Monday, January 25, 2010

The Unsolvable Climate Problem

There is a lot of gas being passed on both sides of the climate debate.

Especially, almost no one seems to be realistic, and those who are accused of needing medication.

For example, this op-ed in High Country News by Auden Schendler and Mark Trexler merely says "It's time to take radical action on climate change."


Their article is just a bunch of the usual platitudes, unhelpful and completely ineffectual. Not a single person on the planet is going to do anything differently in response to their tepid complaints.

Go ahead -- change your light-bulb from incandescent to CFL -- big deal.

Schendler and Trexler don't take a single microsecond to discuss how to take a "radical step" or how much that will cost, and where that money is supposed to come from.

They're talking about "radical steps" -- by which I suspect they mean building a civilization with on carbon emissions. Do they have any conception at all of how much that would cost or how long it will take?

Just as an order of magnitude calculation you'd have to guess about $100T, and at least 40-60 yrs -- if we started tomorrow, which we won't. And they don't present any reason why we should start tomorrow. With children starving in this country and especially abroad....

Look, no one is more convinced than me that in the long run (60 yrs? 100 yrs? 150 yrs?) our societies will be suffering from global warming and climate change, and perhaps very seriously. But, even though I understand the science, I have no idea how to convince anyone of that -- not this society, not with this educational base. People, frankly, do not have the education to understand it, and lack any moral basis of concern for future generations. We are rampant with greed and selfishness. And no one is going to pay ~$10^3/yr to solve the problem. Period.


So what are we supposed to do?


Anonymous said...

The way to do it is to bring LFTR technology of the shelf. LFTR is the "green" nuclear technology already developed in the 60s.

LFTR has no co2 for those concerned about co2 while at the same time is a serious low cost (1/2 of current nuclear) energy source that can serve as the foundation for a competitive economy.

$10B over ten years to build a demo plant and begin deployment. Cheap!


Anonymous said...


I invite you to check out LFTR at

You have a physics degree. You can understand the info on the site. Join the forum. Ask any questions you like. There are a lot of very capable engineers/scientist on the site. The technology attracts both warmers and skeptics.


Dano said...

I see very few non-Repub think-tank analyses that show $1k/yr costs. Oh, there will be costs, as we will need to pay the piper for our waste. But I don't see $1k/yr.

But we will change our behavior in response to price shifts, absent education and rational decision-making. And the vested interests know this, hence all the misinformation for the past 25 years.



bob said...

Emit vast quantities of sulphur hexafluoride into the atmosphere to make a point

Auden Schendler said...

The point of our essay wasn't to lay out solutions, it was to point out that inaction itself might produce a solution. Doing nothing could well lead to a panic that creates the political conditions for radical change, in the form of new and effective goverment and corporate policy. And that change could occur very rapidly. In the absense of such a panic, or some similar shift in public values or understanding, it's probably true that we don't solve this problem.

journo said...

I think a lot of our problems lie in the U.S.'s, on average, poor education system. At least regarding science education. But also on education in general. (I'm a sucker for good humanities-based thinking, which gets at the questions of how to live a good life - you know, which I think matters on these types of issues.)

From what I hear, people in China, where they "worship scientists" (in the words of a former colleague who will remain unnamed), don't question that climate change is real.

Unfortunately fixing our education system is going to be just as hard, if not much harder, to do than passing a climate bill. So, so much for a solution that has immediate impacts. But I think it's crucial to get it right in the long run.

I also think it's a major problem that Congress/America is becoming much more partisan. NPR had a short piece on this, with some analysis on the causes, recently.

Basically, it means that even more than before, politics comes down to a "fight," with whichever side that has more people supporting it at any given point in time, winning. It doesn't lead to constructive dialogue, where a solution that is (in theory) "best," or which at least takes different people's real (as opposed to politically-motivated) interests into account, is eventually created.