June 7, 2016

The Conduct of the House Science Committee Chair Should Horrify Climate Scientists

Filed under: Politics,Science — PolitiCalypso @ 5:25 pm

It should be apparent that I’m an independent thinker and that, as a scientist, I stick up for the interests of scientists when they are being shamed and harassed by political leaders and activists.  That is why I called out progressive groups that are uninvolved in (and, I suspect, uninformed of) the extreme difficulties of acquiring funding for research and conferences when they attacked the American Geophysical Union for accepting a small amount of ExxonMobil money to help pay for its annual conference.  There undoubtedly are instances for which ExxonMobil, and others in the fossil fuel industry, can be attacked—for actually influencing research in an improper fashion—but that is not one of them.

That said, I also have mixed feelings about the large legal case that involves ExxonMobil potentially defrauding its investors and the public about climate change, because it also involves atmospheric scientists at certain institutions who are climate skeptics and have apparently been funded by the fossil fuel industry.  In the first place, as a scientist, there’s a part of me that is troubled by the thought of the legal system being involved in matters of scientific misconduct rather than the scientific peer process.  I realize that this case involves much more than that, and that ExxonMobil is the party actually in the hot seat, but this is a visceral “do not like” moment nonetheless.

I also don’t like the implication that any scientific researcher who takes money from certain industry sources is automatically suspect.  I was funded by the fossil fuel industry.  While working on my Master’s degree, I did a side project that was funded by money from BP in the Gulf oil spill aftermath.  The purpose was to determine the atmospheric impact, if any, of the oil spill along the coastal wetlands.  I was unable to find an effect.  I suspect now that the reason for this is that the dataset we had available was grossly insufficient for the purpose, and that we simply didn’t have enough money to set up a new, high-resolution network of sensors along the wetland areas.  Detecting atmospheric boundary layer changes in a small area is virtually impossible without a high-resolution sensor network, not that I knew that as a beginning Master’s student.  The work was “put in the file drawer.”  Is it possible that BP knew that we wouldn’t be able to find anything without that superior sensor network that we didn’t have?  I suppose it is, in retrospect.  However, if such a thing is the case, that does not implicate me or any other person working on the project.  I had no correspondence from anyone in BP and no pressure from anybody to find a negative result.  It is possible for someone to have funding from a “suspect” source and come up with negative outcomes and yet for no research fraud whatsoever to have taken place.

If I hadn’t had the BP money, I wouldn’t have been able to get my Master’s degree—or begin a doctorate.  (Although it didn’t fund any part of my doctoral research, without an existing degree, I wouldn’t have been eligible for the Ph. D. program.)  This is the part that, I think, many political activists don’t get.  Funding is hard to come by and we take it where it is to be found.  The overwhelming majority of atmospheric scientists do not allow their funding source to hurt their integrity.

So this is why I have misgivings about political figures questioning scientists about scientific research outcomes that they don’t care for, even when the scientists being questioned are diametrically opposed to me on an important research and policy issue.  I’m not going to comment on the substance of this court case, because I trust that the court can handle it, but if I didn’t have a visceral concern about a court case that involves climate-skeptic atmospheric scientists, I would have to consider myself the worst sort of hypocrite to object to what is being done to non-skeptic climate scientists by the Republican majority of the House Subcommittee on Science.

And that is the actual topic of this piece.

Atmospheric scientists who are not aware of what is going on should be, because it is chilling and could very easily involve them at some point.  There aren’t that many places that will employ atmospheric scientists to work in their actual field of study, but NOAA is one of them.  And the Chairman of the House Committee, Lamar Smith (R-TX), has been doing nothing short of libeling the agency, threatening its employees, and impugning the scientific integrity of every climate scientist who works for it.  That is not an exaggeration.

Last year, Smith sent threatening letters to NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan.  He has also gone to right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart and claimed that NOAA climatologists tampered with temperature data, presumably at Dr. Sullivan’s behest, to advance the Obama administration’s, quote, “extreme climate agenda” (his words).  Scientists have all sorts of valid reasons to revise early data, especially from sources such as satellites.  Satellite data calibration is literally an entire sub-field of meteorology, not that Smith understands or cares to understand that.  Needless to say, this despicable assertion places him in the category of climate skeptic that I can have no respect for whatever:  those who think that scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to commit research fraud.  Like most making this baseless, slanderous assertion, Smith seems to either have no concept of the gravity of his accusation (proven research fraud is a career-ender in science), or he simply doesn’t care.

I suspect it’s the latter.  Extreme climate-change deniers actually do want to put every scientist who disagrees with them out of a job and destroy them personally.  It’s gotten to that point.

Smith has also seen fit to insert himself into the aforementioned court case involving ExxonMobil, which is a state-level matter and over which the House has no jurisdiction.  He has demanded communications from state attorneys general that consulted with environmental and climate-realist nonprofit organizations (as if it’s somehow unusual or corrupt for political figures to talk to nonprofits), as well as from employees at the nonprofits themselves.  He has demanded communication from climate scientists.  For two years he has been conducting his own little version of the Benghazi Committee’s unending witch-hunt, but instead of it being about an event in which a United States ambassador was killed, he has been abusing his position to harass climate scientists—most of whom have had no involvement whatever in policymaking (not that that is an indicator of lack of integrity)—who produced research that has a conclusion he and some of his Committee majority don’t care for.

Think about that.  A Member of Congress who heads up a committee has been summoning scientists to testify and provide him with e-mail correspondence, simply because his committee oversees NOAA and he doesn’t like the conclusions that researchers within NOAA have been finding.  He apparently believes that his role includes making sure that NOAA produces data that the current Congressional majority likes.

If that doesn’t horrify you, it should.  And he is not the only politician to conduct himself like this and abuse his authority.  The former Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, did the same thing to climatologists at the University of Virginia while he was in office.

It’s pretty apparent why climate-change deniers don’t talk about the sun anymore, and don’t usually talk much about nebulous and undefined “natural cycles,” but instead accuse climatologists of producing fraudulent data to further a political agenda.  The thought process, such as it is, seems to go like this:

  1. Scientists receive salary and/or research funding from the government.
  2. NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, which is in the executive branch.
  3. The President accepts the science of climate change and has promoted emissions reduction and clean energy throughout his term of office.
  4. Therefore, all climate science conducted by governmental agencies must be done expressly and exclusively to promote the President’s policy agenda.
    1. Corollary: Therefore, the only reason the scientists could possibly have to revise early data must be political pressure.

Obviously, the fallacy is in drawing a link between a source of funding and the outcome of a scientific research project (or, for that matter, its purpose).  This is why I don’t like it when activists from any side go after scientists’ integrity because of who pays their expenses.  If it seems that I go after my own side harder than I do my opponents, that is because I am more disappointed when my own side engages in shaming, and also because I know that people who already think my field is fraudulent aren’t going to listen to anything I say in defense of it.  Those who are indeed defending scientists from people like Lamar Smith might be willing to hear a scientist’s perspective.

Not all scientists are going to have the stomach for jumping into the maelstrom of politics.  I get that.  I get that viscerally.  It’s actually been a source of—not alienation, exactly, but something close to it, between me and many fellow doctoral students in my department.  They’re pure researchers who don’t want anything to do with politics or policy, while I am not.  But there is another class of scientists out there, scientists who do have an interest in the policy implications of their work, but who think that somehow it undermines their integrity as scientists—or that it presents a conflict of interest—to jump into the fray.

It doesn’t.  An opinion is not a conflict of interest (or if it is, then everyone has one), and an actual conflict of interest does not mean fraud.  Climate scientists who do want to have a say in this sort of thing need to stand up and be heard.  Their 3% of colleagues who are climate-change skeptics may largely be polite and respectful (or passive-aggressive, at worst—and scientists of all stripes have refined that into a fine art).  They may propose some combination of natural climatic cycles that partially account for one source of temperature data, while not really attempting to challenge the enormous mass of data supporting anthropogenic climate change.  But their adversaries in politics are not going to play nice.

They are going to disgrace the dignity of their offices by going to racist conspiracy-theorist media outlets, and baselessly accuse entire governmental agencies—and every scientist in them—of making up data, the very worst thing one could say about a scientist in the professional sphere.

They are going to demand private correspondence from government scientists for open-ended witch-hunts.

They are going to inject themselves into legal cases over which they have no jurisdiction and demand private correspondence from attorneys general and nonprofit organizations.

They are going to call scientists up to Congress and harass them for hours about their research findings.

And sitting back and hoping that they won’t touch you because you’re a pure researcher, not involved in policy, no “conflict of interest”—so very good—won’t stop them from doing it.  It just tells them you won’t fight back.

April 19, 2016

A Response to Progressives About Corporate Funding

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 4:53 pm

Or, How’s the View from That High Horse?

So a week or so ago, the progressive blogosphere declared that meteorologists are partly responsible for public climate change denial because about a third of TV meteorologists are skeptics and don’t go on air making attributions of specific weather events.  Never mind that their markets may include a majority of viewers who are also skeptics and they don’t want to lose their jobs by costing the station viewers.  Never mind that they may not want to make speculations on the air that they cannot prove.  Never mind that it has been statistically shown that partisan political ID is the only demographic factor that correlates significantly with climate change denial, indicating that it wouldn’t even matter if TV weather people did this.

Now the progressive blogosphere is in the process of declaring war on the American Geophysical Union for accepting $35,000 in sponsorship money from ExxonMobil to put on their annual convention.

Do they realize that the American Meteorological Society accepts sponsorship money for its convention from the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and AccuWeather (which donated $50,000 to push for a bill to emasculate the National Weather Service)?  …Or did I just open them up to attack by “exposing” this?

I would like to point out that sponsors DO NOT have input into which abstracts are accepted for publication in conferences or any of the organization’s scientific journals.  They do not apply pressure to distort the science.  This is not about research fraud.  If ExxonMobil offered me $35,000 with no strings attached, I’d take it.  I would not take it if they offered me money to publish “research” showing what they wanted to see, but that’s not what this is about.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Alleging a conflict of interest does not discredit research.  And accepting money for matters that are not even about conducting research doesn’t discredit anything.  It’s simply pragmatic.

I realize that people like this (on the left and the right) like to sit in their ivory towers and pass judgment, but the contributions of sponsors to professional organizations help lower the cost of conference fees to the scientists, observers, and students who attend them.  This makes it possible for attendance to be higher and therefore for more people to be aware of the scientific research that is being presented.

I am aware that there are a number of climate scientists who object to the ExxonMobil money because of the company’s history promoting climate change skepticism.  I understand and respect their concerns, and I don’t think that they are coming at this from a partisan political standpoint, but rather, out of concern for scientific integrity.  But again, corporate sponsors don’t get to influence which research is accepted for conferences or publication.  And as someone who is both a scientist and has a history in politics, I am able to see the pragmatic reason for accepting the money.

Also, there is more than one way to destroy an enemy.  You can either annihilate them, or you can turn them.  Perhaps the high-horse political activists prefer annihilation, but the more reasonable thing to do is to change corporate culture.  Blacklisting a company from a major geoscience conference when the company—like it or not—employs certain geoscience specializations is not going to change anything.  It’s just removing the opportunity for new blood.

If progressives really don’t want professional organizations to have to accept corporate money, they should make an effort to push for massive increases in public funding of science.  NOAA, NASA, the USGS, and other such governmental agencies are also sponsors of professional conferences, and if they had more money allocated for such purposes, perhaps the professional organizations wouldn’t need to look to corporate funding as much?

I do not want to have to consider fellow liberals as enemies, and I don’t.  This is not liberalism as a whole; it is a very specific subset of progressive writers who promote the concept of ideological purity testing even when it is not feasible in the real world.  But I am not going to accept any part of collective responsibility for climate change skepticism in the general public, nor will I accept unrealistic purist attacks upon professional organizations in my field for simply doing what they have to do in an era in which science funding is so hard to come by.  Progressive bloggers are more than happy to use our research to promote their economic and environmental policies, and I accept that that’s just part of the game.  As long as the research is not being cited for conclusions that it does not actually support, I don’t mind that.  It’s politics.  But the sort of behavior that’s been going on lately is starting to look a lot like bullying, and they ought to keep in mind that no one likes to be taken for granted.

March 2, 2016

The Republican Party Can’t Stop Trump

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 5:13 pm

Those who have been reading this blog for a long time are well aware of my stance on most populist movements and my concern over the dual trends of toxic populism and political polarization. Since I’ve been watching populist sentiment for some time, I am therefore not wholly surprised that Donald Trump has become the Republican front-runner.  I have followed the rise of Trump with alarm (and cynical non-surprise, quite honestly), and I believe that a Trump presidency would be utterly disastrous to the nation.

However, there is a selfish part of me that is feeling extremely smug about the Trump phenomenon, I freely admit.  Two years ago I said that if it was “elitist” to believe that people in charge of policymaking should know what they’re talking about and respect the system that works, then I’ll wear the scarlet “E” with pride.  I felt like a voice crying in the wilderness by actively defending a system of governance that was being called “archaic” by social media activists of the right and left, and derided as corrupt both by grassroots activists and popular media such as the Netflix show House of Cards.

I’m not going to pick on entertainment, because it is an artistic expression, but the types of entertainment that are popular at a given moment obviously can reveal the zeitgeist of the culture at that moment.  And it has been clear to me, at least, that we have indeed been in an “anti-establishment” stage for several years, on both sides.  Those aforementioned grassroots activists were (are) angry because they believed themselves to be shut out of the process due to a bias in favor of “special interests” and against “the people,” but in reality they were mostly shut out because they were unwilling to compromise their views to get anything done.  And that goes for both sides, though admittedly more so for the political right.

Finally, some mainstream media outlets are saying what I’ve been crying for years.

The Governing Cancer of Our Time – The New York Times

The Great Money-In-Politics Myth – Vox

There are others, but the point is clear.  Media outlets are finally starting to get it.

Typically, some players have failed to see exactly what is driving Trump’s candidacy (and, to a lesser extent, that of Bernie Sanders, although he is not a dangerous candidate and I consider it unfair for him to be compared to Trump).  The multiculturalist left has decided that the culprit behind Trump is systemic racism of lower-class whites.  The economic left has decided that Trump and Sanders, in different ways, are speaking to voters who have been left behind by globalism and big money.  (The right wing seems to be collectively shaking its head over shots of hard liquor.)  I think these issues may be contributors, but I think the real appeal of Trump actually is his “political outsider” shtick.

Of course, Trump has been involved in politics as a big-money insider for years.  But somehow this man has turned that to his advantage.  “Yes, I know all about how the process works, and it really is corrupt and these people really are evil and bought out by people like me,” is the subtext of his message.  “Everything you believe about it is correct.  And I’m sick of it too, and now I’m going to work on your behalf.”  It’s just like House of Cards’ appeal, I think:  a seeming confirmation of what people want to believe about “the system.”  Except instead of being a piece of popular entertainment, Trump is actually running for the highest office in the land.

For decades, the right wing has pushed a populist message that “insiders” with political experience are somehow inherently corrupt, and that “regular people” are exemplars of homespun virtue and purity.  Indeed, this anti-intellectual message has been extended well past politicians.  This “expert = evil” message has been applied by the hard right to science, academia, and national media, among others.  In my post in which I endorsed Hillary Clinton, I pointed this out.  Do keep in mind that I wrote the following in April of 2015, well before Trump ascended to the top of the GOP polls:

I have come to see the value of expertise in any skilled profession.  Being a “regular Joe outsider” with no experience in policy or governing is not an intrinsic virtue, and we are seeing that play out in Washington and in state governments now, with a crop of new representatives who ran on a “Main Street” populist campaign platform that presented experience as equivalent to “corruption” or “being part of the problem.”  They have strong opinions, but they don’t understand how things get done and don’t care to learn, because they are the virtuous non-politicians (who now hold political office) and they know best.  This is why we have gridlock in Congress and an increase in stupid, blatantly unconstitutional bills introduced in state legislatures.  It’s a destructive, anti-intellectual mindset.  Character and skill (at a profession that isn’t inherently immoral) are completely distinct and unrelated qualities, and people need to start seeing expertise and “insider” status as a good thing again.

Anyone who has been ripped off by a local business or had bad dealings with a neighbor can see the fallacy.  Some people are all right and some are prone to corruption, and it is something that can rear its ugly head in literally any context.  But because many “regular people” simply don’t know any politicians, policymakers, or experts in general, they can readily dehumanize them.

Trump has ascended to be the front-runner for the Republican Party nomination because for thirty years, GOP-aligned media outlets (talk radio, Internet) have cultivated this “folk wisdom” about the purity and goodness of those who disrespect the political process and the inherent evil of those who want to work within it.  He is impervious to the attacks of the Republican establishment because they are coming from the Republican establishment.  Everything an establishment figure says against him affirms his message that “the system” is out to screw the regular guy over.

The Republicans have cultivated this anti-intellectualism for years, and they are powerless to stop it now.  Even if they manage, somehow, to stop Trump himself, it will at this point probably be by the quintessential “crooked insider” shenanigan of denying him the party nomination in a brokered convention.  That would only fuel the firestorm even more.

The Democratic nominee can stop Trump, of course, and quell “Trumpism” for a while.  This is especially true if Trump actually ends up fracturing the race into a three-person contest, which he very well might.  If Trump gets a clean nomination (by earning a majority of delegates), there are quite a few mainstream Republican figures who say that they would vote for Hillary Clinton simply to repudiate Trump.  A resounding vote seemingly in favor of “the system” (and she represents it in spades) and against Trump’s anti-intellectual populism might shut it down for a while.  This is what I hope happens, a new respect given to “the process” after having to face, collectively, what destroying “the process” actually looks like.  But the GOP cultivated this for a long time, and it will take a long time for it to truly cease to be a political force.

October 20, 2015

Carbon Taxes: Where I Stand

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 6:03 pm

I complain a lot about the divergence of political ideologies toward their extreme points, and the accompanying (or causative?) increase in ideological “team” or “tribal” identification, but I’ll give this much to the people who do it:  It makes it easier for people to understand exactly where you stand.  One of the difficulties of staking out positions on a case-by-case basis (as opposed to accepting the entire package of an ideology) is that others may sometimes become confused as to exactly what views you support.  At worst, people may think that such a person is a crank who mindlessly rails against everything, when in fact the person is just thoughtful.

I grumble about environmental policy positions of the hard left.  This is not because that element of the hard left is the most offensive to me, but because the cause is—and always had been—the most important policy matter to me.  I care more about progress being made in it, and I’m a pragmatic idealist.  I happen to believe that pretty much any suggested regulation from these people that is aimed at private individuals would be counterproductive.  People tend not to like “the government” telling them what to do in their own homes, especially if it causes financial hardship or personal discomfort.

And the fact is that a lot of these ideas would do both.

I am in support of a corporate carbon tax.  Corporate taxes are already handled very differently than individual taxes, so the legal precedent exists to impose a carbon tax on business (large business, even, given that small businesses are often exempt from any manner of tax laws that apply to business) without doing it to individual households.  And if companies wanted to avoid the tax consequences of high carbon production, then their options would consist of carbon offset purchases (or donations to environmental causes, perhaps) instead of squirreling money into tax-free accounts.  I think it would be a net benefit to everyone.

I am not, however, in support of an individual carbon consumption tax.  In a time where the middle and working classes are already squeezed and unable to get ahead, this type of tax policy could impose an even greater burden.  Furthermore, it would be unequally applied and arguably regressive.  People who were fortunate enough to live in areas with public transportation, multifamily housing, and the like would have lower carbon usage than others.  Given that in urban areas, poor neighborhoods are usually underserved by public transit, and that the rural poor often have no options at all except personal vehicle ownership, the transportation part of the tax could very easily become highly regressive.  Furthermore, let’s look at those vehicles.  People who cannot afford a new, efficient car, or an upgrade to their existing one, would be penalized by a carbon tax as well.  One could even argue that people who eat meat, dairy, or buy leather would be penalized, as would people who lived in historic properties and did not have the money to insulate them.

People would also be penalized based on the climate of their location.  Those in highly temperate climates, such as the Pacific Northwest, would have lower home energy usage than those in the Northeast corridor (hot summers and cold winters), the Southeast (very hot summers), the Plains and Midwest (very hot summers and very cold winters), or, well, pretty much anywhere else.

And sure, a corporate carbon tax would penalize businesses in regions with extreme weather conditions more than it would penalize businesses elsewhere.  But unlike private individuals, businesses have more ability to pay for the upgrades to make their facilities more energy-efficient.  If such a carbon tax were to be implemented, it would even make sense to extend credits to businesses for making the upgrades, on top of the advantages that would be in place under the tax code once it took effect.

In sum, I don’t think an individual carbon tax is good liberal policy or politically pragmatic.  It could antagonize huge swaths of voters and possibly even open up a rift between the environmental community and the “economic justice” faction of the left.  However, I would favor a business carbon tax.  It would bring in extra revenue, give large companies fewer options for evading taxes, and result in lower industrial emissions from any sector subject to it.  Perhaps it would be ideal to reduce individual consumers’ carbon footprint too, but I think the best and most pragmatic way to do that is to encourage the production of greener products on the market, to offer tax credits (rather than imposing tax penalties) for green choices, and phase people into a new energy economy without slapping them with a regressive tax in an era of economic hardship.

September 8, 2015

Decoupling Climate Science Acceptance from Political Beliefs

Filed under: Politics,Science — PolitiCalypso @ 6:30 pm

As readers of this blog are very aware, the radicalization of American politics is one of my personal pet issues.  Social scientists and other observers have studied it in greater detail by far than I have, and their findings bear out my own anecdotal observations.  Increasingly, self-identified conservatives and progressives do not only hold diametrical political opinions, but they also identify with diametrically opposite non-political positions and make opposite lifestyle choices because they believe that is what good conservatives/progressives ought to do.  The rural/conservative-urban/liberal association is only becoming stronger, for instance, and part of that is that there is increasing migration to communities for political reasons.  This particular phenomenon is, I think, creating myopia on both sides about how to deal with large-scale problems, because what works for one type of community might not do at all for another.  More on this later.

It goes deeper.  Rigid conservatives and rigid progressives enjoy different types of entertainment:  The progressives want to feel “global” and “multicultural” and so they partake of foreign art films; the conservatives want to feel “patriotic” and seek out military-themed movies; neither side wants to watch what the other side likes.  They make certain dietary choices based on what “their people” are “supposed” to eat.  They engage in different hobbies.  And they do it on purpose, for reasons of political identity, rather than because of natural preferences.  It’s “the personal is political” taken to the nth degree.  If that sounds like cliques and social interaction in junior high (“cool kids don’t like X; they like Y”), well, that’s because it pretty much is the same thing.  It’s incredibly toxic, and it has expanded to many other aspects of life.  What I’m going to discuss here in depth, however, are climate science acceptance/denial and opinions on climate change mitigation policies.

I’m an atmospheric scientist.  I have written on many occasions about how it feels like a personal attack for someone to deny that anthropogenic climate change is taking place, because in almost every instance now, the claim is not that something else is causing climate change, but that climatologists are engaging in mass data forgery.  Accusing a scientist of research fraud is character defamation of a very serious degree.  Those few (but loud) skeptical climatologists also like to beat the drum of “advocacy” every time one of their non-skeptical colleagues expresses a political opinion about what should be done.  This is a less overt, non-explicit insinuation of misconduct, because it is empirically irrelevant if a scientist holds a given opinion about their research as long as the methodology of that research is sound.

The skeptics’ shift in recent years from proposing alternate testable hypotheses (the sun’s causing it all, interactions of atmospheric-oceanic teleconnection patterns are doing it, etc.) to accusing 97% of climatologists of research fraud is, I think, yet another manifestation of ideological polarization.  No longer is it okay on the hard right to accept that the climate could be changing, even if one doesn’t accept that we are causing the greatest part of it.  And it is certainly not okay to accept that we are changing it.

Why is that?  I think that for many people, unfortunately, it’s just an emotional reaction to side with their “team” in any circumstances.  But for some, probably especially those who are the most articulate and influential on their side, I think there’s something else going on.  After all, if we accept that the climate is changing, then at a bare minimum that calls for community resilience measures.  If we accept that we are doing it, that calls for us to cut back on what we’re doing.  Hardening and mitigation call for the government to regulate private-sector activity.  The concepts are linked and can’t be taken apart.  Right?

Actually… wrong.

Accepting a scientific finding does not logically require accepting a policy prescription.

It is absolutely possible to believe that the climate is changing due to human activity and also to hold the political opinion that we shouldn’t regulate anything relating to that change.  “Freely choose to adapt or die” is a position I have seen at least one very politically conservative meteorologist advocate.  This is not my own position, of course, but it is one I can at least respect, because it accepts empirical scientific data.  This scientist correctly recognizes that he can hold his chosen political ideology without believing that his colleagues in climatology are engaged in mass scientific misconduct.

Accepting a scientific finding does not logically require accepting a policy prescription.  That does not just go for general policy prescriptions, or (in the above example) the political opinion regarding whether anything at all should be done as a matter of regulation.  It also goes for specific policy prescriptions.

Accepting anthropogenic climate change does not require advocating punitive taxes on the purchase of animal products (food or otherwise).

Accepting anthropogenic climate change does not require advocating punitive taxes on home energy consumption.

Accepting anthropogenic climate change does not require advocating punitive emissions penalties for cars.

Accepting anthropogenic climate change does not require advocating “smart fuel pumps” that read one’s odometer, check it against a database, and assess a tax based on miles traveled.

There is a reason I have mentioned those four policy ideas, by the way.  It is because I am an atmospheric scientist who accepts anthropogenic climate change and I am against every single one of them.  A couple of them I’m against in any circumstance, and the other two, I’m against as one-size-fits-all national policies.  I generally do not favor using the heavy hand of government on private individuals in this situation, for a variety of reasons.

First, it’s not politically pragmatic.  It is arguably counterproductive, in fact.  People respond much better to the carrot than to the stick, and I do support measures such as tax credits for making the choice to get a green car or to upgrade one’s home.

Second, it is large-scale industrial operations that have a greater effect on the global carbon dioxide balance, and private citizens do not often have much say-so in broad corporate policy.  Not even through their buying choices, at least when we are talking about the power sector or the automobile industry, which are almost impossible for new competitors to enter that are not already very well-funded (and even then face difficulties, such as the determination of some states to lock out Tesla Motors from selling to people because they do not use a dealership model, but sell directly to drivers).

Third, consumers often have limited choices, especially for big expenditures.  Not everyone can afford a new, highly efficient car.  Prior to the new standards requiring 35 mpg, not that many cars even were highly efficient, let alone affordable ones.  Not everyone can afford a home renovation to become greener.  Not everyone has access to public transportation or carpooling options, and not everyone can afford to move closer to work.

And finally, the fourth reason I’m against the broad application of this sort of regulation is that it is a one-size-fits-all approach that is utterly inappropriate in some situations.  For instance, on the subject of personal energy consumption, it is not even safe to forego heating or cooling in some regions during winter or summer.  A limited-AC-usage efficiency prescription that isn’t that onerous for San Francisco would be a major public safety hazard in Atlanta in the summer.  (Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the US.)  The same thing is true for car usage:  If a municipality wants to have strict emissions standards for privately owned vehicles, that is defensible when reliable public transportation is available in the area and perhaps they want to discourage driving when other options exist.  It is potentially quite onerous in areas where your options are generally to drive to work or not work at all.  And even in those cities where it is defensible, it makes sense to offer exemptions in cases where people cannot afford new vehicles or vehicle modifications.  We were able to implement mandatory health insurance coverage without imposing a harsh burden on people who can’t afford it, after all.  Even in large cities with good public transit, there are some situations when people need to use a car instead.  Public transit may take you to work, but it generally can’t take you everywhere you need to go unless you happen to live in a place like New York City.

Sustainability must be fine-tuned to localities, in fact, because areas will have different needs.  In fairness to right-wingers who complain that “liberals” always think in terms of how things are in “liberal cities” (San Francisco, Portland, New York, etc.), I’ll even grant that some of these suggestions, when considered for the entire country, do appear that way, since they work so poorly outside of such areas.  But this cuts both ways.  For instance, I will argue down anyone who is against any emissions testing at all in large cities.  I have been in East Coast cities where, even leaving aside carbon dioxide emissions, particle matter and ozone can create truly oppressive—and hazardous—health conditions.  I have felt my chest constricting on “code orange” ozone days.  I’ve coughed up blood on high particle matter days.  If your own experience is limited to medium-sized towns and suburban communities where this does not happen, then you too should remember that other types of environments have different needs, and your community’s situation shouldn’t be the blueprint for policies everywhere any more than the communities that your political adversaries often live in.

I know that it may be difficult for people accustomed to thinking in terms of “us versus them” politics to consider that “mixing it up” is even possible, but it is.  It is possible to accept climate change science without supporting the entire hard-left policy package… or even any of it.  It is possible to think that some things should be done without believing that they should all be done exactly the same way everywhere.  From my own admittedly biased perspective, I think it’s not just possible, but preferable to think that.  This us-versus-them, with-us-or-against-us, no-gray-area form of politicking benefits nobody, not even those who do it, except in the very cynical way of perpetuating their own existence by always having an “enemy” with whom common cause is impossible.  It certainly doesn’t achieve anything concrete for the issues themselves.

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