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Boomerangs versus Javelins: The Impact of Polarization on Climate Change Communication

Filed under: — mike @ 7 June 2016

Guest commentary by Jack Zhou, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

For advocates of climate change action, communication on the issue has often meant “finding the right message” that will spur their audience to action and convince skeptics to change their minds. This is the notion that simply connecting climate change to the right issue domains or symbols will cut through the political gridlock on the issue. The difficulty then lies with finding these magic bullet messages, figuring out if they talk about climate change in the context of with national security or polar bears or passing down a clean environment to future generations.

On highly polarized issues like climate change, however, communicating across the aisle may be more difficult than simply finding the right message. Here, the worst case scenario is not simply a message failing to land and sending you back to the drawing board. Instead, any message that your audience disagrees with may polarize that audience even further in their skepticism, leaving you in a worse position than you began. As climate change has become an increasingly partisan issue in American politics, this means that convincing Republicans to reject the party line of climate skepticism may be easier said than done.

In my recent paper in Environmental Politics, I show the results from a study examining how Republican (and Republican-leaning independent) individuals react when exposed to persuasive information on climate change. I find that after these individuals are faced with messages that go against their party line on climate change, they further oppose governmental action on the issue, become less willing to take personal action, and, from a psychological perspective, become even surer of their distaste for climate change.

My study asked the question: “how do Republican individuals perceive persuasive information on climate change action, and what types of information are more or less effective?” To answer this question, I conducted a survey experiment wherein respondents in the treatment conditions were asked to read a paragraph about climate change. Each paragraph linked climate change to a prominent concept in American politics (either free markets, national security, poverty alleviation, or natural disaster preparation), attributed the message to a fictional but realistic-sounding source (either a Republican former Congressman or Democrat), and ended with a call for public action on the issue. These passages were rigorously pretested to ensure realism and impact.

The experiment, conducted in March 2014, used a nationally representative sample of 478 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, who were randomly sorted into one of the eight treatment groups or the control group, where respondents were asked in a single sentence to consider climate change as a political issue. Afterwards, all respondents were asked a series of questions to assess their support for or opposition to governmental action against climate change, their likelihood of taking personal action on the issue, and how sure they felt about their climate change opinions.

What I found was that every single treatment condition failed to convince respondents. In fact, treating Republicans with persuasive information made them more resistant to climate action regardless of the content or sourcing of that information. Overall, simply being exposed to pro-climate action communication appeared to polarize Republicans even further; they became more opposed to governmental action and less likely to take personal action compared to the control group. They also became more certain of their negative opinions on the issue, displaying significantly lower attitudinal ambivalence compared to the control group. What’s more, all of these treatment effects doubled to tripled in size for respondents who reported high personal interest in politics, all statistically significant outcomes. These highly politically interested individuals make up roughly one-third of Republicans in the sample and in the United States.

These are interesting results, though perhaps not unexpected given knowledge of American climate change politics. Traditionally, political communication research has focused on a phenomenon called framing, which basically deals with how information is presented to an audience. Framing effects come in two varieties: which facets of an issue are emphasized (“message effects”) and who is the communicator (“source effects”). A vast literature in political science, sociology, and psychology have shown that framing information may strongly impact how individuals perceive that information.

However, persuasive framing effects – meaning framing that shifts an individual’s opinion in the direction of the frame – have been hard to come by in climate change communication research. This is likely due to the fact that the issue is very much polarized, boasting public opinion gaps in the 40 percentage point range between Democrats and Republicans on an array of different aspects of the issue. For these polarized issues, we might expect framing effects to butt up against other effects. Specifically, the theory of motivated reasoning provides an explanation of how political identity influences how individuals process information and communication.

Motivated reasoning is essentially the concept that people may be spurred to think in specific ways by forming cognitive motivations. In particular, individuals may engage in directional motivated reasoning, which means that they have a preference to believe something and will process information in order to satisfy that preference. These motivations are borne out of aspects of one’s identity – those strongly held beliefs that a person understands to define him or herself. For instance, someone could be motivated by their identity as a New Yorker, an Ohio State fan, or, of course, a Democrat or a Republican. Motivations are not borne out of ignorance or irrationality or mis-education; they are oftentimes simply what makes someone that person.

In practice, motivated reasoning boils down to identity defense – motivated reasoners want to protect their beliefs. This effect manifests in two ways: a confirmation bias and a disconfirmation bias (for review, see Lodge and Taber 2013). When motivated reasoners comes across information that agrees with their prior beliefs, they tend to believe that information without a lot of conscious thought. However, when motivated reasoners are exposed to dissonant information, they tend to become critical and argue against the information. After all, simply accepting information that conflicts with their priors would weaken their sense of self. When motivations become strong enough, this process of counter-arguing can convince a motivated reasoner to be even surer of his or her preferred position and become even more polarized. This is known as a backfire or boomerang effect.

When it comes to politics, the strength of an individual’s motivated reasoning is strongly tied to that person’s interest in politics. This relationship makes sense for multiple reasons. Given that motivations arise from strong personal identity beliefs, political motivations go hand-in-hand with interest about the subject. Furthermore, as an individual becomes more engaged with politics, they are better able to recognize and process the political cues that align with their party and ideology. From these cues, the motivated individual can deepen their motivations. For instance, political interest helps with understanding that a pro-life stance has Republican connotations while a pro-choice position is associated with the Democratic Party. Without the relevant political savvy, these phrases lack much meaning.

In my study, I found plenty of evidence of these backfire effects when it comes to Republicans and climate change action. An example of one of these findings (support for or opposition to governmental action) is shown below to illustrate how Republicans, particularly those with high personal interest in politics, respond negatively to pro-action communication. In effect, for Republican respondents with low personal interest in politics (middle plot), exposure to treatment framing seemed to have had little impact – these individuals appear generally apathetic on the issue and on politics in general. But for those with high personal interest in politics (right plot), exposure to pro-action framing triggered a considerable backfire in opposition to governmental action.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 10.56.20 AM

Indeed, there are many potential unseen landmines to step in when trying to persuade skeptical audiences on the issue. Say you use an ineffective message. Those frames may turn off your audience or resonate with unintended thoughts or beliefs – such as a global security message backfiring on an audience of staunch isolationists. Suppose you find an effective message but your source is seen as lacking credibility. Your audience may feel they are being pandered to and backfire that way. Even when you have an effective source and message and can produce a persuasive framing effect, there’s no telling how long that effect will last before decaying or how that framing effect fares when countered with arguments from the other side that reinforce the audience’s prior attitudes.

For audiences who are motivated to be skeptical about climate change, providing corrective information, such as debunking the climate pause, may not work either. Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler (2010) have shown that factually accurate information used to correct political misconceptions are likely to fail when they fly in the face of strongly-held prior beliefs – another backfire. Indeed, there is evidence that an individual’s views on climate change are less related to education and views on science as they are to cultural and political identity (Kahan et al. 2012). Simply put, people have a tendency to believe what they want to believe.

If this is the case, what is to be done about climate change communication if Republicans are difficult to reach and the political environment on climate change remains toxic? I should preface that I do not think it is impossible to persuade Republicans to reconsider their stances on the issue. Rather, the state of polarization in American politics and on climate change in particular have stacked the deck against advocates of climate action. In addition, it is currently unclear what sorts of messages are seen as consistently persuasive, which messengers are considered credible, and if it is possible to recruit these types of messengers.

However, the issue is only growing in geopolitical import and circumstances, both political and physical, may change. Social science research suggests that framing is most effective when frames are repeatedly circulated and incorporated into political discussion, in effect shifting the societal understanding of climate change to include those frames. However, this means that, besides the times and effort needed to research effective frames and messengers, advocates need to continually reach audiences whom may be strongly resistant to such communication. This may be an inefficient use of political resources.

Instead, perhaps there are other populations who may be easier to reach, and with less gnashing of teeth. A 2014 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 37% of Democrats and 49% of independents thought that the impacts of climate change will not occur until sometime in the future or not at all. A 2016 Pew Research Center poll shows that just 55% of Democrats and 41% of Independents consider climate change to be an important issue for the President and Congress. These are a pool of individuals who may be, at the outset, agnostic on the issue or even in favor of action but not yet mobilized. Moreover, they are less likely to be polarized against the issue and more open to persuasive communication.


Kahan, Dan M. et al. 2012. “The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks.” Nature Climate Change 2(10): 732–35.

Lodge, Milton, and Charles S. Taber. 2013. The Rationalizing Voter. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Nyhan, Brendan, and Jason Reifler. 2010. “When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions.” Political Behavior 32(2): 303–30.

Zhou, Jack. 2016. “Boomerangs versus Javelins: How Polarization Constrains Communication on Climate Change.” Environmental Politics: 1–24.

191 Responses to “Boomerangs versus Javelins: The Impact of Polarization on Climate Change Communication”

  1. 101

    DH 92: Yes, green technology will create new jobs. However, it will eliminate old jobs.

    BPL: But not as many. You’re assuming it’s one to one. It isn’t. Green tech is more labor intensive.

  2. 102
    Jim Eager says:

    John West wrote: “Pros: Increase primary production globally

    Are you sure?

    FACE open field enhanced CO2 trials have demonstrated that different plant types react in different ways and to different extents. For most cereal crops rate of growth and plant tissue mass do increase, but yield and nutrient levels do not increase to the same extent. In other words, most of the extra CO2 goes into making more cellulose, not harvestable fruit/seed. And then there is the added heat, water and mechanical stress (wind, intense rainfall, hail) that comes along with climate change. Some regions in SE Asia may see temperatures high enough to reduce or even prevent rice germination. Extra CO2 will be of no use during extended drought or flood conditions, or in the event intense precipitation simply flattens the crop.

    Recall 2009-10: intense drought and wild fires reduced wheat yield enough to force Russia to suspend exports; intense flooding in the wake of a rogue monsoon wiped out much of Pakistan’s wheat crop; prolonged drought in Australia’s Murray River basin was followed by intense flooding further north and east, severely reducing agricultural output. That was one year. What happens to global food output when there are multiple similar years in a row? What happens when the river deltas of SE Asia become to salt infused due to rising sea level to grow rice?

    Most of the so-called ‘benefits’ of rising CO2 and warming are chimeras when looked at more closely and soberly.

  3. 103
    zebra says:

    @ BPL 101,

    “Green tech is more labor intensive.”

    Not so much, as I pointed out in my earlier comment.

    Electrified vehicles, for example. The drivetrains are going to last a very long time without maintenance, along with brakes, assuming they don’t put faulty parts in on purpose. No more JiffyLube. No tuneups. And so on, even for PIH type vehicles, where the backup fuel generator gets relatively little use. Heck, if Tesla has its way, car salesmen may become obsolete (oh please, please, let it be so.)

    Or LED lighting. Fewer replacement cycles for commercial buildings. Fewer bulbs manufactured overall.

    No, apart from the buildout of renewable capacity, Green means more efficient. Green means reducing capacity requirements period, if you think about it. And that is going to seriously affect labor needs. Coal miners are a drop in the bucket.

  4. 104
    Scott Strough says:

    Steve and Sidd,
    HMM food for thought. You guys just might be onto something. Struggling with the economics here, but potentially as a vertical stacking enterprise it could work on mid to large range farms seeking alternative income streams to add. It’s going to take me some time to crunch the numbers, but you guys may have something there. Thanks.

  5. 105

    re: my comment at 52 — I notice that someone (McK & co.?) has now blocked the Internet web archive link to the KS Robinson essay that I included in that post. (This seems to be the method to make something inaccessible on the way back machine: )

    But, some excerpts are here:

  6. 106
    Steve Fish says:

    Re: Comment by Scott Strough — 15 Jun 2016 @ 4:36 PM, ~#105

    Scott, while crunching numbers consider the following:

    When calculating atmospheric CO2 generated from agricultural machinery, you also have to include what is generated by the process of developing wells, refining losses, and transportation of the fuel. Locally grown fuel is a low tech process that eliminates all of these emissions.

    Biodiesel is a bad transition fuel with problematic waste products. Diesel farm machinery, and all diesel engines for that matter, run just fine on vegetable oil. The CO2 released by burning this fuel is net zero in the atmosphere because the CO2 was removed from the atmosphere in the previous growing season.

    Vegetable oil is a relatively minor component of food. It is used for the process of cooking and there is already a growing cooking oil recycling industry. What is left over from pressing oil out of oil seeds is a very rich source of proteins and carbohydrates that can be used directly in farming operations as animal food (or whatever).

    Farming that uses a small portion of the land to grow its own fuel sustainably is sequestering soil carbon in these fields as well as the cropping fields.

    You cannot sequester more carbon in the soil via fungal processes than the CO2 that plants above remove from the atmosphere. This piece here in Real Climate: , is talking about a specific proposal regarding sequestering carbon in agricultural soils. Pay attention to the larger analysis regarding CO2 fluxes in plants versus anthropogenic fossil CO2.


  7. 107
    Carbomontanus says:

    Don`t worry

    My Father said that if you pull the pig by its tail, he goes forward. But if you pull by its ears, he goes backwards. Thus are the pigs!

    Just be aware of it, and you will get the pigs to where you want them. It is as easy as that.

  8. 108
    Kristen says:

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Well written!

  9. 109
    Edward Greisch says:

    103 zebra: Mitigation is off topic in all forms.

  10. 110
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    104 – “Struggling with the economics here,”

    Why? Economics represents nothing real.

    Economics is a complete fiction.

  11. 111
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    103 – “Or LED lighting. Fewer replacement cycles for commercial buildings.”

    Do you think manufacturers won’t reduce the quality of LED lighting so that the rate of replacement goes up?

    Reduce quality to lower prices, and increase immediate sales, and later replacement sales.

    It’s a win win situation for Capitalists.

  12. 112
    Adam Lea says:

    ” It’s even possible, depending on the size of your allotment and how you use it, that you using a bicycle is counter productive to your goals.”

    I’m not sure how this could be the case. The energy required to move a bicycle is orders of magnitude lower than that required to move a car. I’v heard the argument that the carbon footprint required to produce the food calories required for the energy to ride a bicycle is greater than the equivalent carbon footprint of driving the same distance, but that argument is largely nonsense, usually based on choosing the most carbon intensive food that can be thought of, e.g. steak from cattle farmed in a cleared Brazillian rainforest (there are other reasons as well why it is a nonsense argument).

    I only started allotment gardening after the (dreadful) summer of 2012 (one of the wettest on record in the UK), so I don’t know how to garden in such a way as to sequester carbon. I can only guess no-dig comes into it somewhere as I have heard that tilling the soil exposes organic matter to oxygen and CO2 is released, in effect the soil evaporates. What I try and do is as much as I can, avoid bringing new material in, make use of what I can find (which could be other peoples rubbish), and minimise waste, and of course, compost as much material as I can.

    My allotment is about 250 sq m in size and I try to grow a wide range of vegetables to give the best chance that something will survive if the weather turns unpleasant. I’m not making the most efficient use of space at the moment as I am still very much in the learning phase, and my soil is heavy clay and I’m trying to improve it before I can increase crop density.

  13. 113
    Steven Sullivan says:

    Dr. Zhou — there’s a glaring typo in the online version of your paper —

    Table 1. Experimental farming conditions.

    Pretty sure that should be *framing* conditions.

  14. 114
    Dan DaSilva says:

    “In particular, individuals may engage in directional motivated reasoning, which means that they have a preference to believe something and will process information in order to satisfy that preference”

    The “directional motivated reasoning” should be for the truth, where every it takes you.

  15. 115

    VD 110: Economics represents nothing real. . . Economics is a complete fiction.

    BPL: Right. There is no such thing as production, goods or services, labor or capital, loans, interest, employment and unemployment, prices and inflation, GDP growth, etc., etc., etc. It’s all made up, like climate science and evolution.

  16. 116
    Scott Strough says:

    @106 Steve,
    You said, “You cannot sequester more carbon in the soil via fungal processes than the CO2 that plants above remove from the atmosphere. This piece here in Real Climate: , is talking about a specific proposal regarding sequestering carbon in agricultural soils. Pay attention to the larger analysis regarding CO2 fluxes in plants versus anthropogenic fossil CO2.”

    And you are right, you couldn’t sequester more than you removed. However, that article you linked to is very poorly written, using net fluxes and implying it is gross CO2 atmospheric stocks removal by photosynthesis. The actual estimate for the total GROSS uptake by vegetation is ~ 123 PgC/yr. While that article claimed it was 2.6 PgC/yr. Which is pretty consistent with current models of agriculture being an emissions source rather than a sink. However you flip that around and improve the sequestration rate just 10% and you get an additional 12.3% PgC/yr. Properly managed grasslands sequester 30-40% or more of the total products of photosynthesis deep in the soil profile. Approximately 1/2 of that gets sequestered medium to long term in the liquid carbon pathway. So a more realistic estimate is approximately 15-20% improvement…or 18-25 PgC/yr if all the land were sequestering carbon at that rate., not to mention the Savory claim is that vast areas with little to no vegetation at all can be restored to productivity.

    Yeah I wouldn’t put to much faith in that Briske, West article. It is very highly flawed on many levels and been refuted with actual case studies producing empirical evidence.

  17. 117
    Steve Fish says:

    Re: Comment by Adam Lea — 18 Jun 2016 @ 4:54 PM, ~#112

    Adam, in support of your statement about bicycle energy. A top athlete can’t sustain even 1/3 hp on a bike. Run a car on that. Steve

  18. 118
    deconvoluter says:

    CO2 and the Referendum in the UK.

    This Thursday UK citizens will be voting whether to leave the European Union (BREXIT)
    or REMAIN with the status quo.

    The campaign to reduce CO2 emissions would receive a serious set-back if BREXIT wins. Nigel Farage made a fool of himself by going to the European Parliament and waving a graph showing a small ONE YEAR recovery of the minimum summer Arctic sea ice. He keeps relatively quiet about it now, but all the senior members of UKIP turn out to be CO2 contrarians. So are some of the well known Tory Brexiteers, fellow travelers of UKIP , who are poised to replace Cameron et al. Fossil fuelists also argue that the UK only contributes 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions so what is the point of reducing them? But the EU as a whole is a much bigger contributor and had agreed to do something about the problem. All of that would be in jeopardy of Brexit wins.

  19. 119
    Glen Raphael says:

    The link to the framing vignettes is currently broken so I can’t check what was said, but what’s been said about them suggests another interpretation:

    What if the most politically-active Republicans are the most committed to the idea that “Government Doesn’t Work” and think putting government in charge of fixing problems tends to be useless or counterproductive?

    Given that premise, if you successfully convince that climate change is a real problem this knowledge makes it even more crucial we don’t let our bumbling federal government muck it up and pass a bunch of half-baked poorly-thought-through measures. Which is what we would totally expect them to do, given a broad action mandate.

    If that’s the problem, educators might be more convincing if they provided evidence that (a) we know exactly what we want to do, (b) what we want to do passes a reasonable cost-benefit analysis, and ( c) even though our legislators are usually a bunch of nitwits who lard up every proposal with graft and pork and end up making things on-net worse there’s some reason to think that’s less likely to happen this time.

    A framing story in which a retired politician of either party says “we need to ACT on this!” does none of those things.

  20. 120
    Scott Strough says:

    @112 Adam,
    My point was that we don’t really know until we quantify our impacts. In your case it may or may not be true. The principle though addresses a common complaint I see from denialists/obfuscators. They try to cast disparaging remarks towards for example, climate scientists flying in a plane to a climate summit. When you compare the admittedly high personal carbon footprint of flying around the world, it is still tiny compared to the potential mitigation policies that could be hammered out at such a summit. Same goes for the farmer. Maybe he would have a carbon footprint using a fossil fuel run tractor, but compared to the mitigation potential of the soil if he is carbon farming, it is tiny. In your case maybe driving a care to your allotment might use fossil fuels, but compared to the offset by growing your own food, vs buying food that has an even higher carbon footprint, it potentially could be better to drive than risk injury on a bicycle. After all, not much gardening or food production going on while you are healing from injuries.

    None of these can be answered without crunching the numbers. However, I claim that if it is required to used some fossil fuels to obtain the energy required to do a job that overall lowers your impact, better to burn that fuel to that good purpose. So it’s not fossil fuels per se that is bad, but rather what we do with that energy. Any tool can be put to good purpose or bad, the tool itself is neutral.

  21. 121
    Jim Eager says:

    Victor, you are not qualified to offer me or anyone else a lesson on how science works, brief or otherwise.

  22. 122

    Vendicar, #110–

    “Economics represents nothing real.

    “Economics is a complete fiction.”

    It would be very strange if a complex system with consistent ‘drivers’ failed to exhibit some regularities of emergent behavior, and nearly as strange if two and a half centuries of determined investigation failed to discover any of them.

  23. 123
    Dan H. says:

    “Green tech is more labor intensive.” True. Hence the higher cost.

  24. 124

    BPL: Green tech is more labor intensive.

    DH: True. Hence the higher cost.

    BPL: WHAT higher cost? Wind and solar are now competitive with fossil fuels. No fuel cost, for one thing.

  25. 125
    nigelj says:

    Dan H, @ 123 says ““Green tech is more labor intensive.” True. Hence the higher cost.”

    Green tech is only higher cost in a crude sense of producing the technology. If you take account of environmental savings then its arguably lower cost than traditional technology. However climate change denialists like yourself either cant, or wont think in those terms.

  26. 126
    zebra says:

    @ Glen Raphael 119,

    Stuff doesn’t get done because of reasoned arguments. It gets done when:

    1. There is profit to be made and the potential profiteers contribute their influence to the political process sufficient to (at least somewhat) balance the status quo power centers.

    2. There is a popular narrative that is congruent with the inclinations of a large portion of the population, which is propagated by individual experience.

    So, if you want people to switch to renewables, or nuclear, or conservation, or EV, or whatever, you aren’t going to do it with the kinds of arguments the scientific/educational community can produce, whether they are based in physics or economics.

  27. 127

    Dan H., #123–

    “Green tech is more labor intensive.” True. Hence the higher cost.

    That would be a logical conclusion if all other things were equal. ‘But as they ain’t, it isn’t.’

    OT alert:

    The LCOE of wind is now regularly coming in under that of coal, and so are the most favorable solar projects. For the US scene, have a look at this tool:

    (Hover over the ‘box & whisker’ of the specific technology to examine the LCOE numbers, since the scale is such that it’s hard to compare visually.)

  28. 128
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Scott Strough — 20 Jun 2016 @ 5:25 PM, ~#116

    Scott, I notice that you ignored the other part of my post (#106), and your claim regarding how poorly written the Real Climate West and Briske article is, is your opinion. The difference between W & B and you is that they actually have documented expertise in the area in question. What have you got?


  29. 129
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Dan H. — 24 Jun 2016 @ 12:39 PM, ~#123
    You claim: “Green tech is more labor intensive.” True. Hence the higher cost.”

    Not true. Steve

  30. 130
    Edna says:

    Thanks for this post, the issue of climate change has been of create concerned in the recent. The concept of framing is very important as it deals with how information is presented to an audience. This is an interesting article.

  31. 131
    Mal Adapted says:


    Stuff doesn’t get done because of reasoned arguments. It gets done when:

    1. There is profit to be made and the potential profiteers contribute their influence to the political process sufficient to (at least somewhat) balance the status quo power centers.

    2. There is a popular narrative that is congruent with the inclinations of a large portion of the population, which is propagated by individual experience

    Admirably pithy. After six decades of life I’m convinced zebra is right, for the United States at least.

    The first condition can be met by putting a price on carbon to eliminate the price advantage fossil fuels have over carbon-neutral energy sources. That will spur R&D on storage and transmission technology, and infrastructure investment. A carbon tax on FF production would be most efficient, but carefully targeted subsidies for alternatives have a role to play too. An end to subsidies for FF production and consumption would help a lot!

    The second condition will be met when enough voters experience climate change personally and locally. We’re already seeing more catastrophic flooding due to extreme rainfall events and storm surges exacerbated by sea-level rise. Rising death tolls from record high temperatures are also becoming harder to ignore. Many people who aren’t directly affected will feel empathy for the victims, and the rising cost of disaster relief will get the attention of the empathy-challenged.

    As climate realists, we can help build the popular narrative (nice phrase, btw):

    1) Lobby your elected representatives to abolish FF subsidies and/or enact a carbon tax, revenue-neutral or otherwise. Emphasize the financial costs of AGW to US citizens, and the benefits of mitigating GHG emissions. See and for talking points.

    2) When news accounts of weather disasters that are clearly linked to AGW, like killer heatwaves and extreme rainfall, fail to make the linkage explicit, call them out! Write Op-Eds and letters to the editor; contribute to the online comments; criticize the failure on other media. Be sure to keep the facts straight. A new publication from the National Academy of Sciences, Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change is helpful — in addition to science, it discusses framing!

    3) Repeat 1) and 2). Keep up the pressure!

    Now, go forth and change the world ;^).

  32. 132
    Scott Strough says:

    Steve @128,
    I didn’t ignore the rest of your post. I like it. Potentially a brilliant idea. I am tossing it around in my head to see how it might be a vertical stacking enterprise in my research demonstration farm one day. We will see.

    As far as asking me what I have? I have soil samples. But for the purposes of this thread I don’t believe anecdotal evidence counts.

    So for this thread all I can do is show you where they made a mistake. For example: “Consequently, soil water availability represents a much greater limitation to maximum carbon storage in global grasslands than does grazing management.” Sounds good on the surface. However grazing management does effect water availability. So there is a flaw in the statement when addressing Savory’s HPG. Although the statement is true on the surface, the very fact that it is true, and Savory’s HPG does address that truth, makes it flawed as a statement against Savory’s work.

    Another flaw: “To put these emissions in perspective, the amount of carbon taken up by vegetation is about 2.6 Pg per year.” As I previously pointed out, the number is actually ~ 123 PgC/yr. So the statement “To a very rough approximation then, the net carbon uptake by all of the planet’s vegetation would need to triple (assuming similar transfers to stable C pools like soil organic matter) just to offset current carbon emissions every year.” just doesn’t apply. And there is the rub in a nutshell. What they are claiming is that without changing the % sequestered by changing management practices, it would take 3 times the land. So in reality they are somewhat restating the problem with current management practices, not addressing Savory’s proposed solution. It’s not the uptake that needs to triple, it’s the % of that carbon uptake sequestered in the soil that needs to triple. That sounds hard, but keeping in mind most agricultural land is a net source, and doesn’t sequester any carbon at all, and ~40% of the planet is in agriculture, it turns out to be trivially easy rather than hard, just by changing management. I don’t think it is technology problem. There is good published science it works in the field. In my opinion it is a people problem. There’s a whole lot of people that both need motivated and educated to make the change.

    Admittedly there are a few gaps too. Man does not live on meat alone. Savory has done some limited work on integration of his methods with crop production, but not a lot. I am personally researching a solution to one of those gaps myself. Others likewise. Here is one: Notice this? “According to research conducted by Christine Jones, soil organic carbon has increased 203 percent over 10 years on Winona compared to the same neighboring farm studied by Ampt (the farm is owned by Seis’ brother, who, Seis says, has been a good sport and good conventional farmer). Jones calculates that 171 tons of CO2 per hectare has been sequestered to a depth of half a meter on Winona. This has contributed to a dramatic increase in the water-holding capacity of the soil as well, which, according to Jones has increased by 200 percent in 10 years and can now store over 360,000 liters per hectare with every rainfall event.” (171 tCO2 is roughly 47 tC in 10 years, well over the rate needed to offset fossil fuel use if similar results could be obtained on all agricultural land)

    So you see? Case studies conducted by good researchers refute most of what Briske and West wrote. Not just the carbon, but the water too. No doubt they are correct that current agricultural practices are not nearly up to the task, but change agriculture (easier said than done) and it is well within our capability.

  33. 133
    Thomas says:

    126 zebra and 131 Mal Adapted … I agree with your basic direction in thinking, you’re both still ignoring the fundamentals of real life.

    3) Moral Integrity = Banning Fossil Fuels by progressively Regulating them out of existence in the civilized world between now and 2040.

    Immediately there is NO MONEY and NO FUTURE in investing in Coal Mines and Fossil Fuels in general. Finance, Business, Innovation, R&D, and 21st century Technology will respond immediately .. and so will the consumers and business users of energy.

    Just like DDT, CFCs, Lead, Mercury, and ‘Dr Tafts Heroin laden Health Elixir’ were first banned and then replaced with better healthier rational science-based alternatives. Much wisdom in history. Such as Regulating all motor vehicles have seat belts and brakes that work.

    Having the right “standards” via Regulation is always a no-brainer – it works 100% of the time – no exceptions bar Criminality.

    James Hansen – The Climate…In Your Backyard

    I agree with everything Hansen has to say including GenIV Nuclear EXCEPT for his Fee & Dividend Carbon Price Theory – it’s far too late for that even if politicians could agree globally (and they will not).

    Eventually Politicians cannot ignore the Moral Imperative…. the $ cost becomes moot.

  34. 134

    Dan H trumps:

    “True. Hence the higher cost.”

    Fossil fuels are non-renewable finite resources.

  35. 135
    Dan H. says:

    You claimed that green technology was more labor intensive. Does that not equate to higher labor costs? Of course, solar and wind have lower fuel costs. Total costs need to be incorporated. Only the most efficient onshore wind suppliers are competitive.

  36. 136
    Hank Roberts says:

    Also worth a look:
    Syllabus: Integral Restoration and Ecological Design
    Environmental Studies Capstone 600: Integral Restoration and Ecological Design

    these Indian-maintained ecosystems were less functional than their pleistocene savanna predecessors. Less solar energy was transformed into high quality animal biomass and information (DNA), with more primary production lost to entropic smoke. However, these ecosystems were way more diverse and higher functioning than any now on the continent, and were highly productive for their human inhabitants.

    Perhaps the most sustaining food crops throughout the long history of Indian habitation in North America, were the mast of oak, hickory, and chestnut. These nuts and acorns were abundant, easily harvested, non-perishable, and highly nutritious. When managed in the open-grown form, hickory trees can have increased mast production of 500%.[5] Maintaining open-grown groves would have provided a considerable return on investment, especially considering that nuts left behind were eventually consumed in the form of deer, elk, or turkey. Herds of elk, bison, and deer followed patterns of human fire on the landscape, grazing the pulse of nutritious grasses and wildflowers growing on recently burned land, they created self-reinforcing grazing lawns.[6] In the summer, groves of open-grown oaks provided shade and transpirational cooling for grazing herds and humans alike. Humans weren’t the only predator of these species, but shared their role with wolves, cougars, foxes, eagles, hawks, and badgers.

    Shrubs such as prairie plum, sweet crabapple, hazel, raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry, and currant provided fruits and nuts for bears, elk, deer, and humans alike. Hundreds of prairie and savanna wildflower species provided leaves, roots, tubers, flowers, fruits and seeds for food, medicine, and spiritual ceremony. Upland savannas were interspersed with lowland marshes, streams, and lakes full of shellfish, aquatic plants, fish and waterfowl. These aquatic systems existed in productive, clear-water states, where nutrients were regulated via biotic control by herbivorous and piscivorous animals and humans. Indian burning and herbivore grazing kept nutrient cycles tight in upland areas, minimizing nutrient run-off into the lakes. This landscape contained a wide variety of abiotic environmental gradients including topography, shade from trees, and soil texture and moisture. These gradients provided the context whereupon patterns of burning and grazing, pollination and dispersal, hunting and horticulture, over millennia molded and shaped the diverse and functional savanna mosaic encountered at settlement.

    The upper midwestern landscape now consists of corn and soybean fields, degraded woodlots, silt-laden streams, eutrophic lakes, and urban development. Deer are the only large mammals we can support, due largely to easy access of agricultural corn. We do have cows and pigs, but instead of grazing them on pastures, we raise them inside confined feeding operations where they are fed all that corn and soy….

  37. 137
    Steve Fish says:

    Re: Comment by Scott Strough — 27 Jun 2016 @ 1:23 PM, ~#132

    I am sorry Scott, but what I wrote is not brilliant or new. There are some farmers, mostly in Europe who are farming their fuel. If you are doing analyses of carbon sequestering farm practices, you should know this. Also, the evidence for the benefits of better farming and grazing practices is also well known and has been discussed here. I suggest you look up the Rodale Institute 30-year study and their impressive list of peer reviewed studies and look at their reference lists.

    When you point out that some experts said 2.6 Pg and you, a non-expert, think that carbon uptake is really 123 Pg, don’t you think that you just might be making an ignorant assumption. I am not an expert in this and I would never assume that I had the chops to contest such a large discrepancy without trying to understand the nuances of the subject. The first place I would look is to check on how much of the carbon taken up by plants is mostly released back to the atmosphere when an annual dies and a perennial sheds its foliage. How do you figure dry grassland fits into your calculations? Most forests have an average of only 9 inches of carbon sequestration. And so it goes.

    I am a retired biological scientist and I don’t know squat about the intricacies of carbon sequestration in soils, but I do know how to evaluate claims of scientific expertise. Steve

  38. 138
    Anand Holtham-Keathley, RN says:

    What are people’s opinions on the jet streams crossing the equator?

  39. 139
    Nemesis says:

    Let’s be straight:

    From a political perspective, all I can see for 21 climate conferences now, is ever more fiddeling with numbers. That makes the whole climate discussion somewhat obsolete, doesn’t it? As long, as the discussion is going on, the deniers will be happy, because they achieved, what they wanted:

    Discussion, no action.

    Yoh, let’s make BIGGER plans for emission reductions, while making as much profit as possible at the same time, certainly. Yes, we CAN overcome the natural laws… no?

  40. 140
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    #122 What consistent drivers are you referring to? The need for whale oil? The need for DODO eggs? The need for clean water and air that did not manifest itself 200 years ago?

    Modern Economics is fantasy story telling, based on ridiculous assumptions like the consumer being perfectly aware of all aspects of the products available to them.

    The games of Monopoly, Go and Chess also have emergent characteristics that in small part are understood.

    Those characteristics have been identified to some extent but they are only applicable within the game itself, and have no applicability to the real world.

    Economics represents nothing real.

    Economics is a complete fiction.

  41. 141
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    It isn’t rocket science. Target and discredit the enablers of the denialists. I.E. target and discredit the Conservative think tanks that produce and promote the propaganda.

  42. 142
    Scott Strough says:

    @137 Steve,
    I said POTENTIALLY a brilliant idea. I am well aware of the basic concept, but it’s the execution, including the infrastructure, marketing, and profit, all compared to other options that will determine the final assessment of its brilliance. It just may turn out that I make far more profit and still sequester more net carbon taking a different route.

    As far as the difference between labile carbon cycle and the liquid carbon pathway and their effects on soil carbon sequestration, I suggest you study the issue, take a few soil science courses, just to familiarize yourself with the basics. Then investigate the work of Dr. Sara F Wright and Dr. Christine Jones. The discovery of glomalin and further study of how it effects soil carbon really has been a game changer in the field.

    I can get you started with some easy reading for the layman.

  43. 143

    Dan H., #135:

    Only the most efficient onshore wind suppliers are competitive.

    Dan, by any normal reading of the words, that is flatly wrong. Current wind tech is outcompeting coal by a handsome margin and is comparable, in terms of LCOE, to natural gas. See, for example, this analysis by the EIA (which is not particularly ‘fond’ of renewable energy in general), from which I extract ‘highlights’:

    Coal: $95.10
    Coal, CCS: $144.40
    Natgas, advanced combined cycle: $72.60
    Natgas, conventional: $75.20
    Onshore wind: $73.60

    That’s from the energy outlook 2015, which actually came out last June. The numbers cited are projections for generation coming online in 2020, which essentially means for new coal being built now. (New wind and, I think, new gas projects are a bit faster to build, so I’d think those numbers would be valid for projects in advanced planning now.)

    By the way, in looking to see if I could turn up an even more current source (say, the 2016 Energy Outlook which one might think is just out now*), I happened across this item:

    It’s a pretty detailed response by the EIA to its critics on the topic of RE projections–the words ‘spirited defense’ come to mind, actually–and I’d think it would be of some interest to many here. I certainly feel some sympathy for the plight of EIA analysts who are mandated to provide ‘policy neutral’ advice–which they’ve traditionally done by making current policy, including sunset limits, parameters for their reference case–but who are continually being confronted with changes to said policy (including retroactive ones!) There’s more, but let those read it who wish, as it’s OT anyway.

    *FWIW, I didn’t find such an analysis for this year’s early release. If someone does turn it up, I’d be interested to give it a look.

  44. 144


    #122 What consistent drivers are you referring to?

    Essentially, human behavior; the area of study now usually called game theory; and mathematics. Economics is the study of how the marketplace works, and ‘the marketplace’ is a relatively direct abstraction of everyday behavior. (Which is not to say that there aren’t much greater levels of abstraction in economic theory, or that traditionally the ‘human behavior’ piece has always been fully accounted for–for a long time, the ‘human’ was assumed to be a ‘rational actor’, where rational action was defined in terms of what we might now recognize as game theory.)

    The games of Monopoly, Go and Chess also have emergent characteristics that in small part are understood.

    Those characteristics have been identified to some extent but they are only applicable within the game itself, and have no applicability to the real world.

    Are you sure? You’re asserting that, but how do you know it’s actually true? What if some of those emergent characteristics mapped onto each other, and turned out to be predictive of, say, the behavior of criminal accused in negotiations with district attorneys?

    Ie., game theory.

    And even if it is a correct assertion, it’s still a false analogy: there are any number of activities which have emergent characteristics–eg., music theory–which also have indirect or poorly characterized relations to the ‘real world.’ It doesn’t follow that they are therefore the same as economics–particularly since there are also numerous examples of fields exhibiting ’emergent characteristics’ which are intended, assumed, or believed to be directly derived from, and as closely as possibly reflective of, the ‘real world’–eg., biology or physics.

    The question is, which category does economics belong to? So far, all you’ve presented is your assumption that it’s more like the former than the latter. And all I’ve said is that I find your assumption somewhat unconvincing.

    Economics represents nothing real.

    Economics is a complete fiction.

    Oh, I don’t know–I’m pretty sure economics had something to do with my behavior last night (driving home, hungry, from work).

  45. 145

    OT, but genial:

    Happy Canada Day, everybody!

    (Realizing that next year will be the sesquicentennial of Confederation. And realizing, too, with a wry grimace, that for the first time ever in living memory, secession is more likely in the UK than in Canada. Oh, brave new world…)

  46. 146

    DH 135: You claimed that green technology was more labor intensive. Does that not equate to higher labor costs?

    BPL: Not necessarily. You don’t need a degree in nuclear engineering to install solar panels. It would only cost more if the wages per worker were more than a certain level, and that level is, in fact, lower than the mean wages for a nuclear plant worker.

  47. 147

    VD 140: Economics represents nothing real. . . Economics is a complete fiction.

    BPL: No matter how many times you say this, it still won’t be true.

  48. 148
    Steve Fish says:

    Re: Comment by Scott Strough — 1 Jul 2016 @ 10:13 AM, ~#142

    Scott, the work you have been citing is very interesting and important, but what it shows is that there is more carbon in the soil than previously thought and elaborates the mechanisms by which this occurs. It doesn’t support your other contentions. Along with several other actors here you are, apparently, just another random self-important voice on the web. Never mind. Steve

  49. 149
    Nemesis says:

    Economics may be real or not- it won’t save us from anthropogenic climate change, that’s a hard fact and I like it :-)

  50. 150
    Scott Strough says:

    @148 Steve,
    To be perfectly honest, I don’t understand your objection. I have presented empirical evidence of carbon sequestration in the field at least an order of magnitude greater than they claim is possible. I have explained the flaws in their argument, a basic stocks and flows mistake. (ie flux and flow are not the same, flux being a net total of flows) And I presented good evidence of the biomolecular pathway, newly discovered, as well as hydrological and physical properties that explains their underestimation of the long term soil sequestration potential. To be perfectly honest, I am questioning the honesty of your questioning. You are beginning to sound like a typical climate denialist. Only in your case a mitigation denialist. If your objection is different than I have already covered, please state it directly, rather than vague claims of “It doesn’t support your other contentions.”