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May 2, 2009 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Geoengineering and the New Climate Denialism. "[S]ometimes the politics around an issue become so twisted that it's necessary to address the politics before we can have a real discussion about the problems and how to solve them. That's the case with geoengineering."
posted by homunculus (70 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 


"Hey, let's not actually work to solve the problem! Let's work around it in ways that we hope will allow us to continue our grotesquely wasteful lifestyles!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:46 AM on May 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Geoengineering is about as fanciful as meaningful global carbon emission reduction.
posted by FuManchu at 12:19 PM on May 2, 2009


Dear People of earth,
We have no confidence in our ability to know whether there is global warming happening at all and, if it is happening, it is certainly not humanity's doing because humans lack the capacity to change the climate of the planet but, if it is happening, we have complete confidence in our ability to understand the problem and we have complete confidence in human beings to be able to alter the climate at will to deal with any problems should the need arise.
Thank you, and please shut up.
posted by I Foody at 12:22 PM on May 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


"The problem was caused by unintentionally fucking around with our ecosystem—surely we can solve it by intentionally fucking around with our ecosystem!"
posted by oaf at 12:28 PM on May 2, 2009


Eli Kintisch at Slate wrote a piece earlier this week about the possibility of one country unilaterally using geoengineering, specifically pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, to try to halt global warming.
posted by lilac girl at 12:39 PM on May 2, 2009


I think we'll eventually have to geoengineer, because by the time nigh-everyone finally is convinced something must be done, we'll be too knee-deep in industrial runoff to rebalance naturally.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 12:46 PM on May 2, 2009


Not a very good article. I can't take anybody seriously that thinks tagging his opponents as "denialists" is a clever way to argue.
posted by SamuelBowman at 12:48 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not a very good article. I can't take anybody seriously that thinks tagging his opponents as "denialists" is a clever way to argue.
On the other hand, arguing with denialists is notoriously unproductive: they are uninterested in dialogue, and they're not actually talking to YOU. They're talking to the non-experts listening to the argument, trying to score points by making you sound complicated and silly while they seem reasonable.

The best approach, no question, is to explain that they are denialists and outline -- as simply and clearly as possible -- why their chaff is just a diversion. Then ignore them and move on to the important work, with the rest of the adults.
posted by verb at 1:05 PM on May 2, 2009 [11 favorites]


I prefer to terraform Mars or Venus rather than risk screwing up the only currently habitable planet.
posted by DU at 1:11 PM on May 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Has anyone actually proposed a realistic solution that doesn't involve geoengineering?

I mean, when you look at the numbers of what people are proposing: reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2050 or something, how is that supposed to help?

It's like we're driving towards a cliff, in five minutes we're going to head over it, and responsible people all saying that we need pass a law that reduces the pressure on the gas pedal by 10% in the next ten minutes. How the fuck is that supposed to help?

If people are opposed to geoengineering, they need to explain how the carbon emission reductions they're proposing are actually going to stop global warming. I don't hear anyone arguing that we should be eliminating CO2emissions entirely, certainly no one in government or the main political people involved (like Al Gore). The "Cap 'n' Trade" stuff their proposing would cap emissions to what, exactly? 1990 levels? What about China and India? Are they going to go along with this?

Anyway, the essay seems to be saying that an argument that we can do geoengineering rather then CO2 which is a legitimate concern. Obviously we should reduce emissions too. But the way it looks, I just don't see how the emission reductions proposed are going to do anything.

(It may be that the proponents of reduction are hoping for a 'slippery slope' type thing, such that we set reduction targets at point A first, then point B later on, and so on)
posted by delmoi at 1:15 PM on May 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fucking around with ecosystems. Yah, this time it'll be different. It won't bite us in the ass like every other time we've tried it. Yeesh.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:16 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


As long as you draw breath or eat, you're altering the ecosystem. May as well do it in a mindful manner. I suspect that lifestyle reduction, reduction in the number of human beings, and massive geoengineering all together may not be enough to skate humanity through this business. Short of Captain Trips knocking the population of the planet down to about 39 million, we're going to be way over carrying capacity for a good, long time. A multipronged approach seems of necessity.

But yeah, what would you call those guys, the ones who deny the existence of human-caused global warming? Doubters? Those Who Disbelieve? The Persecutors of Lorax? They Who Throw Out the Green Colors in Their Child's Crayon Box? "Denialist" is just fine. It's not an ad hominem, it's a description.
posted by adipocere at 1:22 PM on May 2, 2009


I think it would do wonders if all the people who believe in the Rapture would get Raptured, stat.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:52 PM on May 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Terraforming New Mexico should be priority number one.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 2:08 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


adipocere, I don't know for sure, but I don't think that someone who is proposing geoengineering to reduce global warming is also someone who denies global warming.
posted by FuManchu at 2:13 PM on May 2, 2009


I don't know. Used like this, the word 'denial' implies (to me at least) an unquestionable-truth aspect, which isn't conducive to debate at all.

I agree that man-made global warming probably is happening, but I'm uncomfortable with people who advocate that belief with the conviction of a religious fundamentalist. (The term 'denialist' also carries pretty ugly connotations with Holocaust denial.)

I'd prefer to be on the side of people calmly refuting arguments than slapping epithets onto the people making those arguments.
posted by SamuelBowman at 2:16 PM on May 2, 2009


I would call my self a denialist, but "denial" is just too active a verb to describe what is really more like not giving a rat's ass whether the climate is changing or not. It pains me to inform you, dunkadunc, but you people sound to me exactly -- not just a little bit, mind you, but exactly -- like fundamentalists discussing the Rapture. That is to say, like people debating with great earnestness how and when to deal with a profound event that the rest of us pretty much feek in our bones is entirely fictional. I mean, I think global warming is a little bit more believable than the Rapture, inasmuch as it doesn't involve people flying. But it is so clearly a product of bourgeoise death wish, crossed with Asperger-addled science, that I have to laugh. The Rapture and global warming come from the same place. They reflect the deep human need to believe that there is a great big powerful thing in the sky that's going to swoop down and banish the painful and damnable complexity from life at a stroke. The poor oppressed hillbillies who believe in the Rapture think they'll come out on top when this happens. The bourgeoise, having no religion, and filled with horror at their own vacancy and depravity, hope that they will be scorched from the face of the earth, as they know in their hearts they so richly deserve to be. It all adds up to the same thing.
posted by Faze at 2:20 PM on May 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I can't take anybody seriously that thinks tagging his opponents as "denialists" is a clever way to argue.

Your link is to the Nizkor Project, which refers to deniers of the Nazi Holocaust as "denialists." The use of the term "denialists" is just as accurate when describing people who deny the existence of anthropogenic climate change in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence. The purpose of avoiding the ad hominem fallacy is so that you do not judge the merits of an argument based on the qualities of the person making that argument. It's not a ploy to say "WAAAAAH, don't make fun of me!" because somebody makes an accurate characterization of your argument. If someone denies empirical reality, they're a denialist. End of story.
posted by jonp72 at 2:27 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


what is really more like not giving a rat's ass whether the climate is changing or not

The loss of your arable lands should be one of several major problems that you really should give a rat's ass about. As should the flooding of a number of your major urban centers.

Climate change is going to fuck up your life, regardless how much you wish to deny it.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:40 PM on May 2, 2009


Your link is to the Nizkor Project, which refers to deniers of the Nazi Holocaust as "denialists." The use of the term "denialists" is just as accurate when describing people who deny the existence of anthropogenic climate change in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence.

I disagree. The evidence leans strongly towards the man-made global warming hypothesis, but it isn't incontrovertible in the same way that survivors' eyewitness testimonies are.

You might feel that there's no debate around the issue of man-made global warming, but to claim disputing the 'hockey stick' model is equivalent to calling every Holocaust survivor a liar is just ridiculous.
posted by SamuelBowman at 2:41 PM on May 2, 2009


Isn't "denier" a better word than "denialist"? Is the second formulation more aggressive-sounding because of the "-ist" or something?
posted by breath at 4:06 PM on May 2, 2009


"The Rapture and global warming come from the same place. They reflect the deep human need to believe that there is a great big powerful thing in the sky that's going to swoop down and banish the painful and damnable complexity from life at a stroke."

Nah, Global Warming is nothing like the Rapture. Instead of some enormous event that ends everything, Global Warming is just going to screw things up, making life in general worse for most people year after year, until eventually we'll look back at how nice things used to be and wonder how they got so bad in the present day. Death by degrees.


"I think we'll eventually have to geoengineer, because by the time nigh-everyone finally is convinced something must be done, we'll be too knee-deep in industrial runoff to rebalance naturally."

Exactly. I think nothing much will be done about this for years to come, until some traumatic event really hurts people in the developed part of the world. Then we'll see huge amounts of money and effort thrown into the problem. But by then it'll be too late to do anything but geoengineering solutions.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:44 PM on May 2, 2009


I agree that man-made global warming probably is happening, but I'm uncomfortable with people who advocate that belief with the conviction of a religious fundamentalist. (The term 'denialist' also carries pretty ugly connotations with Holocaust denial.)

What the fuck?

I mean, if all you care about the "conviction" of people, why don't people who believe the holocaust happened, and oppose holocaust deniers with the fever of a religious fundamentalist also bother you?

I mean, look at someone Elle Wiesel! He attacks holocaust deniers the same way religious zealots attack heretics! Who wouldn't be made uncomfortable by his stridency!

The difference, of course is that the holocaust actually happened, and global warming is actually happening, and the people who deny them do so for profoundly immoral reasons. I don't think Global warming deniers are as bad as holocaust deniers, of course. But they're still pretty contemptible.

I would call my self a denialist, but "denial" is just too active a verb to describe what is really more like not giving a rat's ass whether the climate is changing or not. It pains me to inform you, dunkadunc, but you people sound to me exactly -- not just a little bit, mind you, but exactly -- like fundamentalists discussing the Rapture. That is to say, like people debating with great earnestness how and when to deal with a profound event that the rest of us pretty much feek in our bones is entirely fictional. .... But it is so clearly a product of bourgeoise death wish, crossed with Asperger-addled science,

This whole block of text is just so laced with crazy it's hard to pick out a good bit to quote but bourgeoise death wish? What the fuck? Are you saying that elites and the proletariat couldn't have the same kind of millennial impulses? Bizarre.

Also when it comes to global warming the "rest of us" who "feek" (I assume you mean feel) that global warming isn't real are a pretty minor and particularly absurd minority.

I disagree. The evidence leans strongly towards the man-made global warming hypothesis, but it isn't incontrovertible in the same way that survivors' eyewitness testimonies are.

It's pretty incontrovertible at this point.
posted by delmoi at 5:36 PM on May 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I see how geo-engineeering can link nicely to denialism, but I grow daily more convinced it will be necessary to maintain life in any kind of recognisable form.

Faze, I realise you may have your mind made up on this, but there is *every* reason to give a rat's arse if you care about the world your descendants will live in.

I came across this picture in New Scientist recently. I hope you don't live further south than Vancouver/Calais/Seoul, or thereabouts.

Even more disturbing than that, though, is this post at Climate Progress. The science behind that is not at all controversial and frankly it terrifies me.
posted by smoke at 6:11 PM on May 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Many skeptics readily acknowledge that increasing C02 increases the temperature. Richard Lindzen, Roy Spencer, John Christy, Pat Michaels, Bjorn Lomborg ( who accepts the IPCC scenarios ) are then labelled 'deniers' or 'denialists'.

These people just do not agree that global warming is a huge threat.

The climate models of predictions of temperature in 100 years and a few of the climate reconstructions, like MBH 98 are disputed. The skeptics tend to think that solar variability is important and that there was a medieval warm period. It was even accepted by the IPCC in the 1990 report.

The current temperature increase since the 1970s is 0.16 C per decade. That isn't horrific. It is also consistent with the views of the skeptics and the IPCC. If it shoots up then many skeptics will change their tune. If it continues to be the same, or falls, hopefully people who see this as a great threat will also rescind their views. The current sea level increase is 3mm per year or 30 cm per century. The sea level was also rising at a rate of about 1.8 mm per year during 20C that isn't that much lower than the current rate.

The debate now is now strange anyway. The Chinese have said they may consider cutting C02 output in 2020. But until then they will keep up rates of increase that make any politically and economically viable cuts in the West pretty much pointless. Check here for the emissions data. The Indians have made similar noises. The Chinese are probably the world's number one C02 emitters now. Why isn't this fact widely known? Is it because it makes the discussion of whether or not to try and cut US emissions by 5-10% largely irrelevant?

Calling people who doubt the cries of the environmental movement names doesn't help. It might work to enforce ideological purity on dailykos, but even here on MeFi there is a range of opinion, even if most of us skeptics keep quiet because internet arguments are not productive.
posted by sien at 6:17 PM on May 2, 2009


You know, Faze, I could almost leave you to your ignorance, if you weren't so fucking proud of it. And I was going to let it be anyway, but this thing's completely derailed now, so I guess I should say well-played and what the fuck, right?

So then: the only fundamentalism subscribed to by the thousands of climate scientists whose consensus on the existence and anthropogenic qualities of climate change has emerged with unprecedented speed in recent years is the same one that designed the microchips that are allowing us to have this asinine conversation. I believe it's sometimes referred to around here as SCIENCE!

Your use of the phrase "entirely fictional" is particularly curious, given that the POV you've used to prop up this random assortment of quasi-Marxian analysis you're passing off as the common-sense wisdom of "the rest of us" was in fact most fervently argued in Congress by none other than the pulp novelist Michael Crichton. Such is the atrophy on that side of the scale that he amounted to the most credible scientician James Inhofe could find on short notice, I guess.

On the plus side - for you, anyway, if not so much for us grown-ups here trying to manage our way through what the bourgeois zealots at Scientific American once called "the most imposing scientific and technical challenge that humanity has ever faced" - is that even if you don't give a rat's ass about this kind of fundamentalism, its key tenets still keep you from suddenly breaking free of the earth's gravitational pull and floating off onto some distant astral plane raised aloft by your own buoyant ignorance.

And on preview, here comes sien with the usual roll call of Exxon apologists, coal-industry shills and fraudulent statisticians trotted out by the opponents of real science. Get someone in here to discredit Al Gore based on the carbon footprint of his estate, and the climate-denial clusterfuck will be total.
posted by gompa at 6:37 PM on May 2, 2009 [16 favorites]


I agree with delmoi. Well-spoken. There is no need for sensible society to put up with the promotion of looney ideas. Denying that the climate is changing is lunacy.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:40 PM on May 2, 2009


Hey, geoengineers, I have complete faith in your abilities both to come up with workable plans that don't have any negative repercussions, and to get the political will and financial support to actually do them.

But maybe we should do just a little pilot project to prove your abilities and win over the skeptics. What if before re-engineering the global climate, you, say, restored wildlife habitat and stopped the extinctions currently underway? After you do what it takes (politically, financially, and scientifically) to restore habitats to the point that animal species rebound, you should have no trouble winning support for any climate engineering you want to do.
posted by salvia at 9:06 PM on May 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Curiously enough, the discussion that unfolds demonstrates the usual pattern: people quoting already-disproven, already-rebutted cherry quotes to dismiss scientific consensus.
The current temperature increase since the 1970s is 0.16 C per decade.
The only source for THAT random statistic is a discredited Australian who published an article in the Guardian making the very claim you're repeating. His numbers were rebutted, he refused to respond, and life goes on. This is what I mean when I say that 'denialism' is not interested in legitimate engagement or participation in the scientific process: it simple uses the language of science as a means to the ends it desires.
Calling people who doubt the cries of the environmental movement names doesn't help. It might work to enforce ideological purity on dailykos, but even here on MeFi there is a range of opinion, even if most of us skeptics keep quiet because internet arguments are not productive.
Those 'purity-obsessed' heliocentrics are bastards, too. I accept happily that there is a range of opinion, but I don't have to pretend that your opinions are based on fact to keep from hurting your feelings.
posted by verb at 9:34 PM on May 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


It pains me to inform you, dunkadunc, but you people sound to me exactly -- not just a little bit, mind you, but exactly -- like fundamentalists discussing the Rapture.
...Except for the fact that people warning about global climate change decided it was happening because they kept measuring temperatures, running simulations, seeing their predictions confirmed, and watching glaciers melt in real-time.

People warning about the rapture, on the other hand, are convinced that it's coming because a two-millennia old book recounts a ninety year old man's vision of hairy, flying scorpions.
posted by verb at 9:43 PM on May 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I plan to do my part by reducing my personal greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint to pre-1980 levels before 2100.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:29 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Surely right-wing economists, right-wing bloggers, and random right-wing Internet commenters know more about climate science than actual climate scientists.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:57 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The Rapture and global warming come from the same place. They reflect the deep human need to believe that there is a great big powerful thing in the sky that's going to swoop down and banish the painful and damnable complexity from life at a stroke."

On the contrary - perhaps that is a symptom, some wish-fulfillment fantasy that is similar in both cases, but they come from completely opposite places.
The Rapture is nested in the idea of the Judeo-Christian God and a righteous and moral reckoning. Life in both cases, for the damned as well as the saved, continues infinitely, albeit non-physically (or however the afterlife is envisioned).

Global warming on the other hand, if it is as catastrophically bad as some of the worst case scenarios predict, means the complete eradication of life and all moral points of reference.

The Rapture fills the universe with meaning - whatever it's base in reality, thematically it's an eternal moral lesson.
Destruction by global warming renders everything on the human scale, indeed most complex life forms on Earth, meaningless, since they would be extinct.
Save for a few markers, perhaps the plaque on the moon, a few other things, nothing of man would remain.
What is morality in the face of the extinction of one's species and all attendant life more advanced than bacteria and some plants and insects (?). What could be said to be 'wrong' or 'right' in such a moral vacuum. Cannibalism? Incest? Murder? Certainly locally the infliction of pain and suffering still matters, but there's no objective place to speak of moral matters. There's no 'we' in the sense of having a future or even a past. There can be no judgement.

With the Rapture, that position (judge, objective perspective) is filled by God, and somewhat shared by man.
With the death of humanity by something like global warming, there's nothing to be said objectively however, because there's no one to say it. Nor anyone to say it to if there were.
Oblivion is the antithesis of everything.

And that's what it would be. After the Rapture, the works of Shakespeare live on, Mozart's music still exists. After the end of human life in a secular mode like global warming - all that dies with man.
On the other hand, on the up side, if we are consigned to oblivion from global warming we'll probably see it coming. And if morality and justice, all those other concepts, are to die with us, not much point in not ripping the guts out of people who brought the species to such dire straits. In that sense, perhaps it would resemble the Rapture a bit. The retribution.
But again, can't really call it revenge or payback, absent a future for the species nihilism goes from a marginal philosophical oddity to the sole practical reality. The only serious philosophical question (as Camus said) becomes an immediate one for all mankind - suicide.
(Dunno if you're left on Earth after the rapture if you're surely damned or not).
posted by Smedleyman at 12:00 AM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, if all you care about the "conviction" of people, why don't people who believe the holocaust happened, and oppose holocaust deniers with the fever of a religious fundamentalist also bother you?

I mean, look at someone Elle Wiesel! He attacks holocaust deniers the same way religious zealots attack heretics! Who wouldn't be made uncomfortable by his stridency!

The difference, of course is that the holocaust actually happened, and global warming is actually happening, and the people who deny them do so for profoundly immoral reasons. I don't think Global warming deniers are as bad as holocaust deniers, of course. But they're still pretty contemptible.


Yikes. Are you genuinely ready to assume that the only reason people disagree with you on GW is because they have corrupt or evil motives? Holocaust denial requires that you disregard survivors' testimonies, because the remaining Jews (and gypsies, homosexuals, etc) are assumed to be in conspiracy with each other. The motivations for this are clear and revolting.

On the other hand, very many GW-skeptics are motivated by uncertainty about the science, fears of excessive governmental expansion, etc. Sure, some are looking for that Exxon dollar, but not all, and your implication that GW-skeptics' motives are anywhere close to those of Holocaust deniers just seems incredibly ignorant. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't make them a corrupt liar, and you don't have to hate them to think they're wrong.

It's pretty incontrovertible at this point.

Nonsense. What you're saying is that the useful hypothesis (in the sense that it allows for reasonably acccurate predictions to be made) of global warming is as incontrovertible as survivors' testimony. It is not. It's quite possible, though very unlikely, that (say) global average temperatures will begin to decline in the next decade. We can say with some degree of certainty that this won't happen, but if you think that you can say it with absolute certainty, you've lost me.
posted by SamuelBowman at 1:47 AM on May 3, 2009


I actually see the whole climate change 'debate' much like They Live. Work with me:

In the late 90s, the advocates kicked into high gear. "Put the glasses on! Put 'em on!" they yelled. Denialists refused, and the brawl began. After many many years, activists finally got the upper hand. People have put the glasses on, and see the aliens among them. They know they need to do something.

But there's another type of holdout, like Lomborg and the Cato Institute. The activists are still in brawl mode, and think that they just need to get these people to wear the glasses. They think they are still fighting denialists. But these holdouts have worn the glasses, understand what they saw, but still disagree with the activists.

How? How on earth can these people see the aliens' true faces yet not fight for mankind?? Well, let's enumerate the ways: First, there are those who bluntly object to genocide and racial wars. There are those who speculate that maybe the activists are in fact simply going around killing deformed people with shotguns. Then there are people who say, 'Hey, the aliens have actually been managing us pretty well, they've integrated pretty well, maybe they're not so bad.' There are those who think that as long as the aliens aren't directly harming us, we don't need to do anything. There are also those, like the geoengineering advocates, who think that we should use the aliens as long as we can, maybe try to needle some advanced tech from them that we can use against them later.... maybe develop an alien virus to get rid of them.

Frankly, the advocates need to realize that not everyone is Roddy Piper. Not everyone is going to immediately take up a shotgun and murder their alien spouse. Frankly, considering how ingrained they've become in society, it is unrealistic to expect people to wage an effective war against them. [The recent run up in gas prices showed how people are willing to pay a lot more for carbon emissions] The badass people who have taken up shotguns are so few, and will only be able to kill a percent or so of the aliens. Even the people who took out the shotguns years ago [e.g., Kyoto] have given up killing every alien they see. The Chinese, most of whom depend on an alien spouse, are simply not going to agree to the activists murdering their (admittedly grotesque) loved ones.

So, I would propose to the activists to not see people without shotguns as deniers or collaborators. Most people have put on the glasses. But there's a wide range of reactions out there. Your solutions are still either ineffective or politically untenable. Work with everyone, though, and humans can eventually rid themselves of the alien menace.
posted by FuManchu at 4:11 AM on May 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think that's the smartest thing that's been written on this thread by a mile.
posted by SamuelBowman at 4:30 AM on May 3, 2009


So, I would propose to the activists to not see people without shotguns as deniers or collaborators. Most people have put on the glasses. But there's a wide range of reactions out there.

FuManchu, in your example, what name would you propose for those people (the "some" who are not "most") who still haven't put on the glasses, if not deniers or collaborators?
posted by gerryblog at 6:28 AM on May 3, 2009


Look at the temperature charts. The curve is very plainly "L" shaped. It is obvious that temperatures are heading sharply upward.

Look at the Arctic permafrost. The methane that is bubbling up out of it is obvious.

Put two and two together.

If you come up with a value that is not "for our own safety, we sure as hell better do something," then you are dumber than a sack of gravel.

Regardless how it came to a point where the permafrost is releasing methane stores, it is a fact that its release is going to be incredibly destructive. Where we can live and where we can grow food is going to change. There is going to be terrible upheaval.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:37 AM on May 3, 2009


Look at the temperature charts. The curve is very plainly "L" shaped. It is obvious that temperatures are heading sharply upward.

Except that it doesn't work like that. If it did, temperatures would never fluctuate – ie, deviate from previous trends. But as we know, temperatures can go down as well as up. If your prediction is based on the shape of the trend line, your prediction is worthless.

If you come up with a value that is not "for our own safety, we sure as hell better do something," then you are dumber than a sack of gravel.

Well, as a matter of fact, I am dumber than a sack of gravel! Idiots like me prefer to see cost/benefit analyses before we commit to major policy ventures that might be utterly wasteful.

Simply saying "ZOMG we're all gonna die gotta do something!" without thinking about the opportunity costs of that preventative action doesn't strike me as a smart way to make policy.
posted by SamuelBowman at 8:53 AM on May 3, 2009


Sitting around with our thumbs up our bums because we're frozen in fear of change doesn't strike me as a smart way to survive as a species.

A whole lot of environmental problems that are directly caused by our greed, our overpopulation, and our stupidity are all coming to a head at once. Our oceans are going to cease to be a source of good food very soon. Our farmlands are going to cease to be a source of food very soon. Our massive cities, almost all of which are built on oceans, are going to cease to be a place to live very soon. Our supplies of key minerals, for which we have no substitute, are going to cease to be available because we've used them all up.

It's a shithouse mess, and inaction is the very worst possible choice.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:50 AM on May 3, 2009


Idiots like me prefer to see cost/benefit analyses before we commit to major policy ventures that might be utterly wasteful.

Hey, here's a benefit: your stupid ass doesn't die. What kind of costs would you find unacceptable for that?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:36 PM on May 3, 2009


But it's human nature, five fresh fish. That's just the way we're made. We respond extremely well to immediate threats (like this swine flu), but we're crap at dealing with threats that gradually sneak up on us.

Look at all the people who die from lifestyle related diseases every year. If you stop smoking, maybe put down that hamburger, start exercising a little, you can add years to your life. But most people don't do those things, because the disease sneaks up on them. The decline isn't obvious when they look in the mirror, so why not wait? There's always time, until there isn't.

Our global civilization is like a middle aged man who loves the smokes and burgers. We're not going to make any positive changes, because it looks like there's still time. Years from now that man might have a heart attack, and then'll he think "My God, I could die! Time for a change." But until we reach the point where the decline is an obvious, immediate threat, nothing much will happen.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:49 PM on May 3, 2009


Well, five fresh fish, I think we disagree pretty fundamentally.

Your post contains one of my problems with the environmentalist movement: attributing global warming to moral failings - "our greed, our overpopulation, and our stupidity". It's always the other guy who's greedy, isn't it? There's nothing immoral about 'greed' as you put it – the kind of 'greed' that causes global warming is just providing for yourself and your family, and wanting to make your life as comfortable as possible. If global warming is a negative side-effect of that, then darn, and let's try to deal with it as best we can. But many environmentalists aren't satisfied with that – it has to be about morality and the evils of consumerism.

Global warming will probably have a net negative effect on the world (although that is mostly based on conjecture and nothing I've read has convinced me firmly of that) but even taking it as a given that it'll be a bad thing, you need to establish the cost of fighting it and establish how effective that would be.

If you want to be serious, it isn't enough to give a doomsday scenario about how all farmland, cities and oceans are going to become unliveable unless we do what you say: advocates of Kyoto-style solutions have to show that the benefits outweigh the costs, and that the opportunity cost of that approach is less than other 'save the world'-type things we could do with our money.
posted by SamuelBowman at 12:54 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Consumerism is fucking kill us.

There's nothing involving morals in this at all. What we are doing, is going to render our species if not extinct, then having a damn difficult time of remaining alive.

Putting your head in the sand is all well and good if you are the only person you are ever going to be concerned for: you'll probably live a moderately good life for a number of years yet. The old age bit, if you're under about age forty, might be a rough go.

If you care about what happens to your children, though you pretty much have to start giving a shit about what's going on with our environment.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:52 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you actually serious, Pope Guilty? I'm an asshole because you can't think of anything smart to say? I would have thought you'd be used to that by now. Calling me a stupid asshole makes you sound like you're trying to be edgy or funny, but you aren't either of those things. You're sort of embarrassing yourself.

five fresh fish: I'm not saying that we should put our heads into the sand and I'm not saying that inaction is necessarily the best choice: just that if you are advocating action, you need to be able to say why that action is worth it. The apocalyptic, 'we're all going to die!' approach is over-the-top: the effects of global warming may very well be bad but I have a tough time believing that they'll wipe out the human race, even figuratively. No credible source is saying that. But it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing – the effects can be bad without being apocalyptic. But to plausibly argue for some kind of anti-GW measure, I think you have to show that it would be worth it.

That's not something I'm literally asking you to do, obviously, but the environmentalist movement as a whole – they need to understand that making policy is about opportunity costs. If they want me to spend €1 on CO2 reduction, they need to reasonably show why that's money better spent than paying for some kid's TB medicine in Malawi right now.
posted by SamuelBowman at 4:04 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um, pardon me for being a bit of an idiot, but:

advocates of Kyoto-style solutions have to show that the benefits outweigh the costs, and that the opportunity cost of that approach is less than other 'save the world'-type things we could do with our money.

Isn't benefits outweighing costs a good thing? Doesn't the (opportunity) cost of one option being lower or "less" make that option better than another? This language makes no sense to me in light of what you say before.
posted by jdotglenn at 5:17 PM on May 3, 2009


It sounds like you want stasis, SamuelBowman: to be able to continue doing what you've always been doing, not being inconvenienced by the reality that Bad Shit is coming down the pike, and let's let our children worry about it.

You don't suggest action be taken. You seem to suggest that nothing be done until we're absolutely confident we're doing the right things. To waste more time dealing with a problem we've known for at least forty years that we're going to have to deal with eventually.

At what point will you believe it is time to do something? Or does it not even matter, you'll be dead/we're already all doomed anyway?
posted by five fresh fish at 5:25 PM on May 3, 2009


If they want me to spend €1 on CO2 reduction, they need to reasonably show why that's money better spent than paying for some kid's TB medicine in Malawi right now.
At least here in the US, there's very little patience for that kind of bullshit, because the people saying we can't spend a dollar on CO2 reduction just finished spending a trillion on a war they said there was NO TIME TO QUESTION. Now that it's time to spend cash working on problems people have been explaining for decades, it's all "Oh, well, sure, but opportunity costs, see..."

They aren't talking about spending the money on TB medicine. They're fighting AGAINST the TB medicine because a rich guy might have to pay for it.
posted by verb at 5:54 PM on May 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK SamualBowman, that work is being done. Summary: the costs of mitigation will be moderate, the effects of doing nothing will be very expensive indeed.

Excuse me if I happen to think that the so-called reasonable skeptics like Lomborg are not arguing in good faith but rather are simply moving to the next step (Plan C) in Global Warming obstructionism. Plan A was about denying it was even happening. Plan B was denying that it was caused by us and that we could do anything about it. These positions have now been discredited. Plan C is about denying that it's such a big deal and that we have bigger priorities to deal with like a sudden and somewhat belated interest in Third Word development *.

Frankly I think this concern with the Third World is disingenuous and the argument that this is a zero-sum game (Lomborg, after all, is a game theorist), that action on one front means taking away resources from another, is a spurious dichotomy and fallacious dilemma. The main group of people who will be seriously affected according to most credible reports on the effects of Climate Change will be the inhabitants of the Third World (ie,. most of humanity). How is the collapse of agriculture particularly in areas prone to drought and desertification (Africa?) going to help the hypothetical kid in Malawi? How is the potentially catastrophic reduction of agricultural output of current major grain exporters (Australia) going to help the Third World?

You've argued this cost-benefits line extensively. I think the burden of proof is on you to argue that 1) climate change probably isn't going to that bad despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that it will be 2) that mediation will actually be a net cost to the Third World.

* Plan D presumably is Global Warming will be a Good Thing. After all, who wouldn't enjoy balmy tropical weather?
posted by lagado at 6:46 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


At least here in the US, there's very little patience for that kind of bullshit, because the people saying we can't spend a dollar on CO2 reduction just finished spending a trillion on a war they said there was NO TIME TO QUESTION.

Actually here in the US there is a lot of patience for a cost benefit analysis on global warming, seeing as cap and trade is dead in the water with the democrats holding the presidency and both houses of congress. With other stuff maybe not so much - we spent about $500 BN spread over five years on Iraq but the stimulus bill that passed in February eclipsed that in one fell swoop (granted it won't all be spent immediately) with a lot less debate.

SamuelBowman made a good point and both you and five fresh fish just re-inforce it; apparently it's not possible that someone can disagree with you about global warming on any other basis than greed, lack of intelligence, or a character defect. This sort of thing happens on the right, too, but it's not constructive and doesn't get you any closer to your objective.
posted by txvtchick at 7:00 PM on May 3, 2009


Actually here in the US there is a lot of patience for a cost benefit analysis on global warming...
You misunderstand what I said. SamuelBowman said that cost/benefit analysis should be provided, presumably in comparison to many other possible good things that could be done, before action is taken on climate change. I know folks who've been doing this for quite some time, and frankly it doesn't matter. Because the people who are throwing up public opposition aren't weighing climate work against medicine for kids. They're playing a stalling game to preserve the status quo as long as possible.
SamuelBowman made a good point and both you and five fresh fish just re-inforce it; apparently it's not possible that someone can disagree with you about global warming on any other basis than greed, lack of intelligence, or a character defect. This sort of thing happens on the right, too, but it's not constructive and doesn't get you any closer to your objective.
I didn't realize we were trying to stop climate change in this thread -- we were specifically discussing the problem of how to engage with climate change deniers and their decades-long history of delaying tactics in the face of the sort of evidence and numbers SamuelBowman says are needed.

In the context of a discussion about that subject, it's perfectly legitimate to note that "We need more cost/benefit analysis" from the same people who have spent thirty years denying the problem's existence is just one more in a frustrating series of dodges.
posted by verb at 7:36 PM on May 3, 2009


What is there to disagree about? Climate change is fact. We are going to be facing dire consequences. Screw the third world: I'm talking about America's bread basket being gone. The Ogallala aquifer is fucking toast, there is no more water for a huge swath of America's farm and ranch land. I'm talking about the epic flooding you're going to see in New York, Los Angeles, San Franciso valley, most of Florida.

Anyone denying that these things are going to happen is dealing with the same sort of smarts as those people who claim the earth is flat or that Jupiter affects your personality.

It doesn't matter a tinker's damn why it happened, only that it is happening and we need to mitigate earlier or pay dearly for our short-term thinking. Change is inevitable. We need to deal.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, there are so many half informed or willfully ignorant people clinging to some misguided belief that either humans cannot effect the climate or that the effects will not be all that bad. The scientific debate was 30 years ago and the public is still mired and wading through issues and concepts they can't, don't or won't understand. Meanwhile, nearly every predicted consequence of global warming comes to pass decades earlier than even the most dire models suggested 10 years ago. May our children forgive us
posted by figment at 9:34 PM on May 3, 2009


Consumerism is a problem because we end up consuming limited resources on minor pleasures. Ultimately, we need resources to continue the species, which is, after all, The Prime Directive. In the past, we consumed resources with the view that "The World" represented unlimited resources. We dumped crap in the rivers and oceans, because we viewed those as bottomless holes where the shit just disappeared.

Eventually, the rivers (especially) got so nasty and polluted, we had to face the idea that these weren't bottomless. We did something, and wonder of wonders, anyone over the age of 50 can see (and smell) the positive change. Wow. We can make changes and undo some of the harm we've done the environment. What a valuable lesson. Please, cling to that fact.

But resources and the continuation of the species is still an issue. It's an issue in the extreme long-term, as in the ultimate explosion of the Sun. At some point, we're going to need the resources to find our way to another star system. If we squander our resources on Play Stations, iPods and Porches, the species dies.

And then we discover that a much more immediate threat exists, in global climate change. The threat works in a variety of ways, some less direct than others. Keep in mind, the climate change itself isn't going to kill us. Knowing us, we're more likely to die as a result of armed conflict resulting from demands on limited resources (like fresh water and arable land).

Think about life as it is, today. We struggle to have a nice house and car, and fun toys. The food and water part comes fairly easy. Now think about having a major struggle just to assure your water supply. Think about having to keep watch over a stupid little garden patch, to prevent someone less fortunate from sneaking in and stealing your meager crops. Crops you had to labor very hard to produce, because the last desperate bastard to come buy stole the precious hunk of metal you used as a plow share. Hard labor, because every drop of water that went on that soil had to be hand-carried. You know life is probably easier, somewhere to the north. But you know also, the risks. Like moving west in the 1800's, only the conflict isn't against primitive aborigines.

Not in your life time? Probably not, I suppose. But not that far off, it would seem. Perhaps it is just better to do whatever we can to reduce and delay the problem, while desperately working hard to find more and better solutions. Geo-engineering may well be a good idea, eventually. Meanwhile, it is just sensible in and of itself to reduce consumption.

As for the "denialists": Some of them aren't so much denialists as they are simply dupes of special interests, who place their own wealth production above the good of the species. Seriously, if you base your opinions on lies, you are a dupe. A dupe may be more in need of education than condemnation.
posted by Goofyy at 12:47 AM on May 4, 2009


Thanks for all the replies.

"Isn't benefits outweighing costs a good thing? Doesn't the (opportunity) cost of one option being lower or "less" make that option better than another? This language makes no sense to me in light of what you say before."

I'm not sure it does make no sense in light of what I've been saying unless you're assuming that because I reject any action under any circumstances. Actually, all I'm asking for is a carefully researched and calculated plan that shows that spending all this effort on global warming is worth it in terms of the impact it makes.

The idea that global warming is going to bring about the apocalypse probably isn't true; I certainly haven't heard anybody that I consider to be reliable saying it (and yes, that's wide open to an accusation of 'no true scotsman', but I'm not telling you that you're wrong, just that I am not convinced myself). But even if you take it as a given that it will end the human race, you still need to show that the Kyoto-style actions taken to mitigate it will have an impact that justifies their costs. And yes, those costs do include stopping people from owning second cars or going on holidays to the other side of the world, etc, because those things make people happy even if you don't think they should. (Even if you did do this, India and China's growth would make it fairly irrelevant in CO2 terms.)

"You've argued this cost-benefits line extensively. I think the burden of proof is on you to argue that 1) climate change probably isn't going to that bad despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that it will be 2) that mediation will actually be a net cost to the Third World.

Neither of those things have to be true for CO2 reduction to be a bad idea, actually. I completely agree that climate change will probably be bad and that it will harm the third world. That still doesn't justify CO2 reducing plans like Kyoto unless it can be shown that those plans will have a big enough impact on global warming to justify their cost. The burden of proof is always on the person saying that we have to do something (bascially, that's Occam's Razor).

You link to the Stern report and an article arguing the costs/benefits. Those are exactly what I want to see more of (I didn't read the first article you linked but I did read the Stern report when it came out and IIRC he doesn't discuss opportunity costs at much length at all).

In the context of a discussion about that subject, it's perfectly legitimate to note that "We need more cost/benefit analysis" from the same people who have spent thirty years denying the problem's existence is just one more in a frustrating series of dodges.

Really? Did, say, Johan Norberg do this? You're mistakenly conflating the people looking for cost/benefit analyses (which I'll call CBAs from now on for ease) with the people saying that global warming isn't happening, seemingly because they dissent on an aspect of your plan for solving global warming.

Let me recap my position: GW is probably happening and it probably going to be bad. I don't dispute either of these points. But to convince me (and others like me) that spending billions on a Kyoto-like measure is worth it, I need to see that the money will have an impact that's worth it when compared with the impact of (say) charity for the developing world.
posted by SamuelBowman at 1:39 AM on May 4, 2009


oog, I didn't want to come back here

PopeGuilty -- The option isn't as clear as you make it. Think of the option instead as being: Do I save more millions by preventing climate change, or do I save more by allowing millions to be more rich?

If we continue to grow the economies in Asia, there will be fewer people who die in crumbling buildings during earthquakes and typhoons, and people will be more mobile to escape coming disaster. Greater wealth also means longer, better lives for these people. It's not an easy calculus; there are certainly arguments on either side, but it's far more nuanced than your comments above.

lagado -- The Stern Report is actually the most comprehensive of those analyses. But it pretty consistently uses the lower bound of cost. Stern himself has even said that the costs are now more likely 2% GDP per year after the updated IPCC report. I've also always been confused by those estimates, as the costs actually need to be weighted far earlier than the "x% per year" numbers imply.

Besides, like we're seeing now, it's difficult to do all this politically. Poor people are going to bear carbons reduction costs more than rich people. Industrial areas are going to bear the brunt more than service-oriented areas. That's why we're seeing resistance and demand for concessions among Democrats who theoretically support carbon reduction legislation.

Like I wrote above -- don't make enemies of people who want solutions, but don't brandish shotguns.
posted by FuManchu at 3:55 AM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm disappointed no one made a snark about geoengineering advocates being the "Judean People's Front" compared to the carbon reduction advocates in the "People's Front of Judea."
posted by FuManchu at 4:21 AM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the freemarket capitalist is on display as ever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:52 AM on May 4, 2009


wut?
posted by FuManchu at 6:12 AM on May 4, 2009


Actually, all I'm asking for is a carefully researched and calculated plan that shows that spending all this effort on global warming is worth it in terms of the impact it makes.

This denies the only way we've ever been able to solve problems ever: Dissensus!... by trying different things and seeing if they work! Your asking for a 3rd generation product before the first generation has left the drawing board. Your asking for a comprehensive plan, but climate change is not that well understood (hence the controversy). Does that mean we shouldn't do anything? Should we wait until we can give you this plan to do anything? This very very important question this raises is: What happens if the consequences of global warming are far more advanced than of our understanding of it? What happens if our "perfect" understanding of the problem doesn't come until after it's too late? I have no easy answers...

Do I save more millions by preventing climate change, or do I save more by allowing millions to be more rich?

More myths about development? Crap, I thought this was 2009. I don't even know where to start... "Growing economies"? Please, that sounds like you're basically setting up economies for failure by subsidizing plans that have ALREADY FAILED because they assume, stupidly, that current economic conditions are replicable endlessly (and improvingly) into the future. Haven't we learned anything? Like.... Using credit to run businesses/governments in the red until they are viable really isn't a good strategy, especially for governments. It's certainly not very reliable, and now (thanks to the credit crisis) it's not even viable.

If we continue to grow the economies in Asia, there will be fewer people who die in crumbling buildings during earthquakes and typhoons, and people will be more mobile to escape coming disaster. Greater wealth also means longer, better lives for these people. It's not an easy calculus...

So if we continue fueling deforestation and environmental degredation, then fewer people will die in crumbling buildings during earthquakes and typhoons? Did you know you're also fueling an unsustainable population boom (see the ABCs of ecology) that makes it hard for people to find places to live and so they choose dilapidated buildings in overcrowded cities because they have been displaced from their communities of origin by deforestation, industrial agriculture on a mass-scale, and other practices destructive to the very landbases people need to live sustainably? I don't agree at all that having more money makes a people more ready for disasters... I'm pretty sure Katrina proved that. Not an easy calculus indeed! Do you want to do something good for these people? Help them deindustrialize.
posted by symbollocks at 7:47 AM on May 4, 2009


This denies the only way we've ever been able to solve problems ever: Dissensus!... by trying different things and seeing if they work! Your asking for a 3rd generation product before the first generation has left the drawing board. Your asking for a comprehensive plan, but climate change is not that well understood (hence the controversy). Does that mean we shouldn't do anything?

Yes, I would say that it does mean that. Analogy: swine flu isn't very well understood but we know that it has potentially catastrophic consequences if it reaches pandemic levels. I still don't favour distributing stocks of Tamiflu (the most effective cure, I think) to everybody in the world, because that action is certain to be extremely costly but uncertain to be worth the money. In my mind, doing that would be a bad idea until we know more about the likelihood of a swine flu pandemic. If global inoculation is our only option, inaction is preferable at this point until we know that it's necessary. Of course, my analogy is flawed because most of us agree that global warming will be a Bad Thing, whereas swine flu only has that potential. On the other hand, distributing Tamiflu would almost certainly stop a pandemic, whereas CO2 reduction efforts may have very little impact at all, so I'd say that they even out and the analogy is fair.

Your approach to global warming seems to be "don't just sit there, do something" (sorry in advance if I'm misrepresenting you), which I would disagree. In many cases inaction is preferable to action, because the negative consequences of action may outweigh the beneficial ones – in this case, a negative consequence being fewer people escaping poverty and becoming rich. This is certain to be a consequence – to meaningfully reduce CO2, you need China and India to do the same – but the benefits are uncertain. In this case, I want to be more certain of the benefits before I advocate that kind of plan.

Did you know you're also fueling an unsustainable population boom (see the ABCs of ecology) that makes it hard for people to find places to live and so they choose dilapidated buildings in overcrowded cities because they have been displaced from their communities of origin by deforestation, industrial agriculture on a mass-scale, and other practices destructive to the very landbases people need to live sustainably?

Are you aware of the tendency of birth rates to decrease as societies become more industrialised?

Do you want to do something good for these people? Help Make them deindustrialize.

Corrected. Societies don't willingly 'deindustrialise' when that deindustrialisation means a return to poverty.
posted by SamuelBowman at 8:38 AM on May 4, 2009


“Consumerism is a problem because we end up consuming limited resources on minor pleasures.”
&
“GW is probably happening and it probably going to be bad. I don't dispute either of these points. But to convince me (and others like me) that spending billions on a Kyoto-like measure is worth it, I need to see that the money will have an impact that's worth it”
The dissociative mindset is what’s far more harmful than global warming could ever be. You can’t dissect a complex interconnected system and weigh different parts in terms of cost-benefit. You cut a frog up it’s going to die. You might get an idea of how the discrete systems work, but you have no understanding of the organism as it works. Much less how it is part of its habitat.

But some people will never get that (the quote on ‘you can’t eat money’ comes to mind). I dunno, I’d consider the uncertainty as a negative factor in any analysis.
I mean – hey, if we take out that terrorist base we might kill some terrorists, but the benefits are uncertain, let’s wait and see what happens if we do nothing. Ridiculous. If you know the consequence of your actions, whether its reducing CO2 or striking a terrorist base, and you know the objective (alleviating global warming or reducing the enemy’s ability to strike) then the uncertainty to the benefit is negligible.

Granted, I look at that from a military, not a business, background. So it tends to be a more action-oriented perspective. But I think it’s better to start down a path being aware it’s a dynamic situation and so remaining flexible to change and responsive to whatever feedback we get, rather than doing nothing and expecting the overall situation to get better on its own.
Funny how business folks seem to be all about action where it concerns profit though.

Buddy of mine was astonished that a fellow conservative like me was against drilling in protected areas in Alaska. Granted, he’s not a hunter, but some folks don’t understand that not everything can be monetized. I said “There should be some places on Earth untouched by man.” He said “Why?”
...not much I could say to that.
Like asking about Jazz, man. If have to explain the transcendent value of pristine wilderness, you’re never going to get it.

Furthermore – we wouldn’t be doing something instead of nothing. We’re doing something now. We’re continuing to operate business as usual in spite of evidence that it’s harmful. We are acting. We’re continuing to produce substances that exacerbate global warming. The argument is to slow that down and inquire further into what it is we are doing when we act. Not to begin a new course of action.

It is precisely the case that our own current course of action is causing uncertainty such that we wish to slow it down and examine exactly what it is we are doing to the environment.
But folks gotta drink that milkshake. And they’ve been doing it so long that to change course seems like a radical new direction. Nope. The trees, streams, animals, were doing just fine before we came along and started refining petroleum. We initiated the action. The ongoing action now is what is leading us into question about the future of the environment. To pause and examine seems like exactly the course folks are demanding of environmentalists, but it’s not nature that is an arbitrary system that is subject to conceptual alteration. It’s the reality.
And it doesn’t give a damn how much money you have or what it might cost you for ‘x’ or ‘y’, you disrespect it, ignore it, delude yourself, it kills you. You can’t make fire on a cold night, you die. You can’t find game, you die. It’s completely indifferent to whatever plans you might have for the future. You either adapt to it and change accordingly or you’re dead. And to adapt to it requires observation.

Maybe global warming isn’t the big catastrophe that it looks to be. But I will say, the mindset that we can get away with continuing to ignore the potential consequences of our actions, that we can somehow pass off the effects of our actions on to some nebulous mysterious actions of ‘the market’ or ‘the commons’ or tax enough people, or relieve taxes, or whatever, reminds me of someone who thinks they can bargain with an earthquake.
Debates about what constitutes a science aside - physical forces don’t count economics.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:42 PM on May 4, 2009


Fair enough – I accept that we're all looking at this from different perspectives (although, business? Me? 'fraid you've got the wrong guy!) and I doubt I'm going to convince many about the necessity of cost-benefit analyses and considering opportunity costs before taking action to try to stop global warming.

My original point was that it's a pity so many people advocating that sort of action can only revert to abuse and playing the man, not the ball. Which I think was pretty well demonstrated by some of the above posts.
posted by SamuelBowman at 3:37 PM on May 4, 2009


"My original point was that it's a pity so many people advocating that sort of action can only revert to abuse and playing the man, not the ball"

Point taken. Fairly ubiquitous though. Not just this issue.

In terms of cost-benefit analysis, some things don't apply. Which is why I brought up terrorism. I favored the Iraq war for example only because I knew that uncertainty - when it applies to certain situations, such as whether someone actually has a nuclear weapon they are planning to use - is an unacceptable reason to stop any action, whatever the costs, because the potential harm of not acting is so catastrophic.
As it happens it didn't shake out that way.
And perhaps I put too much trust in folks who would seek retribution and justice if they were lied to in such a manner. Although the jury is still somewhat out on that.

In this case, I think that is the form of what some people are saying. Which is why I say that nature is so implacable. Lying to the citizens of the U.S., yeah, you can get away with some of that. Lying to nature? Nope. It's just going to kill you.
So the factor of that uncertainty becomes truly unacceptable.

We're going to have to change how we do things. I think we all agree on that. Only real question is how. That one is a bit above my paygrade.
But I do think the cost of doing nothing is the extinction of humanity. Maybe not with this particular thing. But given the stakes, nearly all other considerations become marginal.

Consider a situation where money becomes irrelevant. That would be quite a game-changer. And such a thing could happen overnight. I'm trying to avoid hyperbole here, but we have seen localized examples of this. Politically as well as naturally (Mt.St.Helens comes to mind - Burlington Northern rail owned the land before the eruption - during the eruption, think they could claim that? The value of that real estate just evaporated. As did much of the actual real estate itself. Cost 3-odd billion to the U.S. economy. Some people didn't think it was going to blow. They died. Unemployment rose, shipping was devastated, fisheries took huge hits, etc. etc.), and personally of course. Shipwrecks, all that.

So a serious cost benefit analysis would have to take into account the invalidation of itself and the material the analysis is based on as a potential factor.

Right now I think most folks aren't looking at it that way. There's always going to be a society, money, other conceptual tools we use to make sense of things. I've seen it go the other way, so I have a good idea of how fragile all that is. But many folks don't.
I worked for a pretty wealthy guy a bit back. He asked my opinion on a regional situation and the security of one of his company's facilities. His people had looked at all the factors regarding civil unrest, chaos, etc etc. they'd hired security to prevent theft, all sorts of things from keeping the power supply secure to evacuating the facility and product, etc.
Well, it was winter time there so I asked him - 'You employ local people?' The company did, yes. 'So you're telling me your people are going to turn their own families away from the only warm building in the area?'
I just got a ' ... '
So they had to radically reorder their thinking from exclusion and hard security to inclusion and cooperation.
Game changer. Because you can't pay someone enough to tell their mom or wife and kid to stay out in the cold. They hadn't thought of that. And it's not something that can be denied or changed. You can shove ten million dollars in front of someone, they're not (for the most part) going to let their family freeze to death.

Same thing here. Once the physical conditions reach a certain point, there is no monetary model that can deal with that. Unless one figures in that as a reality. And if it includes everyone as a whole interdependent system.

Hell, I could probably survive and shepard my family through just about any catastrophic event on the horizon. So, ok, I'm the last man on Earth. What, do I win? Technically I'd own the planet. Not only the richest man, but the richest ever, and the richest it's possible to be. I don't think I'd be happy about it.
Many models don't address that reality. It's not enough sometimes to walk away in the plus column.
Even if the opportunity costs are overwhelming, it doesn't mean that the next best thing that can be done shouldn't be done because not all choices are mutually exclusive.
Whether 3rd world folks take the hit now or later or whatever, the overall objective is to not, y'know, die as a species. Plenty of ways to serve that end while addressing other details.
But like I say - exactly how, bit beyond me.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:49 PM on May 4, 2009


Here are some charts of rapidly disappearing minerals. A lot of these are essential for modern production practices, let alone essential for having decent products.

Yet another example of how we're up shit creek if we sit on our asses continuing to do nothing different.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:29 PM on May 4, 2009


An honest dialogue, "The Great Divide on Energy Policy" wherein a self-identified liberal attends an oil conference and comes away with "Ten Inconvenient Truths" regarding energy policy.
In fact, there is no dialogue at all. Cleantech people go to cleantech conferences, and oil and gas industry people go to oil and gas conferences, and rarely do the two crowds mix. In the halls of Congress there is much shouting, but little listening. At the end of the day, it is the art of political compromise, not data, which drives policymaking.

The oil and gas industry remains mired in denial about the peak and decline of its products. Renewable advocates are still lost in a dream about quickly replacing fossil fuels with green energy and an infrastructure that runs on it. Climate change concernists continue to pin their hopes on visions that cannot possibly be realized in the time frames they need. No side trusts the other.
posted by FuManchu at 3:26 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nicholas stern: "... efforts to bring atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations down to 50 percent of 1990 levels will account for just 2 percent of global G.D.P., in terms of higher costs. 'It will be a tremendous investment,' Mr. Stern said."

"If coal is going to be used, the only response – because it is the dirtiest of all fuels – is that we have to learn how to do carbon capture and storage and we have to learn how to do it quickly on a commercial scale," he said.
posted by FuManchu at 5:23 PM on May 12, 2009


Coal has way more problems than mere carbon release. A shitload of heavy metals, for starters. Mercury, yum!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:26 PM on May 12, 2009




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