Mythbusting

Buzzing around some circles, Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question seeks to challenge conventional ‘left’ perspectives about climate change.  The post, regretfully, is an interesting — yet troubling — mix of right on the money, partial truths, and misleading elements. Now, as an aside, my very first reaction on reading the post is that the author (Erik Linberg) should read the Debunking Handbook (as should anyone looking to tackle half-truths and outright deception with counter arguments).

To #ActOnClimate like quitting #smoking: Always good idea. Should have quit smoking 20 years ago, but quitting now is still smart! #Climate

— A Siegel (@A_Siegel) November 24, 2014

Putting that aside, let’s take the six points quickly in turn. (These points are restructured to align with Debunking Handbook guidance.)

  1. Liberals are in some denial about climate change: Yes, this seems to be almost a truism.  Relatively few people are fully grasping how seriously humanity is impacting the global system and what that means for us as individuals, our families, our societies, and the prospects for our concept of modern human civilization. Linberg’s focus on ‘denial’ is that liberals don’t see how seriously things need to change in order to have a real impact on climate mitigation.  As per below, there is reason to think that Linberg does not understand many opportunities that exist to address climate challenges while maintaining (actually improving) quality of life.  It is a truism that too many think that screwing in a few LEDs is enough to get the job done.  Yet, “liberals” are more likely to understand that there is an issue and that ’society’ should be taking action to address it.
  2. Republicans do merit extra blame: As do businesses & pundits undermining public understanding of climate science and the necessity of and opportunity for meaningful action. There is a simple truth: some people are actively forestalling actions to address climate change.  The dominance of the GOP by science deniers undermines even modest moves toward a more efficient and less polluting energy system. This undermines respect for science, reduces resources for necessary research (in climate science, energy technologies, etc), and otherwise weakens the foundations for addressing climate change in the United States.  Granted, it is not clear that Democratic Party control of Congress and the White House would result in an ideal response. After all, President Obama promotes an “All of the Above” energy policy and promotes the use of natural gas.  However, Democratic Party control would, without question, have in place policies and programs that would do more to combat climate change than proposed GOP policy.

Lindberg asserts that Republicans don’t merit additional responsibility for the situation. Simply put, he is wrong.  As Dave Munger put it:

Everyone burns fossil fuels, including Democrats, therefore Democrats are just as much to blame as Republicans for global warming.

Right. Because Republicans are so on board with emissions caps, or carbon taxes, or efficiency standards for light bulbs and appliances. So since liberals don’t think we can all just hold hands and magically reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, they’re just as much to blame for lack of political progress on global warming as conservatives? There’s a myth at work here, but I think it’s going on in the minds of idealists like Lindberg than in todays ‘liberals.’

  1. Renewable energy and energy efficiency can replace fossil fuels: We have massive technological advances (breakthroughs) going on in the energy efficiency and clean/renewable energy arenas.  From ARPA-E electric fuels to carbon-fiber nanotubes to better power storage.  There are viable paths to make synthetic fuel at near zero carbon emissions (life cycle), at an affordable price, at significant amounts by 2030.  There are some really fascinating technologies in waste biomass to liquid fuels. Despite Khosla’s public slap in the face in the Washington Post (e.g., utter failure), there are some potential breakthroughs in the labs.
  2. We have the potential for a better lifestyle — changed from today’s, but better — if we would go full hog into a clean energy future. But Lindberg rejects the concept that renewables can displace fossil fuels. His discussion is informed by some energy experts but doesn’t take account of the advances underway and the opportunities for substitution. When it comes to transportation, renewables don’t have to replace one-for-one all the liquid fuels used today. Road transport is becoming more efficient and migrating toward using more electricity (with PHEVs and EVs). The benefits of electrifying transportation are not limited to cars however.  There is a huge opportunity for electrification that is barely discussed in the US:  electrification of rail. Rail, directly, uses roughly 330,000 barrels of diesel per day.  Electrification wouldn’t, however, just eliminate that but would enable transferring truck cargo onto rail lines.  Roughly, electrification — with zero other improvements — increases rail capacity by 15% due to increased acceleration/deceleration/control by shift to electric motors.  Also, rail electrification would open the door for grid connectivity for distributed generation options as every rail spur now is ‘connected’ to the grid and a potential location for solar/geothermal/CHP selling power to grid/wind.  Here is one Steel Interstates discussion.

    In addition to technologies, we are seeing huge changes in business processes that are driving down costs to, for example, deploy solar panels.  Also, insurance is beginning to incorporate climate risks which can change the financial industry.

  1. The Knowledge Economy can be low carbon: Innovations are creating opportunities for improving living conditions while cutting emissions. Again, there are some tremendously interesting things going on.  The internet has changed social dynamics — people socialize virtually. Getting places can be more efficient because you’re less likely to get lost using the GPS guidance. 3-D printing is changing manufacturing — which will impact the container ships Lindberg discusses as some form of insurmountable hurdle.  Lindberg doesn’t discuss the potential that we could replace much of our livestock with vat meat (with a fraction of the carbon implication and pretty close to ending the morality issue of how animals are treated/slaughtered). Lindberg asserts that the knowledge economy can’t be low carbon.  He is simply wrong. The Knowledge Economy can enable a low-carbon future: if we adopt the policies that will enable this future.
  2. We can reverse Global Warming without drastically changing our current lifestyles: We do need to think about changing our lifestyles and consumption habits. No, we can’t buy our way to a sustainable future. No, we can’t maintain a hyper-disposal culture.  Thus, at the highest level, Lindberg is right — a clean energy future won’t be seamless. However, much of the change can be for the better. Think ‘invisible energy‘.  A few decades ago, the average refrigerator used 1750 kilowatt hours per year. Now — with ice makers, larger sizes, quieter operations, no more manual defrosting — they are roughly one-third that. Well insulated and energy smart homes (and offices and stores) are not just lower polluting, but also healthier, quieter, and more comfortable. Yes, we will need to see lifestyle changes — but much of that change can be to the better.
  3. There is something I can do: Lindberg is mostly right here but he leaves out a critical individual action that we can take.  He tells us that it is a myth that “there is nothing that we can do” and then lays out examples of personal action.  Yes, you can do something.  But, it is staggering that Lindberg focuses on the individual and individual action without talking about the most critical element — vote to change the system for the better.

In short, “Six Liberal Myths” is a combination of interesting material mixed with pablum and truthiness.

Editor’s note: An unedited version of this post first appeared here. Image credit courtesy Wikimedia Commons by Victor Korniyenko. 

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