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Stage 4 Climate Change and the National Debt

By June 11, 2018November 6th, 2021Energy Rant
Baseload Generation Cost

You are not reading the Rant for a weekly dose of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. You read it for the spicy beef jerky – even vegetarians. I mean, vegetarians can’t resist the beef jerky. Nobody wants to eat a vegetarian. Anyway, the Rant is a dose of what you need to hear and what you want to hear. This week is no exception.


But first, I have a confession to make. Exactly one year ago, I wrote about the Paris climate accord in The Abominable Snowman (inferring that it was toothless). I had only read about the agreement. I did not read the agreement. Here ends the confession.

The Punchline

Last week I read an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal explaining how Climate Change has Run Its Course, subtitled, “Its descent into social-justice identity politics is the last gasp of a cause that has lost its vitality.”

The author goes on to say, climate change itself is not over but, “I mean simply that climate change is no longer a pre-eminent policy issue. All that remains is boilerplate rhetoric from the political class, frivolous nuisance lawsuits, and bureaucratic mandates on behalf of special-interest renewable-energy rent seekers.”


The Wrong Turn and the Sociology Behind It

If you want to make a difference, you cannot choose sides, except to know which side you need to win over. Roots of failure establish when frustration sets in, name calling ensues, and people retreat to their tribe for aid and comfort of the echo chamber. That is not where or how to make a difference.

The author of the WSJ article references an interesting paper written in 1972. The paper describes the five phases of the “issue-attention cycle.” They are:

  1. Pre-problem stage
  2. Alarmed discovery
  3. Realization of cost
  4. Decline of public interest
  5. Post problem stage

You can read the paper. It doesn’t precisely fit the climate change trajectory, primarily regarding stage 1. However, stage two of the paper describes how every obstacle cannot be eliminated nor every problem solved with no “reordering” of society.

What’s Working?

What is working is the somewhat-free market. The Wall Street Journal just published an article describing how the most carbon-intensive source of electricity, coal, is almost overtaken by renewables plus backup.

I modified the chart nearby, from The Wall Street Journal, to indicate the direct cost of the various sources of electricity, skipping the esoteric costs of greenhouse gas and social costs. They are all quite even, except for natural gas and hydro, which have substantial price advantages.

One can easily argue that pure economics have driven the carbon reduction to date. Oh, and I should add lucrative tax credits have also shifted cost from renewable generators to taxpayers, and the national debt. But let’s face it, at this point subsidies are about political payouts and not carbon reduction.

Baseload Generation Cost

What Didn’t

Ok, team. Let’s get back to the opening paragraphs where I mentioned “social justice identity politics” and the Paris accord.

Have you watched the 1980s movie “K-9” with Jim Belushi? Do it. It’s a comedy where Belushi is paired with a German Shepard police dog named Jerry Lee. Jerry’s attack command is “Cochise.”

Now, consider a pack of conservatives named Jerry. The Paris accord is packed with words and phrases containing the attack code, COCHISE!

Here are some Cochise phrases from the Paris agreement (they are all unmodified quotes):

  • principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances
  • progressive response
  • transfer of technology
  • equitable access
  • eradication of poverty
  • ending hunger
  • creation of decent work and quality jobs
  • human rights
  • right to health
  • rights of indigenous people
  • migrants, children, persons with disabilities
  • gender equality, empowerment of women
  • Mother Earth
  • ‘climate justice’

Every one of those terms drives the Jerrys absolutely crazy, not because they are not worthwhile, but because they leak what is perceived to be the underlying purpose of the agreement – to cut wealthy countries, particularly, the US, down to size. It’s hard to find any argument that won’t make the opposition dig in. Those phrases above are entirely fatal to the effort.

This was a fatal mistake of the Paris agreement. I have fought intensely for efficiency on the grounds of economics with an information campaign.

Not Serious

A sure sign that people aren’t serious about solving the problem is that there is zero, or in fact less than zero (that means negative), support for the only two sources of zero-emission power: nuclear and hydro. I’ve seen dozens of articles where greens rip the DOE for suggesting we subsidize nukes. The subsidies were for different reasons, but it is obvious where those people stand. Nukes are a necessary, albeit more expensive, means to curtail the climate change threat. You cannot be that purely ideological and solve any major problem. Period.

Stage 4

Stage four of the Issue Attention Cycle involves a gradual decline in public interest. Outside our bubble, I believe that is the case. See Chicken Tax for one case. When fuel prices decline, sales of large SUVs and light trucks soar.

Folks fall into either of three categories in stage four:

  • Discouraged
  • Threatened
  • Bored

This is the same place in which the national debt resides. People are bored of that, and until there is a Constitutional convention of states, it will never be fixed in a non-destructive way. That problem is likely to fix itself, and it won’t be pretty.

The emission problem will only be fixed if it costs less, not counting the abstruse externalities of energy production.

Efficiency, anyone?

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Hugh Peach says:

    Jeff, I enjoy these MIchaelsEnergy posts, both for the vigor of some of the assertions and technical content. I realize that the post based on the WSJ article of climate interest dropping towards zero using the indicator of emergence of identity-based interests is satire, and that the underlying model from Public Interest is both political and sophomoric rather than reflective of the diligence and rigor of search for truth of a disciplinary community. However, in addition to energy conservation, I am active in the American Society of Adaptation Planners (ASAP) and do some adaptation work. Coming in from the outside from the energy conservation silo to the parallel adaptation silo, I find both groups of applied science workers and community organizers to be very similar (with a higher percentage of people with environmental degrees on the adaptation side). The one thing you run into on the adaptation side, however, is the emphasis on inclusion. As you know, we can leave out the “upper 1%” because the very rich at the top of our society are already investing for (only) themselves in climate hideouts in New Zealand and in the purchase of old missile silos to build underground semi-luxurious retreats, just in case. For the rest of us, we are dependent on the leadership of cities and a few states (pretty much the same ones that are long-term leaders in energy savings). But, if you think about a process of a few hundred years (my calculations – which are just regression analysis and not climate science – come out between 220 years to 600 years depending on the data set) you have think about where people are going to be as the friendliness of our planet to humans and the animals and plants with which we have co-evolved deteriorates. As we experience extreme events along the way (like Katrina or the gradual dying of large numbers of trees in the West and the in the great forests of Canada and associated wildfires) one thing to notice is that if everyone is not included in the long years of planning and the immediate action of command centers and response teams when an extreme event hits, the results are ruinous for excluded groups. If you Google “Ron Westrum” on google scholar, you will find his assessment of the failure of resilience in New Orleans. So, it turns out that in the climate silo, one difference is that we have to practice “farseeing” (to use U.K. Leguin’s word) and if we discipline ourselves to do that we end up with a need to school ourselves to follow the Native American practice of looking ahead for effects across generations. But, that, in turn, reflexively means both a technical and a moral imperative to inclusion now as a primary concern. We can’t really talk about planning for fair play and fair outcomes later without focusing on inclusion now. So, for that reason, inclusion becomes major in all adaptation work.

    You are right that emphasis on inclusion generates opposition. This especially occurs among people who have not been included by our political leaders of either party in the globalization of the economy, so are looking for their own identity politics. But it does not happen in our great cities, where inclusion means a way towards mobilization, rough consensus and a full employment economy with real jobs. But with Westrum’s article as an example, nothing technical will work in adaptation without inclusion. So, I would argue that inclusion is not a residual concern, or a collapse towards insignificance, but the first duty and the first objective in securing practical and workable technical solutions.

    So, again, your blog is a bright point in the energy discussion, both for satire and for demonstrated technical proficiency. I am just raising this one point in the community of perspectives. Of course, I think what we face in adaption is a classic Darwin test; I am hoping that we as a species (with everyone included) are up for it.

  • Jeffrey L Ihnen says:

    Thanks for the comment, Gil. Rarely, if ever, does anything good and lasting come from political diktat. As you may have seen in my post that followed this one, I’ve learned a lot in recent months about framing the benefits of energy efficiency. One of those things is that willful ignorance is alive and well with many lawmakers. I talked directly with a lot of them.

    To your point, I think a healthy majority of Americans are favor resilience, adaptation, reliability and so on. Also in recent posts, I’ve explained that if enough people want something and are willing to pay a premium long enough, the price will come down (thinking of EVs and energy storage, for example). To get what we want, we often have to fly below the radar and control the message – and that means, what NOT to say or do, more than what TO say or do.


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