What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 2

December 19th, 2010

The comments in part one reminded me of Joel Cohen’s excellent How Many People Can the Earth Support? (1995)

See bottom* for population projections provided by four different organizations. In the text below, I have not changed assumptions for the most part, though projections on population growth today are lower than 15 years ago.

From chapters 2 – 4

There were perhaps 10,000 humans 80-100,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age (down from a peak of 100,000). They spread throughout the Old World, and then the Americas.

Populations surged with the introduction of local agriculture (from the last ice age to 3000 BCE), and with the global agriculture shifts (from 1650 to 1850), pooling cultivars from different continents. This latter period coincided with the Industrial Revolution. Another surge coincided with the public health improvements (from 1945 to date). Overlapping the latter two periods is a trend of reduced fertility (reducing growth rate, not necessarily the number of people), beginning in France in 1785.

Population increases over time
Population increases over time

World Population Growth Rates
World Population Growth Rates—divide 70 by percent growth rate to get approximate doubling time. [No, climate change is not included in the underlying assumptions.]

Looking at history—what does reduce fertility rates?

Infanticide was used until other methods were found, and is still used in hunter-gatherer societies. Essentially modern people likely used infanticide some 20,000 years ago, as the male to female ratio in skeletons is skewed. Widespread use of other methods to reduce fertility requires parents be willing to consider the thought and behavior acceptable, and find reduced fertility to be advantageous, as city dwellers often do. It also requires access to birth control methods and techniques, and sufficient communication to employ them.

The first unambiguous written evidence of limiting family size by an entire social group appeared at the end of the 17th century in French upper classes. Rather than continuing to bear children until their 40s, the final child was born when women were in their low 30s. The Italian nobility followed. By the last quarter of the 18th century, before the French revolution, practices to limit fertility had spread to peasants throughout much of rural France, with coitus interuptus as the favored method of birth control.

Countries with many migrants from areas limiting birth saw their own rapid declines in fertility. Shared culture facilitated the process. There does not seem to be a connection to existing social or economic conditions—fertility declines occurred during times of low literacy in France, Bulgaria and Hungary, and high literacy in England and Wales, in some countries that were very rural, but in England when only 15% of men worked in agriculture. In France, the decline in fertility was spread over many decades, while in England, dramatic declines in fertility occurred almost everywhere between 1890 and 1900. High income inequality slowed the spread of fertility decline.

The Princeton European Fertility Project failed to find simple explanations to account for fertility decline:

• The decline in mortality rate does not necessarily precede the decline in fertility. In France, they fell together. In Germany, infant mortality fell in parallel with marital fertility beginning around 1870, but in half of provinces fertility fell first, and in the other half, mortality fell first.
• Essentially all explanations (spread of a new mentality, …) lack evidence. Favored explanations include

improvements in the status of women, more secular attitudes and an increasing preference for individual interests over tradition….

Socioeconomic development, improvements in the status of women and secular attitudes may be neither necessary nor sufficient for a fertility transition, whatever other virtues or drawbacks they may have in the eyes of different observers.

(page 62 Joel Cohen How Many People Can the Earth Support?)

Fertility transitions—a decline of 10% in fertility rate (the number of children born per women)—occurred around 1964 in Chile (30% rural), and 1970 in Thailand (85% rural). In 1964, Chile’s infant mortality rate was over 10%, but Taiwan began the transition in 1963 when infant mortality was less than half as large. Mexico’s rapid decline in the 1970s is attributed to “political will”, Brazil’s equivalent decline came without strong government intervention, and India’s government intervention in family planning appeared to have been counterproductive. China’s fertility rate fell from 6.5 in 1968 to 2.2 in 1980, a shift that took 60 years in Great Britain and longer in France. It took 58 years for the US fertility rate to decline from 6.3 to 3.5, Colombia did the same in 15 years, Thailand 8 years, and China 7 years. Simple explanations fail.

Kenya was one of the African countries seeing a decline. What appears to have worked there? The increase in the use of contraception and abortion were part of the cause (abortion was illegal, but Kenya saw a rise in the number admitted to hospitals for complications from abortions). No one “knows” but these reasons are considered plausible:

• Land which once was communal was transferred to small to moderate holdings. The family rather than the clan now bore the cost of large families.
• Parents were eager for their children to be educated. The government built schools, but parents helped support operating expenses through fees. Studies show this financial pinch changed parents’ attitudes toward contraception and family size.
• A soap opera heard by 40% of Kenyans extolled the advantages of limiting family size.

Kenya’s fertility rate fell from 8 in 1977 to 7.7 in 1984 to 6.7 in 1989. Today women average 4.4 children. (Go here to see fertility rates around the world.)

Organized Efforts to Lower Fertility

There have been a number of approaches in recent years:

• Promote contraceptives (with information on contraception, and the advantages of small families and the disadvantages of larger ones) through all types of mass media, puppet shows, books, posters. The radio has been especially effective, with more than one radio for every three people. Family planning programs in some places and times were voluntary, others offered financial incentives or were even more coercive.
• Develop economies (with the idea that richer people have fewer children). This was also due to a perception among some in the developing world that family-planning was a form of neo-colonialism, or to avoid transfers of wealth from richer to poorer countries.
• Save children, with the idea that lower infant mortality rate, especially among males, will lead to a lower fertility rate. Since this increased population growth, at least in the short term, UNICEF urged “measures of birth spacing and family planning as part of child survival”.
• Empower women who will then prefer smaller families and act on it. This approach often undermines cultural values in societies with high fertility, because girls no longer marry early and have independent lives outside the home.
• Educate men, so that it is much easier for women to use birth control. By 1995, there was little evidence, as the idea was proposed in 1993.
• All of the above. The United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 offered over 1000 recommendations for voluntary approaches.

So what works?

Which achieves the most per dollar spent? As of 1995, there was no clear answer except “hard times”.

In part 5, Cohen looks at what others were saying in the mid-90s (I’ll discuss only one in any detail) and discusses eight issues which need to be resolved. He also discusses non-population related aspects of the solutions and notes that people often focus on one and ignore the rest. You may wish to follow up by reading more.

Proposals for dealing with population problems confront an intellectual and ideological minefield.

(page 370 Joel Cohen How Many People Can the Earth Support?)

John Bongaarts, vice-president in charge of research at the Population Council and a leading demographic researcher—

Using a World Bank projection that developing countries could grow from 4.5 billion in 1995 to 10.2 billion in 2100, Bongaarts divided the increase among different causes:
° 2.8 billion to population momentum, as the number of older people changes dramatically over time, see also part 1
° 1.9 billion to unwanted fertility
° 1 billion to a desire for a large family

The first can be reduced to 1.6 billion if age at first birth is increased 5 years. Policy options including raising the legal age to marry, and increasing the amount of secondary education for girls (in one sample of 23 developing countries, women with secondary education gave birth the first time 3.5 years later than women without). Contraception information for adolescents will also help.

In developing countries outside China, one married woman in six had an unmet demand for contraception, and one birth in four is unwanted. This is in addition to a large fraction of the world’s 25 million abortions each year which are illegal, unsafe, or both. Family planning for women and men could help, and could put women and children in contact with health care providers.

The third can be partially addressed by such means as providing education for children, especially when parents are responsible for books, uniforms, and school fees. Improving the status of women has a number of benefits including reducing the need for children for one’s old age. Messages in the media about lifestyles incompatible with large families also help. [Social scientists say that showing men putting on condoms before the ubiquitous sex act on soaps could decrease unwanted pregnancies.]

Reducing the numbers of human beings should not be a goal in itself, but rather a means toward achieving improved human welfare through a more sustainable balance of population and resources, a reduction of disparities in life opportunities, and a realignment of the risks and benefits of reproduction.

(Population Council 1994 publication Population Growth and Our Caring Capacity)

• Academies of Science—Population Summit of the World’s Scientific Academies (1993)
[Note: US National Academies have a Committee on Population]

United Nations Population Fund

• The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation allocates money to population programs (and evaluates what works).

So what works?

Unfortunately, there appears to be no believable information to show that a dollar spent to put girls through primary school will lower the total fertility rate more, nor a decade from now, than a dollar spent on radio programs about small families or a dollar spent on health clinics for mothers and children or a dollar spent to deliver contraceptives. The experiences…of Indonesia, which had a very rapid fall in fertility from 1970 to 1985, and Kenya, where fertility began to fall in the last half of the 1980s, suggested that well-developed family-planning programs interacted with educational, cultural and economic changes to lower fertility by more than the sum of their separate effects.

(page 377 Joel Cohen How Many People Can the Earth Support?)

Meanwhile, a public conversation can resolve questions on family planning. Eight issues to be decided:

1. How will the bill for family planning and other population activities be distributed between the developing countries (who now pay perhaps 80 percent) and the rich countries?
2. Who will spend the money, and how? How will the available monies be allocated between governments and nongovernmental organizations? how much will go for family planning and how much for allied programs like reproductive health?
3. How will environmental goals be balanced against economic goals? For example, if reducing poverty requires increased industrial and agricultural production in developing countries, can the increases in production be achieved at acceptable environmental costs?
4. How will cultural change be balanced against cultural continuity? In some cultural setting, the goal of empowering women directly contradicts the goal of maintaining “full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds.” Both goals were often repeated in the final document of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Women achieved the vote in the United States only in 1920 and only after considerable struggle. Asking for equality for women now asks some cultures to make far greater change in far less time. I fully support such demands, but they should be made with a clear and sympathetic understanding that they require profound cultural change.
5. How will the often-asserted right of couples and individuals to control their fertility be reconciled with national demographic goals if the way couples and individuals exercise that right happens not to bring about the demographic goals?
6. How will national sovereignty be reconciled with world or regional environmental and demographic goals? This question arises in the control of migration, reproduction and all economic activities that involve the global commons of atmosphere, oceans and international water bodies, and the management of the plant and animal populations that inhabit them.
7. How will the desire and moral obligation to alleviate poverty and suffering as rapidly as possible be reconciled with the use of local scarcities as an efficient market signal?
8. In efforts to protect the physical, chemical and biological environments provided by this finite sphere, how will rapid population growth and economic development in poor countries be balanced against high consumption per person in the rich countries?

(pages 378-9 Joel Cohen How Many People Can the Earth Support?))

* Population projections:
• International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) through 2100, including a low fertility path that shows population peaking this half century, or a few years later.
United Nations (pdf) through 2300 (they acknowledge that large unknowns, such as climate change, make projections suspect)
US Census through 2050
World Bank through 2050

What People are Saying
part 1—Climate change is a concern: yes or no?
part 2—Cap and trade for greenhouse gas: yes or no?
part 3—Choosing technologies/ changing behavior
part 4—What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 1

What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 1

December 6th, 2010

Update: Due to excellent questions, I’ve updated this portion (see population momentum below) and added more on what experts say in What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 2.

This is the fourth and final part of the What People are Saying portion of the series on the culture wars, which began with Climate change is a concern: yes or no?

Overheard in public discussions:
• The best solution of all is for us to limit population. If we don’t limit population, there is no other solution. Frequent suggestion: make birth control available to those who want it.

• The richest 20% are responsible for 80% of consumption (see Over-consumption of resources by a small developed population —also a major problem) and the poorest 1/5 consume very little, so target those condoms!

• If there is not enough for everyone, we’re going to have to practice mandatory birth control, but only after other options. (See Susan Power Bratton for her Bible-based support of coercive family planning under some circumstances, ‘Christian responses to coercion in population regulation’ in Consumption, population, and sustainability: perspectives from science and religion Audrey R. Chapman, 1999 Island Press.) She argues that there is a moral imperative to keep the population low enough that we can feed and care for everyone.)

• Reduce immigration to US and reduce fertility in the US and elsewhere (so that there will be less pressure to come to the US). See policies of Negative Population Growth.

What I’ve read:
Population reduction is important, but unlikely, and discussions can be politically uncomfortable, particularly when those pushing the point the loudest are the richest of the richest.

A challenge: the birth rate can be below 2, but the population can continue to grow even so; in these countries, there are relatively few older people dying compared to the number of births. China’s population continues to grow, although the fertility rate is 1.75.
China's population 2010
China's population 2050
China’s population will continue to increase
This is called population momentum, as the large number of younger people ages.

This will happen in the US as well, but the results will be less dramatic. In Japan, the number of older people is also expected to increase relative to the population, but this is in part because the number of young people declines:
Japan today
Japan 2007

Japan 2050
and Japan 2050 (Don’t be confused, the scales are different!)

I have seen few solutions proposed other than voluntary birth control and education, both general education to increase women’s options, and education on family planning. Here is one: the desire of fishermen to earn a decent wage motivated population control (see Fishing for a Solution to the Population Problem). Have you seen others?

OK, what have you been hearing, and is it rational discussion, or the culture wars?

What People are Saying
part 1—Climate change is a concern: yes or no?
part 2—Cap and trade for greenhouse gas: yes or no?
part 3—Choosing technologies/ changing behavior
second part—What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 2

US needs to pay more attention to adaptation to climate change

September 29th, 2010

A report issued today from University Corporation for Atmospheric Research on the National Climate Adaptation Summit (in May) addresses the need for adaptation to climate change.

Even with mitigation efforts, climate change will continue to unfold for decades due to the long atmospheric lifetime of past greenhouse-gas emissions and the gradual release of excess heat that has built up in the oceans. Climate change adaptation is thus a necessity for our Nation and the world.

Their recommendations include

a limited number of pilot projects to experiment with different adaptation approaches and methods. Such pilot projects should be monitored and carefully evaluated to facilitate “learning by doing,” or adaptive adaptation.

and education to produce

climate-savvy leaders and workforce required for effective climate adaptation planning.

The Executive Summary

The National Climate Adaptation Summit was in response to a conversation the President’s Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, had with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Board members and took place in Washington, DC, on May 25-27, 2010. This event brought together more than 180 users and providers of climate adaptation information to examine the needs, knowledge, and roles required for effective adaptation to climate change. The goal of the Summit was to inform federal, state, regional, and local climate adaptation efforts, including the planning of the federal Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

There was a strong consensus among participants that wise adaptation measures can help minimize the negative impacts of a changing climate on our Nation’s communities, businesses, ecosystems, and citizens. Effective adaptation will require improved coordination within agencies and among agencies, states, regions and the private sector. It also calls for new methods of communication; sharing of best practices; budget increases in a few key areas; research to produce needed missing information; development of new partnerships; and ‘learning by doing’, or adaptive adaptation.

The Summit identified seven priorities for near-term action:

Developing an overarching national strategy to guide federal climate change adaptation programs. This strategy should establish agency roles, clear goals and metrics, and better mechanisms for coordinating federal and non-federal activities.

Improving coordination of federal plans and programs. Strong management from the executive branch is needed to break down barriers, integrate planning, move funding into the highest priority areas, and maintain priorities across the multitude of involved agencies.

Creating a federal climate information portal. This would provide single-point access to data from all relevant federal agencies and programs and would evolve over time into a more “national” portal with information about relevant non-federal efforts.

Creating a clearinghouse of best practices and toolkits for adaptation. Such an effort could assist regions and sectors with similar adaptation challenges in learning from each other and explore the intersection of adaptation and mitigation.

Including support for assessment in USGCRP agency budgets. This would enable the regular national-scale assessments of climate change impacts that are required by law.

Increasing funding for research on vulnerability and impacts, including economic analyses, and pilot projects that join local, state, and regional governments and academic institutions to develop and test adaptation measures and tools.

Initiating a regional series of ongoing climate adaptation forums. The goal would be to integrate planning, communication, and coordination of activities across various agencies and U.S. regions.

The event was also webcast.

What People are Saying—Choosing technologies/ changing behavior

September 27th, 2010

This is part 3 of the What People are Saying portion of the series on the culture wars, which began with Climate change is a concern: yes or no?

—Choosing technologies/changing behavior
Overheard in public discussions:

• Expanding nuclear power is best—it can supply most of our electricity and transportation (electric cars and trains).

• Nuclear power is bad. Opponents have a variety of reasons, but most seem to center on the dangers Big Business exposes us to, combined with insufficient government regulation.

• Carbon capture and storage is rarely mentioned.

• Solutions are best when they are small-scale, distributed, and part of building democracy. For example, Harvey Wasserman said:

At its core, the nuclear issue is a confrontation between corporate, technocratic domination and decentralized, community independence. The choice is closely linked to a broad spectrum of issues—to unemployment and high electric rates, to exploitation of Third World people and resources, to the plagues of nuclear armaments, environmental chaos, and our soaring cancer rates.

(“The Clamshell Alliance: Getting it Together,” Progressive, 41, 9 (September 1977), 18)

• The most important solutions involve food. We are advised to avoid meat (many advocates originally did not eat meat for other reasons) or/and eat organic or/and eat locavore.

• Solutions are best when they are natural. Probing further, it appears that sunlight is natural, but that rocks are not. Transgenic (genetically modified) crops are definitely not natural, while whatever food existed when I began paying attention is.

• Solutions are best when they are renewable. Many feel that we should eschew a technology available for centuries more (nuclear power) because we need to change some time and so might as well do it today. Many adherents of all-renewables appear to envision solar and wind, and dislike/ignore the relative importance biomass must place in an all-renewables world.

• The best solution is for all individuals to reduce emissions through behavior change. This will solve a number of other problems such as unsustainable rates of resource use. Some advocates for living-with-less solutions oppose technology solutions because people will ignore living-with-less if they perceive other options. Advocates rarely, if ever, address the difficulty of the goal: in 2050, 9 billion people with per capita GHG emissions under 10% of current US emission.

• Conservation makes us feel good but doesn’t do much (Cheney said something different: “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”)

• The best solution is to strengthen community, eg, through transition towns.

Read in IPCC and other major reports from peer-reviewed community:
Policymakers welcome all solutions large or small, but what is the relative importance of the solutions?

The need for both nuclear and renewables was addressed in Cap and trade for greenhouse gas: yes or no? Efficiency solutions comprise the largest technological response, but we will still need electricity. Policymakers would like to see electricity decarbonized by 2030, and carbon capture and storage is perhaps the largest short-term solution for decarbonizing energy, including both electricity and industrial uses (eg, steel manufacturing). (See International Energy Agency Energy Technology Perspectives 2010, key graphs). One advantage of carbon capture and storage is that it can be built quickly: pipes can be attached to existing fossil fuel power plants relatively rapidly without the need for detailed oversight as would be true for nuclear power. See this EU analysis of carbon capture and storage (pdf) or the US Department of Energy carbon sequestration site.

Behavior change is necessary, if for no other reason than people generally do not rationally choose more efficient bulbs, cars and appliances except as part of behavior change (Leaping the Energy Gap, Science August 14, 2009 (subscription required). While policy experts do not oppose voluntary behavior change, they see no indication it can be depended on. Eating low meat diets does help, but so does reducing GHG from transportation. According to IPCC Working Group III,

Agriculture accounted for an estimated emission of 5.1 to 6.1 GtCO2-eq/yr in 2005 (10-12% of total global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases

Elsewhere, WG3 says,

In 2004, the transport sector produced 6.3 GtCO2 emissions … and its growth rate is highest among the end-user sectors.

Some of this includes freight, but this does not include the greater effect that flying may have, dropping water vapor, etc high in the atmosphere. Today, GHG emissions from all agriculture for 7 billion people are about the same as from transportation used by a much smaller number.

The legal definition of organic food is not mentioned in IPCC, rather, specific necessary technologies (eg, transgenic crops and low-tillage farming) are discussed. The legal definition of organic precludes transgenic crops. Locavore makes some sense, but can be a challenge to apply. Farmers’ markets, for example, can have greater associated emissions than the local grocery chain, due to higher waste and fuel use. Idaho potatoes traveling by train to the Northeast may have a lower GHG cost than Maine potatoes traveling by truck.

One of the challenges around behavior change, including choosing better technology, is public confusion, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report, Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings (pdf).

Policy experts rarely if ever address utility takeover by small public groups, but larger utilities benefit from greater expertise. Policy experts rarely address co-benefits such as mentioned by Wasserman, although co-benefits are frequently mentioned, such as reducing yearly deaths from direct pollution from fossil fuels, now in the hundreds of thousands (note: decentralized energy is almost fossil fuel, so Wasserman and policy experts disagree on their benefits). One challenge for members of the public promoting co-benefits is to establish whether the co-benefit is real (eg, many were surprised when a legal definition on organic foods led to agribusiness-produced organic food), whether the co-benefit will survive climate change (eg, building strong communities), and whether the co-benefit is an add-on or the main point (for some vegetarians, climate change is the add-on).

What People are Saying
part 1—Climate change is a concern: yes or no?
part 2—Cap and trade for greenhouse gas: yes or no?
part 4—Population reduction has to happen first
second part—What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 2

Innovators Under 35—David Kobia for Ushahidi

September 22nd, 2010

MIT’s Technology Review gives an annual prize to 35 Innovators Under 35. The first listed is David Kobia, Humanitarian of the Year.

David Kobia
David Kobia

From the article:

The Ushahidi project brings crowd­sourcing to bear on some of the most desperate situations people face around the world. Its downloadable software allows users to submit eyewitness reports during a conflict or disaster; the collected reports are displayed on a map. At times when ordinary sources of news and public information are unavailable, Ushahidi gives users a way to share information and shape political opinion, guide rescuers, or pool resources. Ushahidi has been used to monitor elections in Sudan, document violence in Gaza, track the BP oil slick, and assist earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti.

Ushahidi was born during the riots that followed Kenya’s 2007 presidential election….That initial version was simple: just a map and a form that let users describe an incident, select the nearest town, and note the location, date, and time…..

It has been used in more than 30 countries, mostly by grassroots relief and watchdog organizations, to direct aid workers to specific locations, document corruption, and track complex events in space and time.


What People are Saying—Cap and trade for greenhouse gas: yes or no?

September 21st, 2010

The What People are Saying portion of the series on the culture wars began with Climate change is a concern: yes or no? Now for part 2:

—Cap and trade for greenhouse gas (GHG): yes or no?
Overheard in public discussions:

• Cap and trade, a policy that limits total GHG emissions increasingly over time, but allows the trading of permits to pollute, is necessary because without an increase in price, individuals and companies will not make decisions that reflect the cost.

• Utilities and other businesses would benefit most from adding a cost to GHG today because such a cost is A) inevitable, sooner rather than later; and B) getting the rules and costs nailed down soon will facilitate long-range planning. (A number of utilities have been expressing frustration for a decade because they don’t know the rules, yet must make $2 trillion in investments.)

• Governments have proved reluctant to implement policy that results in a serious cost for GHG. Of the nations that signed Kyoto, almost none placed any cost on GHG, and for the few that did, the cost was low. So forget cap and trade, an expensive way to regulate pollution without coming up with new solutions. Instead, governments could finance technological breakthroughs through public investment.*

• Current technology is sufficient and sufficiently cheap. This argument comes from two different groups. Some nuclear energy advocates say, use nuclear for power, heating and electric transportation; it will take care of most of the problem. The second group appears to believe that Big Business and the Government are hiding that we already have enough renewable technology to avert the crisis, and could become 100% renewable within a decade or two.** Both groups believe we could be fossil-free soon.

• A greenhouse gas tax is better than cap and trade, because Big Business will benefit too much from the structure created to implement the cap and trade policy. And we should return a percentage of the tax to the lower and middle classes. On the other hand, if cap and trade is used, we should auction 100% of the permits, so that business does not benefit from “windfall profits” (eg, Friends Committee on National Legislation Six Keys to a Successful Cap and Trade Program).

• Cap and trade is likely to kill the economy.

• Others see any cost as OK, no matter how high, “if we are fighting climate change, we need to do all we can”, they say in response to questions about particular policies.

Read in IPCC and other major reports from peer-reviewed community:
A cost on greenhouse gas is critical, through cap and trade and/or a tax. Some analysis suggests whatever the attraction of tax (costs known, reduction uncertain), that cap and trade (reduction known, cost uncertain) is a better policy when large, rapid reductions are needed. (See Pew Center’s US Climate Action Proposal for a simplified explanation, or the more-detailed IPCC Working Group 3.) Severin Borenstein, director of University of California Energy Institute, believes the question unimportant, and that either must be tweaked to get us where we want to be (his talk). Giving away permits cannot be simplified as a benefit for big business, eg see Robert Stavins.

Most important: get a cost, get it now, and make sure that it becomes appreciable soon. While many kinds of solutions are necessary (including technological innovations, behavioral changes, and efficiency mandates), adding a steep cost to GHG is perhaps the most necessary of all. Borenstein believes we won’t really tackle climate change until the price of greenhouse gases reaches $60-80/ton and possibly $100/ton (5 cent/kWh, 90 cent/gallon gasoline). Go to Borenstein’s talk, around 51 minutes—or catch the whole talk for a good introduction to energy issues.

Experts also say that while the costs are high, they aren’t as high as ignoring climate change and biodiversity loss. See for example, The Stern Review (the report is several years old, news from the climate change community is scarier, and politicians have done little, so costs could be larger today). The costs for addressing climate change will be high, but some subsidies are excessive, eg, solar (>41 pence/kWh, >66c in the UK)—choices must be made.

Increasing funding for research, development, and deployment is critical (see for example Belfer Center’s analysis, DOE FY 2011 Budget Request for Energy Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment: Analysis and Recommendations), but new technology alone is not the solution. Also see IPCC Working Group 3.

Note: increased R&D is cheaper than adding a cost to GHG emissions. The current Department of Energy R&D budget is more than $10 billion, so major increases would be on the order of $10 – 30 billion. A GHG cost of $100/ton adds 90 cent/gallon to the price of gasoline, or $120 billion/year on sales of 138 billion gallons gasoline (US, 2009). Adding a 10 cent/kWh cost to coal electricity, 5 cent for natural gas, assuming no change in production or use, would impose a cost of $20 billion (US, 4 trillion kWh in 2008). Since there would be a shift towards greater efficiency and reduced driving of cars, and a shift away from coal and natural gas, costs would be much lower. A concrete plan implemented over time provides needed information for choosing among cars and power plant sources. Increased R&D is also important, but it will not substitute for a GHG cap and trade policy, or tax. Note: economists often suggest using some of the money raised to substitute for other taxes, and some to be returned to consumers as a general benefit to help compensate for higher energy costs.

Neither nuclear nor renewables is expected to supply 100% of 2050 electricity under the most optimistic scenario, nor are nuclear and renewables together expected to supply all of 2050 electricity.

*See, for example: Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger:

[T]he debate between carbon tax and cap-and-trade proponents is a false one. The problem is that no government in the world so far has been willing to establish and sustain a high price on carbon, whether through taxes or caps. This is due to at least four substantial and interlinked issues: the political power of incumbent energy interests, low consumer tolerance for high energy prices, the economic impacts that substantially raising energy prices will have on key energy-intensive sectors of the economy, and — most importantly — the substantial price gap that continues to exist between fossil fuels and clean-energy alternatives….For this reason, we argue that environmentalists must shift from looking to high carbon prices to drive private sector energy innovation to using low carbon prices to fund public sector research, development, and deployment of clean energy technologies.

**See, for example, Amory Lovins, who claims renewables are already cheaper than all alternatives.

Innovation solves the climate problem, not at a cost but at a profit. I think that already is happening. I was just looking at the numbers for the U.S., and it turns out we have existing technology that can displace our coal-fired electricity more than 22 times over—cheaper than buying a new coal plant, and you can displace all of it with some room to spare cheaper than running an old coal plant. So if you look at the astonishing developments in the market, I think you will see some validation of that. Two-thirds of the world’s new electricity is now from micro power—that is, cogeneration plus renewables, minus big hydro. So all of the central plants—coal, nuclear, gas—have been pushed into minority market share because they cost too much and have too much of a natural risk.

Lovins appears to be saying both that new technology is needed and current technology is more than sufficient. I failed to substantiate his claims about 2/3 of the world’s new electricity.

What People are Saying
part 1—Climate change is a concern: yes or no?
part 3—Choosing technologies/changing behavior
part 4—Population reduction has to happen first
second part—What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 2

Is Voluntary Behavior Change Important?

September 21st, 2010

I have changed my behavior in response to climate change because it feels right. On the average, the changes have been positive in my life, with the occasional challenge, but owning a car and flying had their own larger challenges. I have never seen behavior change as something to be done in lieu of working for major changes in policy.

I’m going to list a few pros and cons to behavior change. I look forward to your comments. Note: the focus is on climate change. That climate change may encourage us to make changes that benefit us is important, but to be discussed elsewhere. My question is whether a focus on individual behavior change by some helps with, or interferes with, finding solutions to climate change.

• Scientists aren’t going to be able to detect living with less among all the other behavior changes. So why work so hard?
• There are too many advantages to me to keep my behavior the same—I can stay connected to family and friends, my life is more flexible, I know more about and better appreciate our world from seeing more of it, and I have more opportunity to contribute on other issues.
• To a large degree, most living-with-less activities people focus on don’t address climate change (a SF Bay Area study found farmers markets have higher associated greenhouse gas emissions than does Safeway).
• People pay a small amount of money to groups that offset their behavior and then feel OK, and so engage in even more of that behavior. For some, at least, GHG emissions go up because there is “something we can do” and so we no longer need to worry.
• Studies show that people who perform a minor act, like buying something green, act less generously in their next behavior. We all know people like this: driving to the store to buy organic food in recyclable plastic means I’ve done my good deed for the day. Read about one such study in the NY Times, When Green Consumers Decide I’ve Done Enough, and about “single-action bias” on page 2.
• Per the “single-action bias”, people who work on changing their behavior (or helping others change theirs) do not work on policy. Severin Borenstein says in this talk that voluntary behavior change is fine, he does it, but we don’t address air pollution by asking people to do voluntary smog checks.

• Some people sort through their response to climate change by examining their own behavior.
• Part of the solutions, beyond adding a cost to GHG and technology change, will include limiting behavior, eg, through congestion charges for driving in crowded downtown, such as is done in London. This will be easier if a critical mass of the public already buys into alternatives to driving everywhere. Note: the hefty congestion charges are accompanied by an increase in bus service.
• We are not addressing climate change in part because we have so many fears about what this requires of us. Addressing our fears allows frees us to address climate change.

Voluntary behavior change gets us to this faster or slower?
Voluntary behavior change gets us to this faster or slower? picture credit

What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the above arguments? What additional arguments exist?

Is nuclear power necessary? Is it sufficient?

September 19th, 2010

I normally argue the importance of nuclear power, but recently I have run into a number of people asserting that nuclear power is sufficient. Of course, the question is sufficient for what.

My assumption is that scientific consensus is correct, and that the goal of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions of >50% worldwide by 2050 (and perhaps >80%), >90% per capita in the US, may still not be enough. Note, since we are really dealing with cumulative emissions, and we are dawdling about getting started, the goal could require even steeper cuts.

I stopped using the concept of the Socolow-Pacala wedge some years ago when I read once too often that we need only 7 – 8 wedges. A wedge is a large solution, able to reduce GHG emissions by 25 gigatonnes.

Socolow Wedge

I responded with How Many Wedges Do We Need? and calculated 18. In the September 10 Science, Farewell to Fossil Fuels? (subscription required), the estimate is now 25.

So we need enormous rapid reductions in GHG emissions. One argument I’ve seen recently is that those who say that we can do with efficiency in lieu of nuclear power are wrong, so we don’t need increased efficiency. Conservation includes both behavior change, and increased efficiency—better bulbs, better cars, better refrigerators. According to the major reports from the peer review community (uber reports), all means together of achieving greater efficiency comprise the single largest solution to climate change. An example is given below in the Fetter article. Conservation will also occur with behavior change, encouraged by policies such as the London congestion charge. Scientists are less optimistic about the potential for voluntary behavior change.

Is nuclear power necessary?

Every uber report says yes, eg, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group III and Sustainable Energy Future: The Essential Role of Nuclear Energy (pdf), signed by 10 directors of the national labs including now Secretary of Energy Steven Chu:

We believe that nuclear energy must play a significant role in our nation’s — and the world’s — electricity portfolio for the next 100+ years.

The arguments I read against the need for nuclear power come from outside the peer review community.

Those who argue that nuclear power is sufficient (with or without improved efficiency) say there is enough uranium and thorium, not to mention methods of using old nuclear fuel, and nuclear power can supply 100% of the world’s electricity for a long time. In Generating the Option of a Two-Stage Nuclear Renaissance (subscription required), part of the Scaling Up Alternative Energy discussion in the August 13 Science, the authors estimate nuclear could be an important source of electricity for >1000 years.) However, there is a difference between statements like “there is enough wind blowing over the Earth” and “100% wind will be feasible soon”. Besides public prejudice, and in some places laws prohibiting new nuclear plants “until the waste problem is solved”, there are other obstacles to nuclear power. Many of those obstacles may disappear, and perhaps all electricity on planet Earth 2100 will be nuclear, but no major analysis gets us there by 2050. These obstacles include how slowly we will add nuclear power if we do it with care (build the plants safely, make sure countries have the infrastructure needed to for meeting international standards of operation). There is presently a mismatch between nuclear plant size and the needs of some utilities: for many smaller utilities it makes more sense to build smaller plants. Nuclear power may work better in some of the developing world if the proliferation-resistant plant can be delivered, operate for years without refueling, and then be carried away—one of the possible Generation IV (Gen IV) designs. This and other smaller plants designs will appear over the coming years, and their success may make nuclear power more attractive. (Read more about the generations of nuclear power.)

Then there is the challenge presented by governments. In France and Hong Kong, the government makes a decision. In the US, good decisions depend on good laws. A number of utilities began campaigning almost a decade ago to get good climate change legislation: with $2 trillion in decisions pending, and an inevitable GHG cost, they wanted to know the rules. The US Congress and President have not made adding a cost for GHG a priority, though the (current) President and many legislators support it. So some US utilities are building natural gas, and others are building nuclear (eg, TVA has recently completed, and begun, nuclear plants and plans to decrease coal and increase nuclear) using a set of rules almost everyone knows will change.

Watts Bar 2
Construction continuing at Watts Bar 2

and a gen III+ in Georgia
generations described
generations described

How fast can we add nuclear power?

International Atomic Energy Agency keeps track of plant construction and decommissioning and provides estimates for future construction. In Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period Up to 2050: 2010 Edition (pdf), a range of estimates are provided. Their high estimates are not the highest that are technically feasible, nor their lowest as low as could occur. Additionally, the estimates evolve, so this year’s estimates are larger than those from a decade ago. IAEA says that 14% of 2009 world electricity, 5.5% of 2009 energy, came from nuclear. By 2030, the percentage of nuclear electricity will have increased to somewhere between 8.5 and 10.4%. By 2050, nuclear will supply between 5 and 11.9% of world electricity. In North America, as much as 40% of 2050 electricity could be nuclear; in west Europe, as much as 50%.

The highest estimates I’ve seen from a peer-review publication was in Science in 2000, A Nuclear Solution to Climate Change? (subscription required), co-authored by Steve Fetter, now Assistant Director in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The authors estimate that if energy efficiency is improved rapidly, so that per capita energy use increases only 50% between 1997 and 2050, and population increases by 50%, nuclear could supply only 1/3 of 2050 energy, but over half of 2050 electricity.

According to the uber reports, it is unlikely at best that the world will achieve France’s 76% nuclear by 2050. There is no clear plan for reducing transportation GHG emissions to near 0—maybe electric cars powered by nuclear will be the future, but that isn’t clear today.

In conclusion

Nuclear power is one of the larger solutions. It is needed. Depending on the relative economics of different sources of electricity in 2030, the reliability of suppliers, whether the promise of Gen IV was met, and how other problems turn out (eg, the possibility that wind will cause climate change), the choices for 2050 will include more or less nuclear, more or less renewables, more or less carbon capture and storage for fossil fuels. All uber reports assume that all these methods are needed, and together they may not be sufficient.

An Enemy of the People
Ibsen’s Dr. Stockmann is An Enemy of the People who innocently believed that the people of the spa town would welcome his warning about the spa, and fix the problem.

What People are Saying— Climate change is a concern: yes or no?

September 4th, 2010

For some time I have been wrestling with the culture wars. I hear a Tower of Babel mentality run rampant over attempts to address climate change. Many arguments seem legitimate to me, because they are based in established sources I trust. Others seem to come out of nowhere and I wonder if we are speaking different languages. These are the arguments I am learning to understand as being part of the culture wars—they can be essentially unintelligible to those who don’t share our cultural assumptions.

I’ve posted already on Cultural Theory of Risk and will say more about it later. Now though, I am simply posting the kinds of arguments I have heard on climate change, and invite you to share the arguments you hear. I’d like your evaluation of these argument—where do they come from? Facts? Trustworthy sources? Cultural Assumptions?

If the latter, stay tuned for which cultural attitudes or groups are most likely to make the arguments you hear below. Meantime, how often have you heard these? (You haven’t heard this argument so it isn’t being made? Consider the most seen movie of all time, Jesus (pdf), seen by 1.5 billion people. Lots happens that isn’t covered in the newspapers.)

— Climate change is a concern: yes or no?
Overheard in public discussions:

• We are in danger of dying out as a species, if we are not totally greenhouse gas free within the next ten years.

• Climate change is serious, and we’ll begin to see evidence of that in the next 20-150 years. Our children or their children will suffer from the effects.

• Climate change isn’t actually happening, or if it is, it can’t be anthropogenic, and either way, the dangers are grossly exaggerated, if they even exist.

• The United Nations is not an organization I would trust to tell me anything true, including scientific findings (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] was created by the UN and World Meteorological Organization).

• “[G]lobal-warming theories give the government more control of the economy”. (Ed Crane, Cato Institute’s founder)

• Climate change is just one way that we are hastening Armageddon; our actions make God’s punishment more certain and swifter.

• Armageddon, in the form of climate change or anything else, does not arise from man’s actions, but from God’s own purposes.

• Genesis 9:13-15: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth…and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. Therefore, no matter what we do, God won’t allow it to destroy the earth.

Read in IPCC and other major reports from peer-reviewed community:
Climate change has been a major concern for some time, with overwhelming evidence of its effects including human deaths (World Health Organization estimates 150,000 dead from climate change in 2000, and presumably more today), as well as dramatic changes in precipitation and heat waves, with serious impacts and local extinctions for a number of species. Human beings are expected to be strongly affected in terms of health, comfort, life-expectancy, and violent conflict over resources, but the species is not expected to die out. (See IPCC) At the same time, scientists emphasize it is important to not overstate the case: our species is not likely to die out (however, many or most of us will be pretty unhappy). While it would be better for us to stop emitting greenhouse gases last week, solutions a decade from now are important, not all solutions need to be in place by 2011.

OK, what have you been hearing, and is it rational discussion, or the culture wars?

What people are saying
Part 2—Cap and trade for greenhouse gas: yes or no?
Part 3—Choosing technologies/changing behavior
Part 4—Population reduction has to happen first
second part—What People are Saying—Population reduction has to happen first, part 2

Wind turbines could cause temperatures to rise and fall

September 3rd, 2010

After I wrote my first paper on energy issues in 1997, a man from Scotland wrote saying that I might be too enthusiastic about wind. My attempt is to make what I say reflect the best understandings of the science and policy communities, but it is true that I was enthusiastic about wind. Over the years, some concerns have emerged, and I have put my enthusiasm on hold to see how analysis goes.

David Keith first raised the concern about climate change caused by wind power some years ago, but made no prediction about the direction that change might be, for good or ill. See Keith’s short overview on Wind Power and Climate Change, or download the longer National Academy of Science study. Now there is a more recent analysis: MIT analysis suggests wind turbines could cause temperatures to rise and fall:

In a paper published online Feb. 22 in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, [Chen] Wang [of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences] and [Ron] Prinn ]TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science] suggest that using wind turbines to meet 10 percent of global energy demand in 2100 could cause temperatures to rise by one degree Celsius in the regions on land where the wind farms are installed, including a smaller increase in areas beyond those regions. Their analysis indicates the opposite result for wind turbines installed in water: a drop in temperatures by one degree Celsius over those regions.

Prinn cautioned against interpreting the study as an argument against wind power, urging that it be used to guide future research that explores the downsides of large-scale wind power before significant resources are invested to build vast wind farms. “We’re not pessimistic about wind,” he said. “We haven’t absolutely proven this effect, and we’d rather see that people do further research.”

warmer Earth?
warmer Earth? (pdf)

From Potential climatic impacts and reliability of very large-scale wind farms (pdf), The results do need to be checked, especially over the ocean:

Significant warming and cooling remote from the installations, and alterations of the global distributions of rainfall and clouds also occur.

Our ocean results indicating cooling over the installation regions and warming and cooling elsewhere are interesting, but suspect due to the unrealistic increases in surface drag needed to extract the target wind power.

10% of the world’s energy supply is a lot of energy, but the effects may not be so dire if wind is used less:

Installation of wind turbines over land areas that have alternative spatial extents, topographies and hydrological properties would produce different, but presumably still significant, climate effects. Due to the computed nonlinearity between the changes in surface roughness and the climate response, defining the optimal deployment of wind turbines is challenging. Climatic effects increase with power generated and decrease with conversion efficiency, putting aside the potential environmental effects for instance on birds and weather radar as well as on ambient noise levels. Also, for the widely spaced wind turbines simulated in our runs, the environmental effects appear small when they are generating less than 1 TW globally even with current technologies.

Note: at this point, if the problems from wind turn out to be of less importance, or of little importance at small to medium scales, wind with natural gas backup with carbon capture and storage will be an important part of the energy solution for 2030. I am still enthusiastic, I think.

Are we richer if we make perceived convenience the priority?

August 17th, 2010

Update: I received some thoughtful questions and comments. I answer them at the end.

Meredith Angwin and Rod Adams posted discussions about those who suggest that we all need to reduce waste in our lives ignore the world’s poor, who have very little energy. We all agree—InterAcademy Council makes this their first point in Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future. This is also the first point in my policy presentations. However, I objected to some of what I heard implied: because at low levels of energy use, more energy is associated with longer, healthier lives, the same correlation holds at high levels (indeed, in the US I have read concerns that life expectancy will begin to drop as we use our muscles even less). And that we have little obligation to consider the implications of our choices.

Meredith responded thoughtfully in Prosperity for Rich Folks, advocating for our right to waste, because these choices may make our lives easier. It is my sense that most Americans agree with Meredith, that it is OK to put our perceived convenience ahead of all our considerations.

To be clear, there is much on which we agree beyond our strong support for nuclear power. Aging infrastructure needs to be replaced, and states/countries that ignore energy drive energy production or/and manufacturing elsewhere. Much can be accomplished by paying attention to efficiency. The point of disagreement is whether we are better off, as individuals or a society, if we place an emphasis on smaller cars, etc, and turning stuff off, opting for alternatives to driving and flying, etc.

It is normal for people to begin with unstated assumptions and then agree or disagree without checking those assumptions. Let me check here: many including Meredith and Rod believe essentially that there is enough energy for everyone, though making good choices is important. Others believe that we will run out of energy soon, and still others believe that even if there is enough energy, living more simply helps us or/and the universe. Yes/no?

I would not have begun this discussion before 1995 (when I began paying attention to energy and climate change) with a strong preference for any of those assumptions. I did not replace my car when it broke in 1991 and have lived almost two decades without a car for a variety of reasons, but concern for the environment only became important later. Much more important to me initially were cost, health, and reducing overscheduling. Over time, other advantages emerged, such as the sheer pleasure of being on a bicycle (I had always walked a lot). I did not know then, and do not know now, how many people are like me, happier without a car, or with reduced access through a carshare program, but I doubt that I am unique.

Certainly I don’t feel deprived. Cyclists live longer lives, and quite possibly healthier lives, even including the cohort with the highest death rate, very young males. We don’t have to spend so many hours working to support and maintain a 1+ ton monster. And I never enjoyed driving in the way I enjoy cycling. I have reduced fossil fuel use in a number of other ways in my life, and don’t feel deprived. I suspect that a number of us with adequate access to energy can buy better, use less, and feel as or more satisfied. It is easier to continue doing whatever we have been doing, but that doesn’t necessarily make us happier.

Happy cyclist
Happy cyclist

road rage
Giving up the car and producing endorphins is also good.

We begin with assumptions about whether there is enough energy, but how well do these gibe with analyses coming from science and policy experts re climate change? Some believe that there is enough energy, eg, if we replace almost all fossil fuel electricity with nuclear, and replace fossil fuels used for heating (natural gas, fuel oil, propane) with nuclear electricity, and go to nuclear-powered electric cars. Therefore, I hear, the use of energy is OK (this line of argument generally ignores flying). If policy experts reached this same conclusion, then I would not have major objections to those who waste (there are those that do, for a variety of reasons). Unfortunately, I have seen no major report out of the peer-review community that shows us eliminating fossil fuel use in electricity by 2050, even without electrifying all cars. Even if biofuels become greenhouse gas (GHG) neutral, we will be allocating much of ever-more precious land and water to its cultivation, and are likely to create other problems.

There may be enough energy for 2050, in the sense that policy experts assume that people will farm too much to make biomass for fuel and power, and burn too much fossil fuel (and release too much GHG) rather than make meaningful personal reductions. While some worry about peak oil, those in policy see the problem more that we will run out of atmosphere. John Holdren, science adviser to Obama, is among these:

We are running out of environment, in the sense of the capacity of the atmosphere and waters and biota of the Earth to absorb, without intolerable consequences, the impacts of mobilizing energy in the quantities and in the ways characterizing today’s energy use and that which is ahead in the “business as usual” future.

There is scientific consensus that we produce too much greenhouse gas, and that massive reductions in GHG emissions are needed. So even if we with more than enough energy did live better, longer, healthier lives, there is more to consider—sometimes it is better for us to host a party, other times to replace the roof, if we can imagine addressing GHG as an important capital expenditure. The recommendation of experts cluster around 50 – 80% reduction in GHG emissions from 2004 levels to 2050, requiring a per capita reduction of perhaps 65 – 85%, and higher than that in the developed world, and even then there will be more problems than we would like. These would affect us as well as the poor. On the one hand, scientists studying climate change would prefer an immediate disappearance of GHG emissions, and on the other, policy experts for the most part don’t see a 50 – 80% reduction as achievable, at least not easily. Even if successful, climate change will be destructive, but lack of success has a set of very scary predictions associated with it, such as large areas on every continent becoming dustbowl (pdf) this century.

Nobel Prize winner in economics, George Akerlof spoke at a climate change symposium in Berkeley, saying that we ask the wrong questions when we question whether it is convenient to change our behavior, convenient to pay a higher cost to lower GHG emissions. We don’t walk into someone’s house, eat their dinner, and then ask whether it is convenient to stop eating their dinner. Since we emit more than our share of emissions, the question shouldn’t be whether it is convenient to stop emitting someone else’s share.

The ethical dimension may be simple to Professor Akerlof, but dealing with ourselves and others can be tricky. And painful. With health care, we’d love to say yes to everyone. Following your bliss? Another yes to everyone. Unfortunately, there is not enough money to treat every medical condition, and there is not enough time to follow every path. Life requires choices, and we do not all get all we want. We prioritize, clarify how important is our own convenience, and our obligations.

No matter what people’s underlying assumption (there is more than enough, there is not enough), almost everyone has the same response to this discussion, “Don’t guilt trip me.” Guilt has not been a strong motivator for me. Some of us are motivated by the desire to understand what is right and act on that understanding. It would be nice if we lived in a world where the cost of our behavior was reflected in the price, so decisions would be easier to make, and that would be a blessing. Unfortunately, it is only as we become willing to pay attention as individuals that society will accommodate that understanding to increase the price of behavior destructive to society. Making good choices around climate change will be easier once we have a critical mass of us consider behavior change.

Most of us feel richer if we feel good about what we do for others. Studies even show that we are often happier giving someone else money than receiving the same amount. Our choices can be gifts to ourselves and others of a world more beautiful and nurturing, not a means of depriving ourselves. If we see our behavior this way, we will likely find other gifts in the choices we make.

Update: Paraphrased comments and questions

Q: Isn’t it true that technology change will yield greater GHG reductions per unit effort?

A: That’s my assumption. If 100 people could choose to put work into changing their behavior and that of others, or put the same work into promoting nuclear power, or mandating higher fuel economy, the latter is likely to result in greater GHG emissions. This is even more true if the people involved would be seen by the public as not the same old same old, but people who changed their mind, and if the nuclear work is in places like California, where new nuclear power plants are not permitted, rather than Georgia, where construction has already begun on a Gen III+ plant.

However, technology change is not sufficient. Technology in the absence of a cost for GHG even more so.

Q: Is it more important in your mind to pay attention to the inner experience?

A: First, I am clear in my mind that it is important to provide increased energy to many.

Absolutely not. I chose to go carless for a variety of reasons, and chose to avoid flying once for the environment. After that experiment, I decided that I preferred the train to flying, and so now avoid flying both for my own pleasure and the environment.

If I were to choose what is important for your soul, in the absence of climate change there would be a number of items much higher on my list than some version of living simply. With climate change, there is an important goal, to lower GHG emissions. Some people can make a small number of small changes in one day and dramatically lower GHG emissions with no sense of loss. Others need to add attentiveness to behavior for a while but will also experience no sense of loss. For some, the choices may even work better. Others may want to add GHG cost to the decision-making process—one person asked me about the GHG emissions in reaching vacation spots A and B. I provided that information, and assume that it was just part of the decision-making. A relatively small number of people, I suspect, live lives so perfect that all changes will lead to a sense of privation. Based on what people said when reducing their electricity use 10% in CA in response to the electricity crisis (I didn’t really do much, all I did was…) people in the energy-rich world could reduce GHG emissions at least 10% over the next year fairly easily.

That said, we don’t easily make choices that are good for us. I heard this story secondhand from the days when people had one TV, and TV repair took a week: people picking up the TV reported themselves as happier, the family was getting along better and talking more, and yet always picked up the TV. Another moral of the story is that we cannot expect voluntary behavior change to replace good political and societal choices.

Q: Are you really not talking about living without electricity, etc?

A: If people want to go live in a cave, fine. I use electricity and heat my house and cook and vacation. I am not advocating that anyone live without these, rather that we live with a little more intention and attention. Also, to me the question is climate change and the answer is lower GHG emissions. If you want to sew your own clothes, you’ll enjoy it and I definitely want to see and admire your achievements, but if it doesn’t reduce GHG emissions, it’s not part of the answer to climate change.

Q: What is simple living? I hear so many versions, and so many sound awful.

A: I don’t believe that I use this phrase often. For me simple living is making choices that free me and center me—making fewer, more important choices. This meaning is not universal.

Akerlof’s ethics pose a challenge to us. However, we can get there in a very different manner. Suppose we have always eaten whatever we want, whenever we want. Now for a year, we opt to change our behavior, and see how we feel at the end of the year. We may find that going for walks helps deal with anxiety that can lead to overeating, and has other benefits. We may find that we like ourselves better. We may find that walking becomes easier over time, as we walk more and eat less. We may find that the entire year has been a terrible experience, and we will never, ever do this again. Note: those of us who eat considerably more than we need really do get that this solution is for us, not for those who are starving, or who have close to normal weights.

Similarly, we could set a goal of reducing our GHG emissions 10% this year, and see how we feel at the end of the year. Take the train one way instead of flying. Drive less. Use less energy in the house. It probably won’t take much work, but you do need an accurate GHG scale. If I set a goal to reduce my GHG emissions 10% this year, and act on it, how will I feel during the year, how will I feel after 12 months? These are open-ended question; answers will vary. For many, the answers will include greater pleasure in some new choices compared to previous ones, and feeling better about ourselves, happier with who we are. Others will hate some or all of it. Success at the end of the year could lead to a new set point, or it could lead to a new question for the following year. Most important is a willingness to try this once.

I never experimented when I resented the experiment. The time I chose to take the train from the west to the east coast instead of flying, I felt an obligation to try, I was curious about how I would react, and I felt free to hate the experience and take the train no more. I used the time on the train to ask others why they took the train. I was surprised that I preferred the train over flying: being rested when I arrived rather than always rushing. Just sitting and looking at the US.

Q: What makes behavior change important, given that we are going to accomplish so little?

A: There are a number of reasons.

Economists have a model of the rational actor, but people make rational decisions better when they are changing their behavior. People who think about climate change and how they could respond are more likely to buy more efficient bulbs, appliances, etc.

Also consider society’s experience with smoking. The number of smokers and our exposure to secondhand smoke decreased as public health warnings, legislation, and behavior change among some in the public (from not smoking themselves to insisting that the spouse not smoke near the kids) worked together over a number of decades.

Perhaps most important: even though a good share of the public knows climate change is crucial to address last week, too few of us care enough to vote or work on it, or reconsider old ways of thinking on policy issues. Many of us can only acknowledge the dangers from climate change if we have found a way to begin to address it. Most people know that buying green products doesn’t do much, but that changing behavior can. Real numbers, real progress over time, for enough people, and more become willing to make climate change a priority.

Interestingly, it is my sense that those who are strongest advocates of changing behavior would benefit more from learning why nuclear power is an attractive solution and advocating for it. Those who might benefit most from changing behavior are those who don’t consider it/fear it. As more of us face our fears, society will begin to face its fears about addressing climate change.

CO2 and Clownfish

August 17th, 2010

A number of studies show that increasing CO2 is an important environmental change for plants. Now Ocean acidification impairs olfactory discrimination and homing ability of a marine fish (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) studied the effect of ocean acidification on clownfish larva:

The persistence of most coastal marine species depends on larvae finding suitable adult habitat at the end of an offshore dispersive stage that can last weeks or months. We tested the effects that ocean acidification from elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) could have on the ability of larvae to detect olfactory cues from adult habitats. Larval clownfish reared in control seawater (pH 8.15) discriminated between a range of cues that could help them locate reef habitat and suitable settlement sites. This discriminatory ability was disrupted when larvae were reared in conditions simulating CO2-induced ocean acidification. Larvae became strongly attracted to olfactory stimuli they normally avoided when reared at levels of ocean pH that could occur ca. 2100 (pH 7.8) and they no longer responded to any olfactory cues when reared at pH levels (pH 7.6) that might be attained later next century on a business-as-usual carbon-dioxide emissions trajectory. If acidification continues unabated, the impairment of sensory ability will reduce population sustainability of many marine species, with potentially profound consequences for marine diversity.

Nature Conservancy An important adaptation to climate change is to minimize other dangers to species.

Some recent updates

August 9th, 2010

Friends Energy Project is now updated to the 21st century. I hope to change news and events at least once every 2 weeks, possibly more often. Is there anything you would like to see added?

The revised post on discernment has received comments, but none online. Do you have anything to say online or off?

Differences Among Friends on Energy

August 4th, 2010

A new upload, you can discuss it.

Differences Among Friends on Energy: Friendly and UnFriendly responses to Friends Energy Project

Health effects today: climate change, ozone hole, and biomass

July 27th, 2010

Reading Ian McEwen’s excellent Solar, I ran across some numbers and checked them with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

From Working Group 2, chapter 8 (pdf, go to document to see sources)

8.2.10 Ultraviolet radiation and health
Solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure causes a range of health impacts. Globally, excessive solar UVR exposure has caused the loss of approximately 1.5 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) (0.1% of the total global burden of disease) and 60,000 premature deaths in the year 2000. [Note: an unknown percentage comes from ozone layer depletion.] The greatest burdens result from UVR-induced cortical cataracts, cutaneous malignant melanoma, and sunburn (although the latter estimates are highly uncertain due to the paucity of data). UVR exposure may weaken the immune response to certain vaccinations, which would reduce their effectiveness. However, there are also important health benefits: exposure to radiation in the ultraviolet B frequency band is required for the production of vitamin D in the body. Lack of sun exposure may lead to osteomalacia (rickets) and other disorders caused by vitamin D deficiencies.

Climate change will alter human exposure to UVR exposure in several ways, although the balance vary depending on location and present exposure to UVR. Greenhouse-induced cooling of the stratosphere is expected to prolong the effect of ozone-depleting gases, which will increase levels of UVR reaching some parts of the Earth’s surface. Climate change will alter the distribution of clouds which will, in turn, affect UVR levels at the surface. Higher ambient temperatures will influence clothing choices and time spent outdoors, potentially increasing UVR exposure in some regions and decreasing it in others. If immune function is impaired and vaccine efficacy is reduced, the effects of climate-related shifts in infections may be greater than would occur in the absence of high UVR levels… Global burden of disease study
The World Health Organization conducted a regional and global comparative risk assessment to quantify the amount of premature morbidity and mortality due to a range of risk factors, including climate change, and to estimate the benefit of interventions to remove or reduce these risk factors. In the year 2000, climate change is estimated to have caused the loss of over 150,000 lives and 5,500,000 DALYs (0.3% of deaths and 0.4% of DALYs, respectively). The assessment also addressed how much of the future burden of climate change could be avoided by stabilising greenhouse gas emissions. The health outcomes included were chosen based on known sensitivity to climate variation, predicted future importance, and availability of quantitative global models (or the feasibility of constructing them).

8.7.1 Health and climate protection: clean energy
In many low-income countries, access to electricity is limited. Over half of the world’s population still relies on biomass fuels and coal to meet their energy needs. These biomass fuels have low combustion efficiency and a significant, but unknown, portion is harvested non-renewably, thus contributing to net carbon emissions. The products of incomplete combustion from small-scale biomass combustion contain a number of health-damaging pollutants, including small particles, carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and a range of toxic volatile organic compounds. Human exposures to these pollutants within homes are large in comparison with outdoor air pollution exposures. Current best estimates, based on published epidemiological studies, are that biomass fuels in households are responsible annually for approximately 0.7 to 2.1 million premature deaths in low-income countries (from a combination of lower-respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer). About two-thirds occur in children under the age of five and most of the rest occur in women.

cooking stoves
Better cooking stoves use less fuel, reduce air pollution, reduce the burden on the environment and the women who collect wood, and reduce attacks on the women.

Whom do you trust on climate change?

July 13th, 2010

Greg Craven in his excellent What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate, spends chapter 3 explaining why we should never trust ourselves, and chapter 4 on which sources he does trust and why.

Greg Craven
Greg Craven

Reading these two chapters and doing his exercise on sources may help center any group studying climate change.

I rely on somewhat different sources than does Craven. I don’t ever look for the facts in one category he considers important, people saying something different than you expect—while I learn a lot from military analyses of the consequences of climate change, I don’t necessarily consider them reliable on climate change. Another difference between our lists is that I rely on the hierarchy scientists have created, eg, for Chernobyl facts, go to International Atomic Energy Agency. For climate change facts, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides the top level of discernment.

But over time, I have begun to understand which just plain folks I trust on climate change. Not to get the facts right, perhaps, but I trust that they care about climate change. So far, I’ve identified only one characteristic: they have changed their mind on something important.

Most people talking about climate change solutions sound just like they did before their interest in climate change. In the old days, they knew that the most important environmental issue was expanding nuclear power, eliminating nuclear power, avoiding meat, renewables, or living simply. Now it turns out that these are the most important solutions to climate change. They sound to me like they have added an amplifier to their recording: see, my solution is absolutely critical!!!!!!!!!

I also distrust their interest in climate change if they reference a number of extraneous issues. Wall Street Journal op-ed pieces on climate change frequently mention the United Nations as a problem. Many addressing climate change want to solve all the world problems, not just climate change and biodiversity loss, but poverty and women’s rights. I don’t object to solving all the world’s problems, but I don’t trust people to focus who have too large a vision.

So give me someone who emphasizes behavior change today in addition to promoting nuclear power from times long ago, or who promotes nuclear power now in addition to advocating for behavior change way back when. Someone who wants to focus on a small number of topics related to climate change (affordable energy, pollution), but doesn’t bring up furthering democracy or raising children. I hear that person as so interested in climate change, she is willing to concede that her old thinking was insufficient.

I know intellectually that I am unfair. Until I find a way to bring my intellect and my emotions into harmony, this is where I am.

What about you?

How Much Electricity Goes to Water?

July 6th, 2010

I’ve been asked a number of times to include water on my greenhouse gas spreadsheet, and now have the numbers to do so. Energy demands for water use are significant. Unfortunately, most of the water we consume never appears on our home water bill. Our bill doesn’t show us water use for eating and showering elsewhere, or for water use in agriculture or manufacturing—1 kg of cotton requires 2900 gallons of water (global average), a t-shirt 715 gallons. In many areas of the world, including California and the US, people consume fossil water (groundwater), and replacement will come from higher emissions desalination.

According to California Energy Commission (pdf), 19% of CA use of electricity, 32% of natural gas, and 88 million gallons of diesel goes to water supply and treatment, and wastewater treatment, for all uses. Energy for residential water, at least in California, comes mainly from electricity.

So how much of my annual electricity usage belongs to the category water use? What percentage of my annual water use appears on my home water bill?

Electricity for home water use
The US average, according to Energy Star’s Water/Wastewater Focus: A National, Collaborative Approach to Enhance Energy Performance within Municipal Facilities (pdf), is 1.5 kWh/thousand gallons (kgal) drinking water, and another 1.2 kWh/kgal sewage. (Typically about half of water goes to sewage.) Variations can be large—in my water district, East Bay Municipal Water District (pdf), water flows downhill, and the electricity use is 1.25 kWh/kgal, with another 1.5 kWh/kgal sewage. EBMUD estimates that a person halfway uphill in Berkeley/Oakland uses 25 kWh/year more than a person in the flats (assumes 50 gallons/day, personal communication David Beyer, EBMUD). Getting water to southern CA requires more pumping, and electricity costs are higher, 6.4 kWh/kgal.

To calculate your energy use for water, for indoor and outdoor residential, plus some for work or school, restaurants, and the gym:

• Get your yearly water use from your bills. Multiply ccf (hundred cubic feet) by 748 to get gallons. Divide by 1,000 to get water consumption in kgal.

• Round up. My assumption is that everyone should round up by at least the larger of 10 gallons/day or 20%, to count water use outside the home, from vacations and toilets and restaurants and showers at the gym to the water use on veggies at the store, etc. People in apartments who use a lot of water outside the home may want to double what the bill tells you.

• To calculate wastewater use, multiply water consumption by a value between 0.4 (a high percentage of your water goes into the yard rather than wastewater) and 1 (apartment dweller).

• Multiply water use estimate by electricity use/kgal, and multiply wastewater estimate by electricity use/kgal.

• Divide by the size of household to get per capita electricity use.

Family Ex’s bill says that the two residents use 100 gallons/day, or 36,500/year = 36.5 kgal/year.

The Exes eat out about 10 meals/week, and one goes to the gym a couple of times/week. They are away from home 20 days/year. Add 40%, to get 51 kgal/year. (Your guess is probably better than mine.) If the Exes are typical, wastewater will be half that, or 26 kgal/year.

Multiply water use by 1.5 kWh/kgal, and wastewater by 1.2 kWh/kgal. (US values)

Electricity use: 51 (1.5) + 26 (1.2) = 110 kWh

Per capita electricity associated with water use for the two Exes is about 55 kWh/year.

Reducing water use
The Exes can reduce water use in a number of ways—see your local water utility for recommendations. Here is EBMUD’s watersmart page and their information on gray water. The NY Times describes the work of Greywater Guerrillas, a group that feels that the CA code is too complex, and expensive, in The Dirty Water Underground.

gray water idea from the greywater guerrillas
gray water idea from the greywater guerrillas

Xeriscaping can add beauty as well as reduce water use.

Suggestions I don’t always see on lists of ways to save energy for water:
• cook with less water—boil only as much as you need.
• turn water on and off while washing dishes. Run water continuously and you’ll use several times as much water.

More information
• The energy to heat water is not included, but is significant. If you heat water with natural gas, then 34 gallons of hot water for an entire clothes wash cycle requires 0.34 therms. Warm water has about half the energy requirements of hot water. Compare this to the energy cost of operating the washer, 0.3 kWh electricity. A gas dryer might use 0.17 therm, plus 0.5 kWh electricity, and an electric dryer 3.3 kWh. One reason so many utilities give rebates on water efficient washers is to reduce hot water use.

Pardee Reservoir
Pardee Reservoir is part of the EBMUD water system.

• Actual water use is MUCH greater than our bill tells us. According to Energy and Air Emission Effects of Water Supply (pdf), typical water use is 86 kgal/year, more than 230 gallons/day: this counts commercial and educational establishments, industry, parks, swimming pools, etc.

We in EBMUD’s service area use 130 gallons/person/day. These numbers are down because we are responding to the drought, and because industry has moved away. Numbers will stay down because we have adopted drought behavior. (personal communication Michelle Blackwell, EBMUD)

In numbers that have surely decreased—Californians have been changing their behavior, water use has becomes a tad bit more efficient, and industry has declined in both real and per capita terms—estimated CA water use in 2000 was 7 million acre feet for 34 million people, 180 gallons per day (gpd) per person, 67 kgal/year.

By sector in CA:
indoor residential: 22 kgal/year, 60 gpd
outdoor residential: estimates range from 9.4 kgal/year, 26 gpd to twice as much
commercial/institutional: 18 kgal/year, 41 gpd
industrial: 6.4 kgal/year, 17 gpd
unaccounted for: 6.7 kgal/year, 17 gpd
Waste Not, Want Not: The Potential for Urban Water Conservation in California (pdf)

For US numbers, see USGS Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000 (Notes: US population in 2000 was 281 million. Water used by power plants is for the most part returned, though at a higher temperature.)

irrigation: 490 gpd per person
public-supplied for 85% of the population: 180 gpd
self-supplied industrial: 70 gpd
self-supplied domestic, livestock, aquaculture, and mining: 46 gpd

• In addition to greenhouse gases, each 1000 gallons CA water use (pdf) produces 7.2 g NOx, 1.5 g particulate matter, and 11 g SOx. US averages are about 60% worse for greenhouse gas emissions, twice as bad for NOx, 10x as bad for particulate matter, and 2.5x as bad for SOx. This is due primarily to a different mix of sources of electricity.

• Desalination will become increasingly important in CA (and elsewhere) as population increases from 37 million today to 46.5 million by 2030 (US Census).

Drinking water scarcity is an issue in many parts of the world. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in areas likely to experience absolute water scarcity. More than 40% of the world’s population may face serious water shortages if they must rely solely on locally available freshwater. Some of these places experience scarcity due to climate and others because infrastructure is unavailable; however, in some places, both issues are problematic.

Energy and Air Emission Effects of Water Supply (pdf)

Desalination will increase energy use/kgal by as little as 50% or as much as 140%.

• In dry states, water use also contributes indirectly to climate change, and ecosystem damage, because competition between ecosystem needs and human needs almost always lead to less productive ecosystems, and reduced carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere.

Biotech Crops Good for Farmers and Environment

May 25th, 2010

From the April 16 Science, Biotech Crops Good for Farmers and Environment (subscription required):

Fourteen years after genetically engineered crops began to take off in the United States, the overall benefits to farmers are clear, according to a new report from the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies. The shift from conventionally grown crops has paid off economically and environmentally, says the panel. “We can stop arguing about whether the environmental and economic impacts are significant,” says agricultural economist Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes of the University of Missouri, Columbia, who was not on the panel…

Reduced tillage could offer the “largest single environmental benefit of GE crops,” the panel found, because it should mean less sediment, fertilizer, and pesticides washing into streams. But this hasn’t been proven, so the panel recommends that the U.S. Geological Survey investigate the impact of reduced tillage on water quality.

Key findings from Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States, produced by National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (order reflect report structure rather than importance):

• When adopting GE [genetically engineered] herbicide-resistant (HR) crops, farmers mainly substituted the herbicide glyphosate for more toxic herbicides. However, the predominant reliance on glyphosate is now reducing the effectiveness of this weed-management tool.

• The adoption of HR crops complements conservation tillage practices, which reduces the adverse effects of tillage on soil and water quality.

• Targeting specific plant insect pests with Bt corn and cotton has been successful, and the ability to target specific plant pests in corn and cotton continues to expand. Insecticide use has decreased with the adoption of insect-resistant (IR) crops. The emergence of insect resistance to Bt crops has been low so far and of little economic or agronomic consequence; two pest species have evolved resistance to Bt crops in the United States.

• For the three major GE crops, gene flow to wild or weedy relatives has not been a concern to date because compatible relatives of corn and soybean do not exist in the United States and are only local for cotton. For other GE crops, the situation varies according to species. However, gene flow to non-GE crops has been a concern for farmers whose markets depend on an absence of GE traits in their products. The potential risks presented by gene flows may increase as GE traits are introduced into more crops.

• Farmers who have GE crops have experienced lower costs of production and obtained higher yields in many cases because of more cost-effective weed control and reduced losses from insect pests. Many farmers have benefited economically from the adoption of Bt crops by using lower amounts of or less expensive insecticide applications, particularly where insect pest populations were high and difficult to treat before the advent of Bt crops.

• Adapters of GE crops experienced increased worker safety and greater simplicity and flexibility in farm management, benefitting farmers even though the cost of GE seed is higher than non-GE seed. Newer varieties of GE crops with multiple GE traits appear to reduce production risk for adopters.

• The effect GE crops have had on prices received by farmers for soybeans, corn, and cotton is not completely understood.

• To the extent that economic effects of GE-crop plantings on non-GE producers are understood, the results are mixed. By and large, these effects have not received adequate research. [Eg, food safety increased in livestock feed, downward pressure on price, lower pest control costs due to reduced pest populations, cost of new insecticides whether or not non-GE farming practices led to the need]

• Research on the dissemination of earlier technological development in agriculture suggests that favorable and unfavorable social impacts exist from the dissemination of genetic-engineering technology. However, these impacts have not been identified or analyzed. [eg, the impact on farmers with less access to credit, fewer social connections to university and private-sector researchers who grow crops for smaller markets, labor dynamics, farm structure, community viability]

• The proprietary terms under which private-sector firms supply GE seeds to the market has not adversely affected the economic welfare of farmers who adopt GE crops. Nevertheless, ongoing research is needed to investigate how market structure may evolve and affect access to non-GE or single-trait seed. Furthermore, there has been little research on how increasing market concentration of seed suppliers affects overall yield benefits, crop genetic diversity, seed prices, and farmers’ planting decisions and options.

Conclusions and Recommendations

• Weed problems in fields of HR crops will become more common as weeds evolve resistance to glyphosate or weed communities less susceptible to glyphosate become established in areas treated exclusively with that herbicide. Though problems of evolved resistance and weed shifts are not unique to HR crops, their occurrence, which is documented, diminishes the effectiveness of a weed-control practice that has minimal environmental impacts. Weed resistance to glyphosate may cause farmers to return to tillage as a weed-management tool and to the use of potentially more toxic herbicides. A number of new genetically engineered HR cultivars are currently under development and may provide growers with other weed management options when fully commercialized. However, the sustainability of these new GE cultivars will also be a function of how the traits are managed. If they are managed in the same fashion as the current genetically engineered HR cultivars, the same problems of evolved herbicide resistance and weed shifts may occur. Therefore, farmers of HR crops should incorporate more diverse management practices, such as herbicide rotation, herbicide application sequences, and tank-mixes of more than one herbicide; herbicides with different modes of action, method of application, and persistence; cultural and mechanical control practices; and equipment-cleaning and harvest practice that minimize the dispersal of HR weeds.

• Given that agriculture is the largest source of surface water pollution, improvements in water quality resulting from the complementary nature of herbicide-resistance technology and conservation tillage may represent the largest single environmental benefit of GE crops. However, the infrastructure to track and analyze these effects is not in place.

• The environmental, economic, and social effects on adopters and nonadopters of GE crops has changed over time, particularly because of changes in pest responses to GE crops, the consolidation of the seed industry, and the incorporation of GE traits into most varieties of corn, soybean, and cotton. However, empirical research into the environmental and economic effects of changing market conditions, and farmer practices have not kept pace. Furthermore, little work has been conducted regarding the effects on livestock producers and nonadopters and on the social impacts of GE crops. Issues in need of further investigation include the costs and benefits of shifts in pest management for non-GE producers due to the adoption of GE cops, the value of market opportunities afforded to organic farmers by defining their products as non-GE crops, the economic impacts of GE-crop adoption on livestock producers, and the costs to farmers, marketers, and processors of the presence of approved or unapproved GE traits and crops in products intended for restricted markets. As more GE traits are developed and inserted into existing GE crops or into other crops, understanding the impacts on all farmers will become even more important to ensuring that genetic-engineering technology is used in a way that facilitates environment, economic, and social sustainability in U.S. agriculture.

• Commercialized GE traits are targeted at pest control, and when used properly, have been effective at reducing pest problems with economic and environmental benefits to farmers. However, genetic engineering could be used in more crops, in novel ways beyond herbicide and insecticide resistance, and for a greater diversity of purposes. With proper management, genetic-engineering technology could help address food insecurity by reducing yield losses though its introduction into other crops and with the development of other yield protection traits like drought tolerance. Crop biotechnology could also address “public good” issues that will be undersupplied by the market acting alone. Some firms are working on GE traits that address public goods issues. However, industry has insufficient incentive to invest enough in research and development for those purposes when firms cannot collect revenue from innovations that generate net benefits beyond the farm. Therefore, the development of these traits will require greater collaboration between the public and private sectors because the benefits extend beyond farmers to the society in general. The implementation of a targeted and tailored regulatory approach to GE-trait development and commercialization that meets human and environmental safety standards while minimizing unnecessary expenses will aid this agenda (Ervin and Webb, 2006).

transgenic methods
transgenic methods

Middle School Video on Nuclear Power

April 20th, 2010

Three 8th-grade students produced a video on nuclear power and won the C-Span StudentCam 2010 award.

Here is the video and transcript of their interview after they were told they won. (The transcript is not complete.) After the interview, stay tuned to see first prize winners for high school and middle school categories.

The short video Skype includes interviews with people as diverse as Dale Klein, then head of Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott.

Readings on the Culture Wars

April 19th, 2010

I’ve been reading to prepare for the climate activist group, and have had no time for writing. Here are some brief descriptions of two of the books, with some online reading material. I intend to post more on them.

Mike Hulme’s Why We Disagree About Climate Change addresses a wide variety of challenges to agreement, from differing abilities to see the atmosphere, nature, as something that can be altered, to good people/good economists analyzing costs and benefits very differently, to distinct views of nature and solutions held by different cultures.

Listen to Hulme here.

Hulme’s discussion on cultures, over several chapters, cites several studies from social scientists on Cultural Theory. The idea behind cultural theory, originally developed by Mary Douglas (here is her description of both the theory and its history, pdf), is that which culture we belong can be determined with just two characteristics:

• strong or weak group identity (adherence to group norms)
• strong or weak grid (methods of control, or regimentation)

As described in a Guardian article on Mary Douglas,

The four [cultural] types are plotted on a graph with two axes. The horizontal axis represents the strength of group norms, such as family and local community, while the vertical axis represents the strength of the grid – those less intimate mechanisms of control such as laws, religious authority, economic forces and institutional disciplines.

• Strong group boundaries and minimal prescriptions—egalitarian
• Strong group boundaries and strong prescriptions—hierarchical
• Bound neither group incorporation nor prescribed roles—individualistic
• Excluded from group but strong prescriptions—fatalistic
Some lists include a 5th category, those few who withdraw from what they see as coercive or manipulative social involvement altogether—hermit

You might be in one culture here and another there, but most of us don’t switch wildly from culture to culture as we go through the day. Cultural theory helps us understand the different arguments we present and encounter, but no one person spends her life in a single culture.

Most groups (your workplace, religious group, bicycling group) include people from more than one, or all, cultures, but the group itself has a cultural identity. Google and Department of Energy are examples of two different work cultures, one individualist, one hierarchical. And there can be big differences among cultures that share similarities: compare Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Catholic Church.

People adopt a culture based in part on how they see nature, and in part they see nature in a certain way to justify their way of living. The cultures we join then provide a source, as Douglas says, of “irreconcilable conflict” between members of different cultures; besides seeing the world differently from one another, our differing views are means of expressing moral principles and loyalties to our cultures. “The message for research is never to consider conflict of opinions without looking for the underlying conflict between institutional forms. Cultural attack and persecution are the spice of life for a community.” We like to think that we do better with our time than expressing superiority, but for most of us, the contrast with other cultures helps us define ourselves, orient ourselves, and feel good about ourselves.

Although Douglas’ synopsis (pdf) provides a good starting place, cultural theory is more complicated in its details.

The book Cultural Theory by Michael Thompson, Richard Ellis, and Aaron Wildavsky, provides more detailed analysis. A number of more recent books provide more updated thinking on the subject.

More reading on the web:
Cultural cognition project

Cultural Cognition and Public Policy

Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus Cultural cognition shapes our beliefs about scientific consensus.

Risk and Culture study

Second study

Upcoming: how do different cultures see nature? How do we see the solutions to nature’s problems?