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.
Simply put, the economic analysis related to climate change issues in public debates has systematically gotten things wrong. The very nature of the analytical process fosters an exaggerated projection of costs and an understatement of benefits from climate mitigation and adaptation investments. This fosters a discussion of the “costs” of action, rather than a more honest and meaningful discussion of the extent and nature of the “climate mitigation return on investment”. Fully-burdened cost-benefit analysis would highlight the huge return to be secured from sensible climate investments.
When it comes to cost-benefit analysis, two just released reports shed important perspective on this issue:
Risky Businessdocuments the costs the United States is already accruing due to climate change impacts and projects these costs through the century. Costs could include over $500 billion of coastal property below sea level by 2100, outdoor labor productivity declines of over three percent, agricultural production losses that could — in some regions — exceed 50 percent, etc … Writ large, $trillions at risk in the US economy from unchecked climate change.
A simple truth — only dupes and villains can deny that we face very serious risks and consequences from climate change.
The key hope, however, is that we (writ large) still have some potential to control how bad the situation will become and opportunities to seize value streams along the path toward climate change mitigation and adaptation.
That there might be silver linings amid climate change’s looming dark clouds does not create a ‘good’ Anthropocene even as we might seek to find better framing and language than “less catastrophic Anthropocene”.
Responsibility: We face a serious situation. We — collectively and as individuals — are responsible for creating the problem(s) and must take responsibility for helping solve them.
Patriotic Pride: We have solved serious problems in the past and have the capacity to do so moving into the future.
Accountability: While we must recognize that we, individually, have responsibility, there are institutions and people who have much more serious claim to responsibility for creating our problems and for inhibiting action. We must communicate, clearly, who these are and determine ways to hold them to account for their actions.
Within this, a central point is that meaningful and valuable action is possible — that there is a serious difference (for the better) between “business as unusual Anthropocene” and a “less-bad Anthropocne” due to serious climate mitigation and climate adaptation measures.
And, a simple truth underpinning this — we already have valuable opportunities for action and are seeing serious progress.
After the fold is an infographic from The Climate Group laying out “10 smart reasons to invest in a clean revolution”. Putting aside the unmentioned one, that reducing the risks of utterly catastrophic climate change would create an imperative for action anyway, these 10 are interesting to consider.
For example, you have all likely seen the graphics about the drastic reductions in solar prices. Think about this one:
“the cost of LED lighting in the United States has dropped 70 percent since 2009 and deployment has increased by 50x”
It is pretty rare to see CAGR of that enormity for a basic household item. That seems more like fad (Chia pet, anyone) CAGR material.
An acquaintance of mine’s business supports lighting in the building sector. Several years ago, I spoke extensively with him about the value streams of making LEDs central to his business activities. He, not that many years ago, simply did not see a pull from the market for LEDs and — while valuing the learning / discussions — did not see the financial ROI for an LED-focused business strategy. Now? The vast majority of his business is LEDs and, increasingly, other lighting options aren’t even in the discussions with their clients.
Between LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs, lighting in American households has fallen dramatically as a percentage of home energy use.
And, as a reason for optimism, solar and LED are not oddities in terms of rapid change in the clean energy sector.
Again, see after the fold for an interesting infographic …
Communicating on science is difficult in American society. Tackling that communication in the face of concerted efforts to undermine science is an even more difficult challenge.
Effective teachers use a variety of methods to communicate with their students, seeking to find ways to communicate to all of the seven types of learning. For aural, we’re advised to
“use sound, rhyme and music in your learning”.
Those concerned with educating, engaging with, and mobilizing people about climate risks pursue multiple tools, including music such as the catchy song in this video (which is worth watching for some of the embedded graphics). (See after the fold for a second video … )
Aside from a catchy (hmm, recognize it …?) tune, there are many ‘quotables’ within the lyrics.