Don’t Even Think About It: Why our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change—a book review

George Marshall has written a book that is essential reading for everyone interested in communicating the science of climate change and its urgent policy implications. Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change comprises 43 short and well-written chapters that explain why  strenuous efforts to spread the word and spur action on climate change have failed.

There is no question that the problem is far from licked: the Keeling Curve continues its upward rise; American conservatives remain stuck in an intellectual dead end on climate; other countries pay lip service to the threat while making only token gestures to solve it; every year there is a big international get-together at COP meetings where thousands of delegates gather to push the policy boulder up Sisyphus’ hill, only to watch it roll down again. Opinion polls, it is true, show that there is broad public acceptance of the scientific basis of climate change, but the understanding of the problem is shallow. People say they care about climate change, but when it comes time to vote, other issues loom larger.

Marshall has worked for 25 years as a campaigner in environmental movements, including Greenpeace US and the Rainforest Foundation. He is a co-founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network, a UK based charity committed to ensuring that climate change and its impacts are understood and acted upon. Continue reading

John Oliver asks: Are there hats?

On his new HBO show Last Week Tonight John Oliver skewered the whole idea that there is a genuine debate on the scientific basics of man-made climate change. He also mocked the conventional media format of  pitting one “skeptic” against one “scientist” that so badly misrepresents the real world of informed opinion.

I admit that I was particularly delighted to see the paper I co-authored with John Cook and other Skeptical Science colleagues get a mention.

Paul Krugman had a recent article in the New York Times where he looked at how some conservatives not only deny that humans are causing climate change, but also that they need to deny that expert opinion overwhelmingly believes that to be true, invoking an international conspiracy of scientists. And, in a blogpost he reminded us that conservative journalist Charles Krauthammer in “no Einstein”.

It’s tragic that there is no coherent conservative response to the problem of climate change. Any solution is going to require a policy consensus among people of all political persuasions.  The longer we put off a solution, the less likely it becomes that we will be able to deal with the problem with free-market measures. The more that conservatives rail against climate science on the bogus grounds that scientists want to usher in an authoritarian world, the more that dismal political future becomes likely.

Yet, as John Oliver shows us, tragedy and comedy are never far apart.

Andrew Weaver’s support for a big bitumen refinery on the BC coast angers Greens

Andrew Weaver, the climate scientist turned Green Party politician, has raised hackles among environmental activists by lending support to a proposal to build a huge oil refinery near Kitimat in northwestern British Columbia. Despite the headlines, his support for it is qualified, seeing it as a compromise position that will keep diluted bitumen—dilbit—out of coastal waters, even if it doesn’t keep the carbon in the bitumen out of the atmosphere. Quoted in the Prince George Citizen, Weaver says:

“I like to think [of] the Green Party as a science-based, evidence-based common sense party,” he said. “It’s a party that realizes that we need gasoline in our cars but we also need to have a strategy to wean ourselves off that.”

and

“Rail is bad news, dilbit in the water is bad news, dilbit on land over rivers and streams is potentially very bad news,” he said. “Obviously as the Green Party [MLA], I’d prefer to keep it in the ground as much as possible and start to invest sooner than later into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow, but I’m pragmatic and I recognize at some point one may need to develop a compromise and a compromise solution is one that would actually give jobs in B.C.”

On Twitter, Adam Olsen, the leader of the BC Green Party, distanced himself and the party from Weaver’s position:

11-Feb-14 11-42-10 AM

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The effect of cross-border shopping on BC fuel consumption estimates

  • Since the introduction of the carbon tax in 2008, BC has achieved reductions in fuel use of 17.4% per capita and even greater reductions (18.8%) relative to the rest of Canada.
  • During this period there has been a large increase in the number of Canadian vehicles crossing the BC border into the United States , especially for day trips. It is likely that the main purpose of many of these trips was shopping.
  • The current rate of Canadians visiting the US is not unprecedented. Larger numbers of Canadians crossed the border in the 1990s.
  • Although high gasoline prices are a factor in motivating the border crossings, there were many other incentives, for example, the strong Canadian dollar, as well as cheaper dairy products, clothing and electronic goods.
  • On average, a Canadian vehicle crossed the border an additional 1.3 times per year in 2012 compared to the rate  before the introduction of the carbon tax.
  • It is estimated that 1-2% of the refined petroleum product fuel consumed in BC was purchased in the United States as a consequence of the additional cross-border travel. This amount of fuel does not therefore show up in Canadian fuel sales figures, which requires us to make small adjustments to the provincial fuel-use estimates. Nevertheless, the adjusted reduction in BC fuel use over the past four years still exceeds 15% per person per year.
  • The BC carbon tax is an effective policy that has likely substantially reduced emissions, but has not harmed the economy. It is increasingly politically popular within the province.

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Update on BC’s Effective and Popular Carbon Tax

Originally posted at Skeptical Science on July 25th, 2013

Stewart Elgie and Jessica McClay of the University of Ottawa have a peer-reviewed article in press in a special issue of the journal Canadian Public Policy. The article is summarized in the report BC’s Carbon Tax shift after five years: Results. An environmental (and economic) success story. The report can be downloaded here and is summarized here.
The results are similar to a previous report that I wrote about in the article BC’s revenue-neutral carbon tax experiment, four years on: It’s working, but updated, with one more year of data.  The new data show that the carbon tax is working even better than reported previously.

Fugitive emissions from BC’s natural gas industry

The environmental consequences of the expanded development of unconventional gas in North Eastern British Columbia, as laid out by Tyler Bryant and Matt Horne in The Tyee, include: risks of groundwater contamination from fracking; water use; the provision of electricity; the triggering of earthquakes; and the industrialisation of the landscape over large swaths of the NE of the Province. Apart from the emissions released by end use of the gas,  the largest single environmental impact—certainly the largest global impact—is likely to stem from leaks and deliberate venting of greenhouse gases during the production and transportation of the natural gas. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most poorly quantified risks.

According to British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment, about 108,000 metric tons of methane are being released into the atmosphere every year by the oil and gas industry. These emissions come from deliberate venting and through unintentional leaks—also known as fugitive emissions—from pipelines, wells and processing plants. While this sounds like a lot, according to the Ministry it only amounts to 0.3% of the total amount of natural gas produced in BC in 2011. However, compared to estimated leakage rates in the gas industry of the United States, which range widely from about 1 to 8%, these estimates are very low outliers. Even the lowest of the US estimates is three times as large as the BC figures.

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Fugitive methane emissions in BC: correspondence with Ministry of Environment

An email discussion with environmental journalist Stephen Leahy prompted me to look into the amount of fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas industry in NE British Columbia.  The data on various BC Government websites are not easy to reconcile, so, on March 18th  2013,  I wrote an enquiry on the query form provided at the website of the BC Ministry of Environment.

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Terminology: Tar Sands or Oil Sands?

Generally speaking, people who are opposed to the extraction of bitumen in NE Alberta prefer to refer to the sands as “tar sands”. The oil companies and the governments of Alberta and Canada prefer the sound of “oil sands”.   “Bitumen sands” is in some ways more correct, but it’s a mouthful and not everybody will know what you are talking about. The one thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that “oil sands” sounds cleaner and nicer than “tar sands”.

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Living in Denial in Canada

Originally posted at Skeptical Science.

In an earlier article, I reviewed sociologist Kari Norgaard’s book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life in which she records the response of rural Norwegians to climate change. She analyzes the contradictory feelings Norwegians experience in reconciling their life in a wealthy country that is at once a major producer and consumer of fossil fuels and, at the same time, has a reputation of being a world leader in its concern for the environment, human development, and international peace.

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Rally for Canadian Science in Victoria, BC

Originally posted at Skeptical Science

Skeptical Science readers may already be familiar with the dismal performance of the Canadian Federal Government on climate change. The Canadian contributors to Skeptical Science expressed our concerns about the erosion of our country’s science for political ends in a blog post here in March of this year: PMO Pest Control: Scientists. We have also run a number of posts on the rapid development of the oil sands, for example: Tar Sands Oil – An Environmental Disaster  and; Alberta’s bitumen sands: “negligible” climate effects, or the “biggest carbon bomb on the planet”?. This summer, Canadian scientists have been taking their protest to the street and last week there was a rally in Victoria, British Columbia.

In an event organized by Ken Wu, Canadian scientists and concerned citizens rallied outside a Federal Government building in Victoria on Friday September 14th in protest against the Federal government’s policies that have been cutting science budgets, shutting down vital projects (e.g., PEARLELA) andmuzzling government scientists. People jammed the sidewalks in downtown Victoria to hear speeches byclimate scientist Andrew Weaver, Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May and “Dr X”, a marine biologist working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who appeared in disguise for fear of losing his job.

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