The Myth of Mitigation Skepticism

The concept of a Lukewarm view of climate change is actually entering a somewhat wider range of discourse these days, as witness Tamsin Edwards’ recent Guardian article, Matt Ridley’s adoption of the term, Clive Hamilton’s rant against the concept, etc. We’re not the popular kids yet, not by any means, but the idea is getting enough traction to merit a disparaging perversion of the term (‘luckwarm’) and considerable gnashing of teeth in the usual places by the usual people. Heck, they’re gnashing their teeth because Tamsin Edwards didn’t gnash her teeth. (Tamsin, be careful–they will cheerfully throw you under the bus if you don’t start harping on how evile we are. Case in point, Eli Rabett saying Tamsin is just a careerist)

They’ve also introduced a new term–‘mitigation skeptic’–with which to objectify us. I suppose it’s better than denier or delayer. A mitigation skeptic apparently is someone who accepts the basic tenets of climate science but doesn’t think we should do anything to mitigate human-caused climate change. It is being hurled at all the usual suspects–Lomborg, Ridley, The Breakthrough Institute, Roger Pielke Jr. and myself, at the low end of the totem pole.

Of course it’s not accurate, but since when have Alarmists ever been accurate? Truth for them is over-rated and outdated.

Take The Breakthrough Institute. Reviled by the Alarmists for not being on board with centrally mandated emission reductions, they are now accused of being mitigation skeptics. Of course, they are still called deniers and delayers too. (Maybe we should just think of the term as another arrow in the quiver of insults always at the ready for the Konsensus Brigade.)

Back in 2008 The Breakthrough Institute published policy recommendations in Harvard Law and Policy as part of an essay titled ‘Fast, Clean and Cheap.’

1) Establish a Price for Carbon Dioxide That Is Consistent With What Present Technology Can Accomplish

2) Establish a Dedicated Source of Public Funding for Clean Energy Investment That Can Rapidly Drive Down the Deployed Cost of Clean Energy Technologies

3) Ramp Up: Invest $300 Billion in Research, Development, and Deployment of Clean Energy Technologies

4) Insulate Federal Clean Energy Investments From Pork-Barrel Politics

5) Buy Down the Price of Solar Technology Like We Did With Microchips

6) Play the Field: Make Strategic Investments in Key Energy Sectors and Technologies

7) Create a Framework for Global Carbon Regulation Tied to Living Standards

And the Breakthrough Institute has been working to realize these goals ever since.

Perhaps opponents can disagree on certain points. Perhaps they can say it is insufficient. What they cannot say without lying is that The Breakthrough Institute doesn’t think we should do anything about mitigation.

In the Hartwell Paper the easy opportunities that they highlight include getting rid of a lot of black carbon (atmospheric soot) and ozone in the lower atmosphere; both are responsible for a lot of harm independent of the warming that they cause, and thus easier to act against than carbon dioxide. Others have made this point, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it, since it is a good one. They approve of reducing deforestation, too, which is a completely mainstream view.

Those are part of what is now being called ‘Fast Mitigation.’ Not No Mitigation.

As Roger Pielke Jr. is part of The Breakthrough Institute we’ll skip over him for the moment.

As Bjorng Lomborg is author of a book called ‘Smart Solutions for Climate Change’, (endorsed by both Bill Gates and Rajendra Pachauri), one would think it obvious that he has a mitigation strategy. And he does, including repeated calls for phaseout of all fossil fuel subsidies. He also advocates putting a price on carbon. The central thesis of his mitigation strategy is to make green fuels cheaper than fossil fuels.

As for me, you can call me a denier, delayer, luckwarmer, mitigation skeptic, whatever. You can butter my bum and call me a biscuit.

But as I wrote 5 years ago,

“Although there is only one supremely important question regarding the science of climate change (sensitivity—remember?), when it comes to the potential impacts of climate change a host of issues appear. Both the Alarmists and the Skeptics tend to ignore the sober comments about uncertainty that accompany almost every scientific paper and they actively twist scientific comments to better make their case.
But even though I believe sensitivity is lower than what Alarmists claim, it is scant comfort when I have also projected that our planet will consume six times more energy in 2075 than it did in 2010. The brute force emissions of both CO2 and conventional pollution is almost certain to cause significant problems for regions of the world that don’t have the resiliency (for which you can almost substitute the word wealth) to prepare for it and adapt to it.
One of the common criticisms of Lukewarmers is that we advocate doing nothing, that we are delayers. It isn’t true. So here is what I think we should do while waiting for clarity regarding sensitivity and other unresolved issues with the science:
1. Tax CO2 at a starting rate of $12/ton and revisit the rate every 10 years, adjusting the rate to reflect changes in CO2 concentrations and a pre-agreed metric for observed climate change that has occurred in the interim. Where possible (especially in the U.S., to offer some hope that conservatives may eventually support the concept) the carbon tax should be arranged so as to be revenue neutral. In the U.S. that might involve reductions in Social Security taxes for both employers and employees.
2. Spend a global total of $100 billion for the transfer of technology to the developing world for the purpose of reducing the impact of development technologies, in hopes that they can leapfrog one or two generations of energy development. If nothing else, donating scrubbers for Asian coal-fired power plants will reduce conventional pollution and black soot that degrades the Arctic snows.
3. Commit to spending over the course of this century on moving roads inland, removing permission for construction on threatened coasts and flood plains. The EPA found that this would cost about $400 billion for the United States about 20 years ago–adjust for inflation. But that’s a one-time cost.
4. Continue Steven Chu’s investment strategy for reducing costs in renewable energy, storage and transmission. Continue with ARPA-E at full funding. Institute high value X Prizes to reward innovation in these areas.
5. Encourage the U.S. EPA to continue to regulate CO2 emissions from large emitters.
6. Accelerate permitting for new nuclear power plants to restore nuclear power’s percentage of electricity to 20% in the U.S.
7. Uprate existing hydroelectric plants to take advantage of advances in turbine technology.
8. Mandate uptake of GPS within the air traffic control infrastructure and controlled and one-step descent on landing.
9. Homogenize permitting and regulation for installation of solar and wind power to make it easier to gain approval. Maintain current levels of subsidies and RPS.
10. Increase utilization of Combined Heat and Power facilities in the U.S. from its current 7% of primary energy production to the world average of 9% and then by steps in northern regions to benchmark levels found in Denmark, Holland and other northern European countries.
11. Support introduction of charging stations for electric vehicles.
12. Force existing coal power plants to meet best available technology standards or close.”

As is consistently the case, the Konsensus is wrong about this. I do not know a single professed Lukewarmer that does not support mitigation in one form or another. Not one.

But it doesn’t matter. Truth is just another obstacle to be overcome on the long, weary road to Climate Jerusalem.

CRUS0000Crusaders

23 responses to “The Myth of Mitigation Skepticism

  1. 1. Tax CO2 at a starting rate of $12/ton and revisit the rate every 10 years,

    OH GOD, PLEASE NO!!!!

    This is a wonderful solution for lowering the demand for fossil fuels but it is abysmal public policy. If you give congress $1.00, they will spend $1.20.

    The way this will play out in the long term is, the additional revenues will attract constituencies to spend them – and as the revenues decline with the eventual decline of fossil-fuels, the spending will not decline and only add to the deficit.

    Please do not even suggest that congress can come up with a revenue neutral solution – that is like saying a hungry dog can resist a plate of bacon.

    • Hi AI, yes, the shambling beast of carbon taxes is back and I brought it back all by myself!!! Revenue neutral, revenue neutral, revenue neutral…

      • Revenue neutral, revenue neutral, revenue neutral…

        It is irresponsible to propose a political solution while ignoring politics. Revenue neutral is when money is taken from those too weak to fight and given to those strong enough to grab it.

        Think Ethanol.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that fossil fuels need to be phased out over the next fifty years but the wisest path is for governments to set goals then scrupulously avoid mandating how those goals will be met.

    Example of how government does things right: the Obama administration’s raising the CAFE standard has had a profound impact on the efficiency of vehicles. Today’s pickup trucks get better mileage than yesterdays sub-compacts.

    Example of how government does things wrong: Not many people know this but the EPA killed the hybrid. See http://www.hybridcars.com/the-great-hybrid-car-cover-up-of-74/

    “Thirty years before the Toyota Prius got the attention of an energy-anxious nation, a starry-eyed inventor named Victor Wouk built a hybrid gas-electric vehicle that sipped fuel at half the rate of virtually all other cars on the road.

    And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tested Wouk’s vehicle, certified that it met the strict guidelines for an EPA clean-air auto program—and rejected it out of hand.”

  3. The climateers have stumbled on a term that could lead them to the promised land if only they grasped its meaning. They conflate it with climate skeptic, horribly mislabeling potential allies as enemies. It is very unfortunate. I think we should adopt the term, nevertheless. Eventually the climateers will figure out that only a small percentage of those they call skeptics and deniers are mitigation skeptics too.

  4. Many of the technical solutions you include in your list are common sense things that have only been delayed by the greens. The idea that tax policy could ever be so rational as to be visited coolly and honestly every ten years is as fantastic as the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven as beautiful as a bride at her wedding.
    That the climate obsessed reject even discussion on their version of mitigation- CC, wind mills, “renewables”, etc. demonstrates the collective delusion they are suffering from.

    • Hi Kingb, I liked it–but I’m not a Doctor… sadly… and if you’re in Langley I’m not even on your side of the pond, again… sadly.

    • A very good essay, Kingb.
      Thanks for the link.
      It is fascinating that the climategate leaks showed that consensus opinion leaders know full well their science has issues. Yet her we are, over five years after the leaks and the public response of the consensus opinion leaders has been to circle the wagons and avoid honest discussion. At least Dr. Edwards is willing to have a nod in the general direction of open debate.

  5. Hi Tom,

    Here is Breakthrough, with my responses:

    1) Establish a Price for Carbon Dioxide That Is Consistent With What Present Technology Can Accomplish

    ‘Price for Carbon dioxide” Why? It is not a harmful substance.

    2) Establish a Dedicated Source of Public Funding for Clean Energy Investment That Can Rapidly Drive Down the Deployed Cost of Clean Energy Technologies

    Public funding are derived from societal productivity from fossil fuel use. You need to use and consume more fossil fuels to create enough funds to throw at clean energy research.

    There is no ‘clean’ energy. It is a myth. There is nuclear energy. It is ‘clean’, it is expensive. For some reason people are scared of it.

    3) Ramp Up: Invest $300 Billion in Research, Development, and Deployment of Clean Energy Technologies

    You can ramp up investment to any arbitrary threshold. There will be no clean energy.

    4) Insulate Federal Clean Energy Investments From Pork-Barrel Politics

    This is a bad idea. Democracies should always keep all processes open for review and possible shut-down. Yes, the converse is pork-barrel politics, very unesthetic indeed. But insulating investments from review is a recipe for disaster.

    5) Buy Down the Price of Solar Technology Like We Did With Microchips

    Solar cannot scale. The only things in the world that scale solar are plants. Everything else is useless. It is time to grow some brains and give up on the solar and wind energy crap.

    6) Play the Field: Make Strategic Investments in Key Energy Sectors and Technologies

    7) Create a Framework for Global Carbon Regulation Tied to Living Standards

    Well, that is exactly what the IPCC/UNFCCC has been trying for years. What is the end-result? The AIIB. If you push up people trying to make lives for themselves (i.e., life) against a dead ideology from the Malthusian 1960s, guess which one will win.

    It is high time we learn from the world around us, from reality, from what climate activists have experienced for ~30 years. The world is trying to tell climate activists something. What is it? “We don’t need you, we don’t want you”. Let’s take the lesson and move on.

    Of course we should keep tinkering with energy sources and related research, for the unanticipated breakthroughs. That doesn’t need $300 billion.

  6. Shub has hit on an important point that sheds light on one of the most important flaws in the long list of flaws in the climate consensus:
    That the gravity of the climate crisis enables believers to set aside human nature, democracy, accountability and more in the pursuit of a climate solution.
    The idea that a tax could be imposed that is revenue neutral is dubious at best.
    The idea that every ten years the tax would be revisited and coolly and rationally adjusted up or down is even more dubious.
    The idea that a huge pot of money could be created by government action and not be subject to “pork barrel” politics is more dubious still.
    I would suggest a corollary when is faced with an ever growing list of dubious propositions that are required for something to work:
    That the thing being worked towards is for good reason unattainable.
    Now what could those reasons be?

  7. Shub and hunter,

    What you are saying is not nonsense. Indeed it makes good sense if you take a very narrow look at the issues. And perhaps we should.

    But I am hoping to look at a wider perspective. To me, knowing that temperatures rose about 0.8C during the last century, knowing that the Arctic rose 2C during that time, and knowing that our emissions are set to explode over the next 50-75 years justifies action.

    The actions I suggest above in many cases make sense even if there is no global warming at all. You haven’t criticized any of them–does that mean you agree?

    As for a carbon tax, if it is revenue neutral and adjusted decennially, it won’t hurt taxpayers or embiggen governments and if it doesn’t work it can be killed.

    If it works–if large emitters find workarounds to lower their taxes, it generates less money.

    A carbon tax in the U.S. won’t pass if it isn’t revenue neutral. Having predetermined metrics can also mean having stop limits on how much it could be raised or lowered.

    I don’t see harm coming from these proposals and I do see potential for good.

  8. Tom,

    You pay lip service to a bottom up approach, but one of your and Breakthrough’s recommendations are of the top down variety. They are, save one, all dependent on governments and the political process. The exception is: 5) Buy Down the Price of Solar Technology Like We Did With Microchips. I agree with Shub that the market forces that brought down the price of chips are not applicable to solar, but there are other market forces that could succeed.

    The carbon tax is a non starter. It is highly unlikely a meaningful tax will be enacted in the foreseeable future. It is a highly illiberal tax. It is horribly regressive. Revenue neutrality is very different from payer neutrality. The tax would burden most those who are least able to access low carbon technologies and efficiencies.

  9. Last comment should start

    … but all but one of your and Breakthrough’s recommendations are of the top down variety

    • Hiya Paul

      I endorse the Breakthrough Institute’s proposals but they are not mine.

      The proposals I list above are indeed ‘top-down’. I list them as actions that can have an impact on emissions.

      As you know, I do favor bottom up approaches. However, my reason for favoring them is slightly different from yours.

      If I understand what you’ve written before, you believe bottom-up approaches can lower emissions. Well, obviously, but to what extent?

      If even the U.S. EPA plan can’t reduce temperatures by more than 0.01C, individual efforts can’t be counted on to make an impact.

      I still favor them–but that’s because I think they have the potential to change the politics, not the climate. I’ve tried to be clear about that in the past.

      Individual efforts are an important signaling device. Nobody’s having a national referendum on phasing out coal or getting back into nuclear. So individual actions can show preferences for environmentally conscious policies to politicians, products to manufacturers, etc.

  10. If emissions reduction is the goal, and mass destruction/impoverishment is not the means, then that leaves nuclear fission, fusion (possibly someday), and cleaning up coal. Wind and solar are not going to work without impoverishment. Hydro is too limited. As long as the CO2 obsession lasts we are going to continue making costly and ineffective policy choices. The idea that we should be enslaved to the climate obsessed and not dispute with them politically since they believe their cause is so important is repulsive.

    • Well, I don’t think the climate obsessed are not being disputed, do you?🙂

      You’re right about the portfolio mix, IMO.

      • So I guess I missed the intiative by the President to reach out and hold climate science to normal scientific and disclosure standards, lol.

  11. Tom, I would really appreciate a couple of posts on the economics of solar and wind. It would be nice to get a state of the industry perspective.

  12. Pingback: Meditation on Mitigation | The Lukewarmer's Way

  13. Pingback: On a Broader Definition of a “Lukewarmer” | A Chemist in Langley

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