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The Top Ten Things Environmentalists Need to Learn
February 2, 2008 12:23 PM   Subscribe

The Top Ten Things Environmentalists Need to Learn Unfortunately, many of those who claim to be working for environmental improvements lack an understanding of a few basic concepts which are absolutely critical to accomplishing anything. The idea that it is nessisary or honorable to make sacrifices to save this planet are overly simplistic and lack a true understanding of the forces at work. To use a phrase I have come to like, they are “Not even wrong.”
posted by DV8 2XL (168 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
necessary
posted by dr. moot at 12:32 PM on February 2, 2008


Damn
posted by DV8 2XL at 12:38 PM on February 2, 2008


He was deviating, in order to excel.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 12:44 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


That was pretty terrible. Doing nothing is better than doing something, is the message I seem to get from it.
posted by maxwelton at 12:46 PM on February 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Good points. Reminds me of PsychoKick's comment in the Japanese whaling thread a little while back. People in all sorts of fields are prone to doing things that are highly visible instead of things that make a bigger overall difference, but get less attention.

What's the point of doing good works if most people don't know it, right?
posted by echo target at 12:47 PM on February 2, 2008


Combine his rule five and his rule one, and what he's really saying is that environmentalists should do nothing at all. The Economy is sancosanct, nothing should be done that in any way affects it for the "worse", by some definition.
posted by eriko at 12:50 PM on February 2, 2008


The list is pointing out that 'doing something,' if it's the wrong thing, is not a solution. There are steps that can help and these are the ones that a high priority should be put on.
posted by DV8 2XL at 12:50 PM on February 2, 2008


So...

Sit on your hands and suck the exhaust? Am I missing a larger point here? I hope so. Otherwise, what a complete waste.
posted by thewalrusispaul at 12:53 PM on February 2, 2008


DV82XL, you posted this to digg, delicious, and reddit, and posted half the comments on the post itself. Are you the author of this piece?
posted by mathowie at 12:53 PM on February 2, 2008 [12 favorites]


4. It is unreasonable to expect the general public will accept major reductions in living standards or comfort and convenience. Simply put, it won’t happen.

Unless, of course, we continue as we are now and the entire fucking mess comes down around our ears. Then we won't have any choice but to accept it.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:54 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting, but I don't think his argument against solar panels on your roof (for example) makes too much sense. Over the long run (I think 20 years or so) it's economical to install solar panels on your home, and get electricity that way. And it can be fun.

I don't really see the downside. The fact is, every little bit does help. If everyone could reduce their greenhouse gas emission by, say, 5% it would be very helpful, and roof solar panels could help there.
posted by delmoi at 12:54 PM on February 2, 2008


It seems to me there's an argument to be made for less-impactful but more-visible activities, as the latter can serve to raise awareness and build towards a critical mass.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:55 PM on February 2, 2008


Yes you are missing the larger point. For example: upgrading the electrical distribution system, will yield more power savings than several wind farms can produce. Yet the wind farms get more support
posted by DV8 2XL at 12:56 PM on February 2, 2008


No I am not the author.
posted by DV8 2XL at 12:57 PM on February 2, 2008


This essay is essentially "tragedy of the commons" but told from the point of view of a single sheep farmer. Of course it doesn't seem like your actions make any difference in the big picture, but that doesn't mean individuals shouldn't choose to make better choices before a top-down choice is made for them.

The fact is, the government doesn't do anything until there's enough public support for it. It's like saying "no one should waste their time buying an expensive underpowered Prius, let's all wait for the Gov't to enact higher MPG standards and drive whatever comes out then" but knowing the gov't won't take any action until enough people own high mileage cars and public sentiment demands it.
posted by mathowie at 1:00 PM on February 2, 2008 [19 favorites]


What you're saying is that we should all just stop doing the little things and trying to make a difference, then? Everything needs to be on some grander scale or it's futile? Ugh.
posted by thewalrusispaul at 1:00 PM on February 2, 2008


I would go with
1. Learn some real science.
2. Avoid hair-shirtism.
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on February 2, 2008


An excellent, excellent link. Consider this:

For example, underground coal fires produce as much CO2 as all the light cars and trucks in North America and most of those in Europe. The cost of developing a method of fighting such fires and implementing it is likely very low compared to the benefit especially in the context of the amount of effort which has gone into reducing the pollution from cars and trucks.

I haven't heard this before, and I would like to see some confirmation before I go too wild over it, but it is a brilliant point assuming the underlying (sorry) facts.

I associate 'not even wrong' with John Baez, talking about string theory.
posted by jamjam at 1:01 PM on February 2, 2008


Also the Atomic Insights Blog. Maybe he just really, really, really likes this piece.
posted by grouse at 1:01 PM on February 2, 2008


I, too, suspect a fact check on his various figures might be a good idea before going too wild over it.
posted by Artw at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2008


Am I missing a larger point here?
The fact is, every little bit does help.


Yes, there are points being missed, and the attitude of "every little bit does help" is simplistic and fraught with unintended consequences.

Here's the nut graf, IMO:

"Even in cases where there is little overall investment, simply harping on the most insignificant overall issues will at least draw attention away from what credible solutions exist."

Spending 100x human energy on something that might have a 10x return is silly when you can spend 100x human energy on something known to have a 20x return.

You can spend five minutes of time doing something useful that no one will ever see that's better for everyone. Or you can spend five minutes of time devoted to your reusable hemp shopping bag and be pleased by the fact that you're showing a good example to others, who may not be impressed in the slightest. Guess which one more people will go for.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:04 PM on February 2, 2008


The point of the list is a much more general one: chasing after small reductions and believing you are making a significant difference is silly. Pushing for greater change across the board is what is needed and to sell those larger changes projects that take economic realities into account will have more likelihood of getting broad support.
posted by DV8 2XL at 1:05 PM on February 2, 2008


Ron Paul, that you?
posted by peppito at 1:06 PM on February 2, 2008


I'm going to suggest this book, (from Mefi's own gompa) which in its first chapter argues against the fact that everything needs to be on the grand scale to make a difference. And that local initiatives can have a big impact.

And then I'm going to back away from this thread.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:07 PM on February 2, 2008


Actually I'd add

3. Avoid dogmatism

to my own list. A lot of that is covered by 2. but not all.
posted by Artw at 1:08 PM on February 2, 2008


Yes you are missing the larger point. For example: upgrading the electrical distribution system, will yield more power savings than several wind farms can produce. Yet the wind farms get more support

Wind farms may be cheaper then "upgrading" the electrical power system. And everyone understands how wind farms work. You see the big spinny thing and there you go. But how exactly would electrical system upgrades save power? And more importantly, how much would it cost to fix? Are you talking about replacing power stations, or replacing old lines? It sounds like it could cost a fortune. If they were profitable, then those upgrades would already have been done.

On the other hand, wind farms are profitable as soon as you build them.

And just to go over that 'every little bit doesn't count' point again. It's just wrong. For example, it may be that while it takes a lot more individual effort to put roof solar panels on people's houses then it would to install a CO2 sequestration system on the coal plant, the individuals putting solar panels on their homes have no way of marshaling their effort to build the sequestration plant on their own, nor do they have the authority to do so.

Furthermore that method takes advantage of 'excess' effort outside the economy, because it's essentially done with people's free time.

Read up on the Long Tail. There are probably millions of little tiny things that help a tiny bit, but if you did all or most of them, you'd have a huge CO2 reduction.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on February 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


You can spend five minutes of time doing something useful that no one will ever see that's better for everyone. Or you can spend five minutes of time devoted to your reusable hemp shopping bag and be pleased by the fact that you're showing a good example to others, who may not be impressed in the slightest.

Just to play devil's advocate, what can we spend five minutes on that will make things better for everyone?
posted by echo target at 1:10 PM on February 2, 2008


We all make a significant difference and impact by the example we set for those around us. It's when you believe you're not making a difference that all is lost.
posted by thewalrusispaul at 1:10 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Point 8 (natural/organic) has been a long standing pet peeve of mine.

Points 7 and 3 cut both ways.

Points 5,4,2 and 1 are dubious at best and seem to be promoting an ulterior motive.
posted by furtive at 1:11 PM on February 2, 2008


From an economic standpoint, if we were to consume every resource on the planet at once... chop down every tree, mine every hill, catch every fish, and consume all the oil.... it would be the best year ever.

Next, year, well, that's for tomorrow's stockholders to worry about.
posted by Malor at 1:11 PM on February 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


This book 'The Geography Of Hope' the Chinese reading it?
posted by DV8 2XL at 1:12 PM on February 2, 2008


Spending 100x human energy on something that might have a 10x return is silly when you can spend 100x human energy on something known to have a 20x return.

But how do you measure human energy? If someone enjoys doing X but not Y, then X is more likely to help in the long run, even if it's less effective.

Imagine someone presented with two options:
1) Spend their weekends and spare time putting solar panels on their roofs, or
2) Getting a second job in order to donate money to a non-profit that installs CO2 sequestration devices?

Effort, or what you called "human energy" is not some fluid thing you can take from one bucket and dump in another.
posted by delmoi at 1:13 PM on February 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


The Top ONE Thing DV8 2XL and the Depleted Cranium blogger need to learn:

1. Sacrificing the needs of an economyenvironment for the environmenteconomy will destroy both.
posted by wendell at 1:14 PM on February 2, 2008 [15 favorites]


He was deviating, in order to excel.

Huh. Maybe, Stonestock Relentless. But he could be deviant and obese, too.

Guess we'll just have to wait 30 seconds till he comments in the thread again to clear it up.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:16 PM on February 2, 2008


Actually wendell we do know that it works both ways. Read the comments
posted by DV8 2XL at 1:17 PM on February 2, 2008


Yes, wendell. DO YOUR RESEARCH. READ THE COMMENTS.
posted by grouse at 1:19 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Obese yes, deviant I can only wish at my age
posted by DV8 2XL at 1:19 PM on February 2, 2008


There are some fundamental mistakes being made in this piece, from assuming some false dichotomies about scale to over-simplifications regarding sustainability and mass-actor problems.

I don't mind the idea, but it's rather like reading Psychology Today or SCDB, where you suspect that too much of the baby is being intentionally tossed with the bathwater.
posted by klangklangston at 1:19 PM on February 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


The point of the list is a much more general one: chasing after small reductions and believing you are making a significant difference is silly.

And my point is that's not accurate. Small reductions can add up. Especially if you can as an individual make a small reduction vs. joining some group and hoping for the best.
posted by delmoi at 1:21 PM on February 2, 2008


There are some fundamental mistakes being made in this piece, from assuming some false dichotomies about scale to over-simplifications regarding sustainability and mass-actor problems.

Yeah, the zero sum game assumption that Delmoi is pointing out seems a particularly big one.
posted by Artw at 1:23 PM on February 2, 2008


chasing after small reductions and believing you are making a significant difference is silly. Pushing for greater change across the board is what is needed

On the microscopic level (ie, looking at what one person can do), "pushing for greater change" and "chasing after small reductions" looks exactly the same, hence my problem with the whole "throw your hands up and don't change your lightbulbs, change everything from the top-down instead!" mantra.
posted by mathowie at 1:23 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


There are some fundamental mistakes being made in this piece, from assuming some false dichotomies about scale to over-simplifications regarding sustainability and mass-actor problems.

Upon re-reading, yeah this is garbage. So Wrong it's not even "Ron Paul."
posted by peppito at 1:25 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is mostly bullshit and not worth the time to pick apart.
posted by ssg at 1:26 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The bigger issue is that while all of you are putting solar-power heaters on your swimming pools and patting yourselves on the back China and India are growing their economies at leaps and bounds and if large scale solutions can't be found for energy they are going to kill us all burning coal or worse. Time to wake up and smell the tea.
posted by DV8 2XL at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2008


But how do you measure human energy?

Some people call it "economics."

Effort, or what you called "human energy" is not some fluid thing you can take from one bucket and dump in another.

Politics is ultimately about decision-making. Guns or butter, or some combination of both. We can all hold hands and wish it were otherwise. But it ain't gonna make it so, and distractions delay that understanding.

The solar-panel roof is actually a great example of something that really does make a difference. So why is there not a great big groundswell of support for economic legislation to make it easier for Joe Public to get his own solar panels? The article argues that Joe Public doesn't understand the real issue and is distracted by puffery. Joe Public thinks shopping at Whole Foods is somehow helping the environment in a meaningful way.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:28 PM on February 2, 2008


But the average person has no hope whatsoever of overhauling the electrical grid, putting out coal fires or anything larger then using CFs, reusable shopping bags, perhaps solar panels and driving cars that get better mpgs. People may well want to do things that make a difference, but they also want to believe what they do matters, so if you want to stand up and say fuck you, what you are doing doesn't matter because what really matters are only the big things then I have to discount your theory out-of-hand. What really makes the difference is a combination of small things and a few big things as well. How do we get to the point of those big things? By doing the small "unimportant" things, if enough people use cloth bags, or shop locally then that translates into public policy recognizing that those types of ideas have merit. The inherent human condition is one of inefficiency, if we where efficient we would not have to worry about population control, world hunger, clean water, etc. The ability to solve these issues are not a big mystery and can be achieved with sufficient political will and efficiency. Will it ever happen? No one knows. But, systemic change for the better, environmentally, socially, economically rarely happens from the top even though this is where the finally big steps need to happen. Would you argue that the civil rights movement should never have happened because obviously people getting beaten up and jailed will not change the minds and laws, what is needed is big gestures by those on top?
So fucking what if it takes 100 or 200 people doing everyday small things to achieve the same result as 10 dedicated people? My guess is those 10 people would be paid to achieve their effect whereas those 100-200 are actually shelling out their own money to do so.
The inherent proposition is almost anti-democratic in tone (and I am a skeptic of how current democracies work).
posted by edgeways at 1:29 PM on February 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think there's a lesson to be learned from the spread of Compact Fluorescents. You have a technology that, in some ways, is superior to incandescents. It's less expensive to run, and the bulbs last quite a bit longer, but the initial investment is higher, and color is different in a somewhat visible way. Effective marketing however gives the bulbs something of a cachet with the environmental set, and the bulbs start selling in real numbers.

Now we're looking at incandescents getting banned for normal applications, and while this is odd, it's a fairly small minority that's really protesting.

I've been in the "every little bit is just you bragging, annoyingly" camp for some time, but without the highly visible reasonable alternative, the measures against incandescents would simply not be happening. Nobody would realize they didn't need the bulbs that had been around since Edison.

Of course, one astonishing aspect of this is that it requires every individual to do something. That somehow makes it better, in that it spreads the environmental meme. The problem with cleaning up coal fires is that it's happening off in the distance, and would just be a fairly invisible operation. Are we trying to protect the environment, or spread our ideas? Without visible change, nobody knows what's happening, but it's interesting if in the name of advocacy effective solutions are avoided.
posted by effugas at 1:29 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nah, nuclear power isn't the solution. The problem can be broken down much more simply:

1. People are selfish and addicted to comfort.
2. You can't make people stop being selfish and addicted to comfort.
3. These selfish people need to burn coal, dung or oil to be happy.
4. Most of these people cannot be weaned off coal, dung or oil through means that are economically or technologically unavailable to them, like nuclear, wind, solar, tidal or foozles-beamed-from-space.
5. There are more of these people every day.

Solution: get rid of the people. Whoever engineers the virus that kills off 99% of humanity will be hailed as the greatest hero who ever lived. Not right away, of course, but eventually.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:29 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


His list isn't very coherent, but few observations...

10. Go after pollution sources with the highest benefit/cost ratio, not those which are most noticeable – If you are attempting to make a difference in the world, you should start with the largest problems with the simplest solutions and the least cost in remedying.

Exactly the logic behind carbon trading schemes. This is the the main instrument of the Kyoto treaty.

9. It is always best and often vital to utilize existing infrastructure and capabilities when implementing new methods or technologies.

Exactly. And it seems to me that "environmentalist" are advocating their use more than their "economist" counterparts. For example wind turbines are already a mature technolgy, but carbon capturing isn't.

8. “Natural” “Organic” and “Bio” do not mean “good.” - Some of the most toxic substances known are natural.

This isn't a very good argument. Some of the most toxic substances are also manmade. I haven't met any "environmentalists" who would be advocating using "natural toxins" just for the fun of it. Surely we can choose the best of both worlds? Use the good sides of both "natural" and "modern" methods?

7. Plans for the future should not be made on the most optimistic predictions and should consider the most pessimistic reasonable predictions – If you are formulating a plan for providing energy you cannot base it on the assumption that there will be an overall decrease in energy usage.

Yep. Again, "environmentalists" seem to be more concerned about peak oil and it's consequences than their "rational economist" counterparts...

...

4. It is unreasonable to expect the general public will accept major reductions in living standards or comfort and convenience. Simply put, it won’t happen – There is no point in debating the ethics of driving a big car and taking vacations versus making sacrifices to sustain the environment, because history shows that the public has a very limited tolerance for any measures which directly effect their comfort, convenience and other wants.

Human kind has been able to make fundamental changes on moral grounds in the past - abolishing slavery is a good example, gender and sexual equality another.

Many of the "comforts" he sees as fundamental rights weren't vital just a few years back and they became necessary only because "everybody" has them. For example motor vehicle taxation based on consumption wil cut the amount of big cars and nobody is going to miss them, because your neigbour won't have either! Happiness and "vital needs" aren't absolute, they are always relative.

...

1. Sacrificing the needs of an economy for the environment will destroy both. - This is overall and far and away one thing which environmentalists seem to entirely lack any understanding of.

No we do not. My environmentalism is based on the simple truth that sacrificing the environment will surely destroy the economy. Economic systems are flexible; they can be controlled and manipulated, they are manmade systems - unlike rules of physics.

Writer of the article seems to be attacking an "environmentalist bogeyman" that only exists in his imagination.
posted by hoskala at 1:29 PM on February 2, 2008 [19 favorites]


China and India

Why not just say China and India are not doing enough to combat global warming and provide some peer-reviewed journal articles offering evidence?
posted by peppito at 1:30 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


DV8 2XL: what it really comes down to for me with your argument is: so what? I can't change India or China or ExxonMobil but I can change my own habits. Most people have some sort of personal sense of accountability or their own version of the law of karma, so they will do what they can. Waiting for it to happen from an act of government is just whiny and childish.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:31 PM on February 2, 2008


Damn you China, you should be more enviromentally conscious while producing all our crap!
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


"You can spend five minutes of time doing something useful that no one will ever see that's better for everyone. Or you can spend five minutes of time devoted to your reusable hemp shopping bag and be pleased by the fact that you're showing a good example to others, who may not be impressed in the slightest. Guess which one more people will go for."

This is a bit of a straw-man for two reasons: First off, the folks using the hemp grocery bags are the ones who got us to switch to more efficient fluorescents in my pretty large office building. Second, a lot of the more noteworthy (easier story) environmental actions encourage donations that go towards the things you never see, like grants for research or infrastructure modernization.

As another point, a lot of folks tend to focus on halting the most egregious instances of environmental abuse because environmental abuse tends to be fairly irreversible. You can argue that they'd be better served doing more broad projects, but both long-term and short-term environmentalism are necessary.

Finally, he forgot to note that environmentalism is also a quality of life issue—undeveloped areas are something I consider important for my quality of life, generally. I realize that's vaguely hypocritical to believe living in LA, though it's much easier to understand in Michigan. On some level, every life choice requires sacrifice—we don't have infinite time or resources, so I choose what's likely to maximize not just my happiness but the general happiness. If not using a plastic bag eliminates one more from the sea, and it's a really minor imposition on me, why not do it?

Maybe this is because I've been raised vegetarian, but it really doesn't take any extra effort to not do a bad thing, and that leaves me plenty of time to do good things too.
posted by klangklangston at 1:36 PM on February 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


As a further note, from what I can tell the only way that small changes add up is through impact on the political process, and the only way the political process doesn't fight back is if the economic impact is manageable, or even positive.

That the environmental movement optimizes for visibility and impact to everyday lives is not at all exclusive to it. Fixing the power grid is not visible, driving a Prius is. But not that driving a Prius encourages the development of plugin hybrids, which will eventually increase base load at night, which will really encourage working on the power grid.

peppito/ssg -- Guy's making some pretty reasonable points, even if he's not seeing the link between subsidies (which he respects, in a temporary manner) and early adopters (that are effectively subsidizing with their attention and advocacy). You, by contrast, are not adding anything to the conversation.
posted by effugas at 1:37 PM on February 2, 2008


It would be better if this crap blog post from somebody I've never heard of who doesn't know what he's talking about showed a bit more effort. That is, it would be better if it wasn't crap.

This is mostly just a list of absolutist statements--perhaps the majority of which are very clearly wrong--offered as straw-man arguments against other absolutist claims that have been made by... Wait, who's been making those claims? I'll be darned; he never actually says!

He also seems to lack a very basic knowledge of technology, business, and economics, which is amusing, since these are the disciplines that apparently inspire his wisdom.
posted by dsword at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, wind farms are profitable as soon as you build them.

Not so fast there, sparky.

Cost per unit of energy produced was estimated in 2006 to be comparable to the cost of new generating capacity in the United States for coal and natural gas: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MWh, coal at $53.10/MWh and natural gas at $52.50.[48] Other sources in various studies have estimated wind to be more expensive than other sources.

What's really hysterical is the dust-up over a proposed wind farm off Nantucket. Apparently a really famous Democrat hates the idea. Ruins the view, you see.

Meanwhile, nuclear power gets safer and safer ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2008


Really a terribly written article - chock full of half baked opinion backed by nothing but "common sense" which is worth jack squat. There may have been some interesting concepts, but the half-assed presentation made me suspect the entire thing. I've had bar conversations with more meat than this argument.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:40 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


His argument about environmentalism being a luxury for rich countries is shit. It doesn't benefit anyone to have a high GDP if the people living there are choking to death on dirty air, dirty water and food filled with toxins. That makes no sense.

In the end it comes down to "how to do you measure the economy."

If he doesn't understand that, then the writer of the linked blog post is just a fucking moron. Full stop.
posted by wuwei at 1:41 PM on February 2, 2008


The point of the list is a much more general one: chasing after small reductions and believing you are making a significant difference is silly.

One very good argument for not pushing for people to do all the tiny little things that make a tangible (but miniscule) difference is the concept of 'empathy fatigue'. It's something that has been discussed (although I can't remember the exact phrase, so excuse me that aspect) in respect to trying to raise money for wildlife concerns and endangered species - if you appeal to them with fluffy, cute, saveable animal after fluffy, cute, saveable animals, eventually they get bored of helping because "Well. I've given money to save 10 already!"

In this context: Trying to pressurise people to lobby for the bigger changes that don't directly affect them in order to make differences that are also not immediately apparent to them is extremely difficult if you blow sunshine up their arses for changing their lightbulbs and reusing plastic shopping bags. People will naturally get to a point (without masses and masses of education) of saying "Well, screw you, I'm already doing X,Y,Z, and anything else I can't help. Let the government do it!"

You lose the support of the people in the street as you have made their (tiny, yet tangible) differences seem worthwhile in order to get then to do it in the first place. Thereby devaluing the reasons they needed to. They think they've achieved something already and are double hard to convince otherwise.
posted by Brockles at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, wind farms are profitable as soon as you build them.

Not so fast there, sparky.


Saying that they are not as cost effective per megawatt as a coal plant is not the same as saying they aren't profitable. They go up and pay for themselves. Companies wouldn't but installing wind farms if they weren't making money. They go on the grid and return cash.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2008


effugas - Nah, he's spinning a bad yarn to generally agitate for people's attention. It's garbage.
posted by peppito at 1:46 PM on February 2, 2008


I wasted too much time reading the fucking article to read a comment thread 5 times as long, and generally feel that MetaFilter is the only site where the comments actually add value to the original post. That is, as long as the original poster doesn't try to moderate the thread.

Also, I did NOT intend to say "it works both ways". Apparently I SHOULD have added the "Fixed that for you" to make it clearer.

And after two years living in the shadow and evacuation zone of a successfully functioning Nuclear Power Plant, I have gone from ambivalent to Nuke Electricity to rather negative toward it, partly thanks to the information that the plant operator itself provides to its neighbors. Too much to explain here, but waste disposal problems and the genuine risk of catastrophic failure are both worse than my less-informed self believed, and there's more. I'm not moving because of it, but I'm keeping a packed suitcase by the door for if/when the evacuation sirens go off. "Nucelar keeps getting safer and safer"??? I wish.

Anyway, Depleted Cranium is not worth the promotion campaign DV8 2XL is doing for him.
posted by wendell at 1:50 PM on February 2, 2008


His argument about environmentalism being a luxury for rich countries is shit. It doesn't benefit anyone to have a high GDP if the people living there are choking to death on dirty air, dirty water and food filled with toxins. That makes no sense.

"Luxury" in this context doesn't mean something useless that only rich people have money to waste on.

A luxury is just a good that has a particularly high income elasticity of demand. That is, he's simply saying that as people become more wealthy, environmental concerns will become proportionately more important to them. Conversely, if environment-preserving measures cause economic contraction, they'll lose support particularly rapidly.

I don't know if this is true or not, but it's certainly not a ridiculous position.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:53 PM on February 2, 2008


Top Three Things People Who Sit in a Room and Pull Opinion Pieces Out of Their Asses Need to Learn

3. Nobody ever looks at a straw man and says "OMG that's me!"
2. When your thesis requires substantiation by facts and figures, it would probably be a good idea to provide some.
1. Mom want to know why you haven't taken out the trash like she's asked you to do three times now.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2008 [14 favorites]


That is, he's simply saying that as people become more wealthy, environmental concerns will become proportionately more important to them

It isn't true. Obvious Example: Native Americans have been decrying the degradation of their homelands since Europeans began showing up to rape it. They certainly weren't "wealthy" by today's standards or even by European standards at that time.

He's pushing junk, garbage, junk.
posted by peppito at 2:01 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hmm...

Isn't the whole noble natives preserving the enviroment thing a bit of a dodgy anthropological myth?
posted by Artw at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2008


Hoskala,

I live in Seattle, and there really are people who are absolutist about natural being better than synthetic. Part of this is justified -- we have a real problem with non-biodegradable synthetics. Natural mechanisms tend to biodegrade after we're done with th em, rather than agglomerating in Texas-sized regions of the Pacific Ocean.

Part of this is extreme, however. He makes a good point regarding the mass importing of predator species. "We shouldn't use pesticides, we should just use ladybugs" really is the sort of thing spoken without analysis of whether:

a) Ladybugs will work
b) Ladybugs will cause a greater impact on the surrounding environment than pesticides

I mentioned compact fluorescents earlier. They use much less power -- they also contain mercury vapor. This is a huge amount of mercury we're planning on moving into the waste ecosystem. It's worth wondering if that's a good idea.

It's interesting that you respond to the less big cars / less vacations argument by referring to the near-eradication of slavery and significant improvements on gender and sexual equality. You've got a conflation issue here -- those moral issues involved the direct subjugation of people. People being subjugated effect political power like nothing else. Nature, by contrast, has a problem. It has no lawyers, it can't be negotiated with, it will not march on Washington. There are environmentalists that try to represent it, but at the end of the day it's going to be a much weaker lobby than the civil rights movement could ever be.

By contrast, seriously, even I react with revulsion by you telling me when I should and shouldn't go on vacation.
posted by effugas at 2:08 PM on February 2, 2008


Let's not get lost to all the tangents here and remember the central fact of the suckiness and worthlessness of the linked op. blog piece.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:09 PM on February 2, 2008


Next, year, well, that's for tomorrow's stockholders to worry about.
posted by Malor at


Yes, and that is why it is a waste of time to address any of the points in this 'tract'.

Basically, the author has taken "Ten Things the Corporate Elite Know" and slapped out a mirror recipe for envionmentalists.

The difference is that the Coporate Elite seek (immediate) profit -- while their concerns for long term stability/viability are - at best - marginal. The environmentalists (and most humans), unfortunately, are weighed down with a deep concern, not just for their next meal, but for their grandchildren's livelihood and well being.

Oh just be a blithe, uncaring, capitalist environmentalist! (so says the author)

One major thing to note is that, as someone mentioned above, environmental degredation can often be completely irreversible -- and even cataclismic. And we humans do not have the foresight to predict which ones will turn out really, really bad, so ... perhaps this explains why environmentalists are so reviled by the 'rugged individualistic' americans. We they tend to be so .... CONSERVATIVE.

If environmentalists are wrong about their conservative beliefs but are heard, well, maybe we all have to be 'uncomfortable' for a while (for no good reason!). But, what if they are right and noone listens?

No corporation would take the financial risks for their companies that this article suggests humans should take for the future of human life on this planet.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:10 PM on February 2, 2008


It isn't true. Obvious Example: Native Americans have been decrying the degradation of their homelands since Europeans began showing up to rape it.

That's not a very good counterexample, though.

The European invasion was a disaster for the Native Americans in every respect, and it's hard to pick out the uniquely environmental harms (as opposed to the genocide, destruction of Native American culture, expropriation of Native American lands, and overall destruction of the Native American economy). That is to say, the Native Americans had a great many reasons to object to everything the Europeans did, and identifying how the Native American's demand for environmental goods responded to changes in Native American wealth strikes me as next to impossible.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:14 PM on February 2, 2008


While I disagree about the point concerning local initiatives, I do agree with the piece. Less visible ways of improving things are needed. Energy taxes are incredibly regressive. People on the whole will not undergo a revolution of consciousness and start using less energy. Hell, that got Jimmy Carter kicked out of office. We need to accept that people, while concerned and caring, generally care about themselves first. And use that.

We need nuclear power fiver years ago. At this point we may just have time for it. Coal in general is the elephant in the room for environmentalism. If we have clean means of generating electricity, moving to an electric economy will be good for the environment.

More and more environmentalists are supporting nuclear power, and with good reason.

Tangent:
I teach conceptual physics to high school students. I assigned a project for them to choose the method of generating electricity that should be pursued given environmental and economic/practical concerns. Only one chose nuclear and only one rejected the idea of a single method and instead advocated for using just about every alternative method available to stave off tragedy. These are my top two students. The rest of my class chose things like geothermal, biomass, solar, hydropower and (in one case) natural gas. I told them that their reports had to address regional issues associated with these, as almost none of them work in every region.

These lessons do not have just have to be taught to environmentalists. They should be presented to students as well, the ones who will be dealing with the fallout of what is occurring now.
/tangent

Having said all that, I have a question for all economists in the audience. Why is continuous growth good or necessary? Do populations have to continuously expand in order for the economy to work? And despite what gains we continue to make, eventually we will hit a carrying capacity. What happens then?

I write all of this as an environmentalist who would love to see the overnight disappearance of every coal plant in the country and finds the excess of suburban SUVs disgusting. I believe that more government oversight, not less, would help things. I believe that in many things, the government is better at providing the service than the private sector (energy, postal service, health insurance, ect.).

On preview: There's a reason there's very little megafauna anywhere but in Africa. Hunter-gathers hunted it to death. The Mayans managed to mostly wipe themselves out without European help. Europe just made the exploitation and degradation more efficient.
posted by Hactar at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2008


It should be noted that the Depleted Cranium does make SOME valid points, but "The Top THREE Things Environmentalists Need to Learn" is never going to make the front page of Digg, no matter how much DV8 2XL pimps it.

...if environment-preserving measures cause economic contraction, they'll lose support particularly rapidly.
If you keep claiming that "environment-preserving measures cause economic contraction", whether or not it is true, you can rally the uneducated non-tree-huggers to oppose it. Often it's only "contraction" to some parts of the economy (usually those with a lot of entrenched economic power behind it). Then again what some call "economic contraction." I just call "spending less money". And as the panicky calls for "economic stimulus" show us, simple sensible frugality could destroy our economy... as we know it. And yes, by definition, WalMart's price cutting has probably caused far more "economic contraction" than all the successful environmental initiatives of the last 30 years. Unfortunately, there isn't nearly as much entrenched economic power pushing that arguement.
posted by wendell at 2:19 PM on February 2, 2008


The bigger issue is that while all of you are putting solar-power heaters on your swimming pools and patting yourselves on the back China and India are growing their economies at leaps and bounds and if large scale solutions can't be found for energy they are going to kill us all burning coal or worse. -- DV8 2XL

I'm pretty sure all pools are solar heated. And anyway, how would not doing little things prevent the Chinese/Indians from growing their economies? I'm pretty sure the U.S. is still the world's #1 greenhouse gas emitter, and certainly per-capita Americans emit far more CO2 then the Chinese. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Politics is ultimately about decision-making. Guns or butter, or some combination of both. We can all hold hands and wish it were otherwise. But it ain't gonna make it so, and distractions delay that understanding. -- Cool Papa Bell

Right, but putting solar panels on your roof does not take up any 'political effort' that could otherwise be spent somewhere else. And also I'm pretty sure they do have subsides and what not in California and maybe some other places. Subsides would be part of an overall greenhouse gas reduction program, and both of the presidential candidates running in November will have a greehouse gas reduction plank in their platform. So... what are you complaining about?

Also, as other people pointed out, the essay is entirely innumerate. There are no figures to back up what he's saying.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I liked #6:
Simply attacking an environmentally damaging positive activity is not effective unless a better alternative of similar or better economics and usefulness is presented
posted by Neiltupper at 2:28 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


We need nuclear power fiver years ago. At this point we may just have time for it. Coal in general is the elephant in the room for environmentalism. If we have clean means of generating electricity, moving to an electric economy will be good for the environment.

Oh, you solved all the problems with Nuclear Power then? Awesome job. Feel free to let the rest of the world now how you plan to dispose of all of the massive quantities of waste safely and guarantee zero contamination during the entire process of farming, using and recycling nuclear fuels. I know a fair few people would love to hear it.

It worries me that a teacher is telling kids that Nuclear power is 'clean' without massive provisos as to only focussing on one aspect of the process.
posted by Brockles at 2:31 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


And yes, by definition, WalMart's price cutting has probably caused far more "economic contraction" than all the successful environmental initiatives of the last 30 years. Unfortunately, there isn't nearly as much entrenched economic power pushing that arguement.

I didn't understand any of that. Are you gung-ho about destroying the economy? I can't tell. Even if you are, you have to understand that many aren't, right? People like to eat and have a place to live and all that nonsense.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:32 PM on February 2, 2008


I did a little looking about for data on underground coal fires and emissions, and I've found some very mixed information:
Abstract of a journal article that claims coal fires in China contribute less than .3% to green house gas emissions [pdf]

A heavily foot noted blog entry on the subject, however only one of the 15 sources is of an academic publication

Everybody who says it's a problem has been citing Rozema A. (or Rosema A.) from a 1993 article that I can't track down. I'm trying to figure this out, so help would be appreciated.
posted by Hactar at 2:34 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I told them that their reports had to address regional issues associated with these, as almost none of them work in every region.

Also, this is wrong-headed thinking. The answer doesn't, by any means, need to be one universal solution. Each region needs a solution of sufficient capacity that to suit the region it is providing electricity for, and the environment as a whole. End of. If you counter that the project dictated one source of power as a proviso, then the whole project was wrong headed and conceptually blinkered.
posted by Brockles at 2:35 PM on February 2, 2008


It isn't true. Obvious Example: Native Americans have been decrying the degradation of their homelands since Europeans began showing up to rape it. They certainly weren't "wealthy" by today's standards or even by European standards at that time.

You're kidding, right? The whole peaceful native Americans in loving harmony with eachother and nature is a myth.

Anyway, it is true. Take a simple example, a modern American with a 400 year old Oak tree on their land. They aren't going to cut it down unless they are assholes. (It's also probably against the law to cut it down, depending on where they live, but leave that aside). They're going to plan home expansions, land use, or whatever around the tree even if it costs more to accomodate the thing.

Now consider a dirt poor medieval subsistence farmer. They've got a 400 year old tree on their land. They're barely growing enough food to feed themselves in a good year. What are they going to do? They're going to cut that fucking tree down for firewood before you can say "old growth forest." And plant crops in its place. Why? Because they are dirt poor and worrying about things like 400 year old oak trees is, yes, a goddamn luxury.

You want to help the environment? Raise the standard of living of everyone high enough that they have the luxury of worrying about trees and otters and birds and shit.
posted by Justinian at 2:40 PM on February 2, 2008


It worries me that a teacher is telling kids that Nuclear power is 'clean' without massive provisos as to only focussing on one aspect of the process.
posted by Brockles


Thank you, Brockles. As a college instructor I get (some of Hactar's?) misguided nuclear zealots in my environmental science classes every quarter. The 'quick fixers' I call them. They are assigned the (100,000 year) project of finding a solution for the nuclear waste that has already been produced --- not even to figure out what will should be done with the stuff the nuke-nuts want us to keep producing.

Oh ... and selling it to weapons manufacturers is NOT an acceptable solution.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:43 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Brockles:

I didn't say nuclear power was clean. Just cleaner than coal. It releases less nuclear material [source and Scientific American article] and that spits it into the air instead of putting in places that we can confine it.

And I didn't advocate any particular method to my class. It was more that I was frustrated with the emphasis on nice methods that will take more time to develop than we have. If we could, I'd love to see every nuclear power plant replaced by solar, wind, etc. that generated just as much electricity. And we'll get there eventually. Until that point, I'd rather see all the coal plants replaced by nuclear ones.

It's a temporary solution to allow us to get the renewable energies up to speed. Because we're just starting to really develop those now. But until then, I want my nuclear waste buried, not in my lungs.
posted by Hactar at 2:44 PM on February 2, 2008


And also I'm pretty sure they do have subsides and what not in California and maybe some other places.

How gloriously vague. And yet you decry the article for a lack of figures. Here, let me do your work for you.

There are three California and federal subsidies that together can reduce the cost of a commercial solar power system by 70-80% of the original installed price.

Now, where's the groundswell of support for rolling this out nationwide. Where's my marketing campaign? Where's my Super Bowl commercial?

Right. It's more fun to buy free-range chicken and hemp T-shirts, so nobody cares. Got it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:46 PM on February 2, 2008


hoskala: This isn't a very good argument. Some of the most toxic substances are also manmade. I haven't met any "environmentalists" who would be advocating using "natural toxins" just for the fun of it. Surely we can choose the best of both worlds? Use the good sides of both "natural" and "modern" methods?

That's exactly what the writer was suggesting, not that synthetic or technological things were better on principle. Use the method or material that is the best for the application, whether the technology is stone age or was invented last year.

I think perhaps you read it from too combative of a viewpoint? This is not an article about why we shouldn't try to save the environment, but rather, a guide on how to do it properly. Most of the points I agree with.

Many of the "comforts" he sees as fundamental rights weren't vital just a few years back and they became necessary only because "everybody" has them. For example motor vehicle taxation based on consumption wil cut the amount of big cars and nobody is going to miss them, because your neigbour won't have either! Happiness and "vital needs" aren't absolute, they are always relative.

Some of them are relative and some of them are absolute. Starving or sick people aren't happy if everyone around them is starving or sick as well.

As far as motor vehicle taxation based on consumption, big cars would be missed. The rich would still have them, because they can pay your taxes and still light their cigars with twenties. The upper middle class would those taxes like mad because they want nothing more than to be rich or at least look rich, and those big wasteful vehicles are such good status symbols.

Personally, I think an outright ban (or at least a restriction) would be a lot better, since then the rich couldn't have them, and then they might actually not be missed. If rich people drove around tanks then everyone would want a tank - since they can't, no one really cares (past the age of 14, anyway.) You're right in that those big cars are not 'vital needs' - I don't think the writer was representing such things as vital.

I think the writer was more referring to the sort of environmental plans that start with 'Well, first, you'll need to throw away your car, your computer, and your air conditioner.'
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:49 PM on February 2, 2008


Counterpoint in reverse order:
1. Beijing China or Portland Oregon which residents have a higher standard of living, live healthier and live longer; adjust for income. Who chose environment, who chose economy?
2. A penny saved is a penny earned, and waste not want not built this country. The culture of waste and the supersized Big Mac destroyed it.
3. Massive subsidies keep the oil industry rolling in cash.
4. The standard of living for the typical american family has crashed. 2 incomes can't match the power of 1 just 30 years ago. I refute your imaginary world with the real one where people have accepted a drop in their standard of living. They will just blame it on the Mexicans and keep voting for the rich white guys.
5. Energy taxes can be prorated based on usage, just like the income tax used to be when we were a thriving middle class nation.
6. Protesting coal fired power plants works. NIMBY's stop these projects and they don't get built.
7. Risk managment isn't something you can reduce to a bumper sticker. Plan for the worst, expect the best means poor cost control and inefficiency.
8. Better living through chemistry didn't exactly work either.
9. iRetort, iPod (totally new distribution system iTunes + totally new device to play music). Just ask any employee of Tower records how important their distrubution infastructure was.
10. Out of sight is out of mind, just ask the poor residents of Centralia.
posted by humanfont at 2:50 PM on February 2, 2008


Lesson: More of the same.
posted by tkchrist at 2:51 PM on February 2, 2008


But until then, I want my nuclear waste buried, not in my lungs.

Oh, out of sight, out of mind? THAT'll fix everything.

instead of putting in places that we can confine it.

How exactly are we confining it? It never, ever, goes away. It's just a problem for later.

It was more that I was frustrated with the emphasis on nice methods that will take more time to develop than we have.

Yeah. Let's jump to the short term solution, with its short term thinking. THAT's the answer. Geez. Blinkered thinking.
posted by Brockles at 2:51 PM on February 2, 2008


How exactly are we confining it? It never, ever, goes away. It's just a problem for later

Sure it does, it just takes a long time. But much less time if you use modern reactor types. In any case it's a damn sight better than spewing the radiation directly into the atmosphere like we already do with coal plants.

You're comparing nuclear power to some mythical perfect power source. The comparison should be made with a coal plant. Nuclear power is cleaner even in terms of radioactive waste than a coal plant, ergo it's a good solution at present.
posted by Justinian at 2:54 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I missed one of Brockle's posts earlier, so I'm replying to it some more and then having to leave for the evening.

My biggest cause is to get rid of coal power as soon as possible. We should be using every means at our disposal to do that. Once we are no longer burning coal, we should take steps to eliminate nuclear plants as well. As I said, my other top student proposed that the correct technology depended on the region. A combination of this is necessary to replace the 52% of energy we obtain from coal power these days.

Nuclear power sucks. But it's better than the current situation. And it's the quickest way to really slow the release of CO2 into our atmosphere, which, at least from my point of view, is the most pressing issue facing us at this point in time.

So yes, Surfurrus, it's a quick fix. But it's a temporary one, to help prevent complete global disaster.

On preview:
Brockles: Out of sight out of increased lung cancer danger. Out of sight, out of increased global temperature. Out of sight out of rising sea levels.

I fail to see why taking stop gap measures to prevent catastrophe is so unpopular. I'll take Yucca mountain over global warming any day of the week. And both will be effecting us for the next thousand years.
posted by Hactar at 2:55 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


dsword has got it right. this piece wins the Straw-Man of the Year Award, as well as the Ironically-Unaware-Projection of the Year Award. *Who* doesn't know how the Real World works, and what the Real Environmentalists in it think?
posted by facetious at 2:57 PM on February 2, 2008


You're kidding, right?

Yawn, No, I said nothing about "noble savages," and I don't feel like bringing attention to right-wing shit today.
posted by peppito at 2:59 PM on February 2, 2008


“environmentalism is a luxury”

It also might be a duty. First world consumption of resources is having an immediate and direct effect on the developing world, right now. For example, desertification in the areas of Africa immediately below the Sahara is linked to global warming.

It's not just a matter of how much we consume, but how much more we consume than the rest of the world, and how that consumption is hurting all 6 billion of us. So a billion or so of us benefit (and I do firmly count myself in this number),

We can reduce without huge lifestyle degredation. Europeans, due to cost of land and energy, already on average consume less than North America, and have an excellent lifestyle. The houses and cars are smaller but still very comfortable and more efficient. Cities are more compact, and suburbs are discouraged from sprawling, which has an excellent social effect as well - they are just nicer to be in. I spent the last two years in a very compact British city of only about 100,000 people, and it was wonderful. I had everything I needed within a walk or short bike ride, and green fields just around the corner, too. Of course, all of our gardens were 1/4 of the size they would be in North America, but the pay back was so worth it.

I do think that the original article is right when it says that it is hard to get people to give things up. We are basically selfish.

But we don't have a choice, and the alternative is horrific - for all 6 billion of us.
posted by jb at 3:03 PM on February 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


The point of 'pimping' this about the web is that it has proven to be a great stimulus to discussion. What I enjoy in particular is the drizzle of ad hom attacks from those that cannot make valid critical comments.

Is the list perfect? No it is not. But it does raise valid points that I for one would like to hear practical, practicable answers to. I have yet to get satisfactory answers from the self-styled "Greens' to date

I've been around long enough, and fought enough battles in the real world to know that attempts to change the economic behavior of an entire nation is a very difficult proposition and will fail if alternatives are available.

I also know a thing or two about scale and this is often missing from these arguments. I note a tendency to underestimate the effort and overestimate the impact of the pet solution someone is promoting.
posted by DV8 2XL at 3:04 PM on February 2, 2008


So yes, Surfurrus, it's a quick fix. But it's a temporary one, to help prevent complete global disaster. - Hactar

There is nothing 'temporary' about nuclear waste disposal -- unless you are speaking in broad planetary terms (over millenia of time) -- in which case humans are far more 'temporary' than any of the problems we create.

Ah ... this takes me back to a comment a scientist once made to me (a social scientist) when I was young and arguing environmental issues. I got to that final cry, " But ... this kind of environmental degredation will mean the end of the human race!" He answered, "So?"

I still don't have a logical, quantitative answer to that one.
posted by Surfurrus at 3:08 PM on February 2, 2008


My biggest cause is to get rid of coal power as soon as possible. We should be using every means at our disposal to do that. Once we are no longer burning coal, we should take steps to eliminate nuclear plants as well.

But knee jerk reactions with a lesser evil are not necessarily the correct path to take, and replacing it with something that just gives us the problem again later is also not necessarily the better path.

The money, time and research may be better spent on finding an alternative to both rather than taking up resources putting a slightly better version in. If we ended up with coal power for an extra 30 years, yet found a genuinely renewable energy resource, is potentially better than 30 years of the nuclear waste produced by the extra 52% of nuclear powered electricity production.


I fail to see why taking stop gap measures to prevent catastrophe is so unpopular.


Because they take time, money and resources. We don't have an infinite supply, and stopgaps are very rarely the most intelligent thing to plough money into. This is why they are called 'stopgaps'.

And please dont try and blame global warming and rising sea levels on coal fired power stations. It is only recently that scientists has reached a consensus that we are even noticeably contributing to the rise of the temperature of the earth. We aren't the cause, although we are slightly accelerating it. Getting rid of coal power stations is not going to halt it or even make it pause, so perhaps your stop gap is entirely misguided. Renewable power sources and reducing power usage is a more pressing priority.
posted by Brockles at 3:09 PM on February 2, 2008


I've been around long enough, and fought enough battles in the real world to know that attempts to change the economic behavior of an entire nation is a very difficult proposition and will fail if alternatives are available. - DV8 2XL


So?
posted by Surfurrus at 3:11 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


and I don't feel like bringing attention to right-wing shit today.

You're new here, welcome. Try reading for a while before bringing the crazy.
posted by Justinian at 3:15 PM on February 2, 2008


So, Surfurrus any "plan" that calls for changing economic behavior of an entire nation by fiat will fail - just as it has every time in the past.
posted by DV8 2XL at 3:17 PM on February 2, 2008


Renewable power sources and reducing power usage is a more pressing priority.

Renewable power sources are not currently feasible. I like tidal and solar power in the long run where "long" is a century out, but nuclear is ready now. Reducing power usage is a non-starter as a solution. We can and should reduce our per capita power usage but as more and more people are lifted out of poverty in areas such as Africa, India, and China, the total power consumption of the world is going to skyrocket even if we significantly curtail per capita energy use.

Prioritizing reducing per capita power consumption at the expense of cleaner generation is a fool's gambit. Again, we should do what we can to be energy efficient but it is not in any way, shape, or form a solution.
posted by Justinian at 3:19 PM on February 2, 2008


DV8 2XL: What I enjoy in particular is the drizzle of ad hom attacks from those that cannot make valid critical comments.

So, leaving aside your misunderstanding of the term ad hominem, you are admitting that you are trolling here.
posted by ssg at 3:21 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now consider a dirt poor medieval subsistence farmer. They've got a 400 year old tree on their land. They're barely growing enough food to feed themselves in a good year. What are they going to do? They're going to cut that fucking tree down for firewood before you can say "old growth forest." And plant crops in its place. Why? Because they are dirt poor and worrying about things like 400 year old oak trees is, yes, a goddamn luxury.

Actually, medieval farmers didn't kill 400 year old trees for firewood. They cut off its branches leaving behind a stump - it's called coppicing. The tree would grow again, providing more wood. This wasn't for environmental reasons, but for solid economic ones - woodlands were very valuable resources that needed to be husbanded for sustainability.

That said, they did clear woodlands, but that was generally to get more arable land, not for firewood. And most of somewhere like England was cleared in the early medieval period, and after that the woodland situation was very stable until the 19th century, when arable land expanded very significantly. Basically, most of the woodland cut down since about 1100 has been cut down since c1850. (This is all in Oliver Rackham's History of the Countryside).

"Primitive" agrarian societies can actually be very environmentally conservative when those resources are important to them. That's not to say that they always were/are, just that it's not true that they don't care about the environment. The environment is their economy - it's their livelyhood. There was actually a both great deal of environmental and economic regulation in the medieval and early modern period - controls on sizes of fish taken, times of years when you were not allowed to hunt birds. And on private property, crop rotation was practiced to try to keep soil healthy, and woodlands stringently protected, because they had value.

You are right, though, that when things get very bad, society begins to fray and people don't think about the long term. They eat their seed crops - there is no future.

But at the same time, I think that the agrarian world - whether in our own past or in contemporary agrarian societies - do have a lot to teach us about simple. low tech ways to practice sustainability. Together with high tech research, we can try to support the six billion humans without killing the planet we all need to survive.
posted by jb at 3:25 PM on February 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Brockles: The money, time and research may be better spent on finding an alternative to both rather than taking up resources putting a slightly better version in. If we ended up with coal power for an extra 30 years, yet found a genuinely renewable energy resource, is potentially better than 30 years of the nuclear waste produced by the extra 52% of nuclear powered electricity production.

The problem with that is, you're assuming science will invent magic. There may not be genuinely renewable energy sources we don't know of, or they might be a thousand years off. Today's solar, wind, and hydro may be nearly as good as it ever gets. You just don't know.

Nuclear energy is a stopgap (well, fission is) but it's a very good stopgap that could work for hundreds of years is waste is recycled and reprocessed correctly. It could be the thing that saves the economy and allows us to put up those hundreds of square miles of solar panels if fusion stays 50 years away forever or magical future energy sources fail to materialize.

Also, I'm just not sure what nuclear waste stuck under a mountain hurts. The only real problem I see with nuclear power is the nuclear weapon proliferation risks.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:26 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, Surfurrus any "plan" that calls for changing economic behavior of an entire nation by fiat will fail - just as it has every time in the past.

Indeed. See Republics, Union of Soviet Socialist
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:27 PM on February 2, 2008


The 'quick fixers' I call them. They are assigned the (100,000 year) project of finding a solution for the nuclear waste that has already been produced

That's not difficult. Put it in sturdy concrete structures in Antarctican dry valleys. Any putative future civilization that rises from the ashes of ours that can reach it should have learned about radioactivity. If not, a few people get a harsh lesson, and their society figures it out before it does any large-scale harm. Also, it's convenient to get to when and if people want it for as a raw material for something.

It's also a demonstration of the problem of insisting on different requirements for nukes or other new technology. Burning coal releases various heavy metals into the environment. Because this waste isn't radioactive, it will never, ever, ever go away until the remains of the earth are burned in a supernova or sucked into a singularity, if that happens. So, if we treat waste as waste, we should insist that people whose policies state that we should continue to burn coal, or who imply coal-burning by failing to provide any other alternative to several terawatts of electrical generating capacity, to discuss how we will deal with that waste on a timescale of tens of billions of years.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:28 PM on February 2, 2008


and I don't feel like bringing attention to right-wing shit today.

Try reading for a while before bringing the crazy.


You're kidding right? The article is "the crazy."
posted by peppito at 3:28 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


5. Taxation, price increases and caps on energy are inherently regressive and cause great damage.

That's the whole idea. Tax fuel, then use the taxes to develop mass transit and better technology, and offer heating subsidies in the meantime.
posted by Brian B. at 3:37 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, Surfurrus any "plan" that calls for changing economic behavior of an entire nation by fiat will fail - just as it has every time in the past.

You need to read up on the post-WWII economies of most of the involved countries. Including, in particular, the U.S. What industrialists like to fantasize was Laissez-Faire and the (cue gospel choirs here) the Invisible Hand of The Market, was to a great extent engineered, involving massive subsidy and reward of desired economic activity and penalizing of unwanted economic activity. People look at unsuccessful planned economies (yes, like the USSR) and assume that economic planning must fail. They don't look at Japan, the Scandinavian countries and even the U.S. up until the 1980s for a counterargument.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:39 PM on February 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


You're kidding right? The article is "the crazy."

Well, yes. Now let's get back to the important thing; hating on the article.
posted by Justinian at 3:44 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've been around long enough, and fought enough battles in the real world to know that attempts to change the economic behavior of an entire nation is a very difficult proposition and will fail if alternatives are available. - DV8 2XL

So?
posted by Surfurrus

So, Surfurrus any "plan" that calls for changing economic behavior of an entire nation by fiat will fail - just as it has every time in the past.- DV8 2XL

Ahhhhh ... that is the way you read my answer?

How about answering what I was implying ... that cynicism about the ability (or will) of humans to sacrifice for future generations is the only rational response to environmental challenges. "Why bother trying to change anything; you will only fail." is your motto.

And ... it is interesting that "plans" imposed from outside (fiats) are all that you can conceive. I pity you.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't read Alinsky before entering into an Ayn Rand mileau?

"Morality which depends upon the helplessness of a man or woman has not much to recommend it. Morality is rooted in the purity of our hearts." - Mohandas Gandhi

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margret Mead

posted by Surfurrus at 3:52 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


correction:
How about answering what I was implying About YOUR response ...
posted by Surfurrus at 3:55 PM on February 2, 2008


I work as a translator of Chinese to English. One of my regular clients is Caijing magazine, China's equivalent to the Economist. Their editorial stance is broadly pro-free-market, pro-business from what I can tell, leavened with realism and a social conscience.
Anyway, as you are probably aware, southern China is currently in the grip of major snowstorms; it's ruining lots of people's Spring Festival and has lead to deaths, power black-outs and major economic losses. The most recent piece I did for the magazine looked at this, and called for Chinese mainstream official and public opinion to move on from a broad acceptance of the need for environmental awareness to deeper understandings including awareness of climate change and its causes.
My point is, despite the sneers upthread, even the pro-business lobby in China is amenable to environmental science. The government certainly takes it seriously too. You get very little of the loony right-wing spoilerism and "la-la-la can't hear you" that you see in US and European debate. Public participation and awareness is high also; the various environmental NGOs attract large and committed memberships. One to my knowledge had to stop accepting new recruits as it was getting so big they started to worry that they would be making the government nervous and thus find their practical work harder to carry out.
China is a rapidly industrialising, resource-poor nation with a gigantic population and a fragile environment. There are certainly plenty of people pursuing unsustainable development practices with little heed of the dire consequences, but at least these vested interests don't bore us with bullshit denials and obfuscation. They know they're fucking up the future for a quick buck; they just don't care. Signs are they may be made to care sooner rather than later.
posted by Abiezer at 3:58 PM on February 2, 2008 [8 favorites]


Now, where's the groundswell of support for rolling this out nationwide. Where's my marketing campaign? Where's my Super Bowl commercial?

Right. It's more fun to buy free-range chicken and hemp T-shirts, so nobody cares. Got it.


Hmm. I have no idea what you're talking about. The original article used roof solar panels as an example of something that wouldn't make a difference, and I said that was stupid, because it is. What that has to do with your comment here is lost to me.

How exactly are we confining it? It never, ever, goes away. It's just a problem for later.

Are you guys talking about nuclear waste? How much nuclear waste is generated per watt? I don't exactly see why "burying it forever" isn't a viable option. Most nuclear power plants simply store nuclear waste on site, and have for their entire operational life.

Anyway, regardless of overall 'dirtyness' of nuclear energy, it produces less greenhouse gas (none) then coal. So if we are trying to reduce global warming, there is no more downside then wind, solar, hydro, etc.

The point of 'pimping' this about the web is that it has proven to be a great stimulus to discussion. What I enjoy in particular is the drizzle of ad hom attacks from those that cannot make valid critical comments. -- DV8 2XL

Who are you judge 'valid' comments? The whole essay is invalid, and you liked it. Therefore you = poor judge of validity.

So, Surfurrus any "plan" that calls for changing economic behavior of an entire nation by fiat will fail - just as it has every time in the past. -- DV8 2XL

Tell that to the Chinese, or any of the other countries that underwent huge economic changes in the past 100 years. The U.S. economy changed radically during WWII, it became a command economy and then switched back again.
posted by delmoi at 3:59 PM on February 2, 2008



Anyway, regardless of overall 'dirtyness' of nuclear energy, it produces less greenhouse gas (none) then coal. So if we are trying to reduce global warming, there is no more downside then wind, solar, hydro, etc.


Yeah, but that's blinkered fantasy (the concept, not your post). We're never going to reduce global warming. It simply isn't possible. All we can hope to do is reduce our affect on it, and so maybe give us a generation or two more before the consequences are untenable.

The way that people focus on global warming, rather than sustainable living in general is, I feel, clouding the issue and suggesting quick and easy solutions. Global warming isn't the nice little nut that we can crack. The rock is getting hotter, people, whether we all drop dead tomorrow or not - it's been rising at a significant rate for much longer than we have been producing greenhouse gasses of any quantity. Stopping it is impossible, Slowing its rise in temperature is potentially possible, but in a minor fashion. So greenhouse gasses are not necessarily the be all and end all of concerns in terms of power production.
posted by Brockles at 4:08 PM on February 2, 2008


"It isn't true. Obvious Example: Native Americans have been decrying the degradation of their homelands since Europeans began showing up to rape it. They certainly weren't "wealthy" by today's standards or even by European standards at that time."

Y'know, I really hate when those noble "Native Americans" are just used a) as a blanket group, and b) as a blanket environmentalist totem.

It's almost as bad as treating Africans as one group.

As a sidenote on wind farms—one of the reasons they make sense to build now is that if we follow a worst-case scenario, like the author advises, the investment costs of construction are only likely to rise. Wind should give a pretty reliable return on the investment for a long time (until it's not as windy, which seems unlikely in the next 100 years or so), whereas fossil fuels are unstable. That instability, along with cleanup costs, adds to the total expenditure made on a macro level. Wind may not be any cheaper for any individual, but it's very likely to be cheaper in the long run for all of us.

You can also argue that providing government investment now, and aided by the individual actions of people decreasing demand, that we're mitigating the instability that would seem likely further down the line, which would negatively affect our development.
posted by klangklangston at 4:18 PM on February 2, 2008


Whether anybody likes it or not, the only choice that's really is between coal and nuclear, simply because the bulk of the general population will demand low-cost reliable energy, and won't want to bother, or can't afford to any private option. Politicians will answer that need by building more coal-burners, or building more reactors, and the only thing to decide is which ones.

And that's the way it is going to play out. Now as I see it you can be part of that conversation or you can continue to follow Green Dream® and let others do it for you. Thats the only real choice that's left.
posted by DV8 2XL at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2008


Er, whatever dude.
posted by Artw at 4:29 PM on February 2, 2008


"And that's the way it is going to play out. Now as I see it you can be part of that conversation or you can continue to follow Green Dream® and let others do it for you. Thats the only real choice that's left."

Yeah, but you're a bit of a didactic idiot, so excuse me if I ignore your dire pronouncements.
posted by klangklangston at 4:30 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not to get all stalkerish, but a quick google shows that someone called DV8 2XL has been pushing this article all over the web.
posted by Artw at 4:43 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


We have been through that up thread
posted by DV8 2XL at 4:45 PM on February 2, 2008


Thread analysis so far...

Missing tags: TimeCube, batshitinsane

How many sock puppets are in play? Count them all!

If I read the article and this thread and can quantifiably prove that doing so actually caused me measurable brain damage, can I sue someone?

Dude, it's totally harder to do science, logic, or even coherent writing when you're totally baked right out of your gourd. Just trust me on that one.
posted by loquacious at 4:46 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


In terms of the general emphasis of the site, and not this topic in particular, these guys -- by whom I mean the original poster as well as the author of the linked article, assuming they're not the same person -- are to Bad Science what the "Rational Response Squad" are to Creationism: sort of an embarrassment to the side they're on. In both cases we have undereducated axegrinders who don't do their homework taking up a side that would be better off without them. I'm in favor of rationalism in all things -- but not everyone who takes up the banner of rationalism is ticking over on all cylinders, and a lot of times I find myself saying "don't judge the merits of a position by everyone who takes it up."

Not to get all stalkerish, but a quick google shows that someone called DV8 2XL has been pushing this article all over the web.

Yeah, and he's been threadmodding the comments over on the linked article even more than here. If it's not a self-link he's at least a stakeholder or someone with an interest in generating buzz for the site. One think I think is cute is the faked environmentalist comment in all caps hoping the guy burns in hell and stuff. That's not to say that idiotic comments don't occur in nature, but that one has the whiff of straw about it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:48 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Yeah, but you're a bit of a didactic idiot, so excuse me if I ignore your dire pronouncements"

Watch me not care
posted by DV8 2XL at 4:48 PM on February 2, 2008


Brockles: The rock is getting hotter, people, whether we all drop dead tomorrow or not - it's been rising at a significant rate for much longer than we have been producing greenhouse gasses of any quantity.

This statement is at odds with everything I know about historical climatology. The period directly predating the industrial revolution is called the 'little ice age', for crying out loud. Long-term climatic records show a slow cooling during the latest interglacial.

I suppose you could be referring to the graduate heating of the Earth due to the slow increase in the sun's output as it proceeds along the main sequence. That shouldn't be a problem for at least half a billion years.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:52 PM on February 2, 2008


It goes a little beyond Digg etc...

He's got a wikipedia flameout as well (of the "dammit, people keep changing my stuff!" variety). Those are always fun. Of the edits not directly related to how wikipedia should pay more attention to special experts such as himself most of his edits relate to nuclear power.
posted by Artw at 4:58 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whether anybody likes it or not, the only choice that's really is between coal and nuclear, simply because the bulk of the general population will demand low-cost reliable energy.

How do you know what our population will demand? They might just demand subsidies from the rich to pay for their energy costs. A much more likely scenario. Now, you might consider that bad for the economy, but the average voter is going to care a hell of a lot less about the solvency of the rich then they are about the environment.

Watch me not care -- DV8 2XL

No one cares what you think, and you don't care what they think. So why are you still here?
posted by delmoi at 5:02 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


What I want to know is whether global warming will cause all the special snowflakes to melt.
posted by Artw at 5:04 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nothing like a little character assassination to keep from address the issues, I always say

For the record I left Wikipedia because I was being stalked by an editor, (that was subsequently tossed) and realized the effort wasn't worth it as there was/is a sizable number of editors that think Wikipedia is a soapbox.
posted by DV8 2XL at 5:07 PM on February 2, 2008


Oh and I will leave now; see you in another few years
posted by DV8 2XL at 5:08 PM on February 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


Well, if you don't want people to google you don't act in a shady seeming manner on the internet, then get all evasive when questioned on it.
posted by Artw at 5:14 PM on February 2, 2008


I recall watching a video at one point, though I can't recall where, that makes an interesting game theory based argument about working to fix the environment vs the effects on the economy. It was a bit oversimplifies, but serves to illustrate an important point. I would link it if I could find it.

The gentleman on the video made a two row/two column chart. The rows were "do something to fix the environment" and "don't do anything to fix the environment." The columns were "environmentalists are wrong" and "environmentalists are right."

The "do something/they're wrong" box had "economic hardship" as its primary consequence.

The "do something/they're right box" had "economic hardship, planet doesn't go berserk" as its consequence.

The "do nothing/they're wrong" box didn't have any negative consequences.

The "do nothing/they're right" box had environmental collapse, economic collapse, political collapse and pretty much everything awful and bleak as its consequence.

Essentially, the cost of doing something is only worse than the cost of doing nothing if the environmentalists are wrong. When I say "environmentalists," I mean "most world scientists."

Yeah, this is sort of a derail, but I just don't get this belief that the economy will survive the collapse of the environment.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:17 PM on February 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


This statement is at odds with everything I know about historical climatology. The period directly predating the industrial revolution is called the 'little ice age', for crying out loud.

What? The Industrial Revolution started at the end of 18th century. Are you telling me that it was an ice age at the beginning of the 18th? That's just rubbish. There was a sign of a global cooling (best guess I can find is around 1 degree - hardly a snow covered globe) for a 200 year period that ended just after the Industrial Revolution started, but this was after a cooling down period from a hotter part of history. So to say "It was heated up by the Industrial Revolution" rather than "the IR coincided with the temperature recovering from a small low period" is stretching a bit, is it not? "Little Ice Age' is just misleading terminology. It doesn't mean that the earth jumped 15 degrees when we invented the steam engine.

The temperature of the Earth fluctuates. Up and down. Being as there is a prediction of another 'slightly cold period' (ergo a 'mini ice age') I hardly think we are genuinely just heating the hell out of the planet. It is an overstated, and easily disproved theory and I think it is (because of this) damaging to environmental movements to give it the hysteria that it has.

We have to be more responsible to our planet. But for crying out loud, stop trying to solely use something that is so easily knocked over by the same records used to blame us for it. We are certainly not helping, but it was going to happen anyway.
posted by Brockles at 5:18 PM on February 2, 2008


The idea that it is nessisary or honorable to make sacrifices to save this planet are overly simplistic and lack a true understanding of the forces at work.

And blog posters must learn that it is necessary to at least check for proper fucking spelling if anyone wants to take you seriously.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:18 PM on February 2, 2008


Brockles: What? The Industrial Revolution started at the end of 18th century. Are you telling me that it was an ice age at the beginning of the 18th? That's just rubbish. There was a sign of a global cooling (best guess I can find is around 1 degree - hardly a snow covered globe) for a 200 year period that ended just after the Industrial Revolution started, but this was after a cooling down period from a hotter part of history.

Yes, that little 1 degree cooling period is, in fact, referred to as the Little Ice Age. It doesn't sound bad, but it was localized to certain areas (including much of northern Europe), which went down much more than 1 degree. Crops failed, people died, etc. No, it had nothing to do with actual ice ages (well, as far as anyone knows) but it was an especially cold period. My point was that we weren't looking at a history of steadily increasing temperature, and in fact, that temperatures had been particularly low prior to the Industrial Revolution. The IR probably occurred during a normal, stable period immediately after the little ice age.

Yes, there was a particularly warm period right before that, the medieval warm period. We're already hotter than that was.

Global warming doesn't begin to become obvious until about 1950-1960, when temperatures start to fly up wildly and consistently. Look at some graphs - it is obviously not the normal meandering that occurred prior to large-scale CO2 releases. Temperatures are going up very quickly and consistently.

The most frightening aspect of it, to me, is that they're not as high as they should be - look at what happened to the global temperatures during the break in flights right after 9/11. Without the planes in the air, releasing particulates that increase the planet's albedo, the planetary temperature immediately went up a whole degree C. That is huge. The truth is, global warming is probably much worse than we realize, and global dimming is blocking part of it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:49 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Joey Michaels --- the youtube video "Most Terrifying Video..." is the one you are talking about. This guy tries to use basic logic (graphing costs) to show that the argument about whether global warming is really caused by human activity or not is a moot question:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDsIFspVzfI

The real question is ... "what's the worse that could happen?" (and what are you really willing to gamble?)
posted by Surfurrus at 5:49 PM on February 2, 2008


Mitrovarr: That 9/11 temperature rise sounds interesting. Do you have a cite?
posted by ssg at 5:54 PM on February 2, 2008


The idea that rising energy costs are regressive is the only thing that will cause change. So the rich guy can fill his yacht with gas, he won't care.

Big fucking deal. The rich guy will always be able to fill his yacht, and the environmental impact of he and his friends putting on white pants and a sailor caps every weekend is minuscule compared to the impact of 100,000,000 people driving SUVs they don't need.

You will never get change unless you give people incentive to change, and unless you're dishing out free sex hitting them in the pocketbook is the easiest way to achieve it.

Charge $20 a gallon for gas, starting tomorrow. I guarantee you there would be a viable electric car within two years and that telecommuting would go mainstream.
posted by maxwelton at 6:01 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here's a little column on it that was published in Nature. I'm sure you could find something better with five minutes and google.

http://facstaff.uww.edu/travisd/pdf/jetcontrailsrecentresearch.pdf

Here's a good quote: "This increase in DTR is larger than any during the 11–14 September period for the previous 30 years, and is the only increase greater than 2 standard deviations away from the mean DTR (s.d., 0.85 C)."

(DTR - Diurnal Temperature Range.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:02 PM on February 2, 2008


But there is another game theory argument that is more central to the issue:

Let's assume that an overall sacrifice is needed to prevent environmental collapse.

I sacrifice AND others sacrifice -> personal loss, environment sustained
I sacrifice AND others don't -> triple personal loss, environment collapses
I don't sacrifice AND others do -> personal gain, environment sustained
I don't sacrifice AND others don't -> double personal loss, environment collapses

If others don't sacrifice, my best strategy is to not sacrifice either, because then I only get the double personal loss from collapse and not the triple loss (double from collapse + single from sacrifice).

If others do sacrifice, my best strategy is to still not sacrifice, because then I get a personal gain rather than a loss from sacrifice.

So whether environmentalists are right and able to convince others or not, either way my best strategy is to make no sacrifices. When everyone thinks this way (that is, in rational self interest), the outcome is environmental collapse.

A significant challenge for environmentalists is how to avoid this tragedy of the commons, and unfortunately an appeal to altruism is unlikely to be successful.
posted by Pyry at 6:03 PM on February 2, 2008


Pyry: A significant challenge for environmentalists is how to avoid this tragedy of the commons, and unfortunately an appeal to altruism is unlikely to be successful.

True. I tend to think it'll be impossible to deal with until it becomes undeniably and truly obvious that the environment is really going to fail and ruin everyone's lives. At that point, I think a combination of legislation and propaganda might be able to change everyone's behavior. Unfortunately, this will entail a lot of suffering, and might be too late anyway.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:11 PM on February 2, 2008


You will never get change unless you give people incentive to change, and unless you're dishing out free sex hitting them in the pocketbook is the easiest way to achieve it.

Um .... could we at least try the free sex thing? You know, to see if it works.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:20 PM on February 2, 2008


Krinklyfig, how much are you paying now?
posted by Surfurrus at 6:32 PM on February 2, 2008


Pyry, your question is too abstract.

Try this one:

Let's assume that an overall sacrifice is needed to prevent environmental collapse.

I sacrifice AND others sacrifice
-> personal loss, environment sustained my children live
I sacrifice AND others don't
-> triple personal loss, environment collapses my children might die
I don't sacrifice AND others do
-> personal gain, environment sustained my children might live
I don't sacrifice AND others don't
-> double personal loss, environment collapses my children die

The "might" is the variable, eh? Again, the question is ... just what would you gamble?
posted by Surfurrus at 6:39 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pyry, your question is too abstract.

Try this one:

Let's assume that an overall sacrifice is needed to prevent environmental collapse.

I sacrifice AND others sacrifice
-> personal loss, environment sustained my children live
I sacrifice AND others don't
-> triple personal loss, environment collapses my children might die
I don't sacrifice AND others do
-> personal gain, environment sustained my children might live
I don't sacrifice AND others don't
-> double personal loss, environment collapses my children die

The "might" is the variable, eh? Again, the question is ... just what would you gamble?
posted by Surfurrus at 6:39 PM on February 2, 2008


Krinklyfig, how much are you paying now?

Ah, good point. So, the free sex thing is in effect? When you put it that way, it's sort of exciting.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:56 PM on February 2, 2008


Regarding the "Most Terrifying Video...". I saw that a while ago. It's actually a pretty stupid argument, and is in fact exactly the same as the ones used to justify the Iraq war, and could be used today to justify bombing Iran. Basically "Action to reduce risk is always better then allowing risk, no matter the cost of action or the level of risk"

Plus it is misleading in indicating that actually doing something about global warming will be some huge sacrafice, when probably it won't.
posted by delmoi at 7:19 PM on February 2, 2008


In your
[I sacrifice, others do too] case you have "my children live"

but in
[I don't, others do] you have "my children might live"

which changes the nature of the problem, since if your so-called sacrifice is increasing the odds of your children living, it is no longer a sacrifice.

In particular, you have set up a problem where personally using fewer resources improves your situation, which would naturally lead to everyone rationally choosing to use fewer resources and the best case being reached. However, in practice personally using more resources tends to improve your situation, rather than making it worse. It is only when resources are globally overused that problems arise. The issue is that everyone rationally wants to personally use more resources, which results in global overuse.

By frivolously using resources an individual gets all the benefits but virtually none of the costs, and so it is in his/her rational best interest to squander. When everyone squanders, the environment collapses.


Here is a more perverse example:

Suppose we are now considering clean drinkable water. If your children drink clean water but shower and brush their teeth with unclean water, they have a 1% chance of dying of a water born disease. If your children also shower and brush their teeth with clean water, they only have a 0.5% chance of dying of a water born illness.

There isn't enough clean water for everyone to sustainably drink, brush their teeth, and shower with.

So now we have:
your children shower with clean water, others don't -> 0.5% death in your children, no environmental collapse

your children don't shower with clean water, others don't-> 1% death in your children, no environmental collapse

your children shower with clean water, others do too-> everyone dies because of environmental collapse

your children don't shower with clean water, others do-> everyone dies because of environmental collapse

Once again, we have everyone acting in their own (and their children's) rational self interest resulting in environmental collapse.
posted by Pyry at 7:22 PM on February 2, 2008


Charge $20 a gallon for gas, starting tomorrow. I guarantee you there would be a viable electric car within two years and that telecommuting would go mainstream.

And milk would cost $9 a gallon and bread $6 a loaf. Yay!
posted by Justinian at 7:24 PM on February 2, 2008


For example: a farm which utilizes insecticides and artificial fertilizers to grow a given amount of crops on ten acres may be far better for the local ecosystem than a farm which uses organic methods but requires twice the land be cleared. A common organic farming method for pest control is to import predator insects like lady bugs, however, importing large numbers of these insects may be considerably more disturbing to the local food chain and ecosystem than using a measured amount of an artificial pesticide.

Read agricultural journals much? Organic farming methods are very competitive and even sometimes superior to conventional methods. The idea that is takes up substantially more land is an old straw man. For some crops it does, but for others it takes less.

Ladybugs have a lifecycle that makes them insignificant in terms of ecosystem "disruption." Besides, not that many farmers use them anyway. Organic farmers ain't Amish. Some of the finest ecologists are employed in working with organic integrated crop management. It's not all about peace and cute ladybugs.

How about a number 11? Stick to your own !*^T&$*# field of expertise and don't make large pronouncements about areas of science you know nothing about.
posted by melissam at 7:42 PM on February 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


Pyry: A significant challenge for environmentalists is how to avoid this tragedy of the commons, and unfortunately an appeal to altruism is unlikely to be successful.

This is why traditional commons management never relied on altruism and was always done through law and custom (unwritten, but just as valid), enforced by the courts and potentially pissed off neighbours. Sometimes they had sticks and pitchforks, and they weren't afraid to use them. Really - I read of an account where 33 people attacked some workmen damaging their common pasturage, and threw their wheelbarrows in a ditch, and then one man ran at a workman with a pitchfork and it ripped his coat. Seriousl stuff, that commons management.

So maybe we need a bit more law and custom to manage our world commons. But no pitchforks, we don't want anyone to get hurt.
posted by jb at 8:54 PM on February 2, 2008


And milk would cost $9 a gallon and bread $6 a loaf. Yay!

Your snarky comment has the same problem as the article. Numbers clearly pulled out of your ass, and that are also clearly wrong if one knows about actual transportation costs.

They'd be more expensive, yes, but nothing like what you're suggesting.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:56 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Self-link.

Unsubstantiated figures tossed about.

Incorrect (and somewhat insulting) assumption that most or all environmentalists lack anything resembling common sense.

Pointless.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:58 PM on February 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Let's assume that an overall sacrifice is needed to prevent environmental collapse.

I sacrifice AND others sacrifice -> personal loss, environment sustained
I sacrifice AND others don't -> triple personal loss, environment collapses
I don't sacrifice AND others do -> personal gain, environment sustained
I don't sacrifice AND others don't -> double personal loss, environment collapses


I sacrifice, some do, some don't. I help create a profit incentive for companies that engage in responsible behavior and help make it so purely selfish agents can choose to help the situation because it saves money. Additionally, I make it so more companies go "green" out of purely selfish reasons (their desire to get my money).

Maybe I win, maybe I don't, but I help.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:07 PM on February 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Tacos,

It's a noticeable minority of environmental types that think anything of nuclear. By contrast, biodiesel/ethanol and non-baseload technologies like wind power get lots of attention, despite their failings.
posted by effugas at 9:25 PM on February 2, 2008


Numbers clearly pulled out of your ass, and that are also clearly wrong if one knows about actual transportation costs.

Well, since nobody has a good idea what stuff would cost if gasoline was $20 a gallon, I am unsure what you expect. An extra dollar added to the price of gasoline would see food prices rise on the order of 1%. But I don't think it's at all clear that the price scales linearly. Increase gas prices by 33% and food prices rise 1%. Increase gas prices by 570% and I rather suspect that food prices rise way, way more than 15% as a linearly extrapolation would suggest.

Unless you think you know otherwise?
posted by Justinian at 9:35 PM on February 2, 2008



It's a noticeable minority of environmental types that think anything of nuclear. By contrast, biodiesel/ethanol and non-baseload technologies like wind power get lots of attention, despite their failings.


Uhh...mention any biofuels in any environmental group these days and prepare for angry stares. Especially ethanol.

Everyone, no matter what their position on this article, should pick up an environmental economic textbook or start RSS-ing an enviecon blog . A lot of the arguments are just lame versions of things environmental economists have been debating for ages.

On the other side, there is the position that civilization is unsustainable no matter what we do, a la Derrick Jensen or John Zerzan. Whether or not you agree, it's interesting to look at that perspective.
posted by melissam at 9:35 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


People like to generalize about what environmentalists think, don't they? That's the core problem with the linked article (not citing a single fact or study is the other problem). Well, most knowledgeable enviros I know are getting very turned off biodiesel because of the environmental impact and land use issues, and never liked ethanol because of its obvious ties to big agribusiness, corn subsidies and the fact that it's hard even on paper to make it look like a net energy win, let alone in real life.

The problem with nuclear has to do with health issues in mining (know any Navajos? They'll tell you a lot about this) and with waste disposal. The plant safety issue is an argument you can win, but those other two need to be answered.

Personally I think we can do a lot more with solar than we have been, and I'd be interested to see if you can turn something like the Salton Sea (useless accident that it is) into a farm for oil algae.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:38 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


the "Most Terrifying Video..."... a pretty stupid argument, and is in fact exactly the same as the ones used to justify the Iraq war - delmoi

You equate the decision to kill thousands of innocent people because "my life is in danger" to the decision to make personal lifestyle changes because "the planet is in danger"? Yes, that would make that whole "logic" example a bit absurd. (And, yes, we have all seen it used that way.)

And, yes, I agree that the video overstates the 'sacrifices' that will have to be made to change the global warming trend. I believe it was called 'worst case scenario.'
posted by Surfurrus at 9:39 PM on February 2, 2008


... changes the nature of the problem, since if your so-called sacrifice is increasing the odds of your children living, it is no longer a sacrifice. - Pyry

No, you changed the nature of the problem. Your point is tautologically muddled. The equation is based on an individual's (lifestyle) sacrifice -- so the cost to the children (i.e., having a planet/future) is a consequence, not a part of the 'sacrifice'. You can't change the argument to say the 'sacrifice' includes the wellbeing of others (where would you draw the line!).

Here is a more perverse example:

Again, if this is an equation about an individual's choice, the consequences are the individual's (i.e., the children would have to make the decision in that equation).

This demonstrates how the original equation is so invalid ... it is absurd/impossible for a human to weigh such decisions without considering others..
posted by Surfurrus at 9:59 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh and I will leave now; see you in another few years

Yeah, yeah. We've heard that before. The sound of someone who's just had their ass kicked. You'll be back under a different name...
posted by Neiltupper at 10:29 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


George_Spiggott
The idea behind the Salton sea sounds fascinating, but when would it be ready and how much energy would it produce? If this is a means of producing a large amount of fuel, that is wonderful. If using that sort of method in other lakes combined with carpeting the Mohave desert with solar power plants (most likely thermal, not photovoltaic) is enough to avoid the use of nuclear power in the elimination of coal power, you have my full support. I will resume my earlier opposition to nuclear power and support these methods. (I had a change of views in college after reading a great deal about coal power plants and nuclear power plants.)

Until then however, nuclear power is our only way out of this crisis we've dropped ourselves into.

An analogy that may help explain my views on nuclear power and global warming and environmental problems.

You are a doctor, you encounter a patient with a horrible cancerous growth that is going to suffocate him soon unless you act. If you poison him slightly (standard Chemotherapy) you will be able to reduce the growth so that he will not die in the next week. At which point in time you can enroll him in a variety of treatment studies to hopefully force his cancer into remission. He is going to get sick with the Chemo, there is no dispute about that. But if you simply enter him into the clinical trials for the next great cancer med, he's going to die before we know if the medication is sufficient to heal him.

He's going to be weak, vomiting, and dizzy. There's a chance his home will be raided because he's been using pot to keep food down. But he will be alive and with a chance to get better with the miracle drugs in production.

So, the planet is our patient, environmental degradation is our horrible tumor and the fact that he's about to suffocate to death is global warming. I think the other parts of this speak for themselves.

The most recent number I heard (which I wish I had a reference for) is that we have 5 years to stop increasing our emission of CO2 and start moving to pull it back. Coal plants in the united states released 1,788 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 1999, 9 years ago. In 2004, cars in the united states released 314 tons of C02 into the atmosphere ( [source 1] [source 2]).

And if you want to talk about environmental damage due to mining, come visit us in eastern Ohio, or even better, drive over to West Virginia and take a look. Look at what they have done to get at coal, the damage that has been caused. Mining for uranium is no worse than mining for coal and is generally better, as there is no such thing as an uranium mine fire.

Coal generates 2,013,179 GWh (that's Giga Watt Hours) of energy a year for the US. Nuclear generates 781,986 GWh and hydroelectricity supplies only 263,029 GWh, a ninth of coal or a third of nuclear. Geothermal, wind, solar and non-wood biomass supplied 52,142 GWh, 4% of the energy supplied by coal. source

4%. We are not about to replace coal with an industry that supplies only 4% of the electricity that coal does (1.2% of the total electricity produced). If we ramp up nuclear, hydroelectric and alternative fuels, we might just have a chance at eliminating the source of pollution that spits almost 6 times the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as cars do.

Waste disposal of nuclear fuel is an issue. But so is the melting of the greenland ice sheet, and the antarctic ice cap. If those large bodies of ice continue melting the way they have been, we are screwed.

A final note on safety, although most have accepted that nuclear plants are safe to have in the world. The worst nuclear catastrophe in history killed on the order of 2000 people over several decades. The worse coal related catastrophe in history killed over 5000 people in London on a single day.

For those who oppose nuclear power, give me a viable alternative. Tell me a way we can get rid of the coal power within the next five years that does not involve uranium and plutonium. Do not simply go on about the evils of nuclear waste. As it stands, we put more nuclear waste on the surface of the earth with coal plants than we produce with nuclear plants.

Burning fossil fuels is the worst thing we can do to this planet's environment and our chances of survival right now. I am trying to present an alternative that might actually work. I have yet to see another alternative presented in the 158 comments so far in this thread. It is not enough to say "we must stop this." One must also be able to say "do this instead."

I know that on the whole, people are swayed more by personal stories than by facts and figures. Unfortunately, all I have are figures, about how badly we're killing ourselves and how we could give ourselves a chance to survive. I hope they are enough to make at least one person here think a little about how we can realistically get ourselves out of this mess.

I've said my piece several times tonight. This thread is getting long enough that I don't know how many will read this. If anyone wants to continue talking to me about this, drop me a line via the email system here (I can't remember the cute name for it right now).
posted by Hactar at 2:56 AM on February 3, 2008


3. Depending on continuous heavy subsidies is not sustainable. – Subsidies exist for a reason and are not always a completely bad thing. They are designed to do things like maintain a strategic capability which is not normally profitable or to stimulate a sector which is important to a country and might now develop on it’s own.

However, when it comes to energy and development, a subsidy cannot be a tow-line, but only a jump start. In other words, it must be for the purpose of establishing a capability which will have value and returns on the initial expenditure. Paying to keep something going for years when it has shown disappointing results is a complete waste. It is not economically sustainable and has low benefit.


Riiiight. 'Cause solar and wind power, and any other whack ideas thought up by hemp loving hippie freaks should be able to compete head-to-head with big oil without any damn subsidies. It's not as if the oil companies get 'continuous heavy subsidies.' No, no -- that just wouldn't be sustainable.
posted by Killick at 9:06 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hactar, I don't disagree with you. Nuclear is probably the only hope of maintaining anything like our current energy consumption. But when you talk about the tradeoff of lives -- uranium mining causing fewer deaths and birth defects than coal -- the fact that it's true doesn't make it an easier sale. Nobody wants their family and community to be on the wrong side of that tradeoff. How do you say to a group of people, yeah, you over here will get sick and die, but look at the bright side! Five times as many people over there won't anymore!

Rhetorical question, obviously, since nobody's really going to say that. My point is that these questions do need to be answered, and even if environmental impact is vastly lower with nuclear than coal, in order to make the sale you have to say what that impact is and how you're going to deal with it. You also have to get the Republicans out of office, because they're going to keep backing coal until all the people who voted them into office (because they're going to stop the homos and flag-burners, and other useful rabble-rousing wedge issues) are homeless or dead from coal mining.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:29 AM on February 3, 2008


I have never understood the claim that people won't sacrifice their foreign holidays, cars or whatever so why bother. People go and get themselves killed in wars - literally the ultimate sacrifice - for ideas that are just as conceptual as "the environment". If the need is apparent, people will make the sacrifices. I just worry that it won't be apparent soon enough.
posted by athenian at 12:46 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This might blow your mind, but big changes are made up of smaller changes.
posted by spiderskull at 1:23 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Riddled with trite observations like this:

“Natural” “Organic” and “Bio” do not mean “good.” - Some of the most toxic substances known are natural.
posted by antidemeta at 4:17 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


His argument about environmentalism being a luxury for rich countries is shit.

Indeed. I invite the author to go to "India and China", or, for that matter, Egypt, and see how economic hardship actually makes full recycling cost effective. With labor costs so low, in these countries it makes sense to take apart everything in the trash, separate it into distinct materials, and melt it down into something new. I'm back here in the States, but I made sure to take home a couple of the Garbage City clotheshangers, made from scrap plastic and each one stamped by hand (with a plastic extrusion machine) then hand trimmed. Any leftover plastic is thrown right back into the hopper, so perhaps less than 2% (rough guess) of the plastic is lost during the recycling process.

Organic material also gets sorted and fed to pigs or to livestock. Old bread was sorted into bags. I saw pigs munching on leftover fruits and vegetables (since it was winter, a lot of it was oranges, so I imagine they have a delightful citrusy flavor [if I ate pork]). Plastics get sorted very carefully. I saw a container stacked full of purple plastics.

Larger items, like old shower heads, computer parts, etc. all get sold at the local "Friday market" which stretches for what I would guess is a mile or so. Pretty much anything for your house, car, computer, stereo -- you name it -- is available in stacks and piles along the length of the market.

Even more so, you just see a culture of reuse. Things are used until they fall apart, then they are repaired as best as possible and continue to be reused. My friend owned a kitchen supply shop. He had a couple of dozen teapots for sale. And yet his own teapot was lacking a handle; he had to pour the tea while holding the pot with a pair of pliars.

I noticed the plastic containers used for takeout were remarkably flimsy. This is because plastic is expensive and the container is really only going to be used once. Contrast that with the US, where most plastic containers are sturdy enough that they could theoretically be reused over and over again. For people who *do* reuse them, it's worth it for there to be that extra plastic. But for the majority of people, making flimsier containers would be a good idea, since they are indeed going to just throw them out after they use them.

Oh, and many Egyptians have switched over to compact fluorescent. In fact, it's not that uncommon for apartments to use one .tube to light up the whole room, which suggests to me that Egyptians have been using fluorescents before CFs were available. Again, electricity is cheap, all things considered.

There is a form of enviromentalism that is very bourguois and not very effective from an ecological perspective (in my opinion). People using organic paper kitchen towels. People opting for free range or organic meat, but then eating it all the time or in large quantities. People driving an extra x miles to go to that health food superstore. These are all things that bug me a bit.

We have a lot we can learn from the developing world. Unless I'm really mistaken about all this, the world never got dirtier or environmentally worse off because people started using less resources. Walk places, eat less meat, buy locally grown foods, reduce the packaging you use, exercise by running or doing some kind of classes, not by driving 20 minutes to a gym. I realize sometimes people's options are more limited. I'm from a rural area and you do have to drive a lot to get anywhere. But it's also true that gas is just too cheap (yes, even at $3/gallon) and the culture of everything being just a nice little carride away.

Oh, speaking of cars: a few people do drive their own cars, by themselves, in Egypt. I'm guessing it's less than 10% of the drivers though. Most pack into minivans or microbuses. If you're in a taxi you're not guaranteed a ride by yourself...if you're the only passenger and someone by the side of the road is going your way, the driver will stop and pick them up. Having a HOV lane in Egypt would be totally redundant.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:26 AM on February 4, 2008 [6 favorites]


You want to help the environment? Raise the standard of living of everyone high enough that they have the luxury of worrying about trees and otters and birds and shit.

Not to keep kicking the dead horse, but this is exactly the point of what I just posted. There's this idea that environmentalism is "top down"--that rich countries, and wealthier people, are more likely to be "environmental" than poor countries or poor people.

Well, this simply is not the case. The environmental problem is not that poor people don't have enough money to buy recycled paper or organic chicken. The problem is the wealthy people who are overconsuming. Now, I'm not claiming to be any less of an overconsumer than the next guy. All I am saying is that this position-- that environmentalism is either a luxory of the rich or goes against the economic interests of the economic individual--is false. Poor people have a greater incentive to hold onto resources because of a greater amount of uncertainty in the future. It's possible, but not definite, that they might tear down that 400 year old tree. But it's certain that rich people who need bigger houses are routinely chopping down old growth forests and, indirectly or directly, causing ecological changes to their local environment.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:42 AM on February 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


There is a school of thought that nuclear energy offers a smaller net energy return on energy invested than the conventional wisdom would admit, and that nuclear power as currently practiced (using uranium-fueled reactors) is approaching a point of "energy bankruptcy" much sooner than is generally acknowledged.

We are currently consuming uranium much faster than we are mining it. That may change as uranium prices rise. But, just like drilling for oil, we tend to go after the easy stuff first. And the easy stuff is going away. There will come a time when it's not energetically economic to mine it any more.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:16 AM on February 4, 2008


Western Infidels

If you keep reading, the comments section pretty convincingly debunks the linked study.
posted by electroboy at 11:04 AM on February 4, 2008


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