Moral Judgement on Climate Change

I missed this important sustainability article back in march, which is
comparable to Global Warmings Six Americas Report [pdf], but Grist got 
my eyeballs on it.

Climate change and moral judgement by Ezra M. Markowitz & Azim F. Shariff
Nature Climate Change,  2, pp. 243–247 (2012) doi:10.1038/nclimate1378
Published online 28 March 2012

[sorry there is a paywall unless your library subscribes to this journal]

Converging evidence from the behavioural and brain sciences suggests that the human moral judgement system is not well equipped to identify climate change — a complex, large-scale and unintentionally caused phenomenon — as an important moral imperative. As climate change fails to generate strong moral intuitions, it does not motivate an urgent need for action in the way that other moral imperatives do. We review six reasons why climate change poses significant challenges to our moral judgement system and describe six strategies that communicators might use to confront these challenges. Enhancing moral intuitions about climate change may motivate greater support for ameliorative actions and policies.

Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could | Grist

And the solution to overcoming these biases are:

Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could | Grist

via Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could | Grist.

Robert Bryce lies again about coal

Robert Bryce, of the Manhattan Institute, follows up his pro-coal 2011 propaganda in the NYTimes (see my earlier rebuttal here) with an op-ed in the LAtimes. Here is my complete comment (which happens to be 576 characters too-long to have been posted in full):

This is not the first time Mr. Bryce has provided misleading propaganda for the carbon industry (or maybe he should just be labeled an anti-solar lobbyist) – so shame on the LATimes for publishing his piece.  His June 2011 op-ed in the NYTs was also filled with similarly misleading statistics that are clearly slanted to cast a more favorable light on coal (the statistics chosen when discussing this topic must compare life cycle costs/total costs/energy return on energy invested/energy per unit of CO2, not just the direct costs).

The biggest (pun intended) flaw in his argument is downplaying the physical footprint of coal: ‘the mine covers just 80 square miles, while domestic wind projects alone cover about 9,400 square miles.’ This is comparing apples with an turd.

That coal mine may ‘just’ be 80 square miles, but only citing the mine’s area as the total footprint of coal willfully ignores the facilities and infrastructure off-site, the hundreds of square miles covered by coal ash lagoons, the massive quantity of water needed to clean the coal and produce the steam (the energy sector uses more water than agriculture does in the US), and the global impact of emissions from burning the coal including the CO2, SOx, NOx, mercury, and acid rain that continue to devastate ecosystems around the world.

Yes, the wind industry may currently have 9,400 square miles of wind farms, but cumulative footprint of the turbines, crane pads, and road are just fractions of the entire project area.  There is nothing about a wind farm that destroys the ecological or economic productivity of the landscape – mine reclamation has never managed to restore the lost ecological vitality after coal (or tar sands) extraction. Then there is the energy return on energy invested – you can only extract coal once – while wind and solar are perpetual energy sources. LAGI has lots more comparison of energy footprints if you want to further dig into this topic.

Coal is NOT essential for progress, but certainly it is essential to the preventable climate change caused catastrophic disruption of our global civilization.

Price of Infrastructure

Ben Jacobs asks a basic question in the Washington Monthly: why is infrastructure so much more expensive to build in the US then elsewhere in the world? A great question, but then Jacob fails to follow up with any answers – a clear case of journalistic malpractice, especially when he doesn’t even use original sources, but just relies on second-hand reporting, and ends up comparing apples with oranges. Pity, as this really is an excellent question worth digging into.

So off the top of my head, here are some of the differences that start to pile up costs of infrastructure projects in the US – and no, cheaper labor elsewhere isn’t the primary cause.

The comparisons used up by Jacobs are the California High Speed Rail (US$89b) versus Chinese High Speed Rail  (US$276 billion & counting), and New York CIty’s 2nd Avenue Subway versus London’s Crossrail.

2nd Ave Subway is being dug through  the middle of a vibrant urban core with active business and residents straddling the route, unlike Crossrail which over half are through the still mostly vacant east london docks

As to California High Speed Rail costs, one of the largest expense of the project is that  real estate prices are several orders of magnitudes greater in the Golden State than China (even with corruption and a billion+ more people). There are also significant differences in seismic risks that are present for the entirety of the California route compared to China’s ring of fire – requiring more robust construction. That the China can built infrastructure cheaper is also a myth that has been debunked (WashPo & FastCo). Turns out that most large infrastructure projects in China have significant layers of hidden costs attributed to corruption at all levels of their government, bad accounting practices, and the possibility of  causing the catastrophic collapse of Chinese Banks if there is a default on the infrastructure bubble debts. Then there are the safety shortcuts that are proving to have a high human cost (California has much better oversite, so what was engineered is actually what gets built). Turns out that if we compare apples with apples, the true costs for HSR – no matter where the track are laid – are similar around the world.

Via The Expense of Infrastructure in the US