Monday, October 26, 2015

Global Warming: Why are Environmentalists Failing and What Mankind Can Do About It

The biggest environmental issue of our day is not global warming but sustainability:  how can the human species reach a long-term, sustainable relationship with our planet?    Sustainability is controlled by population, use of resources, the climate of the planet, water resources, and much more.

But clearly, global warming is a very serious part of sustainability, with our best science indicating that the planet will warm substantially during the next century as a result of increasing greenhouse gases like CO2.  The environmental community and its allies in the political realm have made global warming their number-one environmental priority.

But clearly the environmental community and the world in general are failing to to deal with global warming.   A fresh approach is needed.

Proof of Failure

The most profound proof is the observed trend in atmospheric CO2  (see below).  It is not only rising, but the rate of increase has accelerated, even with all the efforts on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the like.   This is failure.
Driven by increasing population and improving living standards in second/third world countries, the demand for energy is surging, with most of it coming from fossil fuels.  Renewables are only providing a sliver of current energy demand, and that will not change soon.

Carbon emissions have flattened in the U.S. and Europe, but rising exponentially in China and very quickly in India.  Countries like China and India want to raise the living standards of their citizens and that requires energy, and those of us in the developed world are in no moral position to ask them to refrain from doing so.  In fact, rising living standards are crucial tools for population control.

Perhaps the most concentrated source of non-carbon energy is nuclear power, but unfortunately, due to the Fukashima disaster and other issues, nuclear power generation is now declining or taken off the table by several nations, just when needed the most to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations (see graphic).
Renewables  (e.g., solar and wind) are growing rapidly, but from a small base (see below).  There is no realistic plan at this point for having them take over the bulk of world energy demands during the next few decades.  In fact, the U.S. government estimates that renewables might reach about 15% of total world energy consumption in 2040.  Not enough to make a real difference.

To seriously reduce the warming effects of greenhouse gases, there needs to be a huge decrease in carbon fuel usage around the world.   Estimates by the international IPCC group suggests that to keep the temperature increase to less than 2C by the end of the century, the concentration of CO2 must remain below 450 ppm (parts per million).  Considering that current CO2 concentrations are now 400 ppm, there would have to be a large reduction from current emission levels immediately.    There is virtually no chance that is going to happen.

But it is even worse than that. Environmentalists have not convinced the general population of the seriousness of the problem.   For example, a recent Gallup poll found that global warming is not even on the top twenty list of concerns of the U.S. population.

And if you ask Americans what environmental problems worry them, global warming is at the bottom of a list of concerns.   They are more worried about rain forests than global warming.

Environmental groups, such as Seattle's Climate Solutions, the National Wildlife Federation, and their media friends, have tried hyping and exaggerating extreme weather events, suggesting that they are at least partly the result of human greenhouse gas emissions.    The more desperate such groups get to ensure folks "do the right thing", the more they rev up the hype machine.   But as the polling numbers above demonstrate, the scare tactics have not worked.  Rather, the obvious exaggeration has undercut environmentalist's credibility.  Some environmental groups like to say that the whole problem is the big, bad oil companies that are using their financial muscle to suppress the truth and ensure inaction.  But that view is simplistic at best--- the lack of action is far deeper and widespread.  It is a societal problem.  And environmentalists have had a huge, but ineffective, megaphone that the oil companies lack:  the media.  Furthermore, a number of environmental groups have undermined their climate message by combining it with fixing other societal problems (racism, economic disparity, etc.).   This is a terrible mistake because it weakens their ability to develop a broad coalition to deal with global warming.

And even more worrisome, the issue has become a political liability, with an entire party (Republicans) dismissing the seriousness of the problem and need for immediate action.  One might argue that Al Gore has done a great disservice by politicizing a previously far more bipartisan issue.

Probably did more harm than good

It is clear that mankind is not willing to forgo the use of economically exploitable fossil fuels.  The search for new sources of oil and gas continue, with the development of new technologies (e.g., fracking) providing huge new sources of gas and oil that society has enthusiastically taken advantage of.  Gas prices are low, encouraging use.

The bottom line of all this is obvious:  mankind is doing very little to stop global warming and there is little hint of any effective action.   And embarrassingly, the uber environmentally aware Puget Sound region, is not doing much to deal with the problem.  Just a few examples:

  • Our fuel-intensive airport is growing rapidly, while our major industry (Boeing) is churning out record numbers of gas-guzzling jets
  • Our roads are choked with cars, our traffic situation is one of the worst in the nation, and our bus system is completely inadequate for the demand.
  • Our politicians are ineffective in this area, preferring to grandstand about environment issues (kayaking out to the Shell drilling platform, pushing short-term rental bikes, flying off to environmental conferences) rather then dealing with transportation, traffic, land use, and energy use in a meaningful way

Some local politicians are ineffective on environmental issues

So is it surprising that our society has been so ineffective about dealing with global warming?   

Few people have thought more about how societies deal with existential threats than Professor Jared Diamond of UCLA, the author of Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel.   Last year, after giving a lecture at the University of Washington, I asked him:

“Can you think of a single example when a society took economically costly and disruptive steps to avoid a future problem that had not been previously experienced?”

He could not.   Musing, I can offer one example:  Joseph's warning to Pharaoh above 7 drought years.

There have a large number of international meetings to foster agreements on carbon reduction, like Kyoto, Copenhagen, and soon Paris.  But, in general, such gatherings are ineffective and agreed "limits" are often vague and small.

So how do we deal with the global warming problem in a fresh, more effective way?

Global warming can not be considered in isolation from sustainability, population, soil and water resources, and land management.   Population is the key issue.  If there were only 1 billion folks on the planet, we would not be talking about global warming.   But we have many more people, with many nations on or near the edge.   Billions of people in developing  nations want to live a middle class life style like us, but to do so requires energy and resources.  The irony is that the only way to limit population is get folks through the transition to middle-class, as demonstrated in Japan, Korea, the U.S., Australia, and Europe.  So can we get everyone into the middle class without catastrophic global warming?   That is the question.

So how do we deal with global warming forced by greenhouse gases?   I have thought about this a lot.   It seems to me we need a fresh approach:

1.   Since substantial global warming is certain, we must prepare society for inevitable changes.  That means adaptation and making society more resilient.   For Washington State, the probably means more storage of water during the spring, since snowpack will be less.  Getting folks away from rivers that will flood more often.  Fixing the damaged forests of eastern Washington.  

2.  Global warming is a technological problem and technology is our only hope.  New energy sources, better energy storage, ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, safe nuclear and new energy technologies that we can't imagine today. But developing these technologies will require substantial investments for research and development on a much larger scale than occurring today.    A few days ago, I learned that someone else has concluded the same thing:  Bill Gates, one the great technologists and philanthropists of our age.   If you want to read his exact words, read his interview in Atlantic Monthly.  Bill Gates gets it.  His advise should be considered seriously.

3.   Society should use cost effective energy-saving and renewable technologies that are cost effective today, like more efficient appliances, high-mileage and electric cars, smart devices, and better insulation in buildings, better mass transportation, and others.  They may not solve the problem, but they will help.

4.  Environmentalists have hurt themselves by being fixated on global warming.   They, and their political allies, should broaden their view to think about sustainability.

5.  Approaches like carbon taxes can be very useful, and we are fortunate to have an initiative (I732) that should be able to secure sufficient signatures for consideration.  

As the old saying goes: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When it comes to global warming and greenhouse gases, it is time for a different approach.


Gordy said...

With global air quality contamination exceeding 400 ppm who, or what, has the time and the resource$ to develop an effective detoxification process on the scale required to avert "Overshoot and Collapse" from happening in 2030-35 when it appears to have already begun?

John McBride said...

Our engineering and science departments in universities nationwide should be focused on the simple, but challenging issue of figuring out a less expensive, even inexpensive method for cracking the water molecule and extracting hydrogen and oxygen from our vast salt water resource. Solar technology gets us in that direction for a cheaper electrolysis, but we're not there yet.

If we can determine that then we can do away with our other, destructive energy sources and begin cleaning carbon out of the atmosphere.

Hydrogen technology is our future.

oldretiredditchdigger said...

Terrific post Cliff, spot on!


Gnome Gnats said...

The real elephant in the room is the reason we should all care about this issue and that is the survival of our species. Once we have made this planet an uninhabitable waste land it will become clear enough, at this point I believe that our species long term survival strategy needs to be one that focuses on colonizing space. said...

Technology applied to local micro-economies including urban micro-gardening, light industry and neighborhood professional service firms.

This pattern will allow community sustainability, reduced vehicle trip generation (and "traffic lost time") and associated reliance on fuels as well as aging in place systems.

JP Scofield said...

If you look online you can find Douglas MacArthur's farewell speech to cadets at West Point Academy where he indicates that future wars will be fought with the weather. No one I know apparently gives that information ANY consideration.

Scott Souchock said...

Our situation is indeed a great problem. I have been wondering, quite a lot, how to deal with the problem. One thing that I know about American culture is that if you make it sexy and seductive people will move in that direction. Can we do the same with sustainability? Can we make it sexy and seductive and less a feeling of a girdle and full-body bathing suits? And what does/would a completely sustainable future city/region look like, feel like, operate like: my point is that we are all crying wolf, oh this is a problem, a terrible, terrible problem, but what's our alternative that we can buy into, head towards? What does housing look like? What does social life look like? What does transportation — personal as well as group — look like, feel like? The absence of a model, a vision, a coordinated, integrated plan frustrates me. Otherwise it's just the next domino in front of me.

GaryP. said...

Read "Dirt" by D. Montgomery , in it he claims that organic farming sequesters carbon. Yet another reason to buy organic food when you can.

Coasting Downhill said...

The environmentalists didn't lose, It's more like the oil companies won with lies and disinformation that "conservatives"have brainwashed much of the public with and stalled any progress. Ever heard of James Inhoff?

richard583 said...

... Lulled into a false sense of security by the naysayers. (?)

Leaf said...

I like your blog and I'm with you on sustainability, but I also like Al Gore. A lot. Maybe pick on Congress instead? It seems somehow unfair to dismiss his impact, or to view it as off the mark, when so few other voices have otherwise been raised. And nuclear? You have to convince me that we know what to do with the toxic junk left in its wake. We have leaking containers in Hanford that we STILL haven't addressed. But, I'm in general agreement.

Alan Majchrowicz said...

Thanks for hitting the nail on the head, surging global population is the cause of nearly every environmental problem today. Unfortunately it is a taboo subject in our society to even think of putting the brakes on population increase.

Curt said...

I am an interested conservative, interested in learning more from a trusted source (Cliff Mass for example) right up until the point that demagoguery enters the conversation. Then I flash to Al Gore and his hypocrisy, the coming ice in the 70's, and then I move on to less insulting pursuits. High fives all around ...

Pasadena said...

Everyone talks about the power of big oil and the inadequate message of the environmentalist. However, almost everyone forgets that oil is the biggest factor in international politics. Russia and most Mid-east countries depend upon oil exports, and they will attempt to pretty much call the shots as long as other countries are dependent upon them for energy. Western environmentalists and big oil are only "helpful idiots."

Pasadena said...

James Inhoff? We've all lost faith in Washington, DC and have moved beyond anything from government spokesmen.

RLL said...

Gore actually partnered with Gingrich and other Republican politicians in the early 1990s to ensure the was a bipartisan initiative. Famously there were pictures of the two of them, and IIRC sitting on a davenport for a TV show.

60% of Republicans and more independents and Democrats think climate warming is happening. The natural outcome of that is that there would be two party's solutions and compromise solutions would be enacted. But natural outcomes are impossible, a majority of Republican politicians are quasi-religiously committed to the view that humans are not changing the climate. And have actively blocked any and all solutions. They do like oil and coal. And almost nothing else.

In sociology classes I seem to remember that if 15% of a neighborhood become seriously deviant the neighborhood collapses. The Republican rejection of any solution has the ability to destroy the world's climate.

ps: a link to Gingrich's move from supporting to not supporting carbon emissions,

Kit Rawson said...

Good points. However, I cannot agree that Al Gore was wrong to try to lead on this issue. Should he have just kept quiet, assembled so-called "bipartisan" group together to state the case, or what? As he was, he has been demonized for this, and his political career was ruined. The same would have happened to whomever tried to step forward and lead. So, I have to agree with the idea that it's not the environmentalists who have lost, rather, it is the opposition who won. And, yes, sustainability is what we are after. Again, I think that environmentalists understand this, but the media are incompetent to communicate that and the general public is incompetent to understand it. That's why issues end up beig understood in such simple terms and become politicized.

dbostrom said...

Cliff's remark on population goes straight home; living standards would be much less of an issue with fewer people. As with so many other matters, it's fully within our power and the passage of time to correct this problem with no brutality required.

I'm reminded of our local situation with regard to wolves. 7 billion humans on the planet and we don't have room or allowance for 50 animals? Strange days.

John said...

Interesting that you phrase it as a "failure of environmentalists" to effectively persuade/educate people about the nature of the problem. One could just as legitimately place the failure at the feet of scientist-educators like yourself.

caveat emptor said...

Blaming environmentalists for our collective failure to do much about global warming. Isn't that a bit like blaming anti-war protesters for the Iraq debacle? If only the anti-war voices had been a bit more persuasive and inclusive, US and allies might have taken a different approach and the current mess would have been avoided.

We elect leaders to lead, so I think the blame lies first there and second on the electors for not voting in leadership that is up to the task. While there is plenty of blame to go around I believe the parties of the right in the US, Canada and Australia deserve extra blame for obstructing any action on reducing emissions and indeed for making science denial a respectable mainstream option. No country in the world has done enough about global warming, but at least some countries have made progress.

B. E. Ward said...

As one blogger puts it, population control from an American perspective sounds too much like "Just enough of me, way too much of you." And one only needs to look at China's wonky demographics going forward to see what happens when governments mandate it.

No, we can win this war not by telling people they shouldn't (or can't) have children.. but rather through winning small, incremental battles. Read CleanTechnica or TreeHugger to see all of the work going on to effective positive change step-by-little-step. Rather than focusing on 'fixing' China or India through massive government regulation and programs (likely run by straight-up corrupt people), look at companies like Mpowerd who are making solutions affordable for the first world and free to some of the third world.

It may well turn out that decentralization encouraged by a capital-based motivation will actually solve our problem. Rather than a giant grid connected to coal-fired or nuclear power plants, imagine American communities full of decentralized solar and wind power, with batteries powering homes at night. Imagine Cliff never having to say "120,000 customers are without power" after a windstorm. The batteries that power a Tesla or Nissan Leaf today are the precursors of better technology to power hybrid or all-electric construction vehicles. Change is here, and it's only going to accelerate. We don't need to demonize children or people who want large(r) families to fix this.

jno62 said...

In other words, we're done. Crazy and stupid.

We don't deserve another planet. We are too dumb to take care of the one we have.

eric said...

Environmentalists tend to focus on local issues, so I think you're going to step on some toes (mine) by lumping us all in together. It seems that you're speaking more about the political bloc that has formed around the climate change issue, and whether the social / media attention is helpful. I would certainly agree that there are other issues that could stand to get some more air time. The human-caused global mass extinction event we're currently living through comes to mind.

You make an interesting point regarding Al Gore. I guess he could have said, "Climate change is a hoax" ... and then maybe the Republicans would have taken up the cause. That's all kinda Monday morning quarterbacking. At this point, you're right though. Focus should shift away from the distant, doom and gloom scenarios. I don't even think we should expend any energy trying to make the case that climate change is happening. As more and more east coast streets get flooded at high tide and temps keep going up we won't really have to fight that fight any more.

You're right to focus on population growth in the developing nations. I do think there's some reason for optimism there as well. The global trends out of poverty have been fantastic, and I think there's one key factor that could prove to be a tipping point. If renewables become cheaper than fossil fuels, then all of the new development happens at a much lower co2 cost than expected. I think that's the most exciting area of research these days.

There are other advantages that renewables can offer as well, and to get to what another commenter mentioned... I think this is how you make the issue 'sexy'. You sell renewables as "independence, freedom, security" in the form of some really cool tech. Once you get all this stuff on the mass production tech curve you can start to drive those costs down and I think we're just starting to see that.

Dean E Kurath said...

Cliff, Good article. Regrettably, it is human nature and the nature of societies in general to do little or nothing until confronted with an obvious crisis. Apparently, we aren't there yet. With our dysfunctional government, I'm not sure what it will take.

Robert Salnick said...

Thanks for hitting the nail on the head. Several other perceptive commentators have picked up on this: increasing CO2, water pollution, etc are not the cause, they are the symptoms of a burgeoning world population. On each of those charts, I'd like to see a curve added, delineating human population growth.

I brew beer. When starting a fermentation, there is a small amount of yeast and a lot of sugar. The yeast multiplies, and multiplies, and multiplies, happily consuming sugar and excreting its waste: alcohol. In the end, ALL the yeasts die, either because there is no more sugar, or because its waste product choke them.

The Earth is our carboy and we are the yeast. I believe the end state is inevitable - human population will be reduced. The only decision facing us is whether nature does the culling or we find a more humane way. If we are smart about it, we may even be able to retain that middle class environment you speak of... just not for so many of us.

Focusing on the symptoms instead of the cause simply delays the inevitable. Inevitable that is, unless we find a way to reduce our proclivity to reproduce. China has made a start. Will anyone follow?

Michael Lyons said...

"population is the key issue"

The global population growth rate is the root of the problem. Without a significant reduction in that rate, technological advances could facilitate more growth.

Sustainability hinges on slowing down our growth rate a bringing to 0! How do we control our global population growth? No one even talks about it much less proffer solutions. It's a huge elephant in the room in this discussion.

Shadowdad said...

Cliff great piece the one glimmer of hope is the Ozone hole problem, albeit smaller requiring fewer changes it does give hope

Frank Blau said...

You are placing the BLAME on the very people that are trying to solve this. Boo.

I see no blame being placed where it actually belongs: on the anti-science fundamentalists that dominate the Republican party today, the people that belittle and denigrate investments in the very things that fund you.

Shame on you for not pointing out the obvious, and "blaming" Al Gore and Environmentalists. THAT is a cheap political shot and you are usually much better than that.

Don Carter said...

1) It has been estimated that the earth can sustain a human population of between 2.5 to 3 billion. We past that level in the late 1930s. Since there are over 7 billion, two out of every three people on earth will have to disappear.

2) Renewables are a viable option if the government were to put the full force of its influence behind them. Solar in conjunction with various storage devices would work if a lot more surface area were used including roofs and the use of so called transparent solar panels for windows. It will require disruptions but provide large scale jobs in manufacturing, construction, management, and infrastructure to build the generation, distribution, and efficiency systems needed.

3) Major power companies are reluctant to give up being in control of large centralized generation facilities that provide their income.

4) Bill Gates is a large scale technology wonk. Listening to him is like listening to a carpenter tell you to use a hammer to get rid of a headache. Any large scale technology used to extract carbon from the atmosphere will require a very large amount of energy, probably producing even more polution unless it uses renewables that you do not believe there will be enough of to do any good.

5) Nuclear is not an option until the problem of waste disposal is solved. At the moment, not even Yuca mountain is approved.

Joe said...

I agree with the other commenters about Gore. He didn't "politicize" the issue, he tried to raise awareness, just as Cliff is doing. His political opponents chose, for whatever short-sighted reasons, to politicize his advocacy. They chose to pretend there were two sides to this dilemma. There's just one side, for sustainability of the planet and of humanity's ability to live on it.

Artemis said...

This is not a good piece. This is simply a rebuttal to the Seattle Weekly article and a bad one at that. Al Gore's attempt to draw attention to climate change - while perhaps misplaced - was still the most ardent attempt made by a politician at his level thus far. The issue was always going to be politicized, regardless of his work. But to blame the environmentalists - when the current issue is that a Republican-led Congress might cut valuable NASA funding for earth sciences - is just completely missing the point, and honestly just pointing fingers. Let's have a more serious conversation about these issues.

John Franklin said...

Cliff, While I disagree with how you frame the issue I applaud you for clearly stating that humanity has to address the issues of greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and sustainability and that the efforts to do so have been misplaced and insufficient.

I have always felt that Al Gore did the environment and the movement no favors by choosing to be the front man for climate change and did not instead provide his funds and power to have others (apolitical individuals) make the case for him. Having Inconvenient Truth include footage from the Florida recount was a major mistake.

I don't agree with your view that society and economies are not changing due to the failure of the environmental community. With that sort of reasoning we should be blaming civil rights workers for the persistence of institutional racism in our society.

And while you minimize the importance of renewables by saying "the U.S. government estimates that renewables might reach about 15% of total world energy consumption in 2040", the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) Renewable Electricity Futures Study found 80 percent of energy could come from renewables in 2050 with currently available technologies, including wind turbines, solar photovoltaics, concentrating solar power, biopower, geothermal, and hydropower.

But thanks again for not pulling any punches on how important this issue is.

Ansel said...

Thanks for bringing this up... I do agree, however, with others here that Al Gore was right to publicize the problem... and we should find a way to punish politicians who dismiss it.

You may indeed be right that the poorer countries are, in the middle term, going to be responsible for the biggest growth in carbon output. We need to attack the problem in several ways at once. We need to become a world leader in sustainable energy as well as talk about population. If, as seems to be the case, the way to limit population growth is to work against poverty then that needs to be one of the priorities.

I'm afraid carbon output may get worse until about mid-century. Unfortunately we humans do tend to wait until disaster in imminent rather than look down the road. Witness people who build their house atop a sand cliff or in a dry pine forest. We are wired to deal with the wolves at the door- not the fact that the house is slowly rotting away. To be fair, though, this is the fist time in the history of the planet that we have had to band together on a global scale to attack a long-term problem that will affect mainly our children. It is admittedly a tall order given human nature.

Unknown said...

After those "ineffective" kayak protests, Shell dropped its plans to drill in the arctic, and the administration went a step further and cancelled new drilling leases and extensions up there. Low oil prices may have been the driver, but companies as big as Shell tend to think longer term than the current WTI price. So it's at least possible the negative publicity of those protests played some role in their decision.

Furthermore, many of those same politicians also favor the kinds of transportation and efficiency improvements you favor. Those positions are not mutually exclusive with supporting Pronto bikes or kayak protests. How about we try working with them and instead call out those politicians who actively OPPOSE nearly every such initiative -- or enable those who do (good riddance, Rodney Tom).

-- Douglas

strix27 said...

Ansel just said it; we only respond to crisies and then only in individual or small group ways. A very few world leaders acknowledge publicly that climate change is the major problem facing humas, but are notably timid about using their moment in the sun to say we have a few decades in which to make major changes in our economic systems to at least slow that change. If every single head of state meeting in Paris in December decided to speak with one voice that we need to reduce the use of energy in proportion to amount being used by every country at once because our planet is in peril it would have an effect. Some of our problems can be blamed on democratic processes that allow a handfull of mentally ill legislators stop all progress in remediating major problems affecting everyone.

All this piddling around the edges with alternative energy, changing building codes, advocating nuclear energy, growing more trees just makes a few people feel good and is accomplishing nothing. World trade agreements would need to say we need a moratorium on construction of major new building, an immediate decrease in the number of animals raised for meat, no more new model cars for the foreseeable future. A rapid decrease in the manufacture of goods not required for our mere sustainability. Then immediately putting people to work adapting our infrastructures for increased atmospheric heat, rising sea level, you name it. We have until 2050 to accomplish most of this. I think I'll write my president about this.

mig said...

Why single out environmentalists working against climate change for blame? Most enviros and most atmospheric scientists are the good guys, even if on this issue they seem to be pissing in the wind no matter what direction they turn. Let's back away from the circular firing squad!

Adrienne Adams said...

Thank you Cliff, for your continued work on piercing the veil and speaking out about the failures of the mainstream environmental movement. I've been a dyed in the wool tree-hugger my entire life, but I agree that the environmental leadership has largely failed to present the problems and possible solutions in a way that the public will accept.

I read the Atlantic interview with Bill Gates, and you are right—we really need to heed his advice. We simply do not yet have adequate solutions to our problem of providing adequate resources to humanity in an equitable and sustainable way. For example, mainstream environmentalists promote the idea that we “simply” have to switch to “green” energy (specifically solar and wind) to reduce carbon pollution. But it is really not so simple, and climate activists who promote wind and solar as The One Solution to carbon pollution are misleading the public. We truly need a massive R&D effort into inventing new means of storing energy in order for intermittent renewables to make a real difference.

Your observation about political grandstanding is a good one: and I would add that many climate activists are also grandstanding. Bill McKibben, for example, seems to be more enamored of his new celebrity as the figurehead for the climate movement than he is in putting forth solutions that will actually make a difference. There’s way too much feel-good, symbolic action and not nearly enough work addressing the hard questions.

The climate movement, either due to incompetence or by design, is failing Effective Messaging 101. Fear, doom and gloom, and scare tactics do not lead to long-term societal shifts. In fact, fear leads to paralysis, which is pretty much where most people are right now when it comes to climate issues. The climate movement has largely abandoned all other issues, losing decades of work getting people to care about the environment. (But it is heartening to see that some people still care about the rain forests!)

People care about the things that affect them most directly: things like job security, health care, racism, education, justice, clean water, etc. People need to feel like they have some hope of making a difference if they are to be persuaded to support change, especially change that impacts their lives directly. But the Climate is so enormous, no one can hope to have a personal effect! And somehow, “world leaders” must also be persuaded to all agree on measures to reduce carbon pollution. So we not only need to worry about fixing the global climate, we need to have everyone on the planet agree just exactly how to do that.

How could anyone think of a more hopeless message?

In contrast, MIT is proposing a massive project to address the practical problems of moving towards a low-carbon global energy system. They see the urgent need for concerted and practical action, combining the energies of academia, industry, and government.

Candy B said...

Wait what? There are a whole bunch of scientists that say we are in an Ice age. Seems we need the scientists to agree on the scientific data. Not sure what makes one scientist right and another wrong. And I wonder sometimes if there isn't politics involved. Just saying. And yes I can calculate the data too, if only I was given the raw data. I only get the filtered stuff in the news. As a scientist I just have to wonder what is really going on, as I keep my mind open.

Bruce Kay said...

The significant problem is that the best "approach" is well known and has been implemented in numerous countries to good effect. It is called a carbon tax. America dosn't need a different approach, it needs to follow the approach that has been advocated and proven effective for many years. This is a good basic starting point you could do right now but American will not do it.

To say that "environmentalists have failed" or Al Gore did us a disservice somehow suggests that they have been wrong. The fact is Cliff, for many years now they have been far more right - infinitely more correct on this matter - than those who to this day still deny fact and obfuscate reality for clearly subversive reasons. That would be the Republicans that you breifly mentioned. That would also be the citizens who vote them in that you didn't mention at all.

Those Kayakers acted. Maybe not perfectly much as Al Gores movie was also not perfect but both fundamentally were on the money as Bill Gates also has pointed out. The only "approach" that needs changing is approximately half your population that is substantially in denial of fact in order to maintain an illusion and mythology of 1950's America. However you might think the kayakers were "ineffectual" one thing is sure - the people who didn't kayak at all were even less effectual and many of them thought the kayakers were actually wrong.

That is a sizable obstruction to simply steering the boat in the right direction. Up here in Canada we just turfed out our climate change deniers out of office after ten years of similar obstruction, deception, obfuscation and outright subversion best demonstrated with their evidence-less policy and legislation. They never once had more than 35% of the vote (thats how our system works unfirtunately). You guys have at least 50% of your population who would vote for them in a heart beat. If you guys put a republican back in office, that will be a "different approach" that you likely didn't have in mind when you wrote this blog.

Cliff Mass said...

A number of you left similar comments, so let me answer several at once.

I have singled out the some of the environmental activists because I believe they have been very deceptive. Their feel-good recommendations were far too small to do any good. If they don't know that, they are naive. If they do know that, they are being deceptive. We need massive new energy sources and revolutionary energy storage technologies. We need to control our population....but environment groups say nothing about the key problem. Global warming is only a small part of the sustainability problem, but it is the centerpiece of most environmental groups. Regarding kayakactivists, I really doubt they had much to do with Shell's decision. The non-economic costs of Arctic oil is undoubtedly the real reasons. ..cliff

Michael Snyder said...

Let's get this straight right off the bat: Ronald Reagan himself could rise from the dead and present this argument and conservatives would immediately throw him to the wolves.

Again, placing blame on the very people that are trying to solve this? Really?
Have you no guts? Where is the blame for the anti-science fundamentalists that are a majority of the Republican Party?

HALF, yes HALF of our political base is scientifically illiterate and will/would have demonized anyone who takes up this fight. Your Al Gore example is bush league, and not well thought out.

This is about a political view, spawned by the anti-intellectualism that seems to be en vogue here in many areas of the USA. A view where "my ignorance is as good as your knowledge".

You a science educator, this "failure" is as much yours as anyone else's.

There is no debate in the scientific community and I now worry that your media perceptions are effecting your work.

Climate change deniers have no real arguments, and we should continue to educate the public to the facts, and the sound arguments that show the global warming is basic physics!

Put Bill Gates in front of conservatives and let's see how long before he becomes the next conservative running joke shall we?

John Tuxill, Bellingham said...

Cliff--What about the International Energy Agency data showing a stall in global carbon emissions from energy sources between 2013 and 2014 at around 32.7 BB Tons? This suggests a decoupling between carbon emissions and economic activity, and is a big deal if the numbers hold up. I don't see it reflected in the charts you present, several of which end at 2010. Global energy projections for coal use made in 2010, for instance, are already looking out-of-date (as witness the global tanking of coal prices since 2011).

I believe that mitigating and minimizing climate change is by farm the greatest societal challenge the world faces, but I am also more hopeful now than I was 5 years ago. Scientists' understanding of the options and potential we have for sequestering C02 is much more extensive now than even a decade ago. And we're finally starting to see movement at the highest governmental levels of the US and China to commit to truly meaningful carbon emission reductions--levels that may get us to where we need to be yet, but will start to accelerate virtuous emissions trends and build real momentum. New political leaders in Canada and Australia also are very promising for gaining new commitments to emissions reductions from two of the highest per-capita carbon emitting nations. The first test of whether or not I am too optimistic will be the next round of climate negotiations this coming year.

Richard said...

Shell will not be sending the rig to the ship breakers, which would be the only meaningful capitulation. They can hang on until the situation is profitable. Meanwhile I think they can claim depreciation and who knows what esoteric tax deductions by mothballing it. I was really disappointed to see people claiming victory. There was no win, mostly just naive feelgood, maybe some gains in networking and imagery. Nothing has changed; the rig and the oil simply bide their time.

In the '90s ago the last faint voices dropped below the threshold of hearing; now population control is a non-starter. These sustainability issues descend directly from the huge and exponentially growing number of people doing things. Halve the number, halve the problem. Let attrition do the work. Reach the level the planet can handle. I believe if we don't do it, the planet will do it for us. I suspect we won't do it, and are past the time where we can hope it won't hurt.


To those who blithely talk of CAPPING population I say go ahead and take the first step - remove yourself and those you love from the equation. What we see with this argument is NIMBYism to the Nth degree. The best, most "humane" way, to lower birth rates is to get everyone on this planet out of poverty.

Joshua Kilpatrick said...

I saw a documentary suggesting animal agriculture was a significant contributor to global warming and that the growth of that industry follows population and middle class growth. Do you have and data on the sustainability of our global diet?

Organic Farmer said...

Global warming may only be a small part of the sustainability issue, but it is not insignificant.

Population control. That one is actually easy, squelch Religion, and distribute the wealth. (LOL.. That will fly like a lead balloon, in the US..). Look at all the first world Socialist Democracies, for wealth distribution, and low Religious adherence, flat to negative population growth with most.

It also seems countries like Japan and those in N. Europe/Scandinavia, are also more willing to acknowledge and address climate change.

Personally, don't think population control is a solution. You would only be treating one of the symptoms that ail's society.

Model nations with flat to negative population growth still consume too much.

IMHO, the answer is simple. Planet warming is inevitable, on our current trajectory. Sure, reduce greenhouse gas emissions//sequester as much as we can to slow the change down. But the fact is the Genie is out of the bottle, and the earth will warm, just as it has done in previous geological periods. This time the cause is a species.(us)

Extinction and evolution will occur, human induced, this time around. Think forward, plan for the future.

Perpetrating the notion of doom and gloom is non-productive. Put those brain cells to work, finding a viable and sustainable energy source for the future.!!

Remember, we are our own greatest threat. ;)

RLL said...

I started to write something, and later saw that Paul Krugman had covered all my major points and said it better:
OCT 28 10:15 AM Oct 28 10:15 am 11
Climate Villains

Jinxy said...

It is insanity to repeat the same activity and expect a different outcome: We cannot dig our way out of this hole with a "Deus ex Machina" technology fix (or fixes) that do the hard work for us and let us retain our current values and society. People must change, even those of us in the First World who have already achieved some semblance of a middle-class lifestyle.

I certainly am planning on tackling the population growth problem with tangible action at the lowest level possible: My wife and I are planning to adopt a child in addition to having a child biologically ourselves. We are moving towards a sustainable lifestyle, in which we give up a few comforts in exchange for peace of mind that we're doing our part.

The failure isn't at the feet of environmental supporters; it is at the feet of government for failing to demonstrate structural leadership by making tough choices in the interest of the greatest good.

Bruce Kay said...

I find it curious that in the content of the blog, the general messaging is that everyone from environmentslists to Al Gore or even kayakers have been "wrong" in some way. Their statements of belief may well be flawed in some ways and only a fool would not expect such. They, by and large, are not expert. It should be assumed that they (we) have an imperfect understanding of a highly technical and abstract problem. Climate change is catagorized as a "Super Wicked " problem, vastly more complex than a merely "wicked" problem such as health care policy. 99 % of us have only a laymans insight into the problem and our intuitions are hopelessly useless.

What is important is where they and we - all non - expert in the domain - look to be informed by "best known". In that case, generally speaking the environmentalists, Al Gore and the kayakers listen to the istitutional expertise, expressed as a robust and consistently strehgthening consensus opinion. In other words, they are informed by "best known". The republican leaders and their base of followers are seen and proven to be informed by entirely incompetent sources, such as Lord Chriatopher Moncton or worse yet, religious opinion.

It is gross false equivalency to write a blog saying "everyone from republicans to kayakers are wrong and need a "new approach".
There is one group of people who clearly and substantively have a much better "approach". There is also an identifiable group of people who demonstrably do not.

The fundamentl problem is that a sizable population of people respect their own common sense (feelings), mythology and tribal allegiances more than the single institution of expertise responsible for every advancement in civilzation since the dark ages and which our current state of being is entirely dependant on. It is true that the biggest problem is this and even framing the problem as a moral problem dosn't work even with the religious because of one simple thing - they inform themselves by fraud artists rather than proven institutional expertise.

B. E. Ward said...

Since 'population control' keeps coming up, let me just ask..

How does one propose we 'control' the population?

jsowers1 said...


Great analysis, but you are missing the ROOT underlying cause of the whole problem: the failed political system. The big corporations have Congress in their pocket, and together they are selling humanities future down the drain for the sake of ever greater profits and power. Concentrated power corrupts; Age old problem here. Solution: genuine democracy rather than fake democracy. Fake democracy equals people giving all political power to corrupt politicians who make all the decision for them. Genuine democracy equals people taking the power to make the most important decisions themselves. We do this by amending the US constitution to establish a national constitutional initiative procedure enabling the people to directly propose by petition and enact in national referendums constitutional amendments. This is commonly known as direct democracy. Polls and referendum voting evidence shows that this will allow us to overturn Citizen's United, enact meaningful campaign finance reforms, and enact stronger environmental protections and polices to combat climate change and move toward social sustainability. Switzerland, with one of the best environmental records in the world, is a good example. Here in Washington we have limited direct democracy, but the federal government requires that states allow unlimited corporate spending in ballot measure campaigns, undercutting the process. Still, Washington, in part thanks to the Clean Energy initiative that was passed in 2006, has one of the strongest renewable energy laws.

"Representative democracy" is rule by the people where the people are not allowed to make a single ruling decision. The term is an Orwellian oxymoron the purpose of which is political propaganda to steer people away from more genuinely democracy arrangements that threaten elite power. It is an outmoded 18th century political institution that systemically concentrates power into the hands of a political elite who are predictably corrupted by the economic elite. This arrangement is stifling the ability of humanity to address major social issues, including endless war and climate change.

Our survival now depends on our ability to look beneath policy and at the underlying political arrangements that create it. I know amending the US Constitution to create a national constitution initiative procedure will not be easy, but it is a practical and realistic goal, in much the same way that women's suffrage was a BIG, but achievable objective.

Josh S. said...

Excellent post, Cliff. I agree that in our media, the issue of global environmental stewardship isn't talked about anywhere near enough - it's just climate change this, climate change that, with a lot of hyperbole and inaccuracies.

I agree that we need to view global warming as a subset of the substainability issue - how we're going to ensure a sufficient Earth for future generations in terms of food, water, electricity, raw materials, and wild environments.

And the whole planetary migration idea that some people bring up, I find really, really depressing. It's just wrong to get all excited anticipating that.

John Valentine said...

Good ideas. In fact, there are many good ideas out there, many of which would probably take care of the problem. The same holds true for other kinds of problems that have not been solved. All of the ideas, as written, say we "must" or "need" or "should" do one or another action. The underlying assumption seems to be that if someone came up with the perfect formulation or most engaging description of a solution, then the problem would get solved. We have all watched for years or decades while many problems, not just global warming or sustainability, sit in plain sight without change taking place. It strikes me that what needs to be reworked is how to change fundamental patterns in industrial societies. There is manufactured doubt, political distortions, vested profits, etc. These aren't the excuses, they are the problem. How do we get the "need to" or "should" to happen?

Cliff Mass said...

BE Ward--- I think I covered that in the blog...population naturally levels off or declines as standard of living improves. Look at Japan and Europe for prime examples of this..cliff

sunsnow12 said...

Courageous post Cliff. Hats off to you.

Garrett Brooks said...


As an Environmental Studies (major) student at the University of Washington, I find it asinine that you would generalize "environmentalists" and argue that sustainability is not a major concern of the environmental movement... I work at the UW OFFICE OF SUSTAINABILITY among coworkers that would all describe themselves as passionate environmentalists. For over nine years, the mission of UW Sustainability has been to disseminate environmental sustainability information to members of the UW community and beyond, in order to encourage SUSTAINABLE practices: i.e. water and energy conservation, use of renewable forms of energy (I just completed a project there where I designed a solar thermal hot water system for our rec facility), and recycling and composting, along with waste reduction. Those are just a few examples.

Here is a link to UW's Sustainability Festival that is going on this week:
You should check it out!

I'm not sure where you missed the connection between environmentalism and sustainability. It is as if you think they are two opposing viewpoints. As someone who is very interested in studying renewable forms of energy, I also believe that technology alone will not save our species from extinction. Yes, there are much cleaner ways to produce our energy than burning fossil fuels; few people will argue that point. However, replacing our current system with one that is still very resource intensive to create (dams and solar panels for example) can only do so much to preserve the planet. The issue is that our society wastes so much. Energy, water, the way we design office buildings that will be demolished in 40 years, you name it, we have done a poor job of being sustainable. We need to adopt practices that USE LESS. Of course environmentalists are concerned about being sustainable. They are the ones pushing the issue.

You mention our need for action. A different approach. I agree with you on that. We need social action on a massive scale where we come together to demand practices from our political system and corporations that benefit us, the people. Not the wealthy few. Being "sustainable" encompasses much more than Bill Gates vowing to invest in renewable energy. It is a lifestyle that we can all choose to live where we keep our planet's limited resources in mind at all times. Environmentalists are usually pretty good at that.

Welcome to the sustainability movement, Cliff.

- Garrett Brooks

B. E. Ward said...

Cliff -

I know this is a weather blog, but my complaint is "population control through standard of living" is so vague. Say we improve the standard of living in sub-Saharan Africa and Afghanistan. What if they want to continue having babies? Is someone going to stop them?

And there's an irony in your comment.. "Look at Japan and Europe for prime examples of this..cliff" Yes, indeed, there is a cliff when you look at Japan and Europe. Both are facing economic crises from having *too low* of a birth rate. The Japanese are starting to have discussions about opening up to immigrants.

Organic Farmer said...

Indeed BE Ward, the Keynesian economic model is NOT sustainable. It needs endless growth and expansion to function. Time for us to think outside the Keynesian box...

Sra Mac said...

Thanks, Cliff, for taking a stand on population. Today, China ended their one child policy. However draconian, it was an effective means of restraining population growth. The possibly millions (a billion perhaps?) more people China will now add in the coming decades may be middle class but the resources and energy they will consume boggles the mind.

B. E. Ward said...

OF -

I don't disagree with you on the silliness of our economic model.. but I also don't think we get anywhere by making vague pronouncements like "Religion is the problem!" or "We might survive if poor people stop having babies!"

Steve Anderson said...

So confused. Extremely intelligent people stating there is no connection between atmospheric CO2 levels and Planetary warming. Then others who pose a diametrically opposite opinion.

Will we ever have a solid , factual outcome on this issue?

Douglas Einck said...

One enormous often overlooked energy resource is Geothermal. I searched through this post & comment, but only found a single mention of it :-( The potential in the US alone:

Michael Snyder said...

The more people, the more resources we need.

We need to use our collective intelligence to either invest in technology to support more people or we need to educate the world and keep population growth down.

Not liking economic downturns doesnt give us an excuse to further pollute the world, no matter how much anyone tries to spin it.

Michael Snyder said...

Steve Anderson-

Try to find one, just one climatologist that argues against global warming. Be sure to show your work.

Co2 raises the temp of the atmosphere, its basic physics.

Eric Soderlund said...

Thanks Cliff!

Ansel said...

If this thread is still going... I just heard that China is scrapping their "one child" policy. I only today heard an NPR primer on this, but the suggestion was that it was no longer needed. I only hope they aren't declaring victory too soon.

Gpacharlie said...

There was another Pharaoh with a population control program. That didn't go so well.

John Marshall said...

I see arguments here about politics and government and the inability to act. All true, but they are merely symptoms of a much bigger problem.

The bottom line is that we humans are not an evolved enough species to solve really big problems through reasonable approaches. Overpopulation and climate change are way beyond what we as a species can handle. It isn't that people don't know how to solve these problems, but rather that there is no possibility of getting seven billion people on the same page. Everything pushes the other way.

In the end, this will sort itself out. We are animals and we are part of this world. All animal species eventually crash their population when it becomes unsustainable. A warming planet will just nudge this along a little faster, but it's coming either way. The usual mechanisms are starvation and disease. A virus will pop up that knocks things down by a few billion. And we humans are clever enough that we can make our own deadly bugs, and if that fails, there is always nuclear war.

It's a shame that we can't be proactive and have to fall back on "natural" and/or historical methods, but we are built as a species to respond to immediate existential threats. We're very good at that. Unfortunately, neither runaway population growth nor the scientific work showing the direction of climate change are perceived as immediate existential threats by very many people.

Attempts to classify it as such by environmental activists and supporting media have utterly failed. And just like an antibiotic that you deliver in lower-than-effective doses, you end up making things worse by creating resistance.

Time to get realistic and focus on how we can best optimize the things we do control to survive the coming crisis. In the PNW, that means (among other things) dealing with a massive population influx in less than a century when parts of North America become unlivable.

Maybe its time to think more seriously about Cascadia.

Charlie Phillips said...

Nice post Cliff... hit the nail on the head with this one. Middle-class people are generally not concerned enough about climate change to give up their lifestyles. It's the classic "tragedy of the commons." I agree nuclear is important. Charlie Eriksen has told me repeatedly that solar power is the energy of the future... what do you think?

tabitha206 said...

The more affluent one is, the more likely they are to be concerned about global warming. The more affluent one is, the more energy one is likely to use.

So, yes, so-called environmentalists are more responsible for climate change than most other groups. After Al Gore did his thing about climate change, it was revealed that his home used 20x the energy of the average home. Environment groups ignored this, because they care about the environment.


If you believe in climate change, yet still drive anywhere other than work, or fly for any reason other than to support yourself, I don't really see how you can in good conscience look at anyone else. You haven't done all that YOU can do yet. Until you have, I don't care what you're cop-outs are, people are not going to listen to you. And that's the problem. Climate change is everyone else's fault. Always.

It's not the environmentalists criss-crossing the world in private jets to attend climate change conferences. Oh no. No no. Perish the thought. Academia's farts don't stink, nor do their vehicles emit pollution. Instead, they emit magic pixie dust. It's those gosh-darn working-class and unfashionable other-party industries.

Would you believe the Democrats take more annual airplane flights than Republicans, as well as fly more miles? Shhhhhhhhh. I won't tell if you don't. Those gosh-darn working-class southerners and their oil farmers whose products the liberal elite use more than anyone!

So drilling in the Arctic was called off was it? Where then will they get the fuel for your next flight home? I guarantee you it will come from somewhere. The Arctic's gain is somewhere else's loss, but hey, why ruin a victory celebration?

I've said this before, but it never ceases to amaze me that climate change proponents continue to criticize me even though I do not drive or fly. They could not care less what my carbon footprint is (the bottom 1% of all Americans), could not care less. They are upset because I don't talk about climate change and parrot their views.

Any you wonder why it doesn't get better?

It's because its most vocal advocates are insincere. Think about it. The people who are "too selfish" to have kids (their words), care deeply about what happens to the planet once they're dead and buried. Why?

Okay, what about the homeless we have living on the streets today in Downtown Seattle? WE have more than enough money in King County to house everyone. Why do some people care more about climate discomfort when they no longer exist, than the do about needy people right now?

Why, exactly, do we need consensus on climate change when the affluent-class could make a HUGE difference just by themselves? IF everyone who believes that climate change was an issue, stopped driving and flying tomorrow, that would in and of itself, if not solve it, make great strides.

But they don't. Instead, they say it's your fault, or their fault, or someone's fault, then they fly home for mom's pumpkin pie. Yummy!

What you are witnessing is yet another ruling-class, neo-puritan moral-panic. It's not about climate change, it's about them. If you want to know what people really care about, pay no attention to what they say. Instead, watch what they do.

If you do, you will come to the conclusion that those who actually care about it talk less and do more.

It's not about what you do, though. It's about what you say. Snark, snark, sarcasm, snark. Climate change proponents are rich in snark. They'll tell you with the wit of Lorne Michaels why "the others" are oh-so-lame.

If only snark and sarcasm solved the problem.

Climate change is here to stay, because those who claim to care most about it, don't care at all, and the evidence to support this statement is omnipresent and ubiquitous.

artinnature said...

7 billion poor folks, each using 1 unit of energy per day = 7 billion units per day.
3 billion middle class folks using 2.3 units of energy per day also = 7 billion units per day. And this is conservative, a middle class person uses way more than 2.3 times the energy used by a poor person.

Yes population is a problem (correction: conundrum) But the middle class lifestyle is also a problem, not a solution.

As for renewable sources of energy, they're all currently subsidized by fossil fuels. Think you're going to build a wind farm? First, drive your (ffp = fossil fuel powered) ffp-truck around to see where its windy. then hire a firm to come out in their ffp-trucks to study the site. then hire another to come out in their ffp-trucks to install the turbines (they hired another ffp-company to build the turbines, which hired another ffp-company to mine the materials) Then another string of ffp-companies deliver the materials to the ffp-factory, and the turbines to the windy site, and other ffp-companies maintain them for next 20 years. You have to look at whole systems before you can claim whether or not something is renewable or sustainable.

As for nuclear energy, none of the decommissioning costs have been accounted for, let alone the costs to store toxic waste.

Solution? There is none, things will get a lot worse before they get better. We'll just have to adapt to a low energy and low population future (of course most will not). But that doesn't mean that life has to suck, or that humans will become extinct any time soon.

George Winters said...

Notice the post title: "what can mankind do". Where is the personal responsibility made clear? Tabitha above makes a good point. Where is the equivalent campaign of public attention that speaks to all of us (I include myself) that says "Only YOU can prevent climate change!" The only special blame or poor grade I would give the environmentalists is that we write and act as if some other is at fault and some other must change. Exon did not burn the excess energy, we did. Exon's failure is that they are helping us burn energy without helping us look in the mirror to see what we are doing.

In wealthy countries if each of us parked the car an extra 10 days a year and flew one less long trip per year we would do more to slow down the climate change than all the other current proposals will accomplish in that same year. So far the most effective carbon reduction process that really made a difference has been when the economy slowed down. That clearly shows that driving and flying less makes a difference. Slowing down our personal consumption does make a difference.

Let's say Yes to all of the above in Cliff's post, but also really try to think of ways to have similar thought put in to making a personal connection to the challenge. We ask people to put out their campfire while at the same time planning forest management practices to reduce the fire danger. We suggest that people eat less sugar while at the same time trying to change the food labeling. We ask people to drive defensively while at the same time mandating safety belts and good brakes in new cars.

We are past the point where changing lightbulbs will be enough, partly because we actually have had a successful strategy that spoke to both the personal and the collective action. Now we need to accept a bigger challenge. Changing other daily travel expectations and goals can make a big difference, especially if we combine that with collective large scale regulations and incentives. Creative people need to help us figure out ways to make the challenge both personal and societal.

Logicpath said...

Cliff, you may have thought a lot about this, but you haven't thought it through.

Environmentalists are keenly aware that sustainability is the key solution to global warming, as well as most other environmental issues. But sustainability encompasses many aspects so it is not something you can focus on. SOME environmentalists choose to focus on the unsustainability of pumping CO2 into the air. Their success can be measured by the amount of discussion taking place today compared to 10, 20, or 30 years ago. You need that before taking the second step, making decisions on which actions to take.

Global warming was bound to be a big political fight. The solutions are too deeply tied to economics and government for it not to be. Your "fresh approach," which is not fresh, involves spending a lot of money, affects personal "freedoms," and/or demands more government -- all of which invites political opposition.

What needs to happen is a new approach to economics. We define "progress" as the growth in production without considering depletion of resources. "Success" in business is determined by yearly profit, without ever subtracting the long-term cost to society. If businesses make a lot of money moving NYC to higher ground, is that progress?

A carbon tax, while a step in the right direction, is a linear solution to a non-linear sustainability problem. It faces tremendous political hurdles and, as fracking technology has shown, could easily be offset by some new fossil fuel cost saving discoveries.

Global warming is a HUGE issue, worthy of all the current concern and more. But the naysayers and foot-draggers are winning, I'm afraid.

docjim505 said...

The questions that ought to be asked include:

1. Why did mankind stop burning wood and switch to coal and, later, petroleum?

2. Why does man use hydrocarbon-burning engines?

The answers are pretty simple: because they are cheap, reliable, and in the case of the steam and then the IC engine, readily portable.

When green energy can claim these things, it will replace fossil fuels.

Unless and until it can claim these things, one may as well insist that we get our power from pixie dust.

As for the harm done by certain alarmists such as Gore, I entirely agree. You don't convince people that there's a problem by (for example) calling them deniers, stupid, ignorant, in the pay of Big Oil, &c. isn't calculated to win friends and influence people. to the contrary, it makes them very, very inclined to think that they are being buffaloed and then look very carefully - perhaps too carefully - at the data. I add that blaming everything under the sun, from refugees from Syria to shark attacks to a hot day in Podunk, on global warming also doesn't help the cause.

Lisa Yarrow said...

I agree with Cliff's points. In particular, his thoughts on population. I have long felt this is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge. Sadly, China recently announced that it is lifting it's one child per family restriction.
If you haven't read it yet you might want to check out Naomi Klein's book "This Changes Everything." Her premise is that if we really want to work our way out of this mess we need to look at the economic juggernaught of capitalism and it's underlying values of unlimited growth and unlimited consumption that are so out of whack with living in a closed system. I agree we need to move away from "disaster capitalism" but how on earth are we going to get the world to agree to that? To get people to understand that the needs of the whole are greater than the needs of the one? That's the really sticky wicket in all of this.

Hadie Fattah said...

Good article.. in indonesia i have a article global warming on