Examination of the Climate Change Strategy
Posted by Jeff Condon on April 24, 2011
By John F. Pittman
There have been some excellent articles and discussion at Dr. Curry’s site and others over the renewed calls for anything from Climate Change SWAT teams, to reorganizing the educational direction of scientists and advocates to convince the public. On Dr. Pielke, Jr’s site is an excellent analysis as to why these re-entrenching strategies will fail, in the sense that they have already won. I have also discussed the work of Slovic and Fischhoff concerning the “Tell Process” versus the “Dialogue Process” on several blogs. In fact one of the interesting links and discussions was about Dr Fischhoff’s proposal to help with climate science communication at Dr. Curry’s site. For those unfamiliar with Slovic and Fischhoff, the “Tell” works well with high trust/ low concern environments, but not low trust/high concern situations. The humorous note by Fischhoff in “Communicating with Confidence: Preparing for Successful Community Dialogue on RMP” is this one: “The only improvement possible is doing the Tell Process” faster (slightly different wording by S&F, more often) or “louder.”” The “Tell” process is the process that the IPCC and Cap&Trade advocates have used. It made sense when information concerning the subject of Climate Change was low in the public’s eyesight. It did not make sense to continue this process for as long as almost a decade. The question is why has it continued, and why is more being proposed?
I think the reason is purposed and reasonable, even though the experts who have researched effective communication point out not only is this process, not recommended, but with “buyer fatigue” is likely counterproductive. Copenhagen and Climategate provide evidence of the public’s fatigue. Copenhagen also provides evidence for Pielke’s “Iron law” that mitigation activities must meet economic criteria, or will not likely become policy. However, why do the advocates such as IPCC continue to propose a solution that violates the “Iron law” in a process that is most likely to fail, after having convinced enough of the population that climate change is real and mitigation is at least part of the package for effective action?
The advocates have no choice.
I agree with Pielke about the “Iron law.” But this is where the problem lies and why the advocates are in this apparent lose/lose strategy. It is not about the law or rule itself. It is about the problem. Most readers of the climate blogs, whether for or against, have had a chance to see what the real problem is, and to discuss it indirectly. The problem is called the Tragedy or Problem of the Commons.
If some one else has already named this rule, please post it. The rule I propose is the Scapegoat’s Escape Hatch Rule. The model for Cap&Trade and other schemes for taxing CO2 are based on the SO2 and other similar laws, regulations, and schemes that have been used to answer the Tragedy of the Commons. But in each of the successful implementations of this approach, there were two common factors that are missing in the CO2 scenario.
The first is that there is an economical choice that could be made. Whether by moving to a less regulated country, to changing fuel stocks, chemical stocks, whatever, an economic choice that met the “Iron Law” was available prior to the regulation/enactment. This has not been available due to the demonization of nuclear. Without this, the economic choice cannot be had that meets the “Iron Law.” It does not have to be nuclear, necessarily, but it does have to be economical. And at this point, nuclear is the only viable option. The other candidates are too expensive, or exist only as research.
The second factor that is common to the successful intervention or regulation of a tragedy of the commons is a scapegoat. Whether it was the big SO2, or ozone producers, it could be made into us, the majority, versus you the minority. This cannot be done with the generation of CO2. We all do it. One could consider that CO2 is the first real case of the “Tragedy of the Commons” or one can pose that since we all use it, the goods produced are used by us, there is no tragedy with respect to CO2. We all are guilty and benefit from our guilt.
Though one can claim that the burdens of CO2 are not spread equally, is this a true accounting? For, without considering the benefits that come from the CO2 generation, and the how and why these benefits and burdens, and how their effects are spread, what can we conclusively conclude expect to draw simplistic battle lines? The harm of CO2 reflects more the beliefs or politics than actual events. However, the benefits that come from CO2 generation can be listed by any normal person with a high school degree or less. Different persons like to make it a moral issue. But this canard is poor. It ignores that the costs of mitigation that costs lives and health today for a theoretical population of tomorrow. Further, it penalizes those who sacrificed or invested in themselves, their children, their businesses, and their country, for those who did not. CO2 climate change is a theoretical “taking,” their proposal is an actual “taking.” The burden of moral proof lies for them to make, and currently it has been rejected as indicated by Copenhagen and Cancun.
The linchpin of the lose/lose strategy is having to admit that CO2 generation is beneficial at least on the short term. Why should the benefits not be accounted? Why the attack on those who propose economic alternatives such as Pielke Jr, and Lomborg? Why proclaim we have only XXX days to save the world, go pass the date and then pretend it has not happened? These activities are the ones that research by Slovic and Fischhoff have shown to be least effective in a high concern communication strategy. In fact, these are now worse. This type of communication causes “buyer fatigue” and doubt, most often expressed by the public as hypocrisy or bullshit. It is both humorous and ironic that the scientific critics are labeled as “Merchants of Doubt.” The persons merchandizing doubt are the IPCC and the advocates by their continued use of a failed strategy.
Why must CO2 be demonized even on the short term, with the refusal of using nuclear? At present, it would easily take to 2050 to have a chance at replacing both the expected increased demand and present fossil fuel electric generation demand. Even the IPCC show in their analysis, that the crossover date for more mitigation versus adaptation is 2050. Yet, it is reasonable to expect that if we pursued nuclear, more mitigation would be occurring prior to 2050 than indicated necessary in AR4 without crippling economies and production.
The rhetorical questions highlight a discrepancy. The IPCC and advocates claim their approach is reasoned. One could assume this, but the continued use of a strategy that should lead to a lose/lose situation does not support such an assumption. The continued use of exaggerated claims to scare or persuade by guilt do not indicate a reasoned approach to the public. This leads to two general possibilities. One is that it is a scheme of some sort. An example is that it is being used for political reasons, the science is just the excuse. The other is that the IPCC and advocates are so blinded by their world view that differing points of view simply cannot be tolerated, or some other self-inflicted blindness. Or some combination of the two, which is what I propose.
The problem is quite simple. The proposals to date are a “taking.” There is a continued effort to deny voice to those who do not like this taking. The advocates’ claim is that everybody is guilty, or not, by the advocates’ determination only. They are the only ones with voices that count. And punishment is to be dispensed without trial, jury, nor discussion of the merits of the different sides by those who have appointed themselves. The problem with this approach is that it is only believable when an argument of moral ascendancy can be made. This is what the public is actually being inundated with.
But rejection of this moral claim is in order. The continued and studied ignorance of the economic costs to present persons now dying, starving, and suffering by these advocates and their policies, should result in a rejection of the claim. The claim of communicating the science is a canard. It is to communicate guilt in order to achieve a moral ascendancy that does not exist. This is why the advocates must not allow a reasoned discussion. Someone will undoubtedly recognize and bring up our moral obligations to the present living persons of this world, and the few, real choices available. And it is at this point that the Emperor and his fine new clothes will be seen by all. Humans cannot have the food, the health care, life expectancy, or even life itself for present numbers without energy, cheap, readily available, dependable energy.
And it is a self inflicted blindness to continue to deny what the proposed policies will do to the health and the numbers of humans in this present world. The blindness is to continue obstructing the meaningful conversation of not just costs and benefits, but what do people really want for their future. It is hard to believe that the world wants to cook over dried dung fires, and watch half of their children die of preventable diseases by age of four. What the world has shown that it wants, conflicts with the vision of those who appointed themselves as our moral judges. What the world has shown that it wants is expressed by the truth of the “Iron” law. That is the real reasoning behind this continued use of a failed strategy. Denial.