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Climate Hustle

Time is running out on climate denial

Posted on 30 December 2014 by dana1981

From a strictly logical perspective, it’s hard to understand how we can be doing so little to slow global warming. Greg Craven summarized why by examining the extreme possible outcomes in his viral climate ‘decision grid’ video.

In short, if we take action to slow global warming, the worst case scenario involves draconian government regulations that trigger an economic recession. If we don’t, the worst case scenario involves an economic recession too, but also a host of other global and societal catastrophes.

Although Craven doesn’t look at the probabilities of these worst case scenarios, they’re also heavily weighted towards the case for taking action to curb global warming. There are lots of options to slow global warming that don’t involve drastic government regulation, and that can even be beneficial for the economy. If we decide that we’ve gone too far in cutting carbon pollution, it’s relatively easy to scale back government policies.

 
On the other hand, evidence from past climate change events indicates that triggering tipping points pushing the climate into a dramatically different state is a real possibility. Unlike government policies, as the latest IPCC report noted, many climate change impacts will be irreversible.

In other words, if we take too much action to curb climate change, the worst case scenario (upper left grid) is easily avoided. If we don’t take enough action, we may not be able to avoid some of the worst consequences in the bottom right grid.

Of course there’s a wide spectrum of possible actions and outcomes between the extremes. However, the more action we take to reduce carbon pollution, the fewer harmful climate change consequences we’ll trigger.

Support for climate action is broad and growing

In fact, there are few groups that don’t support significant action to curb carbon pollution. The US military views climate change as a serious threat. The Pope is rumored to be planning a major effort to encourage an international agreement on climate policy targets in 2015. A growing number of faith groups support climate action, viewing it as an issue of stewardship. Even a majority of non-Tea Party Republicans agree that the planet is warming and support an international treaty that requires the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by the year 2050.

More climate scientists are beginning to speak up. At the fall AGU conference, I spoke in a great session to a room full of about 200 climate scientists who were eager to learn about effective science communication. And more policymakers are starting to listen to them. The presidents of the two largest carbon polluting countries recently agreed to curb their emissions, and a couple of Republicans in the House of Representatives recently voiced concerns about climate change.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 13:

  1. To get a more in depth view of Greg Craven's "musings", check out his "How It All Ends" playlist on Youtube. This was prompted by the many comments he received for his "Most terrifying video" linked to in Dana's post.

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  2. "Although Craven doesn’t look at the probabilities of these worst case scenarios, ..."

    Actually, he does. It is in his book though, "What's the Worst that Could Happen?" Easy reading over the holidays, Dana ;-)

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  3. I saw this video some years ago.

    I can say just that, imagine the "skeptic" worst case scenario is true: global warming is really false and we act to prevent a thing that cannot happen anyway, and as a result:

    • The world will turn to cheaper and cleaner forms of energy, accesible to million of people currently off-grid,
    • saving millions of lifes from respiratory illnesses due to non-greenhouse pollution (black carbon, sulfates, PM-10, etc.)
    • all the economic benefits resulting from that (not to mention the infinite value of human life)...
    • Energy will not be a "natural monopoly" (electric companies, oil and gas corporations, etc.)  but a free and accesible resource to everyone with the required equipment, an equipment that (unlike the capital intensive equipment for power plants and coal, uranium, oil and gas extraction) has not an increasing price but a rapidly decreasing cost, and can be made at any desired scale, from big wind farms to quite small solar panels.

    Well we will have made the world a better place for no reason, nice worst case scenario, isn't it?

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  4. Nota Bene: I forgot to say that the "natural monopolies" are not a general rule, because a lot (actually most) of the fossil fuel production go to commodity markets.

    In my country the biggest source of fossil fuels is the Camisea Deposit, where natural gas and liquids are extracted. Most of it is used ifor internal consumption to make electricity, the rest is sold to markets abroad. So here the "monopoly" figure holds for gas.

    For mining (mainly metals) there are instead a lot of operations and companies that depend on commodity markets.

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  5. This type of presentation will not work on a person who understands that the required action is for them to give up potential personal benefit to reduce the magnitude of problems faced by others, particularly others in the future. The 'what happens in the future' boxes are not relevant to them.

    Unfortunately there are many people who choose to be motivated by personal interest. Some are even willing to benefit from action they know will be to the detriment of others. They may be inclined to behave better if they believe they could face a consequence in their lifetime, but the consequence needs to be percieved to be likely enough and significant enough to offset the personal benefit and enjoyment they think they might be able to get away with.

    Generally, a significant clear consequence is required to offset the desire to gamble on getting away with benefiting. Very little personal consequence is faced by the real trouble makers on this issue and they know it. For them, there is no downside to creating bogus claims that would potentially prolong popular support for their damaging desires.

    The socioeconomic system created this problem and has created the wealthy powerful people who fight against the developing better understanding of what is going on and who fight against the required changes of the socio-political-economic system. The following steps are a signficant part of the problem that need to be addressed:

    • It will always be cheaper and more profitable to do things in the most damaging and least sustainable way that can be gotten away with. People more willing to try to get away with damaging and unsustainable activity have a competitive advantage.
    • The amount of damaging and unsustainable activity grows until the unacceptability of the activity becomes too obvious to deny.
    • This leads to after-the-fact attempts to curtail the activity. But developed popularity and profitability make it very difficult to curtail these activities. Wealth accrued by the most profitable will be abused any way it can be gotten away with to prolong the ability to maximize the benefits being obtained.
    • The result is a significant divide of a society as the unacceptable pursuers of profit deceptively create popular support for their unacceptable activity. And that illigitimate pursuit of popular support may only fail when the deceptions and damage being caused becomes undeniable. And for many people the damage has to be to them directly. No amount of evidence of unacceptable harm to others will lead them to change their mind.
    • The result is a large amount of damaging unsustainable popular and profitable activity in the economy. If a matter like the future consequences of the way the most fortunate enjoy their life can actually be successfully addressed there may be no end to the curtailing of damaging unsustainable activity that have been developed by the obviously flawed socioeconomic system. That means a lot of very wealthy people who have gambled on getting away with damaging unsustainable pursuits would lose their perceived near-future wealth. No amount of consequence to others, or even to themselves, will diminish their desire to fight against the required changes to the socioeconomic system. Those type of people cannot be negotiated with. Those type of people need to be excluded from infuencing the discussions about how to do what needs to be done.

    Many powerful and wealthy people do not deserve the wealth and power they have. And they will do everything they can get away with to increase their wealth and power. It is pretty clear what needs to be done. It is also pretty clear that the status quo of global socio-political-economics can be expected to fail to do all that needs to be done as quickly as it needs to get done.

    But there is hope, because if the unacceptable among the wealthy really were omnipotent the meeting in Lima to prepare for the meeting in Paris would not have been held.

    A sustainable better future for all is possible. But it will be a battle to overcome those who are not interested in that type of development. Continuing to develop the better understanding of climate science is a critical part of the battle. Better understanding eventually prevails. However, everyone should not be expected to rationally accept the better understanding. Some people rationally perceive that they have much to lose if they accept it.

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  6. http://www.skepticalscience.com/comments_policy.shtml"Hard to understand how we do so little to slow global warming"? Not at all. If you are not concerned about the more immediate possibility of the whole of humanity being wiped out by nuclear weapons (if you are not aware of the reasons for this, that says it all), then how can you expect huge numbers of people to be concerned about the 'sometime in the future' threat of partial destruction of humanity by global warming? Your continued blindness re the dangers of warfare is typical of human willingness to follow a trend, of gullibility in following a religion, rather than to apply intelligence to society's needs.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] With your first post, you are already skating on the thin ice of sloganeering which is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  7. doskachess @6, the fact is you have no idea as to the views ofcontributors and commentors on SkS regarding nuclear war, ebola, over fishing, world terrorism or any of a number of other causes for concern in this world.  You have no idea because you have not bothered to ask - you have merely assumed (which contrary to the popular dictum, only makes an "ass" out of "u").

    On the basis of that unwarranted assumption you then go onto to dismiss concern about global warming as evidence of credulity.  We are, apperently, required to be simpletons who can only imagine one problem in the world at once if we are not to be, in your book, gullible.  I am not so gullible as to be swayed by such assinine reasoning.

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  8. You know, I think Greg Craven's message would be taken more seriously if he weren't wearing all those silly hats that he used in the "How it all ends" series of videos. Why would he do that with such an important message to convey to the average citizen?

    Jen 

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  9. jenna...  I disagree. I think a modicrum of self-deprecation (finding a silly hook) has a way of disarming people to a message they don't necessarily want to hear.

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  10. Wh8le concurring with Tom Curtis, I also note that doskachess@6 comment is of such low intellectual quality that I long haven't seen such SkS comment to stand. The way it stands now (first and only post) indicate it's a drive by.

    By sad coinsidence, it's the first post in 2015 (SkS time which is AET no daylight savings). This is bad because this site does not deserve to be marked by such a primitive troll, I suggest to eradicatre it.

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  11. chriskoz @10, I partially disagree.

    Partially because doskachess' comment was of very low quality, and they were suitably warned for sloganeering.  But only partially because, with a bit more care doskachess could have made a relevant point and concievable counter to Greg Craven's argument.  To see the later, consider that:

    1)  A full nuclear exchange* between the US and Russia will very likely end civilization as we know it and possibly (but is unlikely to) cause the extinction of the human species.  It is a threat, therefore, whose consequences are at least on a par with those of global warming, and likely (but not certainly) worse than global warming.

    2)  The civil war in the Ukraine was triggered by an unconstitutional change** of government backed by the US and Europe, and switched the government position in the Ukraine from a pro Russian to a Pro Western position, despite the Ukraine being vital to Russia's economic interests (because of the gas pipeline) and definitely within what Russia would consider its sphere of influence.  It has lead to a civil war in which the pro Russian forces definitely have Russian assistance, assistance which threatens to become overt support.  If that occurs, NATO nations will be under very strong domestic political pressure to intervene in favour of the Pro Western Ukraine Government.

    3)  If such intervention eventuates, the risk of nuclear exchange would have to be considered as comparable to that during the Cuban missile crisis.

    Taken together, these constitute an imminent and plausible risk comparable to and possibly greater than that from global warming.  Following Craven's proceedure, we should analyze this risk by setting up two rows, one for the possiblity the risk is real, and one for if it isn't.  Further, we should treat the risk as maximal, ie, an actual extinction event for the human species (the worst plausible outcome from a full nuclear exchange).

    Given this partial matrix, doskachess can now argue that the fact that we purportedly ignore this threat shows we do not accept Craven's reasoning afterall.  If we did accept his reasoning, we would be doing all that we could to avoid this threat.  Instead, we spend our time on a "lesser" threat of global warming (which is true, regardless of our opinion of the risk of the nuclear threat).

    So constructed, doskachess's "argument" is at least a germain response to the OP.  The problem is that there is no full matrix.  I do not know of anything that I could do to reduce this risk.  I could right a letter to Obama urguing caution (I guess), but I am not a US citizen and he is already showing plenty of caution on this issue.  I am certain I cannot give him better advise than his existing policy advisors who are certainly live to this threat, and better informed.  Nor his this a threat were it is relevant to shift public opinion over a matter of years and (hopefully sooner, but also) decades such as we are attempting here on SkS for global warming.

    So, my tacit matrix for this problem is to fret pointlessly, or to find a better, more constructive use of my time.  The outcomes are the same for both columns of the matrix, so the nuclear threat can have no bearing on my choice.  In contrast, the threat from global warming strongly indicates that I should take column b, ie, spend my time more usefully by helping people better understand the science of global warming.

    So, I think I have a counter to doskachess's implicit argument in better form.  I may be wrong.  All doskachess needs to do is to show there are in fact two columns, in one of which I can take effective action to prevent a full nuclear exchange. Doskachess, however, has not even properly drawn the analogy to Craven's argument to begin with, however.  Indeed, rather than constructively doing so, they lept reflectively to the cheap insult showing they are at best, all about column a (respond to the nuclear threat by fretting pointlessly), and more probably that the mention of nuclear threats was just a cheap shot at anybody concerned about climate threats.

    * There are other threats of limited nuclear exchanges, most notably with North Korea.  Limited nuclear exchanges, however, are not threats to civilization, still less the species, and are not relevant to the discussion.  They are, of course tragic, and horrifying beyond description.

    **  I think the change definitely reflected the democratic will of the Ukrainian people.  That does not mean, however, that it followed proper constitutional form.

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  12. Tom Curtis@11,

    I support your assessment regarding the potential merit of the comment by doskachess.

    I suggest that earlier effective action to address global warming and climate change - the rapid reduction of the benefit the most fortunate could obtain from the burning of fossil fuels - may have reduced the motivations that created the Ukraine crisis.

    However, it is likely that many wealthy powerful people who had been deliberately trying to get away with maximum personal benefit, even if their pursuits are clearly understood to be damaging and would ultimately be unsustainable, would become even more vicious and destructive if faced with more effective global action that would clearly limit their ability to maximize their wealth in the ways they were gambling on being able to get away with.

    However, the potential for angry responses from people who want to get as wealthy and powerful as possible through damaging and unsustainable actions would be a poor excuse to not act in the required fashion regarding the threat of climate change. Those type of people simply have to be kept from succeeding in the future or there really will be no decent future for humanity.

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  13. OPOF @12, I certainly agree that energy politics has been a significant (though not only) factor in sparking the crisis in the Ukraine.  I am not sure how you would assess whether the failure to switch to a more renewable economy (which would have decreased European dependence on Russian gas) or a desire to restrict emissions (driving a European prefference for gas over oil or coal for power generation) is more significant in that, so I do not think we can say how climate change politics contributed to the crisis, and doubt climate change itself contributed directly.  On the other hand, as climate change continues, that will creat even more crises of a similar nature.  (Arguably it has already contributed to the Syrian crisis.)  So as a more general point, I certainly agree that tackling climate change reduces the long term risk of wars, civil wars, and consequently of nuclear exchanges.

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