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Advice for a young climate blogger

Filed under: — group @ 9 March 2009 - (Italian) (Español)

Congratulations! You have taken the first step towards attempting to communicate your expertise and thoughts to the wider world, which remains poorly served by its traditional sources of information when it comes to complex societally relevant issues like climate change. Your aim to clarify the science (or policy options or ethical considerations or simply to explain your views) is a noble endeavor and we wish you luck and wide readership. But do be aware that you are dipping your blog into sometimes treacherous waters. Bad things can happen to good bloggers. So in a spirit of blog-camaraderie, and in light of our own experiences and observations, we offer some advice that may be of some help in navigating the political climate relatively unscathed.

Be honest to yourself and your readers. If your aim is to educate, say so. If your aim is to push for more funding for your pet projects, or advocate for a specific policy, be upfront about it. Don’t however be surprised if people spend their time trying to find hidden motives in what you do. There is a school of thought had has decreed that any public speech must be directed towards public action and that there is no such thing as a pure information supply. In the widest sense this is probably true – everyone blogs, writes or speaks out for a reason. However, this is often interpreted as implying that all public speech must be either pro-or-con some very specific proposal. This is nonsense. One can criticize George Will’s or Alexander Cockburn’s misuse of climate science without agreeing or disagreeing or even having looked at their public policy proposals. Of course, the corollary of this position, that any such criticism of your statements must itself be directed at supporting the opposite political action is very rarely appreciated. On the other hand, assuming that criticism of your statements must be politically motivated is usually a mistake. Sometimes that is true, but there are enough exceptions that it should not be assumed.

Know that there are people who will misrepresent you. Climate science is perceived to have political, economic and ethical implications. Most of the what gets discussed really doesn’t have any such implication, but the ‘scientization‘ of political discourse on this issue means that micro-parsing of published work and blog postings is a common practice. Advocates of all stripes (though predominantly those outside the mainstream) will examine whether a new result or comment appears to project onto their particular agenda, and trumpet it widely if it does. The motives can range from specifically political to a desire for publicity or position, though the exact reasons are often obscure and mostly not worth debating. Thus 15th Century tree rings become an argument against the Kyoto Protocol, just as bacterial flagella are whipped into service when discussing the role of religion in public life.

In the specific world of climate-related blogs there are a number of conduits by which misrepresentations gain wider currency. Matt Drudge for instance, spends an inordinate amount of time finding crackpot climate science stories in fringe media and highlighting them on the widely-read Drudge Report. Marc Morano (who we hear is leaving his post as a staffer for Senator Inhofe) is a very diligent reader of the climate blogs (Pielke2, WUWT, RC etc.) and any misrepresentation found there, or criticism that could be misrepresented, will quickly find its way into many email in-boxes. From there, if you are lucky, further misrepresentations might find their way onto the Rush Limbaugh’s show (via Roy Spencer), or Glenn Beck as throwaway lines confirming (to them) the perfidy of mainstream climate science.

Be aware that the impact that you have might be very different from the impact that you think you should have. Over time, if you find yourself constantly misquoted or used to support positions or ideas you don’t agree with, think about why that might be. You will likely find yourself accused of ‘stealth advocacy’ i.e. of secretly agreeing with the misquoters. If that isn’t actually the case, remember that the abandonment of responsibility for your words (i.e. “how was I to know I would be misquoted so often?”) is not an option that leaves you with much integrity. Being misquoted once might be a misfortune, being misquoted more often smacks of carelessness.

Don’t expect the world to be fair. Read Mamet’s “Bambi v. Godzilla“, and in particular the section containing this line:

“In these fibbing competitions, the party actually wronged, the party with an actual practicable program, or possessing an actually beneficial product, is at a severe disadvantage; he is stuck with a position he cannot abandon, and, thus, cannot engage his talents for elaboration, distraction, drama and subterfuge.”

Since you are presumably stuck with a coherent set of ideas, you won’t be able to adopt ten mutually contradictory inconsistent arguments in the same paragraph, or engage in the cherry-picking, distortion or deliberate misquotation. Though it is occasionally instructive to show what you could have claimed if you didn’t have such ethical principles.

Don’t let completely unfounded critiques bother you. If you speak out in the public sphere, as sure as night follows day, you will be criticized. Some criticisms are constructive and will help you find your voice. Many are not. If you are successful, you will start to come across an online simulacrum of you that bears your name and place of work but who holds none of your views, has no redeeming character traits and would be a complete stranger to anyone who has actually met you. Ignore him or her. There are some people who will always be happier demonising opponents than honestly interacting with real people.

Don’t defame people. This should go without saying, but trivially accusing scientists of dishonesty, theft, academic malpractice and fraud pretty much rules you out of serious conversation. Instead it will serve mainly to marginalize you – though you may gain a devoted following among a specific subset. Don’t be surprised if as a consequence other people start to react negatively to your comments.

Correct mistakes. Again, it should go without saying that maintaining integrity requires that errors of fact be corrected as soon as possible.

Realize that although you speak for yourself, if you take mainstream positions, you will be perceived as speaking for the whole climate science community. Don’t therefore criticize unnamed ‘scientists’ in general when you mean to be specific, and don’t assume that the context in which you are speaking is immediately obvious to casual readers.

Avoid using language that can easily be misquoted. This is hard.

Don’t use any WWII metaphors. Ever. This just makes it too easy for people to ratchet up the rhetoric and faux outrage. However strongly you hold your views, the appropriateness of these images is always a hard sell, and you will not be given any time in which to make your pitch. This is therefore almost always counter-productive. This can be extended to any kind of Manichean language.

If you get noticed by the propagandists, wear that attention like a badge of honor. You will be in very good company.

If you get caught in a blogstorm, know that this too will pass. Being targeted like this is not very much fun (ask Heidi Cullen). But the lifecycle for a blog-related kerfuffle is a few days in general, and the blogosphere as a whole has an extreme attention deficit disorder. After finding that your post and followups were all anyone can talk about on Monday, it likely won’t get mentioned again after Thursday.

Recognize that humor is far more effective than outrage. But try and rise above the level of the schoolyard. Think Jon Stewart rather than Rodney Dangerfield.

If all of the above doesn’t put you off the idea completely, welcome to the blogosphere! Your voice is sorely needed.


434 Responses to “Advice for a young climate blogger”

  1. 401

    Response to 394, Part III of IV

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    HVDC still has problems to overcome with switching and overload capacity, and European countries are apparently worried about potential national security and energy security problems with HVDC and the co-dependency involved—especially with their recent problems with threats to the reliability of gas supplies from Russia.
    http://co nradiator .wordpress.com/2008/11/25/desert-power/

    And perhaps Europe should seek some alternate energy source to gas from Russia.

  2. 402

    Response to 394, Part IV of IV

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    No—I don’t think ‘they are considering synthetic oil’

    Please see:

    But the s.ynthetic fuel tech.nology faded away after the 1980s. That’s when Congr.ess passed the Energy Security Act, which bir.thed the Synthetic Fuels Corp. This corporation spent over $88 billion in government loa.ns and incentives, with the goal of creating two million barrels a day of synthetic oil within seven years.

    Synthetic Fuels: How Converting Coal to Oil Can Solve The Energy Crisis
    by F.loyd G. Brown, Adv.isory Pan.elist, Inv.estment U
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008: Issue #800
    http://www .inves.tmentu.com/IU.EL/2008/May/syn.thetic-fuels.html

    Of course shale and tar sands are worse in terms of an emissions to energy unit ratio.
    *

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    Your last paragraph must be from someone who never ever makes a typo or any other mistake, is it?
    Well, congratulations on your exalted status .
    Many of my comments are from material I’ve read some time ago, not today or yesterday, …

    Was it a typo or something you were misremembering?
    *

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    so I haven’t got the links at hand…

    Google.
    *

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    and I notice your snide admonitions don’t apply if it’s someone who agrees with you.

    Actually I try to correct those that I more typically agree with — otherwise I am leaving them easy prey and a target for denialists.
    *

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    You can believe them or not—doesn’t worry me.

    “Them” who — the scientists?
    *

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    The venomous responses on this site to an alternative view is a real eye-opener

    People who support science may take it somewhat personally when someone comes along and seems to accuse the entire scientific community of being engaged in a conspiracy.
    *

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    —looks as though only ‘yes’ people are to be treated like human beings…

    Better than ditto-heads, perhaps? In any case you will notice that we often disagree with one-another. And we are more than happy to correct one-another.

    For example, Ike Solem wrote earlier today:

    Timothy Chase: “One can easily argue that to a first approximation, forcing is forcing, whether it is solar or anthropogenic, and climate modes can be expected to respond to forcings in roughly the same manner regardless of the nature of those forcings.”

    Well, not really. Increases in solar forcing show up in the stratosphere as warming due to increased absorption by ozone, for example, while CO2 forcing results in a cooling stratosphere. Volcanic forcing dumps aerosols into the stratosphere, resulting in stratospheric warming but also in surface cooling due to reflection of sunlight back to space; thus Pinatubo had net cooling effect of roughly -4 Watts/m^2 (Robock et al. estimate -100 W/m^2 for a full scale nuclear war, as well).

    Comment 128, Post With all due respect

    Of course I might argue with him about whether or not the differences between different forcings were part of the “first approximation” or not, but I value his comment insofar as it makes people aware of the differences between solar and anthropogenic forcing — and this serves as further evidence for our role in the past century of global warming.
    *

    “truth” wrote in 394:

    —the worst possible advice to a young blogger —- good for you —- be very proud.

    Bloggers need to learn how to deal with trolls, ideologues and the occasional conspiracy nut. Yes, I believe we have set a good example.

  3. 403
    Patrick 027 says:

    Timothy Chase – Well Done!

  4. 404
    Rod B says:

    Comment on just an isolated minor piece: I take it then, when the electricity user complains that his bill just went from $150/month up to $300/mo, the power compny simply explains that, no, it didn’t really go up — just an accounting change to include externalities.

  5. 405
    Rod B says:

    Dang! Can’t pass it up. I think it total satire for Dan to completely (try to) turn around comments by Obama that are very clear and easy to understand and then accuse one who cites those clear comments as disingenuous. What part of “electricity rates will skyrocket [under my plan] is hard to understand??

  6. 406
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod B asks “What part of … is hard to understand??”

    Rod, the CONTEXT is what’s hard to understand.
    Can you find it?
    C’mon, make the effort. Look it up. You know how to find this stuff.

    This is not an official transcript, this is from listening to the audio file you can download at
    http://cdn.sfgate.com/blogs/sounds/sfgate/chroncast/2008/01/17/20080117-obama-interview.mp3

    Listen yourself or find the video at sfgate.

    Get the context for yourself.

    Migod, man, show some trace of the skepticism you claim to respect.

    “…. can you get the American people to say, ‘This is really important,’ and force their representatives to do the right thing? That requires mobilizing a citizenry. That requires them understanding what is at stake. Climate change is a great example…. I was asked earlier about the issue of coal …. Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket…. whatever the industry was, uh, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers…. if you can’t persuade the American people that yes, there is going to be some increase in electricity rates on the front end, but that over the long term …. we can produce clean energy, the economy would benefit, if we can’t make that argument persuasively enough,…. You’re not going to get that done.”

  7. 407
    Rod B says:

    Hank, I’ll cite Timothy C, who likely was pretty accurate in his Obama quotes, where Obama said, “…under my plan of a cap and trade system electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad…”. Actually it is what you cite, too. How far do I have to dig into the “context” before I find he didn’t really say that? I bet it takes pages and pages of digging and analysis. Or are you just counting on that tiny waffleing you cite later on? Or maybe as one (TC?) before said that it was extemporaneous so, KINGS-X — it doesn’t count!

  8. 408
    Dan says:

    Wow, Rod. You obviously did not hear the entire interview in *context*. Listen before making asinine assumptions next time. And no, that link is not the entire interview. If you would take the time to do a little research, just a little for once Rod, you would find that what I wrote was precisely correct.

    I will wait for your apology but I know you do not have it in you to admit error. That has already been proven extensively on other occasions (hint: think EPA, Rod). Your one-sided skepticism has become pathetic, Rod. Sad.

  9. 409
    Dan says:

    Stimulus Funds sought for 345 MW Coal-fired Project in Texas

    Interesting news item re: stimulus funds, a power plant, and CO2 sequestration below. Unfortunately the end result of more fossil fuel (oil) seems self-defeating:

    Texas lawmakers are asking the Department of Energy to send up to $1.2 billion in stimulus funds to help build a $1.6 billion, 345 MW coal-fired power plant, proposed by Summit Power. The West Texas power plant would use carbon capture and sequestration technology, according to a report from The Dallas Morning News. As proposed, the Texas Clean Energy Project would inject carbon dioxide into nearby oil fields to enhance oil extraction. Summit also is asking the Texas Legislature to waive up to $100 million in state franchise taxes.

  10. 410

    Patrick 027 wrote in 403:

    Timothy Chase – Well Done!

    Actually I made several mistakes. A little out of practice.

    However, when I “debate” someone, I would prefer not to get a “well done.” For one thing, the individual I am “debating” is probably feeling some shame at the time — which is actually good for them. But a “well done” for the person they were arguing against is likely to turn that shame into anger — at which point they are more likely to dig themselves in deeper into a hole that is already fairly deep.

    Additionally, we want Real Climate to be a place where the focus can be on the climatology — rather than having trollish individuals coming in here trying to pick arguments with the climatologists.

  11. 411
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 410 okay.

  12. 412
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 398: “Anyway, why can’t we reduce coal usage while allowing it to supply baseload until storage problems are better solved?”

    Furthermore, nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass – all suitable for baseload power.

  13. 413
    David B. Benson says:

    This is certainly related to the main theme of this thread:

    “Visions of the Crash”:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/03/25/visions-of-the-crash/

    Carl Zimmer’s thoughtful essay on science journalism and the rise of the bloggers.

  14. 414
  15. 415
    truth says:

    Hank Roberts [353]
    You seem to be in the habit of accusing other people of practices that are yours and yours alone.
    I didn’t attribute that ‘debate’ remark to Nathan Lewis, as you accuse, at all—- I commented that he had said the focus on the 2020 targets was a distraction from the huge amount of research needed to meet the targets in 2050 —that’s all—then I remarked myself that we ought to be having a debate about that .
    You are misrepresenting me.
    And yes, I had read the source material—a heap of it.
    Your interrogations and arrogance in reprimanding others when you’re anything but blameless yourself is a bit of joke.
    Nowhere did I say Lewis was not on the AGW side—that’s your very own straw man.
    He has shown himself to be a bit lukewarm in a couple of instances though, eg ‘if we need such large amounts of carbon-free power…..’
    But mostly he seems to rely completely on the proxy results, and the observations by the IPCC and the consensus side.
    He says:
    ‘We do not know, except through climate
    models, what the implications of
    driving the atmospheric CO2 concentrations
    to any of these levels will be. There
    are about six major climate models, all differing
    from each other in detail. As scientists
    and engineers, we know, therefore,
    that in detail at least five of them must be
    wrong.’
    http://authors.library.caltech.edu/9302/1/LEWmrsb07.pdf

    He does say all the things you mention—no one said he didn’t—another of your straw men [ speaking euphemistically].
    My point was the point I’ve been making all along—– that I think there’s a shutdown of freedom of speech for scientists who have a dissenting view —– that this damages democracy, and endangers trust in and respect for science for the future—-that renewables are nowhere near ready to provide base load power , and we’re being led to think otherwise—-and precipitate introduction of an ETS will have a damaging effect on already faltering economies, making it much more difficult to fund expensive research into storage, new materials for solar technology, and the problems of HVDC.
    And he sees coal with CCS technology, and nuclear power, as necessary parts of the energy mix, which some here deny—-and Obama is curiously ambiguous about CCS in his statements.
    You seem to get a kick out of obnoxious remarks and lecturing others about links to sources etc, but some of your remarks are incomprehensible and some of your links are to obtuse and silly comic strips designed to insult.
    Doesn’t help your credibility much.

  16. 416
    Ray Ladbury says:

    To the ironically named “truth”: Last I looked, Hank’s credibility was doing just fine, thank you. Yours on the other hand,…

  17. 417
    dhogaza says:

    My point was the point I’ve been making all along—– that I think there’s a shutdown of freedom of speech for scientists who have a dissenting view

    Gosh, they’re all over the blogosphere. Look at watts up with that, right now! Guest posts by two scientists, Spencer and Lindzen, on the front page.

    They’re both somewhat full of it (Spencer more than Lindzen) but gee, if their freedom of speech has been shutdown, WTF are they doing there? Freeman Dyson just had his views published in the NY Times, and it’s been picked up in the press everywhere.

    You really do have a problem with matching beliefs to observations, don’t you?

  18. 418
    Hank Roberts says:

    Er, “truth” — read this again. You misread it.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/03/advice-for-a-young-climate-blogger/#comment-115619

    I wrote this:

    > [Lewis] says nothing to support your claim
    > that his piece calls for “a debate ….”)

    I didn’t “attribute that debate remark to Lewis. I attributed it to you, correctly. See

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/03/advice-for-a-young-climate-blogger/#comment-115591

    where you wrote in part

    “… Is he [Lewis] wrong …. He was pointing out …. Surely this is a debate that needs to be …”

    You attribute statements to Lewis without citing a source, then wrote “Surely …” as though his work gave your belief in delay and debate some credibility.

    Reading what he’s written, you’re wrong about that.
    Read more carefully. Cite sources. Check them.

  19. 419
    Hank Roberts says:

    Let’s see how these words could have been misinterpreted or misunderstood, in the “new climate blogger” context (I’m new not-even-a-blogger, just a reader in a blog).

    I wrote:
    > your claim that his piece calls for “a debate …”

    “truth” misread that as though I’d written “called for” — that would have been attribution.

    Giving someone words they can misinterpret leaves one open for debating tactics. Cautionary.

  20. 420
    truth says:

    Hank Roberts[418, 419 etc ]
    Nothing in my ‘debate’ comment says that I ‘claim that his piece calls for a debate’.
    Lewis was seriously questioning the focus on 2020 targets, and saying they were a distraction from the huge effort required for the much more crucial 2050 targets, and I said that surely a debate on that 2020 focus [ which includes ETS and Cap and Trade], needs to be had.
    You should take your own silly advice.
    You are pretending that I was implying Lewis is a sceptic about the science, and that he questioned the focus on 2020 targets for that reason.
    I have done no such thing—and you also want it thought that the only reason I want that focus changed is because of my scepticism about the AGW consensus—-when you know very well that I have said that I think focus on ETS and Cap and Trade will damage the very economies that will fund the very expensive solar and other research that’s required—and will also very likely dampen any enthusiasm and trust in science and leaders , that the populations who will be expected to vote for the measures might now have .
    Do you believe the solar option is ready to provide base load—that the storage problem is solved—–and the HVDC does not have significant problems?
    Do you believe the research and political and funding attention should be squarely targeted on those problems—-or on token taxes ?

  21. 421
    Patrick 027 says:

    420 – why do you insist that solar power must be ready to provide baseload (or am I misinterpreting your statements) – this could eventually happen and maybe closer to reality than you realize or I know, but we can make truly enormous changes before requiring solar power to supply baseload. It’s not 100% all or nothing. I can improve my diet and still have some treats.

  22. 422
    Rod B says:

    Patrick 027, I don’t wish to speak for “truth” but I think he is saying that strong emphasis on current mitigation (e.g. cap and trade, which BTW is not an investment in science or technology per se) could significantly detract from the more important job of developing longer range solar and wind for power generation. Detract by diverting resources and by turning the populace negative toward the whole thing, like from the $80B/yr “cap and trade” tax on the drawing board. I don’t know if I agree 100%, but he does have a point. You can’t both diet and have treats if your treats are three pizzas a day. And the development of solar and wind to reliable maturity is not near as sanguine or a slam dunk that many profess it to be.

    To meet your objectives you still can do some current things, as Ray et al point out, but only to the level that doesn’t materially detract from the long term solutions.

    If I am misreading “truth’s” statement, I’m sure he will correct me.

  23. 423
    Mark says:

    RodB, there’s more than one person working on this, you know.

    While Cap And Trade is being worked on by the WTO, RapidNewIndustryCo (plc) can work on refining the process for solar panel manufacture. Neither of these actions stop FunTown University Climatology Department from running a new model including a different way of handling cloud formation in climate runs.

    You CAN have a diet AND treats. Every advert for Slim Fast says so.

  24. 424
    Patrick 027 says:

    About the diet/treats analogy – suppose you used to put a whole three pads of butter (assume that’s a defined unit) on a baked potato. If you replace half of your baked potatos with baked sweet potatoes (I suggest slicing them into many thin cross sections perpendicular to the grain to mitigate the fibrous texture, if that’s a problem), and use 1.5 pads butter + equivalent amount of olive oil and some … chives and parsely, maybe with some basil or whatever you want – on your remaining baked potatos – well, that’s healthier, isn’t it? And you can still enjoy your meals. By the way, pizza can be healthy (try whole wheat crust). One way to improve one’s gustatory enjoyment to unhealthy nutrient excesses ratio (besides excercising) is to avoid eating a dessert that’s just good enough to enjoy, saving that room for something REALLY good, when it’s available. Etc.

    Why shouldn’t the funding of renewable energy and efficiency R&D, etc, come from a tax on emissions? It has to come from somewhere, and where is the market incentive if there is no emissions policy…

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the concept of ‘baseload’. My point is rooted in the facts that solar power is most available during the daytime, and most electrical energy consumption is during the day. Will they precisely match? No. But you don’t need to store much solar power until the peaks of solar power get toward the total usage at those moments (it’s before they actually reach it because power plants generally can’t just shut down and restart easily – but I am presuming they can vary their output significantly at the control of operators – am I wrong, and if so, isn’t that a problem with solutions available?) – and a significant percentage of the area under the total usage curve over a given day can be filled by solar power before that happens; short scale and then intermediate scale transmission will help levelize local spikes and valleys. Wind power tends to be stronger at night for taller turbines and also in many places is stronger in the winter, so it can partly complement solar power. Hydroelectric requires precipitation; except for cloudy droughts, solar power can fill in hyroelectric shortages (as well as desalinate seawater, pump water, etc, in dry sunny conditions). Biomass likewise requires water – although that may be seawater for some types; it can be stored and transported. Geothermal can turned up and down. And so on…

  25. 425
    Rod B says:

    Patrick 027, sure you can diet and have some treats, as you can do some current mitigatin efforts and simultaneously do long-term research. It’s all just a matter of degree in the vein of no free lunch, or pays your money and takes your choice.

    The plan on the table does call for spending about 25% of the cap and trade tax on research and development. Good use for it. But the point was whether the populace, which you all are trying to win over, are going to be that thrilled over your taxing them at roughly three times the current federal gasoline tax.

    What you say about power distribution is basically correct. My (truth’s??) point is it is far far easier said than done. And fuel fed power plants can adjust their fuel use and dependent power output, as opposed to power alone, but not on a dime – more like over hours.

  26. 426
    Patrick 027 says:

    A $100/ton of C emitted (as CO2) tax would add roughly:

    3, 1.8, 1.2 cents/kWh for electricity from coal, oil, and natural gas, respectively.

    It would add (if gasoline is 0.881 kg/L – it probably is a little different from that) almost 30 cents per gallon – not including energy usage in oil refining.

    There are several logical uses for revenue from such a tax (energy and efficiency R&D and subsidies, climate adaptation R&D and funding, farming R&D, cuts in other taxes, equal per capita rebate, C sequestration R&D and tax credit (the same rate as the emissions tax), ocean acidification mitigation, environmental programs, population growth mitigation programs…).

    I am concerned about people accepting and supporting a good climate policy but it is also important to me that the policy implemented is a logical and effective policy.

  27. 427
    Patrick 027 says:

    Aside from some international complexities, the tax rate can start out low and be ramped up to some logical level over time. What is important in the intervening period is that people know clearly that there is such a plan; the free market mechanisms should react in anticipation of future costs by investment shifts from fossil fuels to clean energy and energy efficiency ahead of the actual tax rate that produces the necessary incentive.

    As total incentive = tax rate – subsidy for alternatives, for sake of illustration, one could imagine a constant revenue stream initially coming from a low tax rate on dirty energy with large market share to fund a large subsidy on clean energy and efficiency with small market shares; as the market shifts in response, the tax rate would increase while the subsidy is reduced. The tax rate would become highest when the usage of coal, etc, is small.

  28. 428
    Rod B says:

    Patrick 027, the question was what about the negative reaction of the populace to a carbon tax on them. I’m not sure if there is any good answer. But explaining to Joe Six-pack all of the wondrous things you are going to do with his money after you abscond with it has not been a particularly successful winning the heart and mind strategy – even if really wondrous.

    I didn’t get into the details, though what you calculate for taxes seems reasonable (from your point of view I must add for truth in skeptic advertising :-) ). I was just citing the $80B/yr. in the currently proposed federal budget starting about 2011 (if memory serves). It was a little less (~$50-60B) the first year or two. $20B was to go for climate warming science stuff, but was not delineated in the budget summary. $60B was to alleviate some of the disgruntled populace that we’re talking about as part of Obama’s redistribute the wealth program. I doubt we’ll see any significant market/investment reaction by then, and even so it’s not obvious that it would save Joe any money. Besides, Obama is counting on those bucks for stuff. ;-)

  29. 429
    Patrick 027 says:

    “Besides, Obama is counting on those bucks for stuff.”

    In that case, much of the revenue could be seen as allowing for a ‘tax cut’ in other areas, in the sense of helping to reduce the deficit without raising taxes elsewhere. The issue I would then encourage Joe S.P. to look into is total government spending and taxes. That’s not to say I would agree with subsequent conclusions by Joe S.P. But we do waste money on some agricultural policies:

    Is the tariff on ethanol from Brazil necessary to protect rainforests? If not, I’d suggest phasing out.

    I’d also suggest phasing out, or at least reducing, the tax credit for home-grown ethanol from corn (that subsidy may make some sense from an energy-independence viewpoint, but not much from a climate policy viewpoint and for other environmental reasons as well as food supply issues; it may have been helpful as a stepping stone strategy to get the market used to concepts like ‘flex-fuel’, but the focus must now or soon shift to more efficient biomass methods that do not compete so much with food demand – crop residues, switchgrass and other perennials (include some wildflowers – power plants doubling as parks,wildlife sanctuaries?), food and related waste (banana peels, apple cores, used cooking oil, used coffee grounds, the paper used to line muffin tins and the crumbs that stick to them no matter how much you scrape it off with your fork, paper napkins), spoiled and damaged crops, sawdust, lawn clippings and raked leaves (processing might leave behind some environmentally friendly fertilizer while extracting energy?), sewage (might also be mined for some mineral resources?), algae (some can use seawater), lint (although lint can also be used to improve soil’s water-holding ability), bacterial batteries that run directly from sugar or whatever…(this has been demonstrated), etc.)

    There is also the problem that we arguably grow too much corn anyway – the problem with corn ethanol competing with food is not that their is less corn left for food and livestock feed, but that there is less productive land that could be used for something other than corn. I have read that feeding animals less corn could improve their health (less use of antibiotics on livestock, slower growth antibiotic resistance??) and improve the health of the meat (less omega-6 fatty acids, more omega-3 ??) – this depending on what replaces corn (I think it’s supposed to be grass) – there may be some trade off with flavor, depending on personal tastes; I’ve had milk from grass-fed cows and I liked it; I don’t know how it affects the flavors of cheese or beef. Of course, raising livestock on lands that support good feed crops but are not optimal for food would also be better for efficiency of land use with respect to food volume produced, as would be eating less animal products in general – especially from cattle (the food (meat) to feed ratio is a bit better for pork and fowl (don’t know about eggs), and fish – especially herbivorous fish (as opposed to fish and other seafood that eat other fish, etc. – aquaculture can reduce the productivity of natural fisheries when the ocean must be harvested to provide feed – there is also the problem of runoff from overfertilized farms (and aquaculture) causing dead zones in the oceans, so eating meat from cattle can actually reduce fish supplies. Mercury emissions from coal also diminishes the quality of fish.

    Meanwhile, there are better ways for farmers to handle changing weather on the seasonal-to-interannual scale. Openning biofuel markets for spoiled and damaged crops is one way to reduce weather-related losses (as well as some other losses). Another way is to have backup crops available if early enough in the growing season to make the change (when the soil is too wet to plant one crop, plant a different crop) – rather than just giving up in all such cases and then having to rely on government aid. On a related note, FEMA should be restructured to reduce perverse incentives; when a disaster occurs where it is more likely to occur, FEMA should offer the option of aiding moving. Private insurance ideally (not always in reality) should spread risk without encouraging too much risk taking by the way it calculates bills; FEMA could be partly funded by taxes similarly-structured by location-dependent risk (for whatever private insurance does not cover).

    (see “Against the Grain” by Richard Manning)

    Not that I generally trust politicians to do as they say, but Obama has mentioned changing our agricultural policies to reduce wasteful spending. I think he may have also mentioned something about reducing wasteful spending in the military budget (political intersests – the “military-industrial-congressional complex” (Eisenhower) – has shaped the pathways of production of equipment for political gain rather than efficiency; this also affects the type of equipment we may use).

    As long as we’re in this topic, it’s worth pointing out that the free market can waste money. Yes, there’s Freddie and Fannie, etc, but if the free market is so smart, why did it aid the housing bubble? Of course, some waste is inevitable in any system because people are not perfect, and besides corruption, risk is risk and we can only manage risk with decision making in the face of imperfect knowledge (resources are needed to gain knowledge and process it – it’s a cost-benifit in decision making). Then there’s the argument that government can’t create wealth. Surely the market incentives are different (voting and campaigning vs spending and selling; one is victim to propaganda but the other is victim to tricks as well), but 1. a good program is a good program. In the private sector, ultimately, somebody has to make decisions in order to try to be productive – it’s not all an automated process. Why can’t a public policy be judged on it’s merits? 2. the government provides services. As part of the economy, government taxing and spending interacts with other parts of the market – it can be for better and/or for worse. As one industry may metabolize and/or be catalized by another, so government policies may help economic productivity (the obvious: roads; also some planning provides predictability that reduces the risk management costs of the private sector (where should I build a house and how will neighbors property affect my house’s value?). 3. There is some value in having some things publically owned and managed or partially so (the best solution for tragedies of commons is not always the elimination of the commons, because a privately owned entity may not have the same value) and some things may be more efficiently done by government than the private sector.

    And it is permissable to deficit spend if it is an investment that will pay back sufficiently in time. (I also find it hard to take seriously the complaints about the burden we’re placing on future generations from some politicians whom I wouldn’t trust to do right by future generations.)

    Anyway, I am not a policy maker; I will argue what I think is best. I can only hope that the policies which get through the political process are not so mangled up as to make them too costly and ineffective for the benifit they would provide. As long as it’s not too imperfect, I will defend it to Joe S.P, and I will encourage Joe S.P. to raise objections about the mangling, but not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  30. 430
    David B. Benson says:

    Patrick 027 (429) — Sugercane is not grown in the tropical rain forest areas, but on the savanna to the south of the Amazon basin.

  31. 431
    Patrick 027 says:

    “And fuel fed power plants can adjust their fuel use and dependent power output, as opposed to power alone, but not on a dime – more like over hours.”

    On a day with complete overcast except with 2 hours of full sun – assuming solar power devices that cannot use any diffuse light, and let’s suppose ideal conditions when the sun is out, and set aside scattering by the clear sky – this is a pulse of about 1000 W/m2 incident solar radiation, which is (depending on tilt of panels, climate) maybe 5 times the average power output of the solar power device.

    For solar power plants delivering an average of about 0.3 TW electric power (roughly 60% U.S. electric power consumption)**, this pulse would be 2 hours * 1.5 TW = 3 TWh = 3 billion kWh which is 3*3.6 = 10.8 billion MJ.

    If it took 2 hours for all stockpile-fed (includes hydroelectric) power plants to ramp up or down their power by an amount on the order of their capacity, then if solar power supplied an average of 0.3 TW, 10.8 billion MJ would be a worst-case storage requirement to smooth out the solar power pulse (similar logic applies to a solar power cut-off). Except it likely would never get so bad – … to be continued…

    **-I’ve gotten some conflicting numbers on U.S. energy figures from an Almanac…

  32. 432
    Rod B says:

    Patrick 027, your post 429 is very good and quite helpful. I can quibble with bits and pieces of it, but as a whole I mostly agree completely. [Maybe interesting to point out that a free market capitalist system will most assuredly waste some money – by definition. Just not as much, theoretically, as other systems over the long haul.] It also fits nicely with RC, IMO. But if we’re still discussing convincing Joe S-P why it is good for him to relinquish his money, I can only surmise you haven’t done much of that. You’d be lucky to get past the middle of the first paragraph.

  33. 433
    Patrick 027 says:

    “Except it likely would never get so bad” – small-scale cumulus convection takes some time to build up cloud cover. Large-scale cloud patterns move in a predictable way over time. A large fraction of a large nation’s solar power plants would be unlikely to suddenly have a pulse or dip simultaneously; the longer distances that electricity can be sent, the less the need for storage to spread such pulses and dips. What is the average distance between power generation and power consumption currently? I’m not sure. But on the smaller scale, a cloud mass might typically move (the component normal to it’s edge can be less than the actual cloud motion) on the order of 10 to 50 m/s (10 m/s ~= 22.37 mph). 30 m/s = 108 km/hr. So if solar power can be sent an average of about 108 km (67.1 mi) from outside cloud-cover to inside cloud cover, this can spread out a solar power pulse or cut-off on the order of an hour or two. – Actually, if the solar power plants are distributed well-enough, maybe three hours, because – if one uses speed of movement of the cloud edge as a constant to relate distance x to time t, solar power production graphed over t would be constant at S with a sharp drop to zero at t0 (assuming thick cloud, late or early in the day or year, and/or inability to use diffuse light); the spread of that change over three hours for consumption C(t) is a graph that starts rising from 0 at time t0-1.5 hours, rising to S at t0+1.5 hours. The net transfer of energy is from the triangle formed by S – C(t) ahead of the cloud (assuming cloud is advancing; the logic applies to the opposite case as well) to the triangle formed by C(t) behind the cloud edge. The distance between the centers of the triangles is 2/3 the length of each triangle, 1/3 the length of the two combined, which is 3 hours. The average transport of energy is thus only the distance covered by 1 hour of cloud motion, and the greatest distance is just 1.5 hours (from the cloud edge to 1.5 hours behind it, and from 1.5 hours ahead of the cloud edge to the cloud edge). Of course, concentration of solar power generation to specific sites will modify that picture.

    That aside, 10.8 billion MJ of storage actually allows an adjustment time of 4 hours for other power plants because 1/2 of a four-hour pulse can be consumed during that pulse if power plants adjust gradually during that time.

    Shorter-term changes require less storage, and longer term changes would be more easily adjusted-to by other power plants. The diurnal cycle is obviously quite predictable and involves gradual changes over hours. (In winter, energy production from other sources would peak in the morning and evening but might be somewhat elevated at noon relative to night; in late spring and early summer, the morning and evening peaks would be smaller, with pre-morning and post-evening peak valleys as the sun rises and sets earlier, and it might fall to near zero near noon sometimes. Of course this will vary by location and needs.)

    10.8 billion MJ is the energy stored by lifting 110 lakes, each of 100 square km area and 10 m depth, by 10 m (a volume of about 3.7 cubic meters per person). It may involve about 1/10 that volume if pumping water from Lake Ontario into Lake Erie (which would change water levels in the lakes by just 4 to 6 mm), or maybe 1/30 (for higher than present efficiency) or less if used to desalinate seawater rather than store energy for later use (on that note, it might also be redirected to carbon sequestration, etc.). It might involve perhaps 1/200 that volume of water if osmotic batteries (a long-shot given efficiency constraints) could be developed (reverse osmosis for storage, forward for release – I think salt can dissolve in water roughly 10 times it’s seawater concentration – alcohol as solute could achieve much higher energy density but I suppose an osmotic membrane might not work so well then?).

    (10.8 billion MJ is on the order of the electrical equivalent of 1/4000 total U.S. energy electrical equivalent (40% of fuel equivalent) usage in a year, or roughly the electricity produced from 25 million metric tons of coal (a bit over 80 kg/person).)

    Transport of electricity on the order of 60 miles is probably a better option than actual storage, although solar energy could also be stored in hydrogen or liquid fuel production (as that technology comes), or heat reservoirs for later thermophotovoltaci, thermoelectric, or mechanical heat engine conversion
    (See “A Solar Grand Plan
    By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions”
    Ken Zweibel, James Mason, Vasilis Fthenakis
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan ). Solar power plants concievably could have some biofuel stockpiles on hand; some might work in tandem with geothermal power, etc.

  34. 434
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 430 – thanks. I suppose it might still be argued that displacement of crops in one region might put pressure on another (depending on where those displaced crops could be grown, and where the crops they displace could be grown, etc.). On the other hand, if we’re going to protect rain forests with tariffs, perhaps we should regulate beef imports from Brazil (yes, I know there’s average quality vs the ‘good stuff’ you get out for special occasions, but it still seems rather odd that the U.S. would import significant amounts of beef from anywhere.)

    Re 432 – thanks. Yes, among other things, I recognize the free market can work as a learning algorithm; ideally it will tend to perform better over time (except when novel situations arise, of course). There are some problems for which more efficient problem solving methods may exist, though (obviously we know 1+1=2 without checking how the Dow Jones is doing; of course, this type of knowledge and ability is what allows planning and managing within entities that are externally subject to free market forces – as evolution by trial and error has given rise to organisms that can solve equations and design computers.

    Ultimately climate policy is an investment in the future. There are some upfront costs, but they are in total less than the taxes that would be applied, because that revenue is not simply spent digging a useless hole and then filling it in —
    —(PS if government spending didn’t help get us out of the Great Depression, how did WWII, which was government spending? What if there were not a war and we had just built ships for the heck of it (as argued by a guest on a recent “Colber Report” episode)? Or was it just that a number of people were killed, thus reducing unemployment? – well I suppose the difference would be that people understood what war required; perhaps there was greater predictability? That has been one of my concerns with the bank policies, etc., lately (whereas the $700+ billion stimulus package is at least layed out in some way with some common themes so that it is comprehensible in the big picture – so far as I know), though they might seem more principled if I understood them more thoroughly; presumably banks would understand it). —
    — and also, the returns on that spending will not all wait until 50 years+ out; new energy infrastructure will start paying back as soon as it comes online, and will payback over decades; climate paybacks will take longer to appear but they will appear.


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