David Victor: Views Examined on Climate Politics, Communications

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Regular contributor Bruce Lieberman’s 20-minute webinar probes the views of author and Professor David Victor on building public support for risk management actions.


“I think ‘harmony’ is too strong a standard. We don’t have harmony in any area of major politics. We won’t have harmony on this topic” of climate change, says University of California San Diego Professor David Victor.

“What I’m concerned about right now is gridlock.”

Those are among points Victor makes in a newly produced 20-minute webinar hosted by regular contributor Bruce Lieberman (see below).

For those wanting to promote action to reduce risks posed by human-caused climate change, Victor says a key step involves demonstrating that “climate change is linked to other things that people care about.” It’s important also, he continues, to identify how those risks can be addressed “in ways that are not too expensive.”

Victor explains his concerns with use of the term “denialists” or the term “denialism” in characterizing the views of a broad group of people, many of whom may actually accept the underlying scientific evidence. He says many in that category practice “motivated reasoning” — involving concerns over matters such as economic well being, policy change, or the role of government. A key factor in communicating with those interests, he says, may involve addressing climate change in ways that “respects liberty and respects economic growth and so forth.”

Victor finds of particular concern the “unknown unknowns,” for instance the eventual amount of sea-level rise or effects on various ecosystems. Those areas of concern may be built large on scientists’  ”hunches,” but they’re important ones, Victor says. Nonetheless, they don’t find their way into summary reports from major assessments because they are not yet, at least, backed up by “robust evidence and lots of agreement.”

A convening author of the opening chapter of IPCC’s most assessment report, Victor says “the overall message is a pretty grim one.” An important message there: despite all the international agreement and policies over recent years, global emissions are increasing more rapidly than at any time since 1970 “and you don’t actually see the impact of those policies on the ground.”

Another key point from that report, Victor says: “The reality is that the policies you need to put into place and the technologies needed rapidly are completely beyond what any political system is going to do.” He say that means achieving the widely discussed maximum two-degree Centigrade increase in global temperatures is at this point impossible.

Note: On Jan. 29, Prof. David Victor gave a speech on the rhetoric and politics of climate change “denialism” at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. His talk, “Why Do Smart People Disagree About Facts?”, is posted here.

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7 Responses to David Victor: Views Examined on Climate Politics, Communications

  1. Bud Ward says:

    The Editor of this site is posting this on behalf of an individual who sent it as a public letter, but not specifically as a comment. The full text:

    I am a “hobbyist”. I am predisposed to want limited government. When I see one sided reporting / cheerleading on climate change it makes me more skeptical. I understand these biases in me and so I have to find a way to factually check my skepticism.

    How can I do this? I will not be able to come up to speed on the innards of climate models (and don’t want to). So I look for point of disagreement that I can fully understand and check that.

    Lately there was a perfect candidate. There are a number of news sources who have made it clear that they will not air climate skeptics because when 97% of scientists agree, it is not balance to bring on those who represent the 3%. The 97% is seen as well on blogs and with scientist or others directly promoting climate change. On the skeptic side, I see Dr. Roy Spencer testify before congress and say that he is in that 97%.

    Great. There is a clear disagreement. And the source sited is the Cook paper. This is a paper that has source data and methodology. I can easily consume and understand this data. I do not have to rely on interpretation and it is not beyond my understanding.

    So I read the paper and reviewed the data. The data is very simple. The 97% is the percentage of papers that either implicitly or explicitly mention or support anthropomorphic climate change. Simple enough, if you believe in anthropomorphic climate change (as I do) you are in the 97%, otherwise you are not.

    Now I look at a few of the most prominent climate skeptics; Roy Spencer, Mr. Monckton, Judith Curry. All of them believe CO2 has risen. All believe that is mostly due to human emissions. All believe that will cause warming. They dispute the level of warming, what we should do, and other things… BUT they do believe in anthropomorphic climate change.

    So it is clear these skeptics are, in fact, part of the “97%”. Major media outlets will not have them on because the 97% “rule”. These skeptics could point this out, but… they are not allowed on since they are not in the 97%. Nice.

    If it is clear that those in and out of the media who promote climate change and use the 97% are not being factual. Whether this is through straight deception or failure to check the simple facts is unimportant. If they are not trustworthy on this, why should I assume the rest of what they have to say is credible?

    • Jaget says:

      “I see Dr. Roy Spencer testify before congress and say that he is in that 97%.”

      Nope he wasn’t.

      http://skepticalscience.com/tcp.php?t=search&s=&a=spencer%2C+rw&c=&e=&yf=&yt

      “We emailed 8547 authors an invitation to rate their own
      papers and received 1200 responses (a 14% response rate).
      After excluding papers that were not peer-reviewed, not
      climate-related or had no abstract, 2142 papers received
      self-ratings from 1189 authors. The self-rated levels of
      endorsement are shown in table 4. Among self-rated
      papers that stated a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed
      the consensus. Among self-rated papers not expressing a
      position on AGW in the abstract, 53.8% were self-rated as
      endorsing the consensus. Among respondents who authored
      a paper expressing a view on AGW, 96.4% endorsed the
      consensus.”

      Pretty much debunks you sorry.

      http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/pdf/1748-9326_8_2_024024.pdf

      “Whether this is through straight deception or failure to check the simple facts is unimportant. If they are not trustworthy on this, why should I assume the rest of what they have to say is credible?”

      How about ACTUALLY read the study before making wrong conclusions, yes how about that.

      • Nullius in Verba says:

        There’s a difference between the percentage of papers published and the percentage of scientists.

        The Cook paper examined abstracts of papers published and categorized them on a 7-point scale. The assessment did not cover the body of the paper, or the opinions of the authors (which might not always be expressed in their abstracts). As the question of allowing alternative views on air does not apply to abstracts, but to scientists themselves, what Spencer and others did was to apply the categories of the 7-point scale to the scientists’ opinions. Spencer’s public views fit into category 2: “Explicit endorsement without quantification.”

        In fact, none of Cook’s categories can discriminate between the ‘believers’ and ‘sceptics’ on opposing sides of the argument, who are largely divided on whether projected climate change poses a high risk of seriously increased climate-related damage. The categories are instead asking about the different question of whether a minority or majority of the observed warming is anthropogenic in cause. And even with regard to this weaker position, very few stated explicitly that a majority of the warming was anthropogenic. In Cook’s survey, only 0.3% of abstracts fell into category 1 of ‘quantified endorsement’. The majority did not quantify the contribution.

        That’s not to say, of course, that only 0.3% of scientists would endorse the position that a majority of observed warming was anthropogenic. Doran and Zimmerman surveyed the opinions of scientists rather than abstracts and found 82% took this position. Bray and von Storch found a similar figure.

        Indeed, it’s probably the case that a lot of climate sceptics would, too. If the 1950-2000 warming was 0.6 C, and just over half of that was anthropogenic, we would have 0.3 C rise in temperature resulting from a 25% rise in CO2, which corresponds to a transient sensitivity of about 1 C/2xCO2, and a little lower if you take it up to the present day.

        The problem is that there is a continuous spectrum of views with many subtle gradations, and asking different questions will yield different percentages. The question Cook et al. asked was the wrong one, at least for the purposes of understanding the political debate.

        If anyone does want a better understanding, I’d suggest looking at the Bray/von Storch survey, which did at least ask the right sort of questions.

  2. Paul Quigg says:

    I am constantly amazed that “time discounting”, deferred satisfaction, pure time preference, or whatever you want to call it is very seldom mentioned, or if it is mentioned, it is discounted on moral grounds. Time discounting is real and must be addressed in a realistic way in order to understand and react to the public’s lack of response to the idea of climate change. The effort to attribute every climate event, good or bad, as the result of increased warming with potential “catastrophic” consequences is not going over with the public. If we project our minds forward 100, 200 years into the future, we must project back to 1914 and 1814 to put the proper perspective on the infinite possible futures we are talking about. I have 8 beautiful grandchildren and I have no idea what I can do today to improve their future.
    I also see the lack of global cooperation and the poor results of alternative energy consumption as other areas where reality is missing from the discussion.
    Inevitable catastrophic weather events, with or without warming, make adaptation a reasonable and doable response to the coming warming.

  3. Mack says:

    To David Victor,
    David, You might like to read these comments I made to Dr Roy Spencer last year, beginning with something like this….
    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2013/04/direct-evidence-of-earths-greenhouse-effect/#comment-75584
    Then this…
    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2013/04/a-simple-model-of-global-average-surface-temperature/#comment-77341
    Which has probably led to this…
    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2013/05/time-for-the-slayers-to-put-up-or-shut-up/#comment-78670
    The incoming solar radiation, which is a yearly global average, should be regarded as non-directional and covering the whole globe at the TOA (Top of the Atmosphere) and is about 1360w/sq.m. It simply attenuates down to about 340w/sq.m. average at the Earth’s surface. The “missing” about 1020w/sq.m. (ie 1360 minus 340w/sq.m.) would mostly be attenuated in that place of physical paradox called the THERMOSPHERE. The climatologists, weathermen? and other learned folk concocting the quack “greenhouse” theory tend to think no further than the clouds.
    Lots of reading of the science of glad tidings for you David. ( You too Bud. ;) )

  4. Alex Randall says:

    Would anyone actually believe us if we said that tackling climate change was compatible with increased economic growth and less government control of the economy? I think people who support deregulation and growth have twigged that dealing with climate change is impossible to do without more government regulation, and even a fall in economic growth. If green groups or the left suddenly start saying “actually, guys, we were wrong. It turns out stopping climate change is totally compatible with a more deregulation, lower taxes and a smaller government” I think they would simply not believe us. The reason they wouldn’t believe us is because they’re clever people, and for decades have realised that their politics does not sit easily with stopping climate change.

    • Nullius in Verba says:

      Actually, dealing with climate change is perfectly compatible with small government, low taxes, and deregulation. The problem is that when you propose such policies the left are unenthusiastic, almost as if dealing with climate change wasn’t actually their highest priority.

      The easiest, cheapest, fastest, most direct, and safest method is to simply go nuclear, as France did in the 1980s and 90s. The technology is already established and is scaleable, the case of France has demonstrated both the engineering and economic feasibility, and it’s popular with the Right, who like technological solutions. It *is* more expensive than fossil fuels, but still far cheaper than other carbon-free approaches. And there are modern designs that overcome many of the shortcomings of previous generations of reactor.

      A more radical approach, based on free-market economics, is for everyone who believe in the dangers of AGW (according to many surveys more than 50% of the population) to immediately and completely boycott fossil fuels, and everything made or transported with them. This sends price signals that restructure the economy in the required way. The price of renewables will skyrocket, leading to the energy industry all jumping on the bandwagon to get a share of the cash, and the influx of money will fund the R&D needed to produce more efficient solutions. At the same time, the price of fossil fuels will crash (although they will still cost just as much to extract), rendering them profitless, and the energy industry will disinvest as rapidly as they can. And the boycott itself will result in a direct reduction in usage too.

      A second market-based approach, more complicated but less dramatic than a boycott (and somewhat less effective) is to use the standard market mechanism for accounting for future expectations in present-day prices, which is a futures market. A simple approach to doing this is to create a tradeable financial instrument that pays out a variable rate depending on some easily measurable climate outcome, such as sea level rise passing one metre. You have two sorts of investment: one pays out at a good interest rate on the day sea level rises past a metre, and is rendered null in 2100 (say). The other pays out a good rate in 2100, but is voided when the seas rise past the threshold.

      Because the fair price of such an asset depends on one’s expectations about climate change, believers and sceptics assess their financial value differently, and will be willing to trade them with one another. Then climate-related research, mitigation, tariffs and subsidies can be paid in such units in such a way that both sides feel they are getting a good deal. Believers can in effect get sceptics to pay for the measures to be taken by selling them bills that only have any value if climate change is not a crisis, which of course they know it is. The sceptics will be equally convinced that it is the believers who will pay the price. In the event, whoever turns out to be wrong will pay, and as over time the truth becomes clearer will become financially motivated to act themselves, which is certainly a fair and just solution.

      Enthusiasts for free markets, liberty, small government, low taxes, and deregulation cannot object to either of these approaches (and in practice don’t generally object to the nuclear option, either). They use market mechanisms to achieve the desired outcome, reflecting the best information available to all of us in a collective decision-making process, respecting everybody’s opinion, allowing everybody to act in what they see as their own best interest, and not forcing anybody into anything they don’t like or believe in. They can be done today, immediately, without the need for any new legislation or regulation, without requiring government action, or having to persuade anybody who is not already persuaded. And it would be done in the way least damaging to the economy.

      Had a solution been needed, it’s comforting to know that several were available. I think in a genuine crisis we would most likely have ‘gone nuclear’ and simply ignored the protests. But such solutions don’t meet the authoritarian/redistributive aims of the climate justice movement, and the free-marketeers are genuinely sceptical of the need to do anything anyway, so neither side is really interested.

      The reason we wouldn’t believe you is that we’re clever people, and we realised long ago that the climate campaigners’ policies do not sit easily with actually stopping climate change. The Byrd-Hagel resolution said it all back in 1997, and the logic hasn’t changed since then.

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