Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Language of Climate

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  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Awesome pics, Ian, thanks for those links.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to BenWilson,

    1. If so, do you believe that the climate is currently changing in a way that is out of the ordinary for the planet?

    The problem with this question is how do you define ordinary and what time frame. For example I believe the climate is changing and that humans are causing it. Yet I would still answer no to your question. Only because if you look over the history of the planet it would have had temperature changes like that before.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby, in reply to bmk,

    Only because if you look over the history of the planet it would have had temperature changes like that before.

    agreed. the climate changes we're on the cusp of aren't abnormal for Earth. they're unprecedented for homosapiens.

    the question isn't "will earth cope?"*, the question is, "will we?"

    *although the most alarmist think that we might push it too far and fck the biosphere once and for all.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Che Tibby,

    he climate changes we’re on the cusp of aren’t abnormal for Earth. they’re unprecedented for homosapiens.

    That isn't quite right. The amount of temperature change has been seen before for the planet but not the rate at which that change is occurring. Such changes in the past appears to have occurred over a very long time frame - time for adaption to occur.

    So yeah, the planet will cope and most folks are pretty certain there will be life on the planet (unless we go to full Venus-like hothouse) but there is not certainty that the life that exists will be able to support our civilisation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Che Tibby,

    the question isn’t “will earth cope?",
    the question is, “will we?”

    +1
    that's it in a nutshell!

    The alarmists do have a good point, we have the ability to create an atomic fart in a room we can't leave, should 'we' lose control of transuranic elements (92+)...

    The planet has been back almost to 'factory settings' a coupla times already, through other agencies, hopefully novelty will survive...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7893 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Such changes in the past appears to have occurred over a very long time frame – time for adaption to occur.

    Not sure this is right either :)
    There was a good NYer article by Elizabeth Kolbert, about 5 years ago, about
    greenland ice-core drilling, and what it could reveal about climate change going in and out of the last ice age.
    And there seemed to be good evidence of wild swings (up to an alarming 8 degrees year to year) in average temperature as glaciation retreats and advances.
    Her conclusion: an uncontrolled experiment in changing global climate is a massive crapshoot with no idea the odds.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to bmk,

    The problem with this question is how do you define ordinary and what time frame.

    The solution is to ask a better question. The questions I gave were intended to be a work in progress. So feel free to pose a better question, or series of questions, that gets to the nub of "denying climate change is even happening at all", which was the point of my vaguer question in the first place.

    I suggest that if it is not actually possible to ask a series of questions which determine someone's beliefs about climate change, then it is a very vague concept. If that is true, then that is the problem with the debate right there, and the very first place to start with is to firm the damned questions up. Anything else is just people yelling at each other.

    Of course there is endless regress in questions, when people are prepared to answer in bad faith, like children who will just ask for the definition of every term in the definition, and then do the same for the definitions of those. But you get around those questions with "You have to answer the question under your own understanding of the words". Because the purpose is to find out what people believe, not to convince them of anything.

    It's a divide and conquer approach. Separate out the different kinds of deniers. They may look like they've got little in common in the end. Sic them on each other even - you can have a level 2 denier do all the work of convincing the level 1 deniers that there is actually climate change happening. Get the level 3s to convince the level 2s that it's humans causing it.

    Also, we might be able to get a profile of the relative numbers of each kind. The main thing standing in the way of helpful discussion of practical climate change policies might not be the first question, but actually the 4th question, the moral issue of whether we should do anything, given that we could. That's a whole different debate to whether or not ice core samples show sudden jumps in the paleolithic period, or whatever other stuff comes up.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I feel no obligation to engage with deniers. Let's get on with big action to solve the problem.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19695 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I'm suggesting a framework to make that much easier.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    I’m suggesting a framework to make that much easier.

    From personal experience in other debates (GMOs) there is not much point in spending your effort on the people who are ideologically opposed (equivalent to the deniers).

    In order to change their minds you'd have to break their whole ideological framework - something that is difficult, tiring and IMO kind of a nasty thing to try to do to someone.

    But you can spend your time and energy giving data to those in the middle - which is most folks. You give them data and if they need/want it help them understand how to interpret the data - not frame it for them but give them the language and explanations so they can understand for themselves.

    If you do that - and if the data actually do support your position - then most folks can and will change their positions.

    Again in my experience - arguing long and hard with the extreme deniers/opponents just makes everyone unhappy and changes nobody's positions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I'm not suggesting any of this in order to convert deniers. I agree that's futile. I just want to identify them. Also, along the way, to identify a number of other positions that steadily become less extreme, until you get to the middle ground.

    I say this because I don't really believe people denying climate change is even happening are the main cause of inaction. They're extreme enough that people recognize them. The inaction is around what the hell should be done about it, if anything. It might help a great deal to have a realistic idea of the number of people who actually hold these positions, when trying to formulate a strategy about how to convince them of a course of action. I'm not even convinced there is a scientific consensus around questions toward the more practical end of the debate. You seem to be considerably more open to the prospect of technological solutions than others are, for instance.

    However, deniers infiltrate these discussions constantly. Wouldn't it be the world's easiest solution to simply bar them from the discussion? Not on any nasty grounds of their fundamental immorality as human beings. Not even for being wrong. But for the simple purpose of expediting practical discussion of alternatives given that they are wrong.

    In other words, say you want to build a bridge somewhere. You need a good plan for this bridge in order to convince people that they should pay for this bridge. It's a fairly fundamental idea that people working on the bridge project shouldn't be people who actually don't want the bridge in the first place. Which is not to say that they are even wrong. Maybe the bridge is actually a bad idea. But even if it is a bad idea, people should still be allowed their place to work on their bridge idea, free from others trying to stop them doing at least that. You should even be able to discuss the bridge idea in an open public forum - you just have to make it clear that the discussion is predicated around the intention to build the bridge, not the intention to screw it up. Then moderation is not a moral judgment with massive acrimony. It's not even a judgment of the truth or falsity of the hypothetical question. It's purely a matter of procedure, of debating protocol.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to BenWilson,

    why a duck

    say you want to build a bridge...

    ...now you've gone and thrown a spanner in the works!

    ;- )

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7893 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Ouch!!

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 776 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    The inaction is around what the hell should be done about it, if anything. ... I’m not even convinced there is a scientific consensus around questions toward the more practical end of the debate. You seem to be considerably more open to the prospect of technological solutions than others are, for instance.

    There are a couple of interesting issues here. The first is that while there is not as much action as we'd like there is indeed a huge amount of action going on. The push to develop non-polluting energy sources has increased immensely since the recognition that CO2 is affecting the climate. Advances in solar/wind/tide etc generation of electricity has allowed major gains in efficiency - not to the level where they are as cheap as burning coal but an order of magnitude closer than they were a decade ago. Similar gains in the efficiency of transport are happening.

    What is not happening is the reduction in fossil fuel use we think we need - because at the moment that would have economic and political costs that the people in power are not willing to pay (worldwide).

    As you say I'm technologically bullish. Not because I believe technological solutions are risk-free but because the other solutions are not likely to happen until the shit really hits the fan (too late). I base that belief on observations around other crises that affect the world.

    For example everyone knows we produce enough food for everyone on the planet to eat adequately - yet people starve. The solution proposed by many for centuries now has been to change distribution of food. Yet for centuries there has been no change in distribution. Therefore that solution will not work and an alternative solution needs to be tried.

    I don't believe the people in power will give up economic and political power simply to save the planet, they never have in the past and I cannot see any indication the population will change the people in power to choose ones who are willing to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the planet in the future.

    From that (deeply cynical) perspective the only viable solution is a technological solution that sidesteps the need for those in power to behave responsibly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to BenWilson,

    Maybe the bridge is actually a bad idea. But even if it is a bad idea, people should still be allowed their place to work on their bridge idea, free from others trying to stop them doing at least that.

    Replace bridge with, say, nuclear weapon and I think your problem becomes much more obvious. "we're right, so it's good when we do things that would be considered awful if other people did them".

    That said, I agree with you. There are times to debate, and we've done that. It's time to act, and talk about action.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1200 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    from that (deeply cynical) perspective the only viable solution is a technological solution that sidesteps the need for those in power to behave responsibly.

    Fascism! Technomancy, call it what you will, the belief that if we can just get those messy people out of the way the technology will work properly.

    The problem with your solution is that there are already a lot of people with the technology to oppose you, and they're doing that as fast as they can. I don't know that they would be so blatant as to set coalfields on fire if you started sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, but I expect that they would come up with a close equivalent.

    So a precondition/first step of the technomantic solution is to thoroughly disempower or eliminate the problematic people.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1200 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    What is not happening is the reduction in fossil fuel use we think we need – because at the moment that would have economic and political costs that the people in power are not willing to pay

    It's not just people in power who are not willing to pay. There's quite a big sell job over the drop in quality of life that comes from energy usage reduction to everyone currently using it. Our energy footprints are well in excess of what renewables can provide now, and it's not at all clear whether they could ever provide a complete replacement. By "ever" I mean in a future using technology that we do actually know we can make, rather than speculative future tech like fusion power or giant space mirrors. In other words I mean hydro, wind, tidal, biofuel, geothermal.

    But I'm also technologically bullish, and on the savings side of the ledger too. Our ability to reduce energy usage without substantial drops in quality of life is very much affected by technology, and there are very big improvements that have been made in that area in the last 20 years.

    The part we most need to give away, though, shows very little signs of abating, and that is the neverending need for more of everything. We could very easily increase renewables massively, reduce energy footprints in the biggest using areas, and yet still increase fossil fuel usage. Because people want that too. We don't have an economic organization that can withstand a drop in consumption. Even a flatlining of it causes serious trouble.

    And this is not something that affects only elites. Indeed, it affects them least. The inequality that gives them their greatest power is at it's most extreme in the most poverty stricken and backwards places. The economic system destructing can actually benefit a huge part of the elite establishment. The people most affected by economic slumps are the most vulnerable people. These people will really struggle to understand why energy austerity is in their interests.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • henry laurensen, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    the only viable solution is a technological solution that sidesteps the need for those in power to behave responsibly.

    The solution must also sidestep the need to have commonality of belief systems , but must have commonality of goals if it is the case that the goals can only be achieved by global buy-in.
    If there is only one way to achieve the goal then progress might be slower than if there were many ways to achieve the same result.

    "The Ways to the One (goal) are as Many as the Lives of Men"

    N.Z. • Since Apr 2014 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    Replace bridge with, say, nuclear weapon and I think your problem becomes much more obvious. “we’re right, so it’s good when we do things that would be considered awful if other people did them”.

    Perhaps. Making things that are actively dangerous, rather than just costly, is something that society should watch closely. But the irony there is that such discussion ARE conducted secretly in all cases. Outsiders don't rain on their nuke parade - they don't even know where it's happening.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Moz,

    Fascism! Technomancy, call it what you will, the belief that if we can just get those messy people out of the way the technology will work properly.

    Nope that's not what I said.

    You are suggesting I want to get rid of those in power who won't, in this case, reduce emissions (because I know best). That isn't what I said or meant.

    What I'm saying is that IF those in power won't enact one solution to the problem I want to use technology to create other solutions to the problem instead. Hopefully amongst those other solutions there will be something that those in power will accept.

    The point is I don't see much value in doing things that have been shown not to work, in this case trying to convince businesses and governments to reduce fossil fuel use by telling them it's a bad thing to do - I'd rather spend my effort figuring out other options.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    Yup all those things.

    We don’t have an economic organization that can withstand a drop in consumption.

    I would point out that there is sweet F all evidence for the postulated economic loss. It is definitely true that some industries and businesses will suffer economic losses if we reduce fossil fuel emissions. But it is not at all certain that the economic losses to society as a whole would be large or even present at all.

    The biggest piece of unsupported scaremongering going on over climate change comes not from the scientists saying the climate is changing but instead from those businesses with vested interests claiming the next great depression is coming.

    the drop in quality of life that comes from energy usage reduction to everyone currently using it

    There is stuff all evidence that this will occur at all. Either the reduction in energy usage or the reduction in standard of living.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    But it is not at all certain that the economic losses to society as a whole would be large or even present at all.

    You will need be specific about what you mean because that is extremely counterintuitive. Are you not talking about taking out fossil fuel consumption, which accounts for 70-80% of all energy usage on the planet?

    There is stuff all evidence that this will occur at all. Either the reduction in energy usage or the reduction in standard of living.

    I'm completely confused about what you're saying here. If you take away a massive chunk of the energy supply, then that necessitates that less energy gets used. And that would certainly cause a huge reduction in standards of living, until such a time as that energy shortfall could be replaced, or every usage of it increase in efficiency 5 fold.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • henry laurensen, in reply to BenWilson,

    ” It takes about 10 fossil fuel calories to produce and transport each food calorie in the average American diet. ”


    http://www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/fossil-food-consuming-our-future

    N.Z. • Since Apr 2014 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    I’m completely confused about what you’re saying here.

    There are a couple of things here. First we don't need to stop burning all fossil fuels to get carbon emissions to a point where we don't damage the climate (too much). So you don't need to go from 70-80% to 0%, you can probably get away with getting rid of the top 20-30%. Providing you get rid of the really inefficient first.

    Next, not all fossil fuel burning is the same. Modern gas fired electricity production is incredibly efficient at turning fossil fuel into usable energy. Yes it would be nice to burn zero gas/coal etc but if we switch from burning fossil fuels inefficiently to burning them efficiently then we use dramatically less to get the same energy needs. And hence produce less CO2 and also less other crap.

    or every usage of it increase in efficiency 5 fold

    You said it yourself - the difference in efficiency between a recycled truck engine used as an outboard motor in Cambodia and a modern electricity plant is vastly more than 5 fold.

    That's why the focus is on cars, particularly big-arsed stupid gas guzzling SUVs. They are an incredibly inefficient use of fossil fuel energy. And that's not even thinking about shitty combustion engines used in the developing world.

    So there is good reason to believe we can produce the same amount of energy while burning much less fossil fuel - we probably don't need to go to zero.

    Combine that with other sources of energy and you get no real net loss in energy used but a significant (enough?) reduction in emissions.

    Next we may not need to use the same amount of energy to have the same (or better) standard of living. LCD monitors use a huge amount less energy than a CRT AND they are better. There was no loss of standard of living when we switched. The same is true of a lot of the things we use. So the argument that any reduction in energy use equals a loss of economic or social wealth or wellbeing is not certain at all.

    And finally none of the economic models are anywhere near sophisticated enough to be able to predict what would happen to the world's economy if we actually did reduce energy use.

    The only thing we know for certain is that big oil companies will suffer if we use less oil/gas/coal ... "oh the tragedy". Certainly not the economic disaster claimed by most opponents.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    So there is good reason to believe we can produce the same amount of energy while burning much less fossil fuel – we probably don’t need to go to zero.

    OK, but you're talking about transforming the entire way the fuel is used first. That's not something that comes for free.

    That’s why the focus is on cars, particularly big-arsed stupid gas guzzling SUVs. They are an incredibly inefficient use of fossil fuel energy.

    They are, but anyone who loses their SUV will consider it a drop in their quality of life.

    And that’s not even thinking about shitty combustion engines used in the developing world.

    Anyone in the developing world who has to lose their shitty combustion engine would most certainly consider that to be a drop in their quality of life, when the alternative is no combustion engine. Or a new improved combustion engine that they can't afford (which is the same as no combustion engine).

    So the argument that any reduction in energy use equals a loss of economic or social wealth or wellbeing is not certain at all.

    That totally depends how the reduction happens, over what time frame, and with what funding, and at the cost of what other things that could have been done with the money.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

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