The debate has changed

I’ve been finding it quite difficult to think of things to post about. One reason is that I’ve been rather busy. Another, though, is that I think the debate has changed. It seems that there is more and more discussion about what we should do, and less and less discussion about science. This is, in general, a good thing, but I find it quite difficult discuss things that are less well-defined, and more subjective, than science.

I also enjoy discussing science, even if it is contentious. I realised this a few days ago when I was part of a lengthy Twitter discussion about various policy options. I was mostly just reading what others were saying, and then someone chipped in with some claim about CO2 having little effect on climate. I suddenly thought I can deal with this one (it was pointless trying to, mind you, but that’s beside the point).

On another note, a group of us, led by Andrea Sella, have had a letter published in the Financial Times today. This was in response to an earlier letter that claimed that the climate emergency…is entirely computer-generated. Computer models play an important role in advancing our scientific knowledge, but our understanding of what might happen if we continue to dump CO2 into the atmosphere is very certainly not entirely computer-generated.

I’ll finish by suggesting that those who have been involved in the online climate debate might be interested in reading this free chapter of David Toke’s recent book (which Dave also discusses in this post). In particular, the discussion about the role played by Roger Pielke Jr. Since I don’t want to incur the wrath of Roger, I’ll refrain from commenting myself (okay, I think it’s pretty spot-on, but don’t tell anyone).

I’ll think stop there. Have a good rest of the weekend.

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117 Responses to The debate has changed

  1. The letters require a subscription, but I’m guessing the first one was written by somewhat elderly scientists? Not many fields of science these days don’t involve computational modelling.

  2. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: i concur with the thrust of your OP — although I do note that new scientific discoveries about climate change tend to be released in bunches..

    There’s another facet of the “taking action” side of things that is starting to garner more and more attention and rightfully so. It is the psychological stress of dealing with climate change, An informative and well-written discussion of this can of worms is:

    Climate strikes & the youth mental health crisis, Opinion by Tyee Bridge, Canada’s National Observer, May 2, 2019

    I encourage you and your readers to take a few minutes to read Bridge’s Opinion Piece. Generally speaking, Canada’s National Observer has excelled in is coverage of climate change for quite awhile now.

  3. Dikran,
    Yes, a retired plant biologist (I think). I seem to be able to access the letters sometimes, and not at others. I managed to read them on my phone, but then that access stopped working. I tried a different browser and that also worked for a while.

    Thanks, I’ll have a look at that.

  4. I thought it might be something like that. Ironically computers are used quite a lot in plant biology these days, I have been involved in some myself. Research methods change with technology, and I suspect it is easy to get left behind.

  5. Hank Roberts says:

    Click to access the-rise-of-the-dedicated-natural-science-think-tank.pdf

    Analysts need to take neoliberal theorists like Hayek at their word when they state that the Market is the superior information processor par excellence. The theoretical impetus behind the rise of the natural science think tanks is the belief that science progresses when everyone can buy the type of science they like, dispensing with whatever the academic disciplines say is mainstream or discredited science….

  6. John Hartz says:

    ATTP & Dikran:

    Did either of you know in advance that today (Sart May 4) was March for Science 2019: Global Day of Action? I ask because I had not seen anything about it until this morning.

  7. JH,
    No, I didn’t know about it either.

  8. no, news to me as well.

  9. John Hartz says:

    ATTP & Dikran: March for Science events were scheduled to occur in many locations throughout the world — only one scheduled for the UK though — London..

    I usually come across announcements about such events well in advance — not this time.

  10. Good luck to all who try to communicate climate science and what our responses should be because we appear to live in a post-factual society in the USA now.

    It seems late to be discussing what to do about AGW because we have known what to do for decades: reduce CO2 emissions or face the consequences. Consequences are knocking on the door now. Because of the pushback, I usually try to frame discussion in the form of questions. It’s like jeopardy, but it’s not a game and we don’t necessarily win prizes even if we know all the questions to ask.

    I have said for years that nothing significant can be done in the US about climate change until the republicans decide it has to be addressed. I don’t see much movement with the republicans yet.



  11. izen says:

    There are small signs of a swing back within the US Right to common sense on climate, although it is apparently confined to a a ‘brave’ few.
    “Three Republicans — including two from safe seats — sided with Democrats on Thursday in voting for a measure that would stop President Donald Trump from pulling out of the Paris climate accord.
    The bill passed the House, 231-190. Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Vern Buchanan of Florida voted with the Democrats. Four Republicans — including Florida’s Francis Rooney, who’s been an outspoken Republican voice on the dangers of climate change — did not vote. … “Climate change is a serious threat to the Suncoast and the rest of Florida, which has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters,” Buchanan said in a statement after the vote. “Environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. We should be doing everything possible to accomplish both.”

    And it may be driven as much by the realisation that just dismissing the GND as socialism has a limited future as a vote winner with the younger generation who are increasingly engaged in government making some sort of response to the threats of AGW.
    A recent Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics survey found 74 percent of likely general election voters under 30 disapprove of President Donald Trump’s climate change performance and 50 percent call climate change “a crisis” that “demands urgent action.” Another 25 percent called it “a problem.” … “There are a lot of areas where millennials are a bit more progressive than I wish they were,” Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson said at a January event that examined what the party could do to win back voters they lost in 2018, including suburban women. “Republicans need to do a better job of speaking to them.” … Lacking a detailed policy of their own, Republicans have called generally for boosting innovation and energy conservation. GOP moderates often cite those goals, long part of the party’s lexicon on environmental matters. … “History will judge harshly my Republican colleagues who deny the science of climate change,” Gaetz, a vocal Trump surrogate, said in April. “Similarly, those Democrats who would use climate change as a basis to regulate out of existence the American experience will face the harsh reality that their ideas will fail.”
    At the same time, Gaetz supports abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency. As rising seas and temperatures endanger his Florida panhandle district, some question whether Gaetz has truly turned a corner on the issue.

    It is welcome that the need for action is at least being increasing acknowledged as with the UK Climate Change Emergency bill.
    Although as WC (stoat) suggests it may be more a matter of optics than action.

  12. izen says:

    Shorter David Toke for those that think TL’DR;

    Those, like RPjr, that want BAU while appeasing the scientific risk from AGW, advocate nuclear and hippy punching to avoid communitarian driven economic adaptions to reduce CO2 emissions.

  13. I think the folks that izen says “want BAU while appeasing the scientific risk from AGW, advocate nuclear and hippy punching to avoid communitarian driven economic adaptions to reduce CO2 emissions” are committing crimes against humanity and crimes against nature. It appears that hippy punching is good clean fun these days, but there may be accountability at some future point and points for hippy punching will not be worth much. Just my $.02

  14. angech says:

    “Evidence for this is found in the approach of Roger Pielke Jr who, because of his extensive and well-reasoned arguments can perhaps be analysed here as a good example”
    Rather quiet lately in part due to upset on the way Arctic ice has been fluctuating. Hoping for an upsurge in the next 2 months to boost my combatative mood and arguments.
    Peter Doherty, Nobel Prize and warmest supporter gave a couple of good talks the other day on climate to locals here.

  15. Took the time to go though David Toke’s Chapter. In a down-to-Earth-way none of it’s worth much so long as we keep playing within our own mindscapes. Building what-ifs on top of other what-ifs, all while ignoring the real world situation of a global climate engine that has begun a radical regime shift, and its not going to slow down for may generations to come. That is reality. It is happening now. Things will be changing ever faster as we move into this brave new world. Where’s help facing that?

    I saw nothing in those words about honestly, truthfully assessing all the available data. Nothing about constructive honest debate opposed to political kangaroo debates. No recognition that at it’s most fundamental level understanding Earth Science is about truth and curiosity and learning.

    No mention of the role of Faith-Blinded amoral ruthless bullying tactics, fed and manipulated by deep pockets, that see all opposition, or factual corrections as personal affronts of the highest magnitude.

    Sorry seemed to me just more word salad.

    ~~~ “Science, climate politics, cultural bias 59
    . . . One conclusion that might be drawn from this is that protagonists of action or less action on combating climate change are talking past each other, in the sense that climate change is a battle ground for positions that flow from pre-existing cultural biases. Pielke may be right in pointing out that merely asserting scientific certainty about the risks of climate change may do little to convince people to take radical action. However, he is on far weaker ground if he is questioning an egalitarian agenda that prefers decentralised renewable energy since this can be supported on the basis of the ‘no-regrets’ policy that he champions himself. Indeed, . . . “ ~~~

    What do those words mean? Not that I don’t totally agree with the part about us talking past each other? Wouldn’t want to offend anyone by confronting their ignorant lies.

    I still think all too many keep forgetting that Earth has her own thing going on and that it’s our duty to understand her, rather than this constant rhetorical swords play on the fields of our own imaginations, that doesn’t achieve a thing, but waste yet more irreplaceable time.

    Then again dreaming and hoping that power (or people) act in a forward looking manner is perhaps the biggest folly of all.


  16. John Hartz says:

    Mike: Also check out…

    In a Switch, Some Republicans Start Citing Climate Change as Driving Their Policies by Lisa Friedman, Climate, New York Times, Apr 30, 2019

  17. John Hartz says:

    On the other hand, here’s David Roberts’ most recent assessment of the US political landscape re action on the climate change front…

    Don’t bother waiting for conservatives to come around on climate change by David Roberts, Energy & Environment, Vox, Apr 26, 2019

    From my perspective, Roberts is spot on. “Time is not on our side.”

  18. John Hartz says:

    citizenschallenge: Perhaps this article will lift your spirits a little bit…

    Why Bill McKibben Sees Rays of Hope in a Grim Climate Picture, Interview by Elizabeth Kolbert, Yale Environment 360, Apr 30, 2019

  19. Canman says:

    Has the debate changed? I keep hearing that there’s no more debate about climate, so it should not be debated. I don’t agree, but so be it. I often hear that instead of debating climate, we should be debating what to do about it. Well it looks to me like the biggest point of contention, when it comes to debating climate mitigation, is 100% renewables vs nuclear. There are two leading, articulate, charismatic and somewhat similar figures that have emerged for the two respective sides.

    For 100% renewables there’s Mark Jacobson.By all accounts he’s done some impressive atmospheric modeling, especially with black carbon. He’s been applying his modeling skills to energy production. He has lots of devoted followers and skeptical critics, including me, in so far as an insignificant amateur like me can be called a critic.His studies are being used as support for 100% renewable proposals by a lot of state legislatures. He’s also been mentioned as a possible energy secretary.

    On the nuclear side, there’s Michael Shellenberger. He’s been a life long activist for left wing and environmental causes. He might not seem as technically credentialed as Jacobson, but he’s been doing a lot of amazing historical writing on nuclear power and the environmental movement. He’s been talking to a lot of nuclear engineers, and has acquired a lot of technical knowledge. Anyone skeptical of this, can listen to his interview with Scott Adams.

    The renewables vs nuclear issue is so important, that I think there should be an Intelligence Squared debate on it, with Jacobson and Shellenberger being included on the panels for the respective sides.

  20. Canman,
    Why is the renewables vs nuclear so important? Seems to me that there will be situations where nuclear is a viable, and preferred, solution and situations where renewables will be a viable, and preferred, solution. There may well be situations where it’s a combination. I really don’t quite get the whole antagonistic renewables vs nuclear debate.

  21. dikranmarsupial says:

    Me to. All of this action on climate issue boils down to finding the best compromises between conflicting objectives, and the renewables-v-nuclear is just another aspect of it. The idea that we have to have a one-size-fits-all solution to everything seems somewhat irrational.

  22. Marco says:

    “I really don’t quite get the whole antagonistic renewables vs nuclear debate.”

    Just another attempt to make it into a “left-vs-right” debate, so the right can blame the left when the sh!t hits the fan: “If they hadn’t been so opposed to nuclear, then we’d not be in this mess…”.

  23. Marco,
    Yes, that is an impression I have had too.

  24. Agreed. We need everything ‘zero carbon’ at our disposal to reduce emissions. If we can do it without nuclear, then great. If we can’t, then so be it.

    On the matter of the changing narrative. For those in the UK it’s easy to think the struggle for the science is all over; but world wide it’s a different story. The average politician in the USA, Canada and Australia seems still firmly in denial. But now the UK’s politicians seem to have got it (and wasn’t it an epiphanic change when it occurred?) maybe it will lead to a similar insight in other countries’ political classes?

  25. John,
    Yes, I may be noticing more of a shift in the UK, than globally. However, as Victor has pointed out before, there are parts of Europe where the debate shifted quite a long time ago. Hopefully, it is a sign of a shift that will spread to those parts of the world where many politicians are still in denial.

  26. izen says:

    ” I really don’t quite get the whole antagonistic renewables vs nuclear debate. ”

    I think David Toke does a good job of explaining that.
    ‘No Regrets’ policy means any replacement that is Carbon neutral should be cheaper and safer.
    Nuclear has become more expensive because of limited scale recent deployment and the need to make it safer. As renewables grow in scale of usage they have become cheaper and safer
    But is still favoured by those that want to maintain a centralised, BAU top-down energy distribution business to avoid the economic disruption of transition to a communitarian, distributed, smart-grid model.

    I though his chapter also did a good job of describing how the IPCC was set up by governments to co-opt the science into legitimising their preferred BAU policies.

  27. Dave_Geologist says:

    “I really don’t quite get the whole antagonistic renewables vs nuclear debate.” It’s a proxy for Cold Warriors vs. Hippies, ATTP.

  28. One aspect of the opposition to nuclear is the fact that we don’t have a safe plan to deal with the waste. In view of the situation we are in with the waste of fossil fuel based energy, there may be good reason to ask if we really want to make the same mistake again.

  29. RickA says:


    Thanks for posting that link to the video with Scott Adams interviewing Michael Shellenberger.

    One thing which didn’t come out for me as a viewer was 4th generation improvements like passive cooling and gravity fed damping rods. Maybe that is because these improvements are in light water reactors. But I thought there were light water fourth generation improvements and the discussion seemed to imply that the only 4th generation designs were gas cooled, sodium whatever cooled and so forth. So that was a point of confusion to me.

    Does anybody know if there are 4th generation light water reactor designs which are safer because they can be cooled without power (i.e. passively cooled) and also turn off the reactors by dampening the production of neutrons by having the damping rods fall down using gravity instead of being pushed horizontally using power?

    If so, why doesn’t Michael Shellenberger say yes we can say that improved technology makes 4th generation reactors better – and by the way 4th generation reactors also include light water designs.

    Just curious.

  30. John Hartz says:

    Many of the pro-nuclear energy advocates in the US are anti-renewable energy because they erroneously blame the environmental movement for halting the build-out of nuclear power plants after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. The reality is that Wall Street investors stopped funding the construction of new nuclear projects because of the huge liability risks associated with running each nuclear power plant.

  31. so, punch the Wall Street hippies?

  32. Willard says:

    > Does anybody know if there are 4th generation light water reactor designs which are safer

    No idea, but I know that changing our diet is more important than turning this into a “but nuclear” thread:

  33. There seems to be a minor popular uprising against the lack of action. Most of this in countries who are not in denial, but where politics still does not do enough to solve the problem. The fossil fuel lobby is powerful, even in countries that are not as systemically corrupt as America, and changing things is always hard. My country of birth, The Netherlands, has become a global disgrace since I left.

    This is good that the focus has shifted away from the idiocy of the climate branch of the US culture war attacking science to normal people worrying and demanding solutions. I have no problem if my blog is only read by a few nerds; that is how it should be.

    The lack of sufficient action in continental Europe is also a warning that just shifting the popular opinion will not be enough in America. Well over 90% of Americans would like to see universal background check before someone can buy a gun. But such an immensely popular policy is still impossible to get through a radicalized and systemically corrupt Congress. There are already clear majorities who would like to see more climate action in America and huge majorities for shifting to renewable energy. But that is not enough without real democracy.

    Corporations are a wonderful invention (of the Dutch), but they should not have political power, as any real classical liberal/libertarian would acknowledge. This is the time to nominate non-corrupt people-funded candidates for political office. For example, you can nominate the next AOC at:

  34. RickA says:

    [Mod: maybe we can just move on. My point is more that I don’t really get why people fight about nuclear versus renewables; they can all play a role.]

  35. Steven Mosher says:

    “One aspect of the opposition to nuclear is the fact that we don’t have a safe plan to deal with the waste. ”

    safer and cheaper

    Click to access DeepIsolationTechnology-White-Paper.pdf

  36. Canman says:

    ATTP: “… I really don’t quite get the whole antagonistic renewables vs nuclear debate.”

    It’s pretty obvious. A lot of environmental types hate nuclear energy and they are trying to close down existing nuclear plants. AOC’s green new deal is explicitly anti-nuclear. On the other side, some of the most prominent climate experts, such as James Hansen, Ken Caldeira and Kerry Emanuel think nuclear power is essential.

  37. John Hartz says:

    Canman: You wrote:

    It’s pretty obvious. A lot of environmental types hate nuclear energy and they are trying to close down existing nuclear plants.

    Pleas cite the source(s) of this assertion. Which US environmental organizations want to shut down the remaining nuclear power plants? What percentage of US environmentalists “hate nuclear energy”?

  38. Joshua says:

    Canman –

    It’s pretty obvious. A lot of environmental types hate nuclear energy and they are trying to close down existing nuclear plants.

    Good point. Obviously, political antipathy towards “the left” or environmentalists, fossil fuel interests against replacement with renewables, the economic and logistical obstacles with nuclear, all clearly have nothing to do with it.

    Thanks Captain Obvous.

  39. izen says:

    “Does anybody know if there are 4th generation light water reactor designs which are safer ”

    No, nobody knows.

    The problem is that there is theoretical work and some experimental models to try the idea of new ‘safer’ designs, including modular systems and thorium reactors to try and show proof of concept.
    But nothing has got as far as a reliable, repeatable design that can be mass produced, manufactured and built.
    That means that there is no track record of such designs operating effectively, no track record of how they can be built consistently, and most crucially no established mass production that would reduce costs from the high initial outlay and inevitable modifications and improvements that would result from long term established use.

    In other words, we know how to build the type of nuclear reactors that we have been building (with all their known problems and safety issues) but rolling out a new design is much more difficult and expensive.

    Compare with the idea of self-driving cars. It is theoretically do-able, and theoretically would be safer than letting humans behind the wheel. But until all the kinks are discovered and ironed out, nobody is going to invest in a mass produced model, or trust wide scale introduction.

    And the consequences of a new, ‘safer’ nuclear reactor going out of control are rather more serious than a self-driving car killing the occasional cyclist.
    Certainly no private business is going to put time and money into such an option without significant government support and indemnity cover, just for the research.
    Actually building them in bulk with government support is possible, but what government is going to risk strongly subsidising and supporting something that with one Fukushima type event would probably get them voted out.
    Or lynched.

  40. Canman says:

    [Dear Canman,

    The first time it’s a drive-dy. One drive-by per thread ought to be enough. This is good for everyone.

    When it’s always the same drive-by, it becomes peddling. Peddling (in your case Shellenberger crap) is not OK.

    Thank you for your concerns.


  41. smallbluemike said:

    ” It’s like jeopardy, but it’s not a game and we don’t necessarily win prizes even if we know all the questions to ask.”

    Actually, the next stage of the science may be a lot like Jeopardy, where a Climate James will come along and blow a lot of other scientists out of the water. IMO, there’s so little discussion on the science right now because climate science has been in stasis with regard to consensus breakthroughs.

  42. mrkenfabian says:

    There is much political capital amongst climate responsibility denialists tied up in the idea that climate concern and climate policy is driven by political extremists of the environmentalist/socialist/hippie variety – but this is principally a message to those who lean right, to discourage their active and constructive participation in developing appropriate policy responses. It will be the extremist proposals they want everyone obsessing about – and ignoring the much greater majority who have no socialist/globalist/environazist/nanny-statist ambitions and support reasoned and reasonable policy responses. If the climate “movement” appears to lean Left it is mostly because those leaning Right have refused to participate constructively..

    The last thing the opponents of responsibility and accountability for emissions want is the majority of the moderate Right to understand that taking the issue seriously is not a gateway to communism and that the only essential requirements for being Climate Concerned are taking mainstream expert advice seriously and committing to the necessity for effective economic transition to low to below zero emission. They don’t want those on the Right to understand that appropriate and effective policy responses are entirely compatible with free-market democracy and the rule of law and do not require turning socialist, ending national sovereignty, or even opposing nuclear energy.

  43. izen says:

    “IMO, there’s so little discussion on the science right now because climate science has been in stasis with regard to consensus breakthroughs.”

    Alternatively the discussion of the science is now confined to the ideologically opposed because the basic processes are well enough established that no new insight is going to make any significant change to the consensus about the impacts and outcome of accumulating CO2.
    As with Newton’s Laws of motion and gravitation, the advent of General Relativity may have changed our core understanding of the process, but except in fringe details(!?), did not alter the vast majority of the calculable outcomes.

    So even if some yet undiscovered genius appeared with radical answers to, say, the timing and magnitude of the ENSO quasi-cycle in the near future, it would have little impact on the necessary policy responses which we already know are required to avoid accumulating more CO2 in the atmosphere.

  44. izen said:

    “Alternatively the discussion of the science is now confined to the ideologically opposed because the basic processes are well enough established that no new insight is going to make any significant change to the consensus about the impacts and outcome of accumulating CO2.”

    I’m perfectly fine with the consensus behind the CO2 forcing.

    “So even if some yet undiscovered genius appeared with radical answers to, say, the timing and magnitude of the ENSO quasi-cycle in the near future, it would have little impact on the necessary policy responses which we already know are required to avoid accumulating more CO2 in the atmosphere.”

    Yes, but this is the interesting science and physics. I’d like to see Curry and the skeptic gang cry when they find that chaos and her uncertainty monsters do not rule here either.

  45. Steven Mosher says:

    “The problem is that there is theoretical work and some experimental models to try the idea of new ‘safer’ designs, including modular systems and thorium reactors to try and show proof of concept.
    But nothing has got as far as a reliable, repeatable design that can be mass produced, manufactured and built.”


    safe small systems have been in operation for decades in subs on aircraft carriers, etc
    even the dumb soviets can do it

    I know of multiple systems , mass producable,that are going through review or in some cases
    being built

    There’s no silver bullet. Frankly in Korea, for example, we have a choice. Build more nukes
    or clear cut to install solar. The citizens jury decided against stopping nuclear, but the damn hippies are ignoring the peoples voice. In some places solar and wind will be great, in other places, not so great. Tool chest: bring a big one and dont be afraid to use the hammer

  46. David B. Benson says:

    I encourage those particularly interested in electrical power and other sources of energy to consider commenting in the Energy section of
    Brave New Climate Discussion Forum
    hosted by ProBoards. The format there encourages separate discussion threads for each topic.

  47. izen said:

    “Compare with the idea of self-driving cars. It is theoretically do-able, and theoretically would be safer than letting humans behind the wheel. But until all the kinks are discovered and ironed out, nobody is going to invest in a mass produced model, or trust wide scale introduction.”

    I was working on a follow-up DARPA Grand Challenge project after the autonomous vehicle challenge was finishing up. Amazing the progress that has been made considering no team could finish the course in 2004. Recall that Vaughan Pratt (who used to comment on the climate blogs) was part of the Stanford team that was eventually first to finish the course. (And before that Pratt was legendary for helping to expose the Intel Pentium FDIV bug ) Technology hurls forward

  48. izen says:

    “safe small systems have been in operation for decades in subs on aircraft carriers, etc
    even the dumb soviets can do it”

    You’re right. there is a well established line of naval nuclear power plants.
    They are small, taking up a tenth of the land (or offshore) area of wind turbines, and do not have the problem of intermittent generation.
    They have the opposite problem, in that they are most cost effective if run continuously at close to full power, so you still need storage to provide dispatchable power on demand. Otherwise you end up with the French problem where you are paying other Nations to take your power on a Sunday night because it is cheaper than stopping and starting your reactors.

    As your Argentina link shows there are various experimental systems being developed with significant government funding, Roll Royce is also in the game.
    But as yet no actual roll-out of a viable system.

    The problems are that naval nuclear power from small reactors is generally limited to around 100MW, or the equivalent of 10-15 offshore wind turbines. To get that power from a small reactor with the reliability and safety record that submarine power plants have established requires special fuel rods with highly enriched Uranium and material that are resistant to the higher radiation damage within the reactor. This increases costs.
    The most recent cost estimate I can find for a submarine nuclear power plant is $2.8billion for a 85MW unit.
    Undoubtedly mass production will reduce this.
    But wind turbines are also benefiting from mass production cost improvements, ten to twenty offshore units producing a similar amount of power most of the time would be around 1% of this price.

    By all means have a hammer in your tool-box. It will take up a tenth of the space of all the spanners you need for the different sizes of nut, making many of them unusable in some circumstances. But the hammer, because it has to be made from special alloys and more complex manufacturing methods, will also cost around 10 to 100 times as much as all the spanners.

  49. Perhaps there is less science in the debate because there is less “new” skeptical science, which is why they are still endlessly recycling arguments like Salby’s (with minor variations). The only “new” science I have seen recently is N&Z (who may as well have not bothered if they are going to rely on science as ropey as that!).

  50. AndyM says:

    Would the analyses have been better if they were conducted purely with slide-rule?

  51. I didn’t realize you were considering any of the oddball theories from those pseudo-skeptics as actual “science”. I was thinking more that there is much new research around the concepts of geophysical fluid dynamics, inverse energy cascades, and topological insulators as applied to climate behaviors.

  52. They are science, just not good science.

  53. MIT released a comprehensive study concluding that a 100% renewables option would cost four times as much as a high nuclear option. The University of Chicago studied actual renewables policies and found that their cost per reduction in GHG emissions was far higher than the expected cost of CO2 emissions- a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone who watched energy prices in Germany.
    When the global policy option is to use the highest cost alternative, yet permit emissions growth in nations that compete economically, you get stalemate. One or the other of those policies must change. Or technological breakthrough for something.

  54. MIT-
    UC –

    There is also a train of thought that says access to low cost energy = consumption, which equals ecological damage. “Sustainability” isn’t just an energy topic. That is one – not the only one – driver of the nuclear-v-renewable debate.

    If you’re taking bets on whether Germany will shut down all it’s nuclear power plants, put me down for “no.”

  55. izen says:

    The MIT paper recognises that building nuclear plants is very expensive, and suggests that it should be made cheaper by
    (1)-settling on a single design, construction and operating model globally that would require a specifically trained workforce (not yet in existence),
    (2)-a reduced regulatory burden,
    (3)-and large government subsidies because it is a zero carbon generator.
    Although there is no suggestion that other zero carbon energy sources should get similar subsidies.

    The funding –
    ” We gratefully acknowledge the
    support of our major sponsor The Alfred P. Sloan
    Foundation and important contributions from
    Shell, Électricité de France (EDF), The David and
    Lucile Packard Foundation, General Atomics…”

    The Chicago paper is a product of the Milton Friedman semi-detached part of the university economics department. How much credibility you can put on contributions from that source probably have a greater correlation with ideological outlook than anything else.

    This paper makes some interesting points about the flaws in the market system in the US energy generation sector when faced with a large influx of intermittent renewable sources.

    It recognises that renewables when generating have near zero costs, making electricity virtually free, but if this cost saving is passed on to the consumer there is no financial incentive to maintain baseload systems or build new fast response generators to cover demand/supply shortfalls.
    The result as it describes with evident horror is that sometimes the system would generate far more power than required, and sometimes far less.
    Therefore (it concludes) radical changes need to be made to the market mechanisms to incentivise the deployment of cost signals to modify demand, and the regulatory imposition of investment in forms of generation and storage that can mitigate the problem of renewable intermittentcy.
    While nuclear may be one element of this, it also suggests geothermal, pumped hydro and fast response gas turbines.

  56. Willard says:

    > MIT released a comprehensive study concluding that a 100% renewables option would cost four times as much as a high nuclear option.

    No economist has been harmed in the making of that report. The study does not address waste and risks, and both have a cost. Their first finding:

    The cost of new nuclear plants is high, and this significantly constrains the growth of nuclear power under scenarios that assume ‘business as usual’ and modest carbon emission constraints. In those parts of the world where a carbon constraint is not a primary factor, fossil fuels, whether coal or natural gas, are generally a lower cost alternative for electricity generation. Under a modest carbon emission constraint, renewable generation usually offers a lower cost alternative.

    Their second finding

    New nuclear plants are not a profitable investment in the United States and Western Europe today. The capital cost of building these plants is too high.

    An interesting note:

    Since MIT published its first Future of Nuclear Power study (Deutch, et al. 2003), the context for nuclear energy in the United States and globally has changed dramatically for the worse. Throughout most of the 2000s, the U.S. fleet of nuclear power plants was highly profitable: their capital costs had been largely amortized previous decades and their production costs were low compared to the relatively high cost of fossil and renewable alternatives. As utilities sought to maximize the value of their nuclear assets, they embarked on a flurry of market-driven nuclear power plant purchases, power uprates, and license extensions. The situation changed quickly after 2007, as large quantities of inexpensive shale natural gas became available in the United States and the Great Recession depressed electricity demand and prices. Since then, nuclear power plants in the United States have become steadily less profitable and the industry has witnessed a wave of plant closures.

    This started a bit before JeffN was on his “But Nukes” slogan at Keith’s, ca 2009. By chance I did not listen to JeffN and invested in uranium at the time. The short of all this is that there is no cookie without a floor price for carbon-based energy and/or a nationalized nuclear-based energy industry. Everything else is snake oil.

  57. Willard says:

    To give you a rough idea of the money I may have lost:

    Note the peak past 2007.

  58. Yes.
    Nuclear is expensive.
    Renewables are more expensive than nuclear (by a long shot), but sometimes not – depends on where and for what use. Nobody would argue nuclear is cheaper than wind for rural Texas’ windy plains. Conversely, too many argue nuclear is more expensive than trying to power New York City with solar panels.
    Dams are expensive, but sometimes less expensive (depending on location) than nuclear and wind/solar and even fossil.
    Burning trees is expensive, but less expensive than wind/solar and nuclear.
    Fossil fuels are less expensive than nuclear and renewables.

    The real debate- If you want global action to reduce emissions, how much does cost matter? If it matters quite a bit, promote options with the most CO2 emissions cuts at the least cost. Accept that sometimes that will be wind and solar and most of the time it won’t.

  59. Nice chart Willard. Overlay natural gas prices in the US on it.
    Here’s one:

  60. Small nuclear reactors of the type that run aircraft carriers and submarines rely on experienced, disciplined and skilled crews to operate and monitor them. For that reason I don’t imagine they’d be viable—or safe—outside those applications.

    On the matter of large scale electricity generation of all types. Smart meters can go a long way in smoothing out the 24 demand cycle by restricting supply in the daytime. For example, electric cars and vans can be charged overnight (~20% of UK’s energy use is for transport) and in well-insulated dwellings, domestic heating can be stored at night, for slow release as required during the day (~27% of UK’s energy use is domestic). So that’s dealt with almost 50% of demand. The technology exists to even out electricity generation, and is relatively simple; it just requires the £ and the will.

  61. Willard says:

    > Nuclear is expensive.

    That’s the yes part.


    > Renewables are more expensive than nuclear

    That’s the but part, which deserves due diiligence. For the moment, notice how your “but” part is unrelated to the findings underlined above. It’s a red herring, a squirrel. Hippie punching has always indicated and will always indicate a weakness.

    Unless and until you argue that we should put a floor price on fossil fuel and/or nationalize a big part of the energy sector, you’re selling snake oil.

  62. Willard says:

    > here’s First Solar

    One does not simply compare the price of a commodity with a single company stock. Try this instead:

    Michael Liebrich is my goto guy on renewables, and he’s conservative.

  63. “Unless and until you argue that we should put a floor price on fossil fuel and/or nationalize a big part of the energy sector, you’re selling snake oil.”

    Those are the only options allowed? Either of your options is just a policy to switch to….

    Let’s view it another way- say you passed a carbon tax designed to move the nation away from fossil fuels and that tax was designed (numbers are for illustrative purposes) to increase coal-derived electricity prices by 30% because a panel of experts has determined that is the price of AGW.

    Based on MIT’s work:
    A switch to gas and nuclear would increase your price, but less than 30% (because nuclear is expensive and gas has carbon).

    A switch to wind/solar would increase your price much more than 30%.

    Tough call?

  64. Willard says:

    > Those are the only options allowed?

    Which part of “New nuclear plants are not a profitable investment in the United States and Western Europe today” from your own report escapes you, JeffN. Nukes can’t compete with actual gas prices. Yet solar and wind can.

    It’s not that complex.

    The nuclear industry has itself to blame for its own actual predicament. It has been the lousiest business partner in all the the history of the energy industry. They deserve a place in Hell for their irresponsibility.

    And you want to punch hippies?

    That’s just great.

  65. Willard says:

    > The format there encourages separate discussion threads for each topic.

    Good idea, David. In that spirit, I encourage nuclear fans (that includes me) to pursue “but nukes” in the following thread:

  66. The University of Chicago studied actual renewables policies and found that their cost per reduction in GHG emissions was far higher than the expected cost of CO2 emissions – a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone who watched energy prices in Germany.

    Somehow the costs of energy in Germany argument is typically made by people from outside of Germany. Germany invested in renewable energy at a time it was still expensive. So this cost comparison makes not sense given that renewable power is nowadays about the same price as fossil fuels.

    The German investment created a large market, drove the prices the entire world. In a sane world you would be grateful for the cheap energy Germans gave you. The Germans are proud of their contribution to solving the climate problem and like it that this allowed us to turn of nuclear power plants, which Germans do not like for many reasons beyond the environment: nuclear proliferation, Big Government of this necessarily highly regulated sector, police state to protect the plants, the moral hazard of operating them (one of the worst privatize the gains, socialize the loses sectors) and the acknowledgement that humans are human: if you make the power plants saver the operators will be more careless (Chernobyl).

    The conservative governments moved the costs of electricity from corporations to the consumer. Whole sale prices in Germany are among the lowest in Europe and we export a lot of power. That was the political price the left had to pay for renewable energy. Politics is the art of the possible.

    The price per kWh is also not a fair comparison. Energy efficiency standards in Europe are a lot higher and per household we do not pay much more than elsewhere, we just waste less energy. I pay about 1 Euro per day for 100% renewable power.

    If you’re taking bets on whether Germany will shut down all it’s nuclear power plants, put me down for “no.”

    I am not a betting man, but I would be really tempted to take this bet. A conservative chancellor already once tried to stop the end of nuclear power and had to reverse course. I do not think they will make that mistake again. They are also not likely to be able to govern alone before the nuclear power plants are turned off because that would only be possible in a coalition with an unappetizing far right party.

  67. izen says:

    “A switch to wind/solar would increase your price much more than 30%.”

    Could you explain why?
    The capital cost of building wind/solar is much lower than nuclear and gas.
    It then has zero fuel costs and minimal staff and maintenance costs by comparison.

    The MIT study you cite claims the higher cost is due to the cost of building the storage systems;

    “Simulations were performed with an MIT system optimization tool called GenX. For a given power market the required inputs include hourly electricity demand, hourly weather patterns, economic costs (capital, operations, and fuel) for all power plants (nuclear, wind and solar with battery storage, fossil with and without carbon capture and storage), and their ramp-up rates. The GenX simulations were used to identify the electrical system generation mix that minimizes average system electricity costs in each of these markets. The cost escalation seen in the no-nuclear scenarios with aggressive carbon constraints is mostly due to the additional build-out and cost of energy storage, which becomes necessary in scenarios that rely exclusively on variable renewable energy technologies.”

    It would be interesting to know what assumptions they made about the type and cost of storage systems going forward as they become increasingly required with low carbon generation from renewables.
    It would also be worth knowing if they have factored in the impact of changing the market structure (as I linked above) which might favour demand management and appliance storage at the household level and local storage at the industry level along with a minimum supplier built pumped hydro, geothermal and gas turbine with CC that would be incentivised by the need to cope with intermittent renewable supplies.
    Only the cynical might suspect that they are unrealistically minimising the cost of nuclear with their suggestions, while ignoring any similar changes in the cost of storage/base-load cover.

    And in the spirit of climate science ‘auditing’ as Mosher might demand;
    Where is the code for their GenX simulation tool ?

  68. “Nukes can’t compete with actual gas prices. Yet solar and wind can.”

    No. Solar and wind really can’t. Neither can compete with gas, there is zero evidence (and much to the contrary) that wind and solar are more competitive with gas than nuclear. But we inexplicably call that “punching hippies” while Germany ignores us both:

    Where’s the “leave in the ground” protest against pipelines? Ooops, landed one on a hippie.

  69. “Could you explain why?”
    The MIT and UC studies give reasons. On top of the storage there was the cost of getting wind/solar to market- wiring all the panels and windmills., running long distance cables, grid changes necessary to accommodate intermittent sources.
    Interestingly, these studies typically find that wind and solar at current (very low) penetrations are more expensive than advertised, but cheap compared to what it would is required once you start talking about trying to power major cities with wind and solar.

    Cost is something that must be dealt with for any alternative to fossil fuels.

  70. Willard says:

    > there is zero evidence (and much to the contrary) that wind and solar are more competitive

    Come on, JeffN. You’re fighting old news:

    Natural gas-fired power plants will be facing more price competition from solar farms in some parts of the U.S. as falling battery costs make it possible to deliver electricity produced from sunshine even after dark.

    That may explain why are you rope-a-doping to “but Germany.”



    Please take it to the dedicated thread:

  71. izen says:

    Perhaps it is an indication of how the debate has changed that we are not seeing complaints that AGW is a minor problem that can be ignored because the science is wrong.
    But quibbles that PV solar and wind are more expensive than the hippies admit because the panels have to be wired up and wind farms connected to the grid…

  72. purely anecdotally is see the “over population” card being played more recently – it has nice “neutral” tones, which is why I suspect it will be pushed

  73. Marco says:

    Ironically, in the Netherlands a columnist/journalist for a right-wing magazine has just had a book out. Apparently, he gets pretty angry these days with people who deny AGW. But, of course, the idea that we’re heading for disaster is at least as crazy as those people who deny AGW! No need to worry.

    The irony? Until a few years ago, this same columnist/journalist was convinced AGW was nonsense, since 0.04% of atmospheric CO2 surely was too little to have any impact whatsoever. He spared no words to tell the readers of the magazine about this little fact. The opinion-maker is now surprised that his opinion has resonated with his readers.

    The debate has changed, indeed.

  74. Marco, which Dutch journalist are you thinking of?

  75. Marco says:

    Victor: Simon Rozendaal.

  76. Susan Anderson says:

    There’s an obstacle in the way. Even in the UK, where denial doesn’t have (I’m told) much of a foothold, renewables are being stomped on by the government while they try to impose fracking and continue with bad actors like pellets, so the end result is the same

    NYTimes Mag 4/14/19 (The Next Reckoning, Nathaniel Rich). I’m not advocating for coercion, but it seems to me to be the problem we face is that only coercion will work:

    reasonable minds might disagree. But beyond the reaches of the scholarly and activist literature, reasonable minds have not been given the opportunity.

    It has become commonplace to observe that corporations behave like psychopaths. They are self-interested to the point of violence, possess a vibrant disregard for laws and social mores, have an indifference to the rights of others and fail to feel remorse. A psychopath gains a person’s trust, mimics emotions but feels nothing and passes in public for human … The psychopath is calm, calculated, scrupulous – never more so than while plotting murder. There can be no reasoning with a psychopath; neither rational argument no blandishment has a remote chance of success. …. Coercion must be the remedy – exerted economically, politically and morally, preferably all at once. The psychopath respects only force.

    re nuclear, yes, some friends who should know better have emotional reasons to oppose it (after all, Chernobyl, Fukushima?), one whose father died from nuclear tourism in the 1950s. We are victims of our mistakes (corn for ethanol, anyone?), especially with people poised to take advantage. I had a good discussion with a postdoc at MIT that cleared it up for me; disposal is actually pretty careful these days.

  77. Susan Anderson says:

    sorry, US dating, that’s 14 April.

  78. JCH says:

    I’m hooked up to a nuke, one of the last built before rightwing investors started hating nukes. When it first started operating, we got two bills, one for the “it glows in the dark” power and one that was covered coal dust. Apparently they decided this would prove to customers/voters that nuke power was cheap.

    Then the insane cost overruns started piling up, year after year after year. Like the dome was in the wrong place and had to be rebuilt. Stuff like that. The facility was crawling with extensive pipe and wire networks that ran and ran and then just ended: nothing there for them to hook up. The Three Stooges started a nuke construction company.

    The monthly nuke number was sky high. Customers were livid. The legislature met and changed the law. The amortization table was extended by a few decades, and the two bills were blended together so people would stop seeing how expensive one of the last nukes actually was before the rightwing investors started hating nukes.

  79. Joshua says:

    The rightwing activists’ love of nuculer energy (remember George?) goes only so far as it remains a fantasy.

    If it ever were to be made possible by an actually functional government, paid for with real dollars, and regulated by real regulations, it’s popularity would plummet faster with right wingers than the popularity of reducing the deficit plummeted after Trump got elected.

    (Although, in all fairness, maybe a tad more slowly than “personal responsibility” plummeted in popularity after Obama started talking about an individual insurance mandate.)

    Nuclear energy is a very effective as a tribal tool

  80. Hank Roberts says:

    Well yeah. The rich folks have to be given an opportunity to shift their investment money ot the coming thing, before the ordinary people learn what’s been devalued. Shell Solar
    Mobil Solar

    what else can we expect
    the current big money is in fracking for natural gas, but the fracking wells aren’t holding up as longterm sustained sources.

  81. KiwiGriff. says:

    Re the Chicago study you may find this interesting.

    The researchers note that at least some RPS policies also have goals beyond reducing carbon emissions, such as spurring improvements in renewable technologies and improving job growth in the renewable sector. They were not able to analyze the extent to which portfolio standards have succeeded in meeting these goals. However, they noted that “If they do drive down generation costs industry-wide, then this would alter any cost-benefit analysis.”
    Policy’s like RPS and Energiewende have driven economy of scale and research that has resulted in renewable energy being the lowest cost source for new generation.
    Bloomberg New Energy Finance says in its latest report that the Levelized Cost Of Electricity per megawatt-hour for onshore wind, solar PV and offshore wind have fallen by 49%, 84% and 56% respectively since 2010. That for lithium-ion battery storage has dropped by 76% since 2012,

  82. RPS: Renewable Portfolio Standards (government mandates for a certain percentage of renewable energy).

    If the market fundamentalists from Chicago would favour it you would have to start wondering if the policy helps humans. 😉 Still nice that they had to put in the paragraph you quoted to make sure their claims were not completely unscientific.

    That being said, I would say that 2019 is the time for market mechanisms. In the past feed in tariffs (not the same as RPS, which in Germany were introduced to slow down the growth of renewable energy) were great to build a large market efficiently, but we now have so much renewable energy that we need to bring supply and demand together. That is best done with a market. So now is the time for the US to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and for everyone to introduce a decent carbon tax and let the market do its magic.

  83. John Hartz says:

    More on RPS…

    A Very Important Climate Fact That No One Knows by Robinson Meyer, Science, The Atlantic, May 8, 2019

  84. Magma says:

    Late to the party, but the Financial Times letter mentioned in the lead post can (or cannot) be read without a subscription depending on the path taken to find it. For the less lucky, an excerpt:

    Scientific case for global warming goes back two centuries

    It is deeply disheartening to see the Financial Times publish a letter that so blatantly misrepresents climate science, and which also suggests that the writer has not actually read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports he criticises.

    Hereward Corley claims that the “climate emergency” is entirely computer generated. This is entirely false. The scientific case for global warming rests on observations going back to John Tyndall’s work in the 1860s that identified the role of trace components of the atmosphere (primarily water vapour and carbon dioxide) in controlling the temperature of the planet. In the almost two centuries since, vast amounts of observational data on temperature, phenology, ice, sea levels and so on all point to the same conclusion: that human activity is causing our climate to change.

    Similarly, information from ice cores, tree rings and other proxies tell us how our climate has changed in the past and further strengthens our understanding of what causes such changes and what we might expect if we continue to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

    Just as in all the other sciences, computational studies (“models”) do also play a crucial role in developing our understanding and projecting what can happen in the future. The scientific evidence today strongly suggests that failing to substantially reduce our emissions is likely to have disastrous systemic consequences for our economies and our ecosystems. We are imperfectly adapted to the unusually stable climate system we inherited and are highly vulnerable to the one we are provoking.

    Prof Andrea Sella UCL
    Kees van der Leun @Sustainability2050
    Prof Mark Maslin UCL
    Prof Ed Hawkins University of Reading
    Prof Ken Rice University of Edinburgh
    Prof Mark Brandon The Open University
    Prof Chris Rapley UCL
    Dr Ruth Mottram Danish Meteorological Institute
    Dr Helen Czerski UCL
    Dr Philip Ball London

  85. From Hartz’s link, The Atlantic talked to several energy experts working on climate change at Yale and elsewhere. An excerpt:

    “So if we really want to make progress on the climate challenge, I’m confident we’re going to do much more if we find cheaper ways to address it.” [quoting Michael Greenstone, co-author of the Chicago RPS paper.]
    None of the paper’s critics would, I think, disagree with this assessment. “There are a lot of people out there who say, Forget about carbon taxes, and let’s focus on policies that can pass, like RPSes. And they’re just not substitutes,” Kaufman said. Stokes called for open-mindedness: “I think we should all be open to the fact that these things are expensive,” she said. And like every other expert I talked with, she was effusive in her praise of Greenstone, calling him one of the top energy economists on the planet. “He’s a good guy, working in really good faith,” she said. “I don’t think he’s trying to game a certain answer.”

  86. Thanks Magma. Good letter. Perhaps Mr Corley needs a copy of “The Warming Papers” next.

  87. Everett F Sargent says:

    The Debate Has Changed? Well, all I can say is Eff You! As boots on the ground say that Earth is still losing the war against humanity …
    Total Primary Energy Demand (2018) = 14,301 Mtoe = 19 TW
    As More Diverted Floodwaters Head Their Way, Dolphins Keep Dying in Louisiana

    Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’

  88. Ben McMillan says:

    One of the interesting things about the RPS versus carbon tax thing is that the actions being taken under the RPS (building more renewables) would be expected to happen anyway under an (increasing) carbon tax. And decarbonising the electricity system is not something that can ‘wait’ very long. In the long term, this isn’t ‘inefficient’.

    So the main downside to not doing a carbon tax seems to be that ‘low-hanging fruit’ like insulating houses properly and improved efficiency aren’t incentivised directly. Instead, a more piecemeal policy is needed in each sector.

    Also, the ‘learning effects’ are obviously gigantic: the Chicago author seems bizzarely reluctant to acknowledge this. Why do they think solar prices have come down by an order of magnitude?

  89. How about a post looking at some of the scientists who spoke out early on the severity of our problem and were ostracized for being too outspoken. I am thinking of McPherson and Wadhams specifically. They took quite a public beating and some of it for good reason because the fundamental scientific basis for their projections was flawed or missing, but as the years go by, you don’t hear their names mentioned so often. I don’t read anyone saying Wadhams and McPherson are in the chicken little category anymore. I think the environmental damage is starting to pile up and build momentum and the scientific evidence is alarming more scientists now than it did when earlier scientists/biologists etc. said, uh-oh, we are heading for big trouble and it’s coming soon.
    Is it time for some humility and recognition that gut feelings and projections of some scientists are looking pretty accurate even if they were not based on a body of persuasive data and analysis?

  90. Willard says:

    Everything is fine:

  91. ” I am thinking of McPherson and Wadhams specifically. ”

    I don’t think Wadhams was “ostracized” for being outspoken, but for the (lack of) basis for his claims and inability to reconsider when the observations were inconsistent with his predictions. At least from what I have seen, it may be that there is a lot I haven’t seen.

  92. Chicken Little. A children’s fable about a young chick who, in the traditional version, believes the sky is falling after an acorn hits her head.

    Happy to go on record that Wadhams was talking nonsense about Arctic ice and McPherson about nearly everything. Their misinformation would do as much damage as that of the climate “sceptics” had they had the same corporate bullhorn to spread the word.

    It is wonderful to see more activism for more climate action. That is not because the scientific assessment of the climate system and the impacts of climate change has changed so much, but because the people are waking up to the fact that the economic elite is playing chicken and is willing to burn the house down.


    Climate change is not an acorn hitting a chicken on the head.

    Victor said “It is wonderful to see more activism for more climate action. That is not because the scientific assessment of the climate system and the impacts of climate change has changed so much, but because the people are waking up to the fact that the economic elite is playing chicken and is willing to burn the house down.”

    We may need to agree to disagree. I think the record is clear that on numerous important measurements, climate change has happened and is happening significantly faster than was projected by mainstream science. I think people are waking up to a changed world and they are recognizing that things have changed. People like Jared Diamond, Elizabeth Kolbert, David Wallace-Wells are adding layers of narrative and context to the concerns laid out by people like Wadhams and McPherson.

    It strikes me as a strange thing that fear as a motivator for action is so easily accepted when a country “needs” to respond to a terrorist attack with an expansion of endless war, but making dramatic and scary statements about the course of climate change is rejected as counterproductive. I think it is helpful to remember that FDR said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but also to remember that he made that statement in a time and place where great fear had taken hold. If we look hard at climate change today and we discern nothing to fear, then I think we are not seeing things clearly at all. The rejection of fear motivation for action to address climate change is a result of the discussion being framed and co-opted by people and institutions that think they can hold on to what they have by engaging in cynical political games. I will give them their due: these folks and institutions (fox news, anyone?) are very good at cynical political games.

    Cheers and warm regards to you, Victor. I read what you say here, but in this instance, we see things quite differently. I feel very bad for my grandchildren. I wish people had been scared by what folks like Wadhams and McPherson said and had chosen big change on the outside chance the Wadhams/McPherson types might be right about how global warming could move so quickly it would endanger human civilization.

    I usually ask when people slam McPherson: have you actually gone to an event where he spoke, listened carefully to what he had to say and engaged in some back and forth with him during the Q&A session? I have done it twice. I won’t do it again for a variety of reasons, but this looks consistent with what McPherson had to say the two times I heard him speak:


  94. Can someone offer a short summary of McPherson’s accused scientific heresy.
    I ask because for all the times I hear people slamming him, I’ve heard very little by way of explanations.
    Except perhaps that it’s bad to point out to people, that we are proactively in the process of self-cannibalization.
    And that it’s bad not to bend over backwards to stroke people’s anxiety, and of course that we must align all our arguments to the GOP script of obfuscation and crazy-making.
    Rather than focusing on clearly explaining the physical TRUTHS.

  95. My takeaway from the two times I heard McPherson is that as a biologist looking at ecosystems, habitats and species that are supported within certain ecosystems and habitats, McPherson feels that we are destroying too much habitat and ecosystems that are required to sustain a human population in the billions and that the population collapse is likely to be very ugly. He also has concerns that our nuclear installations will become quite dangerous as our society falls apart, but I think that is a secondary concern that proceeds from the habitat and ecosystem destruction. His take on things comes across as quite dark and depressing though he does encourage folks to understand that in a largely empty universe, we are amazingly lucky to be present at all and conscious of our surroundings, to have evolved to the state we are in. I also heard him quite clearly encourage the crowds to choose the work that sustains them in the face of certain death because along with taxes, death is coming to us all. There is nothing different about that outcome based on global warming except that so many of us will likely go in a shortened time frame along with so many other species.

    My sense is that the folks who really like to slam McPherson have never actually gone to hear him speak and to engage with him in a Q&A and are actually pretty unfamiliar with his message. As always and with any of us, I suspect it is possible to cherrypick his statements over time and string together a compelling, if largely inaccurate, assault on his person and positions.

    For my part, I have personally wished him the best and he has returned that sentiment toward me. To bear no ill will is a good place to begin in human relations.


  96. Thanks Marco, some interesting reading, nice to see some of the details explained and yes it does help answer a bunch of questions for me.

    But, I didn’t bother with the last one, the title irritated me too much. Crisis, what crisis!?

    Well, basically in the real world liars beat the snot out of rationalists and still no one seems to have figured out how to counter deliberate calculated deception – and I’m told we’d better not be confrontational and dare not call calculated deliberate liars, Liars and Frauds.

    And I’m supposed to believe we can work this out. When are we going to start?
    Sorry for that shot to pessimism – current backsliding is not going to help humanity, which if it survives past the next century, it certainly won’t be a humanity we’d recognize today, in any event.

  97. Good links, Marco. I scanned the pieces. I thought it was telling that Renwick actually took the time to go hear McPherson’s presentation and he was polite in his takedown of McPherson when compared to Tobis.

    One thing to consider here is that the planet3 and fractalplanet takedowns are now 5 years old and there is more data, more science to consider. You have people like Kolbert, Wallace-Wells, Diamond weighing since that time with narratives that are moving out on the doom spectrum towards a McPherson position. I don’t know if McPherson is correct about his human extinction predictions, I certainly hope he is not, but I think it’s strange that mainstream science types who I think should share the alarm felt by folks like McPherson/Kolbert/Wallace-Wells/Diamond are so nasty towards him. It seems like an easy/productive/productive thing to say about McPherson or Wadhams – “I share their concern about our situation. I think they are over the top with their projections. I think the science does not support their conclusions, but again, I share their concern about the long term impacts of global warming. ”

    Hey, shoot the messenger. It’s always been a tempting response for humans. Much easier than changing the way we live on the planet.

    Of course, I would hasten to point out that the context here is that ATTP said he is finding it difficult to find things to post about and a review of the way that the “chicken littles” have been slammed seems like it might be of interest.


  98. CitizensChallenge, you mean the title: “guy-mcpherson-and-the-end-of-humanity-not”?

    People like McPherson are doing the opposite of what SmallBlueMike takes away from it. He is very popular in circles making their lives unbearable by pontificating about inevitable near term collapse of civilization. Who are spreading as much BS as the climate sceptics, for example in the “Collapse” Community on Reddit. As SmallBlueMike wrote: “in the face of certain death”.

    These people are not fighting climate change, they have given up and are building bunkers and houses in the woods next to their far-right preper neighbors.

    If you would like to see a robust response of humanity to fight climate change, you better not support these people.

    I would like the responses of humanity to the various problems we have to be founded on an evidence-based view of reality. If reality no longer matters McPherson-style you can inflate any imaginary thing to a problem while ignoring the real ones. That makes our future bleaker.

  99. I share their concern about our situation. I think they are over the top with their projections. I think the science does not support their conclusions, but again, I share their concern about the long term impacts of global warming.

    I do not share their concerns. I would like us to fight climate change and not build houses in the woods. Their projections are not over the top, they are wrong. They are talking about near-term collapse, not long-term impacts. They are just as destructive as climate “sceptics”. The only thing that makes them less of a problem is that they do not have a corporate megaphone and are fortunately mostly ignorable.

  100. A few simple questions for you, Victor. Do you live your life in the face of certain death? Is your death uncertain to you?

    The context of the philosophical dilemma of living in the knowledge of our certain death is something that philosophers/mystics/religious prophets have been wrestling with long before anyone heard of global warming. It’s important that folks understand that the existential dilemma of living in the face of certain death is what I was talking about. And it is something that McPherson will talk about on occasion.

    I did not say “in the face of certain death as a result of global warming.” Do you understand and respect that distinction?



  101. to ATTP: I reached the point where I was having trouble finding things to post about a few years ago and I took my website down. Blogging can sometimes feel like being stuck in a traffic circle. I reached that point and after a few extra laps, I parked the car. YMMV. I appreciate your work here

  102. The top result search for McPherson on Reddit is a “Collapse” post asking:

    Is Guy Mcpherson right?

    Im reading guy mcpherson’s website. I’m not a particularly scientifically minded person, but it seems fairly convincing. It seems that we are indeed headed for certain extinction by 2026.

    But maybe I won at “Collapse”. The top comment was:

    Guy McPherson is oft discussed here and controversial. You should definitely type his name into the search bar and you’ll get a fair number of results.

    In the final analysis, Guy isn’t a climate scientist. He’s cribbing a lot from Sam Carana over at … He’s made a series of wrong predictions in the past, and he tends to rely on a very specific sequence of events, each triggering the next, each one cherry-picked, each one hypothetical for now.

    The IPCC report is bad enough. We are pretty much doomed. Not least by our failure to do anything about climate change over the course of the last 30 years. Whether it plays out the way Guy predicts is another matter entirely.

    I had noticed I was not downvoted that much any more. That is really good news. That last paragraph is not very upbeat if you are not used to “Collapse”, but them not being sure is a really good start.

    They have this warning in their sidebar:

    Overindulging in this sub may be detrimental to your mental health. Anxiety and depression are common reactions when studying collapse. Please remain conscious of your mental health and effects this may have on you. If you are considering suicide, please call a hotline, visit /r/SuicideWatch, /r/SWResources, /r/depression, or seek professional help. If you are having difficulty coping and looking for dialogue you may visit r/CollapseSupport or the Collapse Discord.

    Deeply depressed young people often DM me on Reddit. It is terrible what the misinformation from people like McPherson does to people.

  103. V.V., I agree with what you’ve written and haven’t followed McPherson at all, since some pals who know a lot more than I do, scared me away from him a while ago – but since it came up, I’ll admit I’m still curious. Especially since Earthly trends are still not going well at all.

    Good warning at the end and I think mental health will become an ever more urgent situation as the next decades unfold. Fortunately I’m grounded enough in Earth Centrism and have internalized the reality of Deep Time and Earth’s Evolution ( along with a pragmatic appreciation that no matter how ugly it gets, each of us has but one life to lose and that’ll happen one way or another. Being nearly 64 helps, not that i don’t have my rough patches, empathy cut both ways.
    Were I 16 I’d be in a world of hurt. For that matter being stuck in a big city would probably do me in, in short order too. See, it helps me and myself to be in about as cool a situation as an old tree hugging laboring hippy has a right to be.

    Being of the generation who remembers The Drill: under desk, heads ears covered, butt towards window. Real air raid siren and all. Survivalists never did make much sense, like be careful what you wish for. I mean would you really want to survive into a post nuclear war world? Since then I’ve appreciated that I’ve tossed in my lot with modern society, like how they do it or not.

    I’m reduced to defending “Down to Earth Physical Reality” – honesty in dialogue – Constructive Debate, all else seems irrelevant to me and my passions. My bother ribs me for not strongly advocating for alternative power and jazz like that. All I can respond is, besides only being able to do one thing at a time – What’s the point if everyone is on a different page? – and too busy fighting self-created enemies to learn about the facts. If we can’t even honestly assess the problem, all solutions are doomed to failure.

    Okay, back to the reality of Dooms Day Thoughts – all we regular (non scientists) people need to do is watch some of Dr.Bartlett’s videos on exponential math and how that translates into our real physical world, to see we’ve signed a hell of a bad bargain with the devil. No cherry picking necessary. ;- )

  104. smallbluemike so now what are you doing with your time?
    Are you thinking perhaps outreach is pointless? or something like that?

  105. hey, cc
    No, I don’t think outreach is pointless, but I started blogging about climate in 2006, mainly storing my own reference cribsheet on certain matters and issues. I was quite politically active from the time of the Iraq invasion through the election of Trump. I thought there was an outside chance that we would move the needle hard in the correct direction out of the financial crisis that led to Obama’s election, but Obama hired Goldman Sachs folks, Summers etc so “we” bailed out banks instead of ourselves. All the work and energy I put in to outreach and political action produced almost nothing of substance and what did get produced was easily overcome with trump’s rollback on environmental protection etc. This was a period in my life when I had the time, money and energy for outreach and political action. My kids were grownup. My grandkids enjoyed going to political events with me, etc. but by the time Trump arrived, I had aged enough that my outreach and work had to change. I pulled back to my little corner of the planet and I have been tending my garden per Voltaire. I have done and am doing a lot of maintenance and upgrade on my corner of the planet to make it less energy consumptive, to improve the soil with expanded permaculture work, to greatly increase the amount of edible fruits, vegetables, etc. that I can grow at this time. I enjoy this work, I always have, so it is wonderful to get back to it and to have stopped banging my head on the wall of US politics except in a mildly interested virtual way. My partner and I both felt very unmoored the first time we heard McPherson. I think and hope he is wrong with his predictions of human extinction, but I think that he is correct insofar as humans appear to be heading in a pretty bad direction. The important takeaway for me was the reminder of mortality, the reminder not to get distracted and enmeshed in a lot of foolishness and forget/neglect to live the life that is meaningful to me.
    I hope that answers your questions. My best to you

  106. VV says “Deeply depressed young people often DM me on Reddit. It is terrible what the misinformation from people like McPherson does to people.”

    I think you have to consider whether to include Wallace-Wells, Kolbert, David Suzuki, Attenborough, Diamond in the category of folks who are providing some discouraging news. But I also think that young people today have much to be depressed about and a lot of it can be laid at the doorstep of the two/three generations that came before them and left the young people with some pretty grim circumstances. Wealth and income equality, environmental degradation and so much more is a heavy load and to single out the messengers of some really discouraging environmental news and blame those messengers for all the issues that might rightly cause a predisposition to a bleak outlook. Carrying that load, then running into McPherson or other doom narratives is a recipe for disaster. I think it’s really important to leaven the message we convey about environmental destruction with the mixed news that in an individual sense, nothing has really changed. You were born, you are going to die. It’s an amazing gift from the universe that you are alive and can reflect on your mortality, but do it. Reflect on your mortality and live your life as if what you do matters.

    I am gathering from your posts that you have never gone to hear McPherson speak or met him. I found his presentations to be startling, discouraging, empowering, and nuanced. To quote Renwick’s review of the McPherson talk that he attended, “McPherson’s presentation was as much philosophy as science. Much of his message is built around the undeniable truth that we are all, one day, going to die. Hence, we would do well to live in and for the present, express our love to those close to us, and act rightly according to our own beliefs and principles. Excellent advice, and a great philosophy for living well, what you would be told in any number of “life-coaching” books. Where he differs from most is in saying that all of us, i.e. all of humanity, and most other species, will be extinct in 10 years or so. Why is that, you might ask?”

    I have found that the folks who expend the most energy bashing McPherson have not gone to hear him speak and to challenge and engage with him. I have done that twice. My take in both instances was very much like Renwick’s evaluation: a lot of fundamentally sound philosophy, a lot of scary science talk which I think/hope is inaccurate. But one thing for sure, McPherson is not denying that global warming, climate change, an extinction event are happening. If you want to hear the denial of those issues, you will have to go a Trump rally or somewhere like that where denial and obfuscation are in full power.

    But, who knows? Maybe I am wrong about all that.



  107. “… he was polite in his takedown of McPherson when compared to Tobis.”

    From the Tobis link, Tobis claims:

    “To the extent that feedback is a useful model, feedbacks are additive, not multiplicative. They can’t be multiplicative.”

    One kind of feedback that is essentially multiplicative is a logical AND. For example, if this happens and that happens concurrently — especially if a threshold is crossed — any impact can in effect be multiplied. Or, one can look at tidal analysis to find many multiplicative terms from combining various lunar and solar factors.

    An amplifying feedback system is multiplicative on its own, since the result is Output = k * Input. If the amplifying factor, k, changes, of course this is multiplicative.

    Tobis appears a bit close-minded on what McPherson’s intent was.

  108. Dave_Geologist says:

    I would think it depends on the feedback, Paul, whether it is additive or multiplicative. In terms of CO2 addition, it adds. 100ppm from hydrates on top of 400ppm is 500ppm, not 40,000ppm (or indeed 0.04ppm). And the temperature effect is less than additive as long as the relationship is logarithmic. OTOH 3°C might release 10ppm from hydrates, and 4°C 500ppm. In practice you have to look on a case-by-case basis, often with numerical models. Often there will be a threshold, for example in the DeConto paper we’ve discussed previously: Past extreme warming events linked to massive carbon release from thawing permafrost, it was roughly additive while the thaw-line worked its way up the valley sides, then the plateau thawed more-or-less at once and, as with melting ice caps, it became essentially independent of the initial stimulus, and would have gone to completion even if that stimulus had stopped in its tracks.

    Coincidentally, this came up in my feed today: What caused Earth’s largest mass extinction event? Also a threshold effect, but marine hydrates this time.

    This evidence suggests large amounts of naturally occurring emissions of coal combustion at the Permian-Triassic boundary, likely caused by the large scale volcanic eruptions of the coeval Siberian Traps. The resulting global changes associated with the abrupt enrichment of the atmosphere in carbon dioxide was the major contributor to the mass extinction event.

    This is the first study to examine barium content across the Permian-Triassic boundary, and it provides evidence that upwelling of methane hydrate in the oceans followed the initial acidification event.

  109. If all hydrates were frozen in ice and the average temperature was right below the freezing point any warming would have a kind of multiplicative effect. But since average temperatures are dispersed in latitude this may not be a significant factor. Yet many consider that effect possible and stronger than the omnipresent Arrhenius outgassing rate of hydrates with temperature rise. One can also reason that tundra multiplicative effects would be greater than ar the bottom of the ocean, simply because temperature changes are much more gradual there.

  110. Dave_Geologist says:

    I tend to agree on the hydrates Paul. Large swathes of the tundra can all thaw all at once, but shallow-water Arctic hydrates will thaw at different times to temperate/tropical shelf hydrates to slope hydrates to abyssal hydrates. The deeper ones will depend on ocean circulation patterns as well as global temperature. That’s borne out by the Burger paper, where multiple Ba spikes are used as a proxy for multiple clathrate releases.

    However in many cases the hydrates cap methane gas deposits, and are in unconsolidated sediment where they probably help to bind and stabilise the slope. So an individual hydrate field could potential degas quite quickly through a combination of seal breaching and slope failure. Once lumps of hydrate get out of the subsurface into sea water, it’s game over for them. Tundra release would be a slower process, unless there’s a huge peat fire. While the temperature changes are smaller, the hydrates are typically at equilibrium, like ice just below freezing, so it may require only a small step to trigger them. The gas rose through pore spaces until it got just cold enough to freeze, which stopped further ascent. OTOH much of the permafrost is well below freezing.

    Burger also records sulphate spikes, attributed to coal burning. Interestingly, the end-Ordovician mass extinction has recently been tied to the well-known glaciation, followed by a period of warming. That’s been attributed to sulphate aerosols from a Large Igneous Province, with CO2 taking over once the aerosols have rained out. There have been claims of a brief, perhaps localised end-Permian glaciation. The same sequence would be expected – cooling followed by warming – although whether it cooled enough for a glaciation would depend on how warm it was at the time, continental configuration etc.

    I tend to prefer threshold or tipping-point language to multiplicative, because multiplicative has connotations of a continuous, reversible function, where we can dip our toe in the water, discover it’s wet and stop. With tipping points, stopping the forcing may not stop its consequences.

  111. Dave said:

    “I tend to prefer threshold or tipping-point language to multiplicative, because multiplicative has connotations of a continuous, reversible function, where we can dip our toe in the water, discover it’s wet and stop. “

    Yet there is still a multiplicative effect any time one invokes an amplification mechanism, as Tobis certainly did when he criticized McPherson’s use of that term. The strongest amplifier is CO2 with water vapor — (1) extra CO2 warms (2) the warmer temperature causes higher H2O vapor pressure (3) the higher H2O vapor pressure leads to further warming. The important caveat of course is that this is not runaway warming because the Arrhenius rate of outgassing is only moderate and leads to the temperature asymptotically reaching a fixed set-point for a given [CO2]. I may not have searched in the right places but I have yet to be able to cite an article that does this straightforward set-point calculation.

    So this happens to be both tipping-point and multiplicative. The tipping-point is that without CO2 we would be a snowball earth, but the multiplicative part is the amount of CO2 that would push up that set-point by 33C.

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