The Action Distraction

The Obama Administration’s early leadership on global warming seems to have stirred up the climate skeptics, cynics and deniers again. Now they’re trying to discredit not only climate science, but the climate scientists President Obama has appointed to advise him.

But none of the squabbling in the media matters. Once the science debate moves outside our laboratories, classrooms, science journals and that part of the blogosphere that knows what it’s talking about, it becomes not about science but about entertainment.

For those of us who are not scientists, action is what’s important. We need not let the science debate put us off. Why? Because climate change is an issue where you don’t have to agree on the problem to agree on the solutions.

There are other reasons not to be distracted from bold and timely action.

One is the well-known Precautionary Principle. It was either Gore or Arnold Schwarzenegger, I believe, who explained the Precautionary Principle with this analogy: Suppose your daughter is sick. You take her to 10 doctors. Nine of them diagnose cancer; the tenth disagrees. Do you treat her for cancer? Responsible parents would say yes. We can argue about the prognosis, we can differ on our estimate of how quickly the cancer is progressing, but we need to treat it.

Another reason is what we might call the Wealth of Benefits Principle, the basis of my statement that you don’t have to believe in climate change to accept that taking action is a great idea. The prescription for fighting global warming – a shift from fossil fuels to low- and no-carbon energy — has so many benefits that we’d have to be misanthropes, anthropomaniacs or Armageddonites to argue against it.

To illustrate, take this test: Do any of the following appeal to you?

1. Dramatically reducing childhood asthma and suffering from other illnesses caused by air pollution from vehicles and power plants.
2. Lowering the strain those illnesses put on the health care system and its costs.
3. Ending the subsidies we send to terrorist organizations with our purchases of gasoline and other petroleum products.
4. Plugging the massive hole in the national economy, in which we transfer huge amounts of American wealth to oil-producing nations.
5. Creating the equivalent of new tax-free disposable income for every energy consumer (that’s all of us) by improving the energy efficiency of our vehicles, homes, businesses and communities.
6. Unhitching the economy from supply disruptions and price volatility associated with fossil fuels, including extortion by unfriendly oil-producing nations.
7. Ending the many other damages to humans and the environment caused by fossil energy production, including oil and slurry spills, groundwater contamination, the dumping of mine wastes into waterways, the demolition of mountains, and the loss of wilderness and wildlife habitat to drilling.
8. Minimizing the loss of life and property in the U.S. and worldwide to drought, wildfires, floods and record-breaking hurricanes.
9. Reducing traffic congestion so we have more time to court our spouses and play with our kids.
10. Living in communities where the essentials are no more than a 15-minute walk or a 5-minute bicycle ride away.
11. Being able to eat fish without fear of mercury poisoning.
12. Making it far less likely that we will have to send our children to war to seize foreign oil supplies.
13. Creating millions of green jobs that can’t be exported overseas.
14. Making much of our own electricity on our rooftops rather than paying utilities to do it, and powering our cars with green electric energy rather than paying Exxon Mobil and the other oil companies to do it.
15. Traveling between cities on modern, high-speed trains rather than waiting in airport security lines, being frisked by TSA, suffering delays and missed connections, and losing our luggage on airlines.
16. Helping the poor in America and in other nations achieve a decent and sustainable standard of living.
17. Creating a national energy system that is less vulnerable to terrorist attack, sabotage and outages caused by natural disasters.

Some critics of the majority opinion on climate science are making an honest attempt to challenge what we know so far, and to advance that knowledge. But other protagonists get their kicks by jumping into the public arena to play smash-mouth over climate science. Some do it for attention and media play. Some have been paid by the carbon industries to discredit the work of their colleagues. But don’t be distracted by the show.

Whether you’re a true believer, an atheist or an agnostic on climate change, we have a common job to do and it’s time to get to work.

— Bill Becker

14 Responses to The Action Distraction

  1. Gail says:

    You had it in the analogy but not in the list – reducing cancer. Speaking as the mother of a young woman who was diagnosed with mediastinal large B-cell diffuse lymphoma at age 23, who had absolutely no contributing factors other than growing up in a world with polluted air and contaminated food, this is big on my list.

    Also, saving trees and shrubs (and maybe food?).

    Hey look I got techy in my old age and put up a link to pictures. I just took these quickly yesterday, it was very overcast. Now that I know how to do it, I’ll add more:

  2. Fantastic article. The global warming debate has overshadowed a number of other environmental issues. Burning fossil fuels is not only about carbon emissions, it is also about a number of other toxic emissions.

    Also, had the US followed the way of Brazil (moving to ethanol), it would would burning a greener fuel produced by American farmers. Farming would have been a wealthy sector of the economy for the last three decades instead of being subsidized.

    Henderson’s large-scale environmental strategy (see )could lead to a rapid development of and shift to the renewable energy sector.

    Tags: renewable energy strategies

  3. Bill Woods says:

    “Suppose your daughter is sick. You take her to 10 doctors. Nine of them diagnose cancer; the tenth disagrees. Do you treat her for cancer? Responsible parents would say yes.”

    They would!? Put her through chemo/radiation/surgery on the strength of one opinion? I can see shopping around for a confirming opinion, but why ignore the opinion(s) of the other 9 as to the nature of the problem?

  4. Maarten says:

    We could add to the list of benefits of shifting away from carbon:
    – Levying an “atmosphere usage fee” (aka tax) on carbon would allow lower taxes on labor and capital, thereby putting more people to work and better remunerating the providers of capital.

    – Avoiding further acidification of the oceans.

    – Reducing traffic noise (a huge stress factor for millions of people) by shifting from ICE to electric drivetrains (batteries, or later, fuel cells)

  5. I like to look at the risk to benefit ratio. This is the basis of the very direct thinking Manpollo Project…

    It almost does not matter if the science is fully accepted, the risk of catastrophe is so huge that we should proceed as if it is correct. The analogy is polio… we could never say that we knew we would get polio, we just knew that taking the vaccine was a very wise way to reduce the risk. Or we don’t know that we will die of lung cancer, it is just a smarter risk to never smoke or do things that could trigger that cancer.

    Aside from the logic and science, Denilaists/ Delayers are asking us to accept insane amounts of risk. I feel icky just listening to them.

  6. Bill Woods says:

    Oops. I misread the post.

  7. Baerbel W. says:

    Thanks, Bill for the post and Richard for mentioning! What really got me actively involved with climate change was watching wonderingmind42’s YouTube videos and his common sense recommendation to employ a credibility matrix for ones sources and risk analysis to determine a path forward. I try to follow’s motto “Get informed and let it change you” and my biggest wish is that others will do the same.

  8. boya says:

    Avoiding further acidification of the oceans.

  9. söve says:

    Thanks, Bill for the post and Richard for mentioning!

  10. Bill Becker says:

    Thanks to all who are helping grow the lists of reasons why we need to act. They are plentiful — much more plentiful than my short list — and some of them, as we see from Gail’s reply, are intensely personal.

  11. Anthony, rabid doomsayer says:

    How anyone cannot see the evidence of man made global heating, after seeing as much data as some of the deniers so obviously have seen, is beyond me.

    I can only conclude that they are putting a political ideology before the welfare of the entire world. They have sold their souls.

    There is still some considerable debate about how bad how soon, about which vectors are co responsible for specific events. That is not the same as saying global heating is questionable. The evidence is widespread and overwhelming.

  12. Rod Adams says:

    Bill – I am glad that you mentioned the actions necessary rather than focusing on just the diagnosis.

    One of the reasons I have some demonstrated difficulty sleeping and thus spend part of each night trying to compose new essays on energy production methods is that I see the dangers that are already here and that face us in the future. At the same time, I have personal testimony to share about atomic fission power as an important tool in the fight against continued dependence on fossil fuel combustion, but many climate change activists – including Joe, our host here – seek to deny the fact that fission provides reliable, cost effective power without releasing much CO2 at all considering the entire fuel cycle.

    I know there are cost challenges, but ANYONE who has ever been inside a nuclear power operation without being able to make a list of dozens of excessively costly practices simply was not paying attention.

    It is also frequently repeated that it takes too long to build nuclear plants to make a difference, but that notion is also disputed by history – the Shippingport nuclear plant went from ground breaking to full power operation in three years. There have been other notable and more recent success stories and there are 17 applications for new plants that are already working their way through the NRC here in the US.

    During a rather brief period of time from 1965-1995, despite massive organized opposition, a couple of financial crisis, and a period of both double digit inflation and interest rates, we still managed to build enough nuclear power plants in the US to displace more than 400 million tons of coal per year. We could have eliminated coal fired electrical power if we had simply kept up the already established pace instead of following people like Nader and Lovins and choosing to work hard to dismantle the entire industry.

    During that same period of time, we also built about 150 submarines, and about 20 surface ships that were propelled using nuclear reactor power plants. We could have expanded that technology to the commercial shipping world, but again politics and pressure from the fossil fuel lobbies slowed down the transition.

    If fission is clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine, it is clean enough to consider as a potential solution to our climate change crisis.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

  13. Peter McEvoy says:

    There are great points here. Well done.

  14. Col says:

    This message needs to get out more. In fact, I think it needs to be at the centre. Don’t accept the science? Fine. Here’s a policy / program / action / project that in all likelihood will [insert positives here: ex. create jobs, increase security, save money, reduce oil dependance, enhance our democracy, improve employee morale, etc., etc.] — so, are you in?

    People connect to possible solutions from a whole bunch of different angles. Moreover, people don’t really get science and are as a group pretty concrete in their thinking. We all know skeptics or deniers who do things or espouse actions that are or would be climate-helpful. If I talk to my financial advisor about a rapidly destabilizing climate he gets pretty edgy, but talk about reducing his commute time and the possibility of going to work on a train and he resonates with me entirely. I know of a politician who stood for hours in public denoucing the science, but he is so environmentally concerned about waste that he has spent vacations going to places that have different approaches to the problem. Because waste generates GHGs upon decomposition, he’s actually helping, or trying to help fight climate destabilization. The Bush administration mandated more employee teleworking than any other administration before it. Why? It saw employee teleworking as a security solution (i.e. greater operational continuity in the face of potential terrorist attacks).

    The list goes on.