At the Oil Drum, Jeff Vail provides a more nuanced explanation of why energy efficiency measures are not effective as a standalone solution for reducing energy consumption (alluded to in earlier PNT posts, here and here and in future ones not yet written…). Among these are the Jevons Paradox which, applied to energy has a “rebound effect.” Lower demand brings down prices which increases demand. Perhaps not to previous levels, but then there is the indirect or “shadow” rebound effect of what is done with the money saved, like taking a trip to Hawaii, or just spending it on plastic baubles or other goods and services that require energy to produce.
One solution to this is an energy tax, and then investing the proceeds in the design of and transition to lifestyles that consume less energy, like development of mass transportation, for example? Gas taxes are a show-stopper for elected officials who fear to even mention the possibility but, if prices are going to go up anyway, the choice isn’t between paying more or less but between adding to oil company coffers and getting better public transportation and other public services in exchange. But to do that, we would also have to keep our elected officials accountable… An interesting research question is whether there would be a higher willingness-to-pay taxes if those paying them had more confidence it would bring improved services.
As for reducing the reduction of the rate of increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by a whopping 4/10ths of 1%, Stephen Colbert gives credit, where credit is due for the administration’s “aggressive and practical strategy” for increasing real estate in Greenland, includes a few hot melting facts, and nails Bush for not paying any attention to the Poles:
[video removed because the link no longer goes to the right place - if I can find it again will repost]
Frank Luntz, whose infamous 1998 memo recommended playing up scientific uncertainty to avoid action on climate change, now says he is “a language guy… not a policy guy”, as if these two could be separated. In an interview that aired last night on the Frontline series on Hot Politics, he also said his role was just “to figure out what language would work.” Since then, as the interviewer stated, “”[An] entire group of science skeptics grew up around that, who have in some ways moved the debate back to “scientists aren’t really sure,” when in fact scientists are sure. “”
Now that the context and his beliefs have shifted, Luntz is trying to make himself look “reasonable” and position himself in that elusive middle ground, blaming the lack of action on “those who have used global warming as a baseball bat to beat up the opposition.” Though he now accepts the scientific consensus on climate change, in his view, “the problem with those who advocate a change to global warming is that, frankly, they’re hysterical.” As for those who still follow his 1998 recommendations, “That’s their responsibility. They have to defend that.”
hmmm – I’ll fess up to having been, at times, hysterical, but not as much about global warming as about the impossibility of having the kind of quiet rational discussion about it - of the kind that Luntz now advocates, with seemingly intelligent people who still maintain that “the evidence isn’t all in.” Believe me, I have tried, only to have Benny Peiser quoted to me again. Which takes us back to the 1998 Luntz memo. He says he was only reflecting back the language-in-use of the day. But that isn’t quite right. Actually, what he did was misuse the language of the day to reinforce a distorted image of science as a crystal ball, as if it could ever provide certainty, and exploit (or enable others to exploit) the fear of uncertainty and general angst about the future for political gain. He also helped give credence to arguments that lacked intellectual merit, clouded public discourse, and prevented earlier action on an issue not only of high uncertainty but also urgency and high stakes, which he now says requires preventive action!*&!%!!^@&%^&!!!
ok, following Luntz’ current advice, I’m going to just take a deep breath…. Lets talk – about uncertainty. As I said in one of the initial posts on this blog, “if science could provide certainty, decisions would just be a problem like that of rocket science. With enough research, computer models would tell us the best course of action, and the losers could all be compensated. And if you believe that is even possible, you probably also believe there was a decisive victory for Bush in the recent US election.” Like the birds and the bees, uncertainty is a fact of life, for which science can at least provide a navigational device. (the bees might need to learn science too, to make up for the loss of their navigational devices, but I digress)
I’m really glad Luntz has changed his beliefs and his tune but if he wants absolution, he needs to take some responsibility for his words and the way they are used, just as scientists can no longer separate themselves from the intended uses of the knowledge they generate.
He also now says:
I believe in common ground, and I believe in a consensus. There has to be a way that we can be environmentally protective and not be anti-economy. There has to be a way that those who care about the future both from an economic standpoint and a environmentally responsible standpoint can be in the same room and find agreement that moves us in the right direction.
What’s the language? It’s a balanced approach; it’s a common-sense approach. It takes into account this consensus that you speak of, and you even used the word, the word “consensus.” Mark my words, the word “consensus” is going to be part of the environmental debate going forward, because it suggests that people — rational people, decent people — can come together and have an agreement, not only on what is happening in this country, but how best to deal with it in the future.
The only problem I have with these last statements is that he probably gets paid a lot more than I do to say them. It isn’t like I, and many others, haven’t said similar things. More on that to come…
Did you know that, in the late 1870s, there was “scientific evidence” that “rain follows the plow”? At least from observations based on a few wet years. Except at that time, those in denial of the findings of a more comprehensive survey and more credible scientific findings, presented by John Wesley Powell in the 1878 Report on Arid Lands, did claim a human role in climate change – in case
you thought the war on
science reality and reason, or flip-flopping, was anything new, here is an excerpt from a biography of Powell by Donald Worster, A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell:
Powell’s land reforms failed to get a hearing mainly because many politicians were in the grip of a dream of their own. It promised that the West would become another Eden of easy, abundant wealth and happy, innocent, people. They ignored the warnings of journalists such as Colburn and the sobering hardships of real, on-the-ground settlers. No matter how arid the climate or how limited the water, they insisted, the West was sure to become another promised land. God would make it so. His chosen people would never
The world of science included a few believers in that Edenic dream. Ferdinand Hayden, for example succumbed-eager, as he admitted he was, “to report that which will be most pleasing to the people of the West, providing there is any foundation for it in nature.” More than a decade before Powell’s reform proposals, Hayden thought he had evidence that the planting of trees on Nebraska homesteads was ameliorating the climate. Rainfall had increased with agricultural settlement and was becoming more equally distributed
through the year. Plant enough trees across the Great Plains and aridity would give way to well-watered fertility. A member of Hayden ‘s survey team who became a professor at the University of Nebraska, Samuel Aughey, also bought the dream of unlimited bounty and paired up with a town promoter, Charles Dana Wilber, to sell the idea that “rain follows the plow.”
Whether tree planting or plowing could work such magic across the entire arid region was never addressed by Hayden or his disciples, but the Powell survey did give it serious consideration. Gilbert, in his chapter on the Great Salt Lake, allowed that the lake might be rising due to human agency. He went on, however, to criticize the Hayden circle for leaping to conclusions about plow agriculture, nor did he take seriously another popular argument, that telegraph wires were affecting precipitation. What he concluded,
and Powell followed him, was that stream flow was being enhanced by deforestation in the highlands. They did not expect that the desert would vanish any time soon.
The West, according to Wallace Stegner, “has not been so much settled as raided-first for its furs, then for its minerals, then for its grass, then in some places for its scenery,” and with every raid the raiders have ignored consequences. Powell warned about those consequences, ecological and political, that persistence in old land policies must bring, and the raiders and boosters fought him as they fought reality. But it must be added that the failure of the arid lands report was more complicated than a losing
confrontation between popular myth and scientific reality. Powell was himself responsible for some of the resistance he met, for he made a strategic mistake in trying to sell his reforms. He tied them to a scientific establishment in the East that was beginning to demand that the West be brought under their intelligent control. They called for more centralized authority that could bring greater efficiency in the use and development of the region’s resources. Powell wanted their support and approval. Where they
led him, however, was not exactly where he wanted to go.
After a few subsequent dry years, development was made possible by feats of engineering. But even under the plan that was proposed by Powell, little if any water from the Colorado River would have flowed across the border into the Green Lagoons of the Colorado River Delta, which only exists now because of a failure to control every last drop. The Delta, with 5% of its original 2 million acres of wetlands remaining, was brought back to life in the 1980s, when El Niño brought some exceptionally high rainfall.
It owes its continued existence to “waste water” from the Mexicali Valley, which has been the beneficiary of leaks from the unlined All American Canal that diverts water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley in California. Now facing prolonged drought, current efforts to eliminate this waste and inefficiency would come at the expense of environmental flows. As pointed out by Matt Jenkins in a High Country News article, The
Paradox of Efficiency, (available here in pdf):
…instead of vanquishing the demons of aridity, efficiency has only chased them into the dark. And it has now run up against the quintessential problem of the West…. Untangling the competing demands on the river will be an incremental and possibly perpetual endeavor. It is tempting to argue that the enterprise of developing the Colorado was made feasible in the first place only by writing off he cost of its environmental effects on the Delta. But that simply is not true. Those costs are mere fractions of the
total amount of water in the river and the money spent to develop that water. They are so small that including them in the dealmakers’ calculations from the very beginning would have never come even remotely close to breaking the entire river-development proposition. And so we are now left with a choice: endlessly pursuing yet one more house-of-mirrors fix – or, finally, trying to set the equation right.
John Fleck also has a post about Powell, commenting that: “He’s revered because he understood, more than those of his days, that there were limitations to the exploitation of the West’s resources. But it’s important not to miss his central purpose, which was to squeeze every bit of human use possible out of West.”
The same arguments can be made about energy efficiency…. I’m starting to trail off onto another subject but, there is a name for this phenomenon – here is an excerpt from some jargon-laden stuff I wrote in graduate school: … the “Jevons Paradox”, after William Stanford Jevons who, in 1865, argued that greater efficiency through technological progress would not reduce coal consumption, but would instead increase it because of human addiction to exosomatic sources of comfort (Mayumi et al, 1998). Greater efficiencies
also reduce the ability to adapt to changing conditions because of increased dependencies on particular inputs. A similar observation is found in the work of Georgescu-Roegen (1971) who stated: ‘a technical evolution leads to an increase in the rate at which a society “wastes resources” . . . the economic process actually is more efficient than automatic shuffling in producing higher entropy, i.e. waste. In other words, the more developed is a society the higher it is its rate of generation of garbage
per capita (in Giampietro 1997).
Then there was Gregory Bateson who argued that the characterization of natural processes in terms of energy flows, in a single level analysis that regards ecosystems as simply extensions of matter, that respond mechanically to inputs and outputs of energy, is inadequate for living systems because organization or relationships among the system elements are greater limiting factors than energy. He also thought it would only increase the likelihood of “runaway ecological degradation,” because the increased ability
to predict and control the factors of interest would only make a pathological system more efficiently pathological, leading to more rapid self-destruction, as it does not address the false premises upon which the model is based. Clearly, it is time for a new vision.
Georgescu-Roegen,N., The entropy law and the economic process. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971
Giampietro, M., Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Human Societies: What can we learn from energy efficiency studies in human societies in respect to regional and global sustinability?, 1997, Istituto Nazionale della Nutrizione, Rome, Italy
Harries Jones, P. A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1995.
Mayumi, K., M. Giampietro, and J.M. Gowdy, Georgescu-Roegen/Daly versus Solow/Stiglitz Revisited. Ecological Economics, 1998.
If you have ever been to Florence, here is a detail you might have missed, that is right smack on the front of the main cathedral. This picture is the final in a series of carvings of angels that surround the main doors. As the story goes, the first in the series (pictured below the jump), holds a tax bill in his hands and passes it on up to the next angel, who passes in on to the next, who points to the next… until it gets to a few who can’t seem to hear, until it gets to the last one, who dismisses it with this infamous gesture. According to Maurizio Ranieri, a Florentine who brought it to my attention, the series is the story of Florence – which you really can’t separate from the Florentines themselves, without whom the place would not exist. A place where miracles, like the construction of that dome that sits on top of the cathedral, according to Malaparte, are not performed by saints.
I have added a few more of these angels below the jump so they don’t slow down the loading of the page any further. I am on a high speed connection at the moment but, while on travel these past few weeks, I was reminded just how slow dial-up internet can be – particularly when there are pictures… And prices for high-speed wireless access in hotels that have it is highway robbery.