Making Progress On Climate Policy

So, I had a little “Twitter chat” this morning with the infamous “Fabius Maximus” about the subject of taking sides in “war” on important public policy topics, in this case the topic is climate change (I highly recommend you subscribe to this multi-contributor blog).

The Storify of our chat is embedded below, but I wanted to add a fuller comment here on my blog (because, as I should have known better, Twitter absolutely sucks for complex topic discussion).

In the Storify chat, I attempted to put the Tweets in the order of our conversation.

Please understand it isn’t important that I am “right” and Fabius is “wrong.” (or vice-versa) on this topic of taking sides in a public policy issue like climate change.

What is important is we (as a society) move closer to policies that will benefit all of us.

To begin with…

Binary thinking (e.g. deniers versus alarmists) is not enough.  “Taking sides” in a binary fashion, like the issue of a changing climate represents some sort of “war” between us … is completely wrong on multiple fronts:

  •  It divides us into cultural “factions” and clouds our judgment of each other by adding emotional baggage (sometimes artificial) that automatically attaches itself to a person, depending on which side they are on.
  • A complex issue like climate change isn’t going to magically be “resolved” triumphantly in some politically and media-charged socio-cultural war between two “sides.”  Even if one side were to “win” this “war,” the climate will keep changing with or without our influence.  So, who really “wins”?  Then, what is “lost”?  Over what, differences of opinion that are influenced by money, politics, and petty name-calling?  Let’s grow up people.
  • Binary thinking makes it too easy to use media-charged words that contain pre-determined baggage, like “hot public issue” (see Fabius’ tweet below) instead of “important public issue” as one example.  Emotionally charging what should be a rational search for adaptation to a complex and eternally changing climate (and survival of conditions) is becoming a circus of sorts, with carnival barkers on both sides (so, should there really be sides?).

Complex issues like the climate need to move beyond ideas like a “consensus” to actual testing of the validity of climate models by observation.  Fabius and I agree on the testing part, as you’ll see in our Twitter chat.

If those models fail to predict what is actually happening now, in our climate today, they should be discarded and replaced with models that duplicate what is actually happening in the climate now.  Yes, the climate is chaotic and has tons of variables, and I won’t claim to be a climate scientist … but come on.

Plus, we seem to be over-relying on prediction models instead of charting observations against those models and constantly adjusting course based on those observations.  See where binary (consensus versus skeptical) thinking gets us?

Who cares if there is a consensus (i.e. some group of people are “right”) if that consensus leads us down a path that is not correct 30 years from now?

But I digress…

Why can’t we (obviously including the scientific community in climate science) just collaborate instead of dividing ourselves into some gladiatorial “us versus them” war over who is correct (with all the childish name-calling and stigma to boot)?

Isn’t that what the scientific process is all about?

Why does there have to be “deniers” versus “alarmists” and only “one” correct solution (which there can’t be, because our climate is chaotic and not static)?

In the example Fabius pointed to in his first Tweet, where he pointed out that one “side” might have been pointing to “an early victory” (via a media article at Loyola) … he uses some choice words and “reporting” tactics (he claims he was reporting in this instance):

  • Polish cavalry
  • delusion-ally confident
  • lumps the article together with #climateskeptics as a group (e.g. I’m skeptical, to some degree, but I happened to disagree with the article … yet Fabius would lump me in with the ideology of a climate skeptic like I’m delusional?).

And our Tweet chat continued from there (see below, administrative tweets left out).

But where does this “reporting” (based on observable facts, as Fabius alluded to) get us?

Where does lumping people into categories get us (calling people deniers, alarmists etc…, like it’s some sort of religion)?

How does using media and politically charged language help move anything forward, when the proper course of action is what we should all be striving toward?  (a course of action that, mind you, will likely be multi-layered and not just one simple solution)

But here’s what I think is the most-important part:

Fabius also called my willingness to see collaboration “Utopian” … as though we must “fight” or take sides in order to reach resolution on important topics like our changing climate.

In fact, Fabius was also a bit dismissive, using language like “Unlike kindergarten…” before assuming we must have “coalitions” and take “sides.”

But he also made a valid point that the idea of collaboration might allow collusion among “elites” in our society.

To which I reply (and conclude):

If we live in a society where it’s Utopian to think we might work together (even with differences of opinion) to solve problems that are important to the survival of our species, that is a serious problem that must be solved.

Don’t take me as an alarmist either, because I’m not.  Alarm-ism comes with its own corruption and baggage too … and part of the reason I wrote this.

My understanding of the scientific process is that it demands that ideas (models, hypothesis etc…) get discarded in favor of what is proven to work through experimentation and accurate predictive ability.

We must look past our differences, the money being paid for scientific research (which seems to be corrupting the outcome on both “sides”), blog hits, media bias, politics, etc…

The climate isn’t going to care about consensus (or non-consensus), squabbles, elitism, corruption, or even whether we’re “right” or “wrong”.

Taking “sides” against each other in some media charged (and politically) fabricated “climate war” … with all of the baggage and political / corporate / media corruption heaped on top … that will make NO difference.

The planet Earth (our only planet, by the way) and its climate will continue to hum right along whether or not we’re here.

Since we’re here … we might as well look past our differences and adapt to the changing climate instead of trying to “win” and taking “sides” against each other.

Because all of the media-spectacle, corruption, collusion, “skepticism,” “alarmism,” consensus, denial, bickering, etc… that won’t matter much if we aren’t here.

And if we are still here, because perhaps the climate isn’t changing in some “inconvenient” way … well … then where did all of this “climate war” get us?

Divided, declaring some insignificant “victory” over one-another, and isolated.

What kind of a world is that?

Slow Environmental Progress

Actually, stop and reverse production in oil and other environmental impacts.

“Erinaceous” on Reddit, a very intelligent person, left a rather grim forecast of sorts.

Here’s part of it, with a link to the whole comment directly.  If you can read all of this and NOT want to reverse progress, I don’t know what else to say:

The only low hanging fruit left is degrowth and conservation[1] . Any growth paradigm, even a 100% renewable paradigm leads to overshoot and isn’t remotely possible within our time frame. To stay below 450 ppm/carbon in the atmosphere would require a 130 fold improvement in dollar GDP per gram carbon of emissions. Given that anything that costs a dollar represents roughly 7 MJ of energy there’s basically no way to make those numbers square unless we stop growing the economies and working on poverty reduction, relocalization, ecological agroforestry, rebuilding soil and working less.

That’s kind of the interesting part actually. The way we get out of this mess is by having more time and economies based around art, culture and the humanities ie. the parts of culture that can produce value with very little energy inputs.

What’s the alternative to oil? Local food production based around perennial vegetables and tree crops would require very little energy input and produce as much nutrition per acre as energy intensive agriculture. Plus it would build soil and sequester carbon. This seems like a no brainer. The 500 km salad is gone. I mean it’s gone anyways when oil tops 160-190$/bbl.

Kill the military. The military uses more oil that the entire civilian domestic consumption. Getting rid of that buys us a few years.

The whole comment is here.