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A bit of philosophy

Filed under: — eric @ 16 May 2007

Eric Steig and Gavin Schmidt

The two of us participated last week in an interesting meeting at the University of Washington on Ethics and Climate Change. Other scientists in attendance included Dennis Hartmann, who gave an overview of the current state of the science, and sometime RealClimate contributor Cecilia Bitz. Organized by Associate Professor of Philosophy Stephen Gardiner, the conference was dedicated to the particular ethical and moral issues raised by the spectre of anthropogenic climate change. Since we aren’t philosophers by training, and since it would probably stray too far from RealClimate’s focus on science, we won’t comment in great detail. However, we thought it worth making our readers aware that there is a very interesting and growing literature on the subject. Based on their remarks at the conference, we heartily recommend checking out the papers and commentaries written by the various philosphers, scientists, and political theorists who attended. You can get abstracts of their talks on the conference web page. Below, we simply wish to note several issues raised at the conference that we found particularly interesting.

Stephen Gardiner presented an articulate argument on the moral ramifications of geoengineering (in particular the proposal by Paul Crutzen to add sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere to increase the planetary albedo) about we have expressed some doubts previously, chiefly on scientific grounds). Among the cogent statements made by Gardiner was that while one may argue that research on geoengineering acts as a kind of insurance policy,

… there are many such policies; and there is a real concern that the narrow one of “Geoengineering Research Only” gains prominence among them only because it is the one that seems most congenial to us, the present generation.

If you are interesting in reading more, you can get the entire text of Stephen’s paper, here.

Another very interesting talk was that by Jeff Kiehl, a climate modeler at NCAR, who raised a series of ethical issues regarding how climate models are constructed and the ethical decisions that climate modelers face in conveying model results to the public. This talk prompted a lively discussion about the role of peer review, with the conclusion that the system probably works pretty well. It is imperfect, but it does act as a reasonable first filter to catch most egregious misuses of science.

Steve Schneider and one of us (Gavin) discussed the roles of public scientists and of scientists reaching out to the public and some of the pitfalls to be avoided there (see Steve’s site or this post for the kind of thing we were talking about).

Henry Shue, an Oxford philosopher well known for his work on such issues as the moral implications of torture and pre-emptive war, made the argument that the moral implications of not dealing with climate change should be thought of not only in terms of harm, but in terms of potential harm. Unfortunately for those of us that would like to keep burning fossil fuels at our current rate, Shue argues that uncertainty — the possibility that harm caused to future generations from anthropogenic climate change will be relatively small — does not get us out of our moral obligation to change our behavior. That is, one need only recognize that business as usual will increase the risk of significant harm – a point that almost nobody debates – for it to be clear that business as usual may be unethical.

Paul Baer, whose influential book “Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming” (with co-author Tom Athanasiou) discussed ethical issues in how one should allocate global warming permits across the world, discussed some interesting new twists to their work. The principal objection to the idea that everyone has the right to emit an equal portion of GHGs, is that today’s mean value is below that of China’s per capita emissions, and thus a straightforward cap and trade at that level is politically impossible. The new twist in his work relates to the need to balance the current emission problem with the right of poor countries to develop that “should not be impeded by the requirement to reduce GHG emissions, and that the presumably steep burden of mitigation costs must be shared on the basis of responsibility and capacity”. This of course, shifts more of the burden onto the developed countries who have already benefited from their use of fossil fuels. It will be interesting to see how that is received at the climate negotiations.

Finally, there was one idea that was raised that we take issue with, and which we think worth commenting on because it comes up frequently. For lack of a better name, we’ll call it the Easterbrook Fallacy, after Gregg Easterbrook, the author of the book A Moment on the Earth: The coming age of environmental optimism. In that book, Easterbrook makes the repeated claim that environmentalists are off the mark in their warnings to society, because things are actually getting better. For example, he notes that the Clean Air Act has substantially improved air quality in the United States, and somehow turns this into an argument that we needn’t be concerned about clean air. He completely ignores the obvious fact the Clean Air Act exists only due to such concerns being expressed by scientists and other that Easterbrook dismisses as “pessimists”.* In a similar vein, one of the commentators at the conference made the argument that it was an open question whether we had any moral obligation towards future generations for our impact on the climate, since that impact could in principle be averted (for example through carbon dioxide removal via ocean iron fertilization). This is equivalent to saying that we will not have to address the issue of climate change if we address it, an argument that has no bearing whatsoever on whether we have a moral obligation. We were a bit surprised to hear it from a philosopher since it is a tautology (usually anathema to philosophers).

*Note that Easterbrook now says that the science is in and he takes “global warming” seriously. That doesn’t change the logical fallacy in his earlier arguments.

261 Responses to “A bit of philosophy”

  1. 151
    tamino says:

    Re: #149 (James)

    Solar and wind power are proven technologies, and there’s more than enough energy coming in to do the job. The only problem with them is intermittency. We can solve that problem by developing better energy storage technology.

    It surprises me how many people are eager to invest billions or trillions of dollars in deadly-waste-producing, terrorist-weapon-feeding nuclear plants, but won’t suggest investing anywhere near the same in developing the energy storage technology that would make nuclear and coal-powered plants obsolete.

  2. 152

    [[fossil fuel (& biomass) can run whenever, but incur significant fuel costs and create CO2. ]]

    Biomass creates no net CO2.

  3. 153
    Hank Roberts says:

    Tamino, I think behind the PR blitz is likely the scale-of-ownership issue.

    Efficiency, insulation, solar hot water — immediate cost benefit directly to the individual person. Sure there’s profit getting the stuff to the end user originally —- design, manufacture, sale, distribution, financing, installation, and maintenance. After that, who benefits? The end user.

    The only way to sell coal these days is to a few very large buyers. If they aren’t buying more as expected, the value of the “assets in the ground” is going to stay there. Nuclear is attractive for the same reasons.

    It’s been a long while since the coal wagon came to town and people shoveled their own into their own cellars. Good thing too.

    But looking at the most obvious efficiencies — insulation, solar hot water, remember the various attempts over the years to get landlords to improve the energy efficiency of rental properties? Shot down every time.

    If that had happened in the late 1970s, we’d be in better shape now.

    Heck, as far as I know, there’s still no modular roof panel made that builds in hot water heating, that could be used even in new construction let alone in replacing old roofs. Everything’s still tacked on. Who’d profit from creating such a thing?

  4. 154
    pete best says:

    Re #149, Solar has two issues, namely that of where you are in the world and power is not very well matched to demand in many places with current levels of efficiency. Increase efficiency and you may change this but not matching demand to available power in many parts of the world.

    Wind is not capabale of replacing fossil fuels either but it can mitigate them somewhat. Other sources are required as well to suplement wind and solar.

  5. 155
    John Mashey says:

    re: #139 “How many people stop smoking because they might get ill in the future?”
    [This has a strange, but relevant connection to climate science].

    The WHO estimates that by 2020, smoking will cause about 10M deaths/year:

    due especially to its rapid rise in many developing countries, including China (home to 350-400M smokers, as well as rapid increase in coal-fired power plants, i.e., Not A Good Place for Lungs). Many reasonable people wish for a lower world population, but growing smoking seems like a particularly unpleasant way to accomplish that.

    On the upside, many people have actually quit, in many places. Fortunately for me, California has long been one of the most anti-smoking places on the planet, but there are by now lots of places with similar rules.

    For anyone interested in the interactions of science/politics/economics of climate science, for comparison read the fine book by Harvard medical historian Allan Brandt, “The Cigarette Century: the rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America.” (2007)

    In particular, the denial/obfuscation tactics on the part of the cigarette industry are fascinating/horrifying … and familiar, especially the tactic of saying one thing while funding front organizations to say otherwise. There are certainly differences: I’d be personally happy if all cigarettes disappeared tomorrow, whereas it would be a world catastrophe if oil/gas/coal disappeared that way, before we achieve a sustainable energy system.

    [From Brandt] Around 1954, they said (via the Tobacco Industry Research Committee):
    “1. There is no conclusive scientific proof of a link between smoking and cancer.
    2. Medical research points to many possible causes of cancer.”
    and they kept saying so … for 40 years.

    but more honestly there is:
    “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.” Brown & Williamson, 1969.
    [Kool, Lucky Strike, etc; now part of RJ Reynolds].

    I wouldn’t tar all fossil fuel companies with the cigarette brush, although:
    a) Some tactics of some are similar, including the use of “controversy”
    b) Some of the front organizations/thinktanks/lobbiests/proponents are the same.

    My bottom line: the book above shows how truly hard it is to change behavior, and how powerful focussed economic interests can be, but it also shows that it is possible to change, but takes good science+concerted efforts by many people over a long time.

  6. 156
    bjc says:

    I take it Hank that you are not a landlord? If you were, how would you recover the upfront investment for the insulation, assuming that tenants pay for their own heat and cooling?

    P.S. Most building codes around me now require significant insulation.
    P.P.S. However, various forms of rent control limit the return on building new energy efficient rental units.
    P.P.P.S. (a) Who chooses? (b) Who pays?

  7. 157
    Hank Roberts says:

    Improving investment property is part of maintaining it, and if you aren’t already aware of how to do that have a serious talk with a CPA or competent tax person who can help you take the long view toward doing it. Your personal situation will vary, you have to deal with your own zoning and regulations. If you can’t make it where you live as a conservative, energy-efficient longterm owner of rental property, you have to change your local government.

    The places that have been made friendly to short term strip-mining by owners, where the zoning and building codes allow fast cheap cosmetic flipping of property, end up slums as the buildings start to fall apart. That’s the opposition.

    It’s local politics, basically. If the housing stock where you live is not being kept up, and you want to keep living there, you have to deal with it as a community and a citizen.

    There is always a tension between longterm, conservative, maintenance and improvement versus short term profit extraction.
    That’s life. Choose your side.

  8. 158
    dhogaza says:

    But that is only the climate science part. To justify curtailing emissions, you need to show that the benefits exceed the costs.

    Well, actually, one can easily claim that you have that backwards.

  9. 159
    Steve Reynolds says:

    >Well, actually, one can easily claim that you have that backwards.

    If we are talking “balance of evidence”, there is no difference.

  10. 160
    Eli Rabett says:

    Since increasing insulation increases the value of the building the landlord has a capital gain. Moreover, since the cost of the insulation can be written off as depreciation, the cost can be recaptured in a few years.

  11. 161
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Fergus>Re. #61: Steve: why would this imply a geoengineering solution; I don’t get it? I’d have thought that the geoE. solution was implied more by the cost/benefit approach rather than the alternative. Can you perhaps expand on your thinking on this?

    My point was that the potential severe unintended economic consequences of strong mitigation regulations might be avoided by near term concentration on energy production research. If warming effects are more severe than expected, then a short term geoengineering solution would be available as insurance.

  12. 162
    bjc says:

    Do you own or run a business that involves making substantial capital purchases? If you did you would know that your answer is deeply insufficient. Who pays?

  13. 163
    ray ladbury says:

    Re 150: Steve Reynolds, on the one hand, we are told that we must show benefit justifies cost. On the other hand any time a scientist brings up the possibility of an adverse outcome that isn’t 100% certain they are accused of alarmism. A cost benefit analysis has to consider ALL possible risks, even if the probability is not large, but the cost is huge. For instance, if the climate becomes completely unpredictable year to year as it has during past epochs, would agricutlture be possible? Maybe the probability of this is 1% or even less, but it is certainly nonzero, and the cost would be the end of human civilization. You are right, this is the next phase in the analysis and in the argument, and I’ll bet you will not like the results. My guess? You’ll probably just dismiss them as alarmist anyway.

  14. 164
    Dave Blair says:

    #135, Dave Rado, extinction theories of 250 million years ago are very interesting but change to frequently for me to put them above what I have seen form myself. Again lex parsimoniae leads me to lean towards what I have experienced myself over those interesting theories.

    #128 Philippe, I flew over Greenland and Iceland last year and they probably have more barren places than Death Valley. I also went to Vegas last year and when I flew in, I was really suprised how green that city was and that is the closest I have been to Death Valley.

    #138 James, many places do not get as hot as California, like Alaska (which is the largest state) but a longer growing season simply means more growing is possible. The parts of the earth where we have frost are enormous. Frost kills plants and other life forms. Either by being able to plant more crops or expanding the area you can grow crops. I take that as an assumption I do not have to prove.

    My father had a bumper crop in 1913 of 51 bussels an acre. A few years ago a drought the average was double that. This increase is due to better farming methods, varieties, and irrigation. If you look a North American map you see many many large lakes that there because of dams. These are bringing water to dry areas at a much greater rate than droughts are happenning. You look at Google earth and you see irrigation projects near the Pyramids of Egypt and throughout the world. There are more humans on the Earth than ever before. This is homeostasis. The Earth is getting more life and we are the proof.

  15. 165
    James says:

    Re #151: [t surprises me how many people are eager to invest billions or trillions of dollars in deadly-waste-producing, terrorist-weapon-feeding nuclear plants…]

    Just as it ought to surprise me that so many people are willing to believe anti-nuclear propaganda, without bothering to check out the facts. (In fact it doesn’t, since I’ve long since lost most of my illusions about the human race.) Still, I find it ironic that the same people who rail against AGW denialists will happily hop on to the “nuclear is evil” bandwagon.

    Is nuclear waste deadly? Sure, under the proper circumstances, just as is the waste from the greenest biomass plant. As to the terrorist-weapon-feeding claim (to risk a brief excursion towards politics), I can’t see why that should be an issue. Petrodollars have financed every terrorist to date: that hasn’t stopped many people from buying gas, has it?

    […but won’t suggest investing anywhere near the same in developing the energy storage technology that would make nuclear and coal-powered plants obsolete.]

    Do you suppose that might have something to do with the fact that while we know how to build nuclear plants, we don’t have a clue as to how to even start developing your magical energy storage system. Maybe some day someone will make a discovery that might make it possible, just as someone might demonstrate working cold fusion, but until that basic discovery is made there’s no way to spend money developing it.

  16. 166
    Onar Ã?m says:

    Re 144, 147:

    First of all, “balance of evidence” means >%50 chance of being correct. A civil case has much, much higher demands on evidence than 50%.

    Second, I am quite confident that in a civil case where the skeptics and the pro-AGWs were given equal amount of time to present their case for the jury the defence would win easily. In fact, I am confident that the prosecution would be shred to pieces. The Kyoto-protocol would be flung out of court.

    What uncertainties are we talking about? We are talking about uncertainties in almost every single field relating to climate change, but the most important are:

    – future CO2 emissions
    – future increase in CO2-level resulting from emissions
    – future (and present) climate change resulting from increases in CO2-level
    – future damages resulting from anthropogenic climate change

    Each of these factors alone contain a huge uncertainty, adding up to a compound uncertainty factor of about 1000.

    The Kyoto-process has been set up as to maximize uncertainty in favor of assuming the worst, i.e. the assumption of guilt. This leads to gross violations of individual rights.

    The uncertainties alone undercut the Kyoto-protocol. In addition comes the question of scientific credibility. Climate science has become very politicized, and in court a proper defence attourney would have no problem pulverizing the credibility of the AGW climate scientists.

    [Response:I think you have misunderstood the issue: we can make conditional predictions, saying given such ans such emission scenario, the consequences will be like this. One example is the smog, acid rain or the ozone layer. Similar predictions were made and measures were introduced to alleviate the problem. There is not much smog in London these days (although some people would argue that the air quality due to cars is still not the best). -rasmus]

  17. 167
    david says:

    good discussion, but hey, we are approaching what E.O. Wilson calls the Bottleneck. We face a convergence of ecological limitations and looming political disasters. Even a cheap source of carbon-neutral energy wouldn’t avert the greatest species extinction in 60 million years, wouldn’t fill the oceans with fish again, and certainly wouldn’t change the military conquest mindset of those who already serve the goals of the richest on Earth. Solving the global warming crisis with some miraculous technofix would only lull us back to a narcotic sleep from which we would probably not awake. The only way forward is through an evolutionary leap in world consciousness, if we have the time and discipline.

  18. 168
    Craig Allen says:

    RE 151 & 165: Magical energy storage systems

    I don’t know how magical it is, but this looks promising –

    If only some of the gazillions being put into nuclear could be put toward jump-starting the implementation of such novel technologies.

  19. 169

    Does anyone really reach the Nth comment? I hope not. In any event, even though I am not a scientist, and therefore I am challenged by some of the concepts put forth by the contributors and the commentators, I still like the site a great deal. Intellectual curiosity is a blessing.

  20. 170
    Ivan de Villiers says:


    I am not a scientist but am interested in the climate change issues related to human activity. There is a lot of debate in the scientific circles as to the truth of this. Thus it hard for a lay man to find a clear answer, if it exists. I have this question if any one has the time to answer:
    Is there any estimate of how much green house gas (CO2, nitrous oxide etc) that human activity has dumped in to the atmosphere from 1907 and how thick this layer ,if spread over the whole atmosphere at standard pressure would be. Taking into account the earths ablity to process some of these gases.
    Does such a study exist?
    Is this a meaningful question?

    Thank you
    Yours Truly,
    Ivan de Villiers

  21. 171
    Craig Allen says:

    RE 151, 165 & 168: Speaking of getting novel energy systems of the ground …

    Check out the 19th of May Science Show broadcast from Australia’s Radio National. There is a transcript plus an audio recording of an interview with one of the scientists responsible for the in-progress commercialisation of a zero CO2 energy source. He talks about the trials and tribulations of scientists working out how to commercialise their science. The good news is that in spite of many setbacks they are well underway and the potential is huge.

    While you are at it, there is an interview with the maker of the soon to be released Crude, which is a documentary about oil, what it means for civilization, and what will happen as production peaks and greenhouse warming bites.

    And don’t stop there, if you look back through the archived programs you’ll find lots of interviews with scientists involved in various way in climate and energy research.

  22. 172
    Fergus Brown says:

    #161, #166: Steve Reynolds; thank you for explaining; I think I get where you are coming from. What sort of thing might an ‘unintended economic consequence’ of mitigation be? I presume you are thinking in terms of global recession, derived from dramatic economic impacts on consumption patterns in the USA, or something similar. Whilst I can see how this can be seen as undesirable in many ways, I am not sure how such an incident would be helped by a short-term geoengineering solution; it is more likely, surely, to be managed by a market solution. However, I don’t feel that we are thinking that much differently on this subject.

    Onar: naturally, I feel your confidence is misplaced. Perhaps EPA vs Mass. was just such a test? In which case, ‘scepticism’ had its day in court and lost.

    Your uncertainties are interesting; they are all about the future. Of course the future is uncertain; it is unknowable in an absolute sense. But your uncertainties can still be addressed.
    On the future emission of CO2; already, CO2-equivalent WMGHG levels are very close to 450ppm. There is absolutely no chance of emissions of these stopping overnight. Not only will emissions continue, but, as things stand, they are still increasing; this increase can easilt be extrapolated forwards for a reasonable projection of emissions levels in 2040, for example, under a BAU scenario. But the bottom line here is that this uncertainty is entirely founded on what we do about emissions collectively. Therefore, it is a function of what we choose to do about it, rather than any innate uncertainty about the numbers. This is, to some extent, the whole point of the IPCC; if BAU, then levels, then warming; the logic is straightforward.

    Future CO2 levels from emissions are dependent on the absolute emissions levels, plus or minus any changes in CO2 sinks. As things stand, the evidence is increasingly that the sinks are not adjusting fast enough, and are more likely to reduce in efficiency than increase, therefore, any uncertainty is likely to strengthen the case for action, not weaken it.

    Future climate change resulting from CO2 changes is quite well-constrained if you want to think of temperature (sensitivity is ~3C). Other changes are harder to predict, which is one of the reasons to worry. Hansen et. al. 2007 (ACP) is useful on this.

    Future damage is dependent on how you measure damage. I have seen no peer-reviewed paper of any description which suggests that the global consequence of a warming of 2C or more will be beneficial; perhaps you can provide a reference to one.

    I get the impression that, at bottom, you are concerned that individual rights are being compromised unfairly. I cannot answer this for you; it depends on whether you accept or deny the initial presumption, that emissions are going to be a bad thing. If you don’t accept this, then of course the response is unfair. If you do accept this, then the question is to what extent you are willing to allow your individual desires to be superceded by a greater humanitarian need.

    Your final comment is simply an insult to climate scientists. Rather than assume that they produce what politicians want them to, you need to recognise that they are producing what the scientific analysis shows them. If you don’t trust the science, then any discussion of consequences or costs is effectively meaningless, as you will not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world.

    I don’t intend my comments to be personal or aggressive; you appear to have opinions which are shared by many people, and your raising of these on RC is important, however, my concern is that you may already have made your mind up about the ‘verdict’. Do you believe that you would be a fair and impartial juror in the case of science vs scepticism?

  23. 173
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Onar, My, I see we’ve gone from 10000% uncertainty up to a factor of 1000 uncertainty–and all based on nothing more than the strength of your assertions. Hmm, let’s look at your assertions point by point

    First, uncertainties in future CO2 emissions–well, energy demand has increased exponentially and continues to do so. Fossil fuels remain plentiful and cheap. When petroleum peaks, coal is there to pick up the slack for industrial uses. No reason to doubt that CO2 will continue to rise exponentially–unless we act to specifically avoid this. So, yes, there are uncertainties, but they don’t alter the conclusion that we can expect 500 ppm or more within 30 years.

    Second, uncertainties in how much of the carbon goes into the atmosphere. Well, given that CO2 emissions continue to increase, and that the ability of the oceans, biomass etc. to absorb it will likely decrease in a warming world, no reason to doubt that we’ll make it to ~500 ppm in the next 30 years.

    Third, future climate change resulting from this increase. Actually, the climate models have a pretty good track record here and are improving continually. I agree there are uncertainties, but the error bars are quite asymmetric–favoring the high side rather than the low side. We already know of positive feedbacks the models do not include because the models are basically conservative.

    Fourth, the damage resulting. Agreed here, although, here again, we’ve only begun to explore the low side of potential damage. Sea level rise is a virtual certainty. Increased drought and more violent storms (jury’s still out on hurricanes, I will stipulate). So, what if the climate becomes unpredictable to the point where agriculture is impossible over much of the globe? What if drought creates new deserts, water wars, etc.? All possible with varying degrees of probability that are yet to be determined.

    Gee, Onar, looks like your argument is on pretty shaky ground, but since you based it on assertion rather than science, that’s not too surprising.

  24. 174

    [[Re #149, Solar has two issues, namely that of where you are in the world and power is not very well matched to demand in many places with current levels of efficiency. Increase efficiency and you may change this but not matching demand to available power in many parts of the world.]]

    As someone just pointed out in a previous post, solar supply tends to be highest when electrical demand is highest — the middle of the day in summer, when everyone turns on their air conditioners.

    [[Wind is not capabale of replacing fossil fuels either but it can mitigate them somewhat. Other sources are required as well to suplement wind and solar. ]]

    Why is it “not capable?” It can generate electricity, and the electricity can power electric cars or split water for hydrogen for fuel cells. The electrons in the home circuitry don’t care whether they come from fossil fuel burning or from a windmill turning.

  25. 175
    bjc says:

    If government intervention can enable the substantial adoption of non-CO2 emitting power generation technologies by ensuring economies of scale in manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, etc., how come China with its highly centralized economy, large tracts of unproductive land, extensive mountain ranges, more than sufficient technology base and huge demand for new power generation capacity is not leading the way? Instead China is continuing to rely on and build new coal-based power plants at an astonishing rate.

    Much of the above discussion on alternative energy sources reminds me of that classic New Yorker cartoon where two scientists are looking at a complex mathematical equation that includes “and then something magical happens” just prior to the desired solution. Wishing don’t make it so!

  26. 176

    [[Just as it ought to surprise me that so many people are willing to believe anti-nuclear propaganda, without bothering to check out the facts. ]]

    This is a constant propaganda line of the nuclear industry and its supporters. If everybody only had all the facts, they’d think like we do. They oppose nuclear because they don’t know all the facts that we know.

    Besides being wrong — there are plenty of people who know all the relevant facts and are still anti-nuclear — the tactic is stupid. It insults everyone who disagrees with them even tentatively. You don’t win people over by calling them ignorant. But just for that reason, I hope James and his ilk keep doing it. If they piss off enough people, they’ll bury themselves.

  27. 177

    [[If government intervention can enable the substantial adoption of non-CO2 emitting power generation technologies by ensuring economies of scale in manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, etc., how come China with its highly centralized economy, large tracts of unproductive land, extensive mountain ranges, more than sufficient technology base and huge demand for new power generation capacity is not leading the way? ]]

    Wage labor is more productive than slavery, but China still gets a lot of its manufacturing from the labor camps. Why do you suppose that is?

  28. 178
    Ray Ladbury says:

    BJC asks “who pays?” The answer with people like BJC around is obvious: your grandchildren.

    Craig Allen: Heat storage is effective only to a point. Waste heat is waste heat. You will get less efficiency out of it than you had from hour initial system. By all means, it could save energy in some cases, but it is not a panacea. You’re fighting the 2nd law of thermo here, and the 2nd law always wins. What is more, this technology does not generate energy. Nuclear power does–and on demand. By all means do whatever we can with solar, wind and other renewables, but if it comes down to a choice between nuclear and coal, nuclear has my vote.

    Dave Blair, Your decision to “lean toward what you have experienced yourself” doesn’t really leave you open to understanding science in which you are not an expert, does it? It is undeniable that we are producing more food than ever before, but we are placing amazing strain on the ecosystem in doing so. I would recommend examining more deeply “the things you have experienced yourself”.

  29. 179
    Hank Roberts says:

    Again, you should talk to your own CPA or tax adviser if you can’t imagine how you could make energy efficiency improvements, as for example to insulate your rental property. Or turn around a soil erosion problem on your farm for that matter.

    If you own rental property, and you have an opinion from a credible financial advisor saying you really cannot afford energy-efficiency changes to improve the property, it merits discussion, though probably not here. I’m certainly not the professional you need help from. I’ve improved what’s come under my hand and made money at it, over my lifetime, to leave it in better shape. If you’re degrading what you control, extracting money but not enough to keep improving it and stay in business, I pray you consider you may be doing it less well than you are capable of. You may need help. You may be getting stripmined yourself and not know it.

    If so it’s possible to get help.

    Yes, certainly, there are impoverished people who own property they cannot take care of. You may be one such. If that’s your position, and if you also have a political belief that interferes with doing anything but running the property into the ground, you had bad luck, inherited trouble, or did something wrong in the past, and have now run out of options.

    They say in aviation: altitude, airspeed, ideas: any two will keep you flying. There are financial equivalents.

    This is in one sense way off topic. But true, there are plenty of people who really cannot see their way clear to improving the world. This is one definition of “overshoot” — living beyond a sustainable level on available energy and resources.

    If your life requires more than your life provides and you’re taking what you need by wasteful methods —-and owning uninsulated rental housing in most areas, I submit, is a very wasteful way to make money, like farming until the topsoil is gone or overgrazing a ranch or owning a sweatshop factory and grinding the employees — consider asking help.

    There should be help available.

  30. 180
    Ray Ladbury says:

    BJC, have you ever been to China? They have all they can handle just feeding 1.3 billion poeple, let alone maintaining 8% economic growth to create enough jobs just to keep the unemployment rate at its current level. China is hardly a command economy. The central government has very limited control in the provinces. And setting up wind farms, solar power stations, and even nuclear plants is harder than digging plentiful, dirty bituminous coal out of the ground and burning it–as they have done for centuries. Having been to China, it’s just not authentic Chinese food if it doesn’t have that good ol’ coal tar taste.

    The main issue, however, is that the Chinese, like the rest of us, do not understand the risks facing us. Human beings do a very poor job of estimating risk–especially when it is not a risk that is staring them in the face. We over-estimate risks due to spectacular causes such as terrorism, and grossly underestimate risks associated with our everyday environments (viz. the number of people who still smoke).

    I 100% agree that a renewable energy economy won’t just “happen”. It will take people becoming educated about the future they are creating by their present actions.

  31. 181
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    #170 Renewables in China

    China is in fact extending it wind capacity very fast. In 2006 they doubled capacity from 1,260 MW to 2,594 MW (See ). And they are currently constructing their own manufacturing industry. Admittedly, wind is still a lot smaller than coal, but it’s getting there.

  32. 182
    Hank Roberts says:

    > insulating property you rent to others

    Does the following description sound familiar?

    “Capital depreciation exceeding investment,
    and maintenance deferred, so there is
    deterioration in capital stocks,
    especially long-lived infrastructure.”

    It’s a symptom of a larger problem, described here:
    And as mentioned above, also here:
    And of course here:

  33. 183
    J.C.H says:

    Roger Daltry says:

    “My answer is to burn all the f***ing oil as quick as possible and then the politicians will have to find a solution.â��

    Who is Roger Daltry?

  34. 184
    Hugh says:

    No J.C.H.

    Roger Daltrey is The Who

  35. 185
    Rod B. says:

    Just for clarity, Eli (160): a landlord who improves insulation might incure a net capital gain, a net capital loss, or break even. The same holds true for the landlord who doesn’t improve the insulation. Secondly, “writing things off as depreciation” does not recoup the expenditure. It merely allows one to not pay taxes on a business expense, though he has to spread that deduction over future years even though the money was spent currently.

  36. 186
    nicolas L. says:

    Re 39


    â??By the way, the Chernobyl accident put as much radiation into the environment as an equally-sized coal-fired power plant does in 7 years and 5 monthsâ??

    Based on the number given in the report you use ( ), the total amount of radioactivity released in a year by all coal plants in USA is about 2 600 Curies. A Curie being equal to 3,7.10*10 Bq, it makes about 10*14 Bq a year. According to UNSCEAR, the total amount of radioactive material released in a few hours from Chernobyl was 12.10*18 Bq, corresponding to 100 000 times the annual release from US coal plantsâ?¦
    Further more, the total amount of radioactivity released by US coal plants from 1937 to 2040 (still according to the link you give) is 480 000 Curies, meaning 2.10*16 Bq, still 5000 times less than the actual releases from Chernobylâ?¦

    If someone wants to check my calculations, Iâ??m not very good at that. But still, that makes a huge difference to meâ?¦

  37. 187
    Rod B. says:

    Onar Ã??m (166), I like your post but one clarification of a side point: While you’re correct that civil cases require a “preponderance” of the evidence, this has been dumbed down over the decades and interpreted/ litigated as >50%. I think that’s not good, but it is what it is.

  38. 188
    Rod B. says:

    Craig (168), Maybe I didn’t search enough under the covers, but I found nothing in your referenced link (storage) close to bankable….

  39. 189
    Rod B. says:

    re 155 by John Masey: I’ll be brief since I know I’m p***ing in the wind. The “interactions of science/politics/economics” (and, btw, politics always wins) sometimes get tremendous results (NASA) and sometimes get horrendous (Inquisitions and witchcraft) and stupid (marijuana, eugenics come to mind) results. Tobacco is another. While popularly accepted by the masses, is a gross example of gov’t/politics screwing the science any which way they can get by with, and that’s a lot. Follow the history from 1950 on the number of deaths tobacco “causes” for example. (To understand the history, follow the money, not the science. One interesting period was the 70s when the anti-tobacco-ers shed elephant tears when radon came along and took “credit” for some of “their” deaths.) This is relevant (as was your post) as I contend that many AGW supporters likewise often sound hysterical and claim whatever they can get by with — and that too is a lot, as the consensus turns mob-like. I think it hurts their long-term cause, though recognize it aids the short-term and might accomplish their goals, science or not. (btw, the moderators of RC are more “innocent” and scientific than most — my opinion.)

    I’m just a fly in the ointment.

  40. 190
    Paul Dietz says:

    Perhaps the claim about Chernobyl was refering to long-lived radioactivity, perhaps alpha activity? I have seen the claim that Chernobyl released on the order of the amount of such radioactivity present in annual global phosphate fertilizer application.

    The short lived radioactivity in the Chernobyl emissions was intense, of course.

  41. 191
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod and bjc —

    The spam filter _really_ hates the subject of this post. I’ve deleted stuff and will keep trying til it passes.

    You can probably figure out what words should fill in the [-] blanks. Please follow the link.

    Post: if you own rental property and believe you cannot keep it up, and have a CPA or tax advisor’s support for that belief, _please_ consider whether your political beliefs are getting in the way of doing the right thing here. Help is available to take care of infrastructure. It’s a community problem, not a personal failing.

    There has been a whole lot of fraud in [-] — see the front page of today’s New York Times.
    That put a lot of owners in [-] beyond their ability to maintain and improve property. If you were caught by such fraud, it’s not just your problem.

    I am assuming since you are here to talk about climate concerns, that you are not of the belief that it’s your right to buy property that will long outlive you and strip it for short term profit and leave the costs to others. But there are such predators. From that article:

    “… whether in a wealthy neighborhood or a poor one, [-] fraud has a similar impact. For one thing, inflated appraisals can cause [-] to skyrocket. At the same time, neighborhoods swept up in fraud rings tend to be hit repeatedly, leaving many houses vacant and in disrepair and causing [-] to plunge.”

    “… ‘I think there had been a perception that it was just the [-] who were [-] … They showed the U.S. attorney at the time that there were in fact quality-of-life issues and that this was more than monetary issue.'”

    YMMv — your morals may vary, of course. the only way the climate issues can be discussed as they impact property owners is like this, one person and one property at a time — in personal detail.

    If you’re stuck with property you can’t maintain, let alone improve, get help please. If you ride it down til it’s a wreck, all alone, it’s not noble pride and individualism — because the costs hit your neighbors too.

  42. 192
    Hank Roberts says:

    Fission produces large quantities of very hot transuranic elements, that aren’t present in coal.

    This may help. It makes clear any simple, certain answer is bogus.
    Beware of PR, there’s a lot of it around:

    Also, Chernobyl isn’t over. It’s not sealed, remember? See the above.

  43. 193

    Regarding curies or becquerels from Chernobyl versus the same from coal-burning, nicolas L. sounds about right, and Edward Greisch was way off.

    Both those units of measure, curies and becquerels, measure how many nuclei disintegrate per unit time. To me the thermalizable energy those disintegrations yield per unit time seems more useful. Some disintegrations are much more energetic than others, so I know what a thermal watt of radioactivity is but I don’t know what a curie of it is.

    If my information is correct that Chernobyl Unit 4 started in December 1983 and exploded 28 months later, and it is an acceptable approximation that it ran at its full 3.2 thermal gigawatts for all those 28 months, the Untermyer and Weills approximation for in-service seconds ‘T_0’ and delay seconds ‘t’,

    Delayed power/in-service power
    (t+10)^(-0.2) – (t + T_0 + 10)^(-0.2)
    -0.87*[(t + 20000000)^(-0.2) – (t + 20000000 + T_0)^(-0.2)]

    says that six hours after it blew up the power in the ruin and downwind was 32 MW, and now, after 21 years, it’s down to 0.018 MW. At six hours it was as radioactive as the top 13 cm of all of Earth’s continents, and today, the top 0.007 cm.

    — G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen-energy fan

  44. 194
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think the poster was confused. The ORNL document makes the case that normal emissions of radioactivity by coal-fired plants are higher than those due to normal operations at a nuclear plant. Chernobyl was pretty bad and anomalous–a case of bad design meets worse safeguards and then letting the monkeys run the damn thing. It was about as bad as an accident can get, since the fire dispersed a lot of the radioactivity on the wind. One would be hard presed to come up with a worse scenario–at least and still remain firmly rooted on the real axis.

  45. 195
    Hank Roberts says:

    > China
    “UPDATE: China Takes More Time to Formulate Climate Change Policy.
    Mara Hvistendahl went to Beijing for the anticipated release of China’s climate change policy, but the release was deferred. She reports on what the delay could mean for Chinese environmental policy.”

    > Building

    “… Drafty buildings, inefficient appliances and mountains of waste will all need to be transformed to control global warming”

    “… Worldwide, buildingsâ��both commercial and residentialâ��contribute roughly one third of all GHG emissions despite covering only 0.2 percent of land worldwide. And experts say that reining in pollution from them will be key in the fight to contain climate change.

    “The good news? ‘By 2030, about 30 percent of the projected GHG emissions in the building sector can be avoided with net economic benefit,’ scientists write in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report ….”

  46. 196
    bjc says:

    Ignoring for now the condescending comments about amortization, capital appreciation, depreciation, etc., the answer to the question Who Pays appears to be the Landlord. Most economists would doubt the empirical accuracy of that answer: Their answer and commonsense would dictate that Landlords would pass this cost on to renters in the form of higher rents. My conclusion is that libertarians have every right to be concerned about how AGW will be used to abridge their indiviudal rights – at least based on this rather small sample.

    As to China – given that China consumes nearly 3 billion MW of electricity and is recently growing at over 15% per year, 1 to 2,000 MW is a start. However, all this fails to respond to the question. If the nasty capitalists are preventing the emergence of an economically viable alternative energy industry – how come such an industry is struggling to emerge in a dynamic economy like China?

  47. 197
    Theo H says:

    Roger Daltry is quoted as below.

    “My answer is to burn all the f***ing oil as quick as possible and then the politicians will have to find a solution.”

    This may be part of the thinking that a few, emphsis in few, greenies I know see as the only solution to AGW, or;

    “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we fry.”

    There is little point in doing anything until the disater is clearly upon us for nothing will happen until then.

    Theo H

  48. 198
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #170: Ivan de Villiers — The scientific debate is over. See the discussion of the IPCC reports linked on the sidebar under Highlights or the reports themselves linked under Science Links.

    Since 1750, humans have added about 300 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere, mostly by burning fossil fuels and most of the addition in the last one hundred years.

    Since carbon dioxide is a well-mixed gas in the air, the appropriate measure is the concentration, usually expressed in parts per million, ppm. The additional carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, has raised the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air from about 280 ppm to about 380 ppm. (Others here now the exact figures and I am sure these can be found in the IPCC reports.)

    This has resulted in a warming of about one degree Farenheit globally. Due to the physical processes there is another degree Farenheit still to come in a couple of decades or so. But that assumptions we stop adding carbon to the air instantly. That surely will not occur, so Dr. James Hansen optimistically predicts yet another degree Farenheit of global warming.

    The consequences will be quite severe.

  49. 199
  50. 200
    Mike Donald says:

    Ah renewables is being talked about! Good! I get my free copies electronically.



    As World Oil magazine said maybe the future’s 50 2% solutions. wind & sun & etc.

    But oil and gas is still cheap enough to burn and nations that go for a post-carbon economy will make it cheaper. Darn.