Climate debate - is it about science, or values?

I haven't written much about the new IPCC report here, largely because it doesn't say much you don't already know: The Earth is getting warmer and human activities are to blame for a good chunk of that warming. So what are we still arguing about? In a new column for Ensia magazine, I talk to climate scientists who make the case that the debate is less about science and more about individual values that affect how different people want to tackle the problems that the science exposes. (And, even, how big different people think those problems really are.) While the fact of climate change is difficult to refute, there's plenty of room for legitimate disagreement (and reasonable discussion) about values and the political policies that they shape.

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  1. IRMO says:

    It's pretty ironic that it's about values, because

    1. Climate scientists are surprisingly conservative. Keeling, the founder and operator fo the CO2 observatory in Hawaii was legendarily conservative. Even as an undergrad in college, he had a distaste for music composed after the Rite of Spring.

    2. The carbon tax is the brainchild of a conservative economist, named Charles Pigou.

    3. Carbon cap&trade is also a brainchild of conservative economists, one that was already applied for sulfur emissions, by the Republicans under George Bush Sr.

    4. Pretty much all the other ideas for reworking our lives to address climate change involves a retreat to the past, and conservatives should be MORE sympathetic to such an idea, not less.

  2. About (yikes) thirty years ago my college friends and I followed, with dismay, the antics of Duane Gish and other creationist activists.

    These was the first round of attempts by fundamentalists to oppose the teaching of evolution in schools. They were unapologetic in their Young Earth theories. The world was 6,000 or so years old, end of story.

    They "debated" evolution supporters with a well-rehearsed list of talking points. Second Law of Thermodynamics, Piltdown Man, moon dust only 1/8th of an inch thick, saltiness of the oceans, lack of transitional fossils.

    It was possible to knock down everyone of these things with patient argument, but that wasn't allowed for in the venues that Gish and his ilk preferred: School board meetings and the like. Get the floor, shout your talking points, smile smugly as the shy biology teacher who was chosen to "debate" you sputtered, amazed and appalled by your gall.

    This is the interesting part. If you let one of these creationist debaters go on long enough, they got around to the real point of it all: "If we let kids get taught they were descended from monkeys they won't have any moral bearings and society will descend into chaos!" I've seen those words, in letters columns and from the mouths of Gish's trained "debaters," many times. A more scholarly, rather conspiratorial version of it can be found in the Discovery Institute's Wedge Document.

    Why do I mention this here? Because I see a similar style in some climate skeptics. One of them dropped by a comment thread here the other day. He spewed a list of talking points, some of them that more sophisticated skeptics abandoned long ago: Al Gore, cooling scare of the 70s, climate scientists are in it for the money.

    And then there are the honest ones who admit global warming is real, that humans are likely to blame, but they don't want to deal with it because that would mean giving in to hippies and environmentalists and big government control freaks who just want to tax everything.

    We're dealing with people deeply afraid of the fallout -- societal in one case, economic in the other -- of what science is telling us.

    But you know . . .
    "It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties." -- Alfred North Whitehead

  3. Wow, another single-locale graph with a straight line fit. Weren't you happy enough to have this particularly dishonesty exposed to death here and here? If you must bring it up again, couldn't we at least move the discussion forward by skipping to your answers to criticism:

    1. That trying to disentangle the effect of multiple factors on temperature or sea level is pseudoscience akin to drug warriors stealing homes;
    2. That everyone who works in climate science is obviously corrupt if not evil, as proved by a former vice-president being wealthy, and one notable scientist having visited Arabia;
    3. That your critics here are blinded by metrosexual bravado, if not actually evil as well, like Cowicide who is plotting to phaser you;
    4. Or that at the very least, the people who post here must all be too ignorant to discuss this, as evident by Maggie having a mere anthropology degree, obviously less qualified than a chemist who coded PGP.

    On the last thread, Falcor said that it is important both sides be allowed to prevent their viewpoints in an adult manner. I'm afraid I need help to understand if this is what that's supposed to look like.

  4. Posting that again? Two can play at this game...

    Classic climate change denier drivel. Typical denier cherry-picking that means nothing.

    You're using the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the “Gish gallop” (named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish).

    The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which upon closer examination do no such thing.

    Can you imagine how much more massive my pretty photo collage would be if I showed everyone in NASA who isn't a climate change denier?

  5. I hate to break it to you, but natural gas IS a fossil fuel. Using it does release carbon.

    I hate to break it to you that you're not breaking it to me. wink

    Of course you're correct, natural gas is a fossil fuel and I accidentatly missed writing the word "other" in my sentence. This how I meant to write it:

    "Natural gas is certainly wrought with problems and needs to be phased out as well, but when it's captured properly it's a lesser evil than other fossil fuels."

    Please except my apology for leaving out the word "other".

    I worked for a couple of years in a lab that was focused on solar water splitting, and also has a guy working on supercapacitors, so I am very probably more familiar with the state of the art in energy storage than you are.

    I think maybe you don't understand what "base load" means.

    I know what "base load" means, it's very basic.

    Please don't make blind assumptions. If you have facts to bring to the table, bring them. I'm frankly not interested in your resumé nor some sort of pissing match. It's actually a tactic that many climate change deniers use as a distraction, and I'd hope that you wouldn't stoop to that level and have this discussion degrade in that manner. And, as you're about to find out, your presumptions are about to turn around on you anyway... wink

    I worked for a couple of years in a lab that was focused on solar water splitting, and also has a guy working on supercapacitors, so I am very probably more familiar with the state of the art in energy storage than you are. The fact that you bring up supercapacitors in this context confirms that, because the benefit of capacitors over chemical energy storage (batteries, etc.), is in power output, not in energy density. That means they might be great for electric vehicles and other uses that require high output, but there are technologies that are inherently far better for large scale energy storage in power plants.

    As much as you may enjoy taking my link out of context (you do that often, you know?) to now attempt to prove you're better educated than myself (why bother?), you're actually incorrect and you may need to reevaluate your education and perhaps pull back from your presumptuous assumptions of who you're talking to here.

    First of all, I posted that link to the graphene innovations in context of general energy storage, not energy storage for power plants specifically. If you have any doubts about this (which I'm sure you do), you should search through my comment history where I discuss things like molten salt, etc. for alternative energy power plants, etc.

    What you apparently don't know is that top scientists/experts predict that graphene batteries will be used at individual homes and businesses for energy storage beyond vehicles, etc. You seem to be locked into a centralized power paradigm even after I addressed this several times within my previous links (and brief quotes from my links as well).

    Graphene will be used for off-grid solar power storage systems in the relatively near future. It's got a ways to go (currently only 60 Watt-hours per liter). But that also means 1 liter is enough to power a 60 watt, old-fashioned, inefficient light bulb for 1 hour (or 20 watt CFL for 3 hours).

    Even with current, nascent graphene technology, that would mean if a family of four kept something the size of an average, underground 1500 gallon (4 graphene liters per gallon) septic tank in their backyard, it could power everything in a 4 bedroom home for over a week and a half (considering graphene batteries currently holds 90% of its charge for 300 hours) just running off the battery alone. And, the nice thing is the graphene isn't nearly as toxic like traditional batteries are and is being made safer the more it's studied and altered. It also retains about 90% of its capacitance after 50,000 charge/discharge cycles for christ's sake.

    I'm obviously simplifying this for brevity, but you should now get the idea what I'm talking about when referring to graphene for energy storage. I know you want a shit-ton of numbers, but you're just going to have to be satisfied with me pointing you in the right direction because this is a blog post and not research paper I'm writing for you. The main point isn't debating numbers, we're talking about entire concepts here. If you want to go further into than that, then frankly I'm going to need to be paid a consulting fee. wink But, don't worry, there's a link below that has more numbers for you to comb through than you could digest in a week, but we'll get to that... Anyway, I digress...

    You see, speaking of concepts... you're so narrowly focused on nuclear energy which experts have called "the epitome of the centralization of power" (see my links) that I think you've lost sight of the importance and massive benefits of energy independence. Graphene is looking to be a vital part of energy storage in this regard. When people use their own solar panels, etc. along with their own energy storage, they won't need your centralized behemoth that provides the blessed, monolithic "(base) load duration curve" set for everyone in a wide area all at once (which is incredibly inefficient, by the way).

    If you want to know more about this topic, let me know. It's an extremely complex subtopic that leads to hundreds of others subtopic I've researched. This just scratched the surface minus graphene being used as solar paint, solar windows and on and on.... well beyond just energy storage.

    Of course, this is just graphene... there's much more research being done as we speak on other energy storage (as you should know and see below), but graphene is one of the more exciting I've seen thus far, it's great for energy independence.... and it's just getting started, yo.

    Do you know about this below?

    Researchers have designed a low-cost, long-life battery that could enable solar and wind energy to become major suppliers to the electrical grid.

    The chart you show for Boulder doesn't contradict anything I said.

    My goal isn't to contradict you at every turn with my words nor with that chart; It's mostly to bolster what I've already said (and it does). Also, please keep in mind that chart is incredibly conservative and is purposefully not taking into account breakthroughs in technology that haven't happened just yet (but, are on their way). This is yet another limitation of simply spewing numbers without keeping in mind solid concepts, etc. Anyway, if you have experience with very public feasibly studies, etc. you should already know that. Keep in mind the citizens making this happen in Boulder, CO despise natural gas, it's only there as a temporary place holder as other sources of more sustainable energy become much more feasible/affordable.

    It's definitely a small part of a world-wide plan (see more on this below)

    nuclear is prohibitively expensive COMPARED TO FOSSIL FUELS

    All CAPS doesn't change the fact that alternative energy like wind is already becoming less expensive than nuclear in some areas. If you want the numbers, they're in the links I already provided you, but you keep ignoring. I'm not going to keep repeating things like this. HINT: France.

    You have also repeatedly failed to provide numbers (physical, not economic)

    And, speaking of numbers again, you can crunch numbers all you want, but if it's not economically feasible in the first place, it's a joke. You can't create things out of thin air. You have to have the money to do it in the first place. And, if you dig into the details of my links, you'll see that they provide both "physical" and economic numbers. They didn't just come up with economic numbers without crunching the realities of bringing power to real households and industry.

    It's also more than a little ridiculous that you expect me to dig all this up and copy/paste it all here after I've already given you links to back myself up and you've literally provided ZERO sources to back yourself up for your numbers! You've basically told me to take your word on it which is as far from science as I can think of. How about you put your nose to the grindstone and provide some backup sources before demanding even more from me while misrepresenting that I haven't provided numbers when they are located within the very links/sources I've given you already?

    Even the idealized best case scenario for a residential town that you present

    I didn't present any idealized town, but you now have. And you haven't supported the numbers you've presented with any sources. Please get on that.

    In short, please have numbers on you next reply. Where do we get 15TW of base load that's not fossil fuels?

    Where do you even get 15TWs number from in the first place? Do you see the problem here with just throwing out numbers without backup? How about we start with you telling me how you came to 15TW anyway? I'm getting a little tired of you putting all the burden of proof on me while you just throw out numbers without provided any sources to back yourself up whatsoever.

    But, I'll do you fantasitcally better than a smattering of numbers you may simply take out of context and can't possibly cover all bases with anyway due to the complexity of the issue. Here's results from a Stanford researcher whose study shows the world can be powered by alternative energy in 20-40 years.

    Mark Z. Jacobson - Energy Policy

    PART I:

    PART II:

    Here's for New York (with more numbers):

    He doesn't just throw numbers around, he makes some very salient points along with strategies as well. Within his study you'll find a vast array of numbers to back him up. Dig in.

    I've got work to do, so I'm going to stop here. Mark Z. Jacobson Energy Policy study should keep you busy with numbers for about a week. There's just not enough time in the day, but if I find time later I'll return and add to this post.

    If we don't chat later, I sincerely thank you for discussing this with me and not resorting to name-calling and stuff. I think we have far more in common on this issue than we have differences and I've enjoyed this discussion.

    In the meantime, there's this stuff to chew on as well:

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