What lessons to learn – when the scare is real?

TinyCO2 made a comment: “I could spend all day listing the things that are acting as a barrier to action on CO2 and making scepticism grow”
For those convinced about global warming, I do not need to explain that there is a need to convince the public. So if you had to write down what you thought the lessons were for future academics in your position what would they be?
To the sceptics
We may not agree with the convinced on whether CO2 is the problem we are told it is, but that doesn’t mean something else may not come along.
Next time both sceptics and the “convinced” might agree that we do need to convince people.
Let us imagine that the “sceptic” community having treated it with due scepticism – having thoroughly dissected it as best we can – cannot find any major concern and can see there is a really problem – and this time we are on the side of the academics and we need to help them convince the world.
The problem (if we sceptics are right) will be that academics will have had their credibility severely dented by being over confident of their own ability to predict natural forces like the climate.
But what if another event comes along? This time the evidence is equally difficult to understand. We get a few loud mouths dismissing all that the academics with a wave of their hands because of “socialist conspiracies” and the problems over how global warming was handled.
What do we (both academics & sceptics) have to do to convince the public who are likely to be all the more difficult to convince?
What lessons can we learn?
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29 Responses to What lessons to learn – when the scare is real?

  1. TinyCO2 says:

    Stage 1
    To convince others, the first step is to convince yourself. Work out where your boundaries are. What level would you go to in your conviction? Thus at two ends of a scale we have suicide bombers and paedophile priests. Both are vile but only one demonstrates commitment to the values they espouse. Only one of them really ‘believes’.
    That isn’t a call for the CAGW convinced to start blowing anyone up but they need to look at their lives and ask ‘am I doing everything I can to cut CO2?’ That might be installing insulation or avoiding travel for work or even biting your lip and trying not to irritate people into becoming more sceptical. If you do the exercise properly you arrive at the point where you know what you would do for AGW but more importantly what you won’t do.
    Take house fires. They happen. We could all go to the nth degree to protect ourselves and our families. The salesman for a fire sprinkler system could use the argument ‘if your REALLY loved your family you’d put in sprinklers’. There aren’t many homes with fire protection systems, does that mean people don’t love their families? No, it means that in the priorities of the homeowners, there are things that need the money more than the possibility of a fatal fire. Each person will have different trigger points depending upon their circumstances.
    I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of politicians and scientists have barely scratched the surface of what they could do to reduce the carbon footprint. The excuses for not doing so will be many and varied – ‘I need to fly to that conference, I wouldn’t be as convincing over the net’, ‘my home’s a listed building, I can’t insulate it’, ‘I’ve been so busy I haven’t had the time’, ‘I own a forest, that’s my emissions sorted’, ‘I’d be a mug to act alone’, ‘I’m not giving my data away, I have intellectual property rights to protect’.
    For each excuse, you gain an insight into what other people are telling themselves. By thinking them through, you will either seek the solution or come to the conclusion that current circumstances or your perception of the risk are such that you would proceed no further.
    There was a paper recently discussing how to get the public acting on CO2 and one person suggested car sharing. Given the sweetly naïve way it was suggested, I just knew the person had never thought about it in terms of actually doing it themselves. In the ‘let them eat cake’ tradition, it was more likely to generate anger and inaction than a hearty uptake of car sharers. That person hadn’t wondered how sure about CAGW they would have to be to decide that car sharing was something they’d do.

  2. neilfutureboy says:

    Humanity (depending how defined) has got through a couple of million years without being wiped out, though an eruption about 70,000 years ago made a fair attempt. We have far more power over our environment than ever before.
    Still here are some genuine threats:
    Vesuvius – Naples is now far larger than Herculaneum and an eruption is overdue.
    A Comet – if we had a space civilisation we could see it coming and move it.
    Solar flare – if the Carrington Event happened now it would knock out electrical civilisation.
    SARS+ – people joke about it but the fact is that it got most of the way round the world, because of modern air travel
    Nuclear proliferation – there seems to have been surprisingly little
    Somebody GMing a disease – this one does scare me.
    One problem is that government actually prefers a fake scare, which is simply an excuse for more government regulation, to a real one where real decisions have to be made. Even over nuclear proliferation they preferred acting against Iraq, which was doing nothing, to North Korea.

    • TinyCO2 says:

      AGW is a serious problem, if only because someone has their hand in your pocket. What it might also be, time will tell.
      Pandemic disease is one area where you can observe genuine concern in countries not known for their H&S culture. People at the top are imagining their own lives if there was a serious outbreak. When they sit down to discuss issues, there’s a lot more real co-operation and less posturing.

  3. Rachel says:

    The scare is REAL people! What needs to happen in order for all of you to realise?

    • TinyCO2 says:

      Lots of scares are real, it doesn’t mean you do anything about them. Lots of things are fake but we act on them anyway. The difference is concern and motivation.

    • TinyCO2 says:

      Did you read what I put above? Do you know what you would be prepared to do to cut CO2? Do you know where that commitment would stop? Would you agree to only have one child? Would you live in a flat for the rest of your life? Would you have a boring, menial job if that was the only low emissions job available? Would you seriously act if it was just you? If you answered ‘no’ to that last question, how many others would have to act before you joined them? Have you imagined what a low energy world would be like? Would you accept a low energy world that was like Nort Korea? Is a high energy aristocracy acceptable?

      • Rachel says:

        No, I don’t think we need to stop using energy. We could be more efficient of course, but I think we need a mix of solutions including renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage. It’s not an insurmountable problem. New Zealand already gets more than 70% of its domestic electricity from renewables (mostly hydro) and Iceland, I believe, is almost 100%.

        • Yes but how to do communicate better with the public?

          • Rachel says:

            I think you need to answer this question, Scotty. When people communicate a danger to me, I take it seriously (unless it’s coming from some hocus pocus quack). Example: when I lived in Christchurch, it was recommended that I stock up on enough food and water for three days and put together an emergency survival just in case of an earthquake. I did it. Not many other people did though. Then there was an earthquake. Lots of them. After that, everyone got an emergency survival pack. Why did they have to wait for the disaster first? I don’t understand because that is not my modus operandi.

          • TinyCO2 says:

            Did those without an emergency kit survive without it? If the answer is yes, then they might have been a bit inconvenienced but their gamble paid off.
            There are millions of risks on the planet and we continually make little risk assessments whether to act or not. We hardly ever react exactly the way the authorities advise us to. We don’t eat or drink the precise recommended quantities (not least because the rules change week to week). We don’t listen to our doctor when they tell us there’s nothing wrong. Sometimes the doctors are right, sometimes they’re not. People speed, take drugs, go up in hot air balloons, get a tan, fiddle their expenses, etc, etc. We are a risk taking species, which is what made us what we are. Given that most of us live to an old age, it’s a strategy that works.
            Now we have a risk that climate scientists think everyone else is underestimating. They arrive at a time when people have been swamped with exaggerated risks. Every scientist clamours for our attention to their hazard. Hollywood invents hazards and fills people with an overblown impression of what a crisis looks like. How do people quantify which expert to react to and by how much?

          • That’s fairly easy. A few years ago I did the same – I stocked up on food in case of cold weather. A few years later I realised all the food was going out of date. I brought it in from the shed … it is still in the Kitchen because it’s all dried stuff we don’t like. Eventually we will eat it or throw it away, but it was a waste of time.
            But even if you are in an earthquake zone … If I google “emergency survival kit” there are 250,000 hits. Any one of those could be the page which will tell me what I will need in my particular circumstance. How much time would I need spend to find what I needed and not end up as we did with a box of food we did not want.
            After the earth quake I already know what I need … and I know what I don’t need.

        • TinyCO2 says:

          Which is fine for those living on geothermal land. CCS doesn’t work yet and even if it did, it may be cripplingly wasteful of fuel. Wind is a vanity project without a way of storing the spare energy. Sceptics aren’t the ones rejecting nuclear but would you happily let a war torn country have it? Hydro is fine but the locations for it in this country are limited to non existent. Electric cars are unappealing and it’s doubtful we could supply enough electricity to power a huge fleet. No sceptic I’ve come across is wedded to fossil fuels but we’re pretty sure we need energy.
          When imports are included, our individual CO2 footprints have risen on 1990s levels. Since our population is still rising too, our overall emissions go up even faster. All that work so far and we’ve got nowhere. Much of the low hanging fruit has been picked. What if there are no magic technologies round the corner? What if the only way of significantly reducing CO2 in the UK was to have less. Are you prepared for that? Would you go first?

          • Rachel says:

            I don’t object to making sacrifices. I already consume very little, I’m mostly vegan, I ride a bicycle and I live in a mid-terrace brick home. I’m not saying other people should live like this, each to their own I say, but I don’t particularly mind making sacrifices myself.

          • TinyCO2 says:

            On the balance sheet I too emit very little but that’s because it suits me, not because I’m sacrificing anything. I also realise that other people would not necessarily be happy or able to follow my lead. But to significantly reduce CO2 they’d have to. I’ve also reached an energy level I would not like to below without a seriously good reason. There’s nothing in CAGW science that would tempt me to cut further. I’ve reached the wait and see point.
            What would either of us do if we won fifty million on the lottery? Would we stay at our present modest levels? If we got a job that entailed flying to far off places but wasn’t strictly necessary would we take it? Until you are tempted, it’s easy to be a saint.
            Most people think that their CO2 footprint is about right, it’s other people and businesses that need to cut back. Which is why national emsissions aren’t falling.

    • I thought you meant the scare is ….. real-people.
      We could argue about that all day and we will get no where. So can we talk about a hypothetical scare in the future, where none of us have a “side” then we might get some interesting discussion.

  4. J.H. says:

    Hi all..
    TinyCO2 writes very nicely, I have to say, but I’d like to comment on two ‘pockets’ he/she dips into: “Wind is a vanity project without a way of storing the spare energy… . Electric cars are unappealing and it’s doubtful we could supply enough electricity to power a huge fleet.”
    Storing the spare energy from wind power only becomes ‘necessary’ once wind power generation reaches levels above the ability of conventional generation to be turned down accordingly, or where transmission lines cannot cope with regional imbalances. Some areas are genuinuely experiencing this, however, yes. For me, wind power is far from being a vanity project, but storage has been a neglected topic, though, I agree.
    Electric cars have great potential and they use far less energy in order to provide individual mobility then combustion-engined equivalents. It would be easy enough to provide the electricity for several million electric cars; it is above this that more serious considerations need to be made.
    Convincing people does start with yourself in most cases, yes. However, most people are also forced to decide what other statements they base their beliefs on, as they cannot realistically actually check things ‘directly’ for themselves. I find it very frustrating that disadvantages/negatives are very rarely taken up by supporters of anything; it is thus really hard to get an unbiased and true picture from anybody.
    Anyway, TinyCO2, I agree with lots of what you’ve written, so we do have common ground before we delve into ‘pockets’ 😉

    • TinyCO2 says:

      Thankyou 🙂 I think we all have more in common than the news would suggest.
      I seriously considered an electric car as I do very little mileage but the issues with electric cars made it a no go. I don’t criticise them because I believe some article but because I examined them myself. A hybrid would be a possibility but the cost is just too high.
      With wind, I don’t see the evidence that they’re worth the environmental damage. I suspect in a few dacades we will select a more energy intensive system and all the new infrastructure for wind will suddenly become redundant. Thorium, fusion, even old fashioned nuclear is a better bet. Or maybe something totally new. It would be nice to think that we will invent new battery technology but we’ve been trying for so long now. Even if the technology for wind comes in leaps and bounds I suspect we’ll have spent a lot on kit that didn’t deliver, when we should have waited for wind that could be stored. I’m worried about reports that they’re not lasting as long as predicted. In short order we will be replacing towers faster than we put them up. I also worry about maintenance of the ones out at sea. I know what it takes to look after a conventional power station which is stuck in a building with floors, stairs and permanent cranes. If you stick something in an inaccessable place it’s very hard to look after.
      You’re absolutely right it is “really hard to get an unbiased and true picture from anybody.” I really want to see an unbiased assessment of the good and bad of AGW and the solutions. Too much is left to those with a vested interest in the outcome – even if it is career credibility. I’m not a sceptic because I don’t think there is a problem but because I can see that we’re not making serious moves towards solving it or dismissing it. We are at the worst point of worrying ourselves silly, wasting money and achieving very little.

      • Electric cars are loved by researchers because they give scope for endless grants. So, it is in no academic’s interest to highlight the single obvious flaw which means battery cars will never be better than hydro-carbons.
        Batteries are 2D energy
        That is to say the chemical energy stored is stored on the plate surface of the battery and therefore not only do you have a thin layer of energy storage, but you also require the electric conductive elements to transfer the energy.
        Hydrocarbons are 3D – in sense that everything in the fuel tank is energy.

        • TinyCO2 says:

          Even if there was some hugely effective way of storing the energy from ‘waste’ wind energy at night, it wouldn’t solve the problems of how long it takes to fill up. Range anxiety is a part of the bigger problem of having to ration travel. I’m not saying that we’ll never choose electric cars over no car at all but while there’s a hugely more successful alternative, people are going to go for it.

      • TinyCO2 says:

        This article links to a report on wind and a recording of a forum discussion. I suspect a lot of issues will come out into the open over the next 10 years.

        • Listening to academics speaking on global warming, I am reminded of my University days. Of friends who would go and do really stupid things when they got drunk, and you knew they would be really embarrassed in the morning.
          You know at the time they won’t like themselves in the morning – but can you stop them?

      • J.H. says:

        >I seriously considered an electric car AS I do very little mileage but the issues with electric cars made it a no go. (my highlighting of ‘as’)
        In terms of value for money, doing very little mileage is actually a bad starting point when considering an EV. This is because the batteries are expensive, but the running costs are low. Therefore, an EV competes best against a normal car if it is driven a lot, but obviously within the easily achieved daily range, i.e. charged at home during the night and/or possibly at work during the day. EVs are thus not ideally privately-owned urban vehicles, but commuter vehicles for daily round trips of at least 50 miles or so, or commercial vehicles for technicians with frequent but relatively close call-outs etc.
        There are also now a few EV car-sharing schemes in cities (e.g. Paris, Berlin) which are doing reasonably well. There would certainly be a viable market for a few million EVs if the right people realised that they could save both money and energy. You may not be a right person, however, and many people are not (including myself), but this does not mean the potential market is not quite large.
        A plug-in hybrid with an EV-mode range of 15 miles or so would presumably get closer to meeting your requirements, but maybe also not close enough, ok.
        You say ‘issues’; I see almost none of the supposed issues (mostly battery-associated) as a problem actually. As Scottish Sceptic says, the energy density is much lower, yes, but I only need to store my daily use each day IF I have a convenient charging point either at home or possibly at work. I don’t carry around 5 litres of coffee in a massive flask with me either if going out for a long walk – one normal flask is enough. In that respect, liquid fuels have spoilt us a bit there :). Range anxiety, while a genuine ‘fear’, is also an unfounded one as long as people are sensible about their use of an EV. I admit that being sensible may need to be relearnt in an age of ‘sat nav clueless driving’ is concerned, but still….
        To some extent I see the perpetuation of individual mobility over public transport as an issue, but not when simply comparing car types.
        Also, depending on how EV technology is integrated into our future energy systems, there are some pretty nice energy system advantages of having lots of EVs even. Minimising disadvantages and making full use of the advantages is what we need to be doing. Unfortunately, massively wasting energy in combustion engined vehicles hasn’t yet filtered through as being a disadvantage, however, and that’s just for starters.
        I won’t say anything on wind power right now….
        To close: “while there’s a hugely more successful alternative, people are going to go for it”. Yes, TinyCO2, that is a pretty powerful argument :), but in some niches people are already backing a product they think is better, such as the Tesla.

        • TinyCO2 says:

          Yes JH, I worked out that my car was cheaper sitting on the drive if it had petrol in it rather than electricity. That was one of the ‘issues’ 🙂 Another biggie was my last car is still an excellent car at 14 years old and at the moment seems like it will do many more years as someone else’s second car. I’ve had my money’s worth. Ironically the thing that has been changed most (after windscreen wipers) has been the battery. Lack of use :-S
          An EV might be a suitable second car but it’s a liability as the sole car in the household. I’ve spent too many nights in AE recently to want to have to risk my homeward journey to a car that has already done a day’s travel and has had to sit in freezing carpark for hours. You don’t always get to plan your driving.
          An average of 43 cars run out of petrol every day as reported by the highways agency. How many more are sorted by friends or road side assistance? How many are saved by having a spare can in the car? How many people walk or get a lift to the nearest petrol station? How many more would run out of electricity and have a much more serious problem getting going if EV were the norm? Would you be happy for the old, the vulnerable or the infirm to be reliant on an electric car?
          I use my current car to make journeys that are greater than the range of a EV. I wouldn’t want to have to book series of hotels if I had a long journey to make. I suppose I could book a rental but how many others would be compteing for the same cars come Christmas?
          The Tesla is for people with the bumper sticker ‘my other motor is a LearJet’
          Ok, an EV might be suitable for fleet cars but the country isn’t going to reorganise around a million or so company cars. Without the national infrastructure then running an EV fleet is dodgy.
          There are solutions to the problems with EVs, after all we managed before cars, but we won’t solve them until we think we really have to. I suspect hydrogen cars would be more likely to flourish, despite them being a bit like a bomb on wheels. However at the monent people are only flirting with action on AGW, which brings us back to the point that climate science is unconvincing.

          • I forgot to mention that batteries need replacing. Typically a lead acid battery needs replacing after a couple of hundred charge-recharge cycles. That adds significantly to the cost and about 10 years ago when I looked at it turned a lost cost form of transport into one of the more expensive forms.

          • J.H. says:

            Lead acid batteries are no longer the usual type of battery used. Most technologies use lithium. The lifetime has 3 main components: a physical lifetime of about 10+ years; a number of equivalent full-cycles a battery can go through; and the temperatures the battery experiences during use/charging. The biggest variable which the driver will influence is likely to be the full-cycles figure. Different uses of one and the same battery can result in massive differences here. It is worst if you fully discharge the battery before recharging, not ‘good’ to charge the battery fully either, and best if the battery provides just a small amount of energy before being recharged to a stable level about two-thirds full.
            I know that any figures are likely to be controversial, but even running in cycles of 90% DoD (depth of discharge) is likely to result in a ‘mobile’ lifetime of 1,500 full cycle equivalents these days. For a 100 mile range this basically means 150,000 miles expected lifetime in the car.
            However, due to temperature differences between summer and winter which affect performance and the need for passenger compartment heating, you aren’t going to averaging 90% DoD anyway. You will need to dimension the battery for the winter. In the summer if you still have the same schedule (and charging points/times), the battery can be cycled between about 25% and 80% of its charge, which is much better for this component of battery lifetime.
            I am annoyed, however, at the amount of effort I have had to put in to find out whether any published data is in any way reliable or not. In the case of intensive battery testing, if you run two full-time tests, one which cycles 0.5% capacity over the course of 1 minute periods, and another which cycles 90 % DoD over 3 hours, both can run through about 3,000 full cycle equivalents per year. The start-stop battery is still absolutely fine, while the other battery is already struggling noticeably after just 6 months. However, I am confident that this transfers across well to the real world, and the guarantee/leasing agreements on offer from a multitude of car manufacturers also bears that out now.
            On the earlier point about energy densities, yes, zinc-air or lithium-air technologies could save a lot of weight (for ‘full’ batteries, but not empty ones) compared to current technologies, but weight is actually not such a great inefficiency compared to the inefficiency of combustion engines over electric motors.
            I’ll leave things there for now – I don’t wish to derail the blog… but it has been nice to ‘meet you in writing’ 😉

          • You clearly have done the research, however I’m struggling to think of any portable device I’ve ever had that has not failed because the rechargeable batteries have died. For example, my old laptop had three batteries – all near to death – but it kept the machine going long enough to find a plug. So, I would have to see a battery car with 1500 charge recharge cycles in use before I would believe it is actually what can be achieved in practical usage.

          • J.H. says:

            New products tend to start out in niches and spread out as they improve (price, reliability, acceptance etc). Maybe the bumper sticker for the first cars would have been ‘my other motor is a team of 6 horses’!
            I would be happy for the old, vulnerable or the infirm to be reliant on an EV as long as the conditions were right for the vehicle and the driver had convinced me that he/she knew about the considerations necessary and was not suffering from anxiety (EV-related). I would also be quite happy for carers who need a car to get around to visit people to have an EV as long as required emergency ranges are always achievable.
            At some point, by the way, I expect range extender trailers to be available for hire. Depending on the length of the journey the ‘issues’ could easily shift from the question of range to the question of only travelling at 50 mph maybe…. or whether a quick-charger at a motorway service station wouldn’t actually be preferable after all!
            On the issue of running out of petrol etc – it seems to me that people always tend to push things until they break, literally a ‘seeing how far we can go’ mentality. I don’t know whether increased respect for (fear of!) a tool holds this off for long. Maybe engineers can confirm whether it is actually experienced people who have the most mishaps (accidents) with technology due to creeping complacency setting in. With EVs the range question is actually linked closely to the expected lifetime of the battery. Maybe the high cost of the battery will make people more ‘respectful’ – as long as they care, of course! More below….

          • As I used to design off-grid power, I had to calculate likely life of batteries in a system where they were constantly being charged/ discharged. As a result of working in this area I still have a load of half-dead lead acid batteries of various sizes.
            To discount the battery when they cost thousands, ignores the fact that these are a substantial or even THE SUBSTANTIAL running cost.
            As for “we should rely on science” … I couldn’t disagree more. We should trust the professionals whose job it is to use science to make these kinds of decisions. Scientists are repositories of knowledge, they are not problem solvers, they are not designers, they do not understand how to use their knowledge in real world situations.
            This is the problem with “global warming”. A group of academics who have no credibility or experience advising government decided that their (academic) views must dictate policy against the whole range of people whose professions and experience were far more pertinent. (aka Sceptics)

  5. neil craig says:

    Here is an interesting example, via WUWT of a genuine scare,that species of toads worldwide are dying off, where the role of the “Greens” was actively destructive. They immediately obviously blamed global warming and since it is about the only actual negative effect of “catastrophic warming” found they refused to give it up when the real cause was physically proven.
    The real cause was a disease, like the SARS which I mentioned earlier but because the “Greens” have been so opposed to giving up the false scare very little has been done to prevent its further spread.
    The conclusion must be that if we face a genuine environmental or other threat(such as those I named) we should rely on science & under no circumstances involve “Green” pseudoscientists who will hijack it for their own agenda.

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