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The Temperate Zone

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 2 months ago

The Temperate Zone


Climate change is becoming another political football. Because it is poorly understood, even by climatologists, most people’s opinions about it are dominated by their political predilections. The public discussion about climate change has become just as intemperate as those about Iraq, abortion, and other more inflammatory topics. I have been doing a lot of reading on the general subject of climate change and what to do about it. I have strong but confused feelings about the issues and this article is an attempt to work some of them out. I'm hoping this article, and my understanding, will be improved by its readers....


A Moral Dimension


In Collapse, Jared Diamond presents extensive evidence that humans faced with a disaster that is generations away won’t act to avoid it. Each chapter covers a collapsed or threatened civilization—Easter Island, Norsemen in Greenland, Haiti, etc.—and leaves the reader asking, “What were they thinking?” Then he notes the environmental challenges confronting the Earth and asks “What are we thinking?”


We are thinking it’s not really our problem. Most Americans alive today will be inconvenienced, but not devastated, by global warming. Not only are the consequences coming slowly, they may be positive for some locations. Warming might benefit Northern areas; Florida’s loss may be Alaska’s gain. Pittsburgh might get Kentucky’s weather and needn’t worry about rising sea levels. However, if the warming melts glaciers and causes cooling, things might be otherwise. It’s a crap shoot. In any case, rapid changes will not be pleasant.


Not even the most adamant Cassandra’s have said the human race will perish, only that there will be major ecological, economic, and demographic changes. You might even convince yourself that your grandchildren will be smart enough and vicious enough to profit from the disaster.


Generally, we expect the less developed world to suffer more than the developed world and the rich to suffer less than the poor simply because the rich have the wealth and organization to deal with change. One thing that often gets lost in the focus on climate is that people live in the much more variable world of weather. In places that are close to the edge, fluctuations and unpredictability can precipitate large social changes. This concern is what underlies the worries about climate-related war. A bad year can lead to a grab on water or pasture or population pressures, but population pressures, corruption, etc., might cause these anyway. That makes climate, like tectonic plate movement, more dangerous, because its effects are masked by more immediate things.


This means we will be facing the perennial moral choice of taking care of ourselves or others. The poor countries will be facing the perennial choice of waiting for us to help or trying to take from us what they need.


People’s opinions about what to do can be compared along two dimensions: what they expect the climate to do and how much they care about all of humankind. Here is a map of my guesses about where various individuals and groups fall in these two dimensions. Each of the blue items below links to a page with someone's opinion on it. Feel free to add your own.




                                                              Believe That Climate Change is Critical


                                          Naturalists                Stern

                                                                         Mitigators    Gore                   Wilson



                            Pentagon                               IPCC   Friedman

                                                                                                 Morris      Utopians

                                                  Bush                    US

                                     Apocalyptics                                      Schellenberger


        Selfish                                       Depletionists  Utopians                                         Altruistic


                                      W.Nordhaus                Geoengineers



                             ExxonMobil                                                                     Lomborg


                                                             Doubt That Climate Change is Critical


                        The Spectrum of Opinions along Two Dimensions


What to do


What is happening right now, and what might an interested citizen do?


An obvious thing to do, suggested daily to us, is to reduce our personal consumption of greenhouse gas emitting energy. Each of us should use compact fluorescent bulbs and drive a higher gas mileage car. However, this will have no effect on the Chinese.


Thomas Friedman says that the ultimate solution is producing clean technology so cheap the Chinese and other developing nations adopt it. Doing that that requires huge investments that only Wall St. can muster. Investors will act only if the government creates the conditions that give those investments a chance to pay off. Our government won’t act unless the public demands it. Hence a citizens’ movement is needed. This will require political leadership we have haven’t seen for generations.


My opinion is that two steps are needed:


1. Create a better consensus of where we are. Maybe Gore is right that the science is settled, but plausible spokesman still dispute it. In our fierce partisan political environment, any newcomer to the debate is whipsawed among opinions. We have a lot of incomplete, simplistic perspectives, none adequate to the problem. Climate might benefit from its own JASON which actually spoke out on this subject decades ago. The Green Shift project represents my views on some things to do.


2. Assuming some combination of the mitigators and reformers are right, moving the American public to support their consensus will take a decade. The Alliance for Climate Protection seems to have a good approach.


Since several approaches require mass movements, let’s examine what it takes for a small number of innovators to attract followers. Most of the approaches discussed above already have adherents, so the question is: Which groups can attract followers?


The picture below shows a concept introduced by Evert Rogers. It posits that there are different classes of people based upon predilection to adopt any innovation and that they are distributed according to a bell curve. Innovators suggest or devise the change, Early Adopters try it, and their success attracts the Early Majority. The Late majority and Laggards get dragged in as the innovation becomes the norm. Moving an innovation from one group to another requires different techniques. For example, the Early Majority has to see real, provable benefit while the Laggards might be coerced by laws or pressure. Generally people require two strong pushes: hope of success and social pressure.

The Phases of Innovation Adoptiontion curve
The Phases of Innovation Adoption curve


For example, for centuries, folk wisdom had it that smoking was bad for you. Remember being told “Tobacco stunts your growth?” In the 1950s scientists joined the Innovators and established a link between smoking and disease. Controversy continued, but after the US Surgeon General and Congress put the warning labels on cigarette packs, the Early Adopters gave up smoking. I suppose I belonged to the Early Majority. When I moved to Palo Alto in the 1970s, I was smoking three packs a day. I was assaulted with the anti-smoking movement. Co-workers encouraged me to quit, and strangers treated me like a pariah. Within a year, I quit. When I moved to Pittsburgh in the 1980s the Late Majority was still smoking in the supermarkets. Then laws were passed to persuade them and the Laggards. The whole experience changed my opinion about social pressure. Since I was glad to have stopped smoking and realized the social pressure had helped me, I decided it was a good thing.


By the way, there is a sinister link between tobacco and climate change. The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition is a group that has attacked the scientific consensus on both these topics. Whenever you see the term "junk science", look for some of these people behind it. They appear to be motivated by a combination of libertarianism and money. Another group with a similar track record is the George C. Marshall Institute which I learned about from a scholarly but engrossing video by Naomi Oreskes.




The anti-nuclear war movement was a kind of innovation. The scientists who invented the bomb realized how threatening it was, but it took many years for the idea to sink in. The “duck and cover” generation will recall being terrorized by our government and media about the danger of nuclear holocaust. The scientists’ contribution to the public campaign was the Doomsday Clock, often shown on the cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It showed a clock face with the time some number of minutes before twelve midnight to signify a consensus about how close the world is to catastrophe. Whenever the clock moved backwards humankind believed a little more in the possibility of success.


Another “innovation” is Federal deficit reduction. For years Peter Peterson and others have warned of the dangers of the Federal deficit, but the public shows only sporadic interest. Ross Perot with his charts made the issue rise to the top of the public’s priorities in 1992, and the deficit was subsequently reduced by a Democratic administration. But we forgot about it after 9/11. This innovation has a hard time moving from Innovators and Early Adopters because the immediate benefits to the adopter are hard to identify.


In the case of climate change the Innovators are scientists and environmentalists who have identified the problems and have voluntarily begun to take measures to reduce their own environmental impact and urge others to do the same. The Early Adopters, careful but changeable people, have begun to appear in places, as signaled by Prius sales. By global population measures, the Early Majority have yet to act because they don’t see a personal benefit.


Baruch Fischhoff, of Carnegie Mellon observes

Human behavior will shape the extent and effects of climate change. Communications will shape those behaviors. …People tend to make reasonable choices if they: get key facts in a credible, comprehensible form, have control over themselves and their environment, are judged by their own goals, and have basic decision-making competence.'' … The viability of a democratic society depends on its ability to create these conditions, empowering citizens’ to exercise their decision-making abilities to the fullest extent possible.''


He advocates a continuing public awareness program in which physical scientists continue to communicate unbiased environmental and engineering facts, social scientists identify the facts most relevant to citizens’ choices while assessing their concerns, and journalists convey the messages in compelling ways.


If you don’t believe social pressure from peers works, consider the following recent experiment


  • Asking hotel guests to “partner with us to help save the environment” by reusing towels elicits 30% participation.
  • Asking them to “join with the 75% of fellow guests” elicits 44% participation.
  • Asking them to “join with the 75% of guests who stayed in this room” elicits 49% participation.


This shows that a reasonable suggestion from a hotel is less persuasive than the behavior of one’s fellow guests.




This diagram summarizes some of the causal links suggested regarding climate change. We assume the objective of the efforts to be improving the quality of life—population size, longevity, health, etc.—and distinguish among various people and times. The red square on the right represents present and future populations of the world. Policy makers differ as to where quality is most important; there’s an implicit discount rate associated with distance in time and space.



Nordstrom, Shellenberger, Lomborg, Simms, and Sachs emphasize that Foreign Aid or its equivalent is the best investment because it improves quality of life now and addresses known problems rather than probable ones. Furthermore, it makes everyone healthier, richer and better able to cope with whatever climate change occurs. Also, raising the living standards of the undeveloped world makes it more interested in adopting green practices.



Friedman’s chain of causality suggests that activists might cause government action that will induce investment, then clean technology that will make adoption of green practices economically attractive to both worlds.



The Geo-engineering and Pentagon boxes are delightfully independent of everything except government investment.



Efforts in public information and evangelism are efforts by the innovators and early adopters to encourage adoption by other groups, either through persuasion or law.



The costs of various policies are murky, but here is a table of various estimates:



Guesses at Policy Costs
  Annual Estimate $B
World GDP 66,229
US GDP 13,881
Keep 2050 CO2 to Twice 2007's (IPCC) 464
Eliminate World Poverty (Sachs) 200
Implement Kyoto Protocols (Lomborg) 180
Iraq War 112
Improve World Health (Lomborg) 52


If the IPCC numbers are right, it will cost only about 0.7% of World GDP to buy insurance against serious climate change, and even less for other ameliorations. The problem is that there is no World chief executive to decide that is a good deal and simply order it. Countries and their citizens must be persuaded. The organizations that seem to have the most money for persuasion are corporations. The average yearly oil industry profits from 2002 through 2004 were $60B. The cost of all the presidential campaigns for 2008 is estimated to be a record $1B. Relative to the big numbers, a president is a bargain.





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