When Morals and Markets Align, Worlds Move

WindFarm_Fluvanna_2004Life’s too short to constantly revisit decisions made long ago, and it’s easy to root for your favorite team or stick with familiar – comfortable – old enemies.

It’s been noted before that people know some things are noble and pure, others are degrading and tainted. You don’t need a steeple-topped building to figure this out- we each have a spiritual side.

Unfortunately, we don’t all agree on what that means in practice, and it’s easy to label others as misguided, evil, “them.” Even when people do agree, it can be hard to sacrifice today for a (possible) improvement tomorrow. “You should” is always a hard argument to win.

Which is why this recent nationalgeographic article is so encouraging.

Falling prices for renewable [energy] and a growing sustainability movement from the bottom up have changed the global picture…

Solar and wind are now so competitive that they are crowding out coal in many countries. In the U.S., electric generation from coal dropped by more than half in the last decade. Utility scale solar, meanwhile, rose 5,000 percent during that same period… The pace is quickening because the transition is now driven by economics.

Government support, including tax incentives, helped get the ball rolling, but the market is taking over. Government still plays a role – California, for example, is pushing for electric cars and paying to retrofit buildings to be more energy-efficient, while demonstrating that curbing greenhouse gases doesn’t bust the economy.

But from China to India to Texas, people are discovering renewable energy is economically sound. It doesn’t matter if you’re Red or Blue when the Green makes sense.

Falling prices of renewable energy have dramatically improved the global outlook. Just two years ago in Paris, the world’s top two polluters outside the U.S. insisted they’d need lots more coal. That was especially true in India.

Today, entire regions across India are seeking 100 percent renewable power. India’s new plans for meeting future energy needs now call for far fewer coal-fired plants. China, too…

[America] withdrawing from the world stage on climate could also cede new markets, industries, and leadership on everything from international trade to geopolitics to China. That could be costly.

I believe that cutting pollution and greenhouse gases, and preparing mitigations for the changes already underway, are the right things to do for posterity. How wonderful if they become the right thing to do for me today.

And for you.

Climate Change Profits

We’ve discussed climate change/global warming quit a bit on this blog and I’m still learning about the topic. I ran into an interesting element on Straight Dope that complicates the issue for many people: who profits? As Cecil says, the distinction between profiting and profiteering is eroding.

In the spirit of Old Testament-style judgment, I thought I’d arrange various ways one might cash in on climate change from least to most evil.

He goes on to list ways to profit, from Renewable Energy, an industry in the right place at the right time, to Arctic Drilling, which gets an evil nod because of the ” circularity at work here: by burning enough fossil fuels to warm the earth sufficiently to melt the polar ice caps, we’ve now gained access to yet more fossil fuels buried under those ice caps.”

You might want to invest in companies that sell storm surge gates to coastal cities or snowmaking machines to Alpine ski resorts.

Cecil doesn’t mention the possibility that evil scientists profit by faking studies to extract more grant money – a terribly serious charge that shouldn’t be thrown around without proof (of which I’ve never seen any.) I can be cynical myself, and that goes too far for me. But I’d like to know how every person who testifies before Congress makes their living.

Whether the topic is health, housing, gun safety, education… or anything – there will always be someone whose job depends on the status quo or on change. There will be winners and losers for every action taken by government, the marketplace, or individuals.

I take my philosophical stand from Star Trek.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one.
Sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.

In Star Trek’s universe, you can base a movie on both lines. It depends. No really important choices fit on a bumper sticker. I’m still convinced by the (vast) scientific agreement that human activity is the main force behind our current rise in average global temperature, and that rise will yield more losers than winners. It’s already baked into the cake, if you’ll forgive the heat-related pun. But we can change course, and good people can make good decisions despite the current insanely partisan politics. I’m not ready to believe everyone around me is evil.

Enlightened Self-Interest and Climate Change

earth climate changeThe Earth’s climates are changing. I’m an American. I’m currently “winning” in terms of climate, so change is likely to be bad for me. Efforts to mitigate the impacts will be important to me and to posterity. We can also reduce our ongoing contributions to the problem.

Huge international summits produce more media stories than useful action. The world carries too much political baggage from the age of European colonization and – especially for America – the Cold War. At climate conferences, westernized nations see attempts at revenge and emerging economies see ongoing imperialism. Talking is better than shooting, but we need many answers, tailored to specific problems or locations.

I prefer enlightened self-interest, so I was pleased to read that “plenty of entrepreneurs are not waiting for the diplomats. They are finding ways to cut carbon emissions and make money from doing it.” While some “carbon offsets” seem phony – a tree planted today can be cut down tomorrow – I like the idea of reducing greenhouse gases at the source.

“Methane is… a potent greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere – cow manure is ripe with it – but [on an Oregon dairy farm], the methane is captured and funneled into a red generator the size of a mini-bus. The generator burns it to make electricity. That electricity is sold back to the local power company. The farmers get paid.” To reject this idea and say we should get rid of the cows is to miss an opportunity.

But the manure to methane project has another source of income. “FarmPower makes additional money just for taking that methane out of circulation. For every ton of that methane they capture they earn a credit worth about five to $10. FarmPower then sells those credits to anyone who has to lower their own carbon emissions, say, a coal-fired power plant.”

America has used the “cap and trade” technique for many years, for example, to reduce sulfur-related smog. In the late 1970s, a refinery I worked for paved dirt roads around its plant to reduce dust generated by vehicles and thereby allow the refinery to put dust out its stack. (Don’t laugh at dust. Inhaled dust particles are directly linked to health problems.) Continue reading

Progressive Policies and Climate Change

This Changes EverythingOn this blog we have tried to understand global warming and resulting climate change, and the social and scientific factors that affect the topic. But as interesting as the science is – and trying to understand the entire Earth as a single system is fascinating – there would be no public interest if not for the economic and ideological implications.

I have looked for a book that addresses the progressive view of climate policy. In This Changes Everything Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein clearly believes that global warming is real, predominately caused by humans, and an impending global crisis. She says we deny or ignore the issue “because we fear that letting in the reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.”

I think I’ve found my progressive tome.

Klein immediately draws the ideological battle lines, featuring the Heartland Institute as the capitalist position, whose scientists are “so steeped in fossil fuel dollars that you can practically smell the fumes.” But “deniers” are not just American. Klein notes that Canada, the UK, Western Europe, and Australia also have strong denier activists. Heartland stands in for many ring-wing think-tanks that were created to defend capitalism against socialism and “aggressive Keynesianism” in the 1960s and 1970s.

She notes that “climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change… the best argument progressives have ever had…” This articulates the belief of many that global warming is just the latest excuse to do what progressives always want to do – block free-trade, undermine corporations, invest in public projects, open borders, and (as Klein states) “take back ownership of essential services like energy and water,” to “leave us with both a more habitable climate… and a far more just economy than the one we have right now.” Klein even uses the hot-button phrase “wealth redistribution”. If global warming is indeed threatening civilization, “climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all of these… movements.” Continue reading

Global Warming and Climate Change: A Scientific Phenomenon

climate change blue marble

NASA’a famous “blue marble” picture of Earth

I’ve found the global warming/climate change debate to be frustrating.  The Earth is too large a system to grasp intuitively.  In such a large system, anyone can “cherry-pick” a small subset of data to illustrate any point.  Many discussions seem to distill down to:  “You’re lying!”

I posted on the social aspects of the debate previously.  Today I will discuss the science of global warming and climate change.  (“Global warming” refers to average global temperatures while “climate change” refers to the effects.)

climate change lower atmosphere

Makes my eyes cross (and this chart isn’t even very complex)

Global warming is complex enough to make my eyes cross.  It involves many parameters that must be examined over decades and preferably centuries.  I will primarily use information from http://www.skepticalscience.com/.  This site provides the largest and most accessible collection of responses to global warming objections I’ve found.  SkepticalScience has a handy glossary with mouse-over pop-ups in the text.  For example, ice sheets, ice shelves, glaciers, and sea ice are different things.  While unabashedly defending mainstream climate science against “climate myths”, the site also provides a more exhaustive list of objections than anywhere else I’ve run across: 174 of them!  There are also comments from pro and con readers.

I leave you to explore as many of the 174 objections as interest you.  Here is a sampling. Continue reading

Global Warming: a Social Phenomenon

climate change blue marble

NASA’s famous “blue marble” picture of Earth

RF_alum and I (the Ponderer) are long-standing friends.  We worked together in technical fields at the Rocky Flats Plant, a nuclear weapons facility that has since been decommissioned.  We worked on weapons and in the environmental clean up.   We both encountered our share of people pushing political agendas by misrepresenting science.

While we have much in common, we also have disagreements.  We thought we would disagree on GMOs, but found ourselves in about the same place after doing our independent reading on the subject.  Global warming is a topic that refuses to yield a similar satisfactory result.  Ponderer is a “warmist” and RF_alum is a “denier”.  We both dislike these terms (they present caricatures) but since they are used in popular discussions, we’ll use them, too. Continue reading