PBS: Climate of Doubt

The video of Tuesday’s PBS show on the politics of the climate debate is available – I make a minor appearance…

The PBS website has more background.

139 comments on this post.
  1. Superman1:

    Steve Fish #90,

    “In a science context you need some expert peer reviewed studies that, for example, demonstrate that cheap fossil fuel use is an “addiction.””

    Rather than ‘cherry-pick’ peer-reviewed references to support one’s viewpoint and call it scholarship, as you, WUWT, and Steve Goddard like to do, my proposal is as follows. Each reader of my original post and your response can look at both and ask which passes the sanity test: 1) Are people I know really addicted to high intensity cheap energy use that only fossil fuel can supply today, or are they more than willing to make hard sacrifices to save the Earth? 2) How many people do I know that have given up aircraft flying, or long-distance traveling, except for the most dire emergencies? 3) How many people have relocated to walk or bicycle to work, specifically to reduce energy use? 4) How many people have downsized their living quarters drastically, not because they’ve been unemployed for six months, but because they truly care about the future of this planet? 5) How many people have changed their diet drastically for one that requires minimum energy input? 6) How many people have forsaken all but the most necessary items that require energy for processing?

    I personally don’t know any who do any of the above, although I do know many people who talk a good game of being concerned about climate change.

  2. Hank Roberts:

    > The steps described in the paper are very minimal

    Yep, a common observation looking at history, and easy to make in hindsight. If they’d known what you know, it’s only reasonable to think they’d have done more than they did.

    We all wish we’d learned more sooner.

    Look at the storm recovery as it develops. Will anyone in a leadership position ask people to rebuild for the new sea level, thinking ahead a century, or two centuries? That’s one of the surest consequences of warming over the longer term.

    Will businesses and politicians dare ask for that? Will people figure it out for themselves and make the sacrifices needed?

    Or do we be businesslike and discount the future down to worthless out a few decades from now and do the rebuilding low-bid and low-elevation?

    Dunno. Time will tell.

  3. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by Superman1 — 30 Oct 2012 @ 8:01 PM:

    You are dodging your very silly addiction comment. There is no relationship between popular culture practices and just about any scholarly definition of addiction. You have not shown any indication that you actually know what scholarship really involves. I believe that if, and when, the cultural war invented by the denialists is shown for what it is, popular culture will change its attitudes.

    Just for your further education, in my community most have made the necessary sacrifices you outline, or have expressed the goal to do so. Among my immediate neighbors, we are all carbon negative. That is, we are all responsible for sequestering more CO2 than we produce from fossil sources. We all think that our standard of living, by almost any comparison, is greater than the US population as a whole. Further, there are several western cultures that already have a carbon footprint of half or much less than that of the US, and they all have a standard of living rating above that of the US.

    It is hard to differentiate your rants from trolling. Steve

  4. Superman1:

    Steve Fish #103,

    “Among my immediate neighbors, we are all carbon negative. That is, we are all responsible for sequestering more CO2 than we produce from fossil sources.”

    I will leave it to the readers of this blog to judge the credibility of your unsupported assertions above vs my comments on energy addiction above. I have little doubt whose comments will pass the sanity test.

  5. Dan H.:

    If one defines “addiction,” as something you cannot live without, then electricity certainly qualifies. Our culture is not only addicted to electricity, but would collapse without it. Add the fuels necessary for home heating and transportation, and most of the Western world relies on energy. The issue is one of replacing this energy efficiency. Contrary to some claims, the public is willing to pay a little more for “clean” energy.


  6. deconvoluter:

    A suggestion for an article on weather forecasts.

    When this ugly storm is really over, I wonder if RC could host an article on the role and accuracy of the weather forecasting involved?

    The sort of comments following popular blogs are a mish mash of links to contrarian web sites and improvised falsehoods of all kinds. One such is the smearing of short term weather forecasts. The purpose is to undermine confidence in all computer simulations and the appeal is particularly to older readers who did experience the earlier less accurate forecasts.

  7. Tom Adams:

    There are lots of problems with the addiction metaphor. Addiction has a profound impact on the individual, so giving up the addiction has a big positive impact for the person. But, if a single individual gives up fossil fuel use it has zero positive impact as a practical matter. So the fact that individuals don’t voluntarily give up fossil fuel use means nothing unless you take the addiction metaphor too far. As Hanson points out, we need political action in individual conservation, and precisely because the addiction metaphor does not work.

    Confusing metaphors with facts can lead to bad conclusions. Confusing “you and like a rose” with “you are a rose” might cause one to pour plant food on one’s girlfriend for instance.

  8. SecularAnimist:

    Superman1, I think you have demonstrated to your satisfaction that nobody meets your standards of righteousness.

    Now, do you have anything to say that’s actually useful?

  9. Tom Adams:

    Superman1 #101

    You are making the classic error of confusing a metaphor with a fact and using it as a premise for reasoning.

    This is why you are so focused on the notion of individuals giving up fossil fuels. If it’s really an addiction, then abstinence is important.

    Contrast with James Hanson’s view that political action is the important thing and that individual conservation is of no practical importance.

    For instance, tax policy that completely priced in the cost of reversing the externalities would solve the climate change problem precisely because fossil fuels are not opium.

  10. Superman1:

    Dan H. #105,

    ” Contrary to some claims, the public is willing to pay a little more for “clean” energy.


    The article states that, as a result of a survey, the public would be willing to pay about fifty cents a day more for ‘clean’ energy. I distrust surveys; they can be ‘gamed’ too easily. I place more weight on behaviors and actions. For example, in Spring 2008, gasoline was climbing to near $4.00/gal. There were many groups coming to the DC area to protest these prices, claiming they were being driven to near bankruptcy. What kept this discontent from becoming a near-riot was the collapse of the economy in 2008 and the subsequent drop in oil and gas prices.

    Additionally, attempts over the years to impose even a modest Federal surcharge/tax on gas to reduce demand have been met with substantial resistance. If there is no other choice, people will pay higher prices for energy, clean or otherwise, but I would be very leery about their willingness to voluntarily pay more for clean energy. Besides, for the fifty cents per day quoted in the article, what substitute clean energy is that going to buy?

  11. Dan H.:

    I found the forecast to be quite accurate in this case. Granted, the European model was the most accurate, forecasting the left turn early on, but by Friday, everyone was acknowleding that the storm would hit the East Coast with a vengeance. The only question was the timing and exact location of landfall. Manditory evacuations were issued in the places that did experience the greatest flooding. Overall, I cannot see how someone could criticize the hurricane experts.

  12. Superman1:

    Tom Adams #109,

    “This is why you are so focused on the notion of individuals giving up fossil fuels.”

    In #88, I made the following statement: ” I see little hope that we can overcome the addiction to the high energy use lifestyle that cheap fossil fuels can underwrite.” It’s not fossil fuels per se, it’s the fact that the way fossil fuels are priced now, where the focus is on the front end costs and the back end is essentially neglected, their price is sufficiently low to allow most Americans to maintain a high energy usage lifestyle.

    “Contrast with James Hanson’s view that political action is the important thing and that individual conservation is of no practical importance.

    For instance, tax policy that completely priced in the cost of reversing the externalities would solve the climate change problem precisely because fossil fuels are not opium.”

    I have the highest admiration for James Hansen; he has been essentially the Paul Revere of climate change. But, I would need to see his full statement from which you extracted the excerpt above before providing a detailed response.

    Realize one fact; political action will not come without the strong support of the public. Look at smoking. The Surgeon General’s Report detailing the adverse health impacts from smoking came out in 1964. According to the NYT reporter who recently described the post-64 history, the information presented had essentially no impact on smoking. What made an impact was the imposition of economic penalties (added taxes, etc) and the imposition of mandates (no smoking in various facilities, etc). If it were left up to the addicts, the smokers in this case, I would maintain the mandates would never have been imposed. What made them possible was that smokers constituted only 42% of the adult population in 1964, which meant that there were 58% non-smokers. Many were sufficiently offended by the smell and other consequences from smoking that their having a majority, along with the scientific basis provided by the 64 Report, meant that mandates could be imposed essentially on the minority.

    I maintain we don’t have that majority today with respect to the cheap energy addicts, and that’s why political action is arm-waving at this point. In four Presidential/Vice-Presidential debates, we couldn’t get the candidates to say word one about climate change. That’s where we are relative to political action today. Show me the detailed Roadmap that will take us from the reality of today’s absence of political action to the political action that Hansen desires.

    Considering your final statement on tax policy. In #87, I stated: “fossil energy is ‘cheap’ today only because the front-end costs are emphasized to the near-exclusion of the back-end costs. If waste disposal were included in the costing, fossil energy would no longer appear so ‘cheap’.” It’s essentially an alternative way of stating what you have stated. Basically, the price of fossil fuel is being kept artificially low because disposal costs are being ignored. Yes, I can wave my arms as you are doing, and say that if we price fossil fuels to include their back-end costs and make the price competitive to renewables, we would go a long way toward solving the climate change problem. But, that’s purely wishful thinking; there’s zero public appetite for that to happen.

    Until the cheap energy addiction of the public as a body is addressed, we will remain where we are today, in complete stasis toward making any progress on the climate change problem.

  13. Hank Roberts:



    He’s made a serious effort at being a good example of individual conservation; somewhere he describes putting in a geothermal heat exchanger. That’s a significant personal expense up front with a quite long payback.

  14. Jim Larsen:

    113 Hank R said, “somewhere he describes putting in a geothermal heat exchanger. That’s a significant personal expense up front with a quite long payback.”

    I just posted the US government’s stance, which is that there’s a 5-10 year payback. Are you saying they’re wrong, or are you saying 7.5 years is “quite long”?

  15. Steve Metzler:

    Gets to me too, when people can’t bother to get Hansen’s name right. Kinda makes you wonder what other ‘little’ details about the science, or otherwise, they can manage to overlook.

  16. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by Superman1 — 31 Oct 2012 @ 1:00 PM:

    It is interesting that you use tobacco as a comparison for your claim that fossil energy use is an addiction. Nicotine actually meets definitions for an addictive substance. The interesting part is that the very same people that the tobacco companies paid to create a movement that showed the tobacco-cancer link science are running the global warming denial campaign. Denial is the culprit.

    I agree that wasteful living in popular culture has been encouraged by inexpensive fossil fuels, but it isn’t an addiction. To characterize it as an addiction results in the wrong solutions. Steve

  17. flxible:

    You guys do just go on and on about definitions – how about instead of addiction we call it a conundrum?

    The problem is one rarely touched on > the majority of our personal [and communal] infrastructure is fossil fuel dependent and there is no money to replace it, particularly on an individual level. Why would I want to throw out things that have already incurred an emissions cost to produce, in order to buy things that will have additional emissions costs to produce, with money I’d have to borrow, when I can get by with the old ‘stuff’?

  18. Hank Roberts:

    > Are you saying …, or are you saying ….

    Nope. Generally, I’m saying what I type, nothing more.

    Individual numbers on payback are what matter, not averages: YMMV and add the costs of borrowing if you don’t have cash.

    I’m saying Hansen’s name is spelled Hansen, and that having already installed geothermal was a significant conservation choice by an individual. So I doubt the claim above that “Hanson” doesn’t think individual efforts are worthwhile.

  19. Tom Adams:

    Hansen says:

    “The problem with asking people to pledge to reduce their fossil fuel use is that even if lots of people do, one effect is reduced demand for fossil fuel and thus a lower price–making it easier for someone else to burn…it is necessary for people to reduce their emissions, but it is not sufficient if the government does not adopt policies that cause much of the fossil fuels to be left in the ground permanently.”


  20. Edward Greisch:

    The video still dies after 5 seconds.

  21. John McCormick:

    RE #117

    flxible, your comment is the keystone of the whole discussion about individual life changes to reduce fossil fuel dependence.

    When Congress muddled through debate on electric utility deregulation a prime sticking point was who would pick up the stranded assets costs of electric generation equipment found too expensive to operate but still having years of on line potential.

    Our homes, businesses, lifestyle are all about assets which rapidly become stranded as energy costs rise if and when a carbon tax is implemented. If not on a global scale, that would be a meaningless gesture.

    Imagine the global stranded assets that would arise; their cost to the global economy and the cost of retrofitting from economic and AGW emissions standpoints.

    A global conundrum. We give no thought to what you describe. We only want to get back to 280 ppm.

    John McCormick

  22. John Mashey:

    Stranded assets: at the very least, one can think hard about not building more that will be stranded. As it stands, in the US, a great deal of sea-level infrastucture is on its way to being stranded assets, sooner or later.

    Rational government planning tries hard to make sure that new {infrastructure, homes} take account of futures within their economic life, while typically grandfathering some that exist. I doubt that any area demands that people tear down their houses and rebuild them as net-zero buildings, even while passing laws that say new homes shall be so by year xxxx.

    Geothermal: likewise, as Hank says YMMV (amusing reminder: I once wrote a report in 1990 called “Your Mileage May Vary..But If Your Car Were A Computer, It Would Vary More.” which was still used in some CS course at Berkeley as late as 2010.)
    Just as the payback on solar varies (trees matter), s does that for geothermal. It is a whole lot cheaper to do geothermal on an empty lot before a house is built, or in some place with enough open land near the house, which I suspect was Hansen’s case.

  23. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by flxible — 31 Oct 2012 @ 9:17 PM:

    This is not complicated. Let’s say that you want to purchase a new Energy Star refrigerator to replace your old one that is still working. Take the energy use for both and find out if the electricity savings will pay for the new one before it is worn out. After it is paid for, the longer it will run the more savings you get. If you need a loan but can’t afford it (or just wish to dodge the interest), you had better begin saving for the new refrigerator in advance. Beyond economics, if you value reduction of CO2 emissions you should figure in something for this.

    I can recommend “The Carbon Buster’s Home Energy Handbook” by Stoyke if you would like quick and dirty calculations for both cost and carbon savings. Steve

  24. Superman1:

    John McCormick #121,

    “Our homes, businesses, lifestyle are all about assets which rapidly become stranded as energy costs rise if and when a carbon tax is implemented. If not on a global scale, that would be a meaningless gesture.

    Imagine the global stranded assets that would arise; their cost to the global economy and the cost of retrofitting from economic and AGW emissions standpoints.”
    You have identified the central problem with the infrastructure architecture of our country. The architecture was designed based on cheap and plentiful energy, supplied by fossil fuel at the time and presently. Homes were built dangerously close to coastal and inland waters. Many homes were not designed with energy efficiency in mind. Many homes were far larger than required for the number of residents, requiring far more energy for heating and cooling than necessary. Many homes were built in areas essentially unlivable if it were not for large amounts of energy for heating or cooling. Places like Las Vegas or Phoenix come to mind. Many homes were built in communities far from shopping and/or far from work, requiring large energy expenditures for both activities. Even if we as a nation were to try to reduce fossil fuel expenditures in the interim (which is wishful thinking at this point), given the infrastructure architecture we have designed, there is a rather high energy threshold requirement for most people.

  25. Hank Roberts:

    Supe, does “preaching to the choir” ring any bells?

  26. Ray Ladbury:

    As you have been haunting the blog a couple of months now and have yet to get anything right, I feel quite confident in saying you got it wrong again. What is more, your absolutely refuse to address the facts–such as the fact that consensus matters. Facts matter. Peer-reviewed research matters. It is not simply a matter of who can be more persuasive or sound more logical. Sometimes reality is not “logical”. I’ll stick with reality.

  27. Superman1:

    Hank Roberts #125,

    “Supe, does “preaching to the choir” ring any bells?”

    Specifics, please. Also, how come you never replied to #97? Whenever I present factual responses to questionable assertions, you and The Three MisQuoteers run for the hills!

  28. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by Superman1 — 1 Nov 2012 @ 6:42 PM:

    A troll gets desperate for a response.


  29. patrick:

    Anonymity of money-as-speech corrupts. Absolute anonymity of money-as-speech
    corrupts absolutely. One begins see this in the events documented in this
    “Frontline” report. It is even more evident in the next “Fronline” report.
    Too bad the Supreme Court doesn’t know it. Worse yet that the Court should ever imagine in their pharisaic jurisprudence that it has anything to do with originalism. “Everything they do is done for show…they love the place of honor…” The Court’s reasoning now allows political contributions to be scrubbed of identity by operatives naming their bank account(s) for American tradition, etc.

  30. flxible:

    Steve Fish @123 – But it’s only “not complicated” for those with a penchant for buying their way out of the problems over-consumption has gotten us into. The question is, why should I make any economic sacrifice to purchase new energy-efficient appliances when I can find already existing ones free, or nearly so, if I do happen to need them? In point of fact, I’ve replaced my fridge 3 times in the 30 years I’ve been in this same place. None of the 3 cost me anything.

    The point I make is, in N America, there is an immense amount of waste of “goods”, things that have had X amount of input to make and distribute [money, labor, emissions], but there’s always something better tomorrow you could purchase to replace it. Which is more “conservative”, using these things for as long as reasonably possible, including repairs, or “recycling” them prematurely and replacing them with other goods that have required additional input in order to increase your “energy efficiency” by a decimal or so?

  31. Roly Gross:

    Favourite quote from a Carolina scientist battered by deniers like NC20 – ‘well the ocean’s gonna dictate what happens’. Rather prescient, I’m assuming half the NC20 ocean front property developments are now in the ocean after Sandy.

  32. Eli Rabett:

    This is rapidly metastasising into a Keystone Kops version of Watergate, with the American Traditions Partnership falling apart.

    After a bunch of American Traditions Partnership papers show up in a meth lab, but the state committee administering election laws can’t do anything about it cause, well, it was a meth lab, the ATP head honcho bleats that it belongs to him, which means the state committee can do anything about it, and then, well, there is a break in

    All this on Halloween

  33. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by flxible — 1 Nov 2012 @ 9:51 PM:

    I am expert at repairing and reusing, but you missed my point. If the new refrigerator is much more efficient it is possible to save both money and carbon emissions. If you keep running the old one you are just throwing away the money and carbon above that of a more efficient refrigerator and this can build up to more than the cost of the new one. It seems to me that your logic would suggest that we should keep all the old appliances, cars, or whatever running forever and this is a path to disaster.

    Further, an old unplugged refrigerator makes an excellent relatively constant temperature container for my home canned food or a fermentation cabinet in the garage. Be creative. Steve

  34. Hank Roberts:

    > Supe … 97, 125
    See above

  35. Hank Roberts:

    > Supe … 97, 125

  36. wili:

    SM at #101–I have done all of those. So now you know someone who has. But I still think collective action is more important than individual action, for the many reasons articulated above.

  37. flxible:

    Steve Fish@133 – It may be possible to save emissions and money, if one has enough money, and time, and large enough inputs of fossil fueled electricity to create a large footprint. For someone who chose many decades ago to minimize their impact on the planet, and chose to live where electricity is hydro generated, money may not be available, and time may be too short to realize any return. In fact the 90’s unit currently performing well in my live-work abode will do it’s job until it dies, and then be properly recycled, because I spent the new fridge money on a marine unit for my retirement home ;)

  38. Hank Roberts:

    > retirement home

    That could use a whole blog worth of discussion about how to live if anyone has a pointer to such a conversation among people who understand what’s happening to climate. And yours makes my 1969 Dodge camper van look almost small. But it’s still got way too big a footprint to move very far very often. It’s mostly potetially earthquake housing.

    The joke that goes with it, heard from another old guy who also owns one: “I told my wife I was going to get her a new kitchen — you should’ve seen her face when I came back with this …”

  39. flxible:

    “it’s still got way too big a footprint to move very far very often”
    It would drink some fuel as a daily driver, but all it needs to do is give me comfortable shelter ahead of inhospitable climatic changes. With primarily 12V amenities, once solar PV is completed there won’t be much of a footprint beyond the rare moves. Too many folks think they need, and are entitled to, a huge living space, preferably in a forest of their own. The Tiny House blog provides some of what you suggest, and the Low Impact Initiative has tons of info including a discussion forum and blog.