Gallup Poll: Climate Change is Least of Concerns

There’s a new Gallup survey on environmental issues that will trigger a round of cheers and jeers in the climate blogosphere, depending on where you align. The main finding:

With Earth Day about a month away, Americans tell Gallup they worry the most about several water-related risks and issues among nine major environmental issues. They worry least about global warming and loss of open spaces.

The responses, as they come in from the two representative climate camps, should be a study in confirmation bias. Take Anthony Watts’ take:

Translation: green dudes, you are losing the public attention. Be thankful for the whacked out messages from people like Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben, Tim Flannery, and Joe Romm, because without them these AGW worry numbers would be far higher.

Doubtful. The American public, a bit distracted by an epic economic collapse and various other natural calamities and wars, isn’t paying much attention to global warming these last few years.

Another reason, as Ezra Klein correctly points out, is that

it’s difficult to persuade people to act on climate change now: unlike the American health-care system or the war in Iraq or even poisoned drinking water, it’s not obviously killing anyone right now.

In its overview, Gallup also notes:

The current levels of public concern about various environmental problems are essentially unchanged from 2010. However, Americans are less worried today than they were 10 years ago about all eight issues Gallup measured in 2001.

Watts, in keeping with his thematic “whacked out” gloss, says that this is “despite the recent shrillness of the environmental message.”

No. What he fails to mention is the larger context that Gallup next provides:

The decline over the past decade spans a period when the public often expressed surging concern about terrorismthe Iraq wargas prices, and the economy.

I’m waiting to hear from the other side of the spectrum that this latest poll is just more evidence that people are lacking all the facts on climate change–that the proper information isn’t getting to the public. (The zombie deficit model cannot be slain!)  Anyone who wants to go to the mat again with that argument should leave a comment and I’ll devote another post this week addressing your case.

101 Responses to “Gallup Poll: Climate Change is Least of Concerns”

  1. Gavin says:

    Keith, please stop with the ‘scientists are so dumb that they still believe in the deficit model!’ line. It’s facile.
     
    In my understanding (but correct me if I’m wrong), the ‘deficit model’ is the idea that scientists think that bringing up the whole population up to speed on the facts will lead to a population that will agree with the scientists on what action to take. However, this idea exists almost exclusively in the writings of non-scientists talking about imaginary scientists. I have never actually met a publicly-active scientist who has agreed with this description of their aims (and yes, I have asked).
     
    Nonetheless, there certainly are many scientists (and journalists I would wager) who think that a population better armed with actual knowledge will likely make better decisions than a population that believes in fairy tales and nonsense – why engage in any kind of public outreach otherwise? Why be a journalist even?
     
    But to equate any effort to increase knowledge and decrease ignorance to a naive aim to remove politics from political decisions is just silly. It smacks of just looking for a reason to blame scientists again.
     
    Whether there would be greater consensus on actions if the depth of knowledge in the public was equal to that in the scientific community is an interesting question, but since it is not (and is unlikely to be any time soon), it is somewhat of a moot point.
     
    Even if it was guaranteed that increasing the level of knowledge would make no difference whatsoever to the political decisions, most scientists (including myself)  would still be advocating for a greater amount of outreach – because (at least in my value system) knowledge is just better than ignorance – regardless of what people do with that knowledge.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Gavin,

    I certainly have never generally referred to all scientists, but I have discussed in previous posts how some climate scientists and climate bloggers continue to insist that a major part of the problem (in terms of raising greater public concern) is due to a lack of information.

    Do I think that journalists and scientists doing outreach have a role to play in communicating information about climate science and climate change? Of course. And there’s plenty of it. One could argue, as Randy Olson has, it’s just not communicated in a compelling manner.

    Now, as it happens, there was quite a bit of discussion about the deficit model (as it relates to the climate change issue) at the recent AAAS panel you participated in and I attended. In his Dot Earth post on that session, here’s Andy Revkin writes of

    “longstanding presumption, like that of many scientists and journalists, that better communication of information will tend to change people’s perceptions, priorities and behavior. This attitude, in my view, crested for climate scientists in the wake of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    In his talk, Thomas Lessl said much of this attitude is rooted in what he and some other social science scholars call “scientism,” the idea “” rooted in the 19th century “” that scientific inquiry is a “distinctive mode of inquiry that promises to bring clarity to all human endeavors.”

  3. I am far form a scientism-ist in Lessl’s sense. To the contrary I have a mystical streak and remain convinced that science can never succeed in completely describing reality. Certainly to my way of thinking pure reason cannot replace the role of the human spirit in ethics or decision making. I would be the last to suggest it could.
     
    Nevertheless, and while I cannot vouch for the proposition that  “Physical scientists continue to operate assuming the deficit model: that lack of societal engagement results from ignorance or lack of information.” as an absolute principle I am willing to defend the proposition  that “Physical scientists continue to operate assuming the deficit model: that lack of societal engagement results TO A CONSIDERABLE DEGREE from ignorance or lack of information.”
     
    I fully support Gavin’s eloquent answer above, and echo his question, as I have done in the past. “a population better armed with actual knowledge will likely make better decisions than a population that believes in fairy tales and nonsense ““ why engage in any kind of public outreach otherwise? Why be a journalist even?”
     
    I would really like to understand how you think about that exact question. Your constant efforts to start a debate in this matter immediately and naturally lead to that question. If you have made an effort to answer it, I have not noticed.
     
    Discussing the idea that “information deficit” is a hindrance to decision making is discussing what to any scientist is a complete tautology. In our experience, better and more compete models almost invariably can be teased out of better and more complete information. This, I would think, cuts across every science. So it’s sort of baffling having this called into question at all, never mind by an expert in public communication and public policy.
     
    Indeed, by arguing that somehow we are ignoring useful results in social science, you yourself are advocating a deficit model. If only those scientists, you plaintively sigh, would take ACCOUNT OF THIS PIECE OF INFORMATION THAT THEY ARE  MISSING…
     
    I assure you that anyone who has paid attention over the past decade is well past thinking the problem is limited to delivering a sufficiently reasoned and evidenced opinion, though many of our most prominent opponents suggest that this is exactly the case. But the fact that this isn’t the whole problem cannot mean it is not part of the problem. Otherwise, what is the role of journalism, what is the role of science, what is the role of reason, indeed, what is the role of facts?
     
    I do not mean these questions as a rhetorical flourish. I do not understand what you think the answer to such questions might be. It’s hard to debate if you don’t know whether your opponent agrees with you or not.
     

  4. Stu says:

    “The decline over the past decade spans a period when the public often expressed surging concern about terrorismthe Iraq wargas prices, and the economy.”

    I can’t speak for the other environmental concerns, but it was my understanding that concerns over AGW really reached a peak shortly around or after the time of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Certainly terrorism and the Iraq war were big issues of the day- I would assume bigger than they are currently. The economic situation however was probably a bit rosier (not that people stop worrying about the economy).

  5. Jack Hughes says:

    Even Dilbert has joined the dark side now…
     
    http://www.dilbert.com/strips/comic/2011-03-29

  6. StuartR says:

    The “deficit model “was new to me so I looked it up and now I think it is very apt, but I may now misuse the term?

    Gavin seems touchy about being called dumb, I personally don’t think he or any of the scientists are.

    If my brother recommended the latest Radiohead album I would be sceptical of his deficit not mine.  (He loves them I hate them) if Hansen is projected as the king of temperature and is well known as a person getting arrested outside coal trains, as he is, then I worry about *his*  deficit not mine. The deficit is seen in the giver, not the taker, whether rightly or wrong.

    All the scientists in climate have the same projected liberal moralistic hectoring stance. It is how they are sold to us all. No one likes that brand right now funnily enough.

    “knowledge is power” is not misunderstood by the public. Now, how to get that knowledge and from whom? Getting that knowledge requires selectivity and trust.
     

    “The American public, a bit distracted by an epic economic collapse and various other natural calamities and wars, isn’t paying much attention to global warming these last few years.”

    I nearly agree with that. Again I will say don’t believe any poll on this subject, so it easy for me to say Watts attribution of  the causality of its results is rubbish and spurious.
    I always wonder about the fact that environmentalism became a better coin to spend during the ascent of wealth and spending in the early 21st C before the crash, it seems never to be debated, I think it is obvious that observing anyone who is still just unblinkingly maintaining the same early 21st anachronistic rhetoric in climate morality helps to sort the wheat from the chaff in who was sailing on that wave of easy money, support and good will, (on both sides) and is about to be subsumed by cut-back reality,
    …oh and surfing a deficit of knowledge – its over, people just always know more about the game as time wears on 😉

  7. kdk33 says:

    The defecit model does not apply.  The argument is not about what we know, it is about what we don’t know

    But many climate scientists imagine their not-knowing to be superior to my not-knowing; and, since they are confused at such a high level, they should make energy and economic choices for the rest of us.  To which I reply: no thank you.  I’m not alone.

  8. David Palmer says:

    My 2 bob’s worth is:
     
    1. Lack of discernable warming past 12-15 years – if it doesn’t start warming soon only accentuates problem for AGW.
     
    2. Too many representing the orthodox (IPCC) consensus overhyped global warming. In Australia Tim Flannery did no service for AGW by rabbiting on about having to get used to droughts forevermore, and now this past year we have had record levels of rainfall ““ doesn’t mean drought won’t return but it sure dampens enthusiasm for the AGW storyline.
     
    3. The problem of what to do long term about the CO2 emissions, especially with the developing world now making all the running – no real way of making deep cuts – just going to have to live with whatever happens seems to be the story.
     

  9. kdk,

    It’s a huge strawman that climate scientists feel that they “should make energy and economic choices for the rest of us.”

    Climate scientists think they may have something to add in helping people understand what’s up with the climate. What choice people make based on that knowledge/understanding, combined with their political outlook, ethics, worldview, etc is of course up to the individual person.

    Typically though, people argue their position against mitigation as if it’s not based on their political outlook, ethics, worldview, etc, but rather as if it’s direcly related to their view of climate science. If that view is at odds with what climate science has come to understand about it, a climate scientists has every right to point that out. 

    If you view that as interference with your energy and economic choices, then don’t argue your energy and economic chocie based on science as a proxy.

  10. charlie says:

    Let me throw out an idea — climate change policy is unpopular because it doesn’t throw out any other linkages.
    What other benefits do we get from a “greener” economy:  less pollution?  Less smog?  Better jobs?   600 billion off our trade deficit?
    But could someone explain to me the benefits of moving to a carbon-free economy?  Programs that are popular serve two or three functions at once.

  11. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Here’s the thing that keeps bothering me: I’m waiting for Randy Olson, the Breakthrough Institute, and so forth to give us empirical evidence that their approaches actually are more effective at stimulating broad public support for action on GHG emissions than the more traditional Al Gore approach.
    I am sympathetic to their POV, and have argued here in support of it, but my assessment is that this argument falls into the “plausible but untested” category and it’s really time for its proponents to step up and test their ideas in practice.

  12. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    One more thought: Keith, if you want to take on the deficit model, why only apply it to global warming? Talking about the deficit model in the context of public perception of the dangers of radioactive emissions from Fukushima might be more interesting and newsworthy.
    Here’s a great quote from Michael Levi to get you started: “When you hear these arguments that pollution from coal plants costs so many thousands of lives compared to minimal or no deaths from nuclear accidents, that may be technically true, but it leaves a lot of people cold. It’s like saying, “˜Don’t pay attention to the twin towers falling; more people die crossing the street,’ “ he said. “Experts should not say, “˜Here’s how you should feel about risk.’ They should be saying, “˜Here are the facts. You decide what matters to you.’ “

  13. Keith Kloor says:

    Jonathan, Michael,
    I’ll respond to your comments in the afternoon–busy this morning.

  14. thingsbreak says:

    @11 Jonathan Gilligan:
    I’m waiting for Randy Olson, the Breakthrough Institute, and so forth to give us empirical evidence that their approaches actually are more effective at stimulating broad public support for action on GHG emissions
     
    The “breakthrough” boys would like people to believe that funding clean energy is a non-partisan position that won’t be attacked from the political right in the way that carbon pricing is. All you have to do is read things like the National Review’s Planet Gore or Reason Magazine to see how absurd this claim is. These are direct, unambiguous refutations of what is ostensibly their main selling point, but I’ve yet to see this addressed by either the “breakthrough” boys themselves, or devotees in the press like Keith and Andy Revkin.

  15. jeffn says:

    I would note that the Gallup survey shows global warming dead last among environmental issues in both 2001 and 2011. As a former journalist, the news out of this poll is that an entire decade of concerted activism and heavy press coverage on the issue – even including two movies – has utterly failed to move the issue higher up in the minds of the population.
    People are less concerned about global warming than they are about urban sprawl- in both 2001 and 2011. When was the last time you read about the dangers of urban sprawl?
    You can’t even take solace in trying to shoe-horn global warming into one of the other lines (AGW is sorta an “air pollution” issue). The top three are pollution of drinking water, lakes and soil- none of which is an AGW bugaboo.
    Take it another way- if you want to run for political office on a green theme, you’d be best off talking about everything except carbon dioxide.
     

  16. thingsbreak says:

    @9 Bart:
    If you view that as interference with your energy and economic choices, then don’t argue your energy and economic chocie based on science as a proxy.
     
    Well put. The Republican leadership in the US Senate is doing just that today, as Senators Inhofe and McConnell are attaching amendments to the budget legislation that would gut the Clean Air Act- justified in part by their denial of the scientific evidence of anthropogenic impacts on climate.

  17. StuartR says:

    “science as a proxy”

    Gawd bless!  I love that. Science used as a proxy, who would have thought?

    Of course the habit of engineering discourse so it seems discussions on science are merely a proxy for influencing policy  must only be the creation, and fault, of sceptical people 😉

    /sarc

    I see most scientists on TV as crypto policy makers. Tell me why I am wrong and who isn’t?

  18. kdk33 says:

    Bart,

    It may be that many or even most climate scientists approach their communication as you say – I didn’t intend to use too braod a brush. 

    OTOH, it seems clear to me tha some, especially those most vocal, are less communicating science and more communicating a rational for their preferred energy policy: decarbonization.

  19. kdk33 says:

    TB,

    Speaking of strawmen. 

    Republicans want to thwart the EPA’s attempt to regulate CO2.  That is very different than “republicans don’t care about pollution”, which is an increasingly occuring theme.

    It should be obvious why CO2 is different from ordinary air pollutants, both from a science and policy perspective.  CO2 regulation should have remained a legislative matter.

  20. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @kdk33: “CO2 regulation should have remained a legislative matter.”
    This does not address Mass v. EPA, wherein the Supreme Court read the extant legislation and concluded that it requires EPA to treat CO2 as a pollutant. EPA has no choice in the matter. Congress legislated and EPA has to follow the law.
    So what you’re arguing against is not EPA’s “attempt to regulate CO2,” but EPA’s actions in complying with a Supreme Court determination that it is legislatively required to deal with CO2 whether it wants to or not.

  21. kdk33 says:

    Yes Jonathan, I’m aware of all that.

    Never-the-less, CO2 is clearly different from other ordinary air pollutants.  It would be best if CO2 remained a legislative matter and the EPA was left to deal with the other, more ordinary, air pollutants.

    This is what republicans are attempting to correct. 

  22. NewYorkJ says:

    Good post (except for the last paragraph). 

    I suppose it’s Al Gore and Joe Romm’s fault for the drop in concern over urban sprawl and loss of open space.  Give Watts a break.  He was involved in a figurative train wreck yesterday.

    One way to get Americans less concerned about environmental issues is to destroy the economy, squeeze the working class, and start various wars, and politicians have done a good job on all fronts over the last decade.

    As for the consistent differences between global warming concern and other environmental issues like drinking water, it’s mainly the perception of short-term vs long-term problems.  It’s not an indication of support or opposition to greenhouse gas reductions.

  23. Keith Kloor says:

    kdk33 (21)

    You’re aware of it, but you’re not addressing iit.

  24. thingsbreak says:

    @22 NewYorkJ:
    As for the consistent differences between global warming concern and other environmental issues like drinking water, it’s mainly the perception of short-term vs long-term problems.  It’s not an indication of support or opposition to greenhouse gas reductions.
     
    This is more or less born out by research from Jon Krosnick at Standford. When you change the questions to ask people what long term problems are important if left unchecked, you get very different prioritizing than you do if you ask the questions the way Gallup typically does.

  25. Keith Kloor says:

    NewYorkJ (22): “As for the consistent differences between global warming concern and other environmental issues like drinking water, it’s mainly the perception of short-term vs long-term problems.  It’s not an indication of support or opposition to greenhouse gas reductions.”

    This is true, but there’s something else at work, as well, what Columbia University’s Elke Weber calls the “finite pool of worry” and the “compared to what…” syndromes. I recently attended a conference where she gave a talk on these themes, and I’m preparing a related post to go up tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, a few years back, her work was featured in an excellent New York Times magazine article called “The Green Mind,” which I discussed here.

  26. StuartR says:

    If arsenic, mercury or radioactive iodine is in your water then it *is* a problem quite early on ( I think). You can follow a train of reasoning where eventually someone will show some lab work that demonstrates innate pathology.
    Pathology by definition.

    CO2 on the other hand has *definition* as its cause celebre. It needs redefining.

    And all sorts of lovely scientist, we now see on telly, tell us stuff about why we should be impressed by their hours spent in college designed to persuade us all of the fact that the stuff we and our cat breathes out is pollution.

    Good luck with that 😉

  27. Pascvaks says:

    There’s more than one reason to “Kill the Messenger”.
    a.  You don’t like the message, and you just have to take it out on someone.  Right?
    b.  You don’t like the messenger and the message is really quite immaterial to the issue of killing the messenger.
    c.  You have to kill someone and, hay, this fool isn’t one of your people so what the heck, why not?
    d.  You think… the messenger is just using the message as an opportunity to see inside your tent, assess your defenses and find out where the guards are posted so he can come back that night and steal you blind, rape your daughter, and write bad things with spraypaint on the side of your tent, soooooo… you might as well kill him now as later.
    e.  The messenger talks down to you, speaks as if he knows sooooo much more than you do, and wears tooo much aftershave.  He’s “one of them” and since there’s too many of them, you might as well kill the messenger.
    f.  The messenger lives in New York City and everyone from your neck of the woods knows that nothing good comes from New York City, soooo..
    g.  The messenger didn’t bow low enough when he came into the room, soooo…
    h.  The messenger parts his hair wrong, sooo..
    i.  You name it (______), sooooo… 

    Science is sooooo much easier than people things.  Everyone talks about “people” but very few do anything about them.

  28. kdk33 says:

    @kk & JG

    Sorry, let me try again.  CO2 is different than other ordinary pollutants.  CO2 is a problem of a scope and scale the EPA was not intended to address.  The law should be changed so that the EPA is left to deal with ordinary pollutants and CO2 remains a legislative matter.

    Once the law is changed Mass vs EPA decision becomes mute.

  29. Keith Kloor says:

    @28

    But that’s your interpretation. The Supreme Court sees it differently.

  30. NewYorkJ says:

    The law should be changed so that the EPA is left to deal with ordinary pollutants

    I thought the argument was that greenhouse gases WERE ordinary.

    designed to persuade us all of the fact that the stuff we and our cat breathes out is pollution.

    It’s not that difficult to understand.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-pollutant-advanced.htm

  31. kdk33 says:

    Keith,

    So what.

    I’ve made no comment (on this thread anyway) regarding the rightness or wrongness of the supreme court decision.

    The supreme court interprets law.  Their interpretation of existing law differs from what I think is appropriate (and perhaps what the justices think is appropriate – they interpret law, but don’t make or change law).  I want the law changed to reflect what I think is appropriate. 

    If you think CO2 regulation is an appropriate EPA function, then you do not want the law changed; we can each write our congresspersons.

  32. StuartR says:

    I am not an American and too lazy to look but does the EPA have some system of measuring the efficacy of its work?

    If sea level rise keeps, er, rising will the EPA disband 😉

  33. kdk33 says:

    @NYJ,

    that was actually mildy amusing.

  34. Tom Gray says:

    re 29
     
    KK writes
     
    ==============

    28
    But that’s your interpretation. The Supreme Court sees it differently.
    ============
     
    In the US: the Dred Scot decision
    In the UK: the Taff Vale decision
    Supreme courts do come to decisions that people later regret and are later reversed

  35. Tom Gray says:

    Dred Scott Decision from Wikipedia
     
    Don’t rely on Supreme Court decisions to be the last word
     
    =============

    Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants,[2] whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens.[3] The court also held that the U.S. Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattels or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process. The Supreme Court’s decision was written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.
    Although the Supreme Court has never overruled the Dred Scott case, the Court stated in the Slaughter-House Cases of 1873 that at least one part of it had already been overruled by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868:[4]

    The first observation we have to make on this clause is, that it puts at rest both the questions which we stated to have been the subject of differences of opinion. It declares that persons may be citizens of the United States without regard to their citizenship of a particular State, and it overturns theDred Scott decision by making all persons born within the United States and subject to its jurisdiction citizens of the United States.
    ========================

  36. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom Gray (34),

    Duly acknowledged. And I’m sure some people feel that this rulingg (which Supreme Court scholars have scorned) is one that many people (including some on this thread) have regretted since it was handed down.

  37. Dean says:

    I am of the general opinion that all the energy over AGW is mostly invisible to most of the public, and that the opinions cited have little to do with anything any of us are saying one way or the other. So I think I’m more in agreement with Keith here.
     
    As to the deficit model, I don’t discount it completely, and of course more good information is always a benefit. But there is no guarantee that people will pay attention. What with Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Japan, and even Wisconsin domestically (which is now overshadowed), the last few months have had a saturation of intense news. Lot’s of important stuff is getting crowded out. And many people are still struggling economically, and probably will for a long time.
     
    And as to: “The law should be changed so that the EPA is left to deal with ordinary pollutants and CO2 remains a legislative matter.” If the legislature was willing, there would be little debate here. Even for most climate hawks, the EPA is at best a fallback. The real public debate is not whether the EPA or Congress is better suited to address AGW, it’s whether it should be addressed at all.

  38. Stu says:

    When you look at the Gallup figures for Climate Change, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference of concern between this and the last decade.
     
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/146606/Concerns-Global-Warming-Stable-Lower-Levels.aspx
     
    Again, like Judith Curry’s quote that the ‘public perception of climate science remains in tatters’ – I think Anthony is looking at things from a different perspective- that of an engaged public (or to put it another way, people who are interested in climate change and who have an internet connection). His indicators, including winning a blog science award and his increased popularity, may indeed have contributed to confirmation bias and a conflation of the blogosphere and the public in general. I guess I don’t really blame him- he’s coming from a pretty unique positon/perspective, being the guy running the ‘world’s most viewed climate website’.

  39. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Stuart R (#32): EPA does assess the effectiveness of its work. It’s required to do so by, among other things, Executive Orders 12291, 12498, and 12866. For an example of its assessments, see here: http://www.epa.gov/air/sect812/
    The EPA’s effectiveness is also regularly assessed by OIRA, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget.
    The upshot of these assessments is that EPA’s clean air regulations are extraordinarily cost-effective and produce economic benefits far greater than the cost of complying with them.

  40. charlie says:

    @Jonathan Gilligan; as someone who’s read and done far too many regulatory analysis for regulations, let me tell you — they are all crap.

    The only issue is whether a reg is going to be challenged for a reg. analysis and if a court would slow it down.

  41. StuartR says:

    @Jonathan Gilligan

    Thanks. Off course you may have guessed that I guessed that historically the EPA may have been measured and be seen to be succesfully measured and useful.

    My main point in my opaque point is that there now seems (to me, correct me if I am wrong) some required CO2 regulation which is explicitly associated with sea level.

    Sea level has been rising by every definition and every metric in every period in human scientific observation. It is accepted as rising by all people, how does the EPA measure its influence on that?

    If I had a job to observe that the Sun was rising (which it has by every definition and every metric in every period in human scientific observation ) I would be employed forever. Or until I died 😉

  42. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Charlie: There’s a lot of crap, but it’s by no means all crap. You can learn a lot from a good ex-post regulatory analysis about what works, what doesn’t, and how to do it better next time.
    Similarly, regulatory effectiveness analyses of the cap-and-trade provision for sulfur emissions in the 1990 amendments to the CAA was very significant and really opened people’s eyes to the potential for market-based regulatory mechanisms.
    Another place where I see real substance: the fact that under the leadership of John Graham, who’s generally tremendously hostile to regulation, OIRA found that the benefits of EPA’s clean air regs exceeded the costs by a large multiple was very significant.

  43. Keith Kloor says:

    Michael Tobis/Gavin: “I fully support Gavin’s eloquent answer above, and echo his question, as I have done in the past. “a population better armed with actual knowledge will likely make better decisions than a population that believes in fairy tales and nonsense ““ why engage in any kind of public outreach otherwise? Why be a journalist even?”

    This is a false choice.

    As has been noted many times already, there are impressive blocs of people who believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago; who believe that autism is caused by vaccines; who believe in healing crystals, reincarnation, etc. No amount of factual information is going to dissuade them.

    But I still think it’s important and necessary that journalists and science-minded bloggers write about evolutionary biology, the public health threat from anti-vaccine attitudes, the sham promises peddled by New Agers, and so on. There is a public service element to this journalism that is important in of itself.

    Now, the climate issue is a bit more complicated because as Gavin has said himself, the science is mostly used as a proxy for political reasons. (That cuts both ways, though, which I haven’t heard him say. Please correct me, Gavin, if I’m wrong.)

    So right away, let’s just assume that anything Michael Tobis or Gavin or the most scruplously unbiased climate repoerter writes is going to fall on deaf ears with anyone who strongly identifies with WUWT, Morano’s corner, and the Tea Party.

    Who does that leave you with to “arm with actual knowledge”? Democrats? Aren’t most of them on board already? Who does that leave? Independents and everyone else who watches Snooki.

    I’m crudely simplifying but you get the equation, I hope.

    The larger point about communication that Michael and Gavin miss is this: plenty of information is getting out there–it’s just not interesting and/or relevant enough to rise above the sea of information that rolls over the average person everyday–who, let’s not forget–is already consumed with life’s daily responsibilities.

    How to break though this? It’s been suggested elsewhere that compelling stories will get you part way there (which I happen to agree with).

    Meanwhile, I think it’s important to engage in the daily conversation, which is all I intend with this blog. I’m confident that my work outside this blog has usefully contributed to an incrementally more informed citizenry. I hope to do much more and indeed, will have a modest opportunity to do so shortly. More on that this Friday.

  44. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @StuartR: It’s not explicitly tied to sea level. Plenty of other impacts also contribute to the determination. Sea level is just one of many impacts: from the case syllabus, “global warming threatens, inter alia, a precipitate rise in sea levels, severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems, a significant reduction in winter snowpack with direct and important economic consequences, and increases in the spread of disease and the ferocity of weather events.”  The court also noted that the respondent did not challenge the petitioners’ affidavits attesting that anthropogenic global warming had caused a dramatic and measurable acceleration of sea-level rise in the late 20th century.
    Finally, your point about past sea level is silly and irrelevant: people have been getting lung cancer since the dawn of time, but that was no reason not to do something about smoking. People have been suffering asthma by every definition and metric in every period of human scientific observation (it was named by Hippocrates around 450 BC), but that has no bearing on whether it’s a good idea to regulate the air pollution that contributes to asthma.

  45. StuartR says:

    Mr. Jonathon Gilligan you seem to be the best and most extraordinary person here who knows and explains EPA history. Can you reply to me and tell me how they (the EPA)  will know their CO2 regulations will effect sea level?
     
    This the EPA’s most interesting position and you are not dealing with it. Quite strange for a yank I thought you guys could do that.
     
    Deal with it 😉

  46. Keith Kloor says:

    Gavin, FYI: someone else being “facile”:

    “Yup, that’s right””deficit model thinking about why the public doesn’t accept science flies in the face of, you know, science.”

    –from Chris Mooney’s latest post, titled, “Ignorant about Ignorance.”

    If he wanted to be more provocative, he could have called it “In denial about climate denial.”

    Now, it so happens that I disagree with lots of things Chris writes. But not on this. Indeed, he beat me to the punch in writing about this commentary in Nature Climate Change.

  47. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Keith (#43):  Let’s pick up with your comment about belief in creationism. Is it important that 66 percent of Americans think “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”? There’s no policy that rests on whether the public believes in creationism, so interest in filling an information deficit about evolution is not some kind of attempt to force a policy agenda on the public. And yet, both scientists and science journalists care a lot that most of the public is so badly misinformed about the scientific basis of evolution.
    You’re correct that simply providing facts won’t make a damned bit of difference to most folks’ belief in creationism—that’s the problem with the information deficit model. So it is worthwhile to ask how effective Randy Olson’s treatment has been at addressing belief in creationism. And Keith: in your professional work, as an engaged journalist, what approaches have you tried and how well have they worked?
     
    It’s easy to toss rocks at the deficit model, but I’d like to see this discussion move away from that and toward an evidence-based consideration of what actually does work.  You and Olson like stories, but if the public gets both truthful stories and phony propaganda, it needs some way to tell whom to believe other than simply following the side with the most emotionally gripping tales to tell. Has anyone looked at whether telling good stories is effective at helping people sort out fact from nonsense, or at changing minds about factual matters?

  48. StuartR says:

    @Jonathan Gilligan

    Inter alia schmalia 😉

    Hippocrates said- first be sure you do no harm… interventon with ellaborations may be bad 😉
     

  49. Keith Kloor says:

    Jonathan (47),

    I only have time for a quick comment (its kids time).

    My contention is that we don’t really have an information problem. (Again, that doesn’t negate the importance/rationale for journalism. Or the need to continually provide accurate information on climate science, especially as a counter to those who deliberately mislead for political purposes).

    But if your aim is to meaningfully engage a broader public, so that climate change rises to an issue of tangible concern, then you have to do it in ways that connect with people. Or make it real to them. Throughout history, this has been done through storytelling.

    So I submit that we need more compelling stories on a human level.

    Now, how have I done this with my own work? Well, I only have time for one quick example. See this story I wrote a decade ago. At the time, there was a huge policy/political debate in New York City about what to do with our garbage–skyrocketing costs, environmental issues, etc.

    But who gives a shit about garbage? Certainly not the average person. Out of sight, out of mind.

    So I made it my mission to tell a story that would make people care about garbage. What impact did it have. I have no way of knowing, but it was probably negligible. Still, on some level, I hope I helped people think about the issue in a way they hadn’t before.

    I’d say the same thing has to happen with climate change–and to a larger degree, energy. The need is for better stories–not false ones, hyped ones– just more engaging, so people can grapple with it on a human level.

  50. Paul Kelly says:

    Gavin alludes here and has correctly said elsewhere that the conflicts of climate science are political. I assume he uses political in its broadest sense. Therefore, deficit model is a fascinating subject, but it explains a problem that is either nonexistent or irrelevant.

  51. Andy says:

    Keith,
     
    I watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when I was a kid and it had an effect on me that’s still with me. Maybe what climate science needs is a Carl Sagan.

  52. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Keith. Agreed about the need for stories (and I really enjoyed reading your garbage odyssey; thanks for the link), but they’re only one piece of the puzzle. When I was a graduate student, one of my favorite things about going to conferences would be finding a way to buttonhole senior scientists and buy them beers while asking them for their personal stories: How did you get into this area of research? What made you pick this question? I always felt that knowing what made the person tick gave me a much better sense of how to understand his science—not just what did he do, but why did he do it this way instead of that way, and why didn’t he do some other thing.
     
    Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Climate and Man” series in the New Yorker (aka “Field Notes from a Catastrophe”) was brilliant in telling compelling stories about climate change. I’m also very much taken by Robert Kunzig’s way of making Wally Broecker’s scientific work into a riveting personal story in “Fixing Climate.” And Mark Bowen doing the same for Lonnie Thompson in “Thin Ice.” And while they’re probably not page-turners for the general public, I found Richard Alley’s personal history in “Two Mile Time Machine” and Steven Schneider’s in “Science as a Contact Sport” utterly fascinating.
     
    Same goes for evolutionary theory as told by Jerry Coyne in “Why Evolution is True” and Neil Shubin in “Your Inner Fish.”
     
    The problem is that Michael Crichton was also a great storyteller—much better than practically any scientist or journalist. And a lot of people I encounter find his version of climate change more compelling. At some point we need to go beyond the compelling stories and give people a reason to believe the true story over the artful lie. There is a lot of material out there that puts climate change in the context of gripping personal stories. That’s not enough.
     
    We don’t have an information problem with climate change or evolution in the sense that people can’t get the information, but we do have an information problem in the sense that people don’t look at it or do look, but don’t believe it. Stories can help with the don’t look at it problem, but then we’re still stuck with the don’t believe it part.
     
    And I think the disconnect between you and both Gavin and Michael on this may be that you’re focusing on the “don’t look” part while they’re focusing on the “look but don’t believe” part.

  53. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @StuartR: #48 I couldn’t have said it better: Intervening in the climate system by quadrupling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere may be bad.
    There are risks in regulating CO2 and there are risks in not regulating it. How can you be sure that the risks of regulating it are worse than the risks of not regulating it?

  54. David44 says:

    @47 Jonathan:  …66% of Americans think God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.  Huh?  Let’s not make it any worse than it already is, eh?
    From the article you linked to:  43% of Americans choose the alternative closest to the creationist perspective, that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
    Also from the same paper:
    Yes, believe in evolution: 49%  No, don’t believe in evolution: 48%

    @36 KK  – not to mention “Citizens United”.

    2

  55. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Andy (#51): Here’s Carl Sagan on global warming: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ5u-l9Je0s
     
    And here, as a bonus, is a mashup of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan (in separate clips) talking about Earth, Venus, the greenhouse effect, and global warming, courtesy of Peter Sinclair’s “Climate Denial Crock of the Week.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu1PicT0TMU

  56. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @David44: from the article: When asked whether they believe, “Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years,” 39% responded “definitely true” and 27% responded “probably true,” for a total of 66% who believed that young-earth creationism was either definitely or probably true.

    When they break this down, they find that 24% believe in both evolution and young-earth creationism, 41% believe in that creationism is true and evolution false, 28% believe that evolution is true and creationism is false, and 3% either believe that neither is true or have no opinion.

  57. Keith Kloor says:

    Jonathan (52):

    Oh, I definitely recognize that more engaging stories are only one piece of the puzzle (but a crucial one). Paul Kelly puts his finger on another crucial piece, I believe: “For best results, the basic message should appeal to the broadest spectrum of people and contain the least potential for controversy.”

    That means finding a common thread that knits disparate groups together. Energy is the one that Paul and Andy Revkin and others suggest, but there’s tremendous pushback on that from those who want to keep climate the focal point. It’s a debate worth having.

  58. David44 says:

    Might this be how the public hears climate science communication?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-E1BBk919rM

  59. Tom Gray says:

    Wasn’t RealClimate founded to answer questions and build public support fro AGW measures?
     
    Why has it failed so abysmally?
     

  60. Tom Gray says:

    re 57
     
    =========
    Oh, I definitely recognize that more engaging stories are only one piece of the puzzle (but a crucial one). Paul Kelly puts his finger on another crucial piece, I believe: “For best results, the basic message should appeal to the broadest spectrum of people and contain the least potential for controversy.”
    ==========

    People do have minds of their own. They will quickly see through all of this and realize that they are being gamed. Why not just try to be candid with them.

    Try telling them this. There is a realistic issue that AGW could cause serious consequences However, reconstructions are plagued by too short a calibration period and noisy proxies. They are all equally bad. Climate models are in an early stage of development and predictions from them have little probative value. Improvements in them are possible but limited. We are then left with an issue that we have a viable scientific issue that could be of significant consequently but there is little prospect of scientists providing a definitive answer. What should we do?

    If you trust people with candor they will understand it (contra many climate scientists who think the public is stupid). The RealClimate answer of pretending that scientists are omniscient and peer review is without flaws is obviously not working. They and others have so poisoned the well now that regaining the public’s trust for this issue will be very difficult.

    During the last election in Canada, the Liberal Party proposed a carbon tax to address AGW. It then came out from their candidates’ discussions that the real purpose of the carbon tax was to transfer wealth from the newly rich oil producing ares to Toronto to shore up that regions declining fortunes. Toronto is the home base of the Liberal Party and is suffering as its manufacturing base withers. As a result of this, there is no possibility of a carbon tax being enacted in Canada in the foreseeable future.

  61. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom Gray (60): “They and others have so poisoned the well now that regaining the public’s trust for this issue will be very difficult.”

    What public are you referring to? I’ve asked this question of Willis over at Judith Curry’s site, and his answer is based on his own “observations.”

    On what basis do you infer that the public’s trust was ever lost to begin with? And by “public” I’m referring not to the one represented in the climate blogosphere, but the general public.

  62. intrepid_wanders says:

    All this bluster about communication of science and the “right thing to do”, and yet, all of us let another Dred Scott decision go through.  Giving corporations citizenship to any nation is reprehensible.  I may give it a second thought if 95% of it’s manufacturing/production/service employees resided in the nation and they paid taxes, but that is not the case for GE.  I am amazed the Green Party types has not issues with their wind turbines.
     
    Damned, sad, state of affairs…

  63. Keith Grubb says:

    Someone ask this kid what he thinks of AGW? I’m going with whatever he says.

    http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011103200369

  64. Keith Grubb says:

    Me @63

    Just joking, if he says that AGW is happening, I’m sticking with my conformation bias, and claim he’s a fraud, LOL.

  65. Stu says:

    What public are you referring to? I’ve asked this question of Willis over at Judith Curry’s site, and his answer is based on his own “observations.”

    You did see the New Statesman piece on the ’50 people who matter’- where Steve McIntyre got the most attention in comments? The 50 most important people in the world, right now… and Steve M is getting the most attention. I would say that public.

  66. JD Ohio says:

    KK #29 Mass. v. EPA
    If the underlying statute is changed to exclude CO2, Mass. v EPA automatically falls because all that the court held was that a particular statute authorized the EPA to issue regulations.  If that statute is amended, the Supreme Court decision becomes moot and irrelevant.
    JD

  67. Stu says:

    PS- I’m not saying you’re wrong Keith when you point out that Watts and Willis are overstating their reach. But I do think you’re in error if you want to claim that the blogosphere is having no effect or is of little significance. In my mind, what is really being highlighted is the division between media types. The MSM has so far been very uninterested in the Steve M story-  for someone in the top 50 of people who ‘matter’ in the world today, that in itself is pretty interesting. Why does Steve M matter so much in one media and remains a complete unknown in another?

  68. Jack Hughes says:

    What kind of “engaging stories” are we talking about here ?
    Have any “engaging stories” been told yet or are they for the future?
     
    What were they and did they work?

  69. Tom Gray says:

    re 61
     
    KK writes
     
    ==================
    On what basis do you infer that the public’s trust was ever lost to begin with? And by “public” I’m referring not to the one represented in the climate blogosphere, but the general public
    .==========
    Peilke Junior has shown the the public attitude for action on AGW is large and as great as on many other issues for which action has been taken. And yet no action is taken. I suppose that this is evidence enough.

  70. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom (69),

    And as Andy Revkin has said noted, that support is broad but shallow, like “waves sloshing in a pan.”

    More on the sloshing in a post coming up this morning.

  71. Tom Gray says:

    re 70
     
    KK writes
     
    ================
    And as Andy Revkin has said noted, that support is broad but shallow, like “waves sloshing in a pan.
    ==============

    Or as Peilke Junior contends, it is competing with some very deep concerns of the public.

    Somebody considering green taxes will also be considering how these will affect the livelihood of his family. How is he going to pay for his children’s education. Will these measures trigger inflation that will wipe out his savings? These are major concerns that are not going to be considered lightly

    The green recommendations are to enact taxes etc. that will put people’s livelihoods in danger. “Experts” say that these measures will not affect prosperity. Similar “experts” stated that ethanol mandates would not affect the price of food. Some “experts” who state the need for austerity do this while living in multiple homes in exclusive areas and flying from place to place in their private jets
     
     

  72. Matt B says:

    Jonathan #52

    The problem is that Michael Crichton was also a great storyteller””much better than practically any scientist or journalist. And a lot of people I encounter find his version of climate change more compelling. At some point we need to go beyond the compelling stories and give people a reason to believe the true story over the artful lie.

    You are correct, Crichton was a great storyteller. A question – why do you characterize his position on climate change an “artful lie?””As far as I know he had no reason to lie, and he certainly seemed intelligent enough to be able to take a long look at the theory & data supporting AGW and come up with an independently developed informed opinion. I can also see other intelligent individuals, looking at the very same material, and coming up with a quite different opinion. That’s the way the marketplace of ideas rolls…..

    My questions are, what position taken by Crichton were artful lies? Were all of his opinions on climate change artful lies, or just some? And what was his motivation to lie? 

  73. Tom Gray says:

    re 72
     
    In Europe the AGW issue was seen as a means of creating a pan-European issue and therefore a pan-European identity to address it.  In the UK, it was framed as a means of diminishing the power of the coal miners’ unions and therefore diminishing the perverse influence of the unions on the need to modernize the economy. These are examples of the “artful lie”. it is the way narratives are created to drive public opinion.
     
    Now AGW mitigation proponents have rediscovered the idea of narrative and the artful lie and are attempting to find a compelling one that will suit their purpose. That this has failed in the past does not discourage them.
     
    On the other hand, if we are to move beyond this to the”truth” about AGW, we are going to have to define just what the “truth” is. Maybe if we tell the public that AGW is a serious issue that deserves equal consideration to health, security, prosperity etc, they will respond. Maybe we can accept that people have other concerns than AGW

  74. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @MattB #72:  I say “artful lie” because when I read State of Fear, I looked up a lot of the papers he cited in his copious footnotes and found that many of them didn’t say what Crichton said they said. Not remotely. One example: the infamous 300 percent error of which he accuses Hansen on pp. 246-7.
     
    It’s fine to write fiction, but when you name real people’s names, cite real papers that they write, and then misrepresent those individuals’ words in order to make them look bad, that’s lying, not poetic license.
     
    I couldn’t read Crichton’s mind while he was alive, much less long after his death, so I can’t give motives. All I can do is look at the facts and the facts are clear that he lied.
     
    It’s also worth noting that he stole a bunch of ideas from Richard Lindzen’s “Science and Politics: Global Warming as Eugenics” and passed them off as his own in an Appendix to SoF. In both the scholarly world I inhabit and the literary one in which Crichton lived, that’s called plagiarism and is a serious matter. Once again, I can’t fathom his motive for not crediting Lindzen for the ideas but whatever his reasons were, it’s clear that he plagiarized.

  75. Michael Tobis says:

    I am amused by #64.
     
    It is interesting to contemplate the difference between confimation bias and conformation bias.
     

  76. Michael Tobis says:

    Keith #57: Paul Kelly puts his finger on another crucial piece, I believe: “For best results, the basic message should appeal to the broadest spectrum of people and contain the least potential for controversy.”
    That means finding a common thread that knits disparate groups together. Energy is the one that Paul and Andy Revkin and others suggest, but there’s tremendous pushback on that from those who want to keep climate the focal point. It’s a debate worth having.
     
    Yow. That seems like a knowledge deficit to me.
     
    It is entirely feasible to solve the energy problem in a way that makes the climate problem worse, and vice versa. These are closely related issues, but pretending they are the same thing, and that solving one is the same as the other, is incorrect, facile and dangerous. If as journalists and/or as scientists we feel that truth itself is a necessary component of sound decisions, we should not be making claims that are not actually true.
     
    If a political movement makes such a claim, they should be corrected or defeated, because they are incompetent to address some of the most important long term problems.
     
    So in the end I don’t know how to address what Keith perceives as our disagreement. Until I convince him that you can’t solve problem A by pretending it is part of problem B I think he himself is misframing the issue. It is little wonder we can;t agree what to do about it.
     
    It is a fundamental error to call this an example of “tremendous pushback on that from those who want to keep climate the focal point”!

    Energy is an equally important focus, of course. And of course there are several other long-range sustainability issues as well. This isn’t about trying to hog the spotlight. That’s an absurd characterization of the goal. Getting the most basic understanding of the various pieces of the sustainability situation into the public consciousness and thence into a sane policy is the goal, and climate is not a piece that can be neglected or cloaked under a separate topic.

    I think if people are happy to go around substituting a separate problem for climate, there is a knowledge deficit that is consequential. Call me stubborn or call me thickheaded, but I can’t see any way around that.

  77. Keith Grubb says:

    @ 75
    Dude that is awesome. You’re smarter than the average neo-primative. I think “Conformation Shows”, is a good description of climate science peer review.

  78. Paul Kelly says:

    MT’s objections to “variety of reasons” rationale for action are unfounded. As noted, the purpose of this broad based rationale is not so much a means of convincing the unconvinced as a way to bring the convinced together. It does not neglect or discount climate concerns or those engendered by other equally valid reasons to pursue the common goal of replacing carbon based energy.
    On to specifics. “It is entirely feasible to solve the energy problem in a way that makes the climate problem worse, and vice versa.” I can think of no scenario of replacing carbon based energy that does not accomplish CO2 emission reduction. On the flip side, reductions in CO2 emissions depend almost entirely on actually replacing carbon.  I’d be happy to hear more from MT on this.
     
     

  79. Tom Gray says:

    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/anxiety-choice-versus-tyranny-others-choosing-us
     
    This posting from Matt Ridley has obvious application to the issue being discussed here
     
    ===================
    Their well-intentioned ‘public good’ examples illustrate the problem of the ‘science gap’ between academics and the general public. Scientists often suffer from expert bias and assume their expertise in their own field also gives them a proficiency in totally unrelated areas like economics and political science. Add in group reinforcement from their peers and you have a group of politically and religiously homogenized people who have very different ideas from you and I on what exactly ‘the public good’ means.
    =======================

  80. PDA says:

    “It is entirely feasible to solve the energy problem in a way that makes the climate problem worse, and vice versa.” I can think of no scenario of replacing carbon based energy that does not accomplish CO2 emission reduction.
     
    It is entirely feasible to solve the energy problem without replacing carbon based energy… cf. “clean coal,” biofuels, etc.
     
    On the flip side, reductions in CO2 emissions depend almost entirely on actually replacing carbon.
     
    Why thank you, Captain Obvious. I would say it’s the “replacing carbon” part that’s actually the question of interest. “On to specifics,” as you say. Replacing carbon with what? By what mechanism? On what timeframe? I think you’ll find very little argument with the idea that “replacing carbon” is a good thing. Until the pixie-dust-fueled perpetual motion machine actually arrives, though, the question is how any alternative can be made cost-competitive with carbon-based fuels.
     
    I’d be happy to hear more from Paul Kelly on this.

  81. Paul Kelly says:

    PDA nails it that the number one impediment to energy transformation is price competitiveness. However, the history of most technologies is affordable only to the few in the beginning, affordable to the many over time.
    Indeed, replacing carbon is actually the question of interest. That’s exactly the point I’m making. The mechanism is the aggregation of individual actions effecting fossil fuel replacement. The time frame is 35 – 50 years, starting now.
    ” cf. “clean coal,” biofuels, etc.” Clean coal is desired as a CO2 mitigation. Biofuels don’t replace carbon. They merely substitute one kind of carbon for another.
     

  82. PDA says:

    Paul, I generally try to avoid posting two snarky comments in a row, so I hope you can appreciate that my reaction is genuinely one of confusion.
     
    I am all for your call: “on to specifics.” From where I stand, though, “pursue the common goal of replacing carbon based energy,” “reductions in CO2 emissions depend almost entirely on actually replacing carbon,” and “the mechanism [for fossil fuel replacement] is the aggregation of individual actions effecting fossil fuel replacement” are about as antithetical to “specific” as any statement I can think of… short of “some things exist, and some things do not,” I suppose.
     
    If there is to be some alternative to carbon pricing as a way of phasing out carbon-based fuels, I am afraid that it is going to have to be much more concrete than “the history of most technologies is affordable only to the few in the beginning, affordable to the many over time.”
     
    I would be glad to be disabused of this notion.

  83. Paul Kelly says:

    PDA,
    Feel free to snark away to your hearts content. What would the internet be without snark? On to specifics in # 78 referred to the specifics of MT’s objections.
    The quote Keith linked to in # 57  “For best results, the basic message should appeal to the broadest spectrum of people and contain the least potential for controversy.” comes from a discussion over several threads at Bart’s about framing a message to put the focus on achieving goals rather than arguing over the reasons the goals are important.
     
    I suggested this:
    For a variety of reasons, fossil fuel use should be replaced in this century, the faster the better. For the first time in history, the technology exists to begin to make it happen. Are current technologies now available at a scale and price sufficient to replace fossil? No, but they are sufficient to begin what is indeed a 35 ““ 50 year process. The idea is to start now with what we have. Energy transformation is best done and is being done from the bottom up.
    I think the part worth discussing here is energy transformation is best done and is being done from the bottom up. Whenever anyone brings up carbon pricing, I wonder what evidence exists that such pricing will be implemented in the next two, five or even ten years. Being willing to only consider an approach that has little or no chance of happening is the pixie dust.

  84. David44 says:

    “… the question is how any alternative can be made cost-competitive with carbon-based fuels.”
    Maybe.  See Can LFTR power be cheaper than coal power? in the essay “Liquid Fuel Nuclear Reactors” by Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir on the American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society website at
    http://www.aps.org/units/fps/newsletters/201101/hargraves.cfm
    Cost is only one of the many potential advantages of a liquid thorium fuel cycle over uranium and pressurized reactors.  LFTR may not be the answer, but it might be.  DOE should fund the necessary research and development to find out.  Actually they (the AEC then) did but it was dropped during the cold war.  The Chinese are now planning to profit from American ingenuity once again while we dither.  See:
    http://www.itheo.org/articles/china-announces-thorium-energy-project

  85. PDA says:

    Paul,
     
    Is there any evidence that your very general, aspirational sentiments (with which I agree, as far as they go) will effect any change whatsoever? Similarly, the aspiration “there should be peace on earth” (with which I also agree) has been expressed quite earnestly by many, for quite a long time. Is there any evidence that it is having any effect in the real world?
     
    I see no problem with vague exhortations like “start now with what we have.” In the absence of any sort of plan for moving away from carbon-based energy – even on a 35 – 50 year time scale – it’s a bumper sticker… a wish, nothing more.
     
    I ask this in all sincerity: do you have anything other than slogans?

  86. Marlowe Johnson says:

    presumably what paul is referring to in his ‘broadest spectrum possible’ is people who are concerned about the following issues: climate change, air pollution, and energy security.  while the first two are natural partners in most cases**, the potential solutions to energy security can in many instances be at odds with the other two. one need only consider ethanol from coal-fired plants and coal-to-liquids technologies to see that this is so. MT is right to ask how these outcomes would be avoided in a situation where climate concerns are put on equal footing with these other issues.
     
    so Paul, I’d echo PDA’s request for something a little more substantial than slogans…
     
    **many air pollutant control technologies such as SOXs scrubbers on power plants have a double whammy impact on climate; first by reducing the energy efficiency (parasitic loss), and second by removing a pollutant that actually cools the planet rather than warms it.

  87. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Paul Kelly (#78): “On to specifics. ‘It is entirely feasible to solve the energy problem in a way that makes the climate problem worse, and vice versa.’ I can think of no scenario of replacing carbon based energy that does not accomplish CO2 emission reduction.”
     
    Marlowe Johnson is correct here (#86): Not everyone defines the energy problem as replacing carbon based energy. Many think, as Marlowe points out, that the energy problem is that “the price of oil is too damn high” and see the solution as enabling us to burn more fossil fuels more cheaply (Drill here, drill now, pay less).

    Same goes for electricity: lots of people see the energy problem as obstacles to burning more coal more cheaply.
     
    So you can build a broad coalition to solve the “energy problem” but it will quickly fall apart as different factions pursue different priorities (cheap oil, cheap electricity, reduced urban air pollution, reduced GHG emissions, more energy-related jobs, etc.)

  88. Why “replace carbon”? Is it because there isn’t enough unburned carbon left in the rocks, or because there is too much burned carbon in the air (the energy sustainability problem) and the water and the soil (the climate problem and the ocean acidification problem)?
     
    As I’ve explained before, alternative energy addresses both problems. But carbon sequestration only addresses one of them, making the other worse. Tar sands and fracking also address one while making the other worse. (All of them have other side effects of importance, too!)
     
    The case for carbon free energy makes no sense except in the context of both problems simultaneously. If we had only the one problem or the other, different solutions would present themselves. I literally do not understand why anybody wants to argue otherwise.
     

  89. Paul Kelly says:

    Jonathon and Marlowe,
     
    You’re asking me to defend positions I do not hold. Nowhere have I used energy security (or energy independence) as a reason to replace fossil fuels. I have mentioned international security, but that is a very different issue.
     
    “Solve the energy problem” was introduced by MT as a way to criticize my message framing. This is a red herring and has nothing to do do with what I’m saying.
     
    PDA, at least, offers criticism of what I’ve actually said. While calling an attempt to frame a clear, concise message sloganeering is more a description than a criticism, his questions are valid. Later tonight, when I’ll have more time, I’ll try to answer them.
     

  90. PDA says:

    I understand the difference between message framing and making a proposal, but I’m saying that there needs to be something more concrete to back up the frame.
     
    Otherwise, it’s just the Underpants Gnome Business Plan, which I believe will alienate far more potential allies than the status quo.

  91. willard says:

    > Nowhere have I used energy security (or energy independence) as a reason to replace fossil fuels. I have mentioned international security, but that is a very different issue.
     
    I am unsure about the distinction that is being made here between energy security and international security.  If every country were energy independent, international security would increase, no?
     
    > “Solve the energy problem” was introduced by MT as a way to criticize my message framing. This is a red herring and has nothing to do do with what I’m saying.
     
    How so?

  92. kdk33 says:

    I’m imagining a 3rd world country of 60 million souls.  Suddenly they find that they can afford, but just barely, a coal fired power plant.  For the first time they can have running water, indoor plumbing, lights, ait conditioning, schools where children can learn, hospitals that function, communication with the outside world, they can stop cooking their food over animal dung.

    Who are you to say no, and how do you intend to stop them.

  93. Paul Kelly says:

    PDA,
     
    Bottom up means the aggregation of individual actions effecting fossil fuel replacement. This includes any action done today that prevents any amount of fossil fuel use in the future. A current catalog of all such activity would be a worthy project for any researcher. It would greatly enhance our understanding of BAU.
     
    There are so many ways to embrace the bottom up approach. I wanted to confront the key impediment, the high initial cost vs time to break even. One way to bring down the price in the marketplace is for some to get the product for free or at greatly reduced cost. The rapid drop in hand held calculator prices in the early 70’s is an extreme example. So, for me, the way to confront the key impediment was to organize around the idea of some entities getting transformational technologies and efficiencies for free.
     
    People make fun, but the fact is the Gnomes collected some mighty fine underpants. As you probably know, Gnomes are easily distracted and prone to endless argument over gnomenclature. It is no surprise that in their enterprise they left out steps we know they should have taken.
    Market research. Turns out there are quite a number of people who want to replace fossil enough to occasionally throw small amounts of money towards it. In addition, there are many who are willing – some are even eager – to bear the extra costs generated by carbon pricing. The bottom up approach affords them the opportunity to put that willingness to work without waiting for governments and politicians to act. My task is to bring those people together for a specific transformational project.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  94. Paul Kelly says:

    MT,
    There’s a lot of truth in your comment #88. I don’t see how it rebuts the common goal of replacing fossil fuels idea.

  95. willard says:

    > People make fun, but the fact is the Gnomes collected some mighty fine underpants. As you probably know, Gnomes are easily distracted and prone to endless argument over gnomenclature.
     
    This wins the thread for me.  In my humble opinion, this is as important as storytelling.

  96. #94 Paul Kelly. I agree with your goal of replacing fossil fuels, but if it weren’t for climate change I would not. The question being raised is whether we can finesse the question of climate change. We can pretend to do so, if politics is just theatrics while powerful people do what they will, presuming the powerful people behave reasonably.
     
    At present there is n sign that they intend to do so. So some critical mass (if you’ll pardon the expression) of people needs to be convinced that climate change is an important factor. We do this by arguing on the basis of facts.
     
    Calling this a “deficit model” confuses me. Clearly the facts are not properly understood by the decision makers, however the decision gets made, whether in a referendum or in a boardroom or even in a palace. If it takes appeals to emotion, or stories, or whatever, to get the facts through to enough people to influence the outcome, fine, let’s try that.
     
    But to try to get a reasonable outcome without getting a reasonably appropriate model of the facts across to decision makers essentially abandons the idea that facts are relevant. In such a scenario, a sound proposal is very very unlikely to prevail over the vast array of possible stupidities, and even if it does, the stage will be set for further stupidity at the next consequential decision.
     
    So, leaving climate out of the fossil fuels discussion is like leaving radiation out of the nuclear energy discussion. Like PDA, I don’t find Paul Kelly’s positions substantive, but there’s something else even more worrying here. I see what he is saying as arguing against the idea of substantive argument altogether. It’s like arguing to paint over the mirrors on your car. Why bother knowing what is going on around you? That information is overwhelming sometimes. It’s so much easier to just have the front windshield, and sometimes that even works for a while!
     
    As I understand it, PDA in real life is busy assuaging suburban white guilt while replacing a tiny bit of infrastructure at a “majority-minority” public school in the worst part of Chicago.  That Americans are reduced to fundraising for public schools in impoverished neighborhoods is pretty tragic, in my opinion, almost as tragic as an imaginary country of 60 million with zero electricity that kdk33 discusses upthread would be, if it actually existed. I wish him luck in his minor but commendable palliative endeavor. But to imagine this scaling up enough to make a measurable difference in our common fate is still in underpants gnome territory.
     
    And maybe Paul Kelly finds it easier to extract a few bucks from Illinois suburbanites for this project by not mentioning climate. Fine. I don’t normally mention the grotesque levels of public school funding in America when I discuss global sustainability issues, either. You can’t talk about everything all the time.
     
    But Paul, while that may get a few small projects done, that doesn’t solve the energy problem at scale, and can’t possibly do so. We cannot stumble and blunder our way out of this one.
     
     

  97. PDA says:

    As I understand it, PDA in real life is busy assuaging suburban white guilt while replacing a tiny bit of infrastructure at a “majority-minority” public school in the worst part of Chicago.
     
    I was bewildered by this (I’m a guilty white pseudobohemian in urban Boston, not suburban Chicago) until I remembered about the Leo High project.
     
    I take Paul’s argument as the “be the change you wish to see” philosophy, which I have some degree of sympathy with. I think of things like smoking in public or littering s being problems that can be addressed through this approach.
     
    I find it less practical for the task of shifting the energy and transportation infrastructure of a planet of nearly seven billion (and growing) away from carbon-based fuels while also supporting development in countries like the one kdk33 mentions (Congo?).
     
    I commend Paul Kelly’s spirit, but there are really limits to inspirational slogans and inchoate visions. Specifics about exactly what “transformational technologies and efficiencies” actually exist that could move us into a carbonless future – let alone how it will be possible to provide them “for free” – would probably be of enormous help in organizing this grassroots movement.
     
    It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be a lifestyle thing like switching to compact fluorescents, or recycling, or buying organic. I’d say it’ll have to be something more like the mobilization and retooling of US industry at the start of World War II. And given that Americans are against government involvement in industry except when threatened by scary people of color, the likelihood of anything like that happening is pretty close to nil.
     
    So I hope Paul Kelly believes me when I say that I would strongly support any way of getting to a carbon-free future without government involvement, since that involvement is almost certainly never going to come. I am afraid, though, that it’s going to require a lot more than bumper stickers and underwear.

  98. Paul Kelly says:

    MT
     
    The biggest difference between us is if climate were not an issue, you wouldn’t care about replacing fossil fuels and I still would. None of what I am saying is about “finessing” the question of climate change.
     
    Let’s see if I can cut through your collection of straw men and misrepresentations. Despite my repeated assurance that the common goal framing in no way neglects or discounts climate concerns, you continue to allege that it does. You are not asked to modify or compromise your view that climate dangers demand fossil fuel replacement, but only to recognize the reality that there are other valid reasons to do so.
     
    In my opinion “some critical mass … of people needs to be convinced that climate change is an important factor” is flat out wrong. What is needed is a critical mass of people convinced it is necessary to replace fossil. I believe that critical mass already exists.
     
    The substantive argument is not whether climate is a reason to replace fossil, but how to successfully accomplish that task. It is you who avoids the substantive argument by insisting that we must wait until you are able to convince the masses and spark sudden enlightenment among the politicians to act reasonably. Yet, you say there is n sign that they intend to do so.
     
    After decades of international conferences, intergovernmental reports, Nobel prizes and billions spent on research and promotion, what leads you to believe the educating of the masses will soon if ever bear fruit. Shouldn’t you be thinking about what to do while waiting for the wonderful dreamed of top down solutions that may never come or won’t come within the necessary time frame?
     
    Finally, the reason for the harshness of this comment. I ask that retract your ill informed, scurrilous remarks about the Leo High School Windows and Doors Project. Get it straight. I am not a suburbanite. I live in the city on the south side. So do the people – who are not all white guys – spearheading the project. None of us are motivated by guilt. We are motivated by a deep appreciation of the school’s mission and the foundations for life we received there. I have the additional motivation of gaining support for my particular bottom up ideas. Also, Leo is not a public school. It is an independent Catholic school that has served working class and poor kids since its founding in 1926. Its motto is Facta non verba, Latin for Deeds, not words.
    Of course this effort is a minuscule bit of energy transformation. It is just a single step. As they say, even the longest journey must start with a single step.

  99. Sorry PDA I meant PK. Whoops. I need an editor sometimes.

  100. PDA says:

    What is needed is a critical mass of people convinced it is necessary to replace fossil.
    I agree.
    I believe that critical mass already exists.
    I disagree.
    Fortunately, this isn’t a matter of opinion. Either you are right, or I am. What are the indicators that this critical mass exists?

  101. kdk33 says:

    “But to imagine this scaling up enough to make a measurable difference in our common fate is still in underpants gnome territory.”

    There are 1.5 Billion people without electricity (that’s 25% of everybody).  In subsaharan Africa, the number is increasing.

    I guess it depends on your definition of scale.

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