Science, Innovation, Politics
As somebody who has often been critical of Roger, I got this book from my library a few months ago and read it. I think that the sections dealing with decarbonization are much stronger than those dealing with politicization of the science.But decarbonization is really what it is all about in the end, so I won't dismiss that area despite my opinion about his criticisms of scientists. I still am not a supporter of the Breakthrough policy, but clearly it seems the status quo is not working so discussion of policy are important.I do feel that your message about policy would have more impact if you stuck with that, but it's clear by now that ain't happenin.
Thanks Dean for taking the time to read it -- an author cannot ask for anything more than that ;-)
One question I remember from reading it. You have a section on the "wedge" plan for decarbonization and say that one of the people who originated that concept had since said in an interview that it really was political. If it's an interview, it should be public, but there as no cite and I couldn't find an interview where they admitted political motivations. I did find interviews that discussed it being harder than some supporters claim. But that's very different from admitting politics as the motivation for the plan.Can you say where they admitted this and if it is online?
-3-DeanYes, that is cited in footnote 65 in Chapter 2, which is also discussed here:http://cstpr.colorado.edu/prometheus/?p=4444Here is the full excerpt from the Pacala interview cited in TCF:" The purpose of the stabilization wedges paper was narrow and simple – we wanted to stop the Bush administration from what we saw as a strategy to stall action on global warming by claiming that we lacked the technology to tackle it. The Secretary of Energy at the time used to give a speech saying that we needed a discovery as fundamental as the discovery of electricity by Faraday in the 19th century. We also wanted to stop the group of scientists that were writing what I thought were grant proposals masquerading as energy assessments. There was one famous paper published in Science [Hoffert et al. 2002] that went down the list [of available technologies] fighting them one by one but never asked “what if we put them all together?” It was an analysis whose purpose was to show we lacked the technology, with a call at the end for blue sky research. I saw it as an unhealthy collusion between the scientific community who believed that there was a serious problem and a political movement that didn’t. I wanted that to stop and the paper for me was surprisingly effective at doing that. I’m really happy with how it came out – I wouldn’t change a thing. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things wrong with it and that history won’t prove it false. It would be astonishing if it weren’t false in many ways, but what we said was accurate at the time."The wedges have indeed proved wrong.
I just checked my suburban Boston library network. There are nine copies of The Climate Fix in the system, including two at what they used to call community colleges. And for what it's worth: Those town libraries include the high-income, liberal-voting communities of Brooklline, Wellesley, Sudbury, Belmont, Winchester and Newton.
I've assigned this book twice in my global climate change course, and highly recommend it to other teachers, regardless whether you agree with Pielke's analysis or policy recommendations. The book clearly articulates and defends an important point of view on climate policy and presents enough detail in its evidence and reasoning that it gives students a lot of substance on which to exercise their critical thinking.In the policy and economics phase of my course I assign a wide variety of perspectives (in addition to Pielke, we read John Houghton, David Victor, Frank Ackerman, Nicholas Stern, William Nordhaus, and several others) so students have a chance to think for themselves rather than simply agreeing or disagreeing with my opinions. Pielke's analysis in Climate Fix of the difficulty of decarbonization, of the iron law, of geoengineering as a backstop, and of what he thinks went wrong with the UNFCCC are all very good for stimulating lively and substantive discussion, especially when assigned together with other points of view on these issues.
Roger (#4): "We also wanted to stop the group of scientists that were writing what I thought were grant proposals masquerading as energy assessments." If we look at this part, not at whether the wedges were proven false, what do you think of Socolow's charge that Hoffert et al. were practicing what you refer to as stealth issue advocacy?
-8-JonathanMany thanks!-9-JonathanCan you be more specific, I'm not following? Thanks!
#9: Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but the quotation and its context from Socolow looks to me as though he's saying that Hoffert et al. were publishing a political call for funding a major new research program and disguising that policy argument as a scientific assessment of energy technology ("grant proposals masquerading as energy assessments"). That sounds exactly like what you describe in THB as stealth issue advocacy, so I was wondering what your opinion was.If I'm misreading Socolow or making a mistake interpreting his reading of Hoffert as stealth advocacy, an explanation of where I'm wrong would be helpful.
-9-JonathanI see what you are saying, but I had interpreted that to mean that Pacala (not Socolow) was saying that Hoffert et al. were advancing hypotheses (i.e., "grant proposals") as being more certain than they actually were (which would have been "energy assessments").But of course, the presence of stealth advocacy for more research funding is endemic (e.g., just about any NRC report concludes "more research is needed";-). A charge against Hoffert et al. that they were advocating for energy funding would be fair. At the same time, Hoffert et al. offer a policy argument for why such funding is needed, so I'm not so sure how stealth it was.Fortunately, even with politics playing its ever-present role on all sides, one advantage of the debate between S/P and Hoffert et al. is that it can be resolved empirically and with math. And here there is little room for ambiguity.
Congratulations Roger,According to Reuters, the American academy is now dominated by Pielkists:"In the United States, seen as the biggest single obstacle to a new global climate deal, academic opinion says an "iron law" means economics trumps the environment in times of crisis."http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/01/climate-mood-idUSL5E7MT5A020111201
I've had difficulty trying to convey your proposal in chapter 9. Can you help clarify a few points of the argument I missed?1a. What is it about obliquity that makes for a better approach to climate change than think globally act globally? I understood the comparison to human longevity, but your argument has to be more than "here's how we approach health, climate should be like that too, okay?"1b. Also, how is it an oblique approach to try and expand energy access to the 1.5 billion people without it? It seems like just another another totalizing mission statement rather than the fractured or independent health efforts dealing with malaria, heart disease, etc., which contribute to human longevity. 1c. Wouldn't it be quite possible to reach that energy access goal with just more petroleum power? Fossil fuels are plentiful and cheap. The Iron Law exists and South Africa has to do what it can. What stops the developing world from building coal plants everywhere and worsening the climate outcome?2. Supposing that extending energy access improves the aggregate outcome, I had a difficult time accounting for how. I understand that extending energy access on such a scale probably necessitates innovation, and that innovation is good. But how do those innovations replace existing carbon-intensive forms of energy being used currently? What compels the first world to undo their existing petroleum infrastructure as 1.5 billion get energy from renewables? I'm guessing the answer is the carbon tax, but I'm aware you envision the tax as a source of funding for innovation, not as a means to change behavior.3. There is a bit of a time limit to abate climate change. Decarbonization has to happen more rapidly than it currently is now, not in 20 years after everyone has power and we have all the innovations we need. If decarbonization is just an outcome and not a direct goal, how are you sure that it proceeds rapidly enough to improve upon the current think globally, act globally approach?I don't doubt I've misrepresented your proposal in a few ways, or missed a few details that would answer my questions. But I would enjoy being corrected as I found the rest of the book insightful and persuasive.
-12-Chris ChambersThanks for the thoughtful comments. A few replies:1a. Not sure I understand the question. The basic point is that some objectives are best achieved indirectly, or more precisely, as the outcome of the pursuit of other objectives.For instance, I could tell my kids to exercise for the health benefits. That won't work so well. But if I tell them to go play ball, they get plenty of exercise. Oblique.1b. The goal of expanding energy access it itself clear enough, but it may also, and perhaps counter intuitively, be an oblique way to accelerate decarbonization of the economy (more below).1c. I doubt it. Gas is the real wild card. I don't think that the price of coal or petroleum stays very low with rapidly expanding access. You want to put a high price on carbon? Then dramatically expanding demand will do the trick. 2. A goal of expanding energy access provides a wide range of benefits, obviously. At the same time to meet such an increase in demand at a low/reasonable cost will require innovation in energy technologies -- both efficiency and production. To the degree that such innovations are successful, then they will be preferred to legacy energy technologies. A carbon tax provides the revenue stream to invest in such innovation.3. There are no guarantees in any approach. But I do think an innovation-led approach has much greater potential to accelerate decarbonization than other approaches out there. We won't really know unless we try. Of course the current dominant approach sets a rather low bar for performance ;-)If unclear or you want more depth, just ask.Thanks!
Thank you, that helped clarify most points. 1a. "Some objectives are best achieved indirectly." Sure. Like getting people to exercise or extending the human life span. But why is obliquity more effective in those cases? In other cases, like trying to publish a book on a deadline, obliquity might be a poor strategy. What about it as a strategy makes it optimal in some cases but not others? How do you know climate change is one of those cases? I can buy the argument that obliquity would lower the bar for scientific consensus and perhaps reduce the politicization of climate science, but a strong case can be made that the interconnectedness of climate change--the atmosphere and oceans (as well as agriculture and human security)--mandates global goal-setting.4. While reading I couldn't help but wonder if any action was really needed at all. The developing world is going to continue prioritizing energy access, and the developed world will continue to work on technologies which increase efficiency and production. How might you differentiate your innovation-led approach from business-as-usual + carbon tax?
Roger, As an editor for several different journals, I liked your discussion of peer review. I might make some comment about your statement that "over the long-term good ideas and solid arguments win out" as being a bit too optimistic. I've seen plenty of bad or mediocre ideas get entrenched in the literature, and then getting them discredited or replaced is harder than if they had not been published in the first place.Another minor sticking point is your argument on p. 158 that climate winners and losers would gladly rebalance their responsibilities seems overly optimistic. Given the difficulties in any international negotiations, expecting altruism based on projections of who is "winning" and "losing" to win out seems naive.I would have liked to have seen more specifics in your final chapter about how the pragmatism should unfold. It seemed optimistic, but lacking enough specifics to figure out how to implement it. Then again, perhaps it is unfair to judge this chapter on these levels of details when getting people to talk reasonably about these issues is a huge enough hurdle. Nevertheless, if you wanted to expand the book, that would seem to be one place where more content could be added.Your argument that adaptation has been a dirty word is consistent with what I've been saying to friends and laypeople for almost ten years. When asked what I thought about climate change and what we must to do in response, I would say that reducing our losses due to weather events was good policy, regardless of whether we are "responsible" or not. It sure is a litmus test for whether some decision makers would invest smartly in reducing our vulnerability or not.These minor points aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.