The dogma of the quiet past is inadequate for.. (robertflink) Sat 24 Jul 10 17:37
Before WWII, the country (USA) was overwhelmingly against getting involved. In hindsight, an earlier intervention may have saved millions. Had the people been better informed, would involvement been earlier? My point is that a people may democratically decide to keep their heads in the sand. That some will preach such a position as wisdom is likely and only mildly causative. BTW, I am in favor of any and all efforts to address climate change as a key element of getting to a lighter footprint on the planet. Thanks for the book
for dixie southern iraq (stet) Sat 24 Jul 10 18:44
Taking the long Darwinian view, bad human decisions on restraining greenhouse gases probably won't lead to human extinction. So what are we all fussing about?
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Sat 24 Jul 10 21:56
Extinction of lots of other species we're fond of, and depend on, leading to mass starvation--our species may survive, and lots of others will too, but being culled won't be fun.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Sun 25 Jul 10 05:16
The same day the Senate pulled the plug on the carbon cap, China Daily reported this: BEIJING The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission ... Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said. China is now spending $9 billion A MONTH on clean energy. The US government spends $5 billion A YEAR on clean energy R&D. We are squandering our chance to dominate the next generation of job-creating industries. We are arguing about 20th century rust belt jobs and losing out on tthe jobs of the 21st century.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Sun 25 Jul 10 06:16
It's sort of scary when a developing nation is making smarter moves than us.
We're carrot people. (unkljohn) Sun 25 Jul 10 06:58
Whatever it takes to get it through our thick skulls!
John Payne (satyr) Sun 25 Jul 10 08:37
One of the primary failings of capitalism is that it acts to lock in the status quo. The smart money is probably long since out of oil stocks, but somebody owns them, with retirement funds being the most likely suspects. It's hard to develop political will when the actions that are needed will act to erode the life savings of many voters.
Earl Crabb (esoft) Sun 25 Jul 10 09:31
Well, China isn't that far ahead of us. We've had a carbon trading exchange in place for more than ten years, already. (Google "Richard Sandor" "carbon trading") (say hi to him if you talk to him)
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Sun 25 Jul 10 11:04
Actually Eric, I'm curious about another aspect of the climate deniers. Assuming you're correct about them being "true believers," I wonder what you think it will take for them to wake up and realize that we are really in trouble here. I'm not suggesting that they will have a sudden change of heart of present their mea culpas--but some of them will probably realize at some point that they can actually make money off of climate change.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sun 25 Jul 10 13:39
I have been remiss in not telling our off-site readers, please email <email@example.com> with your questions and comments for Eric Pooley)
John Payne (satyr) Sun 25 Jul 10 19:23
> we are really in trouble here Well, yes, most likely, especially those of us living very near sea level and on the edges of deserts. We're in uncharted territory. Not only is the CO2 level higher than it's been in a very long time, but jets flit across the sky seeding high level clouds like they've never been seeded before, tractors crawl across the landscape exposing raw soil to sun, wind, and rain, in the United States roughly 1% of the land area is roofs, roads, and parking lots (or has it reached 2%?). Meanwhile, overgrazing has turned much marginal land to desert, and rainforests are being cleared and burned at an alarming pace; temperate forerst have been reduced to a fraction of what they were a few hundred years ago, and prairies have been turned into farm land, and largely to dust. It's a bold experiment, with neither theory or rationale behind it, much like a child making mud pies, being performed on what is certainly the only planet within at least four light years capable of supporting life as we know it. Very reckless!
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Mon 26 Jul 10 05:47
<<I wonder what you think it will take for them to wake up and realize that we are really in trouble here. Many of them will never get it. The tend to be older guys, so they're not likely to live long enough to see the chaos.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Mon 26 Jul 10 05:49
I'm working on two piece of journalism. One is a what went wrong story, and the other is a where we go from here story, I'll post some chunks if you're interested.
John Payne (satyr) Mon 26 Jul 10 06:39
What went wrong? You don't have to be more than a little cynical to think that it happened when herds started following people rather than the other way around, or when the planting stick, for poking seed holes, became a plow, for opening furrows. Most of the destruction man has wreaked upon the planet has resulted from these developments, although with our modern, mechanically enhanced methods, we're fast catching up.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Mon 26 Jul 10 09:55
Eric, you've talked a little about some of the activists you spent time with, and some of the tactics they usefully employed. Perhaps you could give us some more detail on that?
Jeff Dooley (dooley) Mon 26 Jul 10 10:27
The recent "what went wrong" story, say over the past 20 years could be very valuable strategically. Part of what makes The Climate War so interesting is to get a feel for the tension among the environmentalists over the markets versus litigation divide. At some point, probably when it's way too late, stark pragmatism may force a consensus, but the cdost will be high by then. With the recent defeat of cap and trade in the US it's hard not to be grimly cynical, but that leads nowhere useful. The "where do we go from here" story would be a great place to continue the effort, and I would be very interested in what you're coming up with Eric.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 27 Jul 10 16:09
Just arriving - interesting conversation so far, and a book I want to read! My question Eric is this: to what extent do the folks you met understand systems theory, feedback loops, and the idea of there being irreversible tipping points? It's so fundamental to the science, and yet I've encountered a number of well-meaning policymakers who just don't get why there is such an element of urgency to the situation. Expressions of urgency are taken as a sign of shrill extremism when they are likely the height of pragmatism. And it's so fundamental to the sense of frustration too - if incrementalism were a viable option we'd be right on track to solve this knot of problems in 40 or 100 or 500 years... Which we don't have.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 28 Jul 10 07:40
>My question Eric is this: to what extent do the folks you met understand systems theory, feedback loops, and the idea of there being irreversible tipping points? Not wanting to pre-empt Eric here, or to sound like a denier, but can you clarify what you mean? ARe you saying that scientists know, in the same way that they know that a rock will always fall toward earth and not toward outer space, that climate tipping points exist and what constitutes them?
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Wed 28 Jul 10 11:22
Yes, that there are changes you can't undo once they are done because that's the way systems work. For example, there is a bunch of methane trapped in arctic permafrost. If you raise CO2 levels and global temperature enough to start melting permafrost, the methane is released. Short-term, methane is 17x more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, so melting permafrost triggers a huge positive feedback loop. If global CO2 emissions were curbed before that massive release was triggered, it could possibly prevent it. But if they were curbed while it was underway, the CO2 level change would no longer have a significant impact on the system. Maybe an analogy would be if you have a fire start in your house, you have a moderate window of time when you can theoretically put it out on your own. But once it begins to spread, get out! Something constitutes a housefire tipping point where you recognize that the processes operating have overwhelmed your capacity to intervene. You can't un-melt an ice cap or put the ice sheet back on Greenland in human-scale time. The mechanism that melts them is a runaway positive feedback loop, and that's what I'm asking if folks understand.
Jeff Dooley (dooley) Wed 28 Jul 10 11:41
There is by now a fairly deep tradition of modeling complicated "systems" full of interdependencies that suggests how they may respond over time to dramatic changes, such as a change in overall climate. This is inductive science (like expecting a rock to always fall to earth just because that's what it has always done), and so it is messy and imprecise, yet it has produced useful insights. As <keta> says, one of these insights is that if you push a model far enough out of equilibrium it will begin to oscillate wildly and unpredictably at some point. This would be a tipping point in the model. What happens to the components of the model or its structure after losing equilibrium is impossible to predict, though some overall meta-patterns, like the tragedy of commons, seem to show up in the models repeatedly. Also (again echoing keta), the probability of the model settling back after the oscillation into the same structural equilibrium that it exhibited before going out of control is zero. So, after the oscillation there will be something there, but there is no way of knowing what it would be except that it won't be like it was. These models are attempts to hypothesize structural relationships in a way that gives us some insight into the way complex messes, like global habitats, might behave over time under various kinds of stresses. But the models are not the habitats. The apparent fact that humans do not easily grasp modeling elements like long delays between actions and the return consequences (though global action to eliminate CFC emissions in the 90s based on modeling results is a counterexample) is, I think, part of the reason why there still aren't enough people in the US feeling a sense of urgency about climate change. But with long systemic delays, once you begin to notice symptoms of large scale change emerging, it's pretty much too late. It doesn't help that short-term comfort always seems to trump sacrifices to avoid longer-term hypothetical consequences, and the hypothetical nature of the consequences, being derived from models, gives deniers some plausible confidence that the scientists are wrong. I've been talking about the models since that's all we have. Hopefully, all these decades of work has produced models and structural components, like feedback loops of various kinds connected in various ways, that actually can provide practical clues to help us find a way to preserve our habitat to some degree and maybe limit unnecessary suffering due to ignorance.
Joel Bremson (jb) Wed 28 Jul 10 12:11
The tipping point argument is a reason to act with urgency but taken to far it can inspire fatalism. One of my takeaways from the book is that global warming should be talked about in terms of being a solvable problem. If a problem is urgent and solvable we can expect people to take action, urgent and unsolvable will just create fatalism. The deniers spread such a thick cloud of FUD that countering it with cold, sober, scary realism will not work. The counter should be more along the lines of investing in clean technology for a happy retirement with good weather. Something like that.
Jeff Dooley (dooley) Wed 28 Jul 10 12:57
A related, good point from the book is that effective action now will almost surely lead to less severe problems for the habitat than waiting and acting sometime in the future.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 28 Jul 10 13:19
(just received an email from Eric, apologizing about his absence. He has been traveling, away from wifi. He will be back tonight.)
John Payne (satyr) Thu 29 Jul 10 19:59
It's my impression that appreciation of system behavior, much less real understanding of it, isn't particularly common. And really why should it be? We don't teach anything like cellular automata in K-12. Even in College, only math and statistics and maybe hard science and engineering majors are remotely likely to be exposed to such ideas in a rigorous manner.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Fri 30 Jul 10 05:23
Sorry I've been AWOL. On the question of who understands complex systems and the threat of tipping points, clearly the climatologists understand this threat. Im The Climate War I describe a number of potential tipping points: the melting of permafrost and methane hydrates is one (essentially, the earth will take over and release so much GHG it won't matter what we do) and ocean acidification is another. The scientist can't say with any specificity when such a tipping point will come (or, to use Gary's analogy, when the rock will fall), but the geological evidence suggests that when it does come, climate change can be very rapid. RAPID change, of course, is the disastrous kind, of course, because it gives human, animal and plant populations no time to adapt. Who gets this? Scientists - yes Climate activists - yes Politicians - a few The public - mostly not The Deniers - of course not To Joel's point, this is cause for urgency, not fatalism -- since we don't know how far away the tipping points are, we have to proceed on the assumption that we still have enough time to avoid the worst. How could we give up with so much at stake?
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