Skolstrejk för klimatet

DSC_8439[1] Trigger warning: negativity. If you want to think happy thoughts, go elsewhere.

People say things like "Yesterday, I went to witness the local #ClimateStrike. I found the energy and enthusiasm of these young people very encouraging.  It gives me hope for the future". And that's charming. It's always lovely to talk to nice positive people, rather than unlovely old curmudgeons. And yet the absence of any real idea is becoming glaringly obvious.

No plan, let alone a plan B

I should establish that GT has no plan, since this is important to my argument. She says
People keep asking me ”what is the solution to the climate crisis.” And how do we ”fix this problem”. They expect me to know the answer. That is beyond absurd as there are no ”solutions” within our current systems. No one ”knows” exactly what to do. That’s the whole point. We can’t just lower or heighten some taxes or invest in some ”green” funds and go on like before... We are just passing on the words of the science. Our only demand is that you start listening to it. And then start acting. So please stop asking your children for the answers to your own mess.
I think that serves; she advertises it as a reply to those who keep on lying, spreading hate and knowingly leave out facts but perhaps I can forgive her in time.

We are just passing on the words of the science

Another of those things that people say, but which aren't true. People trumpet Greta Thunberg has done her science homework, but this is to miss the point: as the Alsup trial proved, the science isn't in question, to first order1. Almost everyone - even the Evil Bjorn Lomborg - claims to be just following the science. But actually the (physical) science doesn't really tell you what to do. To decide what to do - well, one version of it - you have to make some semi-arbitrary assumptions, like limit warming to 2 oC or 1.5 oC - in order to make the problem space tractable, and then use the science to turn that into concentrations, and then turn that into emissions, but even then you're still left with lots of policy choices over those emissions. You could for example waste everyone's time propounding drivel like the GND. Or you could throw out the stupid limit and impose carbon taxes instead and hope that solar photovoltaic saves us.

No plan, but...

Actually, it isn't quite true that she doesn't have a plan. There are hints of ill-formed and very bad plans struggling to get out: "We need a new economics", "We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. To get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other". Which is std.fairyland: why can't people just get on and be nice to each other?

Panic, Captain Mainwaring

GT would like us to panic. This is a regrettable turn of phrase, and not one that can be shrugged off as an accident, since it was from a speech at Davos. But panic is not a sensible response to anything3, just about by definition. Panic is what you want from other people when you know that calm rational analysis will not achieve the result that you have decided you want through calm rational analysis. At least, I trust that GT is not simply spouting all these words in a state of panic.

Denial Is Not a Policy

ClimateLiabilityNews tells me Striking Students Demand Climate Action: ‘Denial Is Not a Policy’. But, they're wrong. Denial actually is a well-formed and actionable policy - just not one that anyone sane would want the world to follow. In this it differs from GT who, as noted above, has no real plan.

Does any of this matter?

Yes, because if all the happy well-intentioned enthusiasm catches on, their are plenty of the old guard waiting in the wings to steer things their way. For example The climate strikers should inspire us all to act at the next UN summit by António Guterres: Without ambitious action, the Paris agreement is meaningless. Oh, FFS. OK, so that particular old guard is largely harmless, if allowed to splurge large quantities of cash and CO2 on summits. But others maybe less so, and it all distracts from trying to forge some agreement with those who don't want an entirely new economics based on kittens.

Update: nothing useful can happen until people are willing to make hard choices, and for that, an aroused public is necessary

This was CIPs comment. I largely agree with it - with the above caveats about enthusiasm and panic. But I don't see evidence of an increasing willingness to make hard choices2. I see a slew of articles piggybacking on GT to call for Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism, but that's just opportunism, not thought, nor choice.

Update: Greta Thunberg's full speech to MPs 2019/04/23

Read the full text of the speech Greta Thunberg gave to MPs at the Houses of Parliament offers the Graun. There are problems with the speech, you won't be surprised to discover:

But we’re only repeating the message of the united climate science - well, no, not really. In terms of the physical climatology, when you talk about that at all, you veer off to the high side. And when you start to talk about what to do, you're off on the politics, not the science.
* The future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. This is bollox. All too common bollox, very seductive bollox, but bollox all the same. It presents us with the alluring idea that all we have to do is to "fix" just a few people or corporations and all will be well; that the rest of us have no guilt. And so, it is wrong.
Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. This appears to be (a) the we-only-have-12-years fallacy; and (b) that 12 years is a knife-edge tipping point.

And so on. There's still no plan.


1. And very funny it was to see all the high-powered Scientists turn up to prove the science with Powerpoint, only to discover that the Evil Oil Companies had forseen that and neatly parried with "yeah, we accept all that".

2. Do please use the comments to provide examples.

3. 2010/01: Gavin in 2019/02 laid mercilessly into the defenceless Greta: it’s not clear that panic and/or fear are the best motivators for any constructive solutions to problems.


New technologies, not Paris climate agreement, will do the job?
Carbon budgets and carbon taxes
* Guerrilla Education at Princeton: Letter from a Dad by Bryan Caplan
* Increasing The Minimum Wage Increases Crime, Obviously Enough by Tim Worstall
* Later: 3 ways to combat climate change according to young activists. But again, there's nothing resembling a plan. They are 1) learn about climate change; understand govt's role; make pols listen. Which are all splendid, but.
Teenage activists and an IPCC triumph - Nurture


CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Unfortunately, history hints that democracies are not too good at dealing with problems that lie in the future - and autocracies, in addition to all their other faults, are often no better. It's at least possible that a solid carbon tax, combined with progress in solar photovoltaic can be a solution of sorts, but selling carbon taxes is hard.

Unfortunately, nonsense like the Green New Deal is more of a distraction than a help, at least in its present form. But nothing useful can happen until people are willing to make hard choices, and for that, an aroused public is necessary.

William M. Connolley said...

I think you could just have said that people are not good at dealing with the future.

> nothing useful can happen until people are willing to make hard choices, and for that, an aroused public is necessary

I agree with that. I'll add a note.

Andy Mitchell said...

These kids might like to start by pointing out to their parents that living high carbon lifestyles damages their future. But is it unkind to suspect they may feel getting lifts in their parents' car(s) is more important?

Phil said...

AM, then perhaps they suggest to parents that they buy an electric vehicle.

Carbon tax. Too early, but perhaps set one up to take effect in 10 or 20 years. Much of the carbon release is locked into the economy as capital equipment. Make the decisions to buy future capital equipment guided by the carbon tax.

David B. Benson said...

I keep pointing out that planting a considerable number of trees will help, 3 trillion for starters. I don't find a groundswell of enthusiasm, just those who point out that it can't be done.

But it can. Over 7000 years ago the Sahara had lakes with mangrove swamps. Just takes adding some water. Which means desalination. Which means spending money. Which means no more holidays abroad and whatever.

rconnor said...

Speaking of plans from fairytale land – “impose carbon taxes instead and hope that solar photovoltaic saves us”.

Look at places that have imposed a carbon tax at a rate that reflects their social cost of carbon (ex. BC, Canada) and see if they are tracking to hit their emission reduction targets (ex. Canada target is 80% emission reduction (compared against 2005 levels) by 2050). 2005 emissions in BC were 65,956 kt CO2e. The carbon tax came in 2008 (emissions=63,737 kt) and went up to $30/tonne in 2012 (emissions=60,744 kt). The latest data (2016) has BC sitting at 62,264 kt[1]. It is a modest reduction but if we project out to 2050, we know the reductions will not be linear. Once the low hanging fruit is gone, reductions become much more difficult. Also note that BC hydro (the local crown corp utility) had a very aggressive (politically regulated) demand side management program that offered incentives and subsidies to its customer base over that period of time. That’s also in addition to any other government subsidies/regulations/standards that occurred. So it already goes beyond your "carbon tax and pray" plan.

For a bit more perspective, even if a carbon tax, on its own, pushed all electric generation in Canada to be produced by PV (or other zero-emission sources) by 2050, it would represent an 11% reduction in emissions[2]. The remaining major areas (transportation and space heating) have very low price elasticity and therefore a carbon tax has a very minor impact on them.

Here’s an interesting exercise – calculate the carbon tax required to make switching from a natural gas to electric furnace economical. Don’t forget to include the capital cost of removing the natural gas furnace and replacing it with an electric furnace. But you are free to assume your local electrical generation is already zero-emissions, your utility has the distribution network required to service the load and you have a 200 amp panel required to supply it. Even ignoring capital costs, it’s about ~$200-$300/tonne for my area and that’s with virtually 100% hydroelectric generation and some of the cheapest electrical rates in North America. So, in other words, there’s no way the market is going to encourage fuel switching at a carbon tax of $30/tonne or $50/tonne or $100/tonne. (Space heating makes up ~17% of Canada’s GHG emissions.)

A carbon tax is a great start but to think that’s all you need is just as delusional as thinking the GND will pass in the US. Regulations, codes/standards, laws, government funding incentives and subsidies, etc. are going to have to play a significant part.

[1] https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/climate-change/data/provincial-inventory
[2] http://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/18F3BB9C-43A1-491E-9835-76C8DB9DDFA3/GHGEmissions_EN.pdf (Table A.3., using 2015 data)

David B. Benson said...

rconner --- Heat pumps, not electric resistance heaters. Another possibility is methane from air & water.

rconnor said...

> “Heat pumps, not electric resistance heaters”

(I’m assuming as we are talking about the heating side, we are more considering ground-source than air-source.)

They are very site specific and very costly to install. Even with our ideal climate for them(-40 deg C in winter to +40 deg C in summer) and utility support, the numbers don’t work for most people.

They also typically have a top-up electric heater which never gets factored into the economics or COP.

A carbon tax does help with the economics but what *really* helps is a government incentive/subsidy on the installation cost (which is the killer).

J C Brookes said...

We need a war type of effort, without the immediate fear of death to motivate us. Tricky.

Regardless of everything else, the sooner a carbon tax is in place, the better. Competition between suppliers will lead to clever low emission solutions. And the effort you need to find those solutions won't happen unless people are convinced you mean business on a carbon tax.

But you'll also need regulation to force people to act in their own long term self interest. Don't let them build cheap houses which will have large heating/cooling costs. Don't allow the sale of cars that are cheap to buy but have lousy fuel economy. Don't allow the building of houses that will be engulfed by rising seas.

The more intractable problem is how you compete with countries that decide not to cut their emissions. Allowing your industry to die (or just doing the manufacturing bit in China, India etc) is just exporting the emissions to another country, achieving nothing in terms of ghg reductions. In a perfect world the US or China would lead and use their muscle to force everyone else to follow.

We could just get lucky and someone gets cheap nuclear fusion power and hydrogen fuel cells down pat in the next decade...

David B. Benson said...

If wishes were horses...

William M. Connolley said...

I disagree with PH and RC re carbon tax; but I think these are old arguments and I have nothing new to say.

> We need a war type of effort

I disagree (for two reasons. The first is carbon tax and so on, by which I mean I don't think we even need the effort you suggest. And the second is...). And I think that such language, if widely used, could be harmful. This relates to what I said about competition in Governance is hard.

"a war type effort" or "green new deal" is the progressive do-it-my-way policy. If you could win, then I wouldn't be saying this. But I doubt you can (and I would not support you, since I think the GND is stupid). So I think such talk just leads to more political bickering, infighting, polarisation and deadlock. Instead what's needed it some broader agreement that could actually get majority support. But for that you have to drop the fantasy that action-on-global-warming can be the Trojan horse that gets you your socialist dreams.

rconnor said...

Do correct me if I’m wrong but you’ve never really dealt with “these old arguments” before, have you?

Sure you’ve spent plenty of time arguing “carbon tax > ETS”. I don’t necessarily disagree with that.

Sure you’ve spent plenty of time arguing “You’re confused; the purpose of a carbon tax isn’t to guarantee emission drop below a certain target or pay for damages”. I don’t disagree with that.

Sure you’ve spent plenty of time arguing “regulations are bad”.

But you’ve never actually defended your position that “your GW problem is solved by carbon tax” [1].

In fact, when pressed on that exact quote, you responded with “You are correct: I have not supported my claim. I don’t really see how I could. Obviously I cannot do so by using experience, because there is so little of it”.

To which I replied: “Here’s some possible ways you could support your case:
– Local examples of a carbon tax causing significant emission reductions on their own (which is why I used BC as an example).
– Show that price elasticity to fuel cost increases led to significant consumption reductions, in line with those required to reach safe emission levels (fuel embargo?)”

To which you replied: *crickets*

You’ve never addressed the “old argument” that real-world carbon taxes, set to match the social cost of carbon, show modest but insufficient reductions in emissions.

You’ve never addressed the “old argument” that two of the major areas of emissions (transportation and space heating) have very low price elasticity.

You’ve never addressed the “old argument” that most economic actors are primarily driven by capital cost, not life cycle cost, and therefore subsidies and incentives on efficient products have a larger impact than raising operating costs on inefficient products. (But it’s even better when they are combined!)

[1] https://wmconnolley.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/mit-climate-scientist-dr-richard-lindzen-urges-trump-cut-the-funding-of-climate-science-by-80-to-90-until-the-field-cleans-up/

Phil said...

"We need a war type of effort," is exactly wrong.

Wars are often maximum efforts (for at least one side of the conflict) and that level of effort can't be sustained for long. Reduction of fossil fuels then then eventual elimination of fossil fuels and thus CO2 releases is a long term, low intensity effort. It probably doesn't matter much if we delay a decade or three...As long as we get the job done. Not the slightest bit urgent. Just very important.

Wars are commanded by political systems. Reducing CO2 needs to survive beyond political systems.

Phil said...

Ban Socialism.
Turn off all the street lights.
Paid by taxes. The light is used by everyone.

William M. Connolley said...


J C Brookes said...

WC, you just made me realise something. Wars are socialist. I'd never thought of it like that before.

Where I work, the people in charge must think we are at war. They've gone full-on socialist, with 5 year plans and all. Now I love markets, and I love income redistribution, but I hate central planning and 5 year plans with a vengeance.

So maybe the ghg problem isn't like a war at all, its like trying to lose weight because you know that its important, particularly in the future where you'll face diabetes, heart disease etc. But its tricky, because we have even less prognostic ability with climate change than we do with being overweight. And its even worse, because, to stretch the analogy too far, any individual losing weight improves things just as much for everyone else as they do for themselves.

Have we solved problems like this before?

Phil said...

I've lost 10 kg almost 10 years ago, and it hasn't come back... yet. So perhaps there is hope for GHG reduction.

That is Private Central Planning, JCB, so it must be grand and wonderful. Unlike the public kind, like when to pave and repaint the streets in town.

Phil said...

Oh, and suppose the streets in town were privately owned.

I'd like to buy your street, and raise the toll. A lot. Don't expect many repairs.

William M. Connolley said...

Wars are more central-planning than socialist.

Phil: you can't buy my street because you can't afford it. And I don't see why you'd expect it to produce more than an ordinary return on capital.

Phil said...


J C Brookes said...

It sure looks like socialism to me. You have a common agreed goal (win the war). Rules are made to ensure the achievement of this goal. Normal market operations are to a lesser or greater extent curtailed. In many countries you get compulsory military service - state controlled labour. And of course there is the central planning that is an essential part of socialism - you have to have central planning, because you don't trust markets. Not to mention getting thrown in prison if you speak to loudly against the party line.

crandles said...

Not sure where you last discussed more extremes from flattening distribution curves.

But thought this was nice:

Wouldn't expect to see a lot of flattening but perhaps some indicated? No idea whether significant or not.

Rainfall might be a different matter rather than temperature.

William M. Connolley said...

It is kinda interesting. Though what struck me was how individual years had such different shapes; it might be interesting to look at why.

Layzej said...

I think the GND is stupid)

I came across this free market approach to climate change which starts "In the face of the Green New Deal..."

Say what you like about the GND, it at least puts the other side in a position where they need to propose some alternative.

Mike Dombroski said...

The best thing to do is deploy more nuclear power. We have an empirical precedent, namely, France. GT and everybody else should be reading Michael Shellenberger's recent work, and if they can refute any of it, they should tell Mark Jacobson. He needs all the help he can get.