Sunday, September 14, 2014

Climate: Have we reached the tipping point?

With climate change still a political minefield across the nation despite the strong scientific consensus that it's happening, some community leaders — even in Red States — have hit upon a way of preparing for the potentially severe local consequences without triggering explosions of partisan warfare: Just change the subject. See: Red State Cities Find Euphemisms to Prepare for Global Warming.

==Denialism continues== 
OCEAN-ACIDIFICATIONWhen you encounter anti-science climate denialists, say two words -- "Ocean... acidification." It is clearly and unambiguously happening. It is clearly dangerous and harmful. And it cannot possibly have any other cause than increased absorbed CO2 from human activity.
Every Distraction-Gambit concocted by AEI and Heritage Foundation and Fox - at the behest of coal barons and middle eastern petro princes - falls apart. Not sunspots nor "faked hockey sticks" nor any of the other incantations will work, this time.
Watch! As your crazy uncle suddenly points to the left and yells: "squirrel!"
But you can come back with another word. "TWODA"... or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.... All sorts of moderate, reasonable work on efficiency that would help address climate change and that would help us all anyway, even if climate change were a myth. Only one class of people would be hurt by us all becoming more efficient and saving money on energy, via TWODA.
Coal barons and middle eastern petro princes... who own today's GOP. Huh, funny about that. So ask your uncle... "Is there ANY degree of investment in Rand D and moderate science and other TWODA, that you will admit would NOT "destroy the economy" and you would be willing to negotiate, just in case 99% of the people who actually know a thing or two about weather and climate happen to be right?  AnyTWODA at all? Anything?"
Those of you out there who are fuming right now, consider.  If you do NOT want to be viewed as a member of a fanatical denialist cult, there is one thing you can say: 

ClimateSkeptics"I am willing to negotiate moderate precautionary measures and funding for initiatives that would increase energy efficiency and alternatives, just in case I am wrong and most scientists prove to be right.  I will negotiate hard and insist that the measures not be "economy wrecking" and that they have benefits to the consumer other than just reducing carbon emissions.  I will also insist, as part of the deal, that some basic questions and doubts about the "warmist" consensus be addressed, asap, and I will help back urgent increases in funding for a broadly competitive range of scientific research to settle this important matter."

"I will also establish a set of achievable and reasonable milestones for the "warmist" case and if those milestones are met, I will accept that the 99% of atmospheric and climate scientists who believe that more urgent action is needed are probably right. In that case, I will 'up' my support for efforts to save my children's planet and I will "down" my respect for those who talked me into calling 99% of atmospheric scientists fools.  What I will NOT abide is moving the goal posts... when my skeptical questions are satisfied, I will actually change my mind."

THAT is reasonably stated and exactly what a reasonable, rational "Skeptic" would say, in the face of the fact that 99% of scientists who actually know the Navier Stokes equations and cellular gas balance models disagree with the fox-sources that provide your science. It would also end the hypocrisy of the American right, shouting "we need more research!" ...while savagely cutting it every chance they get.

 If you can bring yourself to say -- and act upon -- those two paragraphs above, then maybe you are the rational "skeptic" you proclaim yourself to be!

Otherwise, look in a mirror.  Cultist.

== The fizzing sound of a tipping point ==
methane-plumesThis is what we had all feared -- those of us who aren't ostrich-people. The possible tipping point. Methane plumes are emanating from at least 570 seafloor cold seeps on the outer continental shelf and the continental slope, Mississippi State University reported. A potential disaster that I warned about in EARTH (1989).
"Warming of ocean temperatures on seasonal, decadal or much longer time scales can cause gas hydrate to release its methane, which may then be emitted at seep sites," said Carolyn Ruppel, study co-author and chief of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project.  "Such continental slope seeps have previously been recognized in the Arctic, but not at mid-latitudes.  So this is a first."
To be clear, methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2… and rising ocean temps will cause icy methane hydrates to fizz, all over the globe, causing a runaway effect.
Okay, I began this missive all-reasonable and trying logic and argument. That is why -- above -- I offered a simple exit strategy for those "skeptics" who truly want to earn that term.  If you can recite the paragraphs I offered, and intend to live by then, then please leave now and thanks.  The following does NOT apply to you!

 But truly? Do I any longer expect that approach to work?  During phase eight of the American Civil War? Of course not.  Which leaves me with this to say to you others -- the science-hating fools, drooling before “hypnotize-me!” Fox-Nuremberg rallies and neo-confederate rant-fests against all big-city-university “smartypants” types.
TWODA-2No evidence will change your opposition to negotiating even moderate, sensible, precautionary interim measures to increase energy efficiency or do basic RandD. You sabotage TWODA (Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.) When the US Navy shouts concern about a warming arctic, you simply move the goal posts.
Worse. You help to denigrate and geld the smartest, most knowledgeable, competitive and wisest human beings whom our species has ever produced, and thereby you declare yourselves to be brave authority questioners and skeptics! 
Millions of science loving moderates (like me) have been willing to negotiate ways to (win-win) simultaneously boost economic activity while taking basic precautions against the (perhaps slim) possibility that smart people aren't stupid. But fanatics show no willingness to make a deal. Their New Civil War has reduced the world’s most scientific and future-oriented nation in history to dysfunction, unable to perform politics at even a basic level.
You refuse to look at actual outcomes, by which measure your “side” has proved insanely incompetent.  Everything to you is “right versus left” — a loony metaphor that allows you to ignore the fact that Adam Smith … today… would be a Democrat.

See also: A Brief History of Climate Change -- from the BBC.
== Ahem... ==
AguingCrazyUncleRant mode off.  Only dig this.  The earlier phases of the Civil War featured this same syndrome.  A re-ignited confederacy, riled up on hate toward urban-educated-industrial-blue Americans who create all the wealth and progress. Each time it failed.  Blues were (as Sam Houston predicted, during the 1860s phase) slow to anger and seemingly soft as mush... till each and every time we proved tougher than we had seemed, and ponderously unstoppable when pushed too far.
Right now, you are threatening the very lives of our grandchildren and our planet and the republic that we love.  And we will stop you from ruining any of them.

== Final Item ==

Before moving on, let's do a chilling side segue... that's very interesting. Eric H. Cline, in his recent book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, portrays a time when bronze age empires of the eastern Mediterranean were riding high… then went into a simultaneous tailspin due to drought and their own inability to adapt.


Alex Tolley said...

re: Methane Seeps.

If these are new, then this is really bad news. It had been assumed that clathrate methane loss would not likely happen, because sea temps at depth would be fairly stable. This seems to imply, that at least on the margin, this is not true. The "good news" is that the CH4 won't reach the surface, oxidizing to CO2, acidifying the ocean instead and slowly releasing CO2 at the surface. We already suspect (i.e. have some evidence for) that acidification is changing the oceanic ecosystems. Food supplies will be put under further pressure. Well at least the California Blue Whales have recovered.

I think I read somewhere that Red State denialism that prevented even talk or study of local sea level rise was being sidestepped somehow. I hope that is correct. The problem with denialist politicians like Inhofe, is that their funding sources pretty much prevent them from supporting TWODA. We need to either change this (c.f. Lessig) or find a strong incentive to change on their part. Suggestions that are not like the Spanish Inquisition?

Alex Tolley said...

The last thread had an "interesting" rant by Maloney to undermine the solar thermal plant at Ivanpah, CA because of bird deaths. It has been calculated that perhaps 28,000 birds would die per year due to flying through the concentrated rays. (I hope they find some sort of inexpensive approach to reduce this, much like putting hawk silhouettes on plate windows to reduce bird strikes). This rant follows similar complaints over bird deaths in wind turbines. I see this as likely orchestrated by fossil fuel interests. Oil leaks have also killed millions of seabirds. Cats kill millions of birds per year, let along human hunting of ducks. I just don't see much complaint about those.

So even TWODA technologies are being undermined. I've even heard people ask about how polluting solar panels are (and they were not talking about manufacturing, but after installation). Then of course was the ALEC orchestrated attack on rooftop solar, trying to get legislation in Arizona to make installation so expensive it would have made new installations uneconomic. In the meantime, fracking is going ahead under conditions of denial of health impacts from groundwater contamination and the industry keeping their fluids secret for proprietary reasons. Amazing how interests can balance "acceptable risks".

sociotard said...

From a couple entries ago, Brin said that California utterly disproved my "two santas" theory.

He didn't say what the law was, though. I am assuming it was California Proposition 58 (2004), the California Balanced Budget Act. (internet etiquette tip: use official names for things, or even links so people can look up what you're talking about. It's polite in asynchronous conversation)

If so, I maintain it'll be a few years before we know if it worked. Also, you mentioned the Clinton surplus, which happened with a Dem president and an opposing congress.

Also, can you point me to raw data for deficits and/or debts for California by year? It was so easy to find that information for the nation, but I just get news articles when I search for states.

Acacia H. said...

Okay. If I remember correctly, isn't there a lot of hydrogen sulfide in the oceans?

Wouldn't the release of methane from the seafloor (ie, "fizzing") push that hydrogen sulfide up and into the atmosphere?

In short, might we have poison gas attacks on the shorelines killing large numbers of humans in several years?

I am likely wrong, but it's late and my brain isn't functioning at 100% right now. My apologies.

Rob H.

Albatross said...

Either we take care of Nature, or Nature will take care of us.

Capitalism was established when Nature was bigger than Mankind, when the forest and the unknown were still vast and more powerful than us. But we've ruthlessly mastered Nature - we literally destroy mountains to reach coal, denude forests, and eviscerate even the oceans.

Capitalism is about the transmutation of the endless bounty of Nature into wealth in a powerful man's purse through the hard work of many. But Nature's bounty is no longer endless. It is in fact limited.

We need another socioeconomic paradigm that recognizes the changed place of Mankind in relation to Nature. We need to recognize pollution as a cost in doing business. We need to recognize that, like adults who take on the care of their aging parents, Mankind is now responsible to assume the care of Nature.

Capitalism is done. The world is finite. If we don't recognize that we will not be able to stop the most powerful from continuing to pillage Nature as Man has done for centuries, in a fashion which has grown into an entitlement.

Bacteria placed in a Petri dish will expand to consume all its resources, and then die amid its own wastes. The question for Mankind on Earth is whether or not we're any smarter than bacteria in a dish. So far the answer appears to be "no."

locumranch said...

The funny thing about mirrors is that we see enantiomers when we look into them, meaning that the cultist you see when you look into a mirror is your own non-superimposable reflection looking back at you, insomuch as one image reflects the other, each attempting to prove their own correctness by denying the opposing belief system.

Earlier, I mentioned ‘transmoralism’ and this thread provides the perfect opportunity to explain this term in some detail. Trans-moralism is not a form of nihilism or a type of pessimism, but rather it is a philosophical rejection of the vicious cycle of judgment and counter-judgment perpetuated by most two-value (right/wrong, left/right, true/false) moral systems.

The two-value moral attitude is limited to a judgment of condoning morally worthy acts and admonishing unworthy acts and, as it processes information in terms of divinely-ordained dichotomies, opposites or absolutes, it tends to fail badly at reconciliation.

And, make no mistake about it, the actual distance between CC denialists & cultists, liberals & conservatives, and republicans & democrats is minimal, made insurmountable only by the absolute & self-righteous surety of both parties, even though the consumptive acts of CC deniers & acceptors, liberals & conservatives and Democrats & Republicans differ not a whit in any substantive manner.

It all boils down to an unhealthy competition: CC deniers 'roll coal' to express their disdain for the competition even though CC acceptors consume equivalent resources; liberals & conservatives admonish each other even though both luxuriate in perpetual social inequality; and our 'peaceable' Democratic president has been responsible for more military casualties then his 'warlike' Republican predecessor.


Duncan Cairncross said...

Locum is off his meds again

"and our 'peaceable' Democratic president has been responsible for more military casualties then his 'warlike' Republican predecessor."

Not by an order of magnitude!

David Brin said...

Paul Shen-Brown, please contact me by email! At the bottom of

Albatross… you conflate crony-exploitive capitalism with ALL forms of capitalism. A natural conflation, since whenever capitalism has not been very well-regulated, it rapidly becomes that kind. But the scenarios predicted by Marx do not HAVE to happen. Well regulated competition is the most creative human activity and when good, overall goals are set, a society can unleash competition to make things vastly more efficient. Witness the plummet in energy cost of our appliances, under pressure from govt regulations. This ONLY happened in western democracies, not hierarchical command economies.

You cite Malthusian over-use… a simplistic scare story that CAN be a failure mode, but does not have to be, for humans. Proof: Human women -0 when empowered and healthy and guaranteed child-survival, tend to have two kids. That is not malthusian! Likewise, for reformed and regulated competitive systems.

Tell us your proposed alternative! There are ZERO examples from history of anyone doing better.

Locum the difference is that liberals e.g. Californians vote repeatedly for gradual but real shifts in incentives to achieve TWODA. Their rate of shift may not satisfy you. But the party that passes new care efficiency standards (CAFE)_ is DIFFERENT than the one that blocked them for 25 years.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Locum, Dr. Brin is right about the much-touted similarity between the two halves of our bipolar system. Yes they all consume dramatically more resources than is sustainable, and yes they are both led by a load of billionaires. But at least for the moment the left-wing loonies are trying to make some progress in these matters while the right-wing nazis are still fighting them tooth and nail.

That being said, I think your notion of transmoralism is a good one. In fact, it seems to me that Dr. Brin's ideas of regulated competition might represent just such a reconciliation. I suspect, however, that things will have to get much worse before either side will feel the need to reconcile. Both sides are far too strident right now, and have been for decades.

On that cheery note ...

Alex Tolley said...

Capitalism doesn't have to just exploit finite, tangible resources. Intellectual resources increasingly have become the fuel for growth. I don't expect ideas to run out any time soon. However, that doesn't mean that physical resource exploiting capitalism won't wreck our planet if unchecked. He need to transition to an economy that is far more efficient at resource use and recycling, rather than inefficient and disposable.

Albatross said...

I despaired for modern culture when I heard recently that Justin Bieber had out-sold the Beatles. Then I checked the numbers. Even ignoring the vastly improved marketing and distribution of pop music, part of the reason for Bieber's larger numbers is that there are twice as many people alive on the planet today as there were when the Beatles were recording. And three times as many people on the planet as when WWII ended. I wasn't giving a Malthusian story, I was trying to suggest that we should be smarter than bacteria and capable of managing our environment.

The only demonstrated means of reducing population so far has been the expansion of economic well-being to the general population. First world countries such as Germany and Japan experience population declines, absent immigration. So one order of business is figuring out a way to extend economic well being to as many people as possible in order to check population growth.

As far as an economic example that works better? I'm no economist. Neither am I a Marxist, and I've never read him, so my conflation of whatsis with thingy is probably a rookie mistake, kind of like assuming anyone who sees capitalism as a problem is a Marxist, or who suggests the expansion of economic well-being to the general population is a Socialist or something.

I do have SOME ideas. One is that we need to level the playing field. Right now corporations are feudal kingdoms abstracted away from geographic boundaries. They're free to invade geographic territories, exploit their resources, and then move on leaving the trash. Democratic nation states need to regulate corporations with the same caution that they treat foreign nations. Of course they won't because of bribery, but that's a starting concept. The second is that democratic nation states need to share the same flexibility and mobility that corporations share - we need to abstract them away from geography - in this case the geographic location of people. We need subscription citizenship, where anyone can become a citizen of any nation regardless of their location. Expatriate Americans are still Americans, and systems exist to allow them to vote, pay taxes, etc. So let's extend that to everyone. Chinese garment workers could become Americans, and demand their rights, for example, under American laws. And an American who wanted better health care? Well maybe when a whole raft of Americans become subscription Norwegians, and start paying their taxes to Norway, America might feel some of that competitive spirit to offer single payer health care rather than our current botch of a system.

As far as what works historically? No idea. Maybe instead of looking to the past we can look to the future. Well-regulated capitalism certainly seems like it COULD work, but unless we start treating corporations more seriously they will constantly undermine those rules through bribery.

Jumper said...

For total off-topic fun, search for pictures of fractal 3-d printing.

On topic, I decry our binary justice system, such that sentencing is confined to execution or freedom, er, oh, well, never mind that. I suppose I can satisfy myself by noting that Al Gore can't be right, because he is fat.

Tim H. said...

Who can really ague over TWODA? At most debate what fits the category, I'd add to it more nuclear power, throwing enough money at polywell to find out if it's real enough and space-based solar power. I'm not worried too much about the west, if China & India can go carbon neutral that'll be something.

Joel said...

Off Topic:
I've noticed there is a lot of "popcorn sci-fi" on TV, and I figured Continuum was just another. The first season played to my expectations - good guys and bad guys go back in time to 2012 with future weapons/tech and city gets blown up as they fight it out. Genius kid (in a barn no less) invents the base technology that their tech is based on, who also becomes future corporate dictatorship. Now in season 3, it's starting to lose the popcorn side of things and offer a little more to chew on.

Now I'm thinking someone read Existence or follows David Brin. "Protectors", the implant tech in The Crystal Spheres - and of course his continuing rants against corporations with unchecked power (and unbalanced) surveillance against its "citizens".

Or maybe Brin is doing some consulting on the side?

David Brin said...

Joel G I suppose I should tune in CONTINUUM. Though Person of Interest seems more urgent for me to catch up on... In any event, I get borrowed from all the time and mostly I don't mind. But how about at least a nod, or gift?

MASS EFFECT boys shoulda at least sent me some schwa and a game. Plenty of other examples. alack.

Alex Tolley said...

I suppose the BBC could send a model TARDIS to the Wells' estate. :)

@Joel - I had similar feelings about Continuum, also finding it became rather engaging despite its basic premise. The various sub-plots and interesting twists added to the pleasure.

Conversely, I gave up on "Person of Interest" in the first season as I found the execution of the premise rather similar from week to week.

It's always hard to tell what works for the TV execs. I was most annoyed that "Flash Forward" was canceled so quickly, just as the story arc was getting interesting.

Let me plug the last episode of Doctor Who - "Listen". One of the best Dr. Who stories ever done. Definitely should be on the awards list, IMO.

Alex Tolley said...

@Albatross. While there does appear to be a correlation between economic well being and reproduction, I think there is more to the story than such simple relationships. In Europe, Catholic family size has decreased despite apparent religious beliefs. Whether this is due to greater wealth or rising costs of children I don't know. In Africa, at least part of the answer is the education of women and their greater self-determination. Meanwhile in the US, we have the Quiverfull movement that is requiring women to bear children constantly over a lifetime. Ideology is clearly trumping economics in this case. And let's not forget the constant attempts to overturn Roe v Wade in the US by state level means to make abortions next to impossible.

So there are a number of factors operating, which will be different depending on geographic location.

Tom Crowl said...

"570 seafloor cold seeps on the outer continental shelf and the continental slope, Mississippi State University reported. A potential disaster that I warned about in EARTH (1989)."

Another bulls-eye prediction from "Earth"...

What will it take for it to be realized that the Helvetian War (part of the story background) also echoes a real world problem which needs to be addressed?

Dave said...

I was hoping to hear more about transmoralism. Brin usually seems to know better than to expect to accomplish something by ranting, nagging, and moral shaming other than revving up the choir and getting the sinners to tune out. Except when he just can't resist.

Brin is very sophisticated about climate science, but is forgetting about confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. Frame this as us-versus-them tug-of-war one-size-fits-all normal politics, and what result do you expect?

David Brin said...

What hilarity, Mr. Burns. You typically look at the way your own folks think, and imagine that your adversaries are similarly motivated. In fact, I love diversity of thought and the quality of this blog community attests to it... the fact that I get almost no trolls.

No, for those whose "side" has fanatically TURNED this into a matter of "sides" to then complain? When the other side starts treating it that way? What a laugh.

Let there be no mistake. The American right, which used to admire science, is now in full tilt war against science. Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 5%. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced.

And not just science! Can you name for me ONE profession of high knowledge and skill that is not under attack by Fox & its cohorts? Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science. I defy you to name one that isn't under assault by a hijacked-insane version of what used to be an intellectual conservative movement.

One that now screeches invective upon all of the "smartypants" professions, in the worst Know-Nothing movement in 150 years.

Dig it. I and other moderates have always been ready to negotiate. This very post has two paragraphs that if you recited (or paraphrased) them sincerely, would win you back to the negotiating table.

You will never utter them, though.

Jumper said...

The International Building Code deals with adobe, as does New Mexico. If local permitting boards are ignorant, it's because they are lazy and need a kick in the pants.

I don't think there's a hockey stick for methane release. At least [gulp] I hope not. The stuff's been bubbling up for a long time and hydrates released or not upon greater or lesser sea temps. As we are on an upward trend it is an additive, so that's not good.

Here's on the sulfur cycle
and more on climate/sulfur interactions

Jumper said...

Curse you, ASTM, for you nontransparency re. the paywall!
Bless you, ASTM, for devising adobe building standards:

Duncan Cairncross said...

As far as adobe goes - yes there are standards NOW
I bet they were not available back then

Also on a more problematic issue
It's no good having the standards if nobody knows about them

Issues with standards/procedures
(1) - You don't know its there
(2) - It's written in jargon and is incomprehensible

When I was writing procedures I would always start with the
"Why this procedure exists"
And "What it is trying to achieve"

Then at least the "victim" would have an idea of what was needed

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Jumper, the first link you provided regarded compressed earth blocks, which is a different system than I was referring to. CEB's do not look like a system that would be possible for an average, essentially unskilled, family to create, which is the beauty of superadobe. The site has pictures of ladies with their babies strapped to their backs building their homes.

The ASTM site looks like it would cover Khalili's superadobe system, which could be great news, if ASTM can be stuffed down the throats of local governments.

Duncan Cairncross, are you referring to conventional adobe? I couldn't imagine places like Arizona or New Mexico not having standards in place for conventional adobe. The system I was referring to, devised by the Cal-Earth Society, is different. And yes, if no one knows about them, any form of TWODA will go nowhere. The architect, when he was alive, spoke of how most people see a house in terms of our conventional, pitched-roof buildings, so some of the alternative systems are just to weird for most people. If more people knew about the electric bill savings, that might change.

Alex Tolley said...

A cursory glance at the superadobe building approach looks like it could be another useful addition to building techniques. How suitable it is for general construction I don't know. All teh pics I saw were for single story dwellings only, which would make it problematic for small lots requiring multiple stories.

While I had not heard of this approach before, I don't think the issue is knowledge, but rather the very conservative building codes and permitting in the US. Many building approaches just are not going to be permitted by local building departments, and that is before neighbors have their say on building houses that "look different". Given that one of its selling points is the use of on-site materials, this is going to be very difficult to control the quality and hence meet standards. It might need specific permitting on a site by site basis and trained inspectors to check that the right soil mix was being used. This might require transport of standard mixes, undermining its key advantage.

Superadobe looks like an approach best suited to drier climates with high day/night temperature ranges where the thermal flywheel effect can work. Use such an approach in a cool climate, and what you have is a huge heat sink. It would have a similar feel to living in a stone house: the walls would feel forever cool unless kept constantly heated.

Dave said...

"I love diversity of thought"

I think you misinterpreted me.

"No, for those whose "side" has fanatically TURNED this into a matter of "sides" to then complain?"

Saying "they started it" even if true, accomplishes nothing. The question is, has tribal style emotional thinking taken over? And if so, how do you deal with that? Pounding people on the head with facts seems not to work. This is what the science of psychology is telling us.

"Let there be no mistake. The American right, which used to admire science, is now in full tilt war against science."

Now that you have reassured yourself that you are on the right side, can we proceed with discussing how to persuade people who aren't?

"I defy you to name one that isn't under assault"

Not interested. If we have a dispute that isn't it.

"2 paragraphs [...] You will never utter them, though."

Let's take a look at them.

"I am willing to negotiate moderate precautionary measures and funding for initiatives that would increase energy efficiency and alternatives, just in case I am wrong and most scientists prove to be right."

I am not in a position to negotiate anything. I am not sure what these measures are. I am pretty much stipulating that the climate scientists are probably right, in that something is going on. Arguing about whether the climate is changing seems like a good idea from the standpoint of a short-sighted politician, otherwise not so much.

"[...] I will also insist, as part of the deal, that some basic questions and doubts about the "warmist" consensus be addressed, asap, and I will help back urgent increases in funding for a broadly competitive range of scientific research to settle this important matter."

This again seems like a blank check, and at no point in my life am likely to be in a position to fulfill this pledge, at least as I understand it.

"I will also establish a set of achievable and reasonable milestones"

Again vague promises I don't know how to fulfill. As I said, I am already stipulating that something is going on.

"[...] What I will NOT abide is moving the goal posts... when my skeptical questions are satisfied, I will actually change my mind."

I hope so. But I am a human being. I have confirmation bias, vulnerable to cognitive dissonance, etc. That means that political spin doctors can get my emotions to take over when my rationality should be in charge. They're good at that. Maybe it is time to stop the frontal assault on a well-defended position, and look for a flanking maneuver.

locumranch said...

On a lighter note:

Odds appear to favour a vote for Scottish Independence this Thursday, meaning balkanization, a rejection of centralisation, the pending dissolution of the UK, and the most probable solution to the 'Red State, Blue State' problem as most US Blue States are akin to England (resource poor, overpopulated & urban) while most Red States are like unto Scotland (resource rich, rural & sparsely populated).

Watch the skies because we have chosen the name of our destroyer: Decentralisation!!


PS. I love adobe! Check out

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - You haven't been to Scotland, have you. Scotland is most definitely not "resource rich" except for teh remains of North Sea oil, and possibly fish stocks. Scotland's population density is 2x that of the US. While population density is about 15% of that of England, it about the same as Europe, so hardly "sparsely populated".

David Brin said...

David Burns, thank you for that wondrous example of lawyerly wriggle-n-writhe. You are in effect declaring “nothing will ever satisfy me, I don’t need your gol-durned “experts” and I will never, ever set some criterion by which I might accept they are probably right.”

In so doing, you prove why none of them even bother trying to answer the "questions" of "skeptic" members of your denialist cult. Because it never, ever does the slightest good. You will just backpedal and find another fox-rant.

You are helping to destroy negotiation as a process in a pragmatic and scientific, problem solving society… and turn to say “I am in no position to negotiate.”

What an outrageous cop-out! No, I call it a lie. You are in every position to influence your lunatic co-cultists into admitting that there exist - in theory - steps that would be TWODA. That would advance energy efficiency in ways that win-win benefit the public while happening also to take precautions… just in case smart people turn out to be smart.

By keeping things murky and general and snarky, you participate in the absolute refusal of your side to negotiate anything. Anything at all. And only one set of folks actually benefit from that… the coal and petro barons who own your party.

You ARE in a “position to negotiate.” And you CAN set standards that would convince you that the smart people who actually know stuff maybe have a point about a danger that could harm your grandkids. Your weaseling writhing to pretend you cannot is — sorry — truly pathetic.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Scotland is not "rural"

The population density - 2x the USA is deceiving

Most people in Scotland live in the "central belt"
From Edinburgh to Glasgow
Definitely Urban!

As far as resources are concerned the main resource is an educated and resourceful people

Also NOT like the red states Scotland is decidedly "left wing" and Socialist

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex,

Building Codes are very conservative
And they need to be
A house is most peoples largest investment and is expected to have a very long life.
(40 years in the USA, 200 years in the UK)

This (correctly) drives conservatism,

New materials? New Design?
Show me where they have been used for 40 years!

(Which gets right into a Catch 22 situation)

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alex Tolley, you are exactly right about both the permitting issues (why I brought it up) and the system's usefulness for specific climates. It's fantastic for the desert (with increasing desertification, it may very well be the architecture of the future) but its thermal properties are not well suited for colder climes. I visited the place a second time in January with exactly that in mind, and found the buildings to be cold as tombs. But I also brought with me a sketch of a thermosiphoning air panel (TAP) that could be adapted for the system. I knew people in Colorado who swore by the things for winter heat, and once the architect understood how a TAP works, he was all for it. Unfortunately, he died 2 months later. Still, I suspect there are other ways to adapt the system for colder climates. It would be worthwhile, given how disaster-proof they are, in addition to their thermal properties.

As far as the soils go, Khalili said that most soils will work, but soils that are too sandy, lacking clay or silt, would need to be augmented. Hopefully regulation/permitting would not totally blow the usefulness of on-site materials.

There are other alternative building systems, like cob, hay bale or earthships. This one looks like it could be good for a lot of people, though more so in the Old World, where you tend to have more people who have family farms but substandard housing.

Doctor Brin, is Twoda a cousin of a certain short, green, Yiddish-transforming fellow with a rhyming name?

Dave said...

Dear Dr. Brin,
Apparently I stepped on something, sorry.
Do you understand why the typical denialist believes what they do, and how they came to believe it? Do you know the best way to encourage them to consider the possibility that they should change their minds?

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - building codes are problem if you want to try anything new. I have shelves of books on architecture, but almost all of the examples are built either in isolated areas of the US, or in other countries. Recently I was re-examining what the current status of earth-bermed or underground houses, a idea pushed by Malcolm Wells in the late 1970's. It turns out that you can build them in a few areas, but mostly "off the grid". Not a hope otherwise.

There there is teh issue of conservative styles. All those wonderful ideas for building with modern materials, e.g. plastics, ended up with the materials being used to mimic traditional housing. So the California ranch house or Cape Cod style just continue to dominate. Even the prefabs seem to be following suit. This is very much social conformism, IMO.

@Paul Shen-Brown - I've stayed in converted stone buildings in Ireland and Italy that use the false interior wall to add insulation and space for power and plumbing. That seems to get around the cold walls problem (and modernizes the interior), so I assume that could also be used for auperadobe in principal, although the curved walls probably would present a problem. My personal tastes go in the direction of less-is-more, where structures are lightweight but well insulated, and can be altered to suit changing needs.

Jumper said...

I'm sorry I didn't read the specs on the superadobe first; I presumed it would be similar to time-tested adobe and it's not. I don't like it for several reasons: the barbs in the wire, & the lack of compaction which requires knowledge and control of moisture contents. The idea if cable reinforced adobe is very interesting though! In my career I have done (too much) ASTM soil testing, moisture v compaction energy analyses, lime stabilization, and cable tensioning of concrete.

But my point was that we live in an age whe reinventing the wheel is not necessary, although I do not mean new ideas are not valuable. What I meant was that research already exists and as inscrutible as test standards might seem they are not impossible to understand. This is easier done with a university library or the internet. I guarantee Googling "understanding ASTM soil tests" would generate leads.

Even more globally I wish high school students were given a course on Materials 101. Because (snark alert!) everybody uses them! Students would learn very interesting stuff that takes many long years to appreciate, such as: "some people spend a lifetime on the science of dirt." And "there exists a trade magazine for almost everything, from tree trimming to casket making," and "a million weird metal alloys are known to be crap because people have tried them!" and "a million useful alloys await discovery." Or "ceramics are not generally guaranteed to be airtight."

locumranch said...

According to CNN, "Around 90% of U.K. oil comes from areas that are likely to be claimed by an independent Scotland, and that energy wealth is central to the economic program put forward by its backers".

And, please excuse my lack of linguistic precision:

The term 'rural' was meant as an euphemism for 'rustic', meaning "lacking in refinement, inelegant, coarse, crude, uncouth, unsophisticated & simple' (aka 'Scottish' in common usage) which (co-inky-dentally) is same way that most many self-important, urban & 'urbane' Blue Staters describe the average Red State denizens.

Also, Adobe structures are not 'cold as tombs' but super-effiecient insulators, meaning that the ambient indoor temperature averages equals that of the ground (which is 50-60 F) all year around, making extremely cost-effective to heat & cool.


Jumper said...

On the same note. Googling "why do climate change deniers do it?" will produce many good articles such as yjis with its links at the bottom

Duncan Cairncross said...

Also, Adobe structures are not 'cold as tombs' but super-effiecient insulators, meaning that the ambient indoor temperature averages equals that of the ground (which is 50-60 F) all year around, making extremely cost-effective to heat & cool.

The "ground" at 7m+ is the average temperature of the air at that location
Which here (South Island NZ) is about 14C
Too damn cold for a house

David Brin said...

Mr. Bruns, any appraisal that I made - for why denialists chose their cause - would zoom right past science, evidence, cause/effect or logic and go all the way to personality. The absolutely rigid choosing of sides and absolute (at a cerebral level) rejection of anything that might conflict with the narrative fed to them by their accepted authorities.

And sure, you can swivel and say "The same back atcha!"

Except it does not work. We all consider ourselves paladins against domineering authority figures, while OUR elites are (of course) harmless and sincere. Your problem is that your side's "harmless and sincere" elites:

1- have a vested interest in blocking even TWODA kinds of energy advances. They are the ONLY ones likely to benefit from such delays, and they pour millions into supporting EXACTLY the channels that speoonfeed your talking points.

2- They are members of the same caste that crushed freedom and markets and competitive enterprise and entrepreneurialism and science in 99% of human cultures. NAME AN EXCEPTION.

3- In contrast, the elites you are trained to despise... scientists, teachers, medical doctors and so on... are not only proved to be the smartest humans in history but also the most competitive.

There is no person alive who knows scientists who does not guffaw at the Fox-created image of them as meek, prissy, conformist little grant-huggers! Anyone who swallows that malarkey is -- how can I put it... an imbecile.

Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 5%. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced.

And not just science! Can you name for me ONE profession of high knowledge and skill that is not under attack by Fox & its cohorts? Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science. I defy you to name one that isn't under assault by a hijacked-insane version of what used to be an intellectual conservative movement.

One that now screeches invective upon all of the "smartypants" professions, in the worst Know-Nothing movement in 150 years.

LarryHart said...

Tom Crowl:

Another bulls-eye prediction from "Earth"...

What will it take for it to be realized that the Helvetian War (part of the story background) also echoes a real world problem which needs to be addressed?

I wish I had the quote at hand, but there's a bit of explication in the book to the effect that in the run-up to the Helvetian War, plenty of leaders tried for reasonable compromises, and they were all bribed or threatened or killed by the Powers That Be who wanted to insure that a crisis was inevitable.

Sounds like it's torn from today's headlines.

Tony Fisk said...

Tim Flannery's advice, when seeking to influence opinion on climate change, is to ask the other party what it would take to change their opinion.

It was interesting to hear the response he received from former Sen. Nick Minchin (whose intransigence on the topic led to a leadership spill in the LNP, and Turnbull being replaced by Abbott) It was something like 'proof that economic thinking needn't be altered.'. More an emotive response than a logical one.

It is, perhaps, a little unfair to expect an immediate answer to the question. Also, one should be prepared to accept the same challenge.

On that note, I would require proof that energy sinks exist that balance the retention of energy from the greenhouse effect. That still leaves acidification, which is a direct measurement, and is undeniable.

Furthermore, I would add a hypothetical follow-up: I have satisfied the conditions you set for changing your opinion. Why are you still reluctant to do so?

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hello again Alex,
What you said about false walls in old stone buildings was an idea I had some time ago. It would be difficult to pull off in a dome, but the much larger vaulted house has straight walls that could be insulated on the interior and covered over with drywall. This, of course, is going beyond the architect's original idea, which was to create a system for people who lack special skills and licenses (though you would likely have to hire electricians and plumbers).
And I agree about the materials class, and would also like to see energy science offerings.

Jumper, it sounds like you have WAY more experience with soils than I do. As an archaeologist, I only had to classify & record.

On the cold as a tomb comment, Khalili related a story about a Russian convent that used his system for one of their buildings (a dining hall, if memory serves) and the nuns emailed him constantly about how could it got. He advised they berm over the building as much as possible, until it essentially became and earth shelter. Perhaps if he had known about TAPs... I came up with a design which would include a low wall around the building to contain soil, in which greenery could be planted, giving it more of an earth shelter look, fixing a little carbon and helping to mitigate the heat island effect (assuming it were done on a large scale - though the system could not produce high-rise buildings it could change some of the urban sprawl).

Duncan, of course you are right about the efficiency of adobe, as it in many ways mimics the earth itself. I wonder which is colder, South Island or the location of the Russian convent?

Jumper said...

Deniers seem to want to debate the public rather than scientists, and more significant, debate on blogs and comments sections. They almost always provide links to blogs or YouTube videos and not science journals, or if they do they misinterpret. "Sea ice is increasing! (in area but not in mass, however.) One fellow, when I mentioned ocean acidification, triumphantly gave a link to a scholarly article which said ocean pH is actually decreasing! So there, Mr. Jumper!

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin - I suspect that deep down, the anti-scientist types and climate deniers do not think that scientists are doing this for grant money and the like, and realize the grant money is miniscule compared to oil money.

But they have been brought up to despise intellectual elites and consider them "snobs" who "talk down" on them and "can't handle the real world" and the like. In many ways, this is akin to the old disdain toward "nerds" and "geeks" from the jock population and their cronies (and those who don't want to be stomped on by the jocks so they go along with it).

Thus Climate Denialism is in fact an offshoot of old high school behaviors in which the jocks (oil barons and the ultra-rich) dismiss the "nerds" and "geeks" (scientists and environmentalists) and denigrate them. The Right voting base goes along with it because they don't want to be targeted and see only bad things if they support environmentalists and scientists - they lose jobs when the rich people fire everyone and go to another country with lax environmental laws.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

For your amusement, Dr. Brin, yet another nail in the coffin of Atlas Shrugged as reality. Though the subtitle could read: There is a sucker lured to Rand every second.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

The 'denier' I know and argue with the most makes two points.

1. Scientists are currently guilty of group-think and there is sufficient evidence in conflict with the consensus that they SHOULD be suspicious. Since they aren't, they stand convicted.

2. The public support of policy changes includes some seriously stupid ideas that are tantamount to totalitarianism. Some people suggest changes that if actually implemented fly against human nature much like policy changes tried by the worst among the Soviets, so allying with these nuts requires him to oppose.

He focuses mostly upon the policy issues since that is what he knows best and I have to agree with him. Rolling us back to stone age tech as some of the more zealous supporters want isn't just dumb, it is fantasy. We would barely get started before the body bags started piling up, so I have to agree with him about relying upon alliances with nuts. Of course, I point out there are nuts and cheats on his side, but his counter argument is essentially the same as ours. He doesn't have much choice.

David Brin said...

Alfred your friend does what intelligent people on the right are reduced to.... tossing up assertions, maintained by a few anecdotes. What they cannot deal with is statistics.

Yes, anecdotally there are a few examples that Hannity can smugly offer, of lefty-flakes who want us to shiver int he dark. To THEREFORE declare that ALL people who want to take precautions against climate change can be crammed into that category is spectacularly dishonest. But it allows your friend to refuse to consider even moderate-intermediate TWODA measures.

Ask him if he has verified that ALL of his opponents are fanatics who want to shiver in the dark? Because ALL of his side refuses to negotiate even moderate TWODA, or increases in science that would settle the question.

Second, ask him which scientists he knows and if he'd be willing to actually go and meet a few? The snobbish dismissal of the most competitive humans as herd beasts is almost as stupid as any trip that was ever foisted upon millions of fools.

Duncan Cairncross said...

To add to Dr Brin's comment about scientists as "herd beasts"

Even if they were (which they aren't)you should ask about - Which herd???

There are scientists almost everywhere and if the American Scientists were indulging in "Group Think"
The "non American" scientists would absolutely LOVE to stick it to them!!!

Can you imagine French scientists (for instance) passing up such an opportunity!

You would have to shoot them

Tony Fisk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Fisk said...

Alfred, try pointing out this article to your friend (in the New York Times, no less). TWODA is not a zero sum option.

Dave said...

any appraisal that I made - for why denialists chose their cause - would zoom right past science, evidence, cause/effect or logic and go all the way to personality.

Yes. Like I said, confirmation bias, status quo bias, cognitive dissonance. So how do we address this problem? How to break the hypnotic spell of Fox News?

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Mr. Jumper, I hope you pointed out the pH of battery acid compared to water. Ignorance is bliss, so give them some cognitive dissonance!

Robert, your point about high school-level behavior is on the nose! High school effectively trains people to be adolescents for most of their lives. It's just as bad on the other side. Mention GMOs and the lefties scream just as loud as the righties, with the same level of virulence and unthinking fallaciousness (as Neil deGrass Tyson discovered recently). Sometimes I wonder if adults are only a myth...

Alfred, your denier 'friend' sounds exactly like most of the people I grew up with. Next time he mentions 'groupthink' hold up a mirror. if he comes back with religion (God won't let it happen, or Limbaugh's old "Sheer arrogance" line) you know you are dealing with a fanatic whose mind can never be changed. People who hold extreme positions simply can't see anything else except their own camp and their perceived opposite, into which they shove everyone on Earth. Arguing with them is pointless

Anonymous said...

Well sorry Uncle David Delusional , but NOTHING trumps true Logic and real science that is un-contaminated by the political wishes of "uncle Joe" Stalin and those who he considered useful idiots in THIS country,who would make annual pilgrimages to worship at Lenin's Tomb if they could afford to do so. TRY investigating who is REALLY financing all this non existent"science,evidence.cause & effect and logic", such as Joe Sorros , who has enough money to own every democrat in DC or anywhere else in the politically correct police state we are now forced to live in. And hypnotic spell of Fox News ? What most SANE people in this country fear , is the "spell" of the Commie News Network.
Hanoi Jane may have been good in bed , but you really should have been thinking with the OTHER head! Ya know what I mean Ted ?

Richard Wilson Cincinnati , Ohio.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I think my last post skirted the edge of a point - an easy thing to do at 4 in the morning. Science knows no politics. It is the politically minded who try to force science into one category or the other. But science knows only facts and the theories that explain them. Many of the scientists I have known eschew politics entirely, because they are committed to discovering truth, not toeing party lines.

Neil deGrass Tyson is a case in point. His revival of Cosmos included an episode which told the story of Claire Patterson, the scientist who exposed the dangers of leaded gasoline. That made him a lefty hero, until he blogged about GMOs. The facts don't fit anyone's party line 100%, but since politics is about power, it tends to demand 100% obedience from its followers. It takes advantage of our nature as social animals, which leads us to the demon twins of confirmation bias and belief perseverance, substituting for logic.

Fortunately, our social nature does not turn everyone into sheep, and there are places we can go (like this blog) for more rational discussion of issues. But for most, it's a propaganda war, and a question of which side you're on.

On that cheery note ...

Richard Wilson said...

OOOoooppps ! GEORGE Sorros. Im not quite as accurate at nearly 5 AM
OOOooo . good one Mr. Brown , but the cold reality is , that if there is No problem to be alarmist about , then all the research funding suddenly goes away.

R. Wilson

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I just posted about a comment about how blogs like this are good places for rational discussion, then immediately Mr. Anonymous appears. That tired old horse has been dead for so long that all his comment demonstrates is that neuroplasticity is not for everyone.

Mr. Wilson, the vast majority of scientific research has nothing to do with alarmism. There are over 28 million professional scientists in the US alone, clearly they can't all be dependent on grant monies from sensationalist sources. I have been on a number of research projects myself, and in no case was there any political agenda whatsoever.

Skepticism is an important standpoint - it is the standpoint of science itself. But beware the Cui bono fallacy.

Paul451 said...

Also it's Soros.

Tacitus said...

Ugh. Climate change threads always strike me as the most repetitive ones on C.Brin. But for discussion:

Why do you assume that Fox News has a significant influence on public affairs? I don't watch it and consider it the equivalent of samizdat, poorly produced media that people only pay attention to because it dares offer a perspective that is different.

Secondly, many of the TWODA (And David I am resisting the urge to call you Master Twoda!) are in fact happening. With the usual disagreement about too fast/too slow we have over time significantly improved our energy efficiency in many ways. And if our progress towards zero emissions and cheap has not been quick and easy it is at least an ongoing effort. Biofuels, solar, fusion power....the work is being done and nobody of any political stripe is unhappy about that. Heck, many of us here have children of military age and the day when we no longer need the middle east at all will be a great one.

Also, for all the accusations of writhing and evasion on the right I must say that a few questions I have posited here have not been answered very well.

To whit. Given that the largest carbon producers around are elsewhere, how do you propose making enough of a difference in Chinese/Indian/Russian etc emissions to actually stop global warming? What combination of carrots and sticks is going to do this? We are not at present able to keep the world from doing all sorts of awful things and barring some really swell tech development restricting the economies of others is likely to be met by a chorus of pungent phrases that all mean "no thanks and don't ask again".

Answers with more substance than "carbon credits" would be appreciated.


Tony Fisk said...

Master Twoda!? (Do it, T2! Know it you want to do)

Actually, China doesn't need any carrots or sticks. They have brains of their own, and currently are set to break into a full canter toward a renewable economy. The recent Beijing weather might have something to do with this. Or maybe it's another twist in the great commie conspiracy.

India seems to be considering the same prospect, even thought the new PM is a bit ambiguous about AGW.

This leaves Australia wondering where to sell all that lovely coal (Hogmanay gift samples?).

Tim H. said...

Tacitus, OGH may disagree, but I think nothing short of an energy source that provides everything carbon-based energy does, and for the same cost or less will convert the rest of the world. If the alarmists are correct anti-nuclear activists have done the world a disservice. I would agree a lot of efficiency gains have happened that are little appreciated, and we'd be far worse off now if we were limited to a 1970 tech level.

Tacitus said...

Well, here is what purports to be 2011 data. Seems about right. My thoughts follow:

Country CO
2 emissions[9] Emission per capita[10]
World 33,376,327 4.9

China 9,700,000 7.2
United States 5,420,000 17.3
India 1,970,000 1.6
Russia 1,830,000 12.8
Japan 1,240,000 9.8
International transport 1,040,000 -
Germany 810,000 9.9
South Korea 610,000 12.6
Canada 560,000 16.2

this list has both tonnes produced per nation and per capita.

Any solution that does not effectively involve China, India and Russia will not work.

Perhaps on a per captia basis there is a limit below which current tech will have a hard time going. Germany for instance has very stringent measures against urban sprawl and has superb pollution control and public transit. Ditto Japan. 9.9 per capita looks like our goal.

Of course sprawling geography makes that goal much harder. Canada and US at 16 or 17 per cap seem similar. Russia is lower...why.

And of course the nightmare scenario is that India, China and a lot of other places not listed raise their per cap to even efficient German levels. And given all the appealing aspects of western life that are energy driven....they want to.

How shall you persuade them otherwise.

Illuminate us you shall?


Alex Tolley said...

@ Robert:
From the article: It seems pretty obvious that basing one’s society on a single work of (...) fiction is folly (...)

One can probably say that of any of the utopian communities. The bible seems to fit the description too.

To be fair to the libertarians, this scheme does appear to be an outright scam, rather than a real experiment, which would have been a nice case study if it had run for a few years.

Uncle said...

"Efficiency generally describes the extent to which time, effort or cost is well used for the intended task or purpose." (Wikipedia)
There is almost nothing efficient in curbing of CO2 emissions. How carbon capture and storage improve power plant efficiency?
Wind, solar and biofuels are expensive, because it is neither efficient, nor good for the environment to gather low-density and variable energy. But you not think about efficient water use if there is a fire in the house. You call for a fire-brigade with inefficient (but fast) fire truck, they eventually break doors and windows and make a mess in the house, but could save your life. CO2 related policies are not optimized for efficiency, but try to prevent a "clearly dangerous and harmful" tipping points, ocean accidification, methane plumes, sea level rise and s.o. ASAP, by switching to less efficient, but low-carbon energy sources. The problem is that you rarely do the right things if you are wrong in your assumptions. If the land use, and agriculture (as some scientist think) have a significant contribution in warming the biofuels are not good way to curb emissions. If the climate sensitivity is exaggerated you may have enough time to invest more in efficient energy use technologies, instead in inefficient low-carbon energy sources. Hiding the AGW theory problems behind TWODA would NOT "help us all anyway". The knowledge is what reduce the "extent to which time, effort or cost is well used for the intended task", you can't negotiate to do the right things before to know what the right things are.

Alex Tolley said...

Given that the largest carbon producers around are elsewhere, how do you propose making enough of a difference in Chinese/Indian/Russian etc emissions to actually stop global warming? What combination of carrots and sticks is going to do this?

Firsly the argument that there is little point in doing anything UNLESS otehr major CO2 emitters do something too is predicated on:
1. That fossil fuels are so cheap compared to alternatives that there is a gamne theory issue of economic winners and losers.
2. That the US will be the de factor "leader" and other countries "followers"

Both of these premises are probably false. As Tony Fisk has mentioned, China is not only increasing CO2 emissions as it industrializes, but is also trying to convert the contry to renewables, especially solar. Recall that the Chinese company SunTech is the largest solar PV producer on the planet. The US has consistently dragged its feet on committing to CO2 reduction, usually under the assumption of economic disadvantage. What we can say is that some renewable technologies are currently at energy cost parity with coal even before we add in carbon taxes to cover externatilies. The big upset is the low cost of fracked natural gas and the headlong rush to exploit it. This will cause a "gas bubble" that will keep prices low.

What galls me is not that it will take investment to replace fossil fuel consumption as a rationakl market mechanism, but the active disruption of this market swtich by fossil fuel backed legislation and opposition by NIMBYs (I'm looking at you, Kennedy family). We saw a thread or so back teh manufactured opposition to a solar thermal plant at Ivanpah because of "streakers" (birds being inerated as they flew into the concentrated rays). If Solar Power Sats become viable as a result of low cost LEO transport, ni doubt we will hear opposition to the plants because of the microwave transmissions causing something, e.g. cancer.

There is no God-given right that the US should evermore be the world's economic leader, retaining its social structures however inefficient they are. This seems to me to be similar to the argument of the southern slave states before the civil war. So we may need to change. The longer we resist, the harder that will become.

Tacitus said...


You touch on some important points. We don't know the extraction cost of oil going forward nor how much is recoverable. Fracking etc has changed the dire equations of not many years back.

Of course the cost of oil is a factor in the development of alternatives. Or more to the point to the large scale adoption of alternatives.

And regards petroleum use, alas, familiarity does breed contempt. If you look at a more comprehensive list of countries with a per capita production of carbon than the US (we are around 17 tonnes/cap)

Oman 20.4 Brunei 22.8 UAE 19.8 Bahrain 19.3 and oddly, Aruba ties for worst on earth at 22.8. Odd that last one, there is a big refinery there but it strikes me that an Island Paradise would not be in the same category as very oily Petrocracies. I suggest that I be sent there in the chilly month of January for an extended fact finding visit.


Alex Tolley said...


Let us say that you are right about ag practices. We know that conversion efficiencies are low when you eat meat. Beef is especially poor in converting sunlight and CO2 to food. Will you stop or drastically reduce your meat consumption in order to reduce land devoted to cattle ranching and corn production for cattle feed lots? That would seem a reasonable first step would it not?

Wind, solar and biofuels are expensive, because it is neither efficient, nor good for the environment to gather low-density and variable energy.

You may wish to defend each of these assertions. Firstly, wind is already as efficient as baseload coal in some areas of the US. Solar is very close in the SW. Both these technologies are improving in costs as we gain experience and manufacturing capability. Secondly why are these technologies "bad for environment" compared to fossil fuel consumption? Even if there was no damage from CO2 emissions, why do you discount the effects of mining, particulate emisions as well as mercury and radionucleide emissions from their combustion?

I am not a great fan of biofuels, especially corn ethanol. It is inefficient energetically, disrupts food chains, and is a direct transfer of wealth to agribusiness. Sugarcane is better, albeit also at a cost to agriculture and primarily the Amazon. Best is algal biofuel, which could theoretically replace gasoline fuels using a small part of US land area. So far it is not even close to cost competitive with gasoline. HOWEVER, by making cars (and trucks) much more fuel efficient, the cost of fuel per vehicle lifetime decreases, making this cost differential less important in the vehicle buying decision. Electric cars, as Tesla and others are producing, reduce gasoline and diesel consumption even further.

The variability argument (no sun at night), wind isn't constant, can be largely covered by grids and storage solutions. The biggest attractions at this years InterSolar North Americ expo was battery storage systems. A host of new ideas are being explored by universities and corporations of which some will be commercially viable. So let's put another nail in that zombie idea.

Now let's assume that the scientists are correct and that GW is due to human CO2 emissions. We are already seeing the effects of rising sea levels in Miami, where streets are starting to flood frequently. How efficient is it going to be to move Miami (to where?) or float it like Venice, or try to build dykes like Holland? Rising sea is likely a lost cause anyway, it's built in for the next century of so. We should focus on not making things worse by reducing CO2 emissions by energy substitution and increasing efficiencies in energy use, from farming, construction materials and techniques and transport. Complete renewable may not be entirely possible in all cases in the decades ahead, but we just need to get to teh point where we can use ecosystems to absorb the excess rather than overwhelm them.

If none of this makes sense to you. What exactly are your proposals beyond "business as usual" and some vague "market solution will invent the technology when it is needed"?when it is needed"?

matthew said...

Tacitus, here is information about the news-source of choice, broken down by self-identified political identification.

54% of self-identified "Staunch Conservatives" are regular FOX viewers.

37% of "Main Street Republicans" are regular FOX viewers.

38% of "Libertarians" are regular FOX viewers.

So, one third to one half of the conservative movement is getting blatantly conservatively- (and Saudi-friendly-) biased news.

So, that is who is getting their information from FOX.

Note the breakdown for Limbaugh, Stewart, etc. Interesting stuff here.

I, for one, think that the numbers are refreshingly low.

Alex Tolley said...


Whatever the cost of oil extraction, what we do know is that oil prices at $100/bbl are 3x higher than they were 15 years ago. Gasoluine prices are higher too, but I do seem to see a lot more hybrids and even electric cars on the road. Even monster SUVs seem to be much reduced. The high electricty costs in California, plus the increasingly favorable costs of solar has created a strong demand for PV installations. This will eventually put PG&E between a rock and a hrd place, so I expect lots of lobbying to allow them to charge for grid connection "services", blocking efficient solar storage and sharing. The sooner PG&E has viable competition, the better. The recent scandals hopefully will weaken PG&E's political influence.

I suggest you become a local poluition and then go on your fact-finding tour of Aruba, courtesy of teh taxpayer or lobbyist. There are no doubt lot's of other winter resor...err anomalous locations to be studied. :)

Tacitus said...

Concur, refreshingly low. And three years out of date. Lower now? And more to the point, does Fox create opinions or attract viewers who already hold them? Pew is an honest outfit but in this instance should have asked a few more questions.

I suspect that in the old Soviet Union days a very low percentage of Communist Party members read samizdat. Or would admit to it!

Alex, I have heard 65 dollar a barrel posited from Bakken oil sources based on improving technology and infrastructure. Will it happen? Who knows.

Your suggestion regards fact finding missions to Aruba almost makes me tempted to run for a corruptable office. For what its worth medical conferences have the same travel agents.


David Brin said...

Tonight! I’ll be on Coast-to-Coast starting at 11pm PacificTime, speaking about technology, pandemics, space, futurism and so on!
And yes... I am sure at some point a caller will bring up danged UFOs, who will get some prime, Monty-Python-level taunting.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tacitus2. Problem solved if you are in the medical business. Just do a bent trial for a Big Pharma company and have your payment partially in kind. :)

Alex Tolley said...


I gather Bakken oil is 2x as expensive to produce as conventional oil wells in the US and on a par with Canadian oil sand extraction costs. So this sugegsts that production is highly dependent on prices being high. Could end up a boom and bust.

IIRC, traditional mining operations have typically left such states with the tab for environmental cleanup. Fracking is probably not nearly so bad, but it wouldm't surprise me if a bust left a lot of untended seeping wells contaminating te groundwater for farms.

Alex Tolley said...

Even if the Mew Climate Economy report is incorrect, there is a very interesting potential parallel with Ray Bradbury's "The Toynbee Convector".

David Brin said...

David Bruns asks: “How to break the hypnotic spell of Fox News?”

Good question. Fox - backed by AEI and Heritage and Cato and very deep pockets - has become very good at what it does. It is very hard to break through a Nuremberg Rally that is so culturally self-reinforcing… the “victims” deeply WANT the mantras to succeed.

That is why I have concentrated on what I do best, finding jiu jitsu moves around the loggerheads. I do not try to go toe-to-toe over evidence pro-or-con on climate change. That is sumo, grunting and pushing and AEI and fix equip denialists with all the anecdotal arm-waving assertions they need.

Instead, I aim for the deeper underpinnings. Like why no negotiation? If you think that some lefties want us to “shiver in the dark” are there NO intermediate or practical measures you’d allow, just in case the smart folks turn out to be smart, after all? TWODA is a powerful concept and it lays bare which side is the one being spectacularly unreasonable.

Likewise, the notion that scientists are the most competitive of all humans… this shatters the narrative that they are herd beasts…

But in fact, there are stupid people in all directions and I despair that liberals have been too stupid to look for jiu-jitsu methods, instead allowing the fox-ites to keep choosing the narrative (sumo) battlefield.

David Brin said...

Tacitus2 we KNOW you don’t watch fox! Did you think that we had so low an opinion of you? If YOU were a republican candidate, for any office at all, we would sit at your debates with sober and earnest respect. But your kind of Republican is on the ropes.

Yes! TWODA things are happening! They are happening because the GOP has lost significant elections! As for China, I favor very aggressive trade renegotiations, on many many topics.

I truly wonder if folks might be surprised at the reaction, if some daring Republican in a Purple district ran on a “take conservatism back from the crazies and oligarchs” platform?

David Brin said...

Alas, this leaves us with folks like poor Mr. Wilson, jibbering and capering about and actually convinced that the spittle he flings is a reasonable substitute for reason and science.

Take his screeches about George Soros… who is (yes) a democratic billionaire… who has 1/10th the money, influence as Rupert Murdoch and 1/50th the media reach. The reason Fox rails about Soros is that they know that middle class Americans will sooner or later realize that oligarchy is their deepest enemy. And the Koch-Murdoch-Saudis want to set up scarecrows to keep their dittoheads from drawing conclusions: “Hey, everything on Fox is commanded by Koch-Murdoch-Saudi… oligarchs!”

But Mr. Wilson will never budge… even though I deal with Soros decisively here:

If he had any guts or curiosity, he would read that.

Tacitus said...

Oh my, trade negotiations.

What are you prepared to offer/threaten to induce China to keep carbon output at current levels or lower.

I did ask for specifics.

Handwavium don't count.


David Brin said...

China needs us vastly more than we need China. It is time to ask them to choose whether they wish to remain members of the World Trade Organization. e.g. --

Apple, unannounced, is suddenly unable to ship its new iPhone 6 family into Communist China.

The proximal cause of this sudden halt appears to be the unwillingness of the Chinese government to issue the appropriate permit. But this isn't a reason, it's a tool.

Acacia H. said...

Why is there no negotiation on TWODA for environmental policies?

The same exact reason there is no negotiation on even the most reasonable and logical of gun control legislation.

There is an inherent (and not entirely inaccurate) fear of "if we give an inch they will take a mile and destroy everything."

So conservatives refuse to even negotiate on things that make sense because it's the Other that is suggesting it. And the Other is the Enemy and cannot be negotiated with because they're terrorists and anti-American. Even when they are American.

Rob H.

Dave said...

@Paul Shen-Brown give them some cognitive dissonance! Not helpful. Cognitive dissonance means that when evidence arrives that contradicts a deeply held/felt idea, the evidence is forgotten, dismissed, minimized, misremembered, sabotaged in some way. The question is how to defuse this, separate the facts from the wishful thinking.

People who hold extreme positions simply can't see anything else except their own camp and their perceived opposite, into which they shove everyone on Earth. Arguing with them is pointless
Actually, not just extremists, though extremists are more likely to have a subconscious emotional commitment to ideas. Arguing is pointless, so how do we persuade?

Science knows no politics.
This does not prevent partisans from trying to spin science and use it to flog their tired nostrums. One hundred years ago, supporters of eugenics claimed the mantle of science. Even if all scientific claims about climate change are true, the subsequent wrestling match about what to do about it seems likely to involve a rehash of some old, tired partisan struggles.

[Politics] takes advantage of our nature as social animals, which leads us to the demon twins of confirmation bias and belief perseverance, substituting for logic. Fortunately, our social nature does not turn everyone into sheep
Not all the time. But no one is impervious to this influence. To become aware of it is the first step toward defeating it, but not the last.

[F]or most, it's a propaganda war
How do we show that it is not? When so much is at stake, when no one gets to opt out and watch from the sidelines, it is not enough to be correct. Persuasive? Empathetic?

Tacitus said...


I am confused. Are you saying that the United States has the power to kick China out of the World Trade Organizaton? Or that our depriving them of the latest iPhone will bring them groveling to the negotiating table?

I am still waiting for something of substance. Something that will make pretty much the only nation on earth still building coal plants (I have seen a stat claiming they open a new one every ten days) "go green"?

iPhone restrictions might work on your teenager. This is a more serious issue.

Come on, bring the A game. How are you going to persuade the world?


David Brin said...

Arm-waving terms like "confirmation bias" does not let Mr. Bruns escape my challenge. You, sir, clearly know no scientists.

We are trained relentlessly to watch out for confirmation bias and other traps and to use dozens of methods to chaco that we might be wrong. But, knowing that we are human, we know also that the only ones who can find our biggest mistakes will be our competitors.

Which is why science is by far the most competitive (ruthlessly so) of all human endeavors. And if you do not know this, in your bones, then you know no scientists and have never engaged in science.

Given this trait, one is behooved to ask why some media push the opposite image, of nerdy meek wusses following each other around, like lemmings?

Can group think or confirmation bias take hold, even despite science being fiercely competitive? Sure. The central scientific paradigm in ANY field is simultaneously 98% right... and contingently about-to-change as constant poking reveals new flaws and improvements. Moreover, every now and then a central paradigm is proved to be WRONG!

So? These are fixed with fiercely competitive specific questions that can be specifically answered... exactly OPPOSITE to the approach used by the denialist cult, which bobs and weaves and ducks and backpedals and allows NO ANSWERS to modify their enraged accusations.

The rare CATUAL SKEPTIC like Berkeley's Muller, was an irritant to the climate community, but his questions were specific, and pointed, and he forced some areas of doubt to be re-examined.

Moreover, Muller set criteria (which Mr. Bruns refuses to do) by which his doubts might be satisfied. They were fierce ones. But last year he stepped up and declared "I am now satisfied."

... something Mr. Bruns will never do, because there are no results or proofs or incremental increases in evidentiary support that will make him negotiate TWODA. Because (although he has lately become more polite) he is a member of a cult.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, the US can bring suits against China in the WTO that if successful would cost them many billions and force changes or get them kicked out. We also have the option of leaving WTO and slapping tariffs. There are many potential tradeoffs and one would be for them to reduce our trade deficit by buying a lot of pollution abatement stuff.

locumranch said...

TWODA (things we OUGHT to doing anyway) is not a scientific position; instead, it is a moral position based on a scientific principle.

The statement that 'John may die if current circumstances continue' is a scientific argument because it can be supported by empiric observation.

The statement that 'We OUGHT to help John or he may die' is a moral argument that assumes that we should want (or are somehow obligated) to prevent the death of John because of culturally specific social or religious precepts that are not necessarily based on science and/or empiric observation.

Likewise, the argument to prevent climate change is also moral rather than 'scientific', even if you can prove that ongoing climate change will result in adverse consequence for all, meaning that TWODA advocates are no more 'scientific' than any other culturally-specific jihadist.


Alex Tolley said...

While scientists are indeed a competitive lot, the increasing demands for peer review reform should be raising some flags about how much that competitiveness does to ensure that incorrect research doesn't get published. Perhaps we need paid reviewers of more open peer review. There is also the question of who gets hired in academia. It is well known that in the social sciences, hiring is very dependent on which ideas are held. There have been claims that this has happened in the hard sciences, most notably in physics departments that adhere to String Theory. And of course there is the old saw that obsolete theories die when their adherents are dead too. All of which is to say that science isn't perfect, but, as you have stated in the past, is SELF-CORRECTING in the long run.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum. Given your background, a TWODA would be:

"We ought to give John broad spectrum antibiotics, because otherwise he may die of an infection we haven't been able to identify."

This is not a moral argument, but one based on evidence.

The equivalent climate TWODA is that we have evidence that:

1. Our climate is within narrow ranges is required for our present civilization without huge changes.
2. The globe is warming.
3. Human CO2 emissions are the best explanation of the proximal cause.

Therefore reducing CO2 concentrations in the biosphere looks like the best approach to take. You can pile on moral, economic and other arguments, but unless you have believe that potentially allowing millions of people to die is an acceptable risk for not doing anything, then you need to advance other approaches.

What I would find morally repugnant is to willfully let people die for selfish reasons, particularly when solutions are available that don't require us to shiver in the dark wearing hair shirts.

Dave said...

Dear Dr. Brin,
We are trained relentlessly to watch out for confirmation bias

In this discussion I am stipulating you have the right of it on the scientific questions. I am talking about confirmation bias among your opponents. I'm sure they would mostly insist they are trying to be "fair and balanced." But they fail. This is how human brains work, especially when politics or religion is involved.

the denialist cult, which bobs and weaves and ducks and backpedals and allows NO ANSWERS to modify their enraged accusations.

So, what are the possibilities? A) they know just what they are doing, and are stone evil. B) They are really stupid. (The creativity of the bobbing and weaving seems evidence against this.) C) They are influenced by cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, us/them groupthink, etc. (Just for completeness and so as not to be accused of dogmatism, we could include option D) maybe they're sort of almost kind-of right, with an unmeasurably small expected probability. For instance, Earth could be hit by a massive asteroid next year, rendering the discussion moot. Low probability.)

So, which hypothesis are we going to bet on, and what is the solution? How do you reform the demons, or educate the dullards, or snap your fingers for the hypnotized? Or just ignore them? That doesn't seem like an option.

lately become more polite
I'm trying.

he is a member of a cult.
So where does that leave us? You live among a bunch of evil ignorant cultists. How are you going to deprogram us? Maybe your next novel will become the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" of climate change? (The context makes it difficult, but I do not intend that as sarcasm.)

Acacia H. said...

I must admit I'm a bit disappointed in NASA's selection of Boeing as one of the two finalists for the "Commercial Crew" program. What's worse, it got the lion's share of the money, with SpaceX getting half as much.

The end result? Two space capsules with the one with innovative technologies and designs (SpaceX) getting half the funding over the glorified Apollo capsule from Boeing.

Left out? The small space-plane from Sierra Nevada Corp.

It would have been far better for the Dream Chaser and Dragon 2 to have gotten equal amounts of NASA funding, and Boeing told "nice try, but give us something with more innovation and less waste."

I also can't help but feel politics are involved in this decision. Boeing is a major U.S. aerospace company, and yet their entry (which is not as innovative as the competitors) won two thirds of the money.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

You can fairly argue that neither China nor Russia are really Communist countries now. But it is in their "political DNA". Only a few decades back you would be sent to the gulag, or worse, for oversleeping and in a small way setting back the Five Year Plan for tractor production or some such. It will be a damn tough sell asking them to potentially curtain their economies for any reason.

Lawyers might not be enough. Us or them leaving the World Trade Org is interesting but trade wars get ugly fast. You used to castigate Republicans for endangering the US economy. Imagine China calling the US debt they hold.

Oh, and I doubt the Chinese will buy billions of dollars of antipollution gadgets. If they get to the point where Beijing air is more solid than gaseous state they are more likely to simply industrial espy the schematics from us and pirate the tech.

Got anything else in the tool kit?

believe it or not the antispam code word is Tacitus!

Alex Tolley said...

Yes, but we can make things worse if have wrong assumptions. Do you think burning in UK a wood from USA and Canada make things better (see Drax power station). I'd rather invest in reforestation.

Since I didn't in any shape or form suggest that the UK burn Canadian wood, this is a strawman argument.

Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a start. Unfortunately, they are still rather expensive, and the cheaper ones, predominantly from China, appear to fail rather quickly. But keep researching and get those prices down. And could you make them not look like incandescent bulbs. In the meantime, I will continue to use fluorescent bulbs for most application. LEDs work for me when used as spotlights.

As regards solar and wind. Any suggestion that they are not net benefits regarding CO2 emissions is fatuous. This is reminiscent of the time when the right-wing talk show hosts tried to suggest that hybrids were more energy inefficient that gasoline trucks because they had batteries. This talking point was very quickly debunked. But the lie got halfway around the planet before the truth caught up.

We'll see what happens to Miami in a century. But so far it is starting to flood. It wouldn't surprise me if Miami suffers the same fate as Venice and for the same reasons. By the way, are you offering to help poor countries that will suffer from flooding while you continue to burn carbon?

So your proposal so far is replace light bulbs with LEDs (not going to be nearly enough) and some vague technology R&D will increase energy efficiency, which is happening anyway and is good (even though there is opposition to mandatory efficiency increases for US automobiles). Is that going to be nearly enough to stave of the impacts of warming? You know the answer, it is not.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tacitus2. I have read that the Chinese couldn't actually sell the US treasuries they own. At best they can purchase other US assets (which they seem to be doing already, much as petrodollars were back in the 1970s and 80s.

As you say, neither the US nor China will exit the WTO for obvious reasons.

At some point the Chinese will have to allow the yuan/USD rate to rise, reducing their ability to export. Whether the US can regain the manufacturing it has lost is another matter.

If the US invented anti-pollution devices that worked, I would happily give them away/offer free licensing/whatever, if that would effectively reduce global pollution.

Alex Tolley said...

@Robert. The nicest argument one can make for the decision is that Nasa is covering it bets. A safe selection in Boeing that has proven deliverables, plus a side bet on a more innovative company SpaceX to add some competition and a likely earlier delivery, but may also fail.

Pity about dropping SN's Dream Chaser as this looked very interesting too. I hope that they can continue with development.

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

Sometimes I wonder if adults are only a myth...

The problem with our media culture is that we intimately "know" more celebrities and politicians than we do actual human beings.

My co-workers, neighbors, and close family members strike me as pretty well-adjusted adults. Those people on tv, OTOH, make me despair as you do, until I remember most of what we see there is an act.

Uncle said...


Venice is a praise of the human spirit and achievements (the spirit of Dr. Brin's Uplift series). It were built in the mud more than 5 centuries ago. The buildings lie on wooden piles under the water. And the Venetians not look suffering - I was there in April. The same spirit can save Miami probably, but it vanishes. The end is always near, we reach overpopulation, starvation, The Great Horse-Manure Crisis, end of resources, peak of oil, global cooling, global warming, tipping points etc. over and over again from centuries and nothing of this actually happens. Scientists and engineers always change the game and the things not go on as they were. I am offering to help poor countries with education, technologies and economic growth, what will solve many other problems. Most of the poor countries are not on atolls and flooding is not the primary problem there.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Most of the poor countries are not on atolls and flooding is not the primary problem there."

Major misconception here,
Yes most are not on atolls
BUT most ARE in the flood plains of major rivers

What happens to those rivers when the sea levels rise???

They FLOOD - and cover the MOST fertile land with water

David Brin said...