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I also think that this article is a very good summary of critiques of climate change and the scientific basis for refuting them. The importance of free-flowing communication between scientists, economists, policy-makers, the media, and the public cannot be understated on the issue of climate change (and basically all scientific issues). I agree that Nordhaus does a great job of simplifying and streamlining his arguments -- something that is very important if we are to educate the public. I especially appreciate his concluding remarks; we need "a cool head and a warm heart" in dealing with the controversy around climate change. A major problem with this, though, is that emotions sell, and hot-headedness is popular in the public venue. The media and politicians (and apparently also scientists) know the value of tapping into emotions (particularly fear), and they are more than willing to exploit these. Part of the issue will be overcoming these emotional arguments in communicating scientific knowledge. As I learn more about environmental issues like climate change and the serious need for lifestyle, belief system, and attitude change, I keep thinking of a set of studies that we learned about in a psychology class here. Obviously, behaviors follow attitudes, but many researchers have also shown that attitudes follow behavior. This was particularly relevant in the passing of legislation for wearing seat belts. Initially, there was a lot of opposition, but after people began adopting the behavior, they had to justify it to themselves and therefore became more supportive of the idea. We keep coming back to the idea of changing public opinion and hoping that the public will pressure the government to make changes, but we should not discount the possibility of the impact going the other way. More people might become "environmentalists" if they are required to start adopting those types of behaviors. Of course, that brings a lot of politics into play. But, articles and efforts like these should be used to change not only public beliefs, but those of policy-makers as well, because communication and belief changes should work both ways.
I generally agree with everything that's been said. There are a lot of flaws with this article, but I think one of the main ones is the misinterpretation of scientific data. As others have mentioned, drawing a conclusion on climate change from two data points in relatively recent history is not scientifically valid (obviously, the issue of geologic time scales is a big one). Climate change supporters are not saying "oh, today was warmer than yesterday -- we're right!", so the opposition should not rely on similar strategies. For me, the big problem with this article was the assumption of causation where there is only demonstrated correlation. He does this repeatedly. For example, he says that "Nations with affordable energy from fossil fuels are more prosperous and healthy than those without", implying that the fossil fuels caused better health and prosperity. But there are many other variables playing into economic development, productivity, and health -- including a time delay for damages -- that must be considered. He's playing up fears that developed countries will become poor and disease-ridden if we stop using fossil fuels, which is absurd. Also, he notes that life flourished in the past with much higher levels of CO2, but this correlation does not imply that increasing CO2 levels today will improve our world. The life that existed millions of years ago is very different from the life that exists today, and evolution, time scales of climate changes, and many other factors shaped this "flourishing". He also correlates the intensity and location of tornadoes and the variation in winter temperatures with broader patterns in oceanic and atmospheric currents, but fails to realize that there could be a many more variables -- most notably, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere -- that are causing both of the patterns. I also have a problem with his criticism of the climate change models. As anyone who has taken a statistics or logic course knows, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because the models might be slightly off from our current weather patterns does not mean that CO2 is "not a pollutant" and we should be completely unconcerned. If he wants to argue that we might be overestimating the marginal damages of CO2 pollution and show scientifically how that is the case, then he might have a valid point. In that case, however, he should be arguing the probability of different risks with other scientists, not slandering their data to the general public in the WSJ -- something that definitely hints at political rather than scientific motives.
I also agree with what's been said about the importance of removing subsidies and the problems with energy prices and politics. I would add, however, that the perception of "paying Big Oil twice" probably comes from the fact that people pay at the pump and pay taxes, which then go to fund subsidies for these companies. So, I don't think that is a completely invalid perception. Along similar lines, I think people would be more willing to support a "double dividend" carbon tax that reduces the money going toward "Big Oil" a "second" time by lowering income taxes. I also agree that it's important to frame the removal of subsidies or the imposition of carbon taxes in a proper way. It shouldn't be politicized as "punishing" Big Oil or a particular party. Instead, it should be framed in the context of solid scientific and economic theory about climate change, internalizing externalities, and subsidizing R&D. In general, I think this article just shows how politicized energy price issues are, and how strong opinions are regarding the price of gas. Hopefully, these issues will become less politically powerful as more energy substitutes become developed.
I agree with what's been said about the contradictory nature of oil supply and prices. People intuitively expect more domestic drilling to cause lower gas prices and more freedom from international dependence on oil, but the U.S. simply doesn't have the oil reserves for that kind of influence. I am curious as to why politicians keep spouting "drill, baby, drill" policies to lower gas prices when the data clearly contradict this. Are they purposely misleading the public to get elected? Or do they really believe this correlation is possible? And how does the media play into this misperception? I agree that higher prices will hopefully eventually lead to more acceptance of alternative energy sources, but I think education and communication of this type of data should also play an important role.
I agree that it's interesting that gas prices don't seem to affect voting patterns more. I also found it interesting that gas purchases are less than 4% of household spending. Between these two points, this article definitely shows how the media overemphasizes the connections between gas prices, welfare, and political beliefs. This article also brings up some important points about gas prices -- the demand for gas is very inelastic because there are no good substitutes and people "still need to drive the same distance to work". For these reasons, the distributional and equality impacts of setting a gas tax or increasing the price of gas should be seriously considered in policy making. While most Americans spend 4% of household spending on gas, I'm sure low-income Americans spend a much greater fraction of their budget on energy expenditures, and price increases can have a serious impact. These families also lack access to more gas-efficient (and expensive) cars. Furthermore, the price of missing work, doctor's appointments, school, or other events due to high transportation costs is much greater for low-income Americans because they have less access to these resources and are more likely to be harshly penalized. Any energy policy should consider the impacts of higher prices, beginning with the effects cited in the article and including impacts on all classes of society.
I agree with much of what's been said about "scientific illiteracy" and Lindzen. If Lindzen's concern is the communication of accurate scientific knowledge, then he should be promoting access to a wide range of scientific resources and publications, but it sounds like he was only promoting his own opinions without backing. I definitely agree, though, that the process of science contains significant subjectivity. What projects (and researchers) get funded by what organizations, what articles get published, what information gets to the public, and how that information is used by policy makers or businesses are all impacted by personal beliefs, politics, power, and monetary gain. For example, look at the history of the tobacco industry -- they paid big money to support scientists who fought the health risks of smoking. They, too, had real "research" that we now know to be incorrect. Science is always twisted by politics and power, and these problems are further complicated by the difficulties in getting understandable scientific information out to the general public and policymakers. This is actually one of the main reasons I am interested in going into environmental law -- to help these communication lines function more effectively. Nevertheless, I think science becomes more objective and a better tool the more we can support research on all sides of an issue (at least in the early stages), the more data is replicated consistently with the scientific method, and the more we can accurately translate scientific developments to the rest of the population, who can then use the knowledge to make their own decisions. I think Lindzen's "scientific literacy" is a great goal, but this should be achieved through a broad research base and through effective communication from the scientists. Scientific literacy cannot be achieved by scientists like Lindzen claiming grand conspiracies without supporting data or promoting their own work at the expense of all other research; that is how the politics and miscommunication of science become even more twisted and confusing.
I also thought it was great how Knowlton presented the problem and then emphasized possible solutions and success stories. I really loved her doctor analogy. I think our "patients" include not only the abiotic planet and ecosystems, but also connections with humans and organisms who will be affected by pollution or climate change - like corals and the communities that rely on fisheries or tourism. As many have already mentioned, it's important to show people that positive impacts can be made and the world isn't necessarily headed for disaster. But, I think another important side to that is showing people that individual efforts are not useless. I think sometimes, people don't take action because they believe we're "doomed" (as the article mentioned), but they also might not take action because they feel that the problem is "bigger" than individual efforts (i.e., climate change) and therefore shouldn't be considered. Yet the way we can cause widespread change is through an accumulation of individual efforts, and I think this article highlighted how waves of individual action can be started and can be incredibly effective. I also think this article relates to the issue of thresholds of environmental damages. Certainly there seems to be a threshold (coming up quickly) where corals will be completely outcompeted by seaweed. The changes in coral health seem to be fairly rapid as corals are very sensitive to environmental conditions. Without fully knowing the biology or ecosystem interactions of corals and coral communities, we should be concerned about the climate change threshold where coral communities might no longer exist, and how that might feedback into other ocean ecosystems.
I agree that this article highlights the potential of some climate change data to "hit closer to home" and be more tangible to the general public. Even so, I question whether this type of data will really capture people's attention, because we are more likely to relate to "doom and gloom" scenarios. Certainly this would have greater chance of reaching the residents of Concord, but outside of the area, this type of data is probably only slightly more tangible than the other threats of climate change or environmental damage. Case in point -- this article is BioScience and Environment 360, not the New York Times. I wonder if similar observations have been or could be found in nature writings elsewhere, because the impacts of this type of data would be more powerful if a consistent pattern could be shown across many areas. That type of data would connect with more people and have a more generalizable conclusion.
This is a really intriguing possibility that definitely has potential. For me, the most encouraging part of the article was the many groups and entrepreneurs who are investing in and trying to develop these types of solutions to CO2 levels, and how many of them seemed to be driven by a real interest in helping the environment. With high levels of investment and companies willing to bear the initial start-up costs, this could become an efficient industry (if the demand for CO2 is high enough) that could also benefit our ecosystems. I'm a little confused as to why the focus is on CO2 removal from the atmosphere if removing it directly from the flue gas is so much easier and less costly. I'm also concerned that the primary market for CO2 is for use with EOR, because this means that other externalities of oil use are not addressed. Also, the article does not address whether injecting liquid CO2 into oil reservoirs could have externalities of its own. I don't know enough about this process, but it seems like this could affect water supplies or geologic processes. Very cool possibility, but I agree that mitigating emissions should come first.
I think this article is a perfect example of how widespread and catastrophic environmental problems can be. This article also shows how closely environmental health, public health, government infrastructure, and economic development are linked. I agree with Lizzie that this would be much bigger news in a developed country (and should be more publicized), but I am also glad that groups like the Yale School of Forestry are trying to get the word out. It's easy to get lost in the environmental problems of developed countries -- energy usage, carbon footprint, loss of diversity, or habitat destruction. But disasters like this are a reminder of the more pressing and more serious environmental threats in developing countries, particularly where countries lack the economic support or government infrastructure to prevent or mediate such a disaster. Environmental research and initiatives are not just about cleaner energy or habitat preservation; they should also include cohesive efforts from many different fields (medicine, economics, politics, poverty, etc.) to improve quality of life while minimizing environmental hazards and destruction in the developing world. Instead of waiting until a situation like this occurs and "holding a bandage on the wound", ideally the factors causing the wound in the first place could be managed. I would definitely be interested in learning more about the work of the groups and government in Zamfara and how they are progressing.
I agree with Burke and Chase about the short-sightedness of politics, particularly with environmental policy. But, I think this problem relates not only to politics, but is directly connected to the media and even scientific research. Research is not properly communicated to the public, and the media focus entirely on "big ticket" items that will be popular, no matter the information that is communicated. People want to hear about how gas prices are too high -- we are all emotionally invested in the price of energy -- so the media and politicians have to follow suit to attract attention and raise emotions. I would love for a leader to combine politics, science, and media to portray a true message of energy sustainability, but maybe some more support for that message is needed before it can be successfully broadcasted.
Toggle Commented Feb 28, 2012 on Politicians and gas prices at Jolly Green General
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Jan 30, 2012
I agree that it would be interesting to compare how people value the environment with how people value human life. For instance, how would willingness-to-pay estimates compare in a scenario where environmental health (rather than human lives) was threatened, particularly where environmental destruction was ensured? This article is interesting because it shows the potential importance of willingness-to-pay estimates in policy decisions in a more tangible scenario than most environmental problems (grasping human death is simpler than the effects of climate change or deforestation). I also agree that putting the (low) cost on consumers seems reasonable. I'd also like to know more about why some economists argue that altruistic willingness-to-pay should not be considered. I would think this is an important part of cost-benefit analysis, similar to existence value for a natural area. Most people would be willing to pay some value to preserve a stranger's life (although probably a lower value than would be paid for their own) purely because most humans have at least some compassion for (and value of) the lives of others. How is altruistic value economically different from self-interest value? I don't understand how a value of others' right-to-life can be excluded from cost-benefit analyses (even this study finds a pretty significant altruistic willingness-to-pay).
Toggle Commented Jan 31, 2012 on Nice work from John Whitehead at Jolly Green General
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Jan 30, 2012