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Climate Change – Surveys and Truth Telling

By March 27, 2017November 6th, 2021Energy Rant

I have written rather popular articles on critical thinking and climate change in greenhouse gas basics, tribal views (non-critical thinking) on climate change, and others.  This week, I am going to bring the two together, with this article from the New York Times supplying the data/ammunition for this post.

Survey Development

Survey development is difficult for getting facts, such as doing phone surveys to assess what types of equipment, appliances, lighting, and so forth energy users have in their homes.  The questions need to be carefully considered, including whether customers will have a clue regarding the equipment in question.  For example:

  • What is the make and model of your condensing unit?
  • Is your furnace condensing or non-condensing?

These will likely produce poor results because normal people don’t know what these things are.  Instead:

  • Please provide the make and model of your condensing unit – the part of your air conditioning system that sits outside and blows hot air while the AC cools your home.
  • Does your furnace have a plastic/PVC exhaust pipe or steel/sheet metal or chimney exhaust?

If they can’t answer those questions, they can’t be reached with anything.  You will have to dip into the pool of reserve customers.

Push Polling

Moving on to questions of opinion can produce any results the researcher or biased hack wants.  The researcher wants useful data, while the biased hack wants answers that conform to his views.  Biased hacks write push-poll questions such as: Do you support tax cuts for the Koch brothers at the expense of Medicare cuts for grandma?   Well, gee.  That’s a tough one.  These push-pollers, along with no critical thinking, give us the broken and completely dysfunctional political system we have today.

Back to the climate change debate.  It is vital to understand the barriers to achieving the endgame to get there, but polling surveys don’t bother with this.  The result is useless information.  The NYT article is a great example of this.  Here is what the article and the entire debate on climate change boil down to:

  • Should we reduce carbon emissions? The answer is overwhelmingly yes, but this is a worthless question because…
  • Are you willing to do, or would you support, any of the following to achieve this?
    • Volunteer to have the utility remotely raise your thermostat setpoint in the summertime during the highest demand, hottest days
    • Take public transportation on a regular basis
    • Carpool
    • Trade your gasser in for an electric car
    • Support the construction of long-distance high-voltage transmission lines to exchange renewable energy among large geographic regions
    • Install efficient lighting
  • How much more, in percent, would you be willing to pay for electricity?

The second series of questions can provide valuable insight into where, how, and with whom to most successfully do something about greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead, we normally get questions like those resulting in the NYT article.  Those questions seem to be geared toward political ends of, “Everyone is worried about climate change, and everyone wants it fixed.”  Well, no.  Just look at the data.

The first interesting finding is depicted in the graphic from the article.

The Other Guy’s Problem

These results tell me that people think the sky is falling, but it won’t fall on me.  Look at all the schizoid states that are completely orange in the first map and completely blue in the second.  There is something here that demonstrates the barriers to GHG reduction.  Namely,

  • It’s the other guy’s problem.
  • Somebody else will pay for it.
  • I don’t need to do anything.

Critical thinking and truth telling are the biggest barriers to our biggest problems.  Consider the white-hot topic of healthcare.  People overwhelmingly support the requirement to cover “pre-existing conditions.”  Well, gee.  This is a huge problem.  Why buy insurance, especially when I’m young, when I can wait to enroll after I’m stricken with a major ailment?  The “system” needs to cover all that.  Prices rise, squeezing more insurance buyers out of the market.  It’s a death spiral, pun alert.  Yet in the entire debate, there is/was no truth telling to this phenomenon.  This is the major core problem, and without genuine discussion of options including truth in labeling, it will not be solved.

Moreover, it reminds me of the spiraling cost of higher education.  The system is flooded with cheap government-backed money, creating huge demand for college enrollment.  High demand results in high prices.  Furthermore, college campuses resemble vacation destinations with unbelievable facilities, perks, and extracurricular opportunities all rolled into one debt-crushing price.  I remember my first visit to a college town when I was in junior high visiting my older brother.  I thought, wow, these people live in some major dumps; blocks and blocks of student ghettos – the best times of their lives.

Bottom line, if you want to score political points, conduct stupid surveys to get the data you want to make TV ads or clobber political opponents.  If you want to do some good, ask tough questions.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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