November 29, 2013

Strategic Denialism

I do wonder, regarding carbon pricing, when decision-makers whose job it is to assess risk discount the likely imposition of carbon pricing as climate change becomes more volatile.  As that cost does become more evident (see: hurricane of the month), the more likely the move towards pricing carbon.  And then what happens to asset value – whether in the resource itself or the infrastructure for transporting it?

The refusal to act (or in Canada and Australia’s case, go backwards) is rooted in strategic denialism.  If something seems so catastrophic that it can’t be rationally acknowledged and incorporated into current values, then effectively the decision-makers are ruling it out as a serious risk.    Serious climate change can’t happen because the consequences  would be too catastrophic, too upsetting of the status quo.

Which means they can double down on their risk-taking.  And then, by acting as though it can’t happen, the risk takers ensure the unimaginable is more likely to occur.  Example: U.S. subprime housing market.

Posted in

Support

If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on

Comments

  1. strategic-denialism. I think the real problem is the fear of political suiside when making tough responsible discussions. It seem to be common place to pass the buck on to the next governing party.

  2. It seems to me that the political system was designed as a way to keep power in check and not as a way to promote world improvement. It’s sort of like the buck passing idea — why implement a costly program that will improve the world 50-100 years from now (assuming of course you don’t believe the people who will say it won’t improve anything!) when instead you can call everyone else a moron and spend money on some roads. See, we’re doing something!

  3. Well, when designing the strategy to maximize your utility, it is rational not to consider the effects of global warming.

    Whether everyone in Vancouver starts taking transit or not will have zero effect on the global climate.

    So, although climate change is happening, no single city’s actions can affect it. Thus, few cities attempt to affect it.

    Because climate change is going to happen regardless of whether we build the Massey Bridge or not (holding all other world actions constant)! And we’d be better off with the bridge than without it, holding climate change constant. So, we build the Massey Bridge.

    It would be dumb when we planned projects for the level of climate change to vary depending on which projects we pursue. Climate change is essentially fixed cost for pretty much all our projects. EVEN the tar sands, alone, will not considerably affect the climate. If we shut down the tar sands tomorrow, climate change would continue practically unabated. They account for like 2% of global emissions or something trivial. So, we burn on.

    This is why global warming is such a difficult issue. It can be modeled as a game theoretic problem. We continue to pollute for the same reason the prisoners both choose to defect in the prisoner’s dilemma. They would both be better off by both cooperating, but instead they both always choose to defect.

    1. “Whether everyone in Vancouver starts taking transit or not will have zero effect on the global climate.”

      That is false and counter-productive rhetoric.

      1. Transit emits less GHG than cars. Today, many people in Vancouver use cars. Ergo, if everyone in Vancouver took transit, GHG emissions would decrease.

      2. Cities do not exist in isolation; they influence each other. Choose one of countless examples to support this assertion: smoking in public places, gay marriage (though this was not a municipal issue, the principle holds), the explosion of car-dependent planning, etc.

      3. As people see that quality of life does not decrease (and in fact increases, if done right) with less GHG emission, political pressure mounts to reduce fossil fuel extraction and exploitation in other segments of the economy. Witness: Europe. For extra credit, witness: the Nordic countries.

      “EVEN the tar sands, alone, will not considerably affect the climate.”

      That is a ridiculous and irresponsible statement. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of climate change specifically, and of interconnected systems in general.

      1. Well, I read an article in The Globe and Mail recently. International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol said:

        “The oil sands definitely makes a contribution to the increase in CO2 emissions, […] But the difference in getting oil from oil sands when compared to conventional oil, it is such a small contribution that it will be definitely wrong to highlight this as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.”

        Mr. Birol said the key culprits are the use of coal for electricity, particularly in fast-growing Asia; the $500-billion in global subsidies of oil consumption, which encourage over-use; and the failure to embrace energy efficiency.

        This guy is just one voice, of course, but I think he’s probably right. Coal for electricity in developing countries, and energy subsidies worldwide, are probably the main contributors to global CO2 emissions.

        Don’t get me wrong – I’m decidedly ambivalent about what we should do with the tar sands. But let’s not let emotions and symbolism get in the way of reality.

      2. Birol is walking a fine line because he understands the nuances; he is avoiding the central question by dancing around the edges.

        “The oil sands definitely makes a contribution to the increase in CO2 emissions, […] But the difference in getting oil from oil sands when compared to conventional oil, it is such a small contribution that it will be definitely wrong to highlight this as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.”

        Parse that passage:

        1. First off, he says that the oil sands makes a contribution to CO2 emissions. But rather than focusing on how to improve that, he moves the goalposts and goes to compare oil sands vs. conventional oil rather than oil sands vs. other forms of energy.

        2. The statement requires that we assume we are going to extract oil one way or another. This is a fallacy. If we do not expand the oil sands operations any further, it will not be automatically replaced by oil extracted from conventional sources.

        3. There are many qualifiers in that last sentence. He doesn’t say “oil sands are a minor source of carbon dioxide emissions”; he says they’re not a *major* source *worldwide*. Of course they’re not a major source worldwide; they only occur in select parts of the world!

        Read this analogous statement:

        “Cigarettes definitely make a contribution to the increase in lung cancer, […] But the difference in smoking regular cigarettes when compared to light cigarettes, it is such a small contribution that it will be definitely wrong to highlight this as a major source of lung cancer worldwide.”

        See how disingenuous that is?

        Here’s what Birol should be saying:

        The oil sands definitely makes a contribution to the increase in CO2 emissions. As a result, the world, and Canada in particular, should be putting great effort into reducing extraction of bitumen from the oil sands. We need to move from fossil fuels to renewable, sustainable energy.

        “Coal for electricity in developing countries, and energy subsidies worldwide, are probably the main contributors to global CO2 emissions.”

        I don’t know whether oil or coal generate more GHG emissions worldwide, but luckily we don’t need to know that in order to decide what to do. The answer is to drastically cut down on both.

        “But let’s not let emotions and symbolism get in the way of reality.”

        The oil sands are not just a symbol. The process of extracting bitumen and the burning of its derivative products are very destructive to the biosphere, and by deduction, to humans. That’s pretty real.

      3. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/alberta-saskatchewan-are-shooting-blanks-at-canadas-ghg-targets/article15719074/

        I’m not saying we shouldn’t reduce our GHG emissions. But we should do it not because what happens in Canada will dramatically influence the global climate, because it won’t. We should do it because we have some limited influence in the world. We can only legitimately push China to constrain its emissions if we have done the same.

        I was wrong – the tar sands don’t contribute 2% to global emissions. The entire Canadian economy contributes that. So even if we shut down the Canadian economy, if all other actions in the world remain the same, climate change would continue practically unabated. For that matter, even if we shut down the world economy, climate change would probably continue for the next few centuries.