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Spoke too soon

August 7th, 2012

Having just given a relatively optimistic view of US policy on climate change, I’ve seen a string of signals that the Obama Administration is set to sell out on this vital issue, presumably on the advice of the same political experts who persuaded him to ignore the unemployment problem for most of his first term in office. The bad news

* An Obama ad attacking Romney for saying (correctly) in 2003, that dirty coal-fired power plants kill people.

* Partial approval of the Keystone pipeline

and, worst of all, the apparent abandonment of the 2 degree target announced by U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern

The radio is deplorable, but not significant in the greater scheme of things. Whatever the ad might say, the EPA regulations introduced under Obama are closing down lots of the worst coal-fired power stations. As regards the other two points, the best we can say is that nothing is locked in yet. Still, it’s more depressing stuff from someone who once promised Hope.

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  1. Mel
    August 7th, 2012 at 15:46 | #1

    I’m not surprised. The type of action that must be taken on AGW can’t happen without bipartisan support. I think humans are prone to conspiracy theories and fear mongering and this is doubly so if there is some perception that one’s self interest is at stake and such a perception can be created fairly easily even if there are strong reasons to think otherwise. On top of that- and ironically in large part as a consequence of leftist thinking- people no longer trust authority figures in the way they did a couple of generations ago. Accordingly, it is easy for populist agitators with the right instincts (Andrew Bolt etc…) to convince the masses that those scientists in their white coats are wicked, dishonest and engaged in a conspiracy.

    As an aside, I would love to see a re-run of the Milgram experiments done today (obviously impossible because of the politically correct ethics police), as I think a much greater number of today’s folk would tell the “authority figure” to sod off.

  2. August 7th, 2012 at 16:50 | #2

    I’d run the experiment with the lab coated authority figure saying that the voltage is too high while fake subjects point out that there is no relationship between electric current and physical harm and that electrocution is a conspirousy to make money by the insulation-industrial complex.

  3. BilB
    August 7th, 2012 at 18:47 | #3

    I don’t think that we should be concerned about what the US is doing, unless the Repulicans get their ultimate wet dream of shutting down all environmental research.

    The environment will tell us what has to be done ,…in due course. And let’s face it, it is only when people actually get scared that they lose their complacency. The Labour government finally woke up out of a deep sleep and discovered that electricity prices been have skyrocketed by profiteers, and this has all been blamed on the Carbon Price. Why did that take 3 years too long? At least it was not eleven years or nineteen years as it would have been with a continued Coalition in power. Finally the looming prospect of a political drudging has shaken them out of their “dream time”, and some reality thinking is underway.

    The same prospect for the Global Climate is what we can expect. I have every faith that the environemnt will deliver us plenty of evil weather in the coming few years.

    If you put a pan full of water on the stove on a low simmer you will see lots of little thermal circulation forming. Turn the heat up and the circulation becomes more agressive and the circulation cycles become broader circulating from the centre almost to the edge of the pan. This is what I believe is happening with the atmosperic circulations which we witness in the huge high pressure cells that seem to be forming more consistently these days. Cells that go alll of the way from the top of Australia almost to the edge of tha Antarctic. What does it all mean? I don’t know but I have no doubt that we will be finding out all too soon. And then we will get some action on Climate Change,…all too late.

  4. iain
    August 7th, 2012 at 19:10 | #4

    Better not to worry too much on the US. China’s carbon trading trials are providing better fodder for lessons.

  5. Fran Barlow
    August 7th, 2012 at 19:32 | #5

    @Mel

    I would love to see a re-run of the Milgram experiments done today (obviously impossible because of the politically correct ethics police)

    Gosh …

  6. Fran Barlow
    August 7th, 2012 at 20:06 | #6

    It’s appalling that the Obama administration is walking way from serious action on climate change, but it does illustrate how hostage voting works. Since nobody who is interested in positive policy on climate change would vote Repug, Obama can afford to ignore them entirely and pitch at people who might vote Repug.

    Because election cycles occur on timelines a tiny fraction of that demanded by climate policy, elections are a poor device for getting sense on climate policy. That this system flaw predisposes disaster is seriously regrettable, especially since the interests that can situate themselves on the election timeline are hostile to human wellbeing.

    Of course, if Obama had not temporised in 2008 and instead held the Repugs properly accountable for all that was wrong with America there would have been no Tea Party and no Repug resurgence and he could have had climate policy and a single payer health system and a stimulus policy that could have put unemployment at 6% or less by 2012.

    Of course, that assumes that these are things he’d have wanted, which now seems hard to believe. He was always just someone running a slightly less obviously egregious version of Bush era policies and entirely a product of that consensus rather than a liberal in the sense one normally understands that term.

  7. Julie Thomas
    August 7th, 2012 at 20:32 | #7

    Yes Mel, what a silly thing to say about ethics committees; they are totally necessary for many reasons and are actually of benefit if one really wants to do good research. There is no need to do things like that to people.

    The Milgram experiments; they were replicated in Australia – at Monash I think – in the ’70′s and there were, even back in the olden days people who did refuse to ‘obey’.

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/radioeye/beyond-the-shock-machine/3183356

    This podcast is a fascinating insight into the details of the experiments and also has interviews with some of the Australians who participated and they talk about how the experiment itself and their responses affected them.

  8. Chris Warren
    August 7th, 2012 at 20:33 | #8

    Don’t blame Obama – he is constrained by United States business interests and ideology.

    The battle over climate change has been lost and the die is now cast. All intenational meetings and expressions of concern and useless carbon tax initiatives are just piss in the wind as leading capitalist interests plow-on squabbling over the next mass of fossil fuels to extract and send off into the atmosphere.

    See: http://www.spiegel.de/international/topic/the_race_for_the_arctic/archiv.html

    It seems to me that humanity is now on an accelerating suicide path and the economy, and supporters, are to be blamed.

  9. Mel
    August 7th, 2012 at 20:54 | #9

    JT: “Yes Mel, what a silly thing to say about ethics committees; they are totally necessary for many reasons and are actually of benefit if one really wants to do good research.”

    I never said ethics committees are not necessary, obviously they are very necessary. I do however think they can go too far. I suspect most of the folk who did the Milgram experiment built a bridge and got over their transient discomfort and that prior to and after their participation in the experiment they would’ve experienced literally thousands of far more stressful events. Do we all have to packed in cotton wool? Doesn’t an overly protective society create its own brand of neurosis?

  10. Julie Thomas
    August 8th, 2012 at 08:16 | #10

    Of course Mel, most of the Milgram participants behaved within the normal range of human behaviour; most people are resilient to some extent and most people get a reasonable upbringing although some people think that this is increasingly problematic.

    But human ability is not distributed evenly; there are weak and non-normal people like me.

    It’s not protection we weak people need Mel, it’s support and acceptance from the stronger people, rather than to be constantly told to toughen up and make good choices. Some people do need extra help to know how to build a bridge. It is unfair.

    You’ve seen that doco on how differently children respond to the marshmallow ‘test’? Some children can ‘inhibit’ their desire to immediately eat the marshmallow for as long as it takes and others do not? There was one little girl who hardly even waits for the experimenter to leave the room before popping the marshmallow into her mouth! I identify with the little girl, I have no ‘won’t power’ either, even after all these years of trying to become ‘normal’.

    I do – still – want to be wrapped in cotton wool – it’s hard work to be ‘stong’ and to compete, I don’t want to do it.

    But it is interesting that you said that, because that is the way I describe the feeling I had the first time I tried heroin; it was like being wrapped in cotton wool. It was blissful and took away the constant feeling of fear and anxiety that were always lurking in my thoughts.

    Luckily for me, I guess, my upbringing, as dysfunctional as it was, did give me enough ‘backbone’? strength of character? good sense? who knows, to be able to see that if I did it again I’d become an addict and that this was not the right way to deal with my problems; not that I even realised that I had problems back then.

    But my girlfriend – the one I ran away to Sydney with – wasn’t able to make that choice. Many years later while doing my psych degree, I recognised that she had showed all the signs of long term sexual abuse, probably from her father.

    But I don’t want a protective society. I am a conservative in that I think we all need a ‘good’ upbringing to be ‘all that we could be’. I think that our aim, as a society, should be to try and ensure that every child gets a decent upbringing and understands what their society expects from them but we have to work that out first. What can we reasonably expect from people?

    I have nfi how we would go about that though; I am totally useless in that area of understanding and knowledge.

  11. Hermit
    August 8th, 2012 at 08:26 | #11

    I think there are mixed messages from the US. If anything the facts tend to support the view that the liquid fuels industry is beginning to struggle. The Alberta-Texas pipeline will take oil extracted by steam from solid rock then mixed with solvent and pumped thousands of kilometres. The corn ethanol blending quota will be achieved at the expense of food production in one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl era. It smacks of desperation.

    The US may be onto a winner with the export of prefabricated small modular nuclear reactors. They seem to be progressing ahead of schedule with several models under simultaneous development. When the fracking miracle wanes and US natgas climbs from $2 a gigajoule to $5 or more SMRs rather than new coal plant may fill the gap. The coal comeback seems to be mainly in exports whereby the genteel countries like the US and Australia get China and India to do our emissions by proxy.

  12. pablo
    August 8th, 2012 at 09:38 | #12

    Hermit@11. Interesting point on the modular nuclear reactors. I notice that the Mars ‘Curiosity’ rover has what is called a ‘nuclear battery’ as power source. That will get the Greens upset.

  13. Mel
    August 8th, 2012 at 14:50 | #13

    Thanks Julie. Appreciate your insights and all the best.

  14. Katz
    August 8th, 2012 at 15:24 | #14

    An application of Occam’s Razor should have disclosed the bogus nature of the ostensible structure of the Milgram experiment.

    Why would professionals need an amateur to administer the requisite electrical shocks to the “subjects”? These professionals were surely quite capable of administering their own shocks.

    If I were one of the actual subjects of this experiment, I’d like to think that I’d administer a “lethal shock” immediately and wish the experimenters better luck with devising their next experimental design.

  15. August 8th, 2012 at 16:21 | #15

    Pablo, the radioisotope thermoelectric generator in Curiosity is unlikely to upset any greens. The Plutonium 238 in it only undergoes alpha decay, so any green martians that encounter it shouldn’t be harmed by radiation.

  16. Freelander
    August 8th, 2012 at 16:57 | #16

    Seems clear all Obama wanted was the prize – being President of the USA. Everything else simply a means to an end. Now he’s after a second term. Those who had expectations of him have to be mightily disappointed.

  17. Jim Rose
    August 8th, 2012 at 19:40 | #17

    Blaming the republicans is a common error.

    The 2008 Republican Party presidential nominee supported cap-and-trade. ‘McCain has been one of the most outspoken members of Congress on the issue of climate change’ and he “managed to force the first real Senate vote on actually doing something about the largest environmental peril our species has yet faced.”

    In 2007, McCain he reintroduced his climate bill, with bipartisan co-sponsorship.
    In a March 2008 speech, he called for a “successor to the Kyoto Treaty” and a cap-and-trade system “that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner.”

    In January 2010, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the importance of twenty-one issues. Climate change came in last.

    After just winning the fight over health care, another issue for which polling showed lukewarm support, Obama moved on to the safer issue of financial regulatory reform. Many others including McCain soften or reversed positions as voter support waned in the recession.

    CO reduction action will be limited to modest reductions of a largely token character.

    There are many expressive voting concerns that politicians must balance to stay in office and the environment is but one of these. Once climate change policies start to actually become costly, expressive voting support for these policies will fall away.

    p.s. there were 5 republican senators who would have voted for cap and trade in April 2010: Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, and George LeMieux.

  18. Freelander
    August 8th, 2012 at 20:37 | #18

    Despite maverick McCain’s support for action he hadn’t made headway in a Congress dominated by Republican crazies. No error in that fact.

  19. Mel
    August 8th, 2012 at 21:13 | #19

    Rose:

    “Blaming the republicans is a common error.”

    “In January 2010, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the importance of twenty-one issues. Climate change came in last.”

    Well duh. The Christian Taliban (GOP) have successfully manufactured doubt in concert with aligned think tanks and media outlets. You’ve disproved your own argument.

  20. Hermit
    August 9th, 2012 at 14:24 | #20

    In Australia we have little reason to be smug about our emissions resolve. It looks like ‘contracts for closure’ could be a fizzer. A couple of small coal stations and a couple of large stations (Hazelwood, Yallourn) put their hand up to be bought out to be replaced with something presumably nicer.
    http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2012/08/09/3564105.htm
    I wonder what happens to the $1bn they have already received? A lucky bonus perhaps.

    Basically $23 carbon tax is not enough and east Australian gas will be too expensive to overcome the cheapness of brown coal. Some will say the new higher electricity prices for whatever reason will save an effective 2 GW of capacity which was the original aim of the ‘contracts for closure’. Maybe but climate scientists would like us to get rid of 20 GW of coal burning. The cuts must go deeper.

  21. Jim Rose
    August 9th, 2012 at 18:25 | #21

    When whoever might be your side of politics wins at the ballot box, they have a clear mandate to implement the will of the people. Whenever your side loses at the ballot box, it is all the product of smoke and mirrors, and the ignorant crazies (who were still good enough to whip you good and hard) are just devious and naturally dishonest too.

    Climate change policies are not doing well at the ballot box in many countries.

    The reason for that unpopularity is the voters decide in a democracy. Democracy is not a faculty workshop that demands a high level of knowledge and analytical sophistication and a severe curtailment of self-interest as the price of admission.

    Elections are not going away. The environmental movement will have to learn to sell its messages to voters through thick and thin, and not just be the good times party.

    When parties are in line with the will of the people, they win. The Labor parties formed out of nothing 100 years ago and quickly won many seats and not long after they formed governments in many countries. They were tossed out whenever they were out of tune with the median voter or got tired and flabby.

    The green parties also first formed in someone’s living room. A small group of thoughtful and dedicated citizens believed they could change the world by contesting elections under their own flag. They were not that far wrong. The greatness of democracy is a few people can indeed band together to change the world by persuading more and more to join their cause.

    Schumpeter’s theory of democratic participation is voters have the ability to replace political leaders at regular elections. Citizens have sufficient knowledge and sophistication to vote out leaders who perform poorly, vote in minimally competent replacements, and prevent serious misalignments between government actions and public opinion and at little cost in time or distraction from private pursuits. That is a pretty low bar that the environmental movement can’t jump.

    See http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/04/15/think_again_the_green_economy?page=0,6 “With the right policies, we can build a green economy and stabilize the climate. A good first step might be to stop telling ourselves that half measures will work and that the transition will be easy and painless: just a few subsidies here, some technological wizardry there, and presto, green jobs. This may be the most inconvenient truth of all.”

  22. Freelander
    August 9th, 2012 at 19:12 | #22

    Seems not everyone is aware of the role of money and lobbies, and crazies, particularly in that multi-ring circus called the American democracy. Doesn’t much matter as we are all starting to feel the pointy end of climate change. And even some of the stu pidest amongst us are beginning to recognise it ain’t no hoax.

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