by Judith Curry
A few things that caught my eye this past week.
Climate Change: Brand or be Branded
From oilprice.com, an essay on the current state of the climate debate.
On both sides of the divide, the public relations campaign has been a complete fiasco, and this is clearly illustrated by asking the average person what they think about climate change or global warming—an answer that invariably depends on the weather at the particular moment the question is asked.
From the media-duping “Climategate scandal” in 2009 to the “Unabomber Believes in Global Warming” campaign that bestowed its intelligence on us this year, we are led to understand only that our elite are not up to the challenge of rational arbitration.
Those pushing for recognition that climate change is something that should be a major concern, and even a national security threat, have painfully mismanaged their efforts. Politicians do not understand scientists, and scientists clearly have no acumen for talking to the media, whose pull-quote analysis seeks to maximum damage and entertainment.
The way “climate change” has been handled by the “acceptance” camp in terms of public awareness has accomplished nothing other than to brand the idea as something only “hippies” believe in, something “alarmist” and not grounded in reality.
On the other side of the divide, the “deniers” camp has been equally adept at failure, leading to the branding of those who do not “believe” in climate change, or even those who have unanswered questions, as enemies of the Earth, right-wing Conservatives with no respect for the environment and on the payroll of corporations. Both cry conspiracy. Anyone who falls in between these two groups, and invariably this is the larger percentage, is entirely sidelined and branded at will by the other two.
LSE: Climate Change Challenge
As a possible antidote to the problem described above, a blog post from LSE writes:
Academic evidence should expect to be challenged, particularly when that research partners uncertainty with important social policy issues. Nafees Meah writes that social scientists and their counterparts involved in climage change research must be ready to push forward their evidence and be prepared to defend it.
Where science has an important public policy role, as is the case with climate science, then one should expect the scientific evidence to be challenged – especially given the intrinsic uncertainties in predicting the likely consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations on the earth system and on social systems. When this happens, then the most appropriate course of action for scientists and policy makers is to be open and transparent. An important corollary is that scientists also need to be prepared to go out and defend their findings to the public. Addressing the challenge of climate change has to be done discursively through argument and debate as well being informed by evidence.
Can we survive the new golden age of oil?
An interesting post by Michael Levi at Energy, Security and Climate. Some excerpts:
In an insightful post today at Foreign Policy, Steve LeVine drills down on the tension between the emerging “golden age of oil” narrative and the need to tackle emissions.
I find it useful to separate the question of how oil abundance might affect climate outcomes into a physical/economic dimension and a political one.
Start with the physical and economic elements. Lots of oil intuitively means lots of emissions. How, though, does this shake out economically? The likely impact is smaller than you might think, in part because oil is only part of the emissions picture, and in part because oil consumption is driven by a lot more than how easy the fuel is to produce.
The difference between oil scarcity and abundance isn’t as automatically consequential for climate change as one might suppose.
What I’ve left out, though, is the political dimension. Abundant oil can influence emissions by changing the political environment in which battles over what to do about our energy systems play out. This might ultimately be more consequential for emissions than the economic and physical influences are.
The influence of oil abundance on climate policy could run either way.
A sense of oil abundance could reduce any urgency surrounding efforts to curb traditional consumption of fossil fuels. The popular discourse often conflates the dangers posed by oil scarcity and climate change. If oil scarcity concerns weaken, then, it wouldn’t be surprising to see climate ones fade too. Since serious leverage over emissions will ultimately require concerted action from policymakers, the consequences of this dynamic don’t look good.
But a belief that oil is newly plentiful could also cut the other way. Oil scarcity could drive policymakers toward promoting synthetic fuels that actually have worse climate consequences than oil does. Let me highlight one possibility: efforts to convert coal to liquid fuels will be a lot more popular if countries fear that oil resources are scarce than if they believe that they’re abundant. Alas coal-to-liquids (absent carbon capture and sequestration) yields nearly twice the emissions of conventional oil. Oil abundance could actually blunt this dynamic. That would be good news for emissions.
My sense is that the political dynamics are more important than the economic and physical ones here. So which way will things actually break? Only a fool would try to predict that outcome.
U.S. leads the world in CO2 reductions since 2006
The Vancouver Observer reports:
As the IEA highlighted: “US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector … and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.”
As the IEA pointed out, it is the plunging use of oil and coal that is driving the decline in CO2.
Coal use in the US plunged 13 percent in the last six years as natural gas and renewables took its place.
Duetsche Bank has called coal use in the US a “dead man walkin'” saying:
“Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them…And the economics to make it clean don’t work.”
The Americans buy more oil than any other nation on earth. But, as I wrote last year, rapidly rising oil prices are driving a big decline in America’s oil use. The price of oil has more than doubled since 2005. Double the price of a commodity and people will use less.
Per person, Americans are back to 1960 levels of oil consumption. Oil is the biggest source of CO2 in the USA. Now with rising oil prices, new vehicle regulations and the emergence of electric cars it looks like the USA’s biggest source of CO2 will continue to fall. Considering that Americans could cut oil use in half and still use more per person than Europeans, there is clearly lots of room for big declines ahead.