18 October 2010

An Enduring Mystery

In an article about climate skeptics in Kansas who are focused on clean energy, the NY Times poses a question:
Over dinner, Wes Jackson, the president of the Land Institute, which promotes environmentally sustainable agriculture, complained to Ms. Jackson, his daughter-in-law, that even though many local farmers would suffer from climate change, few believed that it was happening or were willing to take steps to avoid it.

Why did the conversation have to be about climate change? Ms. Jackson countered. If the goal was to persuade people to reduce their use of fossil fuels, why not identify issues that motivated them instead of getting stuck on something that did not?
Is it really that complicated? (Thanks PK and TC)


  1. The truth (and I sense that farmers in Kansas know this) is that nobody knows what effect climate change will have on farmers in Kansas. No model has shown any skill whatsoever in forecasting regional changes. In any case, they are used to dealing with changes in rainfall and temperature between one year and the next that are greater than the mooted climate change. They are also already used to taking a rigorous approach to minimizing their costs, including fuel. I'm not surprised that they find it difficult to take seriously any suggestions that they should be reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

  2. A refreshingly sensible article. I am into energy conservation when it makes sense. I insulated my house to extreme levels when I built it, included a heat recovery ventilation system, good windows, solar panels for water heating, etc. I turn off lights the whole time. I know fossil fuels are going to get more costly because of supply and demand.

    But unfortunately sensible energy conservation or seeking cost effective alternative energy solutions (not daft windmill schemes) have been hi-jacked by people who believe with religious fervour that if we don't cut CO2 emissions hard and now we are all going to 'fry'. For some reason this belief system has a lot of traction within the political and scientific establishment. A sensible assessement of the facts on this issue shows that this belief is so far from conclusive it is impossible not to believe that there is a large amount of fraud involved. I will be cancelling my membership of the American Chemistry Society this year becasue of the way they deal with this issue.

  3. When people like Mr. Jackson stop being used by wind mill promoters or directly profiting from them, and actually focus on helping farmers he will find credibility.
    Is he ready to accept and endorse nuclear power?
    Until he is, he is not serious.

  4. Well said Ms Jackson. The is no 'Climate Fix' so let's concentrate on a viable 'Energy Fix.'

  5. I saw the following editorial posted by Keith Yost in The Tech: http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N45/yost.html

    It touches upon policy as it relates to this topic.


    The sound and the fury that has characterized the public discourse on global warming often obscures a basic economic fact: we are in the situation we are in because it requires fewer resources to generate electricity with coal or propel automobiles with petroleum than it does to accomplish those same goals with solar cells and biofuels. The “green economy” our politicians have placed on a pedestal is not an improvement over our existing one — there is no gain to be had in producing with the effort of three men what we previously accomplished with two. We should tolerate this inefficiency only insofar as it helps us avoid some other, greater harm.

    There are many who would have us act unilaterally, who claim we will gain some sort of “competitive edge” over China and the rest of the world by pursuing national policies of innovation or economic re-engineering. Through the magic of innovation, we will improve our economy, gain power relative to the rest of the world, and save the environment all in one stroke. This is nonsense...

    ...unilateral action will not mitigate climate change. The U.S. is only a small fraction of total emissions. Even if all of the Annex I countries of the Kyoto Protocol agreed to binding constraints, they would account for less than half of the world’s total emissions, and a far smaller fraction of the expected growth in emissions between now and 2100. To act unilaterally, or even in conjunction with the rest of the developed world, would mean paying the full measure of mitigating climate change while receiving only a fraction of its benefit.

    It is tempting to play the crusader, to make some moral, if futile stand in defense of our current thermostat setting. But we must be realistic. There is little hope of creating an enforceable global carbon constraint, and without the existence of such a regime, there is little point in surrendering our national economy to green adventures.
    ===end quote===

    What are we doing? Why are we doing it? How is it justified to those presently living, and those yet to come? How do both Kansas skeptics, believers, and policy advocates alike answer these questions in a convincing way?

  6. It's good to hear of modest successes like the one in Kansas. But I find it hard to believe that these kinds of changes are anywhere near the magnitude that will lead go decarbonization.

    A good start? "Start" implies it will lead to much bigger gains, and that remains to be seen. But it's as much as anybody else is achieving, so go for it. But my cynicism on the larger issue will only be modified when I see what the bigger thing it leads to is.

  7. So, what issues are going to motivate Kansas farmers ro reduce fossil fuels ?

    None, apart from more lies. Energy security ? Is the USA which has a higher military budget than the rest of the major countries together. frightened Osama Bin Laden is going to take over the middle east ? No.

    Why hasn't the USA developed its own fossil fuel resources when it felt the need to plunder Iraq and Saudi Arabia ? The answer, as always is control of supply (and price). Middle East Oil is cheap and there was no point in creating competition at home. That is why environmentalists are so useful to oil companies.

    I liked this

    "The Jacksons already knew firsthand that such skepticism was not just broad, but also deep. Like opposition to abortion or affirmations of religious faith, they felt, it was becoming a cultural marker that helped some Kansans define themselves. "

    Translation. They are dumb hicks who love Jesus, but can't understand numbers or big words. Just like Freeman Dyson, Ivar Giaever , Robert Laughlin, Edward Teller, James Lovelock, Robert Jastrow, William Nierenberg, Hal Lewis, Petr Chylek and any other honest physicist who doesn't subscribe to the CO2 apocalypse.

  8. A great illustration of ignorance: Roger, you should be laughing at this.

    Candles!!!!! Petro-carbons.

    Forty years ago, I went to Gulf Oil distributors near Richmond, Virginia, and bought hundreds of pounds of ´wax.´ My wife and I melted the PARAFFIN, poured it into molds, and earned about ten cents an hours selling them at craft fairs.
    We may have been responsible for the carbon dioxide levels of the late 60s/early 70s. Yes - please burn more candles, especially on our wind-swept plains: local crops may suffer from low levels of carbon dioxide.

  9. I love it when people who work in offices tell people who have been working the land that their climate is changing.

    Many of those farmers will be grandsons of farmers who worked the same land. There will be 80-year old men and women who remember what it was like in the past. If they don't believe the climate is changing, then merely telling them that statistics "prove" it is never going to work.

    If the Land Institute want to show climate is changing then the farmers should be their best proof, because they will have tangible evidence untainted by politics. That the farmers of the world are unsold on climate change should be a much bigger problem than getting them off petrol. Once the farmers are convinced the politicians - even Republicans - will line up pretty fast.

    (Of course the farmers might not be convinced, because they might well be right, that climate is not noticeably changing. And certainly not quickly.)

  10. I asked one of my religious clergy friends this same question a number of years ago. Didn't really get a good answer as to why it has to be about climate change and not about generally environmentally better, less war-inducing, provided through the US economy, or cheaper energy.

    I still think it has to do with who is empowered by these framings. If it is about climate, it is about climate scientists, the science establishment, politicians, financial markets - big things- that are hard to prove.
    It is a top-down approach by those currently with access to funding to promote their positions. People are told what to do by people who think they know more. No one really likes this.

    If it is about energy it is fundamentally about engineering and making many technological innovations to things that are easy to prove (it works, it doesn't work; it's cheaper, it isn't cheaper). It is a bottom-up approach. People will choose the appropriate technology for them.

    I think a lot of everyday people understand this framing problem at a visceral level. Hence reticence to sign up for the top- down solutions.

  11. eric 144 had the same reaction I did to that condescending article. Its premise is that science-smart liberals must learn to speak the language of those semi-literate redneck conservatives.

    Andy Revkin praised the article, completely missing the condescension. I pointed this out on his blog, but Revkin failed to get my point. And he's one of the fairer MSM reporters on climate change.