Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy Blog Action Day for Climate

I'm posting this as my little contribution to Blog Action Day 2009 on tackling climate change. Let me start off by saying I am indeed happy today; I'm happy to see people pitching in all across the web to contribute to this great campaign. I'm happy that there is still some chance the world may work together at Copenhagen. I'm particularly happy that there are just so many solutions to climate change waiting to be put into practice, as soon as we all agree to stop dithering and act.

I want to reflect on the recommendations at the conclusion of Kari Norgaard's excellent essay on the psychology of climate denial, which I blogged on recently. I'll use the concise and convenient summary of six points provided by Wellsharp's nice overview of Norgaard's recommendations:

Engage with denial openly – research shows fears are less paralyzing when faced openly.
If you're one of the many people still trying to argue that CO2 doesn't cause warming, that it's "plant food", etc. - it's time to let go and face reality. Look at the planet Venus: surface hot enough to melt lead, and the reason (worked out well before anybody began debating the greenhouse effect on earth) is the huge buildup of CO2 in Venus' atmosphere. Find a better account of why Venus is so hot, and then come back; I won't hold my breath. Otherwise, you need to recognize that you're grasping at straws. Besides, if greenhouse warming weren't bad enough, CO2 emissions are also acidifying the world's oceans - already, right now, it is measurable and it's got oceanographers really shaken. (See my recent posts on Acid Test and the Monaco Declaration.)

Many people have landed in climate "denial" by way of a conservative blog, talk radio, cable news, or editorials like those from George Will or the Washington Post. Look, whatever your views on their politics, those sources just aren't listening to the science. They're 'in denial'; you may feel, like them, that liberals are trying usher in world government, and using climate change "alarmism" to scare people into compliance. Well, we're not. I don't want world government, and neither do Obama nor the Democrats in Congress, nor any center or left party in Canada's Parliament, nor Elizabeth May. Passing laws like CAFE standards, cap-and-trade, or renewable portfolio standards may not be laissez-faire, but neither are they Socialism, nor stepping stones to rule by the U.N. They're just domestic policy, same as the old kinds of policy like depletion allowances for oil exploration, or loopholes in New Source Review for coal plants.

Contradict fear by providing honest information, open discussion (e.g. acknowledgement of the risks but also hopeful examples)
If we drag on the delay and make no effort to cut greenhouse emissions, we do indeed face serious consequences - for people, not just for polar bears. Drought and stresses on the food supply are probably the biggest and "scariest" impacts. Look at Australia now; consider that scientists project similar problems setting in around the world in more temperate climate as continental interiors heat up and dry out. Poor countries will be hit first and hardest, be we won't escape such impacts in the developed world either. So we won't be able to just retreat into a wealth bubble, even if the ethical problems of doing so didn't rule that out anyway. Indeed, poor countries are already experiencing negative impacts from climate change, as documented by CARE.

Okay, now: don't panic. We can in fact cut greenhouse emissions, substantially, without moving back to the stone age. Maybe Exxon won't be the biggest supplier of energy in the future, and they won't like that, but we can have hot water, comfortable houses, mobility, and electrons for the fridge, TV and internet from 100% renewable sources. More on this below. I already get all my electricity from renewables through Bullfrog Power and soon, Ontario will be providing much more green electricity to everyone province-wide thanks to the groundbreaking Green Energy and Green Economy Act. The future for renewables in Ontario is really looking up.

Contradict helplessness through providing opportunities for effective action, including opportunities that reduce isolation, build community, and create positive frames of reference. “people must be given not only information, but something to do.” (p.47)
Okay, you are on the internet. There's plenty you can do besides changing lightbulbs. Look up what legislation is being proposed where you live, and email your representatives to tell them what you think. You'll be surprised how easy it is, and they actually keep track of what their constituents bother to write in about. You can phone and leave your views with a staffer, as well.

Vote with your wallet - sign up for green electricity; insulate (lots of tax credits for doing this, lately); boycott products that are the most negative for the environment, and tell stores and manufacturers why you are making those choices (again, emailing is quick and easy.) I read that Wallmart is aiming to post the carbon footprint of every product on their shelf pricing displays - wow!

Next, tell your friends: tweet whatever you discover about greener or smoggier product choices; join Facebook groups for action to protect rainforests, healthy oceans, whatever catches your eye and heart. You don't need to chain yourself to a smokestack to be an activist on the internet.

Combat guilt by acknowledging the present and providing opportunities to engage in more responsible behavior.
Here we are, now. We've got big fossil fuel companies, coal-fired power plants, oil pipelines, and furnaces to run. When we started building all this, we didn't realize what it could do to the atmosphere and ultimately the climate. So let's not beat ourselves up over what our parents didn't know, nor over how right now, we need coal, oil and gas to be able to function. However, good news: there are alternatives - lots of them. We won't convert everything overnight, but in a generation, we could readily replace fossil fuels with renewable sources in most sectors where it counts. Houses can be far better insulated (saving money on whatever kind of energy you buy for heat and cooling - now that's cool!) Houses can get heat from geo-exchange systems (zero carbon if the power for circulating pumps is green electricity); hot water passive solar already works and is catching on worldwide, from China to Mexico to Canada (okay, we need backup heat for grey Februaries...).

For electric power, there's small hydro (only 3% of dams in the U.S. have electric generation - retrofit even a fraction of the rest, and get more power with no new dams); run-of-river hydroelectric also avoids dams; solar PV prices are plummeting, and the industry has been growing incredibly rapidly with multi-billion-dollar investments; concentrating solar thermal like Solar 1 can also work well, and can be equipped to provide dispatchable power or "baseload" by storing the heat carrier in insulated tanks for use on demand (one of Joe Romm's top picks for green energy); wind power - already cheaper than most other new generation sources, and beats coal handily if we only make coal pay the full ride for all its externalities (CO2, mercury, particulates, smog and acid precipitation, mining impacts - yuck!)

For cars, plug-in hybrids are an exciting prospect for cutting dependence on gasoline and making the most of the kind of green electricity I just enumerated. Have a look at the great news and commentary site for the latest on electric, plug-in hybrid, and other green autos.

I could go on and on with this kind of great news; I'll save some for a future post, but for now, just stop worrying that if we agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this will somehow "cripple the economy." Instead, I foresee a great future for renewable and sustainable energy production from dozens of sources. Never again should we need to worry about "peak oil" or peak anything - we can produce more than enough for everyone if we deploy even half of the potential inexhaustable sources that are starting to prove themselves more and more ready for prime time.

Oh wait - did I mention LED lighting? Bio-char? Cellulosic and algal biofuels? Wave and tidal power? Electric rail for freight and passenger travel?

All that without even getting to controversial lower-carbon power such as nuclear or coal+carbon sequestration, either of which are still potential sources (though each likely to end up costing MORE than renewables - see

Confront and constrain the influence of the fossil fuel industry on policy debate (e.g. public information campaigns)
Good responses to this are easy to find now - we just need to get them out to the public and to policymakers, consistently. Just a few top picks:
Look on DesmogBlog for James Hoggan's new book Climate Cover-up and order your copy today. It's a powerful expose of the sorry spectacle of Big Oil and Coal laundering their dirty money through foundations and think tanks to fund mindless spin doctors and astroturf (i.e. fake grassroots) campaigns of deception. Hoggan caps off a series of such exposes that started with Ross Gelbspan's The Heat is On through Stauber & Rampton's Trust Us, We're Experts and Toxic Sludge is Good for You.

Develop other ways of appealing to national identity and national pride e.g. through emission reduction efforts
For the US: despite all the denial and delay under Bush 43, the U.S. economy has indeed achieved some measure of improvement in CO2 intensity of GDP. It will take a lot more than this to achieve absolute reductions, particularly if and when economic growth kicks back in. But the U.S. still leads in technical innovation and research.
For Canada: okay, we signed Kyoto and then punted, and the earliest we might see national carbon policy in effect is 2011. However, paradoxically, there is one jurisdiction in Canada that already has a carbon price in effect. Did you guess Alberta? No, really - check it out.
Both countries have been laggards in the global negotiating process, but the Obama administration has re-engaged and is working hard to bring in China. There could still be a productive agreement in Copenhagen this December. Contact your elected officials to urge them to make this happen.

Be positive! Don't sit around thinking "oooh, we're dooooomed." We're not doomed. We just need to pry political power from the oily hands of the fossil fools.


Arthur said...

Nicely done, thanks Tim!

Harald Korneliussen said...

The desmogblog link goes to a domain squatter site.

enviralment said...


Thanks for participating in BAD. You have a great blog and this was an insightful post.
For anyone who doubts climate change please read my blog action day post
Responses to questions and objections on climate change. It's a good place to send your skeptical friends and colleagues — at least as a starting point for whetting their intellectual appetite to learn more (or, as a quick answer to blog comments).

Tony Wildish said...


it's nice to read a climate blog with a positive attitude, and thanks for all the pointers you include.

You refer to the climateprogress site for information on nuclear being more expensive than renewables. Do you have a more specific link? I'd like to read what they have to say. I've been learning about the cost of nuclear vs. renewables from the bravenewclimate site, for example, in

There, Barry Brook comes to quite the opposite conclusion, that renewables like wind or solar just can't do the job if you want reliable 24x365 power. His analysis is pretty thorough, if he's wrong, I'd be very interested to know where.

Paul Baer said...

In this light, the UK "10-10" campaign caught - my eye: 10 percent reductions in 2010. Focused on individuals, but tied to the scientific urgency, it ought to lead people to the hard questions: how do we keep up 10% annual declines? It calls not for reduction, but investment. So it leads people from the personal to the political. It hasn't been picked up yet in the US but it ought to be.

--Paul Baer

John Ham said...

I just came here by accident. Wow, where do I begin? You don't really mean to compare Venus' atmosphere with that of Earth do you?! Of course a doubling of CO2 is likely to raise average temperatures here on Earth on the order of 1 degree C (that's a bad thing?), but all the rest is poorly understood feedbacks, despite what the climate modelers tell you. (They should get out more often so they stop confusing their models with reality.) Or ocean acidification (a pretty scary term used to describe making the pH of the oceans slightly less alkaline than they currently are, if that were possible): a good look at ocean carbonate chemistry debunks that idea fairly quickly. Is this really how you propose to "engage the denial"? Good luck in your quest. John

birdbrainscan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
birdbrainscan said...

I wrote a reply to John Ham's comment, but it got long enough that I felt it deserved a post of its own, so I've moved it here

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