The Climate Easter Bunny Fable

Here’s some straight talk on climate politics:

A facile explanation would focus on the ‘merchants of doubt’ who have managed to confuse the public about the reality of human-made climate change.  The merchants play a role, to be sure, a sordid one, but they are not the main obstacle to solution of human-made climate change.

The bigger problem is that people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work.  This is important, because as Mother Nature makes climate change more obvious, we need to be moving in directions within a framework that will minimize the impacts and provide young people a fighting chance of stabilizing the situation.

And from the same essay, some straight talk on energy:

Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future?  It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway.  But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians.  Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. ““ maybe even a tar sands pipeline.  Why the inconsistency?

Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan.  They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics.  They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.

Partisans in the climate concerned community are quick to badmouth or dismiss alternative policy prescriptions that–even if you disagree with these alternative options–are at least honest about the scale of the energy challenge and the geopolitical realities.

In his essay, James Hansen proposes a different path than these guys, but he and they are advancing their respective arguments based on the world as it exists, not on Easter bunny fables.

H/T: Andy Revkin

50 Responses to “The Climate Easter Bunny Fable”

  1. grypo says:

    “Partisans in the climate concerned community are quick to badmouth or dismiss alternative policy prescriptions that”“even if you disagree with these alternative options”“are at least honest about the scale of the energy challenge and the geopolitical realities.”

    I bet Hansen would be quick to dismiss “climate pragmatism”.  Would that make him a partisan?  There is a real conflict within the climate concerned about nuclear and alternatives.  A discussion unfortunately missed during the Lynas episode, when McIntyre made the sexy call to wipe out an IPCC WG.  The idea behind Hansen’s ideas would be to unite the climate community behind moving forward with plans for construction of nuclear plants soon.  But this also includes heavy carbon taxes and focusing on CO2 as major part of the message, and making sure to keep coal and tar sands in the ground where they belong.  This is something that climate pragmatism tells us is not politically possible.  So which one is the partisan?  Until we realize that all these groups, with similar goals (decarbonization), are all “partisan” and have equal stakes and valid concerns, the climate runaround will just continue.  Lots of people would like that.  The center of the debate should be about which ideas are both pragmatic AND logical resolutions to the carbon problem (and the many other environmental concerns).  The choice between top down UN resolutions and bottom up pragmatism is a false one, and the disagreements therein are goods ones, not partisan.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    There is a difference between engaging in good faith (but still disagreeing) and dismissing out of hand with “extremist” language.

  3. TimG says:

    Hansen appears to have a better grip on the problem than most AGW advocates and his support of nuclear power is a sign of sanity.

    Where he fails is his naive assumption that carbon taxes will actually have any real effect on consumption. He calls for $1/gas tax yet gas prices in Canada are already at least $1/gallon higher that the US and there is no sign that Canadians are ditching their SUVs in favour of econo-boxes.

    To become a pragmatists Hansen would have to acknowledge that there is nothing government can do to stop or even significanytly delay the rise in CO2 levels and that adaption is the only option on the table.  

  4. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    There are a number of reasons why I simply do not believe the alarmist projections of catastrophe by the AGW community.  One factor is irrational solutions proposing to replace coal and natural gas fired electrical generating equipment with windmills and solar energy.  Self described environmentalists oppose nuclear energy and thermal energy with the same passion, and then seem puzzled when they get only lip service from anyone in a position of responsibility.  Very few of these people actually live the life style that they propose to impose on the rest of us, and the very wealthy proponents like Al Gore will just use their wealth to provide themselves the creature comforts that they would deny the rest of us.

  5. I agree with every word of the key section of Hansen’s essay called “The Real Solution”.
     
    I have at least four quibbles with the rest of the essay.
     
    1) I think he is overly pessimistic about the scalability of solar but I think it is fine to let the market decide.
     
    2) I do not think the prognosis of nuclear is good, post Fukushima. This is perhaps every bit as unfortunate as the direct effects of the disaster or maybe even more so. I think nuclear should be able to compete on the market as a source for carbon-free power. But this requires a regulatory environment that is nuclear friendly, which requires active decisions by politicians. (For people who keep advising political pragmatism it is odd to see this insistence on nuclear continue unaffected by the Fukushima disaster as if it didn’t matter. Hansen at least acknowledges the setback.)
     
    3) I think, though, that Hansen is underestimating the regulatory and infrastructure changes needed to move from the existing de facto subsidy of fossil fuels to a level playing field. 
     
    Electrification of the entire urban, suburban, and long haul transportation system, for example, is needed. (There will still be fuel-powered tractors and farm vehicles.) This is the sort of thing you do plan decades ahead for, incrementalists aside. Forty years is plenty of time to achieve it, but only if you start.
     
    And obviously, the regulatory environment is key to deployment of nuclear power. Investors must be assured that a profit is forthcoming and the public must be confident that the new infrastructure is safe. Whether a regulatory structure that satisfies both of these is possible in today’s era of paranoia about authority is unclear. So again, the stiff carbon tax is necessary but not sufficient.
     
     
    4) Most crucially, Hansen is speaking about policy in the abstract, and is not addressing the question of how to get the required level of unanimity in international participation.
     
    All that said, I completely agree that the key thing is to have a revenue neutral carbon tax that ramps up until it is big enough. What is big enough? The market will decide. Once carbon use starts dropping precipitously, the tax can stop increasing, and not until then. Which is what Hansen is saying if I understand it correctly.
     
    And indeed, there are few realistic alternatives. Anything short of that level of planning is a fairy tale. Breakthrough Institute incrementalism is a fairy tale.
     
    True, modern politics generally, and the current US political constellation in particular, does not appear competent to achieve the necessary steps. So though the technical solutions to the problem are obvious and already in hand, their implementation looks unachievable. But the political avenue is the only approach; you cannot negotiate with physics.
     

  6. TimG says:

    Tobis,

    You are peddling a fairy tale when you suggest that any politically viable carbon tax will reduce CO2 production. It won’t. There are simply no practical alternatives to CO2 emitting energy sources at this time.

  7. TimG, British Columbia has implemented a revenue neutral carbon tax which remains popular. Your faith, though touching, is misplaced.
     
     

  8. harrywr2 says:

    Michael Tobis Says:
    July 30th, 2011 at 12:28 pm .
     
    <i> I do not think the prognosis of nuclear is good, post Fukushima</i>
    The prognosis for future offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was poor immediately after that leak BP had in the gulf of Mexico. It didn’t take even a year for people to forget.
    The only real impact in the US was the cancellation of a joint venture in Texas where TEPCO was to be a substantial provider of cash.
    The proximity to a German election cycle made for some bad short term knee-jerk decisions.
    We aren’t far enough down the road in the Fukushima crisis for the Japanese to even begin  implementing their mitigation strategy.
    Just as BP cleaning up the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico helped people ‘forget’ so will the Japanese mitigation efforts.
    The land surrounding Chernobyl wasn’t worth cleaning up and a monument to the ‘dangers of nuclear power’ was in the interests of the Russian Natural gas industry.
    The land around Fukushima has significant value and the Japanese don’t have any financial incentive to build a ‘monument to the dangers of nuclear power’.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  9. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    So Michael, British Columbia no longer uses carbon emitting energy sources?  Since there are no viable alternatives to carbon except nuclear, and that is opposed by many of the people who share your faith in CAGW, who is expressing their touching faith here?

  10. intrepid_wanders says:

    MT #7 – 

    Your faith, is misplaced as well.  Kind of like California outsourcing electricity to meet these carbon neutral goals by just moving them to another state or country.  Think Texas will sacrifice their energy independence anytime in the next hundred years? 

  11. TimG says:

    Tobis,

    I know. I live in BC. The BC carbon tax has had NO effect on emissions. Gasoline consumption has INCREASED despite the extra tax.

    http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/07/12/CarbonTax/ 

    The fact is carbon taxes don’t work because it is politically impossible to set them at levels that will actually trigger changes in behavoirs.

  12. Interesting link, thanks. I do not think it means what you think it means. I wonder why we write given some people’s reading comprehension.
     
    We here in Texas do present an interesting case. We benefit more form fossil fuels than anybody else. Yet we are one of the most vulnerable places to climate change. We also have enormous wind and solar resources, and excellent geological formations for CO2 sequestration.
     
    Texas currently produces <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_United_States”>more wind power</a> than any three other US states combined. If we Texans construe ourselves as a leader in energy rather than just a leader in oil and gas, we can come out of this transition in fine shape.
     

  13. TimG says:

    Tobis,

    The title of the piece is the “carbon tax does not work”.

    It provides statistics showing the increase in gasoline consumption.

    It complains that the “revenue neutral” tax did not provide additional funding for green initiatives (the writer is obviously not clear on what revenue neutral means).

    Bottom line: it supports my claims. The only person with reading comprehension issues appears to be you.

    I am not sure what your musigs about texas has to do with your original argument that carbon taxes are effective.

  14. Sorry; I was replying to “intrepid” and was referring to “intrepid”‘s link, not TimG’s.
     
    TimG’s link does agree with TimG. It is effectively refuted by the first comment there, though.
     

  15. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    Interesting sequence.  The same people who are expert climate scientists and are able to ‘see’ human footprints in the chaotic climate and predict temperatures for the next hundred years cannot look at simple arithmetic for carbon fuel use and alternatives and figure out that their dreams of a world using less carbon fuel are irrational fantasies. 

  16. Ah, the idea that we can behave responsibly, that we can leave the world in better shape than we found it, is an “irrational fantasy”. Pity, then, about ethics and all that.
     
    I suppose you think we should reinstate slavery while we are at it? People used to think a world without slavery was an irrational fantasy, you know.
     

  17. TimG says:

    Tobis,

    The problem is people simply do not agree with your definition of ‘behaving responsibly’. Different people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions about the risks and the most appropriate response. This does not mean they do not have ethics – in fact – most sceptics believe that sacrificing the economy in a futile effort to reduce emissions is an extremely unethical course of action. You will likely disagree but that is reality.

  18. “most sceptics believe that sacrificing the economy in a futile effort to reduce emissions is an extremely unethical course of action”
     
    Sure, I believe that too, given “futile”. But I don’t understand the claim that it is impossible to reduce emissions or futile to try. Harder things have been done in the past.
     

  19. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    Leaving the world in better shape than we found it has been and continues to happen because real pollution is being reduced by power plant stack filters, better sewage systems, etc.
     
    Provision of cheap electricity to billions of people has greatly improved the quality of their lives and will continue to do so, unless Governments of the world listen to the fantasies of the CAGW alarmists and attempt to return these people to subsistence living burning dung for fuel.
     
    Some of your compatriots are beginning to notice that the world is not actually warming as predicted by the computer models which are the basis for your fantasies.  I see a new paper based on NASA satellite measurements that finds (surprise) lots more heat escaping than was thought.  The globe is not warming as predicted, and the larger risk to human kind is that cooling will occur.  Crops grow better with more warmth, CO2, and rain.  Crops in higher latitudes fail completely when it gets colder, and encroaching glaciers can be incompatible with urban living.
     
    People used to think that eugenics was the wave of the future, but that turned out to be an irrational fantasy, you know.

  20. cagw, does somebody pay you to repeat all that tired nonsense, or do you do it for fun? I do not care to discuss the validity of the science at this meme-hurling level. I’m sure you’ve heard the standard answers from people with more patience than I have for <a href=”http://www.treelobsters.com/2010/01/118-skeptics-charlatans.html”>lobster chess</a> at this moment.
     
    Maybe some newbie would like to work on it for practice.
     

  21. TimG says:

    Tobis,

    The entire point of this op is about how many of the so called ‘solutions’ simply do not work.

    Hansen tries to address this by endorsing nuclear power but he is still deluding himself when it comes to a carbon tax because there is no evidence that politically viable carbon taxes can do any more than slightly slow the increase in CO2 emissions.

    For my part, I could be pursuaded to support those measures which I believe are effective, unfortunately, politics does not work that way. Anyone who expresses support for CO2 mitigation ends up supporting a whole mess of expensive and futile measures designed to appease the deluded environmentalists. I am not willing to do this.

  22. Jack Hughes says:

    Very important post, Keith.

    Greenies are people who don’t worry about their grocery bills. They live in a white collar world where we can survive and prosper  by making windmill-powered websites and websites about windmill-powered websites. They have never seen a blast-furnace or a cement works.

    Politicians are drawn to windmills as the solution because it doesn’t upset the “nuclear nein-danke” wing of the green movement and they are very visible. Like giant hoardings in the countryside saying “we are doing something”. 

  23. Dean says:

    I’m not sure to what degree in the end that “renewables” can replace fossil fuels. I’m not sure to what degree that GMO agriculture can work the many miracles claimed for it that it is not close to achieving. I do not know if clean coal is possible at a remotely affordable price.
     
    There are many technological advances that many people claim can happen, usually while also claiming that some other technological advance cannot happen. I could speculate on why people have optimism for the chances for a particular techno breakthrough, but not another, but the point is that posts like this one just feed into that dichotomy.
     
    I’m not sure what time-frame is implied in the quote “renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India”, so it may just be a strawman. The magnitude to which renewables will be able to contribute and when that is remain to be seen. If we don’t try hard enough, we may never know. Similarly, if nuclear energy dies a political death now, we may never know how it would have worked out.

  24. Jack Hughes says:

    Interesting way to play the “think of the children” card. 

    At an intellectual level these people talk about how the world is going to be hell-on-earth in a few decades time. But their visceral gut instinct to have children seems to trump the theorising in most games. 

    Except for my eco-friend Megan who wants to make a better world for her children by … not having children. 

  25. Jarmo says:

    I happen to live in one of the countries which is less dependent on fossil fuels. Finland’s current energy mix is 26 % renewables and 17 % nuclear. Nuclear capacity will rise (Olkiluoto 3, 1600 MW, will be online in 2013 and two more units will be built by 2025). There will be also wind farms (which also create problems as their share grows) but the greatest expansion in renewables will be in biomass and using ground thermal and heat pumps to cut down heating costs.

    However, getting rid of fossil fuels  here completely seems impossible within a timeframe of 25 years. Transportation for example: I’d say that we already have a carbon tax there (1.60 euros per liter of 95 octane, of which about 1.00 is tax, one euro is 1.40 US$). That translates to over 5 US$ of tax per gallon. Nevertheless, people would still drive even if the tax were 10 dollars per gallon because for many there is no alternative.

  26. Eli Rabett says:

    Jarmo has it right, but infrastructure changes on on 25-50 year basis are the norm, IF you start, and the carbon tax is a way of starting
     
    Eli – Not the Easter Bunny – Rabett

  27. Dean says:

    @25
     
    The issue of fully replacing fossil fuels for transportation has as much to do with the cost and value of infrastructure as it does with availability of alternatives.
     
    This would certainly not happen in 25 years based on normal market pressures, even if the alternative were fully proven. If however society were convinced to prioritize this as a needed development, that would change. The United States converted its manufacturing base from consumer to military in a matter of months at the start of WWII for us. If these transitions are to take place, that kind of commitment would again be required.
     
    At the moment it clearly is not there, so that leads to the question of whether the biggest barrier is technological or political. What could we accomplish if we prioritized it to the degree that some of is think we should?

  28. Eli Rabett says:

    Dean, how long did it take to get rid of horses?

  29. Jack Hughes says:

    WW2 was a real event – not a computer simulation of something that may happen in 50 years’ time.

  30. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    Michael Tobis. When the world really does turn colder, what happens to old crocodiles like you? Do you just morph into studying colder weather and forget all the insults you hurled at people who questioned you? Natural variation is a possibility you once characterized as a waste of time. Natural variation will explain most of the temperature change of the last few years that prompted the hockey stick. What then for warmist fanatics like you?

  31. edG says:

    Why doesn’t anyone want to mention natural gas as a logical ‘bridge’ fuel for the transition away from increasingly expensive oil?

    Did everyone confuse ‘Gasland’ with a real documentary?

    Developing US natural (shale) gas would create a huge number of ‘greener’ jobs, reduce cashflows out to people who don’t like us and, for those who care, would reduce CO2 output per unit of energy for several key uses including, potentially, transportation. There is TONS of it – mostly far, far, far below anyone’s aquifer.

  32. Bill says:

    Yep. Gas and Nuclear are the only currently viable options for producing large amounts of electricity with moderate or low CO2, respectively. But environmentalism is a religion, no surprise most of them live in a fantasy world.

  33. Jarmo says:

    I think electricity generation is the easiest and quickest way to influence emissions as power companies in many countries are under regulation as natural monopolies or government-controlled. Also, many consumer applications that will replace fossil fuels require electricity.

    The challenge is enormous. Royal Academy of Engineering produced an assessment paper for the UK targets, with this conclusion:




    3.2 Conclusions




    The experience of engineers shows that implementing fundamental changes to a system as large and complex as the UK’s energy system to meet the 2050 greenhouse gas emissions targets will bring with it many challenges for government, business and industry, engineering and the public alike. Turning the theoretical emissions reduction targets into reality will require more than political will: it will require nothing short of the biggest peacetime programme of change ever seen in the UK.

     
     
     
    To remind you of the wartime programmes, the UK ended WW1 effectively in hock and defaulted on its WW1 debt to the US in 1932 and never paid it back. In WW2 the UK ran out of money in 1941 and only Lend-Lease saved their bacon.  After the war they had to borrow money from the US to rebuild and paid the last of it back only a few years ago.

  34. Eli Rabett says:

    Natural gas is not as simple as it looks because coming out of the ground it is a very complex mixture that varies wildly btw wells, which gets stripped at the wellhead.  Also wells and pipelines leak, and the stuff in NG are strong greenhouse gases. 
     
    Verdict: Potentially useful but requires work

  35. Dean says:

    @28
     
    A few decades I suppose. What was the built-in infrastructure for horses? I’m not sure that the horse-to-car transition is very analogous to what we need to do now, but I certainly would like to be proven wrong.

  36. #30, Why don’t we wait to get to that bridge before crossing it?
     

  37. kdk33 says:

    Yes, we need to replace the fossil fuels we burn, and i have a plan.

    Drill here; drill now.  Shale gas for all.

  38. kdk33 says:

    “Crops grow better with more warmth, CO2, and rain”

    Is this the drive to which you refer Tobis.  Is it your position that crops grow better when it’s cold and dry?

  39. Sashka says:

    @ MT (36)

    Back at RC, post-Katrina, your ex-boss Ray was pontificating about increased hurricane activity in the warming world. In the comment that he wisely chose to moderate away I asked him whether he would eat his hat if the next few years would be quiet. Now we crossed that bridge. What changed? There is always next great danger looming.

  40. Sashka: when year-over-year average differences start to be monotonic then we will be in too deep trouble for conversation to matter. So your question is in fact not a good one on that basis. The time scale is too short climatologically for the observations to modify the prior very much.
     
    I don’t have Ray’s comments available to me. I read currently that the expectation is that hurricane frequency will decline but that the proportion of very high intensity hurricanes will increase. The tropical record is inherently noisy. If the system responds monotonically we will not be able to see the response to anthropogenic forcing until several more decades have passed. If the system response is messier than that, longer still. And if the tropical storm dynamics is insensitive to anthropogenic forcing, it will take even longer to know.
     
    That said, the dynamical argument is strong and the paleoclimate evidence is in support.
     
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7284/full/4631032a.html
     
    On the other hand “the group estimates””very roughly””that so far any effect greenhouse warming has had on hurricane intensity should still be unrecognizable amid natural variations in hurricane activity.”
     
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/327/5964/399.full
     

  41. Jack Hughes says:

    Wow.

    “if the tropical storm dynamics is insensitive to anthropogenic forcing, it will take even longer to know.”

    Like, forever ? 

  42. #38 Leaving aside the plant physiology stuff that I’m not well-informed about, consider this. It was unusually warm in Russia last summer and unusually wet in Pakistan. How do you suppose the crops fared?

  43. #41. Stating with confidence that a signal with bandwidth of decades is stationary, purely as a matter of signal processing, takes many decades. 
     
    Some things actually are inconclusive. What of it?
     
     

  44. Jarmo says:

    Comments 38 to 43 illustrate well the whole climate change discussion.  A road to nowhere as far as action is concerned.

    This is why it might be better to address the question as an energy production problem with an engineering rather than climate science approach.  

    From an engineering perspective, if the objective is to cut emissions, it doesn’t matter whether you use gas, nuclear or renewables to replace goal. You just pick the alternatives that are most cost-efficient for a particular area and ignore the ideological BS. 

  45. mct says:

    Michael Tobis, I note (both here and at Judy Curry’s) that you have now adopted the term “carbon” as – I presume – shorthand for CO2. 
    Comments like “Once carbon use starts dropping precipitously” (above) and especially “Look, everybody, we have an actual problem with too much carbon in the biosphere” (at Judy’s, in the ‘Going Viral’ thread) show a laxity of language that I normally associate with dodgy downunder polliticians.

  46. Sashka says:

    @ MT (40)

    What if year-over-year average differences never start to be monotonic? There will be another thing to be scared of, right?

    If paleoclimate is in support of anything it is in support of our ignorance. Basically we don’t have a clue why Pliocene climate was different from the current. The body of the article is behind the pay wall but I don’t think it is methodologically possible to reach any conclusions like that. In particular, one needs to explain what was the cause and what was the effect.

    The dynamical argument may be strong. It’s the facts that are weak.

  47. grypo says:

    Yes, the freak out at Judith’s about mt’s use of the word ‘carbon’ was another a-ha moment in this endless debate about the debate.  Word choice in argumentation is an interesting subject, but it seems using normal scientific language, such as ‘carbon’ or as the last time I saw this, ‘ocean acidification’ is another no-no, or as mct describes, “dodgy” or “downunder”.  Terms are sensible in that one can make a case for using it, and in this case mt is more than justified, mct’s use of “laxity of language” is not.  I think we need to issue homework assignments.

  48. #44, no, #38 – 43 illustrate how red herrings are substituted for central points and the main thrust of arguments obfuscated. This is not about tropical storms.
     
    The future of tropical storms is not settled. There are good reasons to anticipate more extremely energetic storms among the consequences of human forcing. But the frequency of these storms may decline.
     
    But to make this a proxy for the entire problem is wrong and tends to mendacious.
     
    My use of the word ‘carbon’ was not lax shorthand. It was strictly correct. The carbon chemistry of the biosphere (particularly the ocean) is substantially altered by the ongoing pulse of atmospheric CO2. The chemistry is affected by a surplus of CO2, leading to a surplus of dissolved carbon, leading to ocean acidification, among the other major problems.
     

  49. Jarmo says:

    #48
    You guys can argue until Kingdom come but in order to achieve something real, don’t you need to start agreeing on something? Look for some common ground? For one side it can be about national security and cutting dependence on imported oil, for the other climate change mitigation. 

    I think you need numbers to work with. You probably know about McKay’s book about renewable energy in the UK:

     http://www.withouthotair.com/

    Something similar for the US?

      

  50. Hal Morris says:

    “Crops grow better with more warmth, CO2, and rain”
    “Is this the drive to which you refer Tobis.  Is it your position that crops grow better when it’s cold and dry?”
    Actually what is likely to happen is that distribution of heat and rainfall will be pretty radically reorganized, because quite a lot of it is not just distributed evenly by latitude, but in a complicated and rather arbitrary way that could be shifted by a change of a few degrees temperature.  Some parts of the world may get more rain than they can handle, hence flooding and violent storms; others may go from being pretty good growing areas to desserts.

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