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Climate Solutions by dana1981

Posted on 8 July 2011 by dana1981

After publishing Throwing Down The Gauntlet, which encouraged everyone to take individual action to address climate change, actually thoughtful requested that other Skeptical Science contributors publish posts detailing what we've each done to reduce our personal greenhouse gas emissions.  This post is my response to that request, combined with what I think we should do on a larger scale to solve the climate problem.

Individual Steps

I'm a big believer that if you're going to talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk.  So I do what I can to reduce my personal carbon emissions.  I usually commute to work on either an electric moped (which I highly recommend) or on bicycle.  Once we could afford it, my wife and I bought the most fuel efficient car on the market - a 2007 Toyota Prius.  If I can't take the moped or bicycle to work, my wife and I carpool in the Prius.  I've also got a feather foot to maximize fuel efficiency around 50 miles per gallon.  When feasible I try to use mass transit (i.e. trains and light rail).

At home we take steps to minimize our energy consumption.  I was fortunate that my local electric utility had a home energy efficiency improvement program for low income households when I was between graduate school and career, and thus qualified for it.  Last August we started leasing solar panels from Sungevity (very cool company), and over the past 10 months, the panels have produced 275 kilowatt-hours more electricity than we've used (the excess goes into the power grid).  The solar panels also make my moped zero emissions.

Then of course I try to educate others about climate science.  I started out answering questions in the Yahoo Answers global warming section five years ago (that's me at the top of the 'top answerer' list in the right margin), and in September 2010 started contributing to Skeptical Science.

Finally, because I'm convinced we can't solve the climate problem without serious large-scale policy implementation, I make climate policy my #1 consideration when I go to the voting booth.  Whichever candidate has the best plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (and a serious chance to win) likely gets my vote.

Large-Scale Policies

I think the single most important step in solving the climate problem is the implementation of a carbon emissions price.  The "CO2 is plant food" crowd isn't going to like this next bit, but CO2 is a pollutant.  It endangers public health and welfare - not directly, but through its impacts on the climate.  Thus from a purely economic standpoint, allowing free unlimited carbon emissions is just plain stupid.  It's what economists call an "externality".

It's the equivalent of allowing polluters to dump hazardous waste into our waterways free of charge.  Eventually somebody - whoever comes in contact with that waste and experiences the associated health impacts - will pay the price for that pollution, but when it comes to carbon in our current system, it's not the polluter.  Thus the polluter has no incentive to stop polluting.

With other pollutants, we address this problem by either putting a price on their emissions, or by regulating them.  This results in both protecting public health and welfare, and also encourages polluters to find ways to reduce their pollutant production, which results in a net positive impact on the economy.  This is why there's an economic consensus that we should commit to reducing our carbon emissions.

And that's just the economic perspective.  There's also the scientific perspective that in order to give ourselves a chance to avoid dangerous warming, we need major emissions cuts (which we are currently miserably failing to achieve), and the biggest step to achieve these cuts is with some sort of carbon price.

I don't have any particular preference what form that carbon price takes, whether it be a tax or a cap and trade system.  A carbon tax is simpler with fewer loopholes to exploit, and can be offset by reductions in other taxes, as British Columbia is doing.  Personally I'd prefer to see at least some of the funds go towards programs and research to increase energy efficiency and develop and implement renewable energy technologies, as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and trade system has accomplished.  As the recent Google.org study showed, I think the USA is missing a golden economic opportunity by failing to sufficiently invest in green technology development, which will likely come back to bite us.

There are many other reasons to reduce fossil fuel consumption, from domestic security and energy independence, to clean air and water, to addressing ocean acidification and peak oil, etc.  I've yet to see a single valid reason why we shouldn't take these steps, other than alarmist claims that doing so will cripple the economy, which are based on exaggerating the costs and ignoring the benefits of emissions reductions.  And yet the fossil fuel industries are so entrenched in our country that we continue to fail to take these steps which would benefit us in so many different ways.

It's difficult not to be discouraged by this self-destructive behavior.  For those of us who understand these issues, all we can do is take steps to reduce our own emissions, communicate the problem to others, and hope they follow suit.  Hopefully enough people will come to understand the magnitude of the problem and the urgent need to address it before it's too late.

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Comments 101 to 110 out of 110:

  1. BBD - "...have you ever used a solid-fuel range for cooking?"

    I used to use the hexamine tablet stoves while hiking. No, not fun at all...
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  2. BBD@100
    "WRT the UK discussion, I cannot engage seriously with your profoundly anti-capitalist interpretation of post-war energy policy. You disavow this above, but present all change post-war as negative. Progress = negative = anti-capitalist world view."


    What a ridiculous statement.
    Both I and another commenter have stated that post war UK reconstruction was largely socialism driven, that is in all the history books. You assume that because I make comments here that contradict you, that I must be anti-capitalist. That is a perversion. You can not assume that someone is bound by old political ideologies.

    Also progress is not defined by one ideology or one set of events. Indeed progress is difficult to define given what we know today. If the long term result is human deprivation due to climate change, then your definition of progress in post war UK is not progress.
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  3. I guess in this crazy world. If you say something was socialist, you must be socialist for saying so.

    That's the sad state of affairs. No imagination beyond accepted and standardised politics.

    For your info BBD:

    Electricity nationalisation - 1947:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_Act_1947
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Electricity_Authority

    Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm pretty sure they remained nationalised until the 1990s. Personally I can't change history and make post war Britain 'capitalist'. It wasn't. Rationing continued well into the 1950s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Midlands_Electricity#History

    Quote from wikipedia:
    "In many towns, the (nationalised electricity) board opened showrooms, to provide customer service facilities (such as paying bills), as well as demonstrating, and supplying the latest electrical goods to customers. The post-war period was one of incredible growth for the electricity industry."
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  4. #84 Rob Honeycutt

    Per capita CO2 emissions from China are now equal to those from a number of lower emitting Western nations. Can't find the reference at the moment but they are now equal to those of France. The trend is pretty clear up to 2007: Per Capita CO2 Emissions

    Of course the CO2 footprint of many Chinese individuals will be way below the national per capita figure.
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  5. quokka... That link didn't work for me. It may be the link or my being in China. Not sure.
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  6. To actually thoughtful #90.

    I'm disappointed in your response - not so deserving of your moniker. You have made an accusation to me of being a stealth denier which i have rejected and not really considered the point I am trying to make.

    I really don't think you have read or understood my post.

    I am not denying the potential of human imagination - indeed I hope we can rely on it. But I want to argue and progress from reality not wishful thinking

    Your wishful thinking appeal is selective on based on emotionalism. I could point out that people have imaginged travelling to the stars and communing with the dead for centuries but it hasn't happened yet.

    All the successful human endeavours you point to (flight and going to the moon) were based on sound evidence, data and experimentation, as well as imagination. Not simply wishful thinking appeals to what we "want" to happen (Einsteins achievement is not a valid comparison - though it too was based on the above)

    So yes, I agree we need that imagination but I am simply pointing out that we need to use real evidence to argue the case for renewables.

    The sort of appeals you make works with the already converted but won't win over the general populace who are vulnerbale to arguments from the "dark side" and are all too ready to ridicule any claims that we make for renewables that cannot be supported.

    I prefer to work from what we know can be done and progress from there (I think if you examine the actual history of the scientific achievements you reference you will find that that was how they were done)
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  7. PaulDI've been on the road for a few days, and thinking and your .... challenging PaulD-

    I've been on the road for a few days, and thinking and your .... challenging... post. I live in the midwest of the US. I have allergies, like many people. Leaving windows open is less than optimal, requiring ineffective medication that can leave me drowsy. Closing the windows requires the use of AC otherwise indoor temperatures will rapidly exceed anything bearable...and I have to sleep to both maintain my health, and to keep my job that pays for my health insurance.

    I thought the point of Dana's challenge is what we are doing relative to where we could be, not necessarily some absolute standard, otherwise we spring the trap laid by deniers who point to Al Gore not living in a hut in the woods foraging for food.

    But I find it hard to beleive that anyone other than a denier posting here doesn't know enough about our industrial ecosystem to get how fragile and dependent on cheap resources it is, or what we stand to lose if it breaks. I don't really want to go into my personal medical history here, but I really do mean it that I can count something like 5 times I would be dead without modern medical technology.... and NOT because of my lifestyle either. I'll give one example- mitral valve repair surgery... open heart. All of the diagnostics- trans thoracic echo cardiograms, tranesophageal echos, CT scans, angiograms require modern (last 15 years) computer technology. This means chip fab technology. Chip technology requires advance polymers for masking, the safe use of higly purified and highly toxic materials including phosphine and arsine. It requires a pre-existing computer infrastructure to create and test the circuit design (bootstrapping), create the mask design and huge, computer controlled machines to burn the mask into the chip. Etching the chip requires highly pure hydrofluoric acid and highly pure water (no, not distilled water...water that has megohm resistance needs to be purifided by reverse osmosis technology, which requires its own specialized polymer membrane technology. The surgery itself is safe at a 97% level because of advances in technique and anaesthesiology monitoring that reduce the operating time and thus the ris
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  8. Sorry editing problems using droid. Will come back to this later.
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  9. Mark Harrigan - you are falling for the "it can't be done" form of denial.

    I see you are informed on the issue, and that you think you have a valid point. Many climate change deniers are rational in other areas of their life (and I don't mean to disparage you by that comparison, just pointing out that understanding the problem does NOT inoculate you from misunderstanding the solution, as you have apparently done).

    Do I advocate running around and saying "climate change is solved!" - of course not.

    But can we say that we can achieve 50% reduction by 2050 with current and near-term technology? Absolutely!

    Thus we CAN solve climate change, we only lack the will.

    To say otherwise is to deny the solution (definitely a step up from denying the problem, but unfortunately an insidious opinion as it allows people an "out" - "oh, well I am just waiting for the technology...") - it is here now, every single entity (corporation, government, individual, business, etc) can achieve the the stated goals right now, with current technology and save money in the process.

    Do some research on this site - Dana1981 did a great post on Google's analysis of growing the economy by achieving CO2 reduction goals, plenty of roadmap style posts - see if you can refute any of them. It is unlikely.

    The best people have come up with "it can't be done because it hasn't been done yet" - see my last post regarding moon shots and Einstein's theory of relativity - or look around. Someone in your community is achieving massive carbon reductions right now. Or just review the comments or main post here - it is all here in black and white.

    We are at the point that all that is missing is the will - thus I reject your statement that it can't be done, or that by pointing out that it can be done we are somehow weakening our argument - this is simply nonsensical.

    Please do us all a favor and focus on the validity of my posts, and not your perception of the accuracy of my moniker.
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  10. @ actually thoughtful #109.

    Been away for a bit so apologies for not earlier reply.

    Look - I think we are "on the same side" so to speak but I really don't think I have properly got across my point to you.

    I am NOT falling for the "It can't be done" denial. I think it CAN be done and I hope it will be.

    Wishful thinking statements like "But can we say that we can achieve 50% reduction by 2050 with current and near-term technology? Absolutely!

    Thus we CAN solve climate change, we only lack the will."

    are great but they need to be backed up by evidence and practicality. We need realism or those that oppose any solution will jump to the attack.

    If you read my other posts on other threads you will see, for example, I have advocated trying experiments with Diesendorfs suggestions for base load renewables, using intelligent anemometry with wind to predict when local sites will drop off and reduce the need to have gas turbine already running. Diesendorf's is a plan that tries to address the current shortcoming of renewables - but it's probably a plan that needs some work.

    What I am saying is that too many (you included) are guilty of overhyping the (current) ability of renewables to deliver without the evidence to back you up.

    We've got to stop pretending that the answers are already available. They are not.

    I agree the trajectory is positive and I agree we should be doing whatever is (reasonably) achievable to get there (by reasonable I mean not impoverishing our economy in the short run). In the long run a measured approach means we will be a lot better off.

    But I think it is a mistake to overpromise and under-deliver - and so far that is what a lot of renewables programs have done (e.g. astronomically high cost of CO2 abated through 20% renewables target). It is also a mistake not to accept the reality that (at the moment) sources like Wind have serious drawbacks (e.g. intermittent performance and the need for serious CO2 emitting fallbacks) and Solar (as yet) has scalability and efficiency isses.

    When the "green" side make the sort of over the top claims (like in the Beyond Zero Emissions plan) then it actually creates a barrier to progress -

    as this critique shows.

    beyond zero critique

    Wishful thinking won't solve our problems.

    We need to confront the realities of renewables not (yet) being ready to provide the full answer and focus on what needs to be done to get them there while we put in place bridging solutions.

    So I am not saying "it can't be done because it hsn't been done yet". I am saying that overhyping what can be done now is a problem.

    As for your last comment - I would ask you to re-read my posts too please :)
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  11. Responding from here

    A democracy can only go as fast as its electorate will let them. Most countries signed up to Kyoto; many countries have carbon trading. I wasn't specifically talking about US, however, while the US procrastinates, its much harder to for other governments to take action. The US position as a consumer is important - if carbon tax was levied at border, then its a real incentives for the exporter to US to create their products with low-carbon energy to get a competitive edge. "Hansen taxes" have the advantage of being effective without needing worldwide agreement.
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  12. #111 : well, I quite agree with your post (I favour a carbon tax at any level it is possible to implement it, national if not European, European if not OECD, OECD if not global), but the original quote from you I was answering : "The primary obstacle to action at the moment is misinformed denial" . I don't think denialists are serious obstacle to carbon tax or climate mitigation in the immense majority of countries in the world, whose representatives all agree GW is human-made at UNCCC rounds. I observe that denialists have some media power and influence in the USA. But even there, fossil, libertarian and conservative lobbies have their own agenda, it is not really Lindzen or Spencer or Michaels who influences strongly the choice for Keystone XL, Alaska / GoM oil drilling, or shale gas overexploitation, for example. The real problem we must deal with is not an infime minority of scientists in the climate community, but the complexity of energy policy in developed and emerging countries. I'm far more afraid by a coming Russian or Indian clash in the post-Kyoto negotiations than by the residual and usual bla-bla of denialists' blogs. Of course, I agree that the reluctance of USA to any international and mandatory commitment is a long lasting obstacle to global climate policy, and that denialism is a (smaller and smaller) part of this attitude. But not the "primary obstacle" for now and tomorrow.
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  13. skept.fr@112, you said
    I don't think denialists are serious obstacle to carbon tax or climate mitigation in the immense majority of countries in the world
    I agree in principle, but the issue being discussed is that climate denialism is the primary obstacle to action. Action, in this sense, can be thought of as meaningful global action.

    As long as the Murdoch-dominated media of the USA, UK and Australia (aided and abetted by the Lindzens, Christies etc. of this world and the fossil fuel funded think tanks) continue to promote the contrarian viewpoint and ignore the science, it will be difficult for realists in those countries to have political dominance. Australia has legislated a form of cap-and-trade which starts this year, but the right wing Opposition has sworn to repeal it when they hold power. The USA is dragging its feet, with no likelihood of meaningful action any time soon and the UK has a right wing government that is happy to maintain the status quo.

    Without leadership from these countries, it will be difficult to get meaningful global action. Without an informed electorate in each of these countries, it will be unlikely that sufficient political pressure can be brought to bear to demand change.

    Most voters in the USA, UK and Australia have their opinions massaged by the main stream media and, to a lesser extent, by the blogs they find. As long as the climate denialist view is promoted in those countries by the people with the loudest megaphones, the electorate will not demand AGW action, so I believe it is true to say that "The primary obstacle to action at the moment is misinformed denial".
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  14. …”The primary obstacle to action at the moment is misinformed denial”…

    I have a different “take” on this.

    My country, Canada, recently bailed out of the Kyoto agreement, primarily (I think) because we didn’t want to write a CDN $14b cheque for having failed to meet targets. That’s a big number, but I understand it, and I can easily calculate the cost to Canadians on a per capita basis.

    The much bigger question is what would be the effect on each Canadian had we managed to strictly comply with the requirements of the Kyoto agreement? Seems like a taboo question. (I tend to get criticized for asking)

    It looks as if this web site is based in Australia, so it wouldn’t be reasonable for your supporters to understand enough about the Canadian economy to address this, but could you explain it to your fellow Aussies?

    I respectfully submit that until this information can be provided, “misinformed denial” will take second place on the list of obstacles to action. After all, you can hardly expect people to buy in to the program when you won’t tell them about the price.
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  15. @Colin #114:

    The Kyoto Agreement does not impose any monetary penalities on countries who fail to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets.
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  16. Fair enough John, I stand corrected. But I think you've missed my point... This web site, and every other site I've seen is solely focused on promoting a particular view. Each side continues to present seemingly endless amounts of scientific data, bolstered by it's own interpretation, to convince the reader. Each side ridicules the other as being uninformed, biased, unqualified etc etc. This very web site has sunk to the adolescent level of name calling... "Baked Curry", "Christy Crocks", "Lindzen Illusions". However, my point is simply that nobody seems to want to discuss the cost of the cure. As an average citizen, with a vote, I think it is only reasonable that I learn the cost before I accept the prescription. I can't understand why that concept seems so difficult...
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  17. Colin
    discussing the best cure and its costs is what we all would love to do. But how can we if one side of the political arena still deny the need of any cure?
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  18. Colin "As an average citizen, with a vote, I think it is only reasonable that I learn the cost before I accept the prescription."

    But being (un)willing to pay certain costs for particular prescriptions has nothing to do with the diagnosis.

    Surely our personal or social willingness to pay costs is related entirely to how seriously we take the diagnosis we've been given and the prognosis if we don't take appropriate action.

    Most of this site is about diagnoses and prognoses.
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  19. Colin,
    A quick check with the search function at the top of the page gave this article on Skeptical Science about costs. Perhaps if you read the article there it will answer your questions. If not, it is a better place to ask the questions you have. The short answer is that economic studies show it is much cheaper to reduce CO2 than to deal with the problems afterward. It is also much cheaper the sooner you start to reduce CO2.
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  20. Colin -"Each side continues to present seemingly endless amounts of scientific data"

    That is tone-trolling nonsense and completely false. Now you may lack the background knowledge to distinguish between science and pseudo-science (the fake-skeptics), but that lack of information does not make the two sides equivalent. I hope you see the logic here.

    97% of publishing climate scientists accept that global warming is real, based on the overwhelming mountain of evidence, and only 1% disagree. That should tell you something, even if you cannot distinguish between climate science and climate quackery.
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  21. Colin #116:
    This web site ... is solely focused on promoting a particular view.

    Yes, it is, the view of rational science. What alternative did you have in mind?
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  22. Rob Painting at 10:34 AM on 16 January, 2012
    Colin -"Each side continues to present seemingly endless amounts of scientific data"
    That is tone-trolling nonsense and completely false.

    I'm sorry you found my statement offensive. However, I don't think it's fair to summarily state that it is false. I made the statement from my own perspective as a non-scientific person.

    I was approaching the subject of "...obstacle to action..." from the perspective of someone who agrees with the need for action. I sincerely believe that more needs to be done to communicate the true cost of co2 reduction. Right now, that void is serving well the forces who oppose action by allowing them to make whatever outlandish claims they like to bolster their status-quo position.

    Our own federal environment minister recently stated that for Canada to meet the Kyoto targets in 2012, it would require removing every motor vehicle from the roads.

    That doesn't sound like a reasonable statement to me... but I don't have the facts to know. You can bet that a lot of people read that statement and without contradictory evidence were thankful we withdrew from Kyoto.
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  23. skywatcher at 11:50 AM on 16 January, 2012
    Colin #116:
    This web site ... is solely focused on promoting a particular view.

    Yes, it is, the view of rational science. What alternative did you have in mind?

    I wasn't suggesting an alternative... I think the rest of the quoted post explains my point.
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  24. @ Colin

    Thank you for sharing your opinion, Colin. But as you admit & the others have already pointed out, it is one lacking in substance and foundation.

    To aver that there are "sides" in the rational science vs the fake-skeptic "debate" is to lend a false equivalency where there is none. One "side" has science, the scientific method, robust theory and centuries of supportive physics and empirical evidence.

    The other "side" has just the opposite.

    You then pile-on to that foundationless gimcrackery with (what amounts to) substanceless tone-trolling (in that you very likely have not read beyond the names of the series in question to the posts themselves).

    The website is for those seeking to understand what the actual science has to say vs what the fake-skeptics would like for you to believe. There is much for you to learn here, should your mind not already be closed to learning.
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  25. Colin:

    The Climate Change section of the Environment Canada website contains information about the costs of potential action steps for reducing GHGs emitted by Canadians.
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  26. John Hartz at 13:00 PM on 16 January, 2012
    Colin:

    The Climate Change section of the Environment Canada website contains information about the costs of potential action steps for reducing GHGs emitted by Canadians.

    Thank you John. I'll spend time there and see if I can find the answers. Perhaps the info is all out there and I've simply failed to find it.

    As an aside, I'll try to improve my own communication skills. Thank you all.
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