The depressing politics of climate change

By Felix Salmon
May 3, 2011
climate change panel today was that there's essentially zero chance that a cap-and-trade bill will become law in the foreseeable future.

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Why has the Obama administration failed utterly to get anything at all done with respect to climate change? The issue was a major part of Obama’s 2008 platform, but it seemed to disappear as soon as he got elected, and the consensus on the climate change panel today was that there’s essentially zero chance that a cap-and-trade bill will become law in the foreseeable future.

One of the reasons is party-political: “Republicans chose to equate climate change with taxation,” said Milken’s Peter Passell, “and a well-financed campaign made climate change denial almost a litmus test for conservative orthodoxy”. Obviously, if you don’t believe in climate change, or if you say you don’t believe in climate change, then you’re never going to be remotely helpful with respect to crafting any kind of bill designed to address it.

But more profoundly — and the reason that the Democrats don’t seem particularly eager to get anything done on this front either — there’s the fact that climate-related legislation is one of those things which will create a large mass of winners with relatively little present-day political clout (us, our children, and our children’s children), alongside a small number of losers with extremely deep pockets and extensive lobbying arms.

One of the best aspects of the great HuffPo investigation of the politics of swipe-fee reform was the way in which it detailed how the issue came to dominate Washington politics precisely because both sides are so well funded. (Essentially, it’s big retailers vs big banks, with the public in the middle.)

As a general rule, it simply isn’t possible to pass legislation where the many benefit but a few entrenched special interests lose out. There are exceptions, of course, but they tend to be extremely hard-fought (think the healthcare and Wall Street reform bills) and unique in many ways. What you really need, when it comes to climate change, is a powerful constituency which would benefit from a bill. And since the largest beneficiaries haven’t even been born yet, let alone started making campaign donations, we’re not about to find one.

For similar political reasons, I’m evolving away from my preference for cap-and-trade over a carbon tax, since a cap-and-trade system is certain to get gamed by special interests. Allocations will be given out for free, and carbon credits will end up being given to projects which don’t reduce carbon emissions at all: Bjorn Lomborg talked about a cottage industry in China where people will build refrigerator factories designed to use a particularly potent greenhouse gas called HDFC23, not to build refrigerators, but just to get billions of dollars’ worth of carbon credits when they don’t build refrigerators.

Indeed, politics in general is a really bad way of addressing the issues of global climate change. When politicians do implement something, it’s as likely as not to have a minuscule marginal impact and to cost a vast amount of money: think of Germany’s subsidies for solar panels, which work out at about $1,000 per ton of carbon emissions saved, or U.S. subsidies for corn ethanol, which arguably create extra carbon emissions when you take into account the deforestation they cause by people needing to grow food elsewhere. Expensive programs aren’t always enforced particularly well — see California’s plan to mandate zero-emission autos — but they do make it seem as though any attempt to address climate change is bound to be prohibitively expensive if it is enforced. And that’s a bad message to send.

What’s more, even if we did pass cap-and-trade legislation — or even an outright carbon tax — it wouldn’t necessarily do a huge amount of good: such a move might be necessary, but it’s far from sufficient when it comes to the big goal of preventing the buildup of atmospheric carbon to the point at which climate change becomes catastrophic.

We also need major technological breakthroughs, and possibly also insurance in the form of geoengineering — at least a few experiments with injecting sulfur into the stratosphere or evaporating more sea salt so that marine clouds become whiter and reflect more sunlight. They might not work, and they might have significant unintended consequences, but it’s looking increasingly as though Plan A when it comes to preventing temperature build-up — reducing global carbon emissions drastically — simply isn’t going to happen. So we ought at least to be thinking about Plan B, and endowing a few prizes for technological innovation on both fronts.

One message I did get from the panel is that individual attempts to minimize our carbon footprint are not going to make any real difference. When I see people suffering a significant loss of utility because they’re watching their footprint and refuse to fly, for instance, it’s pretty clear that the personal cost of their decision is much greater than any global benefit. Even if they act as a role model and persuade others to follow their lead, they’re still perpetuating the idea that individual actions count. And I’m not sure there’s any evidence for that. Especially when the single most carbon-intensive thing that anybody can do — having children — is the last thing that they ever will (or should) give up for the sake of the planet.

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Comments
29 comments so far

I think I just read the last gasp of hope for preventing climate change and I think this is right. The idea that we can individually or even collectively deal with the problem without huge sacrifice and a technology breakthrough was always a bit of a pipe dream. Humanity will just have to learn to deal with the results of climate change. It’s going to happen and there is nothing you or I can do to prevent it.

Posted by silliness | Report as abusive

Don’t despair; I doubt that any policy-based approach to climate change would accomplish anything more than slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. And our piddling emissions growth will pale in comparison to that of developing countries.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

silliness’s defeatest attitude is precisely how the polluters want you to think: there’s nothing we can do to prevent climate change, so why try? And so let’s go back to building coal-fired power plants without costly scrubbers and cars without emissions controls cause hey, global warming is going to happen no matter what, so what difference does it make? And by scuttling all those pointless environmental regulations, industry can save a few hundred billion in the process. Win-win!

In the end it may be true that we aren’t able to prevent climate change. But don’t we at least have some moral obligation to try to slow it down?

Posted by MarkC123 | Report as abusive

Obama couldn’t get any legislation passed because he needed 60 votes in the senate, as the Republicans filibustered every issue in the first two years, and there were enough Democrats (it only took one) from the anti-science/reality states that would go against the president whose coattails swept them into office. Now he can’t get any legislation passed because the Republicans control the house.

While I can find fault with a lot of things that Obama has done (or not done), he doesn’t have dictator powers (regardless of what the tea party claims), and can’t just implement whatever he wants.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

At first, it was somewhat amusing to read delusional “analyses” like this one, but now it’s merely tiresome due to repetitiveness.

The simple fact of the matter is that the majority of U.S. voters have awakened to the fact that anthropomorphic global warming is one of the biggest scientific frauds of their lifetimes.

U.S. politicians have known this all along, but were using AGW as an excuse for the government to further their policies of fascist control of the economy and our citizens. However, the politicians also now realize that the voters aren’t buying the fraud and they’re going to get tossed out on their rear ends if they pursue policies that the voters realize are based on a scam.

Posted by AsokAsus | Report as abusive

I thought that cap-and-trade was politically viable precisely because it could create politically powerful winners – Namely the natural gas industry, the renewable power industry, and the recipients of carbon credits distributed to grandfathered polluters.

Apparently the lobbying power of these winners was no match for the lobbying power of the losers.

Posted by magellannh | Report as abusive

It seems to me that while human-caused climate change is almost certainly real, the professional left’s fixation with it is not very rational for a number of reasons.

(1) Humans have adapted to major climate swings in the past, when technology and mobility were much less. We will adapt again. The climate was bound to swing one way or another anyway, whether we humans tossed our hat in the ring or not.

(2) Enormous amounts of carbon have poured into the atmosphere over the last several centuries. Climate change has resulted but swings have been quite modest so far.

(3) Accurate prediction in this area is nearly impossible. Not only are there many variables whose values we don’t know, we don’t even know what all the variables are.

(4) Even if we could (a) somehow know what carbon levels led to what average temperatures (best of luck there!) then (b) would it even be worthwhile to make the necessary changes given the economic costs? Even if (a) were known and (b) were yes (two impossibly hard problems), it further seems doubtful that the political will could be mustered to willingly do what it takes. This is a 196-party prisoner’s dilemma after all, with South Sudan as the most recent addition.

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive

Felix, I’m glad to see you “evolving” toward a carbon tax and away from cap-and-trade. Incidentally, the syndrome of cap-and-trade gaming (e.g., with CFC offsets) you credit Bjorn Lomborg for uncovering has been widely discussed since at least early 2009, when Friends of the Earth highlighted it in their Subprime Carbon report (see p. 7/18). And gaming is hardly cap-and-trade’s only deficiency; its “hide-the-price” nature is equally if not more problematic, since it would impede long-term investments in new, low-carbon products and technologies.

And while I agree with you that a carbon tax could use help from other policies to do the trick of massively reducing carbon emissions, I’m nevertheless more sanguine on that score than bloggers like Jim Manzi and Megan McArdle who insist, evidence be damned, that price-elasticities are ridiculously low. I offered some counter-evidence in this post last week.

Posted by Komanoff | Report as abusive

(Comment re-submitted with links)

Felix, I’m glad to see you “evolving” toward a carbon tax and away from cap-and-trade. Incidentally, the syndrome of cap-and-trade gaming (e.g., with CFC offsets) you credit Bjorn Lomborg for uncovering has been widely discussed since at least early 2009, when Friends of the Earth highlighted it in their Subprime Carbon report (http://www.foe.org/pdf/SubprimeCarbonRe port.pdf, see p. 7/18). And gaming is hardly cap-and-trade’s only deficiency; its “hide-the-price” nature is equally if not more problematic, since it would impede long-term investments in new, low-carbon products and technologies.

And while I agree with you that a carbon tax could use help from other policies to do the trick of massively reducing carbon emissions, I’m nevertheless more sanguine on that score than bloggers like Jim Manzi and Megan McArdle who insist, evidence be damned, that price-elasticities are ridiculously low. I offered some counter-evidence in this post last week: http://bit.ly/l6M18S

Posted by Komanoff | Report as abusive

DanHess, you’re being disingenuous.

1) Humans didn’t have trillions of dollars invested in real estate, factories, agriculture, and infrastructure (to just name a few), when changes in the climate forced migration. When the climate changed in the past, yeah, they didn’t have cars or trains, but they also didn’t have anything to move. Adapting was a lot easier, and because money didn’t exist then, less expensive, also.

2)The amount of carbon that has been shifted from below the earth’s surface to the atmosphere in the last century dwarfs all of the carbon emitted in the previous centuries.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

The notion that we can’t prevent or reverse climate change is not an argument for abandoning efforts at mitigation.

I live in Colorado near Denver and am old enough to remember when we had horrific smog. The vested interests that told us we couldn’t do anything about it are the same that tell us we can’t do anything about climate change.

Posted by frit | Report as abusive

99% of our energy is solar. It just so happens that most of this solar energy is ancient, natural batteries- the fossil fuels known as coal, oil and natural gas.
Our civilizations are cashing in on this seemingly infinite mass of stored energy and because of their abundance, we don’t really worry about conservation, or even true cost. Extracting and burning this energy is incredibly damaging, and eventually, the real bill will come due. Fortunately, as there is a finite amount of fossil fuels, there is a finite amount of damage that can be done to health and environment.
Unfortunately, reaching this limit probably means an incredibly painful existence for most humans whether one “believes” in climate change or not.
The harsh reality is our mantra needs to be reduce, reuse and recycle, with a priority on reuse. And individual effort needs to be a pillar.
It is incredibly naive for anyone of an economic background to play the one person doesn’t make a difference card. Capitalist society is based on the aggregated choices of individuals. One sale does not matter for McDonalds, one lightbulb turned off or car off the road makes no difference. But a 100 million consumer choices, being part of an epic overhaul of what the modern life entails, is what the individual represents. 6+ billion individual choices will ultimately how this all plays out.

Posted by thispaceforsale | Report as abusive

We need to go back 30 years, and reintroduce the original argument of simply bringing a straight cap on emissions. By pushing cap-and-trade as a reasonable alternative, Democrats have allowed Conservatives to move the center further Right.

And we ought to take a closer look at federal disaster funds, at a time when climate change (either anthropogenic or naturally cyclical) may result in a greater frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes, storm flooding and tornadoes.

If states and cities aren’t willing to adopt national building codes and enforce them, and if the codes aren’t updated to reflect the true risk of actual wind speeds, then we need to consider options to how we dole out free money to states following a natural disaster. It is purely moronic to continue to rebuild, if those efforts contribute to the same disastrous results.

Posted by GRRR | Report as abusive

In re the HDFC23 emission credit factories, I’d like to note that credits for reducing greenhouse gasses don’t have to be stupid, although I do think politics are likely to push them in that direction. It makes sense (ignoring most transaction costs) to give credits to owners of woodlands, but then vested interests will try to push this opening. If it could be kept sensible, I’d be all in favor of that, but I’m not sure, given a particular proposal, how the final product would actually look.

Posted by dWj | Report as abusive

Felix, I think you would really enjoy the work of Saul Griffith: http://www.energyliteracy.com/?p=724

I have no idea why anyone would listen to Lomborg at this date: http://blogs.cfr.org/levi/2011/04/21/tru th-and-nonsense-on-chinese-clean-energy/

Posted by SamPenrose | Report as abusive

thisspaceforsale +1 the end point of AGW is extinction, Felix. and if individuals aren’t going to do anything about it, who is?

Posted by N.Mycroft | Report as abusive

What’s the point in penalizing the use of carbon fuels? There’s nothing to switch to. Government is doing nothing to spur development of a new technology that can replace 24/7 carbon fuels.

Why is everybody OK with this?

Posted by daisym | Report as abusive

The Greenpeace etc. war on nuclear is exactly what caused so much
carbon emissions in the first place. Designs failed to be improved
upon. Engineers died off. Welcome to the world you wanted! Thorium
reactors would end most emissions in only a couple of decades were
they not POLITICALLY hindered by greens.

Listening to the likes of Charles Manson and Osama Bin Laden isn’t a great idea:

http://oi55.tinypic.com/2jb7fk7.jpg

Happily, actual thermometer records exist over two continents that
carry back continuously for multiple centuries, and these show that
recent warming is not at all odd:

http://oi49.tinypic.com/rc93fa.jpg

Laypeople tend to listen to astronauts more avidly than to psychopaths
who would artificially ration food and energy, worldwide, just for the
sadistic fun of it.

I’m a classic old school hippie, raised with The Whole Earth Catalog
as my childhood bible, and in it, Bucky Fuller features prominently,
since he inspired it in the first place. His whole spiel is that
limits to growth claims are bunk. Calling yourself tree huggers makes
me scoff. CO2 is plant food, not pollution, and it’s already greening
the planet significantly. Your genocidal rationing schemes will cause
starving people to destroy forests just to survive.

When the greens finally get behind thorium reactors, then we can talk.
Before then, we can only fight, and the skeptics are winning since you
hooked all your wagons to a small body of junk science.

Left wing journalist Alexander Cockburn spells it out for you in this
candid interview outside his home. He is still bashing nuclear but his
concerns I can take seriously since he isn’t a member if the Global
Warming cult.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n92YenWfz 0Y&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Despite evidence of fraud and counter evidence that history is not a
hockey stick you odd people insist on over-analyzing skeptics as being
fake moon landing screwballs.

Actual astronauts are not so confused about Global Warming claims:

http://www.populartechnology.net/2010/06  /nasa-astronauts-skeptical-of-man-made. html

Your hearts are in the right place but your heads are firmly lodged
elsewhere. Then you are forced to demonize your opposition, and you
become haters in the process. Calling us “deniers” all these years!
Pffft! I can even flirt up gals finally here in Manhattan and snicker
at greenies without striking terror into the poor girl’s heart, now
that the gig is up. Now they have heard if the controversy and are
interested in the opinion of a Columbia/Harvard trained Ph.D. chemist.
What a relief!

Posted by NikFromNYC | Report as abusive

Maybe the author is depressed about climate change action because he is so uniformed about what has happened so far and how best to go forward.

1) Obama has done lots from fuel efficiency to R&D to enforcing the Clean Air Act to greening military.

2) USA emissions have been falling for a few years now. Per capita we are down to 1964 levels and falling. Total emissions are down to 1995 levels. The GDP per tonne of CO2 has been rising much faster in USA than in Canada for example.

3) USA has a de-facto carbon tax on oil that is helping us to clean up our economy. At $90/gallon the average American sends $1,000 overseas to buy imported oil. It is half our trade deficit. Because of this, USA is getting much better at using less oil per dollar of GDP.

4) Coal in USA is a “dead man walking” according to MunichRe. Almost no plants have been built in recent years and many have been picked for early retirement.

As far as what to do to solve it, the author misses the essential fact that technologies get cheaper mostly because of economies of scale produced by DEPLOYMENT. It isn’t the geeks doing R&D in the labs that bring the prices down…it is the industry cranking out more and more and streamlining it.

Moore’s law worked because of DEPLOYMENT and was driven by DEPLOYMENT levels.

The author poo poo’s Germany’s investment in solar. But it is exactly DEPLOYMENT of solar that is driving the cost down so fast. Germans’ are heroes for understanding this and being willing to fund it. Solar is already cheaper than retail electricity in Italy. The solar boom is here…and not because of R&D. It is here because of the people who paid to deploy it despite it not being an immediate dollar return right then.

I suggest the author actually read a bit more about energy and climate facts before spreading gloom and defeatism based on incorrect info.

Posted by VisualCarbon | Report as abusive

I just had another thought. Wow. I think those who continue to cling to such clearly mistaken beliefs are self-selecting in this way due to a form of chronic depression. It’s akin to how priests rant on and on about everybody being evil sinners who must not show pride in themselves. This really is a new religion we are dealing with here, doomsday and all.

From an evolutionary psychological point of view that incorporates group/group Darwinian selection I can imagine that societies that failed to have unproductive people that minimize their resource use got clobbered by a conquering group whose unproductive people tried to extract as much welfare and perks as would be dictated by selfishness alone.

So indeed, go right ahead. Leave the hot chicks to me guys and the fine wine too. Oh look! The sky is falling. See ya.

Posted by NikFromNYC | Report as abusive

“For similar political reasons, I’m evolving away from my preference for cap-and-trade over a carbon tax, since a cap-and-trade system is certain to get gamed by special interests. ”

Again, it is hard to know where to start.

Up in British Columbia the conservative government a few years ago did the sensible thing by deciding to do both a carbon tax and a cap & trade. Why?

Because a carbon tax can be brought in quickly and give the economy the maximum time to adjust. Economists all agree that the longer you have to transition off carbon the cheaper and easier it is. So the conservatives decided to give the economy a big head start by getting a low carbon price in ASAP. Smart. It has worked great and citizens strongly support it at the polls.

The reason you need a “cap” is to ensure the carbon levels actually go do. There are lots of ways to do a cap system. The conservative government in BC decided to join the biggest cap system (WCI) around to ensure integration and level playing field.

Carbon pricing is coming. The economies that hold out the longest before getting started are the ones that will feel the most pain.

Posted by VisualCarbon | Report as abusive

NikFromNYC, it is clear you don’t believe you have any moral, ethical or self-preservation reasons to cut your fossil fuel pollution.

Good news for you is that you don’t have to. Go for it. Pollute away. Nobody is stopping you.

I’m unclear however why you feel you have to make fun of people who do feel a moral, ethical and self-preservation reason to pollute less.

Posted by VisualCarbon | Report as abusive

Dan Hess, all your points are reasonable on the surface but I think if you read about climate science you will understand the issues better. For example:

YOU: “(1) Humans have adapted to major climate swings in the past, when technology and mobility were much less. We will adapt again. The climate was bound to swing one way or another anyway, whether we humans tossed our hat in the ring or not.”

SCIENCE: Human civilization has never faced major climate swings. Warming climate swings have been very slow in the past when naturally forced. We are pushing the climate ten times harder than what caused ice age to end.

YOU: “(2) Enormous amounts of carbon have poured into the atmosphere over the last several centuries. Climate change has resulted but swings have been quite modest so far.”

SCIENCE: CO2 has a long lifetime which means there is a delay between when we dump it and when the full effects are felt. Most of the CO2 has been dumped in the last couple decades. Changes are already dramatic (polar ice melt, permafrost thaw, ocean acidification levels). Lots more in pipeline from past CO2.

YOU: “(3) Accurate prediction in this area is nearly impossible. Not only are there many variables whose values we don’t know, we don’t even know what all the variables are.”

SCIENCE: We have a model that is 100% accurate with all variable included. It is called the Earth. Paleoclimate is very well understood now and we have a good idea of how the Earth climate reacted in the past…and so how it is very likely to react now.

YOU: “(4) This is a 196-party prisoner’s dilemma after all, with South Sudan as the most recent addition.”

SCIENCE: This is a 10-party prisoner’s dilemma. Top 10 GHG nations emit around 80% of GHG.

Posted by VisualCarbon | Report as abusive

Felix, I found this part of your article the most confusing: “When I see people suffering a significant loss of utility because they’re watching their footprint and refuse to fly, for instance, it’s pretty clear that the personal cost of their decision is much greater than any global benefit. ”

I think you are mistaking morality for strategy.

My family stopped flying years ago because we felt that the levels of climate damage it does just for “fun” was immoral. The personal cost to me is much greater to get on a plane than not to. It isn’t some silly, ill-thought-out strategy to change the world’s carbon levels. It is a moral choice. We just didn’t want to do that much damage. It made us feel bad.

The phrase “loss of utility” doesn’t even make sense to me in this context.

Posted by VisualCarbon | Report as abusive

@VisualCarbon, I like the both-and approach a lot. And I suppose that if you live in BC near your family, then you have little need to fly…

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive

But individual actions do count, and I don’t only mean that in a touchy feely “throwing starfish on the beach” way. The development of new technologies requires alpha consumers to buy early generation products which tend to be more expensive and, on some level, require personal sacrifice. Solar panels will eventually pay for themselves, but if you’re just in it for the money, there are probably better ways to invest than putting panels up on your roof. With the price of oil inevitably rising over the next 20 years, electric vehicles are probably destined to become the primary way we power our cars. But if you’re looking for a car this year, current fuel costs alone can’t really justify the purchase.
If you’re buying these things, you’re probably buying them because you are trying to make a personal statement that you care about the future of the planet and you are willing to invest your resources to do something about it. In the process, you’re creating a consumer market for the product that encourages more of them to be built. Manufacturing more of something means that each item costs less for future buyers. The widespread consumer market is a major part of the reason why the cost of solar electricity is nearing parity with natural gas and will surpass coal within the next 10 years:

Of course, a big part of that story is also state renewable energy mandates – individual action alone isn’t sufficient. But the reason we’ve been able to win state renewable energy mandates is because the market got big enough to prove the validity of the technology.
Smaller purchases such as more fuel-efficient appliances follow the same pattern: the bigger the market size for Energy Star refrigerator, the more the incentive to produce the big and small innovations that will drive down electricity use. Likewise,
As Simon argues elsewhere in the same piece, increasing the size of the clean technology marketplace goes hand in hand with increasing our ability to create strong climate policies. If the solar industry had the political clout of the oil industry, a price on carbon or a cap on emissions might be able to pass Congress.
Finally, to get a little more touchy-feely, I think Simon also understates the importance of cultural norms. Studies have shown that the installation of solar panels in a neighborhood increases the probability that a new solar panel will be installed. Others indicate that people are much more likely to engage in political action after they’ve made a commitment in their personal lives. Spreading the value of concern for the environment is itself one of the most important things we can do to build political power, and for many people, the most likely path to spreading those values is through commitments in their personal lives.
The establishment of cultural norms cannot easily be described in the language of utility – it’s hard to talk about comparing the utility of a lost plane ride with the “value” of establishing a cultural norm – but that kind of individualistic attitude is at root a problem for the climate movement.
buddhistwonk.tumblr.com

Posted by BuddhistWonk | Report as abusive

But individual actions do count, and I don’t only mean that in a touchy feely “throwing starfish on the beach” way. The development of new technologies requires alpha consumers to buy early generation products which tend to be more expensive and, on some level, require personal sacrifice. Solar panels will eventually pay for themselves, but if you’re just in it for the money, there are probably better ways to invest than putting panels up on your roof. With the price of oil inevitably rising over the next 20 years, electric vehicles are probably destined to become the primary way we power our cars. But if you’re looking for a car this year, current fuel costs alone can’t really justify the purchase.
If you’re buying these things, you’re probably buying them because you are trying to make a personal statement that you care about the future of the planet and you are willing to invest your resources to do something about it. In the process, you’re creating a consumer market for the product that encourages more of them to be built. Manufacturing more of something means that each item costs less for future buyers. The widespread consumer market is a major part of the reason why the cost of solar electricity is nearing parity with natural gas and will surpass coal within the next 10 years:

Of course, a big part of that story is also state renewable energy mandates – individual action alone isn’t sufficient. But the reason we’ve been able to win state renewable energy mandates is because the market got big enough to prove the validity of the technology.
Smaller purchases such as more fuel-efficient appliances follow the same pattern: the bigger the market size for Energy Star refrigerator, the more the incentive to produce the big and small innovations that will drive down electricity use. Likewise,
As Simon argues elsewhere in the same piece, increasing the size of the clean technology marketplace goes hand in hand with increasing our ability to create strong climate policies. If the solar industry had the political clout of the oil industry, a price on carbon or a cap on emissions might be able to pass Congress.
Finally, to get a little more touchy-feely, I think Simon also understates the importance of cultural norms. Studies have shown that the installation of solar panels in a neighborhood increases the probability that a new solar panel will be installed. Others indicate that people are much more likely to engage in political action after they’ve made a commitment in their personal lives. Spreading the value of concern for the environment is itself one of the most important things we can do to build political power, and for many people, the most likely path to spreading those values is through commitments in their personal lives.
The establishment of cultural norms cannot easily be described in the language of utility – it’s hard to talk about comparing the utility of a lost plane ride with the “value” of establishing a cultural norm – but that kind of individualistic attitude is at root a problem for the climate movement.
buddhistwonk.tumblr.com

Posted by BuddhistWonk | Report as abusive

If we continue to do little to slow down climate change are we not ensuring a day in the future where life on earth is not sustainable for us or for the plant and animal life that exist here with us? While there are problems that need attention in addition to climate change, it can be argued that in combating climate change we may also help solve some of our other problems – unemployment, rising gas costs, etc. Instead, if you listen to Congress it is like we cannot be bothered with trying to mitigate or slow down climate change. We need to elevate climate solutions and encourage our political leaders that the climate problem is also a problem we hold them accountable to come up with a workable solution.

Posted by swmpratt | Report as abusive

@VisualCarbon –

I studied physics and computer science at Cornell, as well as meteorology. My first job was as an intern at NOAA in Silver Spring, MD. Admittedly that was years ago, but do share your background. Your claims that we know everything there is to know doesn’t comport with my sense of science as a field of great caution. What do I know? Maybe the old ethos of scientists is gone, at least in certain fields.

Look, I am not a skeptic that humans are changing the climate. There is no question we are adding to the mix. I believe!! But to claim that we actually know what will happen in the coming century (“We have a model that is 100% accurate with all variable included. It is called the Earth. “) is a riot!

Our geological record is spotty but here are a few elephants milling about the room that make it hard to claim all variables are 100 percent sewn up:
* Carbon levels at around 390 PPM are well above the recent historical range of 200-300 PPM. But looking across just the last tens of thousands of years of carbon in this range we have had massive swings of 14 or 15 degrees C in relatively short periods of time with CO2 in its historic range. These are the ice ages. We have no idea what triggered each one, only that they are a positive feedback loop.
* Solar intensity is one of the most important variables of all (and yes it is significantly variable over thousands and millions of years) and it is completely absent from the geological record.
* A number of studies have attempted to look at carbon levels across geological time. The one thing that stands out is that historical carbon measurements are all over the map and no two studies come anywhere close to each other.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Phaner ozoic_Carbon_Dioxide.png
About the only thing they agree on is that atmospheric carbon was once much higher than today.
And there’s this: “the early Phanerozoic includes a global ice age during the Ordovician age combined with high atmospheric carbon contents ”

Apparently the bar at which scientists are willing to say they know things with certainty has gotten a lot lower. This is not helping public perception.

In Tamil Nadu (south India), one of the hotter places on Earth where I have been twice, they have three harvests a year. On the other hand, ice ages are very much more difficult to deal with. Evidence points to a present warming trend and evidence is that humans are a part of it. But I’m just not seeing the end of the world as we know it, at least on that front.

Exhaustion of much mineral wealth is what we really need to be stressed out about if we really care about the kiddies. That is not a problem on a 100 year time frame. That is a problem arising right now. The fossil fuel / carbon problem is solving itself because we are running out of them anyway as thisspaceforsale noted.

Nuclear based electric power seems to be the only source that scales up to the level we need. Absent a viable alternative of massive scale what discussion is there to have?

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive
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