Can you imagine…

Can you imagine the US federal government taking out advertisements like this:


Apparently there is some precedent.

Good advice or not, it seems unimaginable that this was uncontroversial during the “greatest generation”. It shows how quickly ideology changes, among other things.

McKitrick’s Plan

I appreciate people sharing the broad outlines of how they think we ought to handle the carbon situation. I am not entirely serious with the proposal I have outlined; there is much that I like about it and I hope it can be salvaged, but so far nobody has pointed out what I think is its fatal flaw. We’ll get back to that shortly.

Meanwhile, while we’re on the subject, a couple of folks have raised McKitrick’s plan, which bases a carbon tax on the instantaneous global mean surface temperature (or, according to one correspondent, the equatorial mean).

The equatorial mean, of course, is plainly silly: why pick the least temperature-sensitive spot to measure the anthropogenic damage, unless you were looking for a way to pretend it away.
There is some appeal to the idea, though; the idea is to find a measure of global change that is independent of the scientific theory, such that people who don’t have any faith in the science could agree to it, and to use that measure to calibrate the response.
In practice McKitrick’s idea seems either ignorant or disingenuous. I cannot take anybody who proposes it seriously, because they still remain firmly in the class of people who “don’t get it”.
Let’s leave aside the usual confusion about “global warming”, which is a symptom of anthropogenic climate change, not the disease. We can reduce global warming in a literal sense to zero easily enough with additional aerosol releases, but this will not avoid massive climate change.
Even if global temperature were the a complete measure of anthropogenic climate change, the problem is that it’s a delayed measure. The ocean and sea ice take a while to respond; the land ice even longer; and the clathrates (we hope) still longer than that. (*) What this means is that the temperature we see now is the temperature we bought in the past; some of the response is delayed, and some of it is greatly delayed. This is part of what I would call a basic policy-level understanding of the science. If you miss that point, you don’t know enough about what is going on in the climate system to venture a serious policy.
I like the idea that the policy should adjust to the evidence. But the idea that the instantaneous temperature is a measure of the sensitivity is a mark of denialist-influenced confusion. Unfortunately there simply is not a simple metric of how deeply in trouble we are. I think the basic idea is not unreasonable on its face, but the measure we use needs to account for the delays in the system.
We could apply something like this to the trillionth ton constraint. If the system is less sensitive than we think, we can loosen the constraint. The trouble is that is the system is more sensitive than we think, there is very little time to tighten the constraint. There is realistically no more time for dawdling, since even the trillion ton limit carries plenty of climate risk on present evidence. We should shoot for that now; shooting for two trillion and realizing the right goal is one trillion is no good if you find yourself already committed to a trillion and a half.
(*) These can be regarded as exacerbating feedbacks from the point of view of the atmosphere system, or slow modes from the point of view of the whole coupled climate system.

Working Backwards

The idea of planning is this. If you have to achieve something by a certain time, start with that time and work backwards to see what was necessary to achieve the goal.

Some goals are impossible, to be sure. The goal of maintaining the status quo is impossible, at least insofar as energy infrastructure is concerned. It cannot be done, whether that pleases you or not. That which is unsustainable will not be sustained.
But people don’t like change. So the optimum path to the future is the one which causes the least change. For instance, on the carbon front, we cannot keep emitting substantial net amounts of carbon into the air. In fact, we run plenty of risks at the trillion ton total. So planning is looking at stopping at a trillionth ton, and identifying what has to happen between today and that future. Of the possibilities raised, we have to somehow settle on the least implausible one; which has to be among those which threaten people the least.
I understand most people are worried about the politics of it: how to convince people that change is necessary.
But I think we are being hopelessly unclear about what change that is.
Let’s be clear about this much. What needs to happen for us to not go past the trillionth ton, so we can peak below 500 ppmv and revert eventually to the neighborhood of 350 ppmv with a reasonable effort?
Clearly, an international agreement needs to happen. But an agreement to do what? By when? We need to be specific. So far, we are proposing nothing at all. The advocates of the status quo are ahead of us. Their suggestion is unworkable, but it’s easy to imagine.

Pricing the Externality

So, if we stop emitting at around the trillionth ton of C, I am told by no less than Jim Hansen, the ocean will absorb enough CO2 to get us back down to 350 ppmv before the system equilibrates to the peak forcing. That is, we probably won’t need to scrub CO2 out of the free atmosphere, which, jobs or no, would definitely be a negative kick to well-being. Whereas if we keep going beyond that, we probably will; that’s a terrible legacy to leave.

So, instead of arguing about which nation gets to emit what, and gets to trade what, I propose that we simply divide the atmospheric carbon dump evenly among those now living. So you have 65 tons of CO2 left to you, and I have 65 tons left to me, and so do Michael Dell and Sandra Bullock, to pick a couple of rich local people at random. Now Michael Dell will get through those 65 tons in a jiffy, no doubt. But being rich, he can bid for more on the open market. Some person in Baluchistan with no intent to use his 65 tons can happily sell some of them to Michael Dell. (These are NOT units of fuel. These are the rights to units of CO2 emissions.)

Conceivably, we can adjust the cap if the denial squad is right: if the sensitivity is low we can allocate more emissions. But the principle that eventually come of the carbon has to be left in the ground still stands. We cannot release all of it. So the sooner we agree to the principle of a hard cap, I think, the better.

A very low-friction electronic marketplace will be easy to set up.

Consider some of the advantages of cap and trade at the individual level. Externalities are clearly priced. People not using their allocation are directly rewarded. International negotiations are avoided. No blame accrues to past behavior; no nation gains a competitive disadvantage. The windfall goes not to the fuel producers, but to the poorest people in the world; a natural income transfer. So much for the crocodile tears for the underdeveloped. We use the emissions cap explicitly to support them in a transition to a market economy.

Most of all, it’s simple and it’s fair. You can explain it to people. There are advantages all around. Did I miss something?

The Great Rationing

We need to begin by acknowledging that our problem has no precedent.

It appears that polite and reasonable pursuit of a transition to sustainability has failed in the face of a sort of twisted unnatural malice accidentally written into law. We are at the mercy of a tyranny of the “fiduciary responsibilities” of the officers of the large corporations that have made the miracle of modern life possible and are increasingly making the doom of the future ever more enormous and inevitable.

These blind and monstrous corporate “responsibilities” dominate the life of the advanced countries and they (and their odd echoes in China) influence many other countries.

The conventional modern view of the world has it that while economic freedoms cross all borders, all other freedoms are contingent, local, tied to geography, that is, tied to a particular nation-state and a particular sovereignty. Thus, we have international governance for trade, but not for, say, immigration, or for that matter, for freedom or for preservation of our environment.

Persons who inhabit the “wrong” nation-state are accorded limited and contingent rights. In America’s incredible legal tangle, these rights as accorded to any individual may be entirely self-contradictory as well as capricious: until recently “illegal” immigrants who are now in danger of expulsion for a traffic stop were encouraged to get drivers’ licenses and bank accounts and even home mortgages!

So, if there is any future to the world, the homebodies who haven’t seen much of it are overrepresented in making the necessary decisions! And it is the political “responsibility” of their elected representatives to maintain an environment favorable to their own nation in competition with all others, as well as responsive to the aforesaid “fiduciarily responsible” corporate monsters.

Looking at the CO2 picture in particular, (and other global issues may have similar features) the trouble is that there may be no solution that can possibly satisfy the major players (The G7, the BRICS, southeast Asia) individually that can actually resolve the problem that the trillion-and-first ton of carbon is probably going to be emitted, and then some.

It’s little wonder when you think about it. In round numbers there are 7 billion of us and we have 450 billion tons left to allocate among us. That leaves you and your half share of all your descendants 65 tons of carbon to play with, or 240 tons of CO2.

Now the US has been holding pretty steady at 19 tons per capita. That means if 1) you don’t want to cross the trillionth ton boundary (close to the 2 degrees C line) and 2) you are American and 3) you don’t want to use more than your fair share and 4) you don’t want to change anything until the last minute, you will have to go cold turkey on carbon emissions in twelve years. No car, no electricity, no heating fuel, no imported food, nothing. Your share of what’s left of the atmospheric sink will be used up at that point.

Will the world hold us to this? No, they won’t. The world is as addicted to American excess as America is. The whole crazy system is currently based on the Chinese lending us the money we paid them to buy stuff they made for us that we don’t need so they can afford to build stuff for themselves that they don’t need. Somehow if we do this, there is food on the table, and if we don’t, there ain’t. To those who believe in the Invisible Hand, this must be reasonable because it is happening.


I am beginning to suspect are past the point where we can rely on our governments to fix this situation.

Certainly the corporations won’t help.

The Breakthrough Institute keeps telling us to hold our collective breaths for a deus ex machina solution, but it’s getting mightly late for our savior to arrive in the form of, say, a safe, scalable backyard nuclear plant or a sunlight to algae to oil process. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the quick fix if it’s there to be had, but we really are talking about an enormous scale. I’m reminded of the avatar in the Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the World, who arrived to late to save anything at all.

Getting back to governments, it begins to look as though the COP cannot work. Governments are beholden to too many interests to behave as sane participants in a shared effort. Everyone is thrilled to let the Chinese and the Yanks share the blame for business continuing as usual. Perhaps our successors will be wiser than we are, but time is very definitely running out.

My modest suggestion is that we work toward a global consensus among the populations of all the countries, and not among the diplomats; further, that allocations will be designated at the individual, not the national level, and that all resulting rules will apply to individuals.

So, suppose each person alive today gets an allocation of 65 tons, and is free to sell it on the open market. That way, poor people who are carbon frugal get an income source, and rich people get to keep using carbon-based energy for a while as the cost goes up. Most of the buyers will presumably be industrial…

I can see several problems with this approach but it has some advantages 1) simple 2) arguably fair 3) market based 4) enforces a strong cap. It would also light a fire under private sector research into carbon free alternatives a lot better than a few DoE grants would.

Scary Peak Oil Video

Thanks to Dennis at Samadhisoft, here’s an Australian TV piece on peak oil.

I think it’s an excellent example of communication of complex issues to a mass audience.

I like how the rich imagery is interwoven with interviews with major players and with various versions of an actually informative infographic. This is good public communication of bad news*.

* = (Except that “Houston, we have a problem” is sort of getting a bit trite around these parts, but I guess we Texans weren’t the taaaget odience, roit?)

Thoughts on Avoiding Doom

“Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do. We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way.

– Aldous Huxley in “Island” via Willard

“Ulysses knew that the sirens’ enchanting song could lead him to follow them, but he didn’t want to do that. At the same time he also did not want to deprive himself from hearing their song – so he asked his sailors to tie him to the mast and fill their ears with wax to block out the sound – and so he could hear the song of the sirens but resist their lure. … It seems that [Ulysses’…] ability to exert self-control is less connected to a natural ability to be more zen-like in the face of temptations, and more linked to the ability to reconfigure our environment (tying ourselves to the mast) and modulate the intensity by which it tempts us (filling our ears with wax).”

Dan Arielly, via Andrew Sullivan

“Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity.

Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.
We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

“Our call is for fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity for present and future generations.”

The Stockholm Memorandum via RealClimate

Appealing to reason is clearly necessary and clearly insufficient. We must reject calls to ignore detailed, careful rational argument, but we also have to dedicate the whole of our humanity to the required fundamental shift; this requires something other than mere ordinary scientific discourse.

More Yucks from the Denialati

This is a new prototype of chutzpah, replacing the man who kills his parents and then pleads with the court for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan.

Go. Look. I am not making this up.

Dozens of think tank cosponsors and hundreds of scientists will gather in an effort to “restore the scientific method” to its rightful place in the debate over the causes, consequences, and policy implications of climate change.

The theme of the conference, “Restoring the Scientific Method,” acknowledges the fact that claims of scientific certainty and predictions of climate catastrophes are based on “post-normal science,” which substitutes claims of consensus for the scientific method. This choice has had terrible consequences for science and society. Abandoning the scientific method led to the “Climategate” scandal and the errors and abuses of peer review by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The scientists speaking at this conference, and the hundreds more who are expected to attend, are committed to restoring the scientific method. This means abandoning the failed hypothesis of man-made climate change, and using real science and sound economics to improve our understanding of the planet’s ever-changing climate.

So apparently science has been politicized, and the Heartland Institute is here to rescue us. (With economics, yet.) Priceless.

Oh and also:

The event is open to the public. Federal and state elected officials can attend for free.

Boy, oh boy, free tickets for elected officials! That’s the way to keep politics out of science. Yupperoo. Yessireebob.

Apparently climate denial is over and has been replaced by a hilarious farce. I can’t wait for this!

Morano’s Email

Somebody really ought to be collecting Morano’s charming missives somewhere; he really doesn’t seem to understand the web very well. Anyway, after many months of declaring victory in his inimitable style, his latest delightful and elegant discourse seems to have an air of desperation to it. So for those of you not privileged to be on his mailing list (which includes all his previous targets such as your humble correspondent), check it out:

NAS/NRC’s Ralph Cicerone is copied on this email. For latest go to

Climate Depot’s Round up on National Research Council’s media hyped political science scare report

See how the best ‘science’ politics can manufacture is produced — Media loves NRC’s politically manufactured ‘science’

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 – By Marc MoranoClimate Depot

Repulsive: National Research Council Chaired by Corrupted Warmist Ralph Cicerone: Turned Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study used to lobby for climate bill

Flashback: MIT’s Lindzen Slams: ‘Ralph Cicerone of NAS/NRC is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov’t wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide’

WaPo: ‘Inevitable complex deniers willfully ignorant recalcitrance cynical catastrophic planetary damage drastic Republican…’ — ‘…preeminent rising seas spreading deserts intensifying storms loom significant risks caused by human activities’

‘The Wash. Post wants candidates to be quizzed on what they would do about ‘the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms’ — But natural disasters, topographic changes and population booms and busts have always occurred and will continue to occur. None of these phenomena can be scientifically tied to manmade emissions of CO2. So they are simply irrelevant sideshow issues’

Media hyped National Research Council panels are ‘highly politicized and often stacked, with no climate skeptics included — Report is more of an exercise in political rather than climate science’ –

Media hyped National Research Council (NRC) report exposed: ‘NRC report is the opinion of a mere 21 authors – nearly all of whom had a longstanding record of global warming activism’ — ‘Far from providing objective, expert proof of a global warming crisis, the NRC report provides objective proof that – despite their grandiose-sounding names – the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council are more interested in political agendas than objective, fact-based science’

NRC predetermined outcome of report: ‘Of the first eight names, only one appears to be a climate scientist. The others are engineers, lawyers, and public policy types’

USA Today touts NRC report — Compares Climate Change Skeptics to Birthers

WaPo calls debate over! ‘Climate change denial becomes harder to justify’ — ‘Deniers are willfully ignorant, lost in wishful thinking, cynical or some combination of the three’ — Wash Post: ‘Every candidate for political office, including for president, should be asked whether they disagree with the scientific consensus of America’s premier scientific advisory group, and if so, on what basis they disagree; and if not, what they propose to do about the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms that, absent a change in policy, loom on America’s horizon’

Arctic Study Countered: ‘Studies have found that Arctic temperatures have fluctuated, and are now around the same level as they were in the mid-1930s’ — ‘Scientist Igor Polyakov of the International Arctic Research Center at the U. of Alaska, Fairbanks tracked Arctic temp records from latter part of 19th century until current decade, and found that 1930s marked the warmest time during that period’

As Hillary Clinton works against global warming in Greenland, some there don’t mind it

New NAS climate report; Same ol’ same ol’ junk science

Background on NAS/NRC’s Ralph Cicerone:

MIT’s Lindzen: ‘Cicerone of NAS is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov’t wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide’

The National Academy of Sciences is Hertsgaard’s evidence for climate fear: For Shame: NAS Pres. Ralph Cicerone Turns Science Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study is used to lobby for global warming bill

This is ‘science’? NAS’s Ralph Cicerone goes political — Urges nations to reduce emissions at UN climate talks

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is Mark Hertsgaard’s strongest ‘evidence’ for climate doom?!

For Shame: NAS Pres. Ralph Cicerone Turns Science Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study is used to lobby for global warming bill

MIT’s Lindzen: ‘Cicerone of NAS is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov’t wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide’

Cicerone’s Shame: NAS Urges Carbon Tax, Becomes Advocacy Group — ‘political appointees heading politicized scientific institutions that are virtually 100% dependent on gov’t funding’

Cicerone’s Shame: NAS engaged in ‘bureaucratic attempt to cook the books’

MIT’s Dr. Richard Lindzen’s 48-page Congressional Testimony: ‘Increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming’ — ‘Data is being analyzed with aim of supporting, rather than testing models’

‘Incontrovertibility’ belongs to religion where it is referred to as dogma…Cicerone [of NAS] is saying that regardless of evidence the answer is predetermined. If gov’t wants carbon control, that is the answer that the Academies will provide…We should stop accepting term, ‘skeptic.’ Skepticism implies doubts about a plausible proposition. Current warming alarm hardly represents a plausible proposition.’

Cicerone’s Shame: NAS Urges Carbon Tax, Becomes Advocacy Group — ‘political appointees heading politicized scientific institutions that are virtually 100% dependent on gov’t funding’

‘This is the same kind of foolishness that led the IPCC to overreach in proposing climate policies’

Meteorologist Joe D’Aleo of IceCap.Us: ‘NAS was established by Abraham Lincoln but under recent appointees and Pres. Ralph Cicerone it has become a joke’

NAS is now ‘an advocacy group for government policy not a trusted impartial agency for science issues’

For Shame: EPA chief Lisa Jackson cancels Democrat fundraising appearance — only after media reports

Cicerone’s Shame — Morphs NAS into IPCC: ‘It’s time to pull the plug on public funding for these [NAS] science-fiction writers’

For Shame: NAS Pres. Ralph Cicerone Turns Science Org. into political advocacy group: $6 million NAS study is used to lobby for global warming bill

Clueless USA Today: ‘Still skeptical? Could this be a tough week for climate skeptics?’ Why? ‘Multiple U.S.-funded reports and data all say same thing: global temperatures are rising’

Climate Depot Response: ‘More government funded propaganda reports from science political hacks like NAS Chief Ralph Cicerone only prove that the global warming movement has learned nothing from Climategate. The more scientists turn to political activism, the more their ’cause’ becomes a joke.’

President of National Academy of Sciences Cicerone, says UN IPCC responsible for public losing confidence in climate science

This is ‘science’? NAS’s Ralph Cicerone goes political — Urges nations to reduce emissions at UN climate talks

Marc Morano
1875 Eye Street, NW
Fifth Floor
Washington, D.C. 20006

I like how report A can’t be trusted because it’s all insiders and report B can’t be trusted because it’s all outsiders.

But this isn’t entirely a joke. “Pulling the plug” on NAS because you don’t like consensus scientific opinion is, um, perhaps an ever so slightly maladaptive strategy?

Quote of the week is relevant, restated here for future reference (h/t Brian Dupuis):

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’

Isaac Asimov via Ed Brayton