbon pricing systems keep and strengthen them, and convince the countries without such national systems to implement them?

Demand Climate Policy

Most of us live in democracies, and we can therefore influence national climate policy by making our priorities known.  Climate change is the gravest threat humans currently face, and it should therefore be at the top of policymakers' list of priorities.  However, in a democracy, policymakers' priorities are generally determined by the voters who put them in office.

So first of all, we can make climate policy one of our top determining factors in who we vote for.  We can write letters and/or sign petitions to our policymakers to ensure they know our vote is contingent on their support for climate policy.  We can encourage other voters to follow suit.  The only way to make carbon pricing a top priority for our policymakers is to show them that it's a top priority for their voting constituents.

Educate People

Before they will make it a top priority, people must first understand the magnitude of the climate problem, which many currently do not.  In the USA for example, while a majority of the population supports climate policy, they do not see it as a priority.  Until the issue is considered a top priority by voters, there is no pressure for policymakers to implement carbon pricing.

The climate disinformation campaign has been very effective on this issue.  Despite the overwhelming consensus amongst climate experts that humans are causing global warming, only 53% of Americans believe humans are the primary cause, and only 58% believe that most scientists agree that global warming is even occurring.

According to the March 2012 George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication (CCCC) national poll, climate scientists are the most trusted source for climate science information, with 74% of public trust.

george mason poll

Responses to the George Mason CCCC poll question "How much do you trust or distrust the following as a source of information about global warming?"

Thus as Ding et al. (2011) concluded, if a larger percentage of people realized that there is a scientific consensus on the issue amongst the group they trust most on the subject, more people would believe that humans are causing global warming, and more people would demand that we do something about it.  Thus it is critical to educate people not just on the scientific evidence, but perhaps more importantly, about the existence of the expert climate consensus.

A populace can only make informed decisions if it is adequately informed, and right now the public as a whole is misinformed about climate change.  We can all make a difference on this issue by educating those we know, and we believe Skeptical Science is a good resource to accomplish this.  However, our individual and collective reach is limited - most people are informed (and/or misinformed) by the mainstream media.

Demand Factually Accurate News

Unfortunately the mainstream media tends to believe that false balance is more important than factually accurate reporting.  Too many journalists and news organizations are afraid of being labeled as "biased" if they do not report "both sides" of a story, even if one side is not supported by the evidence.  Thus the climate contrarian position receives nearly as much media coverage as the mainstream position, even though the contrarians comprise less than 3% of climate experts.  This over-representation of the climate contrarian position in the mainstream media for the sake of false balance is undoubtedly the main reason why such a large percentage of the populace is unaware of the climate consensus.

So how do we influence the mainstream media to prioritize factually accurate reporting over false balance?  Just as politicians are influenced by their voting constituencies, the media can be influenced by its viewers/readers.  Television advertising dollars are often driven by the number of viewers, newspaper advertising dollars are driven by the number of subscribers, and online media advertising dollars are driven by the number of pageviews. 

An independent study demonstrated that viewers prefer quality TV programming.  We can reward good stories and media outlets by viewing and subscribing to them (and encouraging others to follow suit) and discourage bad stories and media outlets by ignoring them; thus we can begin to influence journalists' priorities by making them recognize that their readers value factual accuracy over false balance.

This is something of a challenge for Skeptical Science, because we believe debunking climate myths in the mainstream media is an important exercise, but we draw attention to those stories in the process.  By quoting directly from the stories, we do allow our readers to see the myths and debunkings without necessarily having to read the stories themselves and give them additional pageviews.  However, we may reduce our number of mainstream media debunkings in the future.  As they say, "do not feed the trolls."

Using Social Media

We can each extend our individual reach on this issue through the use of social media.  For example, when encountering a factually accurate mainstream media story which does not fall into the false balance trap, we can share it on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to encourage those in our social media circle to also view the article and add to its traffic.  Right now the media also tends to operate under the principle that "controversy sells," and climate contrarian positions inevitably create the controversy that generates viewer traffic. 

Only by increasing traffic to the stories that focus on factually accurate information rather than creating a false sense of controversy can we convince the media otherwise, and social media is a useful tool to accomplish that.

Summary

Only when the media focuses on factually accurate reporting will the public become correctly informed on climate change.  Only then will the public come to understand that the experts are in agreement about the climate threat, and that we must make it a priority.  Only then will the public demand that our policymakers take action to address climate change, and only then will those policymakers implement serious climate change mitigation policies.

It's important to remember that in both democratic and capitalist systems, we each have a significant amount of influence.  Our traffic drives advertising dollars for the media, and our votes determine our policymakers' priorities.  We can each extend our individual influence through the tools of the internet such as social media.  So let's get to work and solve this problem.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 70:

  1. Very thought-provoking. As voters we have some clout every three years, on much contested ground. But the most leverage we can bring to bear in influencing the narrative are eye-balls and Twitter. Rewarding factual, accurate, unbiased, not falsely-balanced reporting of the science and news of climate change will bring in the advertisers. They will craft their messages and products to their discriminating audiences.

    And the corollary then is to not keep feeding the trolls, so I should stop wading into the denier sites and contesting the propaganda. I'm sure I haven't changed any minds.
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  2. @#1 (Wadard) I was a "denier," as in someone who had not read anything close to the science on the matter, but instead stuck to an editorial narrative.

    Two things happened.

    I found this site when I was attempting to refute a cliam about AGW. This site works.

    Also, I saw the reaction of my denier peers to the U.S. political process in 2008/2010, and I was shocked. It reaffirmed my decision to abandon previously held opinions.

    As for public policy in the U.S., I support firm, immediate action on all fronts, but I will not be suprised if we "burn it all" in our efforts to maintain a slipping standard of living. I think the solutions require a collective effort on the scale of U.S. reaction to WWII. As my parents can attest, nearly everyone was engaged together to reach a desired outcome.
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  3. (-snip-)
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Please repost your comment on a more appropriate thread, minus the all-caps and the accusations of dishonesty.
  4. I got snipped for reasons I do not understand. I would like to know how to refute the information that Venus and earth are similar in temperature profiles, and from that some have asserted that there is no greenhouse effect.

    What is the approproate place to ask for mthat information?
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    Moderator Response: [RH] You might consider this thread: Postma Disproves the Greehouse Effect Please take time to review the commenting policy before continuing, though.
  5. I am shooting an 18 minute potential TedTalk video and intend to offer a presentation of the 18 minute talk followed by discussion. In somewhat dramatic fashion I tell my health story of serious disease and personal denial and the consequences (ambulance call, surgery, colon removal, etc.) and, eventually, learning to accept the scientific (medical) consensus and receiving life-saving live liver transplant donation (for a related disease) from my youngest brother. I focus on systems equilibrium (of my liver and colon), progressive forcing out of equilibrium, tipping points, the power of 'stepping into reality' etc. THEN I tell the climate story as analogy. At the end I advocate action- SAY IT! CAP IT! PASS IT! Say It!: (pressure our leaders-especially President- to say it 'AGW is an emergency we need to address NOW'). Cap It! (Pressure for Cap and dividend). Pass It! (Green Apollo type program). I send them off with 1) Letter templates for their representatives 2)A commitment to educate their peers......I am a Stanford Grad and now that I have recovered could be doing other things, but I love me some AGW activism. Story Telling! I can email script of talk if interested: dagold56@hotmail.com
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  6. Depending on “media” is the huge shortcoming of the educational approach. The average reporter, either print, TV or even NPR (here in America), has, for the most part, the same shortfall in science education as Americans in general. Even those reporters who have graduated from prestigious universities are not qualified to investigate science issues. We do have some very good science reporters who have studied science and who regularly report on scientific issues but they are definitely not mainstream. They appear in science magazines or occasionally are printed in newspapers. Even NPR only has one program a week, two hours only, that is not available on all public radio stations and if available they may only run one of the two hour segments. The last time I heard an interview on one of my local public radio stations with Michael Mann a disappointingly large fraction of the callers were parroting the same old denier hogwash we have all heard for years. Michael Mann did a good job of defending the science but the host had little to add and his questions revealed a clear misunderstanding of the science. If he had read “Dire Predictions” the important bits did not sink in.

    Also we are still dealing with scientists who actually have positions in climate science at universities who reject the scientific consensus. Christy immediately comes to mind. So reporters do not need to use someone like Watts to present the opposing view they can get Dr. John Christy Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama. That sounds pretty impressive to someone, even the reporter, who is not familiar with the debunking of Christy’s opinions. Then we have people like Humlum who manage to get worthless papers published in respected science publications.

    I listened to a report on NPR today, by a seasoned reporter, who managed to completely miss an opportunity to educate the listeners on a critical piece of the story. I was dumfounded. I will not go into the whole thing but simple important information can be completely overlooked by both the reporter and her editors when reporting on science or, in this instance, health and nutrition.

    I have no good solution for this other than depending on actual qualified educators and increasing the science requirements in public schools. After all, not everyone will continue with schooling past high school.
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  7. M Tucker @6 - I agree, it's a problem that science journalism has declined. That being said, all a journalist has to do to put together a decent science story is to interview qualified experts. Christy et al. do throw a wrench in this approach, as you note, but hopefully journalists will start to recognize their reputation not as "the other side", but rather as the factually inaccurate side.

    Again I think we can make a difference by trying to drive traffic towards stories that contain good, accurate interviews of qualified experts.
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  8. I hope Skeptical Science places posts on environmental and energy policy analysis in a separate section from your main mission. I want to participate in this discussion on a well moderated site, but we can quickly b(l)og down into an impenetrable mass of conflicting commentary in an unorganized mess. Understandable and accurate analyses of policies requires a good system for organizing ideas, analytical discussions, and likely will best organized by energy market or other source market (cement, ag, deforestation, etc.).

    In the next few comments, I am going to take issue with the very fundamental premises and assumptions behind your post, dana, and I am not doing this to be argumentative. Instead I am driven by my desire to find a workable set of solutions, and my analysis shows that carbon pricing coupled with the assumption that free markets work best… simply doesn't work best.

    Carbon pricing may end up being part of a successful set of solutions, but the carbon pricing model has some serious flaws, and would likely result in "fixes that backfires" in many markets and situations. The law of unintended consequences hits almost every energy market touched by carbon pricing proposals.

    I hope that you view the forthcoming discussion as "constructive criticism", because that's how I intend it. I have extensive engineering and business experience in energy markets since the mid-70s, studied system designs for best providing high quality solutions to customers, and have spent the last 6 years working on green energy solutions and evaluating the best means to transition and transform existing energy markets to better meet customer needs. I have come to a somewhat different set of solutions that should work better than carbon pricing mechanisms alone.

    Paul Klemencic
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  9. Anticipated Problems with Carbon Pricing:

    First, lets try to classify the energy markets for fossil fuels that result in the largest amount of carbon released to the atmosphere. Coal, oil, and natural gas are the largest fossil fuel carbon sources, although burning accumulated biomass from old growth timber sources or peat contributes some carbon, and of course there is the massive carbon flows associated with natural carbon cycles. For the moment, lets ignore the non-fossil fuel carbon sources.

    The allure of carbon pricing proposals most likely arose because the perception that replacing coal emissions is the key step to mitigating GHG emissions. Coal is actually part of the electricity market for the most part, with coke for steel industry and coal-fired steam plants for building or industrial heat, much smaller markets.

    No question that placing a reasonable carbon tax or fee would impact coal-fired power plants. A carbon tax of $25 USD per ton raised the fuel cost of coal by about 50%. For the US market using $50 per ton, the cost of fuel increases from about $25 per MWh of electricity to about $38. This causes a shift to natural gas fired power plants, because natural gas fuel cost would rise only from about $25 per MWh to $30 per MWh. A couple of years back, carbon pricing would have raised natural gas fuel cost from $50 to $55, and perhaps opened the door slightly for heavily subsidized green power projects (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass), but not anymore. I have talked to green power companies, and America's extremely low natural gas prices has really put the green power guys on the skids.

    So now the first unintended consequence rears its head… Not only would we see new utility scale natural gas-fired power plants replacing coal-fired plants, but there is a relatively new kid on the block, that would sweep through America. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generates power from natural gas, and produces building heat or hot water as second product. From a process engineering and thermodynamics standpoint, we love CHP because the process uses the high temperature heat from natural gas much more efficiently. But from an environmental standpoint, CHP plants scattered across the country creates a lot of new carbon emission sources. In effect, we have carbon priced 500 coal plants out of existence, and created potentially millions of new carbon emitting sources.

    But wait, there's more! Much of the new natural gas is shale gas, and methane emissions of the natural gas used can easily exceed 5%, maybe even 10%, of the gas produced. And some of the gas will be consumed as part of the collection, storage reservoirs, and distribution network. How does the carbon tax hit this source?

    Of course, we can design the carbon pricing mechanism around these problems… we could place an additional fees on natural gas to account for shrinkage, lease fuel, storage facility fuel use, and fugitive emissions estimates etcetera. But it becomes very complicated very quickly. And what about solar PV installations coupled with CHP? Or with the cheap price of natural gas, how do we justify the high subsidies given to privately owned green power projects (typically over 55% of installation costs), that even then produce electricity at significantly higher cost?

    One of the biggest problems with carbon pricing proposals, is that it doesn't pick, choose, and promote energy substitutes effectively. Contrary to many assertions, not picking and choosing is a weakness, not a strong point for carbon pricing. Carbon emission mitigation is one of many needs that should be fulfilled by systems that provide products and services that best meet customer needs. Improving these systems, and optimizing customer satisfaction requires knowledge and understanding of customer needs and energy systems, and there is no substitute for this knowledge.

    And moving away from electricity market to the vehicle and aviation fuel markets, the carbon pricing mechanism only adds seven cents per gallon to these fuels. How is this going to substantially help substitute green fuels, green energy sources, and greener systems penetrate these markets quickly, in the timeframe needed to make an impact on AGW? In these markets, and among suppliers to these transportation markets, a massive shift in capital spending must occur, moving investment from fossil fuel sources to vehicle manufacturers and green energy sources. Carbon pricing proposals aren't very effective in causing this shift. And No… that mythical beast, "Mr. Market" has been particularly inept at forecasting changes in the energy markets, and causing the shift in investments (more on this in following comments).

    Paul Klemencic
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  10. Dana

    I applaud your efforts and commitment. I read your site all the time and find great value here. I have to disagree with the advise found in this post. I do not claim to have a solution to the problem of getting civilization to stop making AGW worse, so I am going to be critiquing your solution without being able to articulate one of my own. Not the best approach perhaps but maybe what I have to say can prove useful.

    Your approach described above, the "Wedges" approach promoted by folks like Joe Romm and others have two consistent features. They appear to be technically feasible/possible and they have an extremely small possibility of success because they fly in the face of human nature. Success of these types of solutions ride on a global shift in human behavior. A change in human nature on a grand scale. This is not possible in a BAU (or BAU-Green as the case may be) situation as pretty much any expert in human behavior will tell you. Like all creatures, humans are highly programmed by thousands of generations of natural selection. We discount the future at a high rate because we live in the present. Water, food, shelter, security have always been the drivers of survival. Humans cannot be rationally talked into sacrificing their present needs for a future that they will not be living in. Not even for their children and grandchildren. Even the most rational humans cannot do this very well and there are not very many rational humans out there. Perhaps there are none. Large masses of people only change direction quickly when they are in a panic about survival.

    In addition to requiring the above from people there is an assumption that one can effect the political process by voting. Once again this ignores the fact that political consensus on any subject is almost always impossible and especially on matters that directly impact lifestyles, religion, political ideology and living conditions. These are not trivial differences between us all but fundamental ones. For example, I know a number of people who are very religious who acknowledge in private that AGW is real but simply do not care because; 1) they believe that God will take care of them, 2) that, if anything, AGW is merely one of the factors leading to the End Of Days - which they are looking forwards to. I kid you not. AGW is also, unfortunately, closely associated in many peoples minds with Liberal/environmental/Progressive (i.e. left wing) ideology/religion. Many people have also been led to believe that science is leftist in orientation or a kind of competing religion to theirs. This is not just here in the US either. This group of people is a substantial proportion of the population and it is not going to just shut up or go away. There are those who are poor that feel they have a right to economic development and an equal level of consumption with the rich. Those of opposing political/economic camps do not need to have a majority to stop all meaningful progress along the lines you describe. And they will try to stop you if you propose dramatic government intervention or to restrict their economic growth.

    Another point is the suggested approach to using the news media. The major print and broadcast media organizations hold anything but a liberal policy bias (which has not existed for a generation). These are big corporations that are almost all under the control of conservative business interests representing the big stockholders. These people are not your friends and will not help you unless it is in their financial interests. In the current environment, accurate reporting is just not the major focus of the media (it is likely entertainment) and educating reporters on science will not change this as they are not in charge of anything. This, of course, leads to the big kicker which is the impact change related to 'fixing' AGW would have on the financial interests of the various very large international businesses involved in the fossil fuels industry, banking and investment, industrial agriculture, etc. These people have trillions of dollars invested and want to recoup their investments and make a lot of additional money from them. Their concept of the future and yours are incompatible.

    Now while I am not opposed to efforts like the one you detail, I think the time for them to have any substantial effect is rapidly passing. Given the problems with executing those types of solutions there is little chance of meaningful success for at least 10-20 years. That is far too late in time presuming that I actually understand what you have been teaching us.

    Scientists like yourself, Hansen, G. Schmidt, Mann and others have convinced many of us that we are facing highly probable catastrophic changes in our climate and living conditions. These changes, if they occur, will, for all practical purposes, not allow the continuance of civilization as we know it. And would likely result in a dramatic and quick reduction in world population in the not too distant future. If this is accurate, or even of significant probability, then it is time for leadership, not scholarship, I am afraid. If people should be panicked over the situation we are in then it is time to make them panic. That is the only way you will get the change needed. You need to mass your expertise and marshal the resources you have at hand and start screaming at the top of your lungs to the folks in charge of the various governments. Demand change now and if you do not get satisfaction you start shutting industries and governments down. Force change. You will have many allies and support but you have to lead.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] All-caps converted to lower case.
  11. zinfan - you don't seem to be taking issue with carbon pricing, but rather arguing that carbon pricing alone can't solve the problem. I agree with that.

    Regarding natural gas, from what I've read, the current low prices are not sustainable. We'll see if that's true, but putting a price on carbon emissions would raise the cost of natural gas with respect to the price of renewables. Their climate impact could further be taken into account by including methane leakage in a carbon pricing system.

    Regarding transportation, again carbon pricing will raise the cost of petroleum fuels, while the costs of alternatives (e.g. EVs) is falling. Global demand will also make oil prices continue to rise - it's only a matter of time before we transition off of them. Again, a carbon price by itself may not solve the problem (that also depends on how high the price is), but it will speed up the transition.
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  12. Wyoming - I agree the media is driven by financial interests, which is why I propose trying to change their behavior through their purse strings by driving viewer and readership towards accurate stories.

    Regarding the best approach, I don't think panic is the way to go. I think the best way to motivate people is through positive messaging (i.e. we can solve this problem) as opposed to fear. The other problem with messaging through fear is that people may just stop listening to you. Many will either dismiss you as "alarmist" (a message facilitated by the climate deniers), or will simply resign themselves to whatever fate comes in the future.

    This is why I think we have to keep our messaging positive, to engage people and make them believe that we can solve the problem.
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  13. dana, thanks, I agree to some extent, but remember I want to make the difference, and get the change underway… so let's try this:

    Instead of an economist sitting in front of his blackboard, hypothesizing about a perfect market, lets instead imagine ourselves as a project manager, who has access to all the energy companies, researchers, financial and investment institutions, and…. huh … wait for it… who will have the politicians support anything that you feel is necessary to do to solve the problem (AGW) while at the same time optimizing customer satisfaction.

    What would you do?

    Lets take the vehicle fuels market as an example. I would ask the vehicle manufacturers and the researchers for a plan to reduce GHG emissions at least 80% in thirty years, perhaps with an even more aggressive objective of achieving a 50% reduction within fifteen years (plan for a faster ramp). Now the vehicle fuel guys (oil companies) would tell me that it can't be done. In fact, I have actually had oil company engineers that I have known for years, tell me exactly that, with a long-winded lecture as well.

    But remember, as project manager, we have all the resources available at our disposal… so if the oil companies don't want to participate, then fine; lets talk to the other guys. Lets ask the vehicle manufacturers.

    Mr. GM, you can currently manufacture 60k Volts per year, but currently selling only about 30k. Whats it gonna take to get to three million annually? Answer: Well, we can make money with a price at $40k per vehicle, currently the government pays the customer $7500, but this still leaves us about $10k above equivalent vehicles. If you (project manager) can get us another $5k per vehicle, we can narrow the cost difference to less than $5k, and the customer saves over $1200 per year, so the vehicles will sell out at that price.

    So as project manager, you ask Mr. GM, you can sell the vehicles out and ramp to three million annually if we get you another $5k per vehicle? "Yes, we can." As project manager, we can get this going, and adjust the details later, so we want to immediately say "Go do it."

    But we remember our carbon pricing dictums, and ask instead, what if we give you seven cents per gallon ($25 per ton of carbon), can you do it? They whip out their calculators, and come back and say, that's only $40 a year… our customer couldn't even buy his Starbucks coffees for two weeks with that measly amount.

    So now we have a dilemma, do we let Mr. GM go off and do what they do best, and hope we find the $5k per vehicle to pay for his ramp? Since we are the all powerful project manager, we say:

    "Go, and Just Do It!"

    And we can set up similar deals with other vehicle manufacturers, motorcycles, bicycles, airplanes, etc.

    And in the next comment, I will explain where we are going to find the extra $5k per vehicle.
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  14. Project Management, continued…

    OK, this is good, we have something started, we have a bunch of green vehicle guys looking for ways to ramp their production and sales, and investing to do this, but…. we need to come up with the bucks to pay them. Now as an all-powerful project manager, I call in our bankers, and say we need $80B. They look and say, well, no.

    No? We are all powerful. Still no, but… they will lend it to us, with interest. Even though this a rude awakening about the limitations of "all-powerfulness" , we agree. So now we have a host of green vehicle manufacturers, and even some biofuel suppliers out there rapidly ramping production and selling vehicles that don't use gasoline or diesel or jet fuel into the vehicle fleet. But our borrowed money is going out the door.

    Then one day a few months later, I drive by the gas station, and notice that gasoline price has fallen over 30 cents per gallon, and this is even though dana and his carbon taxers put a seven cent carbon tax on gasoline. I call in our commodity traders, and ask "What's Up?". They tell us that crude oil prices have fallen 12 bucks a barrel from $96 to $84, and the crack spread (refining margin) has fallen ten cents a gallon. Wow, that seems like a lot, and indeed it is. American crude oil products customers are saving $110B annually. The commodity traders tell me that the EU and India and China copied our green vehicle incentives, and world-wide oil demand has dropped about one percent. We ask, is that normal?

    And the commodity traders explain about the oil market price elasticity of demand, and how in late 2008 the world oil demand temporarily fell 2.7%, causing oil prices to fall over $60 per barrel. I am amazed, but now I know how to pay those pesky bankers back… we'll show them who is all-powerful! We call Congress and the POTUS in and tell them we want half the oil price savings, so we can pay back our bankers (and investors?). Currently that would be over $50B annually.

    Now I know, in real life, there is no way that the congress and the president are going to put a tax on crude oil to capture some of the price drop, but humor me… lets say we get half the crude oil price drop (that we caused with our substitution investments). We, the project management team, now have access to $50B annually. So we invest more in green vehicles, and drive oil demand down more, and guess what?

    Oil prices keep falling. Next comment: How low can they go?
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  15. zinfan94:

    If you're the "All Powerful Project Manager", why wouldn't you just tell the auto makers to convert to hydrogen fuel cell cars? At present they're commercially viable using natural gas (and produce half the emissions of oil-based cars) with just the final kinks to work out before "clean" fuel sources can be used (storage of hydrogen is pretty trick).

    And the best thing with hydrogen fuel cells are they are easily scalable so could easily become a personal household energy source.

    Quite seriously, we're not too many years off being able to pour water (or some "better" clean fuel source) into an energy converter which powers our house and cars. Proof of that is Toyota, Daimler and Hyundai all have production roadmaps for the first hydrogen fuel cell car in 2015. And hydrogen is the "ultimate clean energy" which is literally on our fingertips. Why waste time on hybrid technology, or technology that still uses fossil fuel energy to "recharge"?
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  16. Dale: I don't think the latest work on hydrogen is as good as you say, but I am not opposed. Bring your team of manufacturers into the All-Powerful Project Management Team, and we can throw a few billion their way, if it makes sense.

    But remember, they have to deploy, and deploy fast, to drive down oil demand.
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  17. The Parable of the All-Powerful Project Manager continues:

    We finish the second year of our project, and the green vehicle ramp continues. GM and the other vehicle makers are making money on their green vehicle manufacturing, and investing more into new models and increased manufacturing capacity. And as global oil demand begins falling even faster, the price goes into a "death spiral". Some of my ex-buddies at the oil companies pay our team a visit.

    "Stop, already, what ya trying to do?" So we tell 'em: "we are trying to reduce the carbon emissions from all fossil fuel sources 80% within thirty years…. our target in America is to reduce crude oil use 50% in fifteen years."

    "Reduce America's oil demand 50% in fifteen years? Wow, thats a lot… no, that's unspeakable!" " How are going to do that?"
    And so we tell them than now we are getting over $100B annually from our half share in the savings due to the drop in crude oil prices. And we are trying to invest all of it in green vehicles and biofuels, but it simply isn't possible. All the suppliers in that space are doing everything they can do, and throwing more money at that space won't do any good.

    Then they ask, how low do you intend to take oil prices? And I ask, when are they going to start shutting down fields, and curtailing oil supply? They tell us that they stopped drilling in the Arctic, curtailed deepwater drilling in the Gulf, and overseas they have scaled back development plans… But we ask, what about the tar sands?

    Hmmm… hems and haws. No reductions in production yet. When, then? At what oil price do the tar sands shut down? And that's when we find out that it will take oil prices below $30 per barrel to completely shut in tar sands production. Ok, then. It will take us several more years to get there, but we, the project management team, intend to drive oil prices below $30 per barrel.

    After they leave, it hits us. if we drive oil prices just to $40 per barrel, our team's share of the oil cost savings will exceed $200B annually just 8 years into the program. What can we do with all that money? Even now, we are having a hard time investing $100B annually in the green vehicle and biofuel incentives. Somebody is going to get mad about all the billions piling up in the bank.

    So we look around, hoping to find something to invest the money in, and find out that the green power guys need money to get their projects built. We decide to go talk to them.

    They tell us about their projects, and then we ask them what do they need? It turns out that they need to borrow money at low interest rates, less than 4% would be nice. But we tell them that only the government (or some homeowners) can borrow money at those interest rates. After banging our heads together, they capitulate, and agree to build projects owned by various governments and public co-operatives, using public financing. Our project management team will give $30B annually, and public financing provides another $100B, and thus they can build green power projects ten times faster than currently.

    This solves a problem for us, what with all the money coming in from the tax on the drop in oil price. We manage to offload a big chunk into building green power projects.

    Next comment: Cleaning up loose ends.
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  18. zinfan94:

    I know it's not "peer reviewed science" ;) but here is a link explaining a bit about Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell car.

    http://www.caradvice.com.au/177707/toyota-fuel-cell-hybrid-car-coming-in-2015/

    700km per fillup, more power than electric, and produce only water and speed as by-products. The concept car also looks really cool!
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  19. Parable of the All-Powerful Project Management Team continues… We take out coal!

    OK, we still have some loose ends to deal with. What do need to do with the coal plants? Personally, i would preferred to put a team of mothers on this project, because I have found mothers particularly effective as project managers taking care of problems like this. They would make a list (mothers love lists) of the coal plants, then they would go talk to the owners; and talk… and talk some more. They would ask "What's it gonna take?"

    And then they start bargaining, and they negotiate, and they rap a few knuckles at times, and eventually, they get all women want… they get their own way! It took a little money, some replacement green power project participation, some ownership in some big transmission projects, but in the end, most of the coal plants caved.

    A few coal plant owners foolishly held out, but then dana's carbon tax came in handy. it took a while (over ten years) but eventually, we got enough transmission capacity into their territories, and slashed prices below their op costs. Coal plant op costs are over $40 per MWh, and by adding $25 per MWh of carbon tax on top, all the green power had to do to undercut the remaining coal plants was to deliver electricity under $65 for a few years… and that was the end of the coal plants. Although I must admit, in order to make the deals go, we did end up funding some carbon capture and sequestration projects coupled with clean coal power plants. Those two projects sliced into our profits to the tune of about $6B, but enabled us to get rid of the old plants.

    So dana's carbon pricing wins one here, the carbon tax came in handy dealing with coal plants.

    Next comment: Which finally leaves natural gas, particularly shale gas.
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  20. I'm not a big fan of hydrogen as a transportation fuel. It's not as efficient as EVs, more expensive, and most hydrogen comes from natural gas. Electrolysis is very inefficient. You're better off powering the vehicle directly with electricity than using the electricity to create hydrogen fuel for the car. It's an extra inefficient step.

    There's a reason all automakers are pursuing EVs while few are pursuing hydrogen cars.
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  21. Hydrogen is very easy to use once produced - but the production of hydrogen is (currently) very inefficient, storage and transport is not realistic (the hydrogen tank required for a reasonable range is just huge), etc etc. Fuel cells, while efficient, are extremely expensive due to catalysts, and quite sensitive to contaminants.

    A more realistic method of replacing fossil fuels would be to use renewable energy to generate methane, enthanol, or other renewable fuels that are more easily transported and stored.
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  22. Dana,

    Thanks for the response, but perhaps you miss my point. My contention is that solutions, like Carbon Pricing, the other ideas I mentioned above and Paul's solution above, cannot work in the real world. Technically possible in theory does not equal doable in practice. They are not going to be possible to execute in any timeframe that will solve the problem. If your solution requires a change in human nature then you actually do have to figure out how to change that nature or you do not have a solution.

    I understand completely the reluctance of using fear to motivate. It has potential unpredictable downsides. I believe, however, that it is the last option available. Solutions which will take decades to execute are not solutions, but rather a kind of salve which makes one feel as if they are pursuing a noble option in the face of great odds. People are already resigning themselves to fate so if you lose a few more it does not really matter. Many of those you are losing are the very ones you have convinced that AGW is a critical problem. They/me see proposed solutions like those described by you, Paul and Dale above and we just throw up our hands in frustration as it is obvious that the solution to our situation 'requires' a dramatic reduction in the scope and complexity of industrial civilization or we will never lower carbon emissions sufficiently in time to prevent catastrophe. The information you detail on this site every day brings us to those conclusions. We simply are out of time. The tool box is pretty empty at this point and we appear to be down to our final options. It is not always appropriate to keep telling people not to worry and that we can fix things. Sometimes you have to holler that it is time to abandon ship to save those you still can. The collective 'you' cannot keep telling us how fast we are sinking and then stand on the sidelines or in the background. Sorry to be so stark, but there are a lot of us out there that are giving up on working on fixing AGW because of what I have described above. Every day we delay the situation worsens, the end result becomes less tolerable, and the chances of finding our way through this mess less likely.
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  23. Wyoming, your comment @22 confuses me because we do have many carbon pricing systems in place, and they are working in the real world. See Figure 1 above and this post. For example, the EU has had a carbon pricing system in place for 7 years now.

    I also think the panic style of language you're advocating contributes to the frustration you're expressing. Climate change isn't an all or nothing proposition - the more we mitigate, the less we have to adapt and suffer. If we start to panic, we turn people off and they give up. If we keep a positive message going, I think we will have more success in maximizing mitigation.
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  24. dana & KR:

    They've developed biological hydrogen production over the "economically feasible" barrier of 10% efficiency, and improving constantly. It won't be too far in the future (matter of years probably) that the technology will be to the point where algae hydrogen could replace all transport fuel. For instance, at 10% efficiency, to replace transport fuel in the US, 0.003% of the US land area (25,000km2) of algae farms would be required. That's a tenth of the area dedicated to soya.

    Like I said, the power to replace all energy sources with hydrogen is in the palms of our hands. We just need to "do it".
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  25. We have to start attacking the demand side. Only once we stigmatized smoking did 2nd hand smoke regulations start popping up all over the place.

    Most folks are patriotic souls. We need to really sneer at their fossil fuel usage, all the time, so they start to doubt their own knowledge and choices. One possible Tshirt in this campaign:

    Image of walker passing by gas station yelling

    "You're burning your kids' FOOD in your CAR?? Are you a COMMUNIST or just nuts?"
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  26. wyoming@22 "... it is obvious that the solution to our situation 'requires' a dramatic reduction in the scope and complexity of industrial civilization or we will never lower carbon emissions sufficiently in time to prevent catastrophe."

    We've already lost the time we needed 'to prevent catastrophe' if you're thinking in terms of getting the work done soon enough in the way that the computer industry put their heads down and eliminated the Y2K threat.

    Even if we'd started properly 25 years ago with building standards, vehicle efficiency and renewable energy we'd still have a lot to do. The 'scope and complexity' of our industrial and commercial activities can be redirected or refocused to achieve better objectives much more easily than they can be halted.

    We don't stop mining - we start mining (or reopen worked out mines) to extract olivine and similar materials that can be milled into gravels and dusts to remove CO2. If we cut our capacity to perform such activities effectively, we cut off our best chance to reverse some of the damage we've already done. We don't stop building houses and businesses. We build them better and we fix the ones we've got.

    'we will never lower carbon emissions sufficiently' is absolutely right. Let's face it, decreasing emissions alone has no chance at all of reducing accumulated CO2 concentrations at the rate needed. Cutting the rate of further accumulation will not be enough. We have to do a lot more than that if the data we're now getting about extreme weather events and loss of glaciers and sea ice is anything to go by.

    And we have to maintain our capacity to deal with adaptation. Education and training for different industries performing different activities does not mean 'a dramatic reduction' in the size of industry. It just means different industries with different priorities.

    We've left it too late for a Y2K type success. The best we can hope for is a CFC type operation. When you look at how long it's taken to stabilise the SH ozone hole, let alone reduce it, we're going to have to work a lot harder.
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  27. I think it's worth pointing out that the key difference between an ETS and a simple carbon tax is that the latter relies entirely on price signals to control emissions while in the former the critical point is the cap — the price of the carbon is simply a by-product of how easily the cap is met.

    The disadvantage of an ETS is that it makes it harder for business to plan for the future because they don't know how expensive emissions will be, but let's not forget its advantages!
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  28. adelady @26, you said:

    decreasing emissions alone has no chance at all of reducing accumulated CO2 concentrations at the rate needed


    You're right and wrong, depending on the actual target and allowances. Assuming allowance of 1000GtC, the "smooth" target, with emissions peaking at 2012 or shortly thereafter (the EU crisis deepening globally would help us) the FF exit is only 3%/y until 2050 and the "residual emissions" of 5GtCO2/y are allowed thereafter, as indicated on fig.1 here. But if we burn BAU until 2020, then a sharp drop to 0 emissions before 2040 is required. The estimates may be a bit optimistic if they assume earth system response according to current iceshelf melting models. As we know Arctic is melting faster than most models predict.
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  29. In terms of carbon pricing, everybody talks about ETS and Carbon Tax (at point of use). I want to bring Jim Hansen's model of fee at the source and 100% divident. The model is already 3y old and no-one seems to be able to implement it, even though Hansen proved its superiority over ETS in situation that becomes urgent crisis now. Do you think this impass is due to political reasons only, or there are some economic/psychological reasons?
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  30. Appologies for wrong link in my comment abvove.

    This is the correct link to Jim Hansen's paper.
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  31. The necessary leadership, or demand for leadership, comes from guys like weatherman Paul Douglas, e.g. here. IMHO, guys like him are perfect for multiplication, and could swing large amounts of the voting population in a short time if promoted through the right channels.

    @Wyoming
    I agree that GW is what has been called the "perfect problem", and that the envisioned personal changes are not going to happen fast enough (any more). But the existing carbon prizing schemes have been shown to be effective, aka they are "doable in practice". What needs to be done now is to learn from that and drastically increase the prizing (or lowering the cap). A strong progressive increase has been suggested. I think there is generally less concern (in industry) about the prize itself than about how realible it is for planning (see zinfan94's parable): If you don't know what's going to happen, you will potentially be confronted with economic problems or even disaster. The question then becomes: How do you achieve a majority consensus on such progressive prizing? Only via rewriting the tax code I think. It worked in Germany in 2000 and is supported across parties these days. However, then and now it is much too low of a prize to pay.
    I am with Wyoming here, not Dana: It's gotta hurt (in your pocket book), at least a little, before one can expect to see changes that actually have an impact. You can try selling it in a positive manner, maybe you have to. But in doing so, we should not feign that it is easy to achieve change.
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  32. chriskoz "As we know Arctic is melting faster than most models predict."

    And so are the land based glaciers. Extreme weather is also running well ahead of the modelling.

    I'm not at all reassured by a "limit" of 750 billion tonnes emitted in the next 40 years. (Unless you're proposing an equivalent tonnage of CO2 extracting materials.)

    The most important objective in those 40 years is that we have to increase agricultural productivity. My view is that we will be very hardpressed to maintain current productivity.
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  33. Lets talk about the natural gas market, and the impact of shale gas. Although this discussion is US-centric, the problems with shale gas development will be felt around the world, South Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, etc.

    Before I continue my "Parable of the All-Powerful Project Management Team", and how they might address shale gas, I have gone back about almost two years ago, and copied some material I wrote at the time about shale gas and natural gas market. Please note that the natural gas market is as screwed up as the oil and electricity markets; none of these energy markets in North America are functioning properly, and that is also true for most places in the world today.

    Series: Ramping the Green Energy Industry- A Path to Grow America

    Post 10. What About Shale Gas?
    Forecasting Energy Prices and Markets In America

    Highlights:
    • Shale gas development without a new set of regulatory controls will go through a classic boom/bust cycle.
    • Natural gas prices will fall below $4 and stay there for years, delaying green energy development and ramp.
    • Existing regulatory controls on shale gas inadequately protect stakeholders; controlling development of horizontally fractured shale gas fields requires a new types of regulations beyond well spacing and unitization.
    • Placing a price on carbon emissions, coupled with unregulated free market for natural gas, won’t work.
    • Placing controls on shale gas development to constrain production rate, coupled with green energy initiatives and direct government action to ramp green energy, will work.

    Read the draft memo (almost two years old) at Google docs, What About Shale Gas?.

    Unfortunately, the necessary controls and regulations weren't even discussed, let alone implemented, and once again a free market collapse occurred in an energy market. This kind of free market excess doesn't benefit anyone over the long haul.
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  34. Wyoming: My strategy is customer focused; I put customer needs first; this includes all top level needs (on a customer needs tree), including energy total costs (pricing plus efficiency plus QoL provided), economic benefits (jobs), environmental risks (AGW impacts), national/global security risks, and providing customers with more freedom and more choices.

    Then I look for the suppliers that would benefit, and who could make money providing products and services to the customers that better meet their needs than existing energy markets. And it turns out, there are some very powerful and influential suppliers that would benefit; but many of them don't realize just how much their companies and organizations would benefit from a transition to green energy.

    Then we build a powerful green energy group that can push for the transition, and mow down the competition. I am using a story, a parable, to illustrate this. But eventually in the real world, this green energy group can be built, and customers benefit with lower costs, less environmental risks, less global security risks, and more jobs.

    It can be done. (and later today, I will continue the story…)
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  35. So, we have a "How to Solve the Climate Problem" and what follows is a complicated blueprint incorporating only market-based strategies.

    All of which have failed so far to even reduce our atmospheric carbon output. All of which, based on even optimistic expectations, will fail to accomplish what the planet needs in time to prevent major disruptions of civilization and ecologies.

    We have already blown any chance at limiting climate change to a 2C future. We need to consider a very different approach from market-based strategies.

    We need to talk seriously about centralized governmental approaches, not trying to impose market-based solutions on a market which has completely different goals and which has been proven over the past two decades to be extremely recalcitrant.

    I posit that we could *solve* our climate change challenges in five years if we took a pragmatic approach. And, in doing so, we would not only be saving our planet, our grand children's futures, and millions of species. We would also be saving trillions and trillions of dollars compared to our present trajectories. A five year plan.

    Climate change is the most serious national (and international) crisis mankind has ever faced. It requires a solution on a scale that only the national government can accomplish.

    I argue that we do not need, nor can we afford to wait for, a market-based solution. We don't need to 'take on' the carbon energy industry. We need to make them obsolete.

    And the way to do this is to nationalize our carbon-free energy production. There are many ways to this, but let me throw out the simplest most audacious scenario.

    If we were to cover the Mojave Desert with PV panels, it would supply enough electricity to power our entire energy needs for the next thousand years. And since we, as American taxpayers, paid for those panels and an upgraded smart grid we should rightfully expect that our electricity would be free. Rip the meters right off the walls. After all, once that infrastructure is in place, that is what PV electricity is - unlimited and absolutely cost and pollution free.

    We could put thousands of people to work erecting the facility, which, because of enormous economy of scale, would cost pennies on the dollar compared to erecting rooftop installations. We could employ thousands more to add inductive charging to our highways, so that even the cruddy battery technology of today would allow us to have a 100% electrical fleet. We could employ thousands more to retrofit our homes for electric heat and cooking. Employ thousands more to retrofit our industries with electrical instead of carbon-based productions.

    We need an updated version of the national Rural Electrification program. We need to move out of the paradigm in which the fossil fuel industry would like to confine the conversation, and start talking about a governmental solution. And free electricity would provide the political trump card to accomplish a solution.
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  36. I wonder if most of you recall Brian de Palma's "Untouchables" from a few years ago ... a memorable scene, which probably got Sir Sean Connery his Oscar, was when he was bleeding to death on the floor, asking the strait-laced Elliot Ness "what are you prepared to do?!"

    I bring this up because I have been thinking about this issue and have come to a few unsettling conclusions ... the most unsettling of all being that what we ought to be doing most of our work on is convincing ourselves, rather than our intractable political opponents, of the real consequences of AGW. While we all profess to believe that AGW is the greatest crisis facing the planet, we really don't act as if it is. Support for a carbon tax, Kyoto, or cap and trade are merely one flower in a bouquet of political positions, all of which we are unwilling to compromise on. How, then, does that make us different than our denier opponents?

    I have been working, on a personal level, on trying to change the minds of those who refuse to accept the severity of the problem for years, and have made some progress, but not nearly enough. I know there are plenty of other participants on this board in the same boat. Do any of you seriously suggest that a campaign that consists strictly of persuasion will work in time?

    I think it is time to consider that getting carbon emissions under control is really the only rose in the bouquet, and that everything else, however cherished, is baby's breath. Our opponents are made up of a number of factions, all of whom want something, for their own reasons, as badly as what we do. Isn't it time to consider sawing off the evangelicals by exchanging support for a right-to-life amendment for serious carbon caps, or exchanging support for a balanced budget amendment with the fiscal conservatives?

    Would either of those have horrible consequences? IMHO, they would, but nowhere nearly as horrible as the consequences of not having a functioning civilization in fifty or a hundred years time. As cumulatively the greatest offender by far, we have a duty to lead on this issue, and if we fail to do so it won't get done in time.

    The surest way to distinguish belief from loudly expressed opinion is that beliefs have consequences. What do you believe, and what consequences are you willing to accept?

    Best wishes,

    Mole
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  37. Comment #35 is exactly where I was going with my early comment. Hundreds of thousands were employed and entire sectors of the economy were temporarily nationalized during WWII. Bottom up conservation of all resources was encouraged as the fabric of the nation.

    Capping off the carbon economy is going to take that level of effort and that's just the start.
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  38. Seconding noble_serf, Gingerbaker's general thoughts on priorities. The situation is remindful of the supposed "wars" fought in Afghanistan and Iraq; we think we can continue tapping and swiping our various diversions in near total preoccupation, while somehow achieving success in another matter that is killing people and deserves and needs our concerted attention.

    Trouble is, how to achieve a "war effort" that does not involve the usual mobilization of mob mentality, ugly crushing of dissent etc.?
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  39. Doug@38, you beat me to the rhetorical punch: my 2 cents? It really needs a good name, and not with 'war' involved in it. No "War on Carbon," no "Let's Whip Carbon Now!", but something decent...positive...affirming. Small detail, I know, but marketing is everything.

    No ideas--yet--but will think on it. I'm thinking along the lines of those who, for years, have wanted a "Department of Peace."

    (editorial) You do indeed reap what you sow.
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  40. Dana,

    In a sense your confusion about the my perception of Carbon Pricing sort of proves my point. Yes it has been in place for 7 years in some locations and it has not made any meaningful difference in the rate of CO2 emissions. In fact nothing has had a meaningful effect on CO2 emissions to date as we are still seeing record emissions almost every year. The road to hell (and high water), so to speak, is paved with good intentions.

    While a number of the posts above are doing a good job of articulating some of what I was trying to say, let me try again as I am not quite getting my point across.

    To digress a little, let me say that I am just a lowly electrical engineer by education and this often makes it difficult to communicate with the folks who are doing the climate research (mostly PhD physicists) and those performing an educational/advocacy niche (mostly physicists as well). As an example of what often occurs between folks educated like myself and those like my brother (a physicist from MIT, PhD from Berkeley) is that we talk past each other because one of us approach's problems from the theoretical mathematical perspective and the other from the real world practical what can actually be done perspective. Theory and math tell you what is possible in a perfect situation. The real world or practical approach tells you what can actually be done given the restraints and inefficiencies inherent in implementation. Many folks like myself (especially geezers my age) are very knowledgeable about system implementation issues even on a global scale.

    At the global implementation level is where you are going to run into insurmountable problems with the slow acting policy wonkish and technical mitigation type solutions. Theoretically possible practically impossible. Let's list just a few of the constraints which will effect trying to implement market style solutions and reductions in CO2 emissions.
    World population is growing at about 75 million a year.
    Decreases in total fertility have started to slow in many countries.
    Economic stress is growing dramatically and there is a strong likely hood of further recessions globally.
    Further reductions in fertility are dependent on global growth
    Global growth is the enemy of a sustainable world.
    Global growth is dependent on increasing availability of 'cheap' energy.
    Fossil energy production has dramatically decreasing EROEI.
    Constrained energy supplies are raising the cost of food.
    AGW is raising the cost of food.
    Rising population is causing loss of rainforest, wetlands, sea life, etc.
    A massive build out of alternative energy infrastructure requires massive amounts of fossil fuel.
    Infrastructure rollovers normally require 30-40 years.
    Peak Oil (production limitations).
    Peak strategic minerals of many kinds (production limitations).
    Politics
    Religion
    Ethnic divisiveness.
    Rich vs Poor.
    War, disease
    Human decision making being driven by a massive discount of the future.
    Climate change data indicates that things are getting worse much faster than anticipated.

    When people say we need a Manhattan Project type of approach to solving AGW they are 'understating' the scope of the problem. We need to implement a Total War level of commitment on a global scale. Right now. Little efforts like Carbon Pricing will leave us at +6C in the end. On a global scale we need to recognize the immanence of the threat and start the process of completely changing the way we all live. We must dramatically reduce global population, cut rich lifestyles to the bone (especially in places like the US, Australia, Eur), halt completely international tourism, dramatically reduce US style CAFO beef and hog operations, dramatically reduce global vehicle fleets, stop Apple from wasting resources by making I-phone X every six months, etc, etc. There are dozens of items just as essential. This is a global system level problem of nightmarish complexity and scale. It is hard to even conceive of solving it. And it cannot be done at all if we do not start soon.

    Implementation of the changes required will likely be unpleasant, distasteful, painful, ugly, undemocratic, authroitarior, etc. For many they will mean a dramatic reduction in lifestyle, often shorter life spans, more physical labor, less use of technology and so on. Life is going to be a lot more difficult for the next couple of hundred years than it has been for the last 50. And that is an optimistic statement. People should be scared. We need to scare them into change. If we don't scare them they will just continue BAU (or BAU-Green) until the climate system disintegrates around them. Then they will panic, but it will be too late.
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  41. Wyoming@40, forgive me in advance (even though you might be my neighbor!): Your words are close to spot-on, and important enough for a wide audience to hear, to get the jump on what I also agree is going to be inevitable, HUGE-scale pain, in order that folks in the 23rd century can have a functioning World. I took the liberty, with apropos attribution, and posted them on my Facebook page. Please feel free to chime in over there: look for "Harry Wiggleson" and I'll friend you.
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  42. Wyoming at #40.

    I would beg to differ...

    ...but I simply can't.

    I've thrown my own thoughts into the mix previously, with respect to the numbers not adding up. And they don't - not now, and they won't in the future in the context of a tolerable landing. Indeed the point you make about future discounting is an under-acknowleged one, as is the concommittant belief in the fairytale of magical future technology that will somehow render such discounting justifiable, even after we've trashed to within an ångström of the limit of its viability the biosphere as we know and need it.

    The simple fact is that the state of the economies around the globe reflect the fact that we're headbutting the limits about which Malthus wrote. The ever-increasing frictions over resources such as water, and remaining fish stocks (even in Australia, now), and little fossil-fuel-foundationed islands wedged between different nations... they are Malthus' ghost knocking on the door.

    The political tensions, the increasing migrations, the inexorable loss of biodiversity... they are the laws of thermodynamics standing right behind Reverend Thomas' shade. We've already passed our oboli to Charon, and he's poling over the Styx now to complete his task. Perhaps if we'd been more inclined to the (apocryphal?) Spartan employment of oboloi we'd be in a rather healthier state of affairs.

    This really is a matter of choices that we've now made, and that we've not made. As I said above the answer's not in a magical, imminent technology, and it's not in a future period more ammenable to lumbering political and economic negotiations. The answer was yesterday, and it could have been realised with the technologies available and the decisions to live by a different model of economy. We simply did not make the right decisions.

    We can no longer avoid the collision with reality. All that we can do is to minimise the damage, and so far we've shown little inclination to even elect to do that.

    There are words for that type of behaviour, and they're not very pleasant words.
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  43. vroomie - thx, but I do not use Facebook - Luddite I guess

    The below quote is why we should be demanding leadership. It is from Dr. Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State. He is one of the leading climate researchers. It is from 2010!!! He uses the phrase "A clear and present danger". This phrase has only one meaning and cannot be used in a trivial fashion. It is used to justify war or extreme measures.

    Lonnie Thompson
    "Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization."

    2010!! Here we are 2 years later and no leadership yet. Leadership is about a lot more than speaking out. In the meantime the climate is disintegrating around our ears.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2010/12/13/207169/lonnie-thompson-climatologists-global-warming-a-clear-and-present-danger-to-civilization/
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  44. Gentlemen:

    I admit to having been skeptical of the theory of alternate universes before, but your comments are leading me to accept it. In a thread titled "How to Solve the Climate Problem: a Step-by-Step Guide", your first step is to establish a totalitarian world government (presumably run by the Chinese, since they have a plurality of the population and more experience running command economies), or, failing that, to don sackcloth and a sandwich board declaring "Repent! The end is near!"

    In my universe, the first alternative is completely impossible, and I consider the second unduly pessimistic.

    You have made repeated comparisons to World War Two, but I think you are making the wrong ones. I think you ought to be examining the conditions in the lead-up to the war, since they are more closely analogous to our current situation. Then, as now, there were great swathes of the population who were danger-deniers ... pacifists in France and Britain, pacifist/isolationists in the States. As always, it took a Pearl Harbor moment to wake us up (not that our Commonwealth colleagues should break their arms patting themselves on the back, given that they had let the militarization of the Rheinland moment, the Anschluss moment, and the Munich moment go by without getting serious).

    Did we avert catastrophe? Arguably we did not, and didn't really recover from it until the early 1990's. Having large portions of the planet devoting huge resources to the destruction of other portions can hardly be called "civilization", can it?

    But why did we survive? I would argue that boffins like Sydney Camm, Reginald Mitchell, and Robert Watson-Watt had a lot to do with it ... as did incremental steps like the 1938 Naval estimates that funded the Essex class carriers and the North Carolina class battleships, the introduction of peacetime conscription, the federalization of the National Guard, cash-and-carry, and then Lend-Lease did ... all done with heavy opposition from the isolationists. It was a very close-run thing ... we came within a single vote in the House of disbanding 95% of the US Army in 1941.

    I think you are confusing two concepts ... "civilization" and "civilization-as-we-know-it". We may have re-claimed civilization after 1945, but it certainly did not resemble the civilization of 1939 much at all. In that catastrophe, tens of millions died. This catastrophe will probably increase that by at least a factor of ten, but I still think it is worth trying to keep that from being a factor of one hundred if we can possible avoid it.

    Best wishes,

    Mole
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  45. Mole,

    Interesting points.

    Part of our problem as a people dealing with AGW is our lack of imagination. It goes along with the Einstein quote which goes something like; "You can't solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that got you into the problem."

    The WWII analogy leads one that direction and is why I stated that when folks talk about a Manhattan style project that the scale of that effort would be woefully inadequate to deal with our current threat. As you noted, incremental steps and a relatively slow response to the growing threat still managed to (barely) deal with it. There is no logical reason to think there is even a minute chance that incremental steps will solve AGW. Little steps taken in concert with a giant and global response would be useful. In the absence of that global response the little steps just fool people into thinking they are working the problem. It is that same kind of thinking issue cropping up.

    Civilization-as-we-know it is a dead man walking. Where ever we end up what we have now is going into the dust bin of history. The reason to act now and decisively is to try and improve the odds that we will have the opportunity to create (save if you like) some alternate version of civilization for those who will be living 200 years from now. If we play BAU and BAU-Green games there is a good chance that what the few people left will have will not qualify by any reasonable measure.

    I'm an old guy too. One of the main reasons I made it to old age is that I avoided like the plague anyone I thought was an optimist. In the field I worked in the saying was "Optimists die young.", and if you wanted to live to see your grandchildren you turned yourself into a determined pessimist. Optimists are fun people and they tend to be laid back, but they do not tend to focus on details well because they have a mind set that leans towards the idea that everything will work out. Things in the real world do not just work out. Pessimists work the details like dogs because they know that if you don't things will break, the unplanned for will happen, People will die.

    You point to the ideological stumbling block like many do. I am a Republican and life long conservative and must say that, given the risks we face, stewing over the management structure of how this problem gets dealt with makes no sense what-so-ever. Do I like my freedoms? You bet and I fought for them my whole life. Are they worth more than a livable world for our children, grandchildren and our future. Not a chance. The only thing that matters when survival is on the line is doing what it takes to survive. We here in the present have to be willing to give everything we have for those who will follow us. Fate decided to place us here at a time of need and it is our duty to carry that burden. We must. It is us or no one.

    Wyo
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  46. Mole,

    One of the big problems with climate is that if you wait for Pearl Harbor (that big, "wake up" attack that forces your hand) it's already far too late.
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  47. Mole, I find a statement like "your first step is to establish a totalitarian world government (presumably run by the Chinese" a rather counter-productive way to begin a debate and frankly one that smacks of ideological projection. The article nowhere talks of totalitarian, let alone world government. The numerous global treaties out there show you can have global cooperation without any global government.

    The US government is really the best one to act. Carbon pricing/cap is firstly an internal manner and you deal with countries that refuse to put up fair carbon pricing by hitting them with carbon tariff at the border. Because the US is such a large market, that would more or less push the Chinese into following suite. You dont even need Chinese cooperation. The cheaper product will be the one without the carbon tax which should rapidly drive manufacturing away from coal-fired generation.
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  48. scaddenp @47

    The "Gentlemen" to which I was referring in the "run by the Chinese" remarks were the posters preceding me in the thread, not the original poster. Perhaps I could be more clear and you could be less obtuse, pick one or both.

    As to international treaties proving things, I would suggest that within a few years, the Washington and London Naval Treaties record for well-meaning futility in avoiding catastrophe will be equaled by Kyoto.

    There is one set of international bodies that does have real swing weight, however ... one that you touch upon yourself ... the (-snip-) World Trade Organization and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). I considered the idea of carbon import taxes to persuade China into greater compliance myself, for about a minute and a half ... at which point I realized that in any possible scheme of carbon tariffs, they would be issued on the basis of per-capita carbon emissions rather than net emissions. I suspect that the Chinese would be all for such an arrangement, since we would be facing tariffs four times as high as theirs, effectively strangling US exports of practically everything. Not that it isn't a good idea, mind you ... I think just such a proposal, phased in over a reasonable number of years, might get our country off the dime ... but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for us to propose it.

    Please recall that the Constitution expressly forbids levying any tax on exports, so we really couldn't get around it ... nor would a scheme that acted on the Chinese (and Indians, presumably) and not us fly with GATT and the WTO.

    Best Wishes,

    Mole
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Inflammatory term snipped.
  49. Say, don't we have more than enough evidence to bring lawsuits against those who appear to be deliberately obstructing mitigation? It worked against the tobacco companies, eventually. Even if that tactic may be too late to help much, the suits and trials would bring more credibility to climate change, in the public eye. At least in the US.
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  50. @Estiben
    This is being done in some form since years. You can read a bit at this link (no endorsement intended)
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