The adaptation trap and the nonskeptical delayers (like Roger Pielke) — Part 1

The wheels may be falling off the media’s climate discussion, if a new L.A.Times piece is any evidence. The piece, “Global warming: Just deal with it, some scientists say,” which is really an article about not dealing with it.

The L.A. Times, with the help of the delayer-1000 du jour, Roger Pielke, Jr., has brought to prominence (and fallen for) what I call the “adaptation trap”:

The adaptation trap is the belief that 1) “it would be easier and cheaper to adapt than fight climate change” [as the Times puts it in the sub-head] and/or 2) “adaptation” to climate change is possible in any meaningful sense of the word absent an intense mitigation effort starting now to keep carbon dioxide concentrations below 450 ppm.

Sorry for the long definition, but as we’ll see, the second part is especially critical in what has now becaome an important emerging policy debate, which is cleverly devoid of specifics. (Indeed, on his blog, Pielke says he was misquoted and denies he believes the first part, which actually makes the L.A.T. piece even lamer, as Grist’s Dave Roberts shows). And being misquoted doesn’t mean Pielke isn’t very wrong anyway — as we’ll see at the end, Pielke is so confused about adaptation and mitigation that he takes the prize for the most backward analogy in the history of the climate debate and unintentionally proves just how wrong he is.

You see, as I’ve been arguing, the real question for the world is not whether we can stabilize below 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide if we try hard enough and fast enough — of course we can, and at a very low cost according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which self-described “nonskeptical heretics” like Pielke claim to believe in.

The real question for humanity is whether we can avoid 800 to 1000 ppm or more. That is what the delayers and nonskeptical heretics simply don’t understand. At 800 to 1000 ppm, the world faces faces multiple catastrophes, including:

  1. Sea level rise of 80 feet to 250 feet at a rate of 6 inches a decade (or more).
  2. Desertification of one third the planet and drought over half the planet, plus the loss of all inland glaciers.
  3. More than 70% of all species going extinct, plus extreme ocean acidification.

[I will explore these and other impacts in more detail in Part 2.]

This Hell and High Water could be “adapted” to by billions and billions of people only in the sense that the citizens of New Orleans “adapted” to Hurricane Katrina or that people in Darfur have “adapted” to their military conflict. Such “adaptation” is better called “suffering” as former AAAS President John Holdren describes it in talks.

What will it take to avoid 800 to 1000 ppm? Remember the IPCC bombshell from last year:

Based on current understanding of climate carbon cycle feedback … to stabilise at 1000 ppm this feedback could require that cumulative emissions be reduced from a model average of approximately 1415 [1340 to 1490] GtC to approximately 1100 [980 to 1250] GtC.

That means that to have confidence of avoiding 1000 ppm, we need to have average annual carbon emission substantially below 11 billion tons a year, or average annual carbon dioxide emissions much below 40 billion tons a year. Note: We’re at about 30 billion tons of CO2 annually and rising more than 3% a year. We’ll probably be over 40 billion by 2020. Just staying at the 2020 level for another 8 decades would require immediate action and strong national and global measures for a century.

That of course is why I try not to waste a lot of time debating skeptics/doubters/deniers/delayers/”heretics”/climate-destroyers until and unless they answer the question:

“If you were running national and global climate policy, what level of global CO2 concentrations would be your goal and how would you achieve it?”

If you can’t or won’t answer that, then in my book blog you’re a “Delayer-1000” meaning it is time to start recounting the likely impacts of 1000 ppm and move on because such a person is not a serious contributor to the climate debate.

I posed the question to Pielke on this blog over a week ago — but he offered no reply. I have gone through the past few months of his posts — oh, the things I do for this blog [don’t worry, readers, I had plenty of coffee on hand] — and can’t actually find out what specifically he would do, which is typical of delayers.


He does endorse analysis by Chris Green, who thinks emissions targets are the problem and that cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2050 [which is needed to stabilize at or below 450 ppm] is “for all intents and purposes out of the question” because “the replacement of fossil-based energy systems by carbon-emission-free system to any significant degree awaits science and engineering-based technological breakthroughs.”

Yes, it’s the old “technological breakthroughs” canard, or as I call it, the “technology trap” — the first and last refuge of those who either don’t really want to take action or who understand less about energy technology than they do about the climate. To repeat an as-yet undebunked point I’ve made many times (most notably here but also in talks to some of the leading energy experts in the world) — in the energy arena:

  • Technological breakthroughs hardly ever happen.
  • Even when they do happen, they rarely have a transformative impact on energy markets, even over a span of decades.

If we had to wait for multiple science and engineering-based technological breakthroughs to stabilize below 450 ppm (or even below 800 ppm), then we could write the obituary for a livable climate right now. But we don’t. I (and others) have laid out the key solutions many times in this blog (and at length in my book), and I will detail more of them this year. But I digress.

No surprise that Pielke has become a fellow at the Breakthrough Institute — yes this is Shellenberger’s and Nordhaus’s think tank, which should tell you all you need to know (see here and here and here and here and here). That said, S&N support Obama’s terrific climate plan, so I’d be quite interested to know if Pielke does too, because if so, he isn’t a Delayer-1000 (but then again, he wouldn’t be a “heretic” either).

Pielke’s use of the term “nonskeptical heretic,” which he coined, is of course a clever and wholly unjustified attack on real climate scientists. After all, “Heresy is a challenge to a prescribed system of belief, especially a religious one.” The firm belief in the urgent need for action is not a religious belief. It is a rational response to our scientific understanding of the problem, as I’ve explained, which is based on a well-tested theory and many real-world observations — the oppositive of religion.

Pielke isn’t a heretic of anything. He is a delayer, maybe a delayer-1000.

One thing is for certain, Pielke is very, very confused about adaptation and mitigation. He calls for “rejecting bad policy arguments when offered in the way of substitutes for adaptation, like the tired old view that today’s disaster losses are somehow a justification for changes to energy policies.” This tired old view straw man is not a primary justification for changes to energy policy made by any climate or energy expert I know. Hurricanes and major droughts are used to to indicate the impact of permanent changes like sea level rise and desertification — I make that argument all the time.


Lots of adaptation is inevitable, in part thanks to the success of the deniers and delayers. The question is whether we are going to have lots of (avoidable) suffering too, because we failed to do enough mitigation fast enough. And this brings us to one of the biggest howlers I’ve ever seen in the entire climate debate, from Pielke’s recent post:

If mitigation advocates do not like being told that their misleading arguments poorly serve policy debate, well, they should probably try to come up with a more robust set of arguments. Arguing that support for adaptation undercuts support for mitigation is a little like making the argument that support for eating healthy and getting exercise (adapting one’s lifestyle) undercuts support for heart surgery research (mitigating the effects of heart disease). Obviously we should seek both adaptation and mitigation in the context of heart disease.

No, no, no, no. No wonder Pielke is so confused. He labels adaptation what is in fact mitigation, and his idea of mitigation is apparently research into adaptation. This must be the most backward analogy I’ve ever seen. He actually makes the best case against himself.

“Eating healthy and getting exercise” are not “adapting one’s lifestyle” — they are changing one’s actions substantially to prevent heart disease in the first place. That is prevention. That is mitigation. Switching your diet is analagous to switching to low-carbon fuels. And if eating healthy means eating less, or eating less of bad foods, that would be energy efficiency. Exercise may be closer analogy to driving your car less and riding a bike instead.

Heart surgery is adaptation — it’s waiting until the bad outcome has occurred (heart disease) and then trying desperately to save yourself with no guarantee of success. Lots of people die on the operating table or later from complications. Pielke apparently thinks the best that mitigators can do for people at risk of heart disease is research into methods of better surgery for dealing with it.

The correct analogy is that mitigators want to prevent heart disease in the first place, with things like diet and exercise, since adapting to heart disease may turn out to be impossible for many people, no matter how great our surgical/medical means of adapting is. Some people with heart disease will have to restrict their activity, others will have a shorter life or be in constant pain, and others will simply die of a heart attack or complications from surgery.

Such adaptation is a gamble with possibly catastrophic outcomes — whereas smart mitigation can with high confidence dramatically decrease one’s chances of bad outcomes (like heart attacks and death) and dramatically increase one’s chances of good outcomes (a long healthy life). Sound analagous to our current dilemma? So let’s focus the vast majority of our effort on immediate and strong climate mitigation to minimize suffering, and do what adapation we are forced to by our unconscionable delay.

This is a sufficiently important subject that I will continue the discussion in Part 2, focusing on the inadequacy of adaptation, especially in the face of 800 to 1000 ppm.


67 Responses to The adaptation trap and the nonskeptical delayers (like Roger Pielke) — Part 1

  1. Ralph F says:

    “Climate Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.”

    Non-partisan?! – laughable bunk. You folks have no credibility in the climate debate. You are nothing more than partisan warriers using the climate issue to try to advance your larger political agenda.

  2. Dan G. says:

    Thanks Joe for this summary. It’s obvious from Pielke’s confused analogy that he is a partisan warrior who has no credibility in the climate debate. He is just using the climate issue to advance his own agenda.

  3. Sorghum Crow says:

    Non-partisan, hmmm, that might be a stretch, but remember truth has a notable liberal bias.

  4. Joe says:

    I try very hard to be non-partisan. Some Republicans deserve praise and get it on this blog. Some Democrats deserve criticism and get it.

    Now, nonpartisan doesn’t mean I’m not pro-progressive and anti-conservative — although I must confess that I don’t see how the refusal to conserve our resources and the refusal to conserve our livable climate and the complete disregard for the health and well-being of our children and indeed all future generations really deserves the label “conservative.” That strikes me as an agenda of radical change for the worse being imposed on billions of people not yet even born.

    I actually think my views are quite conservative. I would actually call them pro-life if the term had not been co-opted for other purposes.

  5. Sorghum Crow says:

    Well said Joe. It still amazes me that somehow that conservation and conservative are from the same root word.
    I appreciate your blog and all the information you get out there for us.

  6. JCH says:

    Adaptation to climate change is what got Ann Richards elected.

    The Republican bimbo who was running against her compared bad weather to rape, and said, “as long as it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it”.

  7. Phil says:

    Mitigation = doing something about it now, whatever the financial cost

    Adaptation = doing nothing (for specious financial reasons, usually) and waiting for Darwinian processes to take their toll – why worry, we’ll just evolve into a leaner, meaner species…

    Well, that’s the impression I’ve always got after reading RP Jr’s posts.

    Joe, you’re one of the most insightful climate commentators on the net, keep up the good work.

  8. Ken Levenson says:

    Slightly off topic but if the LA Times article wasn’t bad enough – the Boston Globe managed to turn it into a pure act of journalistic negligence…. They cut the damn thing off after the 12th graph! Check it out:

  9. David B. Benson says:

    con·ser·va·tive Pronunciation (kn-sûrv-tv)
    1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
    2. Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.
    3. Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.
    a. Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism.
    b. Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.
    7. Tending to conserve; preservative: the conservative use of natural resources.
    1. One favoring traditional views and values.
    2. A supporter of political conservatism.

  10. Bob B says:

    Joe, I am sorry but you are nut case

  11. dinosaur says:

    There is not enough frozen ice in the world to bring the water up 250 feet.


    If the world is supposed to turn into a desert how come deserts are filling in?

    Sea levels are not rising the models might predict that they WILL but if you measure they have not.

    It was warmer 1000 yrs ago.

  12. Robert says:

    I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter which side of the debate you are on. Trillions of words have been written and spoken and absolutely no action of any sort has taken place to reduce emissions. Right now the politicians and public seem to have even less interest in the issue than even a couple of years ago.

    Joe – I even think you don’t understand the real nature of the solution. It will never be enough to run our lives more efficiently. Cars that do 100 MPG will solve nothing – it will just allow more people to drive more cars longer distances. See

    The CO2 problem comes primarily from burning fossil fuels. We therefore need to (a) extract less and less coal, oil and gas each year, and (b) leave most of it in the ground. What people use it for is secondary and something the markets can discover for themselves.

    Finally, people need to realise the problem is POLITICAL and GLOBAL. Technology will not solve it. Voluntary action will not solve it. The markets will not solve it. The only thing that will solve it is heavy handed political action, laws and regulation. When are people going to get real about it?

  13. Ken Levenson says:


    Your question:
    “If you were running national and global climate policy, what level of global CO2 concentrations would be your goal and how would you achieve it?”

    Have you read “Heat – How to stop the planet from burning” by George Monbiot? He describes a plan for 90% reductions. I’d be very interested in hearing your take on it. Because it’s my sense of things that we need 90% reductions and fast….

    I think we need to shoot for 350ppm “asap” – maybe 425 by 2050 and then 350 by 2075 in round numbers. I don’t have the slightest idea (beyond my little checklist) of how structurally to get there. (I’ve got your book though and will start it very soon.)

  14. Andy says:

    I guess I don’t necessarily agree with you that technologic breakthroughs hardly ever happen. At least the perception is that they do. Hence, the reason so many folks think the answer to all of our problems is just around the corner. The green revolution, electronic revolution, space travel, etc. After all, there are folks alive today who were around during the first flight at Kittyhawk and the flight to the moon.

    It’s a shame, really, as there are certain problems that aren’t going to be solved so easily. Today there are many economists, politicians and religious leaders who say that limiting population, or consumption, or energy use is, as Dick Cheney put it, austerity measures versus a necessity. As if putting a brake on our desire to consume was a personal lifestyle choice rather than absolutely critical for humankind’s continued survival. I believe if more Americans went hungry or without electricity and, unlike the poor who do this often; had the nation’s ear, then we could perhaps move on.

    So, there’s an interesting story in today’s NYT (on-line) about a world wide shortage of rice. It blows me away that economists treat food demand as elastic. Yes, when the price of food gets too high we can always choose a more cheaper substitute; starvation. The story notes that drought in Australia (predicted by global climate models to occur more often as the earth heats up) and other locales is contributing to the shortage.

    Look folks, this is the beginning wave of overpopulation hitting up against the wall of global warming induced crop failures. We’re in deep doo doo and we’d better get serious about treating the earth as if we’re going to be around a while.

  15. Robert says:

    I read “Heat”. It is the ultimate book for the technofixer but entirely ignores the real issue which is POLITICAL. Until by some micacle our global political system reoganises itself in a way that would allow it to make policy and apply it nothing will change.

    I read somewhere recently that the market makes a good slave but a poor master and an even worse religion. We go where it takes us and only the politicians can alter its course.

    Before that there is the small matter of we, the voters, providing a mandate to our politicians. Given the lack of interest, knowledge and foresight exhibited by the average voter that might take a while.

    We’re doomed, but at least the likes of Joe, Monbiot and Kunstler are making a good living out of it.

  16. David B. Benson says:

    Ken Levenson stated “I don’t have the slightest idea (beyond my little checklist) of how structurally to get there.” I’m not sure what you mean by ‘structurally’, but in a comment on the Hansen-350 thread I proposed burying biocoal until the goal of 350 ppm is reached. That will take about 70 years.

  17. Robert says:

    How are you going to get people to do it?

  18. David B. Benson says:

    Robert — Dunno. Enlightened self-interest? My ball-park estimate is that it would require about 1% of the world’s GDP per year, assuming no changes in current CO2 production.

  19. Robert says:

    For those that may not have understod my earlier comment about efficiency being no solution, this article explains…

  20. Joe says:

    I’d say 450 ppm requires 2% of global capital — not wasted, but simply redirected.

    Efficiency is a major solution. The article you site is not actually true, but I haven’t gotten around to debunking it.

  21. Ken Levenson says:

    David Benson,

    Won’t a reliance on biocoal foster the same sort of problems as biofuel does in general? Time magazine has a frightening article on the accelerating destruction of the Amazon due to biofuel production. I blogged about it here:

    To me “efficiency” is just the wrong frame – it’s about Conservation (conserving the amount of stored carbon). Efficiency is in service of conservation. (And so knocking efficiency, Robert, seem to me a straw man argument.) Does the conservation targets need to be mandated? Given our propensity to spend everything we might otherwise save – I should think so. Isn’t that what “cap’n trade” is all about?

    Finally, Robert, I think people are realizing that the problem is political and global now – unfortunately we must wait for the next administration to see the publics shift demonstrated in public policy. There are many reasons Bush’s approval is below 30% and I’d say his environmental/energy policy has been a growing factor.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Ok. Suppose the carbon dioxide is stabilizeed at 450 ppm. Then to get back to 350 ppm, because the other organisms on the planet require it, and to do so at an even rate for about 64 years via burying biocoal requires about $485 billion per year.

    What is the DoD yearly budget again?

  23. David B. Benson says:

    Ken Levenson — No. Anymore than the production of ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil has anything to do with the destruction of the Amazon rain forest via illegal logging. (Sugarcane won’t grow in the climate of the Amazon Basin.)

    There is lots of land which is netheir ariable nor in forests which can be used. The linked report goes into the details:

    but can be summarized by simply saying first, Africa, and second, South America.

  24. Ken Levenson says:

    Those projections rely on “surplus agricultural land”? Seems to me that with the coming “interim” droughts and desertification of lands around the globe, the surplus agricultural land is going to quickly vanish. If so, biofuel/biocoal stops being part of the solution pretty quickly too.

    On the first part, the Time article clarifies that the acceleration of the Amzaon’s destruction isn’t a domestic ethanol issue but a global commodity pricing issue. I fail to see how biocoal doesn’t exacerbate this problem.

  25. Bill Reiswig says:

    When I read the statements of people like Roger Pielke Jr., and the idea that it will be less expensive to adapt to climate change than change our patterns of energy consumption and production, I feel that those who argue for a strong climate policy have a friend in also communicaing the danger of fossil fuel depletion.

    I have read quite a bit of information about oil, natural gas, and coal depletion, and I think it is very clear that 30-50 years from now we will face vast shortages of these fuels. Its very clear that we have already tapped, drilled and dug for the highest quality fossil fuels and we are now relying on Oil Sands, Expensive Deepwater, Liquified Natural Gas, and thinner and thinner seams of coal. We cannot much longer fuel our level of consumption with second rate fossil fuels… the production and political issues will break under the strain.

    A simple arguement for conservation and renewable energy can easily be made to those that understand the very real risks of climate change. But the fact remains that even some smart climatologists like Roger Peilke Jr. are hesitant for wholesale and radical change in energy policy.

    I feel if we all widen the debate that the risks to America are national security, economical, environmental, and political we stand a better chance of changing minds. My experience is that people of all walks of life are increasing aware that our fossil fuel use is disfunctional and unsustainable on many levels. We must always convince those that equivocate on change of the broad variety of issues that are touched upon by our insane energy trajectory.

  26. Ken Levenson says:


    A quick thought on the whole delayer/denier label.
    I don’t think the terms convey they horrendous damage they are doing: 1. confusing lazy media coverage 2. delaying substantive debate and policy formation 3. marginalizing concrete action to fight global warming’s worst effects.

    Looking back in history for a similar dynamic/movement – the one that jumps out at me are the Nazi sympathizers.

    I think it’s imperative for the debate to move beyond this absurd cost/benefit analysis – it doesn’t matter the cost, we MUST fight global warming with everything we’ve got. Anything less and we are sympathizing with our self-destructive world.

    So the delayers are, in effect, global warming sympathizers. I’ll try to flesh this out more in my own blog – but I’d be interested in any thoughts you might have about such a provocative notion.

  27. Robert says:


    “Efficiency is a major solution. The article you site is not actually true, but I haven’t gotten around to debunking it.”

    You simply can’t dismiss Jevon’s paradox so easily. Making devices more efficient also makes them more attractive and cheaper to run. That makes more people want them (maybe not in the US where there are more cars than people!) but globally, definitely.

    Efficiency will certainly be a factor in making energy descent more politically palatable, but the process has to be founded on a global political decision to ramp down fossil fuel use year on year and to eventually leave as much as possible in the ground. Its the carbon in the fuel that is elevating atmospheric CO2, not inefficient cars.

    Joe – please take the time to “debunk” the site. Then I’ll “debunk” your debunking!

  28. Robert says:


    Having re-read your article carefully, you fail to answer the question you yourself pose:

    “If you were running national and global climate policy, what level of global CO2 concentrations would be your goal and how would you achieve it?”

    If you can’t or won’t answer that, then in my book blog you’re a “Delayer-1000″ meaning it is time to start recounting the likely impacts of 1000 ppm and move on because such a person is not a serious contributor to the climate debate.

    My answer is this:

    Have the UN license every coal mine, oil and gas well in the world to produce no more than a set quantity of coal/oil/gas. Reduce the limit by an agreed percentage each year.

    If countries won’t sign up to that then at least it will be obvious they don’t give a stuff about climate change. Under this regime there would be no need to enforce complex mandates such as CAFE standards. In the face of scarcity fuel prices would rise and the market would work everything else out for itself.

  29. Joe says:

    I don’t answer the question in every post. You can find it on the blog without much trouble.

    Obviously U.S. (and other countries) would never go for UN licensing. But it is a proposal. What is you target?

  30. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    RE: What Global Warming?
    Hello Joe!

    GO:, scroll down, click on “Station Temperature Data” and check out the many remote weather stations whose temperature records show no global warming.
    In particular, check out Death Valley and Alice Springs.

    Then go read “What the Stations Say…” and the late John Daly’s criteria for selecting these particular remote weather stations.

    Note the dominance of El Nino events over that of La Nina. The ENSO is the main contribituter to the so-called global warming since the mid 1970’s. This prolonged and intense El Nino condition came to an end in mid 2006, and the current La Nino event may turn into a cool climate condition the could last upto 30 years. The graph starts at 1950, but the La Nina condition actually started in 1941-42.

    Carbon dioxide has little or no influence on the greenhouse effect which dominated by water vapor aka steam.
    GO: http://www.clearlight./com/~mhieb/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

    Monte Hieb is a mine safety engineer and works the WV Dept of Mines

  31. Joe says:

    Gosh. One of the hottest places in the country hasn’t shown warming (I’ll take your word for it) and a mine safety engineer says the entire physics and climate community is completely wrong. How could I have been so wrong???

    Gimme a break. It is called GLOBAL warming. CO2 is the principle human-caused GHG. It helps drive up water vapor in the atmosphere.

    If you have kids (or nieces or nephews), please tell them you think this global warming stuff is bunk. They’re gonna want to know who to blame in a couple of decades for humanity’s self-destruction.

  32. Danny Bloom says:

    I guess my adaptation idea of a thought experiment with polar cities is NOT your idea of a good idea. But would love to hear your thoughts on it one day, pro or con.


  33. David B. Benson says:

    Ken Levenson — It is not ‘surplus agriculture land’, but rather semi-desert turningh to desert in the Sahel, the destroyed soils in Madagascar, etc. All of these locations will grow something and could be used as biomass for biocoal manufacture. But these locations are not currently suited for agriculture, for which there is ample decent land.

    Biocoal production would not contribute to the problems in the Amazon so long as no biomass there is used. There are plenty of other locations.

  34. Jim Bullis says:

    I gave up on good government action a long time ago. There are a lot of possibilities, but they will come about when they make business sense.

    Who cares whether a solution comes from sustainable fuels or reduced fuel usage. It all depends on the magnitude of the impact.

    Many of the possibilities for producing sustainable fuel become reasonable in scale, when the scale of fuel usage is drastically reduced. It simply is not going to be possible for the world population to ride in SUV luxury, accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds, and cruise at 90 mph. And of course, we must always have an empty right front seat next to us, in case we might someday have someone to ride in it. I almost forgot, the car must also be a fashion statement. I value the need to travel fast, but the rest of it is nonsense.

    There is so much progress possible by getting over our notions about what is important in transportation. There are some real ideas (click my name) that should be implemented before we further disturb the food supply.

  35. Earl Killian says:

    Jim Bullis, without government action, California’s electricity use per capita would be twice what it is today. Please see . page 12. Compare California to Texas, for example.

  36. Earl Killian says:

    Robert, efficiency does not necessarily lead to more usage. The California electricity efficiency experience (see link in previous comment) over 30 years suggests that efficiency can hold per capita usage constant.

  37. Earl Killian says:

    Ken Levenson, “global warming sympathizers” is too kind. How about “global warming promoters” or “climate destroyers”?

  38. Jim Bullis says:

    Earl, I think the cost of electricity has something to do with it, but I generally concede your point. Well maybe.

    The only thing I have done differently is to gradually convert to fluorescent light bulbs. I did not need help from government to get this done.

    I think appliance standards helped.

    But then again, the regulations blocked the use of absorption refrigerators, that run on heat from burning natural gas. I think they used the flawed concept that electric energy is comparable to heat energy in natural gas, without reckoning on the fact that electricity is really only a carrier of energy, and it requires a heat engine of some kind to produce it. I suspect that the government (I think this was the US govt.) did not get much help from the electrical appliance industry or the electrical power industry on this. The same is probably true for air conditioners.

    I am interested in this because the absorption type cooling devices could be an important part of the distributed cogeneration system that I talk about (click my name).

  39. Earl Killian says:

    Jim Bullis, the cost of electricity probably did have something to do with it. California electricity does cost more than many places in the U.S. However, the average bill is about the same, because Californians use less.

    You may have gone CFL early, but here in California our utilities pay us to do so. My local store has PG&E paying a large % rebate (at the cash register) on purchases of CFLs. Why would the utility pay to have you use less of their product and generate less revenue? Because their profits are not tied to revenue. This is called “decoupling”, and it should be the policy in all of the U.S. The utilities actually earn greater profits from negawatts than megawatts.

  40. Robert says:


    Sorry, but I think there is a lot of muddled thinking over “the solution”. The review of your book suggests steps that need to be taken to cut emissions. A simple understanding of market economics tells you that these measures will fix nothing in isolation.

    How are hybrid cars and “a California-style energy-efficiency effort nationwide” going to change anything? If America uses a little less fuel all that happens is the global price reduces a bit, making it that bit more affordable to someone else in some other country. The bottom line is that if you dig the stuff up out of the ground someone, somewhere will find an economically viable reason to burn it.

    Your whole approach is very US-centric and comes over as little more than anti-Bush / pro-Democratic party propaganda. I’m not a US citizen and I get really tired of Americans thinking they have some special place in the world order. You don’t. You don’t even command moral leadership ouside your own borders these days. With the rise of India and China the US is rapidly becoming just another player on the field.

    When I first started thinking about how a mechanism for reducing emissions might work I thought a UN administered global carbon tax might work. The problem with this though is that there is no control over how the revenues might be spent and puts no pressure on the public sector to cut their own emissions, so little prospect of actual reductions in CO2.

    Like it or not, the only solution that truly has a chance of working is to, literally, control how much fossil fuel is extracted. This would be relatively simple and transparent to administer and more or less guaranteed to work. All sorts of efficiency improvements, downsizing and conservation would FOLLOW such a regime, but such things would never be able to DRIVE it. The level of extraction and the annual reductions would be adjusted to achieve agreed targets in atmospheric CO2 levels.

    You state:

    Obviously U.S. (and other countries) would never go for UN licensing.

    If you really believe that we may as well give up now. And you can join your delayers-1000 club!

  41. Earl Killian says:

    Robert, there is no single magic bullet. Plug-in cars and California energy efficiency are just components in a larger program. Joe does lay out a larger program in his book.

    The “special place” that the US occupies in the world is its position as the number 1 contributor to climate disruption (based upon cumulative greenhouse gas emissions). The world cannot solve global warming without the US. Therefore it is very appropriate for Joe to discuss US solutions.

    Also, the US appetite for imports may be a lever that is some day used to help bring other nations into the solution. If the U.S. ever manages to leads on GHG reduction, the next step will to be to tax imports based upon GHG emissions of the source country. If China and India haven’t imposed their own caps at this point, they may be forced to by such an import tax.

    I think it slightly more likely that the U.S. will go on a GHG diet than it will cede any authority to the U.N. The hostility of the U.S. to things like the International Criminal Court seems to be deeply ingrained; neither Republicans or Democrats seem much interested in giving up the right to “do as we please” in the world. That is regrettable, but it is also a good reason to make sure solutions don’t depend upon ICC-like structures. Even getting a reasonable treaty passed these days in the U.S. is next to impossible, because it is unlike to get a 2/3 majority in the Senate. It is much easier to pass things that require a “mere” 3/5 vote.

  42. David B. Benson says:

    So long as the U.S. (and the Aussies) contribute about twice as much per capita to the problem as the next contenders, in the E.U., a focus on the U.S. (and Australia) seems a place to start.

  43. Joe says:

    Robert: You haven’t read the book. I don’t just lay out U.S. solutions.

    But I focus on the U.S. since we are by far the biggest cumulative source of CO2. Right now, the fate of the world is in the hands of a few countries, and the U.S. and China hold the key.

  44. Robert says:

    Earl – I agree with your comments, and they don’t just apply to the US. Politicians the world over put “doing as we please” (and economic growth) way ahead of reaching a meaningful global agreement on climate change.

    I conclude from this that the countries of the world, either individually or collectively, will not actually address climate change and will in fact continue to mine fossil fuels to exhaustion.

    The point I have been pushing in my last few posts is that measures have to be REAL. A few half-hearted “green” taxes and product standards is just window dressing / greenwash, makes a few people feel good but achieves absolutely nothing. You can even level this charge at Kyoto itself. As such these activities just delay the process.

    The acid test of any measure is whether it actually results in year-on-year reductions in CO2 emissions. Since these are hard to measure and to attribute accurately, it is better to focus on the proxy of fossil fuel extraction, a much easier thing to track.

    Due to the logic of “the tragedy of the commons” it is pointless for any one country to go it alone, whatever their position in the world pecking order. If we cannot self-organise through the UN then the problem will not be solved.

  45. Joe says:

    Robert — I don’t agree about the U.N. The UNFCCC process is worth continuing, but it is too unwieldy. We mostly need a deal between the U.S. and China and several other countries. But if you can’t get China, nobody else matters.

  46. Robert says:

    One other point – about “per capita” emissions.

    Per capita levels are something of a distortion because they take no account of population growth. These 2 graphs show (a) global emissions and (b) per capita emissions:

    Per-capita graph has been flat for 30 years, but overall emissions just keep rising. This tells us that our per-capita emissions must fall at the same rate as global population growth (currently about 1.8%) just to stand still.

    For the US to achieve an 80% per-capita reduction AND compensate for its population growth AND contract and converge with the rest of the world frankly defies belief.

    No different here in the UK BTW!

  47. Robert says:

    Joe – You need every industrial country to sign up. Not just that, they have to sign up to something meaningful (i.e. nothing like Kyoto.

    Happy to leave Sudan out of the process though!

  48. Earl Killian says:

    Robert, at least in California the goal is explicitly a 90% per-capita reduction in GHG emissions, to compensate for population growth. This results in an 80% reduction in California’s GHG emissions.

    Technically this is quite achievable. There is no technical reason that California cannot get all the energy it needs from wind, solar, and geothermal. Passenger transportation using EVs is only a matter of deploying the vehicles; no new technology is required. Electric rail will help with long-distance freight, and algae biodiesel could power other freight, and perhaps air travel. Space heating could transition to solar and heat pumps. I don’t know how what we’re going to do about steel making, concrete, and asphalt, but perhaps that is what we’ll spend our 10% allowance on in 2050.

    Politically I am unsure. The recent decision by California to severely cut-back its already devastated ZEV program was not a good sign.

  49. Robert says:


    Yes. Unfortunately it is all BS, as this article makes clear:

    “…the electric power industry’s carbon dioxide emissions have risen 5.9 percent since 2002 and 11.7 percent since 1997.

    The new EIP report shows that the 10 states with the biggest one-year increases in CO2 pollution are: Texas, Georgia, Arizona, CALIFORNIA, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia and North Carolina.”

    We are making no real progress over here in the UK, but at least things aren’t getting any worse. Mind you, CC is drifting off the agenda and with North Sea gas running out our coal consumption and emissions are likely to rise sharply in the next few years.

    Joe – maybe it isn’t obvous from a US perspective, but deals between major emitters are viewed with great suspicion. They are generally seen as a cosying up of trading partners and nothing more than a delaying tactic designed to undermine the UN/IPCC process.

  50. Joe says:


    “maybe it isn’t obvious from a US perspective, but deals between major emitters are viewed with great suspicion.”

    How can they be viewed with great suspicion when their haven’t been any such deals yet?

    Of course, Bush’s big emitters effort was viewed suspiciously. Everything he does is to accelerate global warming.

    But both Clinton or Obama have said they’ll launch a big emitter effort. It’s a good idea.

  51. Thanks for an informative piece!

    When you say “Technological breakthroughs hardly ever happen”, I could not agree more. I have been arguing this for some time. But I am curious as to what led you to this conclusion. Have you written a piece on this matter? Any references?



  52. Patrick49 says:

    Censorship of and delete factual posts ????

  53. Robert says:


    “But both Clinton or Obama have said they’ll launch a big emitter effort. It’s a good idea.”

    Everyone SAYS they are going to do something, even John McCain. I think the UK and the EU have some sort of similar stated intention to cut emissions by 60% (or was it 80%).

    The trouble is that it is all just words and no-one notices if it doesn’t happen in their short term of office.

    I am getting very irritated that none of you will talk about this issue of how we set goals that mean something and the perverse effects of efficiency improvements! There has to be some basis in mathematics and logic for a climate policy and I just don’t see any in what you are saying. Pinning down one variable but leaving all the rest to roam loose is not going to cut it, and the only variable that means anything is a strict measure of how much coal, oil and gas we burn.

  54. Earl Killian says:

    Robert said “Yes. Unfortunately it is all BS, as this article makes clear”.

    First, I don’t know what “it” refers to in your sentence, but let me comment on the data you cite.

    That data is for 2006. Those 10 states account for 58% of the U.S. population increase in 2006. California grew by 0.72% in 2006. It also signed its emissions cap (AB32) into law in September 2006. Are you suggesting that passing a law should have retroactively undid emissions of that year? That would be quite a trick. In fact the law set 2010 as the date for state agencies to adopt regulations to start reductions to 1990 levels by 2020 (about a 30% reduction). The 80% target is by 2050. Similarly, the Renewable Portfolio Standard is supposed to see 20% renewable power generation by 12/31/2010. Yes, I would say California’s cap is late (it should have acted in the 1990s when it became clear the Federal government was AWOL), but it has now done something. Whether it will follow-through is the question you raise. I think we need to wait and see. I did comment that its action on ZEVs was not a good sign, but I don’t think we can judge the future entirely on that.

  55. Earl Killian says:

    Robert, I agree about political promises. After all, George W. Bush said is was going to do something about global warming in 2000, but simply reversed himself in 2001. McCain, Clinton, or Obama might do the same. California’s AB32 is a bit different: it is legislation. It is a bit harder to ignore compared to a stated intention. Is the 60% UK goal politicial verbiage, or is it legislation?

    AB32 is aided by other laws, such as SB1078 (the Renewable Portfolio Standard), SB1368 (the law that prohibits power dirtier than natural gas baseload), and AB1493, which limits greenhouse gas emissions of vehicle sales. I could go on. Do you have these sort of laws in the UK? (real question, not rhetorical)

  56. Paul K says:

    Your pessimism is misplaced. Don’t know what’s up in the UK, but here in the U.S. the rate of CO2 emissions increase has slowed significantly in this century. In 2006 there was an actual reduction in emissions. Figures for 2007 are not yet available. The Energy Information Administration in the Department of Energy has most of the info on sources of emissions you seem to think is unavailable. Realistic goals are being set. Just about every state has legislated alternative energy targets that utilities must meet. Even in a slow automobile market, every hybrid produced is quickly sold. The idea that efficiencies make the problem worse is bunk.

  57. PATRICK49 says:

    It is apparent that Joe can’t take the truth about the lack of evidence that CO2 is the cause of global warming. Like Al Gore whose movie was held by the British Court to contain eleven, count them 11, inaccurracies, was a propaganda film and could not be shown in British schools without clarification and explanation of the inaccurate statements, Joe continues the Gore doom and gloom propaganda. This is evident as posts on this site are deleted if they provide evidence or question Joe’s disaster forecasts.

  58. Robert says:

    Earl and Paul – I just think your whole view of the subject is too focussed on some relatively minor politicking in a few parts of the US. How can you take Califonia seriously when its govenor drives a fleet of Hummers and washing lines are banned?

    “Nearly every one of California’s 35,000 home-owner associations have ruled against clothes lines, according to an anti-nuclear, nonprofit organisation called Project Laundry List. ”

    For a view of the global picture the annual BP energy review is a good place to start: If you flick through the “compressed slide pack” the long term global trends are very obvious and all heading smoothly in the wrong direction – upwards. It would take WW3 to turn it around (in my humble opinion of course…)

    A couple of years ago I began what turned out to be an interesting social experiment on a domestic scale. By making various changes to our household arrangments I have managed to cut our electricity consumption to 60% and our gas to 35% of where it was 2 years ago. My wife and children have absolutely no interest in climate change or energy, so this all had to be achieved without noticably impacting anyone’s lifestyle. Conclusion – a lot can be done, but I’m starting to feel like a mug and about to give up because the rest of the world refuse to take the issue on board and make the same level of effort. I see far less signs of this happening in the UK now than a couple of years ago.

  59. David B. Benson says:

    PATRICK49 wrote “…the lack of evidence that CO2 is the cause of global warming.”

    (1) CO2 is a global warming (so-called greenhouse) gas. Established physical fact for at least 150 years now.

    (2) More CO2, more warming. Established physical fact for at least 100 years now.

    (3) CO2 increasing in the air. Established physcial fact for 50 years now.

  60. Patrick49 says:

    Mr. Benson,
    Joe has deleted at least two posts of my posts which provide data and question your and his assertions about CO2. Ask Joe to restore the posts and perhaps you can answer the questions raised. Then a discussion can commence in a reasonable manner.

  61. David B. Benson says:

    Patrick49 — First go read the established science. Start with

    if you need to, and then read

    The whole thing. If you still have doubts, be sure yoou understand how science provides the best information about how the universe actually works, not how we might want it to. You might wish to begin with

    After all that, I am sure that you and I can find another blog to mind-wrestle if you actually still think you know more about it than the hundreds of thousands of scientists who, as there career, study climate and related matters such as oceanography, etc.

  62. Robert says:

    Robert Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    March 31st, 2008 at 6:22 pm
    Excuse me, what the xxxx is the moderation shite about?

    I am not a Bushite global warming denier. I care greatly about CO2 emissions and despair of all the non-solutions that are toted round the internet. Sorry if Joe sees this as a threat to his book sales.

  63. Joe says:

    Mellow out, Robert.

    WordPress automatically holds any post for moderation with multiple links because such posts are more likely to be spam.

    I was eating dinner and didn’t get to post it yet. Jeez.
    And yes, I’ll accept an apology.

    Patrick — you keep running the same long-debunked disinformation, and, as noted earlier, I’m not gonna waste my readers’ time with it.

  64. Patrick49 says:

    Not debunked and not all the posters on your various threads are acolytes of what Professor Lindzen refers to the religion of global warming. There are any number of scientists who are not convinced by those who claim to be the only source of what is to be debated, discussed and believed. Are you unable to answer the three rather basic question or simply avoiding a reasoned debate that would probably raise issues that you prefer to bury?

  65. Patrick49 says:

    Mr. Benson,
    What are your oceanographers saying about the 3,000 Argo monitors that have not found evidence that the oceans are warming? Have you checked lately? And did you really mean that hundreds of thousands of career scientists are global warming advocates, haven’t seen that number before, any verifiable source? Since Joe has deemed my comments and questions unworthy of posting and a waste of his readers’ time He would probably deny any effort to discuss your three assertions about CO2 causing global warming since that was the point of the comments He refused.

  66. Paul K says:

    I can’t speak for Earl, but assure you he is one of the better global thinkers on electricity. Best of all he walks the walk and so, from your comments, do you. You wrote “My wife and children have absolutely no interest in climate change or energy”. Did you believe in AGW at the time? If not , what is your view of it now? If you did believe but it did not factor in your decision, what was the more important consideration? I have been saying there are other perhaps more compelling reasons than AGW to eliminate fossil fuels. It is apparent you are neither a denier nor a delayer. In fact you are ahead of the curve and I thank you for illustrating my point.

  67. Robert says:


    My interest started with peak oil in2003, this spread to the wider (un)sustainability issue of our entire civilisation, which has been built on the basis of gobbling up global resources at an exponentially increasing rate with no thought wahtsoever for what happens when they run out. I have read books by Heinberg, Kunstler, Monbiot, Jared Diamind and others and follow sites such as and

    I have a particular interest in AGW and think the IPCC if anything are guilty of understating the case. My views are more in line with James Hansen The IPCC tend to understate the case because the positive feedbacks are not well understood and they cannot gain consensus without being conservative, whereas Hansen expects these feedbacks to accelerate the process and to cross irreversible tipping points as we do so.

    Peak Oil has the greatest following in the US and I think this is because they realise they will be hardest hit and soonest. This is because they consume so much, import 2/3 of it and have a built an infrastructure that depends so heavily on it. My sympathy for the Peak Oil camp has diminished greatly because it is centred around the selfish needs of a particular segment of the current generation. Conversely AGW will chiefly affect future generations and the rich can buy their way out of the problem, at least for a while. This makes it a much easier problem for the US to ignore and deny.

    At a personal level I have installed a wood burner so that we no longer require gas C/H, full wall and roof insulation, CFL’s throughout, clothes drying by line in summer and in front of the wood burner in winter, putting PCs in standby or off whenever possible. It is quite hard work but shows how much can be achieved fairly easily. My wife and I work from home so use cars very little and I work on my client’s systems (software development) remotely.

    Joe – sorry. This was maybe an overreaction spawned from my experience on the BBC message boards where anyone who refuses to tow the party line has their posts instantly removed and their accounts cancelled!