the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Examination of the Climate Change Strategy

Posted by Jeff Id 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.

14 Responses to “Examination of the Climate Change Strategy”

  1. kim said


  2. Jeroen B. said

    *applauds* This post should be nailed to the door of the Church of Climate Change.

  3. […] Examination of the Climate Change Strategy « the Air Vent […]

  4. Geoff Sherrington said

    The classical Tragedy of the Commons has an initial frontier phase, where the “land” available for exploitation starts with zero “cattle”. The frontier phase is one of the most fascinating parts of property rights, but does it apply here?
    If we relace the “land” of the classic model with the geologically recent “atmosphere” of the present debate and replace the “cattle” with “CO2”, we can ask if there was a frontier phase before CO2 existed. This is because in the classic full cycle the frontier phase is followed by successive overcrowding until an intolerable point – the Tragedy – develops.
    It is definite knowledge that atmospheric CO2 existed before mankind, probably at concentrations above 180 ppm, because of fossil evidence of plant life using classical photosynthesis. We cannot identify a frontier phase in the atmosphere of the measurable past. (There were always cattle on the land before mankind).
    The next topic is for calibration. Did tragedy levels happen before mankind? The answer to that is a clear “No.” Therefore, we cannot use the concept of tragedy for CO2 levels below the highest historic levels of CO2 that we can now measure or derive. We do not know of any past tragedy caused by CO2; the world still turns, brimming with life. (The land has been full of cattle before, but not over-full to the point of no return.)
    Next we can ask how high CO2 must go before the onset of tragedy. There is much difference of opinion, but little measurement or experiment. “Tragedy” means different things to different people. We cannot simulate a tragedy by an experiment artificially boosting CO2 to very high levels. There is not enough easily-available carbon to make enough CO2 by the fossil fuel route. In summary, the argument comes back to the familiar ground of CO2 forcings and positive or negative feedback, still unresolved. (We cannot find enough cattle to force our land to a tragedy).
    Concluding, I find few new rocks to turn over in a tragedy of the commons approach. We also face the old question of defining a “commons”. Is the atmosphere a commonly-owned resource or an entity with open access to all? I lean towards the latter, a leaning that has the logical consequence that the atmosphere is not an entity that can or should be regulated by legislators for the reason that it is ultra vires. As Wikipedia notes (nicely for once) “To describe unowned resource (res nullius) as common property (res communes), as many economists have done for years … is a self-contradiction.”
    Of all major objects I can imagine as being owned by nobody, the atmosphere must be high on the list. If not the atmosphere, then what? Outer space?

  5. ColinD said

    Excellent article!

    In this context I see the Tragedy of the Commons as being the battle for minds (the land available). A necessary weapon in this battle has been alarmism because in reality any climate impact (allowing that the climate models are correct) would be so incremental over many generations as to not be noticed except in retrospect. Adaptation would occur (as it always has) and there would be no big deal.

  6. […] Examination of the Climate Change Strategy « the Air Vent […]

  7. Iain Hall said

    That is a great piece that even those who believe in AGW should read and study

  8. stan said

    One small nit to pick. Pielke Jr just loves to pound the idea that the debate over whether the public believes in global warming is over and the alarmists won. [While a fox on a lot of things, he’s a hedgehog on this one. ;-)] This essay repeats the canard.

    People don’t really believe global warming. They “believe” it in the same way they “believe” that Nero fiddled while Rome burned or that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th. It is a purported fact that they have heard repeated many times. It has absolutely no impact on their lives. In a rational allocation of resources, they have invested ZERO time or effort to determine if it is really true because it doesn’t matter.

    Public opinion polls simply measure what people have heard the most. A majority may indicate that they believe global warming or Nero fiddled as long as there are no costs. But, demand that they pay a significant tax or cost and we find out what people REALLY believe. They won’t change their lives based on whether Nero actually fiddled or whether the vote approving the Declaration was actually July 2, 1776.

    The reality is that the debate still hasn’t even taken place. The vast majority of voters have never heard the arguments and never even considered the relevant questions.

    A more accurate characterization of the state of the debate would be that of a husband and wife where she has been complaining for years about the woman next door and husband nods his head and says “yes, dear.” “Sounds awful”, “uh huh”. Now, in order to get away from the neighbor, she’s demanding that they sell their house and buy one in a different neighborhood at tremendous cost and a huge hassle in time and effort. The question of whether he really believes that the neighbor is intolerable is now a real question for the first time. All his previous head nods shouldn’t be regarded as a real assessment of what he thinks. [And fortunately for us the voters don’t have Algore, Hanson, or Mann for wives.]

  9. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: stan (Apr 25 09:44),

    Pielke, Jr. does not believe the alarmists have won. As near as I can tell, it’s the lukewarmers that have won. The majority of the public believes that humans have caused the increase in atmospheric CO2 and that increasing CO2 will lead to a higher temperature than otherwise. That’s all. Very few believe in the alarmist catastrophic scenarios, Antarctica becoming the only habitable continent, etc. Most don’t believe the sky is falling or we would be doing more. Spending a relatively small amount of money is popular. Shivering in the dark isn’t.

  10. Sheffield Square said

    Stan said:
    “People don’t really believe global warming. They “believe” it in the same way they “believe” that Nero fiddled while Rome burned or that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th. It is a purported fact that they have heard repeated many times. It has absolutely no impact on their lives. In a rational allocation of resources, they have invested ZERO time or effort to determine if it is really true because it doesn’t matter.”

    I’m not certain I can agree with comparing historical discrepancy with scientific debate, Stan. While the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Nero’s famous Rome burning incident have come and past and knowledge of them will only prove useful in Trivial Pursuit, climate change is considerably more topical and relevant.

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding when you say “In a rational allocation of resources”? What resources do you mean? Are you talking about resources of the common sheeple who seem to not really think for themselves and instead follow what their favorite popular media and news channels have to say?

  11. John F. Pittman said

    The small nit needs to be picked with the pollsters. The polls do show a majority. I agree that perhaps the pollsters did not ask the right question. I also agree with the public’s interest. But then, if true, until the talk is of costs, would you assume any poll would give you good answers, no matter what the questions were. I wouldn’t.

    I would not agree, or see that it makes a difference to the IPCC whether someone believes the IPPC have won or some nebulous group of luke warmers. The polls indicate the IPCC and advocates have “won.” The response of the public indicates what was won was not what the advocates wanted to win. That is one of the points of the article. The advocates are refusing to recognise what was won.

  12. stan said

    My point is that “global warming” is not any different than an answer in trivial pursuit to the vast majority of voters. They’ve heard about it for years. They never heard it was even controversial. The science was settled. So they understood it the same way that they know that there are 8 planets (oops 9; oops 8). Just some fact that they heard in school or on the news.

    But they never engaged with it. Not in any meaningful way.

    It’s a lot like retirement planning. They’ve heard they should save. They plan to do so some day. In the future. Polling would show that everyone recognizes the need to save for retirement. It’s a slam dunk winner. Now contemplate a new law/rule which requires that an additional 15% of their paycheck will be automatically deducted and invested in a plan. Watch how fast they engage. Polls will be a bit different.

  13. hunter said

    At the height of the eugenics movement in the West, in the early 20th century around the time of WWI, the academic elites and most enlightened political leaders were heavily invested in eugenics.
    Most people believed it was a good thing, and many backed eugenics laws, many of which were written in progressive places like Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, United States, and states like California.
    Leaders of eugenics included high level academics and progressive politicians like Presidents of major universities such as Harvard, Teddy Roosevelt, leaders of the Nobel Prize organization, the Rockefeller Foundation leadership, etc.
    An interesting question would be to understand why people in those same roles to day are buying into AGW?

  14. Geoff Sherrington said

    Here is a brief look at the nonsense that CSIRO climate people are peddling. This from a seminar in Tropical, touristy Cairns, 4-8 April 2011. One paper is “Still listening: golden moments to really talk with decision makers about climate change”. Very little to do with climate or science.

    This is, lamentably, the way that the CRIRO, once Australia’s top science organisation, now educates:

    In other papers, there are scary, photoshopped images of sea level rise:

    Why not enjoy the whole seminar and see the scientists attributed at

    Your CSIRO climate tax $ at work.

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