Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Climate Progress" August 13, 2011

What's the Best Strategy for Dealing with Deniers?

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 07:02 AM PDT

David Roberts, in a Grist cross-post.

The other day, I wrote about a study that attempted to explain why conservative white men (CWM) are so loathe to accept the threat of climate change. It has to do with system justification and identity-protective cognition. Go read it!

The question remains: What should we do about it? The denialism or indifference of CWM toward climate is a huge barrier to getting anything done. In this post, I'm going to argue that the typical strategies are doomed to failure. It may be that the simplest, least clever strategy — kick their [metaphorical] asses — is still the way to go.

Repeat it

The original and still most popular approach to dealing with climate deniers is reasoned persuasion: facts and figures and reports and literature reviews and slideshows and whitepapers. This hasn't ever really worked, but climate types keep trying, like American tourists in a foreign country who try to overcome the language barrier by talking louder and more slowly.

While the study postulated a lot of interesting things about CWM, one thing it didn't ascribe to them is ignorance. In fact, the CWM who know the most about climate science are the most likely to reject the consensus account. And this isn't a new finding. Yale's "Six Americas" report found that the highly skeptical are more informed about climate change science than those who report a high degree of concern about it (the latter of whom still regularly confuse climate with the ozone hole, etc.).

A large number of CWM have taken pains to seek out information on climate change so that they can dispute it. You've no doubt encountered them in comment sections online. This is called motivated reasoning: reasoning aimed at justifying a pre-existing conclusion or social identity, gathering supporting facts and ignoring disconfirming evidence.

Motivated reasoning is something all human beings do; we all defend and justify our social identities. In fact, some interesting new social science argues that motivated reasoning is not a bug but a feature — what reason evolved to do. Nevertheless, there's a difference between motivated reasoning and complete epistemic closure, which is what the right has achieved on climate (and other issues as well).

Which suggests that giving CWM still more facts and arguments is not going to achieve anything.

Drop it

One sentiment, lately growing in popularity, is that the best way around the CWM climate conundrum is just to stop talking about it. If climate has become divisive and partisan, then drop it; there's plenty of good policy that doesn't require climate as a premise. That's the thrust of the recent "Climate Pragmatism" report and the idea seems to be catching on. I addressed that notion in a post last week and said most of what I need to say there. I'll just add that there's an implicit premise in the "pragmatism" argument. It assumes that climate is a unique barrier to cooperation with CWM in positions of power and that there are other areas where CWM can be brought around to support clean energy. But what if climate isn't unique? What if CWM reject it because it came from a tribe they see as their enemies and they'll reject anything that comes from that tribe? Then dropping climate has won nothing and sacrificed moral authority and simple honesty.

Finesse it

A somewhat more sophisticated take says that we should talk about climate differently, in a way that does not trigger CWM defenses. David Ropeik (whose work on risk perception everyone should be reading) has a post on the CWM study in which he says:

We have stop making climate change a zero sum if-you-win-I-lose battle. We have to frame the issue in ways that work within everybody's underlying cultural/tribal perspectives. We have to realize that answers are more likely to be found, and solutions are more likely to be reached, if the goal is finding common ground …

In the abstract, this makes plenty of sense, though it's rarely spelled out in any detail. Offer CWM an entree into the issue that doesn't require them to give up their tribal affiliations and commitments. Find common ground. Who could argue?

Notice the gigantic underlying assumption, though: that climate change can be rendered benign to the current cultural/tribal perspectives of CWM. Is that so? It's often claimed that if climate is discussed as a national security issue, an economic opportunity, or a religious/moral imperative, it will bring skeptics over. But those claims have not born out in practice, despite years of attempts. CWM grow steadily more skeptical even as the military, the private sector, and religious institutions grapple with the truth.

The fact is that climate change triggers system justification among privileged classes because it really does carry a threat to the system! It implies an argument for global governance when CWM are nationalistic, an argument for egalitarianism when they are hierarchical, an argument for conservation when they love capitalism, an argument for investment and regulation when they hate government. It also implies that hippies have been right and the conservative movement wrong, for decades.

In communications among individuals, the psychology of communication can be helpful. But framing — which is where lots of wonks and academics seem to begin and end — is not a sufficient political solution. There's a reason CWM have the cultural/tribal perspectives they do. They are heavily influenced by people and institutes whose interests are threatened by the solutions to climate change.

Denialism in context

Where climate scientists, energy wonks, academics, and eco-journalists go wrong is in abstracting climate change from the larger political situation. They approach it in isolation, wondering what characteristics of this particular phenomenon invoke this particular reaction in these particular people. That distorts their reactions.

The fact is, as I've written before, climate denialism is part of something much larger. The most significant driving force behind climate change denial among CWM is not any ineffable psychological mystery but simply the increasing intensity and radicalization of the American conservative movement. The same dynamic afflicting climate change is afflicting the debate over fiscal policy, the economy, jobs, and health care. The right is rejecting empirical reality and adopting a stance of unshakeable ideological opposition to anything the non-right does, even policies they have supported in the past (see: individual mandate in health care, cap-and-trade in environmental policy). The core of the CWM tribal perspective is loyalty to the tribe and hostility to outsiders.

There is a serious asymmetry between the left and right in America that lots and lots and lots of people, for whatever reason, don't want to acknowledge. The left remains a broad, fractious coalition composed of all sorts of competing interests. The right, by contrast, has become increasingly clarified. Since Reagan, but accelerating since Gingrich, the right has become more and more homogenous, composed of CWM who share a visceral sense of being besieged, of "losing their country," of seeing their privileged normative place in U.S. culture slip away. They view liberals not as fellow Americans with differing policy views but as a threat to the moral fiber and even the existence of the country. Manicheanism has always been part of the conservative temperament, but that propensity has been hugely accelerated by the construction of a self-contained media machine that runs on fear. They need everything divided into two buckets: good and evil.

In those circumstances, the chances of luring CWM into the climate hawk coalition seem exceedingly slim, no matter how clever and psychologically adept the messaging.


Let's remember the goal. The goal is action. The support of CWM is a means to that end, but not necessarily the only means to that end. Perhaps instead of hiding from the fight, or transcending the fight by finding common ground, climate hawks could win the fight. A crazy notion, I know.

CWM are blocking the entire, diverse climate coalition from taking action by virtue of intensity (not to mention a broken and utterly dysfunctional political system). The poll numbers are consistently on climate hawks' side, but their support is shallow and fickle. The Tea Party, on the other hand, views even efficient lightbulbs as incipient tyranny. As I've said many times, intensity wins in politics.

If that's true, perhaps the answer is not to reduce intensity in hopes of attracting CWM. Perhaps the answer is to increase intensity in order to overcome CWM. Intensity is increased first and foremost through organizing, but also through clear, inspiring messages that draw sharp lines between those fighting for progress and those fighting against it.

The implicit premise of climate "pragmatism" and similar efforts is that CWM are stronger, that climate hawks can't win a direct clash. And for now, that seems to be true. Beating back the radical conservative resurgence is something that nobody on the left has figured out yet. But the alternative, attempting to win over CWM by soft-pedaling climate, doesn't exactly have a record of success either.

In the end, everyone has to make their own bet. Do you make progress by attempting to please the Very Serious People running the system or by speaking truth to power and subverting the system? For my part, when I see people denying facts and bullying scientists in order perpetuate the dominance of fossil fuel interests that are killing people and threatening my children's futures, I am inclined to tell them to go f*ck themselves. That won't resonate with their social/tribal perspectives, but that's because I find their social/tribal perspectives repugnant and worthy of social censure. I want to beat them.

– David Roberts

Related Post:

For God and a Greener Country

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 05:50 AM PDT

"Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because 'creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works', and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind," said Pope Benedict XVI in his January 1, 2010 message for the World Day of Peace.

by CAP's David Liu

When most Americans think of faith communities they don't necessarily think of environmentalism. Yet across the nation groups of believers from a wide range of religions are taking steps to protect the planet for future generations.

Despite only recently rising to public prominence in America, the relationship between environmentalism and religion has a long history. According to many religious leaders, the relationship began with the first creation story. "Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because 'creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works', and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind," said Pope Benedict XVI in his January 1, 2010 message for the World Day of Peace.

The American religious community is very diverse, but the theological arguments for environmentalism are often similar between different religions: To destroy and waste the environment is to disrespect God's creations, the argument goes, so humanity should look after God's creations instead of exploiting them. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and interfaith groups are all organizing locally and nationally to protect the environment and live greener lives.

Acting locally is a major tenet of the green movement, and places of worship are a great place to spark local action. They are often focal points in their community and therefore a good place to start a dialogue about anything from climate change to the efficient use of resources. Changing how a place of worship uses energy can inspire others to do the same, and have other positive effects, too.According to Energy Star, a government-supported program that sets international standards for energy-efficient consumer products, if America's more than 370,000 places of worship were to cut energy usage by 10 percent, they could save nearly $315 million and more than 1.8 billion kWh of electricity would be available. More than 1.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented—that's equivalent to taking 240,000 cars off the road or planting nearly 300,000 acres of trees. Clearly, faith communities can produce huge benefits for the planet by going green.

There are already huge successes. The United Methodist-related Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, is the second institution of higher education to go completely carbon neutral. The First Baptist Church of Orlando invested in greening their facilities, and in 20 months have saved $792,000 in utility cost reductions. And St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Monroe, Georgia has managed to save 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water through their own efforts to keep their church green.

Places of worship are used for different reasons at different times, and they are even designed differently than other buildings. That can make it hard to figure out how to keep your place of worship green. Here are some tips and resources for faith communities looking to green their places of worship:

  • Congregational buildings have energy-use patterns that differ from other buildings. Energy usage often fluctuates widely between days, instead of staying constant. If services happen on Sunday, why schedule a choir rehearsal on Wednesday? To cut down on energy usage, schedule events on consecutive days.
  • Invest in better heating and cooling controls, like programmable thermostats with zone controls. Often, every room in a place of worship is not in use at once. You can be more energy efficient if you pay more attention to what rooms you are heating or cooling and when.
  • Places of worship often have at least one large, open space for communal worship. These rooms can cost large amounts of energy and money to heat and cool due to their sheer size. To improve energy efficiency, invest in a more efficient air circulation system.
  • Many places of worship require a powerful lighting system to meet the needs of their congregation. It's well worth it to invest in an efficient lighting system featuring energy-efficient bulbs, light dimmers, and occupancy sensors. If the task is to daunting to do without help, talk to a lighting professional who specializes in energy-efficient lighting.
  • There are a number of resources available for faith communities to use to find ways to protect the environment. While groups like the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council and the US Green Building Council are good all-around resources for those who want to improve the energy efficiency of any building, there are also organizations and websites tailored to suit the needs of congregations. Interfaith Power and Light is an interfaith organization devoted to helping faith communities embrace environmental causes, and it features state-by-state ways to get involved. Energy Star is also a very strong option for congregations, featuring online guides and other resources.

This summer, see if you can find a way to get your faith community to go green. To stay in the loop on the efforts of religious communities to protect the environment, take a look at the CAP Faith and Progressive Policy's environment page.

David Liu

Global News: US Cuts Coal Use at Home, Sends More Abroad; India Now Top Recipient of U.S. Solar Funding

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 05:31 AM PDT

A round-up of recent international climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

First Coal-Export System Ship to Undertake Maiden Voyage Today U.S. May Ship More Coal, Raising EU Supply, Macquarie Says

The U.S. may increase coal exports, further boosting supply of the commodity in Europe, Macquarie Group Ltd. (MQG) said.

"A big push" to encourage natural-gas burning in the U.S. may drive up coal exports to Europe, China and India, said Hayden Atkins, an analyst in London at Macquarie's commodities unit. The closing of Germany's nuclear plants will increase demand in that nation, Atkins said.

U.S. steam-coal exports to Europe in the first quarter more than tripled from a year earlier to 4.9 million metric tons from 1.5 million tons, according to a report on the website of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. coal exports are at their highest level since 1992, it said.

Exports to the Netherlands jumped to 1.1 million tons from 334,628 tons. Shipments to Germany went to 899,009 tons from 166,314 tons. Trade to the U.K. rose to 852,159 tons from 159,280 tons.

Switching to natural gas from coal in U.S. power generation will accelerate in 2012 because of new Environmental Protection Agency rules to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said July 19.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires 27 states in the eastern U.S. to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrous oxides by 54 percent by 2014 compared with 2005 levels, Merrill analysts including Sabine Schels in London said. Generators that exceed caps must cut emissions by twice the amount exceeded as a penalty, they said.

India to Top U.S. Lending With $575 Million in Solar Deals

The U.S. Export-Import Bank expects India to become its biggest recipient of funding next year, led by loans for clean-energy projects including $575 million of solar deals.

The Export-Import Bank's lending plans won't be affected by concern that the renewable energy industry may be vulnerable to a new global recession, said Craig S. O'Connor, director of the bank's office of renewable energy.

"This sector isn't risky," O'Connor said in an interview at a conference in New Delhi. "It'll continue to grow."

The funding could ease a hurdle facing India as its aims to build 20,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2022 and join Germany in trying to develop cleaner, safer sources of power after Japan's nuclear disaster. About $3.2 billion of Indian projects have found it difficult to get loans from commercial banks, and more funding could help such U.S. panel producers as First Solar Inc. (FSLR) and SunPower Corp. (SPWRA) that face China competition.

EU challenges Canadian green power rules at WTO

The European Union has launched a legal challenge against Canada at the World Trade Organization to protest against provincial backing for solar and wind energy projects, the bloc's executive said on Thursday.

Following on the heels of a similar challenge by Japan, the row highlights a global battle for a slice of the lucrative and growing renewables market with countries including Canada, the United States and China moving to reserve public works projects worth billions of dollars for local firms.

It focuses on a scheme in Canada's Ontario province that guarantees above-market prices for renewable energy as long as it is generated with a set proportion of Canadian-made equipment or services.

The EU says the plan is illegal under global trade rules because it gives an unfair advantage to local producers.

[UK] Farmers turn away from organic as sales drop

Farmers have begun to turn away from organic food production in the face of waning interest from the big supermarkets.

The amount of land being converted to organic cultivation across the UK has dropped by two-thirds since 2007, according to statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as falling sales of organic products mean fewer farmers are seeing a reason to change.

Sales of organic products fell by 5.9% in the UK last year, according to the Soil Association, from £1.8bn in 2009 to £1.7bn. That continued a decline from record sales of £2.1bn in 2008, and came amid rising food prices. The amount of organic poultry being produced has also fallen steadily.

But many farmers who have gone organic were defiant after publication of the latest figures, arguing that switching to greener methods has drastically cut their costs and that consumer interest is still strong, particularly when farmers can use sales routes other than big supermarket chains.

EU On Track to Meet Renewable Goals?

A recent graph from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that many EU countries are behind their interim targets, including some that are currently facing financial turmoil.

Many European Union member countries outstrip the U.S. when it comes to penetration rates of renewables, obtaining an average of 19 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. But that's still not good enough for some countries, which missed the interim target towards the legally binding 20-percent-by-2020 standard imposed by the EU.

Countries with the highest rates of renewables in 2009 were Austria (74%), Sweden (60%), Portugal (39%), and Finland (32%), according to a report by the European Commission, and most of that came from hydropower and biomass.

The 20 percent by 2020 is not just for electricity generation, but also includes transportation, heating and cooling. Most of the 27 countries have used feed-in tariffs, although the structures of those have varied wildly. Germany, for example, has been quite successful, and is one of the countries meeting its renewable targets, while Italy is behind. Some nations have also adopted aggressive electric vehicle targets, which will help to meet the transportation goals.

Among the EU nations, only Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, and Portugal are expected to meet their interim targets.

Japan parties reach agreement on renewable energy bill

Japan's ruling Democratic Party reached an agreement with the main opposition parties on Thursday to pass a bill designed to promote renewable energy, an opposition lawmaker said, setting the stage for unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign once the law is enacted.

Kan, Japan's fifth premier in five years, repeated on Thursday he was ready to quit once three conditions he had set were met.

Of those, a small extra budget for recovery from the March earthquake and tsunami has been passed and a bill enabling fresh borrowing to fund this year's budget is set to be enacted this month. Passing the energy bill is the third condition.

"The three conditions that the premier has supposedly set will be met rather quickly," Shigeru Ishiba, the policy chief of main opposition Liberal Democratic Party told reporters after he agreed with his counterparts to swiftly enact the renewable energy bill.

"A relationship of trust between the three parties is being developed."

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, 54, a fiscal conservative who wants to rein in Japan's huge public debt, has emerged as a leading contender to replace Kan.


As Journalists Cover Record Spikes in Electricity Demand, Why Are They Ignoring Solar PV?

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 12:36 PM PDT

From a New York Times piece on the closure of coal-fired power plants:

No one is sure yet how many or which ones will be shuttered or what the total lost output would be. And there is little agreement over how peak demand will be met in future summers.

Here's a bright idea:

As heat waves get more intense and cause immense spikes in electricity demand around the country, it doesn't take a genius to ask if the problem — the sun — might actually be the solution.

But yet again, two major publications – the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal – have written big stories on peak electricity demand with no mention of solar photovoltaics (PV).

Why, despite the proven, cost-competitive benefits of using solar PV to match spiking electricity use, is hardly anyone in the press bothering to talk about the technology?

Yesterday's NYT piece was particularly egregious. In writing about how utilities are going to make up for lost generation due to EPA air-quality regulations, the reporter seems to deliberately ignore the technology, and instead use the opportunity to rail on wind:

No one is sure yet how many or which ones will be shuttered or what the total lost output would be. And there is little agreement over how peak demand will be met in future summers.

Peak supply is also becoming a vexing problem because so much of the generating capacity added around the country lately is wind power, which is almost useless on the hot, still days when air-conditioning drives up demand.

PJM, which once stood for Pennsylvania, Jersey and Maryland, factors in such variability, counting a 100-megawatt wind farm as being worth only 13 megawatts on a peak summer day, for example. While over the course of a year the wind machines can contribute mightily to kilowatt hours produced, they do much of their production on windy winter nights, according to experts at PJM and other grid organizations.

"This heat wave shows that you can't rely on a massive amount of wind generation to fill the void," Pat Hemlepp, a spokesman for American Electric Power, wrote in an e-mail. "That's why we are extremely concerned about reliability."

Why the focus on wind, and nothing about solar PV? (More about the wind comments below). Rather than make the obvious point that the wind blows less during heat waves, it doesn't take much to ask if all that sunshine could be put to good use.

It's mind-blowing that solar PV didn't even get mentioned in the possible list of alternatives. As we've covered numerous times on Climate Progress (See the response to another NYT article: "As Cuomo Plans Shut Down of Indian Point Nuclear Plant, Experts Fail to Value of Solar and Efficiency for NY City," and "This Looks Like a Job for Solar PV: Heat Wave Causes Record Breaking Electricity Demand") Solar PV can be deployed locally in a matter of months, generate electricity at prices far below the cost of natural gas peaking plants, and save utilities money on building new transmission infrastructure.

We're not talking about advocating for solar PV as some feel-good solution; rather, recognizing it as a competitive player for meeting peak electricity needs and stabilizing the grid. It doesn't make any sense that a reporter writing on the business of energy would fail to mention one of the best methods for addressing the challenges outlined in the article.

And as an aside, wind isn't exactly what American Electric Power makes it out to be in the NYT piece either. In fact, coastal wind farms were responsible for keeping the lights on in Texas last week during record demand. Trip Doggett, the CEO of Texas' grid operator, explained that coastal wind farms provided electricity exactly when needed for the state:

Coastal wind accounts for about 13 percent of ERCOT's wind generation, but it was providing as much as 70 percent of wind generation last week, Doggett said.

"We'd love to have more development of coastal wind," Doggett said. "And we're hoping their ability to generate during the peak hours may encourage more development in that area."

Clearly, the further inland wind farms are, the less electricity they'll generate during the hottest days – and that is an issue that grid operators need to deal with. But for AEP to categorically claim that you can't rely on wind farms isn't right. It all depends on where they're sited.

The second article from the WSJ focused on the dire situation in Texas, where the grid operator is seeing highs in demand that weren't expected until 2014:

For the second year in a row, the organization responsible for the stability of Texas' electrical grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, has grossly underestimated summer demand in its forecasts. Last week, demand was so high across Texas that some large energy users had power disruptions, and Ercot narrowly avoided instituting rolling blackouts.

Ercot's struggles to meet demand carry a cost. Wholesale power prices during the emergency last week rose to 60 times normal summer prices, racking up millions of dollars of added costs for consumers and power retailers. By Thursday, prices had dropped back down to a normal range of $20 to $50 a megawatt hour.

The record demand due to the heat wave brought wholesale electricity prices up to $3,000 a megawatt-hour – or $3 a kilowatt-hour – numerous times in the past week. The average retail price for electricity in the U.S. is 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. By comparison, large-scale solar PV projects in Texas are able to generate energy for less than 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Texas simply doesn't have enough generation capacity in place in the coming years to meet projected spikes in peak electricity demand. That could drive prices up further and compromise the reliability of the grid.

But again, solar, a technology that can meet those demands and help stabilize the grid, is conspicuously absent from the coverage.

In all fairness to the reporter, the story was not really about generation sources – it was mostly about Ercot's handling of the immediate problem. However, coverage of the issue opens up a lot of relevant questions about how to cost-competitively meet rising demand given the prospects for longer, more intense heat waves.

This summer's electricity demand records offer the perfect opportunity to explore the value of solar PV. It's a shame that the mainstream press isn't recognizing that.

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