It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Monday, July 12, 2010

Denialism, Informational Conformity and New Coke


Do you remember when the Coca-Cola recipe was updated, and how that almost destroyed the Coca-Cola company's flagship product? There's a brilliant retrospective of that story; go read it, I promise it's relevant.

The article compellingly argues that the bizarre sequence of effects was due to a phenomenon that can be called informational conformity.
Informational conformity was first formally documented by Dr Muzafer Sherif in 1935, when he placed a group of subjects in a dark room with a single point of light in the distance. He asked them to estimate how much the light moved around, and although each person perceived a different amount of movement, most of them relinquished their own estimates to conform to the predominant guesses within the group. In reality, the light had not been moving at all; it only appeared to move because of the autokinetic effect, a quirk in visual perception where a bright point of light in complete darkness will appear to wander. It is thought that this imagined movement occurs due to the lack of a fixed visual reference point, and it may be the cause of many nighttime UFO sightings.
In short, groupthink. In a way it's the "nobody ever got fired for buying from IBM" phenomenon: holding an opinion in isolation is much harder than holding an opinion in common with a social group with which you identify. The PR industry learned its lesson from the Coke debacle; whether mainstream journalism understands it or not is another matter.

I think David Brin's focus on Mr. Murdoch is apropos. I think Mr. Murdoch understands informational conformity, whether the rest of the press understands or not. Whether Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin are harmless buffoons or real dangers to civilization depend on whether they reach a critical mass of people who think they are something other than harmless buffoons. People like Mr. Murdoch, who hold a large fraction of people's attentions, are the people who make that decision.

This sheds some light on the Sarewitz quandary:
A dangerous idea has taken hold in modern politics, and the sooner it is discredited, the better. The idea is that political disagreements can be resolved by science. Its basic logic seems sensible: As good children of the Enlightenment, we should turn to science to establish the facts about problems such as climate change before deciding what policies to implement. Yet the types of things that scientists are good at figuring out don't have much to do with the types of things that politicians need to decide.
I objected (see link above) but John Fleck backed him up:

When I entered the profession of journalism nearly three decades ago, it was with the idea that it gave me a chance to help civic processes by helping the body politic better understand hard or complex issues, so political/policy decisions could be based on the best available information.

At every city council meeting, the training ground of many young reporters, technical experts deliver to decision makers their best available data on issues such as traffic engineering. Week after week, I saw political actors seek out their own alternatives to what I reasonably viewed as the best available data when that data conflicted with their values. In the years since, I have seen this happen across scales, from issues as local as whether to install stop signs or speed humps, to regional and state issues like the water supply in New Mexico, to national issues like the appropriate disposal path for various types of nuclear waste, to the current global discussion we’re all so engaged in regarding greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

I have seen liberals side with what I regarded as the best available data on some issues, conservatives on others. In some cases, environmentalists have had what seemed to me the best available data on their side, while in other cases industry has. At the local scale, I saw many issues that didn’t break down on any sort of liberal-conservative spectrum, but instead fell along geographic lines (rural/urban, this neighborhood v. that one, etc.).

My experience with the pattern is sufficiently consistent that I believe Sarewitz has correctly described not a specific problem found in specific situations, but a general principle.

Michael might wish it were not so, but my decades of experience in the midst of political fights large and small suggests otherwise.

I suggested it was cultural and contingent. Perhaps Canadians are more accessible to reason than Americans, and perhaps Swedes and Dutchmen more than Canadians. And I still think that is true. Certainly, scientists and engineers and doctors are more accessible to reason than, hmm, bankers and accountants and real estate brokers. (No offense if you happen to be in the latter category; there are exceptions both ways.) Cultures can change. So the job, it seems, is to change the culture.

In the light of informational conformity, though, a new theory arises. While scientists and engineers and doctors embrace skepticism as part of their identity, others embrace this or that belief. ("oil companies are bad", "Obama is Kenyan", "cell phones give you cancer", "vaccines cause autism", "climategate reveals awful things about climate science"...) These are not generally evidence-based decisions, but cultural cohesion decisions, like identifying with the Packers or the Bears. There's no rational reason for it; one team winning makes your friends happy, the other makes your friends unhappy, that's all there is to it.

The New Coke piece also explains how this is achieved: enthusiastic allegiance by someone perceived as part of your peer group is worth far more than mere agreement.
When participants were asked whether they would drink Coca-Cola if it were modified to use this new formula, most responded positively. However about 11% of the samplers– even some who preferred the new flavor in the blind tests– were hostile to the idea. They were astonished that the soft-drink juggernaut would have the audacity to tinker with the American-as-bald-eagle-pie beverage. This indignation was so potent that it exerted indirect peer pressure within the focus groups, thereby contaminating the results; but Coke experimenters were quick to detect and correct the effect. ... At first, Goizueta’s surly synopsis proved accurate. The company’s stock went up upon the announcement, and sales improved by 8% in the first few weeks. Surveys indicated that an impressive 75% of consumers were happy with New Coke, and would buy it again. ... Within a few weeks, however, unpleasant sentiments began to ooze from the unpredictable public. There was a segment of the population– about 11%, strangely enough– who disliked New Coke with such enthusiasm that their complaints and harsh editorials began to disintegrate public approval. New Coke became a vehicle for large-scale informational conformity, the human tendency to unconsciously adjust one’s opinions to correlate with the outspoken views of the social group.
On this model, the loss of confidence among conservatives for what they can easily interpret as extremist green evangelism as opposed to science, is going to be very persistent. Perhaps only a small proportion strongly holds this belief, but they are regarded as peers in a larger section of the society, and their belief is expressed adamantly and enthusiastically. It fits in neatly with and reinforces many of their beliefs, and it offers entertainment and delight in mocking the dour and gloomy predictions which they find far-fetched.

The conservatives aligned in this way in part because of the American press's cowardice and in part because of the British press's blind belligerence, but in any case the press firmly included the "hoax" model of climate change as a socially acceptable theory. Some people picked it up with enthusiasm, and they in turn won over their demographic. We already dropped the ball; it will be very hard to win it back.

Unless and until conservatism goes away, reversing this is both necessary and, on the New Coke model, nearly impossible.

I think that our best hope is to address conservatives who are also scientifically inclined skeptics. These people will still be amenable to reason. While we may win them over to the ranks of the reasonable, though, it will be difficult to win them over to the ranks of the enthusiastic, especially in the USA. The conservative culture in America, albeit self-proclaimedly freedom-loving, is immensely conformist and rejects anyone who steps out of line on matters of allegiance. The social pressures to keep a lid on global environmental concerns, now that those are considered disreputably leftist, will be immense.

Nevertheless, the facts are on our side. In this regard if perhaps in few others, Steve McIntyre is right. He advises us to create an "engineering-level" description of "the whole argument"; this is in fact impossible because engineering texts take an omniscient voice and simply don't stress facts they use without a full elaboration. (A and B showed (ref) that (equation 4.17) etc. etc. is not really going to fly.)

This is not an easy task, but it's something we ought to have done anyway. How to acquire the resources for such a massive task is an issue. But it's what we need to do; essentially to build an entire reference network for the many bits of science that go into our understanding of the climate system. In the end, probably nobody will read all of it, but it should provide a compelling resource for anyone digging into any corner of it.

Each of us should go digging in our souls for our inner conservative. Those of us who come up empty-handed should probably just work on something else besides outreach. We should be especially kind to people who are conservative but sane, who understand and appreciate the science, people like Tokyo Tom or even Jim Manzi, even if we disagree with their understanding of economics and politics. And we absolutely need to cherish people like Katharine Hayhoe who speak up for climate science within conservative communities.

What is crucial is to get people to understand that this is real, that it is interesting, that it raises difficult questions. Even convincing them that it is a big deal is secondary. We have to make it permissible to be conservative and to respect the climate sciences.

Our main advantage is that the science is absolutely fascinating. Thank goodness for that.

What we can't do is just shallow, preachy outreach. That has reached everybody it's going to reach, and offends the people we most need to reach. The choir is already singing.

We have to really spread the science out on the table, give people knobs and levers, and let them get the picture in detail for themselves.

Of course, that does not mean capitulating to harassment. Scientists have enough burdens already without being subjected to legal wrangling for their lab notes. Demands for openness at the level of research can reach impractical extremes, but openness about established science is both possible and needed. And we have a long way to go.

The only alternative I see to this sort of detailed outreach, which of course is both difficult to do and not guaranteed to succeed even if done well, is to just wait until the climate system starts causing major damage. Maybe the conservative culture will turn around at that point, not to admit that they were wrong in the past, but to admit that finally, the evidence is in and it's time to act.

Unfortunately, at that point, it will probably be too late. All bets will be off. Predicting the climate becomes difficult at that point, but predicting the way history will twist around is simply impossible. I think we're better off not finding out. Call me conservative.

46 comments:

Scruffy Dan said...

"We should be especially kind to people who are conservative but sane"

I've been saying that for years. It is my main complaint with Romm's writing.

The question is how to best help those who are 'conservative but sane'.

King of the Road said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
King of the Road said...

Note to self: never type on an iPad in your lap without thorough proofreading. Sorry for the horrific typos.

King of the Road said...

Edited to fix intolerable typos.

Interesting. I kind of consider myself to be a sane conservative. One of my two partners is also in that category. The other, not so much, and not for lack of conservatism, at least that which passes for it nowadays. But he knows a lot of political facts that support his various positions, and can rattle them off fluently. And he has a Palin bumper sticker and coffee mug.

The first is a Professional Engineer and wants to evaluate by facts and asked me for references. I sent him to Science of Doom. The second, it would be a waste of time.

I never did like New Coke though.

Rick said...

Also of relevance is this article.

Steve Bloom said...

Certainly persuading the "conservative but sane" will continue to have value, but I think this very interesting post suggests a much better central strategy, coincidentally one that meshes with the current Romm/McKibben colloquy over at CP.

Eban Goodstein writes in commment 18 there: "We also lack charismatic clean energy political champions. No fighting bob Lafollett’s (sic). As much as I appreciate their hard work, Kerry and Lieberman are not dynamic public champions. And Obama has chosen not to be. We need to run some clean energy champions in blue states who can challenge existing dems to embrace a bold clean energy vision– and really lead the public on climate."

IOW, apply the Tea Party political strategy to climate. Consistent with the discussion in MT's post, the TP took the approach they did because they needed to leverage a semi-irrelevant minority (in the aftermath of the Republican electoral loss) into a blocking political minority (note *not* a majority), and that their primary tools are message discipline and a willingness to overturn the political apple cart. (Note also that the "Tea Party" is really just a re-branding of the base of the Republican Party, less the political baggage of the party superstructure.)

Al Franken's recent comment comes to mind (paraphrasing): "The Republicans have a bumper sticker. It says 'No!' The Democrats have a bumpersticker too. It has a lot of words, ending with 'continued on next bumper sticker.'"

That's not a formula for overcoming the resistance of the TP/RP. So as Goodstein says, relying on the Democrats to win the day on climate is a mistake.

It's too late in the current electoral cycle to run climate-focused candidates, so I think that in addition to mobilizing to defeat Prop. 23 here in California, demands should be made for a climate/energy bill that would actually make a good start to solving the problem, rather than the sort of watered-down bill that seems to be the only one with a chance of passing. We need to move the Overton Window in the direction of reality. If we don't get a bill this year and/or Democratic apparatchiks get mad at us, too bad.

Also, IMHO the exchange Anna Haynes just had with a tea partier (here and continued here) illuminates the extent to which such folks are embodiments of the Gish Gallop. The very disconnectedness of the factoids they rely on seems to be a good defense against having to re-examine their views. Considering this, maybe the persuadables would be more usefully termed "conservative but coherent" rather than "conservative but sane."

Nick Barnes said...

Our main advantage is that the science is absolutely fascinating.
beautiful, too.

Belette said...

Brian Gardner (yes that one) used to say something related to this: that everyone gets their information via filters. And this is inevitable, because there is so much (and that was true 20 years ago before the wub). Certainly you can see this in the comments on the "skeptic" blogs (and even around here too): people don't evaluate information from scratch, they do it based on what they know. Takin gthe latest Monckton-Abrahams stuff, for example: most people on the "skeptic" side won't even read or listen to Abrahams, because they "know" he is wrong. But they will ahppily echo Monckton. For myself, I did no more than skim his latest to confirm it is the same old stuff; I too didn't bother re-evaluate it. Life is too short.

So, in brief: a lot of people have had filters put up: scientists are corrupt, it is all one vast conspiracy, etc etc. Reality will not get through.

Hank Roberts said...

> political actors seek out
> their own alternatives to
> what I reasonably viewed as
> the best available

Yeh. Over at KK's, JC suggested polling people on their beliefs about the science. TF hopped in volunteering to run the poll

I suggested they do it with an adjustable version of the iconic forcings image:
http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2010/07/06/it-would-be-nice/#comment-10618

Make the chart interactive, so people could adjust the error bars and median forcing to fit their beliefs -- then redo the statistics backward, adjusting the data to fit the desired picture.

I thought the suggestion made a point about reality.

Alas:

http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2010/07/06/it-would-be-nice/#comment-10638

guthrie said...

I view myself as much more conservative than most who identify as conservative, because I actually want to conserve what we have in the way of stuff, wildlife, ecology, lifestyle etc, whereas the policies touted by many who style themselves as conservatives seem to involve destroying everything possible in order to make a bit of money.

manuel "moe" g said...

Ugh, is it worth calling Conservatism if it tempts fate so extreme that the future becomes chaotic and completely unpredictable?

The best part of MT's plan is the sheer joy of it. "...what we need to do; essentially to build an entire reference network for the many bits of science that go into our understanding of the climate system." We have never had so many tools to communicate facts about such a massive system.

It is the exact opposite of Noah building the arc, and that is a hopeful and humane thing.

EliRabett said...

The usual sawhatshisname idiocy.

What science and engineering do is give you a picture of what is happening, and give you an estimate of what will happen if you do something to a physical system.

What you choose to do is politics or policy, but if you jump off a 100 meter high cliff you will not survive.

Paul said...

Speaking as a conservative of somewhat dubious sanity, let me give you some perspective. A big problem I had in deciding if I'm a climate skeptic (I've decided I'm not) was finding out what the science actually is.

For better or worse, most people identify climate science with Al Gore's apocalyptic polemic An Inconvenient Truth. It is very easy to be skeptical of that. I think the rhetorical excesses of the proponents is the major reason so many laymen reject AGW.

Regardless of the success of the outreach, you're not going to convince conservatives the science dictates certain policies. Especially odious is punitive carbon pricing as a way to force alternatives. It is hard to understand why progressives continue to promote this most regressive solution.

Michael Tobis said...

Paul, I can't imagine any way other than a price on carbon, and it would seem to be the correct market solution (prcing the externalities and letting the market operate as it should. It quite escapes me why conservatives don't like it.

(People forget that Hansen self-identifies as conservative and prefers a simple revenue neutral tax on cabron extraction. I would propose a rebate on carbon sequestration too.)

As for Gore, I liked the movie at first, because he tells pretty much the truth. But eventually I realized that 1) if you didn't believe him coming in you wouldn't remotely be convinced and 2) he did imply things he didn't say

For instance, many non-expert viewers of AIT expect meters of sea level rise in ten or twenty years, not a hundred or two hundred; but Florida is indeed a goner if the world doesn't get its act together soon. The decision is imminent but the consequences are much later.

Paul said...

I have several objections to punitive carbon pricing. First is that it will not accomplish its intended goal. Rather than force alternatives, it is as likely to make both alternatives and carbon unaffordable. In addition, carbon pricing is economic suicide without global agreement, which appears unlikely near term.

My other objection is social. All taxes (and cap/trade is a tax, too) are eventually payed by the consumer. It is wrong to place the burden on those least able to bear it. Hansen's proposal is intriguing, but is fatally unwieldy in application.

I do think that conservatives must be able to show how focusing instead on reducing the cost of alternatives can both be done and can accomplish the goal.

Michael Tobis said...

You seem to be agreeing with Roger Pielke Jr.'s new thrust.

At first blush I find it unrealistic and also quite philosphically unconservative. On the other hand, I would hate to shut down the conversation prematurely.

Without a global agreement, it seems to me, we are quite doomed, regardless of what else happens.

The idea that some alternative form of energy will be cheaper (without pricing externalities or subsidizing the alternatives which is the same thing), than digging up some filthy old rot and burning it seems pure wishful thinking.

Isn't this pixie dust? If somebody built a perpetual motion machine that would solve all our problems but that doesn't mean we should abandon all other efforts to solve our problems in favor of a research program to design a perpetual motion machine.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Paul:

"Especially odious is punitive carbon pricing as a way to force alternatives."

You keep using the word "punitive" like some sort of coded message.

Whether from a conservative or a progressive starting point, do you not agree that we punish people for doing bad things?

Do you not agree that excessive CO2 is messing up the planet?

Do you not agree that messing up the planet is, well, a bad thing?

Then what exactly is your moral objection against imposing "punitive" measures on countries and organizations that insist on harming the planet?

-- frank

Mal Adapted said...

What Eli said. Science can tell us what's happening, but it can't tell us why we should care.

Hank Roberts said...

Summing up, written in another context, this is our problem:

"...'a lot of economics has the dynamic of a Ponzi scheme — it really only works when you’re expanding.'.... bad things happen when you 'divorce the people who take the risk from the people who understand the risk.'..."

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/books/14book.html?8dpc

Hank Roberts said...

Another useful description:

"... Radical and incremental innovations have such different competitive consequences because they require quite different organizational capabilities. Organizational capabilities are difficult to create and costly to adjust (Nelson and Winter, 1982; Hannan and Freeman, 1984). Incremental innovation reinforces the capabilities of established organizations, while radical innovation forces them to ask a new set of questions, to draw on new technical and commercial skills, and to employ new problem-solving approaches (Burns and Stalker, 1966; Hage, 1980; Ettlie, Bridges, and O'Keefe, 1984; Tushman and Anderson, 1986).

The distinction between radical and incremental innovation has produced important insights, but it is fundamentally incomplete. There is growing evidence that there are numerous technical innovations that involve apparently modest changes to the existing technology but that have quite dramatic competitive consequences (Clark, 1987). The case of Xerox and small copiers and the case of RCA and the American radio receiver market are two examples...."

-------
That I think is why climate change is such a threat to the people in many organizations--they know even small changes can overturn everything in their work, and they can't rely on their lobbyists to help write the new laws and regs.
------

That's a snippet from:
Architectural Innovation: The Reconfiguration of Existing Product Technologies and the Failure of Established Firms
http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=M9MFMbgGMrBsW8lzcHQSypy5l9Ggvy29Zb845xdbT31QRFz2kGL5!657164083!587632263?docId=5000112846

Paul said...

Frank,

There's no code. Punitive is used for its dictionary meaning which is serving for, concerned with, or inflicting punishment, a meaning you clearly understood and enthusiastically support. I haven't voiced any moral objections, but economic and social ones.

Michael Tobis said...

Paul, have you elaborated on your opinion somewhere that we can see, preferably online? Else, can you provide a URL of an explanation you substantially agree with?

I don't really understand what you are saying, and I'd like to.

Paul said...

Michael,

I'm getting close to a coherent explanation. My basic premise is there's a sufficient number of people who see the necessity of energy transformation that we should be able to just go ahead and do it.

There are several equally valid reasons to replace fossil fuels and the correct question is not why we should, but how we can. Unwilling to wait on government - it's been 12 years since Kyoto - I'm looking for bottom up approaches. One I've been working on is an energy club as funding mechanism concept.

AK said...

@ MT

"Paul, I can't imagine any way other than a price on carbon, and it would seem to be the correct market solution (prcing the externalities and letting the market operate as it should. It quite escapes me why conservatives don't like it."

You're failing to distinguish between types of taxes. Paul is referring to "punitive" taxes, which would dramatically raise the price of energy, which ain't gonna happen (and shouldn't).

Perhaps you'll explain to me why my own proposal is beyond imagination?

Scruffy Dan said...

@AK
You said this at the link provided:

"Create a modest tax on fossil carbon, starting out at perhaps 5-10% of the cost of digging it out of the ground, and allocate all of the proceeds to non-fossil sources of energy, regardless of type. "

I see at least two problems here. The first is how one allocates the funds generated by the tax. It is all well and good to say give it to all non-carbon sources of energy, but that isn't specific enough. One needs some minimum standards to ensure that junk ideas aren't put into practice with the sole purpose of getting tax revenue.

You also need to determine how much will be given to each energy companies which will distort the market and allow government to pick the winners.

The free market is better at doing that, but in order for it to function we need to externalize the costs of fossil fuels

The second problem is that such a proposal will never pass. Passing tiny revenue neutral Carbon tax was difficult here in BC where we have a strong green sentiment and no real alternative to the BC Liberals (though that is changing with the introduction of HST). Introducing a carbon tax elsewhere, even if revenue neutral would be a huge challenge. Introducing a non-revenue neutral carbon tax will likely be impossible.

And all of that is without doing a proper analysis to determine if your proposal has any chance at all to produce the changes needed.

Michael Tobis said...

I'd really prefer if we keep "political feasibility" out of the discussion of what a good solution will be.

I doubt there's anything both adequate and "politically feasible". I'd like to discuss what the least disruptive adequate thing is. We can get people on board once we have something that is worth getting on board for.

It seems to me that a large revenue neutral carbon tax is the best proposal on the table.

Paul said...

"large revenue neutral carbon tax is the best proposal on the table"

Such a tax would certainly not be revenue neutral to the individual consumers of power and fuel who will be the ones who pay it. It would not be neutral in its effect on prices of almost every consumer good.

"keep "political feasibility" out of the discussion"

We can do that if we discuss actions that do not require government permission or control. Better to consider in terms of social feasibility.

AK said...

@Scruffy Dan

"I see at least two problems here. The first is how one allocates the funds generated by the tax. It is all well and good to say give it to all non-carbon sources of energy, but that isn't specific enough. One needs some minimum standards to ensure that junk ideas aren't put into practice with the sole purpose of getting tax revenue."

Actually, it is specific enough. If we really want solutions, workable solutions at low costs, we need to start by not imposing our own mental limitations up front. IMO CSP is the best option, but for all I know somebody is tinkering in their garage with something 10X better. When first implemented it may look like garbage to you, MT, even to me, but it might just turn out to be the best solution.

Remember, the only subsidies I'm proposing are to energy generation, per kW·h, not to research or investment. We let the market take care of that. (Although if somebody wants to provide subsidies from another source, that would be their option.)

"You also need to determine how much will be given to each energy companies which will distort the market and allow government to pick the winners."

No, they get exactly the same subsidy (per kW·h) that everybody else gets. I know that means the big oil and energy companies will get in on the ground floor, but that's just one of the prices we have to pay (IMO) for solving the problem without guiding the economy into a major pissing match, followed by collapse.

And notice that this puts the big energy and oil companies into competition with one another for positive rewards.

@MT

"I doubt there's anything both adequate and "politically feasible". I'd like to discuss what the least disruptive adequate thing is. We can get people on board once we have something that is worth getting on board for.

It seems to me that a large revenue neutral carbon tax is the best proposal on the table.
"

Seems to me you're tailoring your definition of "adequate" to exclude any option you don't like. I'll admit that 30 years seems a little long to me, but if you're excluding issues of "politically feasible" perhaps a 15 year time between onset (at a very modest level) and an economically prohibitive level that would effectively shut down fossil carbon burning would meet your definition of "adequate"?

Anyway, I know you prefer denial of the global economic risks, but they certainly don't qualify as "politically feasible" issues, so IMO they should go onto the table, and be considered WRT any proposal.

IMO a linked tax/subsidy is a different animal from a revenue-neutral high tax, which makes it a separate proposal.

Speaking economically, the existence of a strong positive incentive for R&D, along with high economic rewards and the expectation of high taxes in the 5-15 year future, is far more likely to to spur R&D investment than a simple punitive tax.

I doubt you could argue that the linked tax/subsidy (with rising tax rate) wouldn't be less disruptive (than a revenue-neutral high tax), so AFAIK that leaves the question of whether it would be likely to spur conversion to non-fossil carbon energy more quickly than the simple punitive tax. WRT that, it could be tweaked with a provision that the rise in tax rate would speed up if the ratio of non-fossil-carbon energy to total energy rises more quickly than whatever target rate is assumed for the program.

I don't understand why you're trying to pretend this option isn't on the table, rather than identifying concrete issues thath could be addressed, the way Scruffy Dan did.

Michael Tobis said...

Anyway, I know you prefer denial of the global economic risks

No, I don't deny that. It is a real concern; an economic collapse would violate "least disruptive". Indeed, the whole reason this is difficult is because it has to happen simultaneously with continued development of less developed countries; otherwise we end up with war, which is also not a viable answer.

I doubt you could argue that the linked tax/subsidy (with rising tax rate) wouldn't be less disruptive (than a revenue-neutral high tax), so AFAIK that leaves the question of whether it would be likely to spur conversion to non-fossil carbon energy more quickly than the simple punitive tax. WRT that, it could be tweaked with a provision that the rise in tax rate would speed up if the ratio of non-fossil-carbon energy to total energy rises more quickly than whatever target rate is assumed for the program.

I don't understand why you're trying to pretend this option isn't on the table


I'm not. It's well within the range of things I would consider worth considering.

(I wish I knew how think about these things rationally. What passes for economic theory keeps getting in the way.)

What I'm explicitly doubting is Paul's idea that we can get where we're going without government intervention in the market to price externalities.

I think we're about to see a flood of people arguing like that. It seems like wishful thinking to me.

AK said...

@MT

"What I'm explicitly doubting is Paul's idea that we can get where we're going without government intervention in the market to price externalities."

Perhaps his issue is with the same "political feasibility" you've excluded from the discussion.

Personally, I can't see how you can exclude that from the discussion of options without totally distorting their relative desirability. I mean, the way(s) in which you could get general buy-in for a specific proposal would vary depending on the proposal itself, as would the difficulty.

Worse yet, getting buy-in from proponents of "urgent action" (prior to the general effort to get global buy-in) would differ among proposals depending on how it fits the political agendas of (many of) those proponents. You have admitted that there is at least one group who are using climate issues as a stalking horse for their political agenda(s). If you exclude discussion of "political feasibility" there's a real risk that some of these people would come up with specious objections to proposals that conflict with their agendas, hiding behind that exclusion.

Michael Tobis said...

"a real risk that some of these people would come up with specious objections to proposals that conflict with their agendas"

no, really?

Seriously, I am just trying to do what a good programmer does, and separate such concerns as can be separated. If we have a good plan, we can talk about selling it.
super high tech energy can be cheaper than digging up filthy old rot and setting fire to it is implausible. Now reality doesn't always meet our expectations. I hope this is right. But I don't see how we can afford to rely on it.

Anna Haynes said...

To clarify re Mr. Bloom's (far) above links to my Tea Party dialogue & conclusion that "such folks are embodiments of the Gish Gallop. ...a good defense against having to re-examine their views" -

That wasn't the feeling I got, actually. I think (generalizing here) it's not that they're unreachable, but that they haven't been reached. I didn't get the feeling - after my writeup & our in-comments exchange - that she was resistant to accurate climate info, just that she hadn't (previously) heard it (in such a way that it registered); the subject was kind of in the wings, in her awareness.

Which suggests that climate journalism stories need to be written so as to reach people *where they are*, not where the writer thinks they should (already) be.

AK said...

"no, really?"

I at least try to keep my own political agenda out of it. One item on that agenda is minimizing the opportunity for governments to make decisions (that could be influenced by major economic and ideological players, and messed up even without help from lobbies).

By that standard, a simple tax is better than a tax/subsidy combo; but I don't think it would do the trick without being so high it would risk crashing the system. Of course, a "revenue neutral" tax requires all sorts of decisions which tax(es) to replace. OTOH this would offer the opportunity for different countries to replace different taxes.

You could probably sell it in the US by replacing the income tax. That would certainly cut across a number of fairly solid political divisions.

But I still think it would take longer than the tax/subsidy combo.

"super high tech energy [that] can be cheaper than digging up filthy old rot and setting fire to it is implausible. Now reality doesn't always meet our expectations. I hope this is right. But I don't see how we can afford to rely on it."

I'm not suggesting relying on it, just giving it the best opportunity if it shows up. CSP could certainly (IMO) be matured enough to do the trick (with economies of scale) within 15-20 years. No super hi-tech needed, just proper combination of off-the-shelf (now or near-term) technology.

Speaking of tech, however, super hi- or otherwise, some tweaking of the intellectual property laws might be in order. Much as this may offend other libertarians, the whole idea of IP was to encourage R&D in the interest of society, not to allow an oligopoly of massive players to shut everybody else out. But that's a whole 'nother subject.

AK said...

WRT Paul:

"Unwilling to wait on government - it's been 12 years since Kyoto - I'm looking for bottom up approaches. One I've been working on is an energy club as funding mechanism concept."

While looking for something else, I found this:

"Concentrating solar power now generates electricity, without molten salt storage, for about US12c/kwh and falling rapidly. Coupled with molten salt and natural gas backup, a hybrid solar-gas-molten salt power plant can today generate electricity for about 8c/kwh. This is roughly the price new coal-fired power plant equipped with carbon capture and storage might achieve in 2015."

Perhaps Paul's right and legislation will, as often happens, simply administer the coup de grĂ¢ce to technology already made obsolete by private enterprise.

Michael Tobis said...

Concentrating solar may work in parts of the world including the southwest US. Transmission is an issue and the infrastructure scale-up is enormous.

But note that "coal with CCS": that will require legislation. Just plain coal will still be cheaper.

ourchangingclimate said...

When thinking about solutions, I think it makes sense to distinguish thinking with feasibility constraints and without feasiblity contraints.

The latter is needed to pave the way for the long term, whereas the former is needed to get started.

A lot of argueing back and forth is based on misunderstanding which track someone is on.

Bart

Paul said...

Yes let's get started. Feasibility questions welcome.

What to do while waiting for the tax.

Most people see the necessity of energy transformation. Many of them are willing to pay a higher price for energy and other consumer goods to speed the transformation. I say why wait.

I believe in the power of the individual. It is frustrating that in energy transformation the individual has almost no ability to make a difference. I see this frustration expressed throughout the blogosphere.

The consumer is unable, for example, to influence the price of electricity. Electricity prices are set by government bodies. There is in many cases only one seller and in all cases too few to form a market. Because the utilities are often guaranteed by law a minimum return on investment, increased efficiency increases unit price. Natural gas is also sold through similar utilities. There is no choice.

This situation does not apply to any other economic activity. Consumers can choose among a wide variety of every other product or service. They can choose to buy the same product at the store on the next block. They can buy on sale. These small and inexpensive individual actions help determine, when aggregated with other consumers, price, quality, and availability in a market.

The exercise is to fashion a market that allows positive participation by consumers who wish to speed energy transformation. The goal of this market is deployment of efficiencies and technologies that replace fossil fuel. The market should allow consumers to purchase as little as 1 watt of energy production

Michael Tobis said...

Hmm... That way lieth Enron, methinks.

I'd like to see something thought out in detail, and with real attention to how it might go wrong.

Paul said...

Good parameter. The market cannot allow Enron type abuses. Enron was a heavy lobbying, politically connected company with with excellent green credentials. Their scheme manipulated state and local governments and utilities.

Michael Tobis said...

Paul, there are those of us who believe that the market itself cannot disallow anything. The market is a consequence of the regulatory environment. When you start to suggest a "pure" marketplace solution, I think you are discussing unicorns.

That said, I'm utilitarian. I am interested in what works. So if you have something that works, by all means, let us know what it is.

Waving broadly at the "market" is not a marketplace solution, it is wishing there would be one.

Paul said...

How would a deployment market work? I've just opened a deployment store You be the buyer. I'll be the seller. The product is 1 watt of alternative energy production. At my store this watt will be produced on a Habitat for Humanity house.

Some will immediately note that you can't deploy just one watt. True, but no market can exist with only one customer. 30 or 40 customers shopping at the deployment store are enough to start making a difference at least in providing efficiency negawatts.

50 customers = upgraded insulation
200 customers =high efficiency window or appliances
350 customers = solar water heating
800 = ground temp assisted heat pump HVAC
2,000 = photo-voltaics

What could go wrong? I can't think of anything other than possible fraud. At my store we guard against that by having the customer write a check directly to Habitat for Humanity, a very trustworthy organization.

There is beauty in simplicity. This concept needs no new laws or regulation. It is available to everyone. There are no forms to fill out.

Paul said...

I'm not talking about "the Market" in general. A new market must be created. The current market is structurally inadequate to the task because of the impediments on individual actors and the high initial cost of alternatives vs payback time.

Michael Tobis said...

Paul, please come back when you can point to something fully baked. It might help if you knew the difference between energy and power, by the way.

Paul said...

Michael,

My idea is a little more baked than you might think. Our little deployment club started in April is up to 30 members who are willing to throw in $10 a month. Many are small businesses. We hope to have 500 members by year's end. I'll let you know how we're doing.

It's a bit disappointing not to have your input, c'est la vie. Good luck waiting for the carbon tax. I'll continue seeking out folks who want to participate in change now. Everyone is welcome at the next Beverly Energy Club event Aug 6 at The Music Station on Chicago's South Side. The longest journey still starts with a single step.

Patrick said...

Appealing to the conservative is simple. Everybody has security and prosperity as priorities. Getting off Middle Eastern oil means you stop funding both sides of the war on terrorism when you fill your gas tank. Shifting incentives to clean renewable energy, and getting to a clean KW/HR at the coal price first means owning this century financially.
Align with Pickens on natural gas for trucking. Sell security and prosperity policies that are also good for GHG reduction, but don't mention the latter.
Most opposition to climate science is due to a campaign of anti fact, anti science based upon ideology and aversion to government Read "Merchants of Doubt"

Brian said...

I've responded to this post by talking about my dental history:

http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2010/07/response-to-michael-tobis-everyone.html