The Zero Sum Climate Game

Michael Tobis is to be applauded for being open to the idea of geoengineering,  but he’s delusional if he thinks the climate activist community is also open to it. In my post yesterday, I argued that, for climate activists,

any discussion of climate adaptation is an unwelcome distraction from the debate at hand on mitigation. Why there isn’t room for both discussions to occur beats me.

Tobis says this is a RPJr-ism and

really a very half-baked way of thinking about the [climate] problem. Forcing things under that rubric is simply a distortion.

Now I have no idea what an RPJr-ism is, much less whether I’m guilty of such a thing. Perhaps Tobis or one of Roger’s fans in the climate activist community can define this term for me?

But to the matter at hand, let me direct Tobis back to the same quote from 2020Science that he references. It’s a commentary on the recent Royal Society report on geoengineering, and this is the response that 2020Science predicted (emphasis added):

I suspect that, like most climate change-related reports these days, “Geoengineering the climate: Science, governance and uncertainty” will have ideologues on both sides of the aisle up in arms.  It dares to consider the option of actively engineering the climate on a planetary scale to curb the impacts of global warming, and advocates further research into geoengineering.  In doing so, it will no doubt simultaneously enrage deniers of anthropogenic climate change, and those who fervently maintain that technological fixes are not the solution to the consequences of humanity’s excesses.

The idea that sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere will save us is akin to the hope that a math equation can be solved by erasing one of the numbers.
Now maybe at some point Roberts will write another post discussing why he believes geoengineering should at least be on the table as part of the suite of mitigation & adaptation measures. Until then, I’m sticking with my contention that his approach to the climate change problem reflects that of the climate activist community at large–which is generally dismissive of technological fixes and any discussion of adaptation. That is the true zero sum game at hand.

6 Responses to “The Zero Sum Climate Game”

  1. It’s fair to say that a lot of green types have a negative reaction to promising technological strategies like capture/geological sequestration (usually called CCS). I have argued against David Roberts about this.

    On the other hand I agree with David that we can’t expect to get out of our quandary using an endless suite of workarounds like that. A sustained growth economy on a finite planet is fundamentally unworkable, and we need to start to figure out what to do once growth is over. I think this was the main point of the article you criticized, and I think it was a good point well made.

    If you are critiquing the excessive technophobia of the green bunch, more power to you. But that wasn’t the point of the Roberts piece you criticized.

    My own point is this: if you are trying to create controversy in places where there is none, I don’t think that’s helpful. Let’s try to distinguish between true (desperation-based) geoengineering on the one hand and sequestration strategies on the other. Also, let’s not label them “adaptation” strategies because that confuses existing nomenclature. The point of reporting should be to shed light, and calling these measures “adaptation” sheds dark instead. It does no violence to the colloquial language, but it confuses the language as used by the community.

    Calling the whole problem “global warming” has done enough damage; the scientific community now uses the words very differently from the public, and confusion has been sown on both sides as a result. It would be most helpful to use words in the press the same way they are used in the field.

    Finally, if you think there is a tension between mitigation and adaptation as the academic or the policy communities understand the words, I simply fail to see it.

    All that said, if your point is that green activists are excessively technophobic, I and most other scientists would agree.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Some months ago I wrote a post about this story by Bruce Stutz in Yale 360. Stutz’s piece contained this astonishing quote from Columbia University’s Wallace Broeker:

    “My view is that we’ll be lucky if we can stop CO2 at 600 ppm.  There’s no way we’re going to stop at 450. Impossible. If we’re going to double CO2, we’d better prepare what we’re going to do about it.”

    You know he’s not alone among his peers who think this. Even the High Priests at Real Climate, if you gave them truth serum, would probably say that capping at 450 is the best we can do. But such talk is virtual heresy in climate advocate circles. Why? Because then it lends ammunition to this other competing narrative that we’re doomed anyway, so we might as well start adapting for the wild ride ahead.

    Now if you’re coming at this politically, I can understand why people are reluctant to talk about adaptation. But here’s the thing I don’t get about that tack: you and Romm and other climate advocates always seem to be fighting this rear guard action against the skeptic camp, and their supposed enablers in the media, as if both were the main obstacles to policy and political progress on climate change. (Never mind that this fight is long over, but you guys go on fighting it anyway, I guess because it feels good.)

    Anyway, has it ever occurred to you that the more people talk about  adaptation–as if climate change were a fait accompli–only makes your case for action that much stronger?  If the debate moves from how much is the world warming? and what will the impacts be? to what adaptation measures we should enact, well, I dunno, isn’t that a net plus for the climate advocate community? I mean, instead of playing footsie with Morano once a week, you argue from a position of strength to then say, yeah, we need to do adaptation & mitigation. We can do both.

    But go ahead and look at that one comment I got from the post I reference above. Admittedly, one comment is just one comment, but it’s from a known climate advocate who I believe is represenative of the zero-sum approach to this topic. I’ve seen variations of that attitude from commenters on your blog, from Romm at Climate Progress, and that’s the mindset that I think Roberts had when he wrote his post on geoengineering.

    You guys want to have this larger debate about the limits to the “growth economy,” which is great. I’m all for it. Let me know when China and India are ready to join this debate. Ditto for all the other countries that are eager to gain our standard of living. I suspect that is this what Broeker has in mind when he believes the world will be lucky to cap at 600ppm.

  3. Roger Pielke, Jr says:

    Why does Tobis feel the need to misrepresent my views when they are there for all to see?   here is a comment I just left at his blog:


    Why do you feel it necessary to periodically completely misrepresent my views?

    Here is what I have said recently (for example) on adaptation vs. mitigation:

    “I think that mitigation policies should be completely decoupled from adaptation policies and they should proceed on separate tracks. They are not trade-offs but complements.”

    Are you incapable of reading what I actually write?

    I said as much in a 1998 peer-reviewed paper on the importance of adaptation as a complement to mitigation:

    Is it too much to ask for accuracy in your representation of my views?

  4. delayedoscillator says:

    Wow. ‘High Priests’?   ‘that’s the mindset that I think Roberts had when he wrote his post’?

    This is journalism now, reading minds and sneering at scientists? How sad.

    Michael is correct.  You are trying to create controversy where there is none.  As your quote from Broecker (spelling) hints at, many including scientists recognize the need for both adaptation and mitigation.  It’s clear from your tone that you have some innate disdain for so-called ‘climate advocates’, but building up straw men to knock down doesn’t advance the conversation. But ‘I guess … it feels good’?

  5. Roger Pielke, Jr says:

    Follow up to 3 above, Tobis apologized and corrected his post.  That is classy on his part.

  6. Eli Rabett says:

    Given that Roger has stated that

    “- at _no level_ is only adaptation sufficient. ”

    you had a point?  Or are we playing Roger vs. Roger?

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