Listen to the (political) science

I’ve been meaning to post a review of 2019, but wanted to first comment on something else. I quite often see criticism of how some people approach the issue of climate change. For example, in the Guardian yesterday, there was an article by a political scientist suggesting that even though we may have now defeated climate denial, it looks like there may be a new form of climate denial. Specifically, this new form of climate denial is the failure to recognise the complexity of policy making, and how our values might influence how we would approach this issue.

The suggestion in the article is that the environmental movement has actively suppressed attempts to consider these difficult questions, and its elitism has has done more to invite populist backlashes than to further its own goals..

What I find confusing about these criticisms is that they seem to conflate activism with policy making. Activists have agendas; they’re trying to get policy makers to engage with something that they regard as important. Their message will often be intentionally simplistic. It’s not really their job to work out how to implement some policy or even if we should actually do so. Presumably it’s also their values that are driving their activism; why should they be expected to show awareness of other people’s values? Policy makers may well need to take this all into account, but it’s not obvious why we should expect activists to do so.

To be clear, it may well be advantageous for activists to have an awareness of the political process and to aim for inclusion, rather than exclusion. I’m also certainly not suggesting that they should be openly dismissive of other people’s values, it’s just not clear why it should influence their activism. Other people/groups are perfectly entitled to have their own agendas.

In the context of climate change, the criticism often revolves around a sense that some regard this as being an entirely technological/scientific issue. For example, it’s wrong to say listen to the science because science can’t actually tell us what to do. This is, of course, true; science simply provides information. What we do with that information will be influenced by many other factors. However, this is an obvious simplification that is motivated by a desire for people to take the scientific information into account when making decisions. It’s not a literal suggestion that we should simply listen to the science and all will be clear.

My rather cynical view is that some of this criticism is driven by a sense that science has too prominent a role in this debate and that other important factors are not being considered. This may well be true, but there’s nothing stopping people from highlighting these other important issues. Semi-academic critiques that sound objective, but that are probably highly subjective, may not be the most effective way to do this.

Also, given that the slogan of one of the most successful, and prominent, climate activists is unite behind the science you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that a simple message that promotes the importance of the science, isn’t an effective way to highlight this issue.

Addendum:
I should say that having written this I do still find myself somewhat conflicted. I agree with much of what the Guardian article was saying. Even if we have defeated climate denial (which may be optimistic) the next stage will be very difficult. There isn’t an obvious and simple way to implement climate policy. There are plenty of different, and valid, views about how to proceed. We should think about things like personal freedom, distributive justice and respect for established traditions and ways of life. It isn’t simply a scientitific/technological issue; our values should, of course, play a role in how we perceive this issue.

However, it seems clear that there will be a difference between the simplistic messages that activists might use to promote their agendas, and the realities of how we then deal with these issues. Expecting activists to incorporate all this complexity into their messaging seems unrealistic, but then I’m not a political scientist.

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78 Responses to Listen to the (political) science

  1. I like almost everything you had to say above. I would have to tweak the language slightly to have it fit within my values and evaluation, but I think your presentation is quite good.

    This part gave me a chuckle: ” We should think about things like personal freedom, distributive justice and respect for established traditions and ways of life. It isn’t simply a scientitific/technological issue; our values should, of course, play a role in how we perceive this issue. ”

    I wonder if you really think that respect for established traditions and ways of life is on the same footing as values like justice and freedom. I would have gone with “freedom, justice and compassion” for that phrase.

    I chuckle because I think it’s funny to be in the early days of what is likely to be the greatest extinction event in the history of the planet and to talk about respect for established traditions and ways of life. The tradition of burning fossil fuels and reaping the benefits therefrom? Sure, let’s see how we can accommodate that. The economic tradition of rescuing investors damaged by the loss of stranded assets?

    Maybe you meant something more like “avoiding a disastrous collapse of civilization”?

    looks like you fixed the unit unite typo that puzzled me momentarily.

    Well done!

    Cheers

    Mike

  2. Mike,
    I did fix the unit, unite typo. I wasn’t specifically trying to put those various things on the same footing. This is part of why it’s complex; we can all have different views as to what we should prioritise.

  3. I see you and I both picked up in the comments, on the most stupid line in the whole article, Attp: “…no one seems quite clear what is the ultimate goal of the global fight against the climate crisis.” And we both had the same reaction: ‘reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations’.

    Is this a case of the author projecting his own ignorance? I must admit I didn’t take it seriously after that.

  4. john,
    Yes, I highlighted that on Twitter, but not in this post. I do sometimes get the sense that some critics of climate activism, or climate policy, don’t qiute understand the issue very well.

  5. At JR: it may not always be ignorance that causes a person to say something stupid like “…no one seems quite clear what is the ultimate goal of the global fight against the climate crisis”, it may sometimes be a rhetorical device to direct the conversation/debate about framing and terminology rather than engaging honestly in a discussion about the real topic, like reducing ghg accumulation on ocean and atmosphere. Could be ignorance, might be rhetoric/climate ball. I agree completely with you on “I didn’t take it seriously after that.”

    Ignorance or rhetoric? works out the same I think. You might fix ignorance, but it would take some work, and you might find out after putting in the work, that the driver is/was rhetoric. When that happens, I turn to the killfile add on for Firefox.

    Cheers

    Mike

  6. Joshua says:

    Anders *

    > To be clear, it may well be advantageous for activists to have an awareness of the political process and to aim for inclusion, rather than exclusion. I’m also certainly not suggesting that they should be openly dismissive of other people’s values, it’s just not clear why it should influence their activism.

    I’m not connecting beginning to the end of that paragraph.

    Seems to me, the “why” of why it should influence their activism is that it may be advsnrafiiisbribtheir activism.

    Of course as to what is or isn’t advantageous is a judgment call in the face of uncertainty – but IMO people should be deliberative about checking their assumptions, and weigh evidence and engage in good faith exchange in the process of doing so.

  7. Joshua says:

    Ouch.

    … it may be advantageous to their activism….

  8. wmconnolley says:

    It was a surprisingly good article (as I said on Twatter) but “personal freedom, distributive justice and respect for established traditions and ways of life” is bad. Because it should have omitted the “personal” in front of freedom, and the “distributive” in front of justice; and probably everything after “respect”.

  9. RickA says:

    A good opinion piece.

    I found the two options listed in the Guardian article interesting. Paraphrasing, one was the government transitioning to a 100% renewable world and one was a market based government hands off option. I found using government to manage the transition to 100% renewable interesting because I don’t believe that is yet technologically feasible. Which is why we haven’t settled on a policy yet. I assume nuclear power is not in the 100% renewable category. Because I don’t believe 100% renewable is currently feasible I believe nuclear power will end up being a large part of any policy that the world ends up pursuing (someday). But to many are in denial about the need for a large nuclear power future (at least on par with renewable power). So the world gets together and puts together a wish list which is not technologically feasible and then laments when it is never fully realized. The cycle repeats annually. It seems futile, but is part of the democratic process. When enough people are ready to grapple with reality, action will happen country by country. But a lot of people will not be happy with whatever policy is chosen in their particular country.

    My other thought was that policy ends up being made by governments, and in the USA a minority of voters can win an election and set policy for 4 or 8 years (sometimes longer). So policy tends to go backwards and forwards (or forwards and backwards, depending on your point of view).

    In a world in which 24/7 365 day a year baseload power is essential, but we don’t want to emit CO2, we will all eventually settle on nuclear power for at least 50% or even 60% of the power generation infrastructure, with the balance renewable. That is feasible and we can actually do that. 100% renewable is not currently possible and therefore we cannot do 100% renewable.

    My personal view is when science advocates put their advocacy into their science papers, that is a mistake and causes lots of problems. Chief of which is it tends to undermine trust in science. Advocacy in science papers is as bad as religion in science papers, in my opinion.

    I think there should be a clear delineation between science and information and what we should do in the future based on the science and information. There should also be a very very healthy respect for the very large possibility that many projections about the future will turn out to be wrong.

    In my opinion there is to much science being done about what we should do about sea level rise (to pick one climate change example), and not enough just talking about the projected sea level rise. The science papers should be a just the facts sort of endeavor. The what should be done about it shouldn’t be in the science paper, but a newspaper editorial or a speech – to keep the clear delineation which should exist between science and advocacy.

    But that is just my personal opinion.

  10. Joshua says:

    WMC –

    > Because it should have omitted…the “distributive” in front of justice….

    I assume because you think that there is no real justice without some measure of attention to inequality, and thus “distributive” in front of justice is redundant?

    🙂

  11. I agree with you Joshua, but I am sorry to see you put distance between yourself and this word:
    advsnrafiiisbribtheir

    that is even more fun than trying to unit behind the science. our typos and auto correct stuff offer a little moment of hilarity in a too-serious world.

  12. Joshua says:

    RickA –

    If you have some time, I’d be curious to know what you think of this podcast…

    https://lnns.co/EliqLtBU5zu

  13. Joshua says:

    Mike –

    Great. Next time I’ll just claim that I left the typo in for your amusement – not because I was to lazy or distracted to edit.

  14. Joshua,
    Re: your 5:27 comment, I’m not quite sure what you were asking. I was simply suggesting that it may be advantageous for activists to be aware of those things, but I don’t think they have some obligation to follow some standard political process in their activism. They’d be quite entitled to advocate for things that may be regarded as politically impossible. I’m not sure if that has clarified what I was getting at.

  15. WMC,

    but “personal freedom, distributive justice and respect for established traditions and ways of life” is bad. Because it should have omitted the “personal” in front of freedom, and the “distributive” in front of justice; and probably everything after “respect”.

    Isn’t this the point? There aren’t really any fully objective rules about what people should value. As I said in the addendum, I didn’t specifically object to the main theme of the article (it’s complicated) but it mostly seemed to be someone expressing their views, rather than some objective analysis from a political scientist.

  16. hmmmm… I am a little confused, ATTP. Two idea arise: one, political and social scientists attempt an objective analysis of subjective experience and endeavor, so those waters are at least slightly muddy. But, more importantly, could it be that a big part of the response to the challenge of global warming is the discussion of the values that will drive our response? Maybe you are already on that page and I am just having trouble reading and advsnrafiiisbribtheir’ing your intent?

    sorry, Joshua, I gotta shake that thing a little more. It’s early, but that might word of the year for 2020 if it can keep it in play. It seems to capture the absurdity of communication through the interface of our devices and artificial intelligence to me. I was pushing unonymous for 2019, but it would not catch on. The definition of that one was an adjective that you use when “everyone knows it’s true, but nobody wants to take credit/blame for saying it out loud.”

    It’s my birthday and that always makes me a little silly. This will be over soon.

  17. small,

    But, more importantly, could it be that a big part of the response to the challenge of global warming is the discussion of the values that will drive our response?

    Indeed. I might be alone in this, but I do think it’s quite important for academics to be clear as to if they’re talking as a researcher who has studied this and is presenting the results of their research, or as someone whose argument depends on their own values. Nothing wrong with the latter, but I tend to think it’s important to be clear.

  18. I think there is something wrong with the combo for researcher. I think it is important for the researcher to speak clinically and accurately and that requires clear definition of the values being used. All of us propose things that we think are the results of our research without sufficient knowledge of the assumptions we operate from and the blind spots we possess. Our personal values are embedded in our individual assumptions and blind spots. A deep discussion of the values, assumptions and blind spots is essential to expanding the conversation toward a synthesis instead of getting stuck in rhetoric that arises from an unwillingness to see that our values are embedded so strongly in our assumptions and produce blindspots.

    Maybe this horse is dead. I don’t know. Others can let me know.

  19. attp says “They’d be quite entitled to advocate for things that may be regarded as politically impossible.” Wouldn’t that clearly include enough action to have reasonable expectation of a decent quality of life for the youngest generation on the planet today? The changes required to give a person of Greta’s age a good chance of having a stable climate planet throughout her lifetime are approaching the level of political impossibility, are they not? Isn’t this politically impossible because of the limited influence and power that exist in the hands of this generation? Are you saying that they need to recognize the political impossibility of this kind of demand and seize the advantage of pushing for goals and actions that are less in the realm of the politically impossible?

  20. small,

    Are you saying that they need to recognize the political impossibility of this kind of demand and seize the advantage of pushing for goals and actions that are less in the realm of the politically impossible?

    No, I’m mostly just saying that I don’t think there are any rules (well, other than legal ones). I’m probably not being very clear, but I’m not suggesting that people should, or should not, take political feasibility into account. I’m just saying that it’s not clear that this should necessarily constrain people’s advocacy. Of course, if people really want to achieve something, or if there is some serious time constraint, then it may well be best to take political feasibility into account.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    “The difficult we do right away. The impossible takes a little longer.”

  22. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: I believe the Guardian “article” that you are referring to is this opinion piece…

    Climate change denial was defeated in 2019. But what comes next won’t be easier , Opinion by Carlo Invernizzi-Accetti, Comment is Free, Dec 29, 2019

    I found it difficult to read and question whether English is the first language of the author. I also reject the premise that climate denial ha been defeated. In many respects, it is now more entrenched than ever.

  23. John,
    Yes, it is that one. I agree, I’m not convinced it’s been defeated. The author is a Professor at City University New York.

  24. The smart money is moving away from assets that should and may end up stranded. I think we will live to see deployment of SMR technology. I am opposed to it on safety grounds, but I think this is simply a new area where my political will has no traction, so I am hoping that I am wrong about this technology. At my age, if it is a problem, it probably have much impact on me and my generation of the empowered and influential, so… it’s a technology where deployment seems politically possible, if not likely. I guess the politically disempowered need to grow up, learn to vote, accumulate wealth/power etc. if they want to change things.

  25. RickA says:

    Joshua:

    Thank you for the link. I have read the two references and listened to 36 minutes of the podcast so far. I will definitely finish this, as I found it very good and worthwhile information.

    My overall impression is that me and Saul are not so far apart.

    From what I have read and listened to so far, I believe Saul thinks nuclear will be part of the mix, but probably less of the total than I advocate (moderate nuclear and lots of renewable is what he says). Still, what he is saying seems reasonable to me.

    Here are my two thoughts so far:

    1. What are the costs of making all the batteries? Can we mine, build and transport with electricity to produce enough batteries for all vehicles being electric?

    2. Same question for the manufacture of the solar panels and wind. Mining, smelting, building, transporting and so forth. His written materials didn’t jump out and answer that question for me yet. Maybe it is there and I missed it – maybe it is in the rest of the podcast.

    But my thought is we need a lot of batteries to electrify everything and we need a lot of solar panels and wind turbines.

    How much lithium is there? How much cobalt is there? Any shortages? Any issues with getting it out of the ground without CO2 emissions? I don’t know and I guess I am a bit skeptical that we can build all these batteries and solar panels and wind turbines (100’s x what we make today I would guess) without a lot of other knock on environmental problems which might lead some to say the solution is worse than the disease. On the other hand, why not try and we can always slide up the nuclear if that works out to be cheaper in the end.

    So those are my questions so far – how many batteries and how many solar panels and how many wind turbines do we need to 3X or 4X (according to Saul) existing electricity production to electrify everything in the USA? How many batteries per vehicle and how many vehicles – just seems like a lot of batteries.

    I have read some stories of entire solar farms being destroyed by storms. What is the realistic lifetime of a solar panel? Issues with recycling the materials? Building more. What about issues of fires from solar panels on roofs? Are we talking billions of solar panels? Billions of batteries or trillions? All of these issues can be solved I am sure, but I would like to see a realistic analysis which looks at the feasibility of mining all the metal and materials we need for all these batteries, solar panels and wind turbines and towers, for their realistic lifetime and whether that can really be done without emitting CO2, what it will cost and so forth.

    Very intriguing.

    Again – thanks for the link. I will finish this for sure.

  26. David B. Benson says:

    smallbluemike, SMRs will be vastly safer than burning anything and won’t muck up the environment the ways dams do.

  27. @RickA
    Current society is hugely wasteful in its energy consumption. The introduction of universal LED lighting, well insulated ‘zero-carbon’ homes, offices and industrial units, and lighter and more energy efficient transport systems, will reduce a country’s total consumption of electricity by half. For example, batteries for transport, once established, will lead quickly to ‘mobile recharging’—using fast recharging at stops or induction loops buried in the road surface—to enable the amount of batteries carried in vehicles (or maybe capacitors) to be reduced in size by two thirds. The solutions are all feasible and just need a change in mind-set and the political will to action.

    The problems you mention—exploding solar installation on roofs, lack of recycling—are all a function of it being early days, before technologies and regulations have bedded in. If you think the electric future is potentially so flaky, look up what the start of the coal and oil industries were like for loss of human life and how relatively safe they’ve been made, given such potentially dangerous fuels as petrol/gasoline. Electricity from zero-emissions forms of generation (including nuclear if there is the political will) should have no problem in meeting future demand, provided there’s a will to make it work. The biggest block being the massive finacial investment in legacy fossil industries and the amount of money they’re prepared to spend on defeating the move to a cool and clean future.

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  29. John Hartz says:

    There are some rays of hope on the US political horizon,,,

    The year saw youth leadership, feminist leadership, the Green New Deal, climate proposals from presidential candidates, and climate justice

    5 Things That Went Right for Climate Action in 2019<, Opinion by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Observations, Scientific American, Dec 30, 2019

    They, of course, may be greatly diminished and/or extinguished on Nov 3, 2020.

  30. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    > I was simply suggesting that it may be advantageous for activists to be aware of those things, but I don’t think they have some obligation to follow some standard political process in their activism.

    I’m not sure what “obligation” means there. IMO, no one in this debate has any kind of obligation – in part because no one can enforce some kind of obligatory standards.

    > They’d be quite entitled to advocate for things that may be regarded as politically impossible.

    Sure – people are entitled to do so, as in they have the right to do so. But I don’t see any problem with criticizing people for not doing due diligence w/r/t the political viability, and impact, of their activism.

    People can make compelling arguments from many angles in this debate. What pisses me off is when people are lazy or engaged in bad faith, such that they don’t even try to account for political possibilities. But people aren’t obliged to do due diligence or engage in good faith. And I have to acknowledge that sometimes all the due diligence in the world doesn’t suffice, and sometimes engaging in poor faith can turn out to be effective.

    > I’m not sure if that has clarified what I was getting at.

    I think it does, but personally I see no problem with criticizing people for acting in ways that seem politically unrealistic – that is, given that those doing the criticism are doing their own due diligence to support that criticism – and aren’t merely reflexively acting out of knee-jerk activism themselves.

  31. Joshua says:

    RickA –

    > My overall impression is that me and Saul are not so far apart.

  32. Joshua says:

    oops – accidental keystroke there:

    RickA –

    > My overall impression is that me and Saul are not so far apart.

    I suspected as much. Part of the reason I was soliciting responses is that it seemed to me that Saul’s arguments might be of a form that would get agreement from many angles in the debate over climate change policy. It would be interesting to see who wouldn’t find themselves largely in agreement with him. I got one response previously that was actually fairly hard to parse in that regard.

    > 1. What are the costs of making all the batteries? Can we mine, build and transport with electricity to produce enough batteries for all vehicles being electric?

    2. Same question for the manufacture of the solar panels and wind. Mining, smelting, building, transporting and so forth. His written materials didn’t jump out and answer that question for me yet. Maybe it is there and I missed it – maybe it is in the rest of the podcast.

    [etc.]
    —————————-

    I’d have to go back and listen again on those issues…but my general sense is that he was arguing that there is a window of time to work towards resolving yourquestions. Seems to me that what he’s saying is that was has to happen now is electrification on a massive scale (basically not replacing non-electric energy consumption as existing entities reach the end of their life spans) with some confidence that existing trends of progress suggest that if that is done, then solving questions such as yours is realistic, and in a foreseeable future will make transition relatively uncomplicated (please note, relatively).

  33. Joshua,
    Maybe this is slightly unfair, but I was aware that the article was written by a political scientist. I think I was expecting something a bit more grounded in political theory, than something that seemed to be mostly someone’s opinion. It is in the opinion section, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

    I also thought it had a hint of deficit model thinking. Yes, actual policy making is complicated. Yes, there are lots of different factors to balance when making these kind of decisions. Is it really realistic to expect activists to bear all this in mind when promoting their agendas? People who think we should better fund public services don’t have a slogan that goes “We realise that some people think we should reduce taxation to promote growth, but please can you put more funding into public services.” In fact, it’s not even clear that policy makers always think about all these factors when making policy. It often seems to be either ideological, or a knee-jerk response to something. It just seemed a little odd that a political scientist seemed to be promoting quite an idealised sense of how we should develop policy. I don’t object, since I think it would be really good if we could make decisions by a well-informed process of consensus building, but it doesn’t seem all that grounded in reality.

  34. Joshua,

    I think it does, but personally I see no problem with criticizing people for acting in ways that seem politically unrealistic – that is, given that those doing the criticism are doing their own due diligence to support that criticism – and aren’t merely reflexively acting out of knee-jerk activism themselves.

    Yes, I agree with this. I’m not convinced that there isn’t an element of the latter in this case though. There were some aspects of the article that made me wonder if the author really understood the issue. For example

    For one, no one seems quite clear what is the ultimate goal of the global fight against the climate crisis. Is it merely to enable constant economic growth in a sustainable way, or is it about imposing limits on humanity’s ambitions, in pursuit of a more harmonious relationship with nature?

    Yes, some have attached their agendas to climate action, but it seems pretty clear that the over-riding goal is to get emissions to zero.

  35. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    >Maybe this is slightly unfair, but I was aware that the article was written by a political scientist. I think I was expecting something a bit more grounded in political theory, than something that seemed to be mostly someone’s opinion. It is in the opinion section, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

    No, I don’t think that is unfair. I didn’t really dislike the article, but I felt that the it was unfortunately absent academic/empirical support for the arguments being made.

    > Is it really realistic to expect activists to bear all this in mind when promoting their agendas?

    Clearly, it is.

    > People who think we should better fund public services don’t have a slogan that goes “We realise that some people think we should reduce taxation to promote growth, but please can you put more funding into public services.”

    🙂 Well, that’s a bit of a reductio ad absurdum…hopefully they’d replace the “please can you…” portion with a well-crafted response to those who think we should reduce taxation to promote growth… But I think the more important question is whether there’s any value in pressuring “our side” to make better arguments when their advocacy lacks attempts to address naysayers.

    I tend to go back and forth on this. I don’t know EXACTLY what the right answer is. But I know my personal preference is that people assume good faith and make solid arguments to engage the good faith naysayer. Unfortunately, it seems that good faith naysayers may be in short supply, and in increasingly so. Certainly, that trend engulfs discussions about climate change. So then a follow-on question becomes whether there’s anything that can be done to enhance good faith exchange, or whether time and energy are better spent in consolidating the political power to defeat non-good faith participants. So we have a positive feedback loop. Ugh.

    > ….In fact, it’s not even clear that policy makers always think about all te tehhese factors when making policy. It often seems to be either ideological, or a knee-jerk response to something. It just seemed a little odd that a political scientist seemed to be promoting quite an idealised sense of how we should develop policy. I don’t object, since I think it would be really good if we could make decisions by a well-informed process of consensus building, but it doesn’t seem all that grounded in reality.

    Sure. I would guess that it boils down to wishful thinking on his part, a kind of faith that advocacy for an approach he favors would be more effective. I agree that as with the STS, people who argue for political due diligence should take pains to perform political due diligence.

  36. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    > Yes, some have attached their agendas to climate action, but it seems pretty clear that the over-riding goal is to get emissions to zero.

  37. Joshua says:

    Arrrgghh –

    Did it again:

    > Yes, some have attached their agendas to climate action, but it seems pretty clear that the over-riding goal is to get emissions to zero.

    I’m not so sure (and not entirely sure about how I’d feel about it if the priorities were inverted). Take a look at this:

    > Chakrabarti had an unexpected disclosure. “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” he said, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.” Ricketts greeted this startling notion with an attentive poker face. “Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?” Chakrabarti continued. “Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/magazine/wp/2019/07/10/feature/how-saikat-chakrabarti-became-aocs-chief-of-change/

    Of course, it’s reasonable to question how representative that statement is: of his actual position when interrogated in-depth, or as the view of one person inside a large and diverse movement. But I suspect that’s the sort of viewpoint the op-ed author had in mind.

  38. Joshua says:

    I should clarify –

    When I said that…

    > Clearly, it is.

    I meant that clearly it is realistic to expect that people will have that expectation. However, as an expectation, rather than as an aspiration, it’s pretty inane.

  39. Joshua,
    Yes, I realise that there are examples where the underlying ideology is maybe dominant, but the goal of *global* climate action seems to be about emission reductions.

  40. Nathan says:

    Again with the framing of environmentalists on the extreme:
    ‘the fact that the environmental movement has so far remained the preserve of a small technocratic elite has done more to invite populist backlashes than to further its own goals.”

    That being said I think the author is trying to provoke a reaction… that leads to the conclusion:
    “Whether we like it or not, the environmental movement is going to have to become more, not less, politicized, to keep up the momentum it has acquired so far.”

    An appeal to environmentalists to be more voter friendly, and offer specific policy solutions. And move beyond protest slogans.
    I think most environmental groups do this already, but are not front and centre with it.

  41. Nathan,
    Yes, I thought the suggestion that environmental groups should be more voter friendly was quite interesting.

  42. David B. Benson says:

    Reducing emissions to zero is not enough. It is also necessary to rapidly reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I suggested 270 ppm as a goal.

  43. Nathan says:

    And this is why we fight… and why we’re not extremist

    http://satview.bom.gov.au/

    That is hell in Victoria (southeast)

  44. Ben McMillan says:

    The Guardian article writer is of course correct that there are serious political questions of how to mitigate climate change in conjunction with other goals. And until those less willing to take major action are largely willing to acknowledge the scope of climate damage (i.e. the science) they won’t get a seat on the table to discuss it.

    But the history of trying ‘market-based’ solutions to climate change to try to get the inactivists on-board has not been a happy one: look at the history of the carbon price in Australia. In fact, the problem is the near-majority opposed to doing anything serious about climate change, rather than the particular solutions proposed.

    In addition, the only actions the inactivists seem to favor are the ones unpalatable to the other side and unlikely to ever happen. If they were serious, they would ask for something like efficiency measures, which offer a lot of negative-cost emissions reduction potential. Instead, in some places we have one wing of politics trying to rollback efficiency programs.

    So the main problem is still people not ‘listening to the scientists’.

  45. Steven Mosher says:

    “I wonder if you really think that respect for established traditions and ways of life is on the same footing as values like justice and freedom. I would have gone with “freedom, justice and compassion” for that phrase.”

    Well, consider the tradition in some cultures of promoting large families.
    Always the nitpick.
    The bottom line is this. For the most part, eco-warriors have no compassion for other points of view. We’ve seen it over and over again on this very blog. They typically take a “my way” or the highway perspective. Zero compromises, even though we know compromises will be required and will be difficult. I’ve probably said it too many times here but when you folks get your act to together and come up with a proposal that YOU all can agree with, then you’ll be in a position to negotiate with the other side. Until then expect this. Expect denialists to exploit the disagreements you have between yourselves.

    As to ATTP’s question

    “Presumably it’s also their values that are driving their activism; why should they be expected to show awareness of other people’s values? ”

    Well, for one thing, it would demonstrate that they are actually grown-up rational humans and not on the spectrum and capable of good faith interactions.

  46. David B. Benson says:

    Steven Mosher, your last sentence makes no sense to me.

  47. Steven Mosher says:

    “smallbluemike, SMRs will be vastly safer than burning anything and won’t muck up the environment the ways dams do.”

    you two get a room and hash it out. When you have an agreement on SMR understand that most denialists will gladly move forward with the idea …20 years ago. It would be great if the planet was a stake, that way folks like smallblue might be a little more willing to consider that they might not know it all when it comes to SMR. Not that I do, but I’d rather add SMR to the options we try. ‘all of the above’ is something we might want to try. Renewables. yes. SMR. Yes. Adaptation? Yes. Electrify everything? yes. maybe SMR will be a waste of a few hundred billion. Meh. Better safe than sorry. Try everything, measure, be ready to shift focus, resources. Is there an optimum path forward? Probably not, and you don’t have time to study.

  48. Steven Mosher says:

    “Presumably it’s also their values that are driving their activism; why should they be expected to show awareness of other people’s values? ”

    Well, for one thing, it would demonstrate that they are actually grown-up rational humans and not on the spectrum and capable of good faith interactions.

    “Steven Mosher, your last sentence makes no sense to me.”

    Have you ever met a person who showed no awareness of other people’s values?. I have. They tend to be children. or Sociopaths. Or crazy people, and a couple who were on the spectrum ( relatives). Hmm

    Then again maybe the defining characteristic of an activist is “zero awareness of other people’s values.”

  49. David B. Benson says:

    Oh, autism spectrum disorder.

  50. mrkenfabian says:

    I think the underlying idea that coming up with acceptable climate policy is the responsibility of environmentalists is unreasonable from the start; it looks to me more like evidence of serious
    failures by other players than by environmentalists. Environmentalists are mostly doing as they should – advocating for the causes and issues that most matter to them; it is mainstream politics that is letting us all down by not stepping up.

    It doesn’t require environmentalists to get an understanding of the climate problem, nor to conclude that there are good and sound reasons to be concerned about it. And there is no innate requirement to turn to environmentalists to develop solutions.

    I think most of the environmentalist blaming is most of all abrogation of responsibility by more mainstream political parties and political leaders; their ceding the climate issue podium to environmentalists then complaining that their proposals are extreme and not acceptable distract from an absence of commitment to solutions from our dominant policy makers. A case of raising them up in order to tear them down – and take the climate and energy dilemmas with them. Pointing at environmentalists has become a widely used a means to rally opposition against taking any kind of action – and feeds as well as feeds on the cultivated false perception that environmental extremists are responsible for there being a (false/exaggerated/alarmist) climate problem intruding on everyday governing in the first place.

    I don’t like to think how little public awareness there would be now had environmentalists not kept going on about it – because I hadn’t noticed much enthusiasm for raising it by mainstream political parties – but the solutions have to come collectively from more mainstream elements of our political/economic/legal systems;

  51. Steven,

    Well, for one thing, it would demonstrate that they are actually grown-up rational humans and not on the spectrum and capable of good faith interactions.

    You really think it would work? If I was in a situation where I thought someone who disagreed with me thought I was childish and engaging in bad faith, I don’t think my first thought would be to adjust my views so as to be more cognisant of their values. I would probably just regard them as a lost cause.

    I’m sure there would be situations where acknowledging other values would be optimal, but this would only seem to work if you thought the other values were at least somewhat consistent with your own. When you’re dealing with people who seem to fundamentally dispute the nature of what you regard as crucial, then it would seem much more difficult to find a way to engage effectively.

  52. Steven,

    Have you ever met a person who showed no awareness of other people’s values?. I have. They tend to be children. or Sociopaths. Or crazy people, and a couple who were on the spectrum ( relatives). Hmm

    Okay, you’ve interpreted me somewhat differently to what I was intending. I wasn’t suggesting that activists have no awareness of other people’s values. I was suggesting that it’s not clear that they should necessarily be taking them into account when thinking about their agenda. Of course, there may be cases where this would be beneficial, but when the other values are at odds with those of the activists, it’s hard to see why they should pay them much attention.

  53. Ben,

    But the history of trying ‘market-based’ solutions to climate change to try to get the inactivists on-board has not been a happy one: look at the history of the carbon price in Australia. In fact, the problem is the near-majority opposed to doing anything serious about climate change, rather than the particular solutions proposed.

    Yes, I do sometimes find myself getting a little frustrated by suggestions that the reason we haven’t achieved much with respect to climate change is because those who’ve promoted action haven’t been accomodating enough to those who think we shouldn’t do anything.

  54. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    > Yes, I do sometimes find myself getting a little frustrated by suggestions that the reason we haven’t achieved much with respect to climate change is because those who’ve promoted action haven’t been accomodating enough to those who think we shouldn’t do anything.

    I’m arguing that there’s space between thinking that some environmental activists could do a better job of doing due diligence to political strategies and saying that their lack of doing so is to blame for political opposition to their desired polricoal outcomes.

    I think of it more as opportunity cost.

  55. Joshua says:

    Perhaps, zero sum versus non-zero sum is another way to frame it.

  56. Joshua,

    I’m arguing that there’s space between thinking that some environmental activists could do a better job of doing due diligence to political strategies and saying that their lack of doing so is to blame for political opposition to their desired polricoal outcomes.

    Sure, of course. I certainly don’t think there isn’t room for improvement. In fact, I’ve been critical myself of some of the extinction rebellion rhetoric. I think it can be too extreme.

  57. Joshua says:

    Imagine my shock at surfing over to Climate Etc. and seeing an actual discussion break out.

  58. Joshua,
    I haven’t been there in ages. Can you highlight where?

  59. Joshua says:

    Background on that joke:

    I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.

    Rodney Dangerfield

  60. Beh McMillan says:

    Also, for a while the UK had a bipartisan (or maybe tripartisan) commitment to doing something about reducing emissions in power generation. The result was an all-of the-above strategy and building a large nuclear plant (still under construction) as well as a sizable fleet of renewables (some better than others).

    That didn’t happen because climate activists moderated their stance. It happened because for several governments, moderates and progressives had enough seats, and conservatives were willing to compromise because most people though something needed to be done.

    And once there was a political majority for something needing to be done, choosing a solution was not especially fraught and difficult. Especially on power generation, which is relatively easy/obvious. Getting a consensus to do something is the hard part. Normal politics can then take care of the compromises/justice/fairness stuff.

  61. Joshua,
    Judith’s basic argument seems to be that we can’t attribute the 20th century to anthropogenic influences, so we should start again. This is just silly. It’s very clear that most (and probably all) of the 20th century warming is anthropogenic. If we want to start again, then we should adjust the targets, not assume that they’re the same as before (i.e., 2C would become 1C).

    Vaughan’s post seems reasonable, but he seems to be trying to actually predict the 21st century warming, rather than making a projection. He seems to be trying to predict how much the atmospheric CO2 concentration will change *and* how much we will then warm. The former seems very difficult to predict since it depends almost entirely on what we will do in the coming decades, which is very difficult to predict. The latter then depends on this, so I think the best we can really do is make conditional predictions.

    Also, there are a number of factors that he’s not considering. The change in forcing later this century depends not only on CO2, but also on other emissions, like methane. In fact, one of the reasons that RCP8.5 has become less plausible is that the estimates for anthropogenic methane emissions have been reduced. Since methane is quite a powerful greenhouse gas on short timescales, this substantially increases the CO2 emissions required to get to 8.5 W/m^2. However, this also illustrates how sensitive it is to the methane emissions. Similarly, some of the potential permafrost release could be in the form of methane, which would also impact warming later this century. So, I think trying to actually predict how much we will warm this century is remarkably difficult. His estimate isn’t entirely unreasonable, though.

  62. Ben,
    That highlights something I was wondering. If you asked a political scientist how to actually achieve some political goals, is it best for activist to aim at consensus building with those who oppose these goals, or is it to get enough political representation that you can push them through despite the opposition. The latter may involve some consensus building, but it seems to me that political battles are mosly won by creating an appealing/effective narrative, not by trying to build bridges with their political opponents.

  63. ATTP says: ” it seems to me that political battles are mostly won by creating an appealing/effective narrative, not by trying to build bridges with their political opponents.”

    Can you think of any examples of wins by effective narrative on any political battle on anything like climate change?

    I think of abolition of slavery, the right to vote for women, the civil rights movement and I think these all required great struggle against entrenched power interests who would incur significant losses if the other side won.

    Civil unions and gay marriage come to mind as a political battle won by effective narrative, but what entrenched power interests incurred significant losses over civil union and gay marriage?

  64. small,
    I’m maybe not explaining myself all that well, and “effective narrative” may be the wrong term. I was mostly suggesting that many of the big political issues were not resolved by consensus building, appeasing, or finding common gound with those who opposed it, but by winning the political battle.

  65. thanks, got it. That makes sense as a thought pattern. I hope you are right about winning political battles. I look at the problem of climate refugees, the growth in wealth/income inequality and the world-wide lurch to authoritarian right wingers and over the past few years and I am not sure that the general population can avoid being so scared/angry that they will make the rational choices that need to be made. We need leaders who remind us that all we have to fear is fear itself and who promise us blood, sweat, toil and tears as the path forward to a better and brighter future. That might be possible once global warming is so bad that a lot of people on the planet feel as threatened as folks felt watching the rise of fascism last century.

    It would be great to see the US step up, but as Churchill may have said, Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing once all the other possibilities have been exhausted.

    Proponents of slowing/stopping the planet’s greatest extinction event need to be persuasive and political and act/speak/negotiate in good faith. Lucky would also be good. But I think it’s a waste of time to engage with the opponents of decarbonization once it becomes clear they are not engaging in good faith. Maybe we can unite behind the science more effectively if we can persuade the opponents of decarbonization that the science and threat are real, but that work needs to take place primarily with folks who can set aside their ideology and really look at the science and the threat. The threat becomes more real and apparent every day, so the plurality will be on board eventually. It may be very, very late before that happens, but we can/should work to help that happen as quickly as possible.

  66. Ben McMillan says:

    ATTP: I don’t know much about how to win political battles, but as you say, similar battles fought and won in the past involved quite a lot of confrontation in the public sphere; compromise is what the politicians do later on. I’m assuming that vocal opponents of any cause are likely to carry that opposition to their graves, so the battle is won in the space between activists and inactivists. Who knows what turns the hearts of that multitude; is it the sway of an influential few, or the contagion of a compelling story? Was it the drip of broken soldiers returning from the front that did it, or the picture of the fleeing child?

    We have a child again centred in the public gaze, and responses on a spectrum that reveal more about the viewer than the viewed.

    More prosaically, the advice of the civil service, the opinion of the learned societies, the teacher, how much do these shape the thoughts of those in power and those who vote?

  67. John Hartz says:

    Now is the time to think big! For example…

    It’s too bad meat is so tasty, driving so convenient and airline travel so desirable. Because those all create large amounts of greenhouse gases and worsen the climate crisis. We know it, and some of us feel guilty getting on a plane, hopping in the car or eating burgers. But how are we to cut back when we’re not sure what level of a high-emission behaviour is sustainable – and when everyone else is doing it?

    Some environmental activists and leaders suggest we should practise moderation, take the bus, eat veggie burgers. But voluntary measures just can’t deliver when the problem is this big and time is so short. That’s why it may be time for mandatory cutbacks on the kinds of consumption that threaten all of us.

    It may be time for rationing.

    The climate crisis is like a world war. So let’s talk about rationing. Opinion by Eleanor Boyle, Globe & Mail (CA), Dec 14, 2019

  68. John Hartz says:

    Another instance of David Wallace-Wells forcing us to think long and hard about events unfolding before a very eyes,,,

    “The global response to the bushfires has suggested, unfortunately, something more like the opposite: that no bind of tribal alliance or allegiance is strong enough that we won’t discard it, if discarding it allows us to see the suffering of those living elsewhere on the planet as insignificant to our own lives. These fires are just one disaster, of course, and the planet has many test cases like it ahead. But it would be among the most perverse grotesqueries of climate change if it brought about the end of these kinds of global prejudices — not to be replaced with a sense of common humanity but a system of disinterest defined instead by ever smaller circles of empathy.”

    Global Apathy Toward the Fires in Australia Is a Scary Portent for the Future by David Wallace-Wells, Life After Warming, Intelligencer, New York Magazine, Dec 31, 2019

  69. Nathan says:

    John Hartz

    Yes, and the Australian Government is working hard to prevent people linking the bushfires to climate change. They also ignored advice provided by State Fire Chiefs in April and September.

    There’s simply too much money involved that they will never take action. The most valuable export commodity for Australia is coal – self-interest will win (and by that I mean the self interest of politicians and their coal-mining supporters, most Australians say they want Govt to take measures to reduce emissions).
    Australia will continue to dry out (further) and burn.

    It’s all very depressing.

    So for people looking for ways to reduce emissions, there is no point considering the POV of the coal mining companies (BHP and Rio Tinto mostly) and conservative government; they will not compromise.

  70. John Hartz says:

    Nathan: Lenore Taylor’s opinion piece is a scathng rebuke of Morrison’s messaging about the link between the bush fires and climate change…

    We know this disaster is unprecedented – no amount of Scott Morrison spin can hide it, Opinion by Lenore Taylor, Comment is Free, Guardian, Dec 31, 2019

    I presume that the Australian newspapers owned by Murdoch provide an echo-chamber for Morrison. Are there Murdoch-owned radio and TV outlets as well?

  71. I posted on Facebook about the Aussie fires and asked friends and family to choose to give up non-essential high footprint vacations this year. My cousin, who loves to go on cruises, responded that her cause is pet rescue, like mine is climate change. The thing she did not say, is No, I won’t give up my high footprint vacations. She has told me in the past that she has a carbon bank account because she hangs her clothes on a line whenever she can…. plus she donates to pet rescue endeavors… so… ?? How does a sensible person equate pet rescue and the climate catastrophe? What a world. What can I say… spay/neuter your pets, I guess.

  72. Nathan says:

    John Hartz
    About 80% are Murdoch, some are ‘Fairfax’ which is not much better. The Guardian (only online) is the biggest non-Murdoch.
    We have two state-run media, ABC and SBS; they’re trying the whole ‘both sides of the story’ game…

    Without being explicit our Bureau of Meteorology show this a trend driven by climate change in a special report they put out just before Christmas

    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/statements/scs72.pdf

  73. Nathan says:

    This was the hazard assessment from August that the Government ignored
    https://www.bnhcrc.com.au/hazardnotes/63

    Interesting to see what comes in the inevitable reviews into this catastrophe.

  74. Nathan says:

    Oh you can delete that – way off topic.

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