Most people think and most analysis occurs in a stove piped fashion. Difficult in conception and more costly in resources (whether brain cells, time or cash), narrow and constrained thinking often fosters not just far from optimal but simply bad decisions. This is true across virtually all of human existence. The energy arena is far from an exception to this problem. From not considering life-time electricity use when buying Christmas lights to using the ‘commodity’ price rather than delivered cost (”fully burdened cost of fuel”) in military procurement decisions to only discussing energy savings returns off insulation or new windows without talking about comfort or health benefits in the house to ignoring the productivity benefits from greening workplaces (and schools), the limited nature of thinking when it comes to energy and environmental issues is hard to exaggerate. (And, of course, these are only benefits ‘within the decision-maker’ rather than all the externalities (both benefits and costs) that are left out of the economic transitions.) The all-too-often limited lens restricts us (all of us) to sub-optimal or simply wrong decisions.
The Christian Science Monitor has developed an interesting quiz: Climate change: Is your opinion informed by science? I went ahead and started to take the test. The questions ranged from science history to chemistry (which is/isn’t a greenhouse gas) to change over time to … well, a spectrum of climate issues that aren’t necessarily self-evident. Okay, this is ‘my’ arena and should do okay. Even so, considering the questions, I was pleased that the quiz ended with the screen to the right.
The value of the ‘quiz’ isn’t solely in the challenging questions but the quality of the brief descriptions at the end of each quiz. With a policy environment where one political party’s elites emphasize that they’re not scientists, the reality is that far too many people’s opinion is not informed by science.
As is typical, on completion came the option to share the quiz, which I did with automated braggadocio:
Well, teacher, are you sure that I can’t earn some extra credit?
To start with, lets face some facts — I got 100% when, in fact, I didn’t get all the questions right. One of the quiz’s did not allow an accurate answer.
Question 15 asks “What is the hottest year on record since 1880?”
As can be seen to the right, I answered 2010 with the other options being 1934 (a hot year in the United States), 1970 (hmmm … thrown in for confusion), and 1998 (an El Nino year and one of top five hottest global years, hottest year in the 1900s). This is a good example of the ‘lets see if we can confuse’ and ‘can we catch those influenced by science denial’ elements throughout the quiz.
In any event, I got this question right … even though that answer is wrong.
Since the Christian Science Monitor’s posting of and before my taking this quiz, NASA and NOAA released the reporting that 2014 is the hottest year in recorded history.
That’s right, the correct answer to question 15 is: 2014.
Okay, my question to @CSMonitor: Can I get that extra credit now?
There is a growing movement to divest from fossil fuels. This ranges from the individual (for example, my retirement accounts are down roughly 80% over the past three years in terms of ‘fossil fuel’ (at least direct) investments) to businesses to growing numbers of non-fossil fuel/climate friendly investment operations to pressure on institutions to disinvest their endowments and retirement funds. This is especially true with U.S. educational institutions, as university communities (students, alumni, faculty, staff) increasingly see disconnects between an institutional commitment toward improving the future and financial investments in arenas which undermine future prospects (of students, communities, and the broader world community).
Across the nation, the number of divestment commitments from educational institutions, cities and counties, and other institutions/groups is growing.
The fight against divestment has also grown, with fossil fuel firms seeing risk to their financial well-being and future prospects.
At numerous institutions, the divestment efforts are met with resistance. In no small part they are met with arguments (falsely based, fyi, even without the paragraphs that follow) that disinvestment would risk portfolio financial performance. This has been, for example, particularly acrimonious with Harvard University’s extremely large and, what might be called, fossil-foolish endowment fund.
While it has been possible to build a (and many have built) climate-friendly financial portfolio — without difficulty — that matches (or even outperforms) the general market, what might have happened if a Harvard or otherwise had started a serious disinvestment of its fossil fuel portfolio at the beginning of 2014?
E.g., lowering one’s exposure to fossil fuels almost certainly would have boosted portfolio performance through the year.
And, of course, the ‘oil’ fall is much heavier in the later half of 2014. Thus, even a gradual process moving just a few percent of a portfolio per month would have ended up having
This is a suggestive post … there are a tremendous range of complex issues to examine to understand just how much better endowments would have fared if they had begun a disinvestment process a year ago. And, there are questions as to how the disinvestment process can best be pursued to marry high financial performance with ethical, moral, and policy commitments. This is something that merits more serious examination ….
Even so … even so … it is clear that disinvestment would have served institutions better financially while better aligning their financial investments with their core purposes.
There are a series of arguments used by fossil-fuel defenders / pollution promoters to dismiss the utility of renewable energy electricity options. One standard is to dismiss wind and solar by saying that it only delivers X percent of the electricity. The intent of playing to that number, with the emphasis on “only”, is to prove the lack of utility of these renewables for 21st century energy requirements. What these commentators fail to do, of course, is to make clear that yesterday’s number is (much) smaller than today’s … and that today’s is smaller than tomorrow.
This came up in a recent back-and-forth with a climate denier (okay, actually more like a ‘climate impact denier’ and ‘climate mitigation delayer’). As part of his advocating that the recent US-PRC climate accord is meaningless, he wrote:
Coal now provides some 65% of all the energy consumed each year by China, generating most of the electricity and heat for 1.3 billion Chinese and providing most of the power for industry.
Meanwhile, solar and wind power still meet less than 3% of the nation’s energy needs.
The ‘only 3% produced by wind and solar’ is a deceptive way to discuss renewables. One measure/angle of many; e.g., it is part of a picture.
Lets put that number in context.
First, lets look globally. From 2008-2013, (page 21 from source 1) averaged, respectively, 50 and 40% growth year-to-year. Wind, which is more mature, averaged 21%. That 21% means wind doubling roughly three years, the solar essentially a doubling annually.
Global PV in 2004: 3.7 gigawatt capacity. In 2013: 137 gigawatts (40 times as much in a decade). What nation is adding the most right now? The PRC. (Source 1, page 49)
Now, a standard climate action delayer argument is to advocate for the next great technology — that we can’t (shouldn’t) act now because we need to create some great new thing (more efficient solar, fusion power, etc) and that we’ll leverage that thing better than sliced bread to solve global warming, world hunger, and split ends. That argument — which this delayer has used — ignore the critical importance of deployment and the lessons from deployment.) Wind, 17 gigawatts in 2000 and 318 in 2013. Nearly 20x increase in 13 years. Again, which is top installing nation now? PRC. (page 59). Okay, China’s 3% of wind/solar was well under 1% just a few years ago and will be 10% in a few years time.
The price to deploy solar systems has been plunging — globally — at double digit levels. (An indication of just how rapid: 2014 solar installation prices in the United States are 59% lower than predicted way back in 2010.) Many focus solely on solar panel costs (with per watt costs having plummeted down to the 50-70 cents range) when those ‘hard’ costs are only part of the equation. Soft costs — from optimum placement to permitting to sales to financing — are a critical part of the equation driving solar costs toward parity (or advantaged position) over fossil fuel electricity generation in more markets around the globe with every passing day.
While ‘technology’ advancements should not be dismissed, the serious revolution in business processes are outside too many people’s thinking. [Read more →]
The continental United States has been slammed by cold temperatures and it is difficult to escape images of Buffalo’s massive snowfall. When there is a big snowstorm, climate science deniers gleefully crow “Where’s Global Warming” and otherwise in a way that resonates with (sadly, too large) a segment of the population and is gleefully played by media outlets looking for shallowly amusing items to spread around.
A la Senator James Inhofe (R-ExxonMobil) dragging out his children to make an igloo on the Mall mocking Al Gore, the science denial community leverages what is going on in backyards and on TV broadcasts to confuse people about reality.
Yes, Buffalo is having a massive, massive snowstorm. (And, I do not envy — sympathize greatly with — those who are trying to deal with its impacts — from shoveling massive amounts of snow, to worrying about whether your home will cave in, to …) For too many, that (beautiful) white stuff somehow is a disproving item when it comes to climate change science. To try to explain that, in fact, the snow is related to climate change opens the door for ill-educated mockery. Yet, it is …
And, well, there are times when Twitter catches it all.
“So much for global warming!” said the Buffaloan from under 6 ft of snow condensed out of extra water evaporated from an unusually warm lake
The man — the whistle-blower — who brought this to our attention: Rick Piltz.
From 1995-2005 he held senior positions in the Coordination Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. In the spring of 2005, Rick resigned from his position to protest the Bush Administration’s political interference with climate change communication. His whistleblower documentation of politically motivated White House editing and censorship of climate science program reports intended for the public and Congress received front-page coverage in the New York Times and was widely reported in the media.
Rick’s value and contributions cannot be constrained to ‘whistle blower’, as important as that was to our national conversation. Despite the vicious attacks he received from the climate science denial world, he persevered. He was a powerful climate thinker and communicator. Here is Rick outside the White House at the 10/10/10 event.
Rick was also an incredible decent and pleasant person. As I phrased it to the person who let me know,
I regret not having ever taken the chance to tell him, directly, how much I respected him.
We rarely had face-to-face discussions (walking climate protests together, before / after conference sessions, etc …) and each time I regretted that I did have more time with him.
Warm, thoughtful & insightful, mentoring, passionate (about the right issues), …
Yes a loss for all …
A man of deep integrity, of deep insight, of deep kindness …
Rick knew, more than most, how serious the climate situation is.
Rick knew, more than most, the internecine reality of the American political and bureaucratic environment that made progress so difficult.
Rick persevered in fighting for truth in climate science discussions and, based on that truthful understanding, for meaningful actions to address our challenges.
George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change (first chapter in pdf) should be on the must read list for anyone concerned about communicating climate change (and — as importantly — who is open to reconsidering much of their thinking about what works and doesn’t work). In 43 short and highly accessible chapters, Marshall lays out how we mentally are not prepared to tackle climate change and, as revealingly, how most climate ‘communicators’ have failed to understand how their own biases impact how they communicate and undermine their ability to convince others.
For example, Marshall contrasts a highly successful anti-science advertisement with standard environmental approaches.
“Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life.” … it leaves a lasting impression of the wonders of the life ahead for her. … It is devious, exasperating, and outright mendacious. But it is also damned good communication. … maddeningly good … texbook example of how to speak directly to the emotional brain. …“The video is an artful compilation of frames for life, civilization, health, hope, and salvation. And, by contrast, the image of Times Square and the children fading into darkness speaks equally well to metaphors for decay and death — as it would in every culture in the world.
… the World Wildlife Fund uses the same metaphors at the core of its largest public engagement exercise around climate change, Earth Hour. Every year it encourages us to turn off our lights … WWF thinks it is a huge success … but there is no avoiding the fact that, if one is going to play in the world of symbols, one had better get it right. However you read it, a universal frame for decline, decay, and death is being promoted on a vast scale around the world as a symbol for climate change.
This was not a hidden issue, after all an anti-science blogger has a post showing North Korea from satellite with the caption “It’s always Earth Hour in North Korea”. I, however, have always felt vaguely (to strongly) uncomfortable with Earth Hour. Marshall has given me a studied explanation as to why that ‘vague’ discomfort was right.
As someone who has spent a reasonable amount of time and energy worrying about how best to communicate on energy and climate issues, I opened the book with a decent amount of understanding and perspective on the issues. (One test of a book, when you know the field, is who the author cites — Marshall’s work is filled with references to, quotes from, and commentary on a broad range of the ‘right’ (and, sigh, Right) voices and experts.) In what is perhaps my top compliment to any author, the book is filled with marginalia (written comments in the margins), with many items marked “excellent” or “gem”.
For example, a ‘gem’ from the concluding chapter:
Climate change is a process, not an event, so it requires that we RECOGNIZE MOMENTS OF PROXIMITY that can demand attention. These may be moments of political decision-making, collective action, or generated conflict. … the Keystone XL pipeline is a legitimate attempt to create a historic moment. Those critics who argue that the pipline will only ever be a small part of overall U.S. emissions are missing the point. Their complaint is like saying that the locations of seats at the lunch counter of the Greensboro Woolworth’s or on the Montgomery buses were trifling examples of racial segregation. Sometimes the act of CREATING THE SYMBOLIC MOMENT is far more important than its overall relevance.
Those arrested at the White House protesting Keystone XL are, in their own way, Rosa Parks — challenging a specific element of a much larger societal challenge.
Without question, while the full book merits reading, the last twelve-page chapter (the bolding above is how it appears in the chapter) is a must read.
Many times in the book, Marshall talks about people’s “belief” in climate change even though he provides, partway through the book, an explanation why he uses the word “conviction” rather than “belief”. Hmmm … perhaps the editing should have gone back and questioned every use of “belief”.
Far more importantly, Marshall implicitly accepts what is likely wrong-headed analysis as to the costs-benefits of climate action.
Of all the possible combinations of loss and gain, climate change contains the most challenging: requiring certain short-term loss to mitigate against an uncertain longer-term loss.
An aggressive program of climate mitigation and adaptation would not just mitigate against “longer-term loss” but would provide significant gains.
Conducting fully-burdened cost-benefit analysis shows many ways of “gain” — from reduced (controlled) energy costs to improved health to improved student achievement to increased worker productivity to …
Tackling climate change seriously is not just about mitigating loss but can — should — be about creating gain. And, in many ways, this doesn’t even require ’short-term loss’. For example, investing in energy efficiency — which contributes to reducing pollution — is far less expensive than investing in new energy generation capacity. Working to restore wetlands and natural ways to deal with storm surges is typically cheaper — with other useful benefits (improved fisheries’ productivity) — than pouring concrete. And …
Marshall successfully made me think and is forcing me to rethink many things. This is not a book to read and put away — but one that merits returning to and engaging with intellectually. Is there a higher compliment that one can give an author?
Climate change is emotional, especially when the effects are disastrous and people’s lives are ruined. It is vague, sometimes. For example, bad weather happens and always has happened, so an increase in frequency or severity of bad weather isn’t necessarily qualitatively novel, and can be hard to put one’s finger on. Although the negative effects of climate change are already here, more serious effects are in our future. So, climate change has a component that is mysterious and hard to relate to, because it is in the future. Climate change is global, but spotty on a given day or in a given month. So, you may spend a long period of time between direct bouts with the phenomenon and forget about it or write it off as an “it can’t happen here” sort of thing. Climate change is scary or depressing, or both, so it is one of those things one tends to avoid thinking about. Climate change is complex, and climate change includes variation that is hard to understand.
When we look at how the human mind works, using the tools of anthropology, psychology, or any of your favorite ways to study the human condition, we find that we are better at some things than others. All those things I just said about climate change are things we humans tend to be bad at, find hard to comprehend, evaluate, understand, or explain.
Therefore, climate change has two very important characteristics. 1) It is very important, representing an existential threat that we must deal with; and 2) we are cognitively, emotionally, intellectually, pragmatically, unable to deal with it. Or, one would hope, unable to deal with it easily. Hopefully we will get past that.
Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change comprises 43 short and well-written chapters that explain why strenuous efforts to spread the word and spur action on climate change have failed. …
Marshall has obviously thought deeply about how to address different audiences and, for such a difficult subject, he has produced a surprisingly accessible read. That takes a lot of wit, work and wisdom and it proves that at least that he knows how to communicate. We should pay attention.
Don’t Even Think About It isn’t just for climate communicators — it is suitable for every library bookshelf and would be a welcome addition to many classrooms (psychology, advertising, English, …). Many (most) should find it interesting reading, as it provides a window on our (often lack of thinking) and biases that influence what we pay attention to and why. Marshall has written a useful addition to the literature that easily merits a few hours of your time.