A comment on RealClimate’s review of Part 3 of the AR5 IPCC Report, regarding “Mitigation of Climate Change”

(Corrected text below thanks to Jim Stuttard. Also added a postscript.)

The review at RealClimate is quite good, and I recommend it. Nothing to add here. But I simply must quote from and underscore my agreement with the sentiment of one commenter, Davos:

It’s not exactly that the monetary costs will be ‘quite low’ (0.06% Growth per year, etc.), and I think this point was made, but it’s that beneath that aggregate is a substantial– HUGE transfer of investment and wealth across all sorts of entrenched business sectors and interests, with lots of nested localized economies beneath the “country” level whose very survival is on the line (can a deep valley coal-mining town become an efficient solar hub?) As with what you said, these policy decisions necessarily transcend climate realities.

When reading this report, I can’t help but think only the most shrill communist/monarchical government structures can pull off these kinds of feats. In America, the local representative system might make it impossible since it takes as few as five states to kill any program idea if its elected representatives find it a loser for them at home.

And speaking of ‘home’, it needs to be said again– another huge killer of policy possibilities are environmentalists themselves who deny the reality that their backyard must also be a candidate for the large-scale deployment of energy installations in order to pull off what is said to be necessary — even more-so without Nuclear or Fracking, etc. Every wind-energy and biomass installation projects I’ve been around has faced opposition, and the most successful of the opposers have been, without fail, an environmentalist. They are the ones armed with the knowledge, can manipulate the liabilities, and are a master of appeals for further impact study/review.

Given that it now can take up to 10 years to get a new large-scale energy plant installed and online, hitting those 2029 targets are going to require those who want to stand up for reducing/eliminating fossil fuels to also stand up to having lagre scale installations beyond-solar within their own eye-sight.

I’d say a bit more. While I extraordinarily disagree with the climate denier camp, or the “Climate’ll be alright” camp, or the “It makes more economic sense to wait” camp, there is a part of what some of them say which I agree with, and attach to some environmentalists. The part is that, from what I have seen of environmental progressivism, there are people who are perfectly happy using the risks and onrushing threat of climate change as bludgeons against organizations and interests they have quarrels with for other reasons.

First and foremost, anything having to do with nuclear materials or nuclear power is maligned and the threat exaggerated. As in the days of Clinton-Gore, even new promising technologies are maligned, before they have had a chance to prove themselves. I have mentioned before how I squarely blame the environmental movement during the Clinton-Gore administration for not giving us a powerful means of combating greenhouse gases emissions by expansion of nuclear power.

Second, corporations are attacked as inherently unworthy. Sure, some of them abuse, and, like Exxon-Mobil, have funded climate deniers and mounted the shrill attack campaign against climate scientists. Some abuse the political process. Often, people cite Citizens United and such as the reason there is no progress. I agree it contributes. But we don’t have time to fix Citizens United first. Anyone who thinks that is being distracted by it. The scale needed to deal with climate disruption is so large and our options so constrained, both in time and choices, that corporations are the only way we are going to implement these, even if it is government initiated.

Lastly, regarding income inequality and unemployment, what progressives seem to fail to understand is that the changes in fossil fuel dependencies which are needed will inevitably hurt and unemploy people, whether that is done by restructuring the energy sources we use or by reducing consumption. The most astonishing example I saw of this was an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing in Boston on proposed rules for tightening permissible greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, one which was going to result in a local coal-fired plant closing. A Sierra Club spokesperson actually did not speak to the rule, but to the employees of the plant who were going to be let go as a result of its closing.

What these things say to me is that, apparently, these members of the environmental movement do not appreciate how serious a problem we have, and are willing to treat these questions of policy as a political game. In that respect, they do no take the problem seriously, and, in doing so, they are no better than outright climate deniers. In fact, I judge them worse because they should know better.

There are also some environmentalists who, for want of a better description, I will call environmental neo-Puritans, who seek to somehow solve the problem by returning to a simpler world, presumably the world of Tolkien’s Hobbits, advancing agriculture and soils management so, presumably, “Gaia can heal Herself of our inflicted hurts”. Setting aside that this neo-Puritanism is a political non-starter with much of the world, who we need to cooperate to get this problem solved, it is also delusionary to think that individual actions can magically, collectively result in a solution to this problem. As the IPCC AR5 WG3 just noted, this is a problem that demands global cooperation, and any solution will fail if it is not coordinated. My view coincides with that professed by Stewart Brand in the Last Whole Earth Catalog (1968): “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Some of these, and perhaps some others, wrap themselves up in striving for perfect individual practice, claiming that is all they can control and achieve, and that is, in the end, all that matters. This is a sentiment popular among some Unitarian Universalists as well. I necessarily and thoroughly reject this attitude, for, among other things, it is a rejection of engineering. I am an engineer, and engineers are essential to solving this problem. I also think the “I can only control myself” attitude selfish and solipistic.

Update, 2016-07-10

Since I wrote this post I have learned a bit more about the nuclear power industry, at least in the United States. While its problems might have been fixed had Clinton-Gore done more, facts are that, as an engineering business, the track record of the nuclear power industry is very poor. Whether they perform in the manner they do because companies systematically underbid the original contract, as sometimes happens in aerospace contracting, or if they are clueless, I do not know. That track record indicates they have no learning curve, meaning that successive nuclear power plants are more expensive and take longer to construct than previous ones. This is true even if one controls for enhanced safety standards and increased public unpopularity in the record. Moreover, whether in the United States or in western Europe, nuclear plants are unreliable, going offline unexpectedly, thereby withdrawing prodigious amounts of generation, and demanding the addition of fast-starting natural gas-powered peaking plants to take their place. Also, when they go down, they can remain offline for a month or two. This strongly suggests an engineering discipline which has not mastered its problems. As a power source therefore, and in retrospect, I don’t support them, but, as noted, my reasons are different than those which many people and environmentalists give.

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This entry was posted in carbon dioxide, Carbon Tax, citizenship, civilization, climate, climate education, consumption, demand-side solutions, ecology, economics, education, energy reduction, engineering, environment, geophysics, history, meteorology, nuclear power, oceanography, physics, politics, rationality, reasonableness, risk, science, Unitarian Universalism. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A comment on RealClimate’s review of Part 3 of the AR5 IPCC Report, regarding “Mitigation of Climate Change”

  1. Jim Stuttard says:

    I’m glad to find this post. I’ve had similar long-term problems with Greenpeace, FOE and the UK Green Party.

    PS Is there a missing “not” in ‘ I squarely blame the environmental movement during the Clinton-Gore administration for (X) giving us a powerful means of combating greenhouse gases emissions by expansion of nuclear power. ‘

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