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Climate change is caused by emissions, not epistemology.

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This morning, the Texas Lyceum released highlights from its annual poll, a barometer of Texan public opinion about critical policy issues facing the state and the nation. (Full disclosure: I’m on the board of directors of the Texas Lyceum; however, I’m not involved in the polling process.) The full results won’t be released until tomorrow, but looking through the executive summary, this year’s results are consistent with my impressions from previous years. Most of the highlights make sense in light of concurrent statewide political debates, if not in reference to data. Once again, for example, Texans are concerned about immigration: In response to an open-ended question, 24 percent of respondents offered that as the number one issue facing the state, and 62 percent support the Legislature’s decision to spend $800 million on border security in the next two years. A couple of results suggest that many Texans are either ominously muddled or willfully contrarian. Only 14 percent of respondents think that the aforementioned border security spending will be “very effective,” which is strange considering that 42 percent of the same respondents specified that they support the plan “strongly,” not just “somewhat.”

At the same time, this year’s Lyceum poll includes a couple of surprising results. Texans may be grappling with some confusion about the causes and effects of illegal immigration. But when it comes to climate change, Texans are making a lot more sense than one might think. From the executive summary:

“Global warming is not a top concern for Texans. When asked if they personally worry about climate change, 50% say ‘only a little’ or ‘not at all.’ But when asked ‘would you support or oppose Congress passing new legislation that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming,’ 67% of Texans said they would support such regulation.”

For the record, though I’m not a scientist, I don’t doubt the scientific consensus that climate change is real and anthropogenic. At the same time, I don’t often feel oppressed by other people’s metaphysical and epistemological premises, and I rarely see a need to litigate such questions before policy discussions. If the premise is relevant to a given debate, in my experience, it will quickly come to light. If clarifications are needed, they can be elicited easily enough. Occasionally, for example, I’ve had occasion to ask legislators if they believe that human life begins at conception. I’ve never asked any of them how old they think the planet is; I don’t see why that question would even come up during the course of reporting.

Here’s an example that some readers might be appalled by: I can recall plenty of interviews that included some discussion of our global climate and climate change, and as a reporter based in Texas I’ve obviously had tons of conversations about energy and the environment more generally. But I also can’t recall asking any elected officials if they believe in anthropogenic climate change. I’ve asked people why they don’t believe in climate change; that was an interesting exercise. But I’m hard-pressed to think of a scenario where I would find it relevant to ask Greg Abbott whether he believes in anthropogenic climate change.

According to many environmentalists, journalists who fail to ask such questions are being wantonly negligent about their responsibilities to the public interest. The question itself has assumed a moral dimension far greater than is typically associated with earth science inquiries. The intuition seems to be that officials who publicly question or privately doubt the empirical literature about anthropogenic climate change, and journalists who fail to hold them accountable for it, are an intractable barrier to the international community’s effort to tackle this enormous and consequential problem. I think the environmentalists who take this view of things are generally well-intended. But I also think they’re wrong. As I wrote earlier this year, polls have consistently shown that even in the United States, a large majority of Americans believe in climate change. The ones who don’t may be vocal, but I’m skeptical of any account of an international collective action problem that hinges on the supposed power of some loudmouths in one country. As I wrote in April: “The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that American climate skepticism is a red herring, a scapegoat, or a useful foil.” Slowing climate change, after all, isn’t the easiest task imaginable. It would require drastic reductions in total global emissions of greenhouse gases; that would require most of the world’s industrialized nations to commit to major changes in their current consumption and production—course corrections that most countries would find costly and painful. Denouncing American conservatives for driving their gas-guzzlers all over the common good of humankind? That’s comparatively easy.

It’s one of my more unpopular opinions, but it’s sincere. So is my belief that even if climate advocates are uniformly well-intended, and even if their passionate intensity on the subject is understandably commensurate to the enormity of the problem they’re working to stop, the fixation on the epistemological question has become counterproductive. Just a couple of days ago, the Associated Press announced that it had revised its stylebook to specify that people who diverge from the mainstream consensus should be referred to as “climate doubters,” rather that “climate skeptics” or “climate deniers.” I agree with the Associated Press’s reasoning, partly because, as I learned from the 2011 exercise in which I asked people why they’re at odds with mainstream opinion on this, I found a far more heterogeneous spectrum of opinion than “climate deniers” can fairly capture. But the AP’s announcement was roundly criticized by putatively enlightened eggheads who would rather see a self-perpetuating Manichean binary than let someone like James Inhofe be denounced too gently. As I’ve said, I believe the science; nothing makes me question whether I should be so trusting as much as the kind of back and forth the AP’s Seth Borenstein had with NPR’s Bob Garfield, in the wake of the announcement. Borenstein noted, fairly, that “deniers” has a profoundly pejorative connotation, as in “Holocaust deniers”; the Holocaust was a genocide, but in Garfield’s view, doubts about climate science are pretty bad too: “If the subject is precision, it strikes me that obscuring clear language because of negative associations is a very dangerous accommodation.”

And Garfield is wrong, I think, in his assessment of the danger here. The Lyceum poll helps explain why. Fully half of respondents said that personally, they only worry about climate change a little, or not at all. By itself that might strike some readers as further evidence of the public’s damning complacency in the face of the looming moral crisis. But in the very next question, two-thirds of the respondents said that they’d support further Congressional regulations designed to reduce global warming. Texans may not be fretful about the climate change, and I doubt many of the Lyceum’s respondents have the sober, virtuous gravity that Al Gore brings to the subject.

But if a supermajority of Texas is open to the idea of Congress (Congress!) passing regulations (regulations!) about energy production (energy production!) in order to reduce global warming, I don’t understand how environmentalists can, in good conscience, insist on the premise that the critical barrier to international action is rampant denialism about whether global warming is even real. There are, to be fair, various vested interests that would be adversely affected by whatever regulations Congress might come up with, and would oppose any such proposal for economic reasons. At the same time there’s a scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is real, and that it’s caused by greenhouse gas emissions, not opinions. And there’s a reason people seek out scapegoats. If environmentalists want to fight climate change, they should focus on fighting climate change.

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  • WUSRPH

    See my item from yesterday on a possible new Little Ice Age. This could have been an interesting discussion…sorry I will miss it.

    • Indiana Pearl

      Don’t wuss out! This is a fight for good vs. evil.

  • Indiana Pearl

    Epistomology: How we know what we know.

    Philosophy majors should explain this concept. Reading/watching “The Name of the Rose” is a good beginning. It’s only partially a mystery story.

    • Jed

      or even the consideration of what counts as knowing.

      so it isn’t actually the right word here, which i find tremendously amusing.

      • Erica Grieder

        This is fair, but I love the word and the field of inquiry, and the fact that the First Amendment protects my freedom to go all in on it 🙂

        • Jed

          come on.

          how can you claim to “love” epistemology in the comments section of an article that essentially argued that it isn’t relevant to your job as a political commentator to discover whether the officials you cover are acquainted with modern logic and the scientific method?

          • Erica Grieder

            Well, do you consider it remiss of me that I failed to ask Doc Sheffield and Zerwas if they believe in the germ theory of disease? I think I was able to infer a fair amount about their knowledge and reasoning from watching their floor debate about vaccine reporting requirements for public schools. And the state’s vaccine reporting requirements ultimately have more impact on the general public than any legislator’s epistemological undercarriage.

          • Jed

            I’m not suggesting you can’t infer. I am suggesting that if you are deliberately avoiding ascertaining information that would be useful to the people of Texas, this would be a dereliction of your duty.

            I don’t know what the “germ theory” is, nor how understanding it affects policy. But I do know that if, for example, you had determined (whether in answer to a question or by inference matters not), that the Governor of Texas does not understand basic causal reasoning and the how science works, then that would be information that you should be passing along to the voters who elected him, rather than acting like it is immaterial.

          • Erica Grieder

            Good lord. Obviously Greg Abbott understands basic causal reasoning and I’m pretty sure he’s heard of the germ theory of disease because that’s common knowledge. Frankly, the fact that you apparently haven’t heard of it makes it pretty hard to credit your concern about whether Abbott understands “how science works”.

          • Jed

            you do understand the difference between conceptual understanding and specific factual knowledge, right?

            the fact that you apparently don’t makes it hard to credit your concerns about anything … conceptual or factual.

          • Erica Grieder

            Yes, Jed. Obviously, I understand the difference. Equally obviously, since I’m unmistakably an intelligent person, it was a waste of your time to ask that question. Also fairly obvious is that the depth of a person’s conceptual understanding and the breadth of his factual knowledge are often correlated, in part because they often are actually connected. For example, the conceptual framework for Western medicine can be traced to the germ theory of disease.

          • Indiana Pearl

            I disagree. The roots of western medicine were established long before Pasteur, long before Koch’s Postulates were formulated, long before Van Leeuwenhoek’s “animacules” were discovered.

          • Jed

            in my experience anything designated in an argument as “obvious” isn’t.

          • Indiana Pearl

            The GOP members of the Texas Lege didn’t have a clue what a trans-vaginal probe looked like, yet voted to force all women seeking an abortion submit to being examined with one.

            A Democratic woman legislator brought one into the Lege to show the good old boys what they had voted for. Lots of embarrassed old white guys . . .

  • gordo

    Erica: If you have not done so already, you might want to read the book below. It came out a couple of years ago. Haidt is an admittedly liberal academic, but his review of the literature and the studies in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology did not unilaterally support typical contemporary liberal ideology. Among the points he stresses:

    (The Righteous Mind,by Jonathan Haidt (University of Virginia Professor, evolutionary psychology)

    1. People are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. When asked a question involving
    morals, they reach a conclusion quickly, then seek rational explanations for
    their decision afterwards.
    2. When it comes to morality, conservatives are more broadminded and can see others
    moral point of view better than liberals
    3. Conservatives are more broadminded than liberals in that they can see the point of view of
    opposing side, but disagree. Liberals cannot see the other point of view as valid

    I think all of this supports your thesis about the Lyceum poll results, and look forward to reviewing it tomorrow. Will you be posting a link? I can use it with my classes

    • Indiana Pearl

      I read Haidt’s book and came to a different understanding.

      • Jed

        haidt is junk science.

        • Erica Grieder

          How about Louis Pasteur–have you heard of him?

    • Erica Grieder

      I LOVE The Righteous Mind. (Although like Miss Pearl, I would describe my key takeaways differently.) Everyone should read that book. And yes! the Lyceum poll results will be online tomorrow. I’m hoping to write a little more about the results related to immigration & border security, and if so I’ll link to the full results, but in case that doesn’t work out–you should be able to get the full results from the Lyceum’s website directly (the first link in this post).

      • Indiana Pearl

        Haidt says – I believe – that we can be good without God.

        • Erica Grieder

          Without God we’re doomed to be food, according to Hobbes 🙂

          • gordo

            I prefer Locke, thank you very much. And Burke. Must be the e at the end of the name.

          • Jed
          • Erica Grieder

            Part of me wants to tell you to quit being so pedantic and part of me is empathizing with your frustration that we’re FINALLY getting into the great works of western philosophy but I’m being glibly cavalier about the fine print.

          • Indiana Pearl

            “Leviathan”? We’re all doomed to be food, God or no God.

    • SocraticGadfly

      Haidt is NOT a liberal academic. If he’s (still) claiming he is one, it’s another untruth of his.

      • gordo

        Self-styled, amigo. If you think him an apostate, so be it.

      • Erica Grieder

        Ok! PSA time. If someone (in this case me) blocks you (in this case this guy) on Twitter, it means they blocked you. It’s bad form to continue to seek their attention. Instead, take some time to reflect on your own decisions.

        • SocraticGadfly

          You don’t own Disqus and you don’t own Texas Monthly.

          • Erica Grieder

            No, but what’s relevant is that you don’t own me. I’ll lay this out explicitly for the benefit of any young Texans who may be reading: You seem to be under the impression that you have a legitimate claim on my time or attention. You don’t. I clearly expressed a boundary. You are clearly failing to respect it. That’s not acceptable behavior. And unfortunately for you, I feel no pressure to “be nice” to someone who’s being rude to me.

          • SocraticGadfly

            You seem to be narcissistic enough to believe that the world is rotating around your axis. (Take note of THAT, “young Texans,” when Texas Monthly comes to your high school history classes.)

          • Erica Grieder

            You’ve already shown yourself to be creepy, weak, and undignified. No need to belabor the point.

          • That is how its done.

    • wessexmom

      What a crock. Conservatives today, if you can even call them that, can’t even back up their OWN opinions with substantive facts, evidence or well-reasoned thoughts, much less assess the beliefs of those of who don’t agree with them!

    • Erica Grieder

      gordo–just in case, here’s the link to the full results! http://texaslyceum.org/Resources/Documents/TEXAS%20LYCEUM%20POLL/2015%20Texas%20Lyceum%20Poll%20Results.pdf

      And the landing page for 2015 poll: http://texaslyceum.org/2015poll

      • gordo

        THX, Using it in my class next week.gwc
        From: Disqus
        To: [email protected]
        Sent: Thursday, October 1, 2015 7:45 AM
        Subject: Re: Comment on Skeptics and Scare Stories

        #yiv7120172387 #yiv7120172387 a:hover, #yiv7120172387 a:hover span {color:#1188d2!important;}#yiv7120172387 .yiv7120172387button-cta:hover {color:#ffffff!important;background-color:#1188d2!important;}#yiv7120172387 .yiv7120172387button-cta:hover span {color:#ffffff!important;}#yiv7120172387 #yiv7120172387 #yiv7120172387 #yiv7120172387outlook a {padding:0;}#yiv7120172387 body {width:100% !important;}#yiv7120172387 .yiv7120172387ReadMsgBody {width:100%;}#yiv7120172387 .yiv7120172387ExternalClass {width:100%;display:block;}#yiv7120172387 @media screen and ( _filtered_a ){#yiv7120172387 html {}#yiv7120172387 .yiv7120172387content {width:100%;}#yiv7120172387 table {border-collapse:collapse;}#yiv7120172387 h2.yiv7120172387headline {font-weight:700;font-size:20px!important;margin-bottom:5px;}#yiv7120172387 .yiv7120172387button-cta {display:block!important;padding:0!important;}#yiv7120172387 div.yiv7120172387header {padding-top:20px;}#yiv7120172387 div.yiv7120172387footer {padding-bottom:20px;}}#yiv7120172387 #yiv7120172387 p.yiv7120172387mod-tools a:hover {color:white!important;background:#8c989f!important;}#yiv7120172387 @media screen and ( _filtered_a ){#yiv7120172387 td.yiv7120172387avatar, #yiv7120172387 td.yiv7120172387spacer {width:38px!important;}#yiv7120172387 td.yiv7120172387avatar img, #yiv7120172387 td.yiv7120172387spacer img {width:28px!important;}}”gordo–just in case, here’s the link to the full results! http://texaslyceum.org/Resources/Documents/TEXAS%20LYCEUM%20POLL/2015%20Texas%20Lyceum%20Poll%20Results.pdf And the landing page for 2015 poll: http://texaslyceum.org/2015poll” | |
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        Erica Grieder
        gordo–just in case, here’s the link to the full results! http://texaslyceum.org/Resourc…And the landing page for 2015 poll: http://texaslyceum.org/2015pol… 9:45 a.m., Thursday Oct. 1 | Other comments by Erica Grieder |   |
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        | Erica Grieder’s comment is in reply to gordo: |
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        | | Erica: If you have not done so already, you might want to read the book below. It came out a couple of years ago. Haidt …Read more |
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        • Indiana Pearl

          This is unintelligible.

          • gordo

            I know. I replied to Disquis via the email they sent me, and inadvertently put you all through gibberish. Usually my gibberish is advertent. Sorry.

          • Indiana Pearl

            A programming language incompatibility . .

            BTW, your name and e-mail address is the text.

    • Indiana Pearl

      The full title of the book is: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Disagree About Politics and Religion.”

    • Indiana Pearl
  • Excellent article Erica, I concur. I believe this can be easily explained as I have demonstrated here numerous times.

    Goleman discusses this in his book Emotional Intelligence

    http://www.sonoma.edu/users/s/swijtink/teaching/philosophy_101/paper1/goleman.htm

    • Erica Grieder

      Thanks, JBB! And thanks for the link, interesting stuff. Reminds me of the old advice–you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

      • johncoby

        I like the other advice “facts smacks. You can prove anything with facts. ” Homer Simpson

      • WUSRPH

        This “Thanks” to the Troll makes it clear when TM stands. The Troll goes on. Well, I know where I stand, too.

        • Do you know how much I’m gonna miss you?

        • Indiana Pearl

          Ms. G. has called “Charlie” a liar in the past. Don’t jump ship just yet. I have some ideas.

          • WUSRPH

            Thanks for the thoughts…but no thanks….I have plenty of other worthwhile things to do…including the 200 or so books on my “to be read” bookcase….so I will be busy…..I know I will not be missed for long..altho I will probably miss some of you guys. THIS IS IT.

          • Indiana Pearl

            If you you withdraw, the bad guys win. I urge you to stay in the fight.

          • I’m betting he can’t stay away, his ego won’t let him.

          • Vik Verma

            You certainly would be missed, WUSRPH, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I rarely ever comment myself, but I appreciate your insight tremendously — in fact, you are my favorite commenter

          • WUSRPH

            Thanks for the kind words…but a blog which is turning into The Troll’s private preserve is not worth the effort to stay involved. I look forward to seeing you at some other place.

            I have much better things to do with my time than be insulted by JJ or the Troll’s ranting.

            I want to thank those of you who gave me more than 5400 up votes. I am proud that you thought something I said was worth your support.

        • Erica Grieder

          I was sick last week and seem to have missed some recent developments in the BurkaBlog commenter community. Can anyone catch me up?

          • The radicals are upset because I got your back…

          • Indiana Pearl

            She’s must not that into you, Booksie.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Booksie referred to Dems as “un-American,” despite the fact that millions of Dems have fought and died for our country. Mr. W expected you or someone at TM to reprimand Booksie for his ungracious remarks, but nothing happened. He has withdrawn from commenting on the blog

            I encouraged Mr. W to contact Brian Sweany, but mistakenly gave Mr. W the wrong e-mail address and his e-mail bounced back. I corrected my error with apologies for my mistake, but nothing has been corrected.

            Mr. W perceives that the TM staff tolerates and condones Booksie’s views. I don’t agree.

            His absence would be a great loss. I’ve learned a great deal from him.

          • Lilly

            Just a couple of clarifications: the Troll said Democrats are “anti-american” [sic] not un-American. There’s a difference. And I personally wouldn’t call its comments “ungracious” – I’d call them offensive, insulting, and grossly inaccurate.

            It’s a sad, sad day when a frequent poster as civilized and knowledgeable as WUSRPH leaves and a frequent poster as crass and obnoxious as the Troll remains.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Thanks for the clarification. I’d had only one cup of coffee at the time . . .

            As with all weaklings, he denies all responsibilty. At least JJ has the honor to apologize from time to time.

          • Erica Grieder

            Oh, I see. Well, that’s obviously an absurd thing to say on JBB’s part. Partisanship has nothing to do with citizenship.

          • actually the democrats said it, I just turned it back on them and they got hysterical…

          • WUSRPH

            Tell my wife that it was just “an absurd thing to say”…She may have a stronger view than to just let it slide off.

          • Indiana Pearl

            There is a lack of adult supervision at TM, rather than a toleration of Booksie’s views.

            Having thought about this overnight, I’ve decided to withdraw for a bit. There’s nothing to be learned in the present environment.

            Pretty soon Booksie will be talking to himself.

            “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

        • John Johnson

          oh, boy…just saw this post. What is wrong with you? You seem to go overboard when people are not onboard with everything you peddle, or if they maintain neutral ground between you and your principal antagonists. Just because you wage war on someone doesn’t mean everyone else should join you. I have no respect for quitters. Lots of quotes on this subject. Why don’t you go look them up.

      • Thank you Erica you are very kind and thoughtful.

        • Indiana Pearl

          Are you and Erica going steady!

  • Indiana Pearl

    The motto of the Darwin Awards is:

    “Just because you don’t believe in natural selection doesn’t mean it isn’t working ALL THE TIME.”

  • Indiana Pearl
    • WUSRPH

      Could not help myself. But it is funny when a declared conservative blog site purges the comments by the Troll…..somebody thinks he goes too far.

      • as usual I was right, you cannot help yourself….

      • Indiana Pearl

        Did they purge? The anti-American tripe still exists.

        Booksie thinks TM is a liberal blog.

        • WUSRPH

          Because you asked, I will respond. It was the big jolly conservative politics site you referred us to that purged his comments. But please do not direct a comment to me in the future. It makes me appear to be a hypocrite if I respond…

          • Indiana Pearl

            You are being excessively scrupulous. You have much to contribute.

            I thought you were the guy who would make a stand.

  • WUSRPH

    A Plea to Conservatives

    My days as a commenter on Burkablog have come to an end. This is the last entry I will make. Nor will I respond to any entries addressed to me as long as the vileness of the Troll is openly encouraged and tolerated.

    As I depart the scene I have a fervent request to those conservatives and libertarians who follow this blog and who may or may not have made entries. My plea is that you join in the discussion presenting the kind of well-thought out and civil arguments that can be made for conservative positions on virtually all the issues being discussed on the blog.

    PLEASE DO NOT LET THE LEGITIMATE CONSERVATIVE POSITION BE LEFT TO THE LIKES DF THE TROLL. Conservatives can argue their positions without the vile insults to al that disagree with them that the Troll so proudly makes his specialty. If Burkablog is to be a legitimate forum for discussion of public issues and Texas politics the participation of such conservatives is vital. I know you are out there from your occasional entries. Please speak out for your cause. Do not let anyone have a reason to believe that the conservative movement in Texas is confined to the likes of the Troll.

  • Erica Grieder

    I still can’t get over this germ theory of disease thing. How about gravity–you’ve heard of that, right?

    • Jed

      do we have policy disagreements that hang on the balance of the answer? like we might, if say, i thought we should teach kids that jesus rode a dinosaur?

      for the record: yes i’ve heard of gravity, but einstein disproved the theory of gravity, replacing it with the theory of general relativity.

      i like the snark, though. infinitely more productive use of your necessarily short time on this planet than what you were doing before.

      • Erica Grieder

        This is actually a great point, Jed, and one that I’ve noted before, although we seem to disagree on the implications–as I said in the April post, I’m not convinced that we have policy disagreements that hinge on whether enough people believe in anthropogenic climate change. By contrast, vaccine skepticism strikes me as directly consequential.

        • Jed

          agreed on vaccines. and i understand that this was your point about whether discussing climate change has any policy implications.

          what i am not clear on is whether this is because of the word “anthropogenic,” or en toto. because in the former case i agree that it really shouldn’t matter whether humans caused it – humans still have to fix it if we want to thrive on this planet for much longer.

          but my problem is i think you are actually making the second point. that there is no point in trying to identify political officials according to whether they believe in climate change at all, because – and this is where i am baffled – there is no point in seeking to adopt government policies that would mitigate the causes of climate change.

          which is facially absurd, so i am left characteristically scratching my head.

  • Ah did not say “democrats are un-American.”

    • Indiana Pearl

      Prevaricator . . .

  • Colin Meehan

    To some extent I agree that time discussing the validity of the science behind anthropogenic climate change is valuable time wasted that could be spent discussing and promulgating solutions to the problem itself. I also know that you put a great deal of thought and care into crafting your opinions, so I’m disappointed that continue to focus your substantive discussions on the topic that I’ve seen on the red herring itself rather than the actual substance of the issue. There are myriad valuable discussions to be had on this issue, such as how will climate change impact Texas? What will the costs and/or benefits be? Is there a cost effective mitigation strategy? What solutions have state leaders offered both for mitigation and adaptation? It’s unfortunate to me that you focus your time on castigating people that fall into a rhetorical trap for being distracted from talking about the substantive issues, rather than talking about the substantive issues yourself.

    That being said this is clearly a focus for you so I wanted to provide what I hope will be some helpful context. At the same time I’m very concerned about your statement that mitigation strategies would amount to “course corrections that most countries would find costly and painful” – which in my view is incredibly misleading insofar as it indicates your thoughts both on the costs of mitigation and on the costs and risks of inaction.

    Understanding of the science of climate change as a threshold issue to policy discussions

    Look, I wish we had moved past this issue years or even decades ago. The science is extremely well established regarding anthropogenic climate change and has been for some time. That said the development of good policy should be based in a strong understanding of the science, so at a foundational level it is important for elected officials tasked with developing policy to be well informed regarding the science. This article from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication I think sums up the thinking that folks who focus on the scientific consensus issue: http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/scientific-consensus-on-climate-change-as-a-gateway-belief/

    Fortunately as you’ve noted the popular understanding of climate change is generally supportive of action to mitigate and prepare of the impacts of climate change, but that hasn’t always been the case. You can see a pretty major dip in public opinions on global warming in 2010 and a long slow recovery
    in public attitudes since then in this white paper: http://www.eesi.org/file/FactSheet_polling_040213.pdf

    That change was driven by the debate over the Waxman-Markey bill. A major, I would say primary part of the failure of the Waxman-Markey bill in 2009/2010, resulted from a change in stance from Republican moderates, particularly in the Senate, after the 2008 election. After the W-M failure
    scientists, educators, media and activists spent a lot of time educating the public on the details of climate science and the level of consensus, and while it’s difficult to explain exactly why people now may be generally back where they were in 2008 I think it’s fair to say that it is some combination of
    improved economic stability and a concerted educational effort.

    Shifting focus to cost-effective policies

    Frankly, in the discussions I’ve had with environmental activists this issue hasn’t been terribly relevant for the last year or. Sure, to the extent that a public official displays gross misunderstanding or misrepresents the issues around climate change and scientific consensus, people (whether scientists, activists or other stakeholders) should seek to correct them lest any public misconceptions take
    hold. And as some of your commenters have perhaps unwittingly demonstrated those misconceptions can take hold quickly. That said, the conversation has overwhelmingly shifted with respect to climate change both in Texas and nationally to understanding what decision-makers can do to mitigate the risks of climate changes and prepare coastal and arid communities in particular for the negative impacts of climate change.

    That being said there has been a void in Texas when it comes to serious discussions to move policy decisions forward, and a void in terms of real, effective policy proposals to reduce GHG emissions in the state. This despite a pretty strong consensus among the industry directly impacted by the
    Clean Power Plan (electric generators) that the state would be better off developing its own plan even as they sue the EPA rather than letting the EPA impose a Federal Plan on the state as seems to be the current course of action. That seems to be the more relevant discussion right now as opposed to questioning a strategy that focuses on red herrings, which seems like a meta- level of irony to me.

    The impacts and costs of mitigation strategies

    In your post you toss off a pretty broad claim – that the costs of mitigation will be painful for most countries – that definitely warrants more investigation. The standard economic considerations apply here (costs to whom? compared to what future outcome – one with no action and severe climate change or one with no action and no climate change? assuming what time value of money?) but I’m going to focus on where the electric generation industry is headed and what the costs are for various options like wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas, that can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions since those are the topics du jour when it comes to reducing emissions. It’s worth noting though that new passenger vehicles, another major source, after rising only 3mpg from 2000-2008 rose 4.5mpg
    from 2008-2013, with the bulk happening in 2012 & 2013 after the Obama administration proposed its 54.5mpg by 2025 standard with the support of auto manufacturers.

    At its root, concerns about mitigation costs today are focused on the Clean Power Plan, which addresses GHG pollution from electric power plants. The key determinant in that discussion is the relative cost of different electric generation resources: according to the Energy Information Administration a new natural gas power baseload plant costs $72-$75 per MWh, a peaking natural gas plant costs $114-$142 per MWh without accounting for the externalized costs of GHG pollution. This week Austin Energy signed a contract for a solar power plant at $40 per MWh, and wind contracts in Texas have been signed for even lower in some cases. What that means is that as the Texas economy and thus electric demand grows and new supply is needed, wind and solar will be the most cost effective options.

    ERCOT’s analyses demonstrate that, showing an increase in solar (with no GHG regulations) of 10,000 MW over the next 15 years, and an almost doubling of wind capacity over the next three years. Combined those two things alone mean that ERCOT should get over 30% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030. That date is important because it’s the final compliance deadline for the Clean Power Plan, and what this means is that combined with the ~10% nuclear power we have, Texas will get about 40% of its power from zero carbon resources. This is admittedly some quick math – this isn’t my day job! – but the current rate of co2 emissions for fossil fuel units in Texas is roughly 1,500 lbs/MWh, if that rate (i.e. the makeup of the units) stays the same and those units comprise 60% of the makeup in 2030 as opposed to the 80-85% today our state emission rate will be ~931 lbs/MWh.
    This outcome is well below the EPA goal for TX of 1,042 lbs/MWh in 2030 but there is still no discussion about how as a state we can ensure that we’re creating a Texas-focused plan to preserve our existing competitive market rather than letting the EPA impose a Federal Plan. Since this is considered the most likely outcome absent any new regulations by ERCOT (including the Clean
    Power Plan and new air quality standards) it is reasonable to conclude that costs in Texas are likely to be minimal, and I would argue that if Texas proactively develops its own plan costs may actually be negative.

    We have options, and dealing with this issue is in all likelihood affordable for the state, but it’s going to be difficult to move to a discussion on what those options are until we get past the red herring debates (which are on both sides BTW) so I agree with you there, but I hope you’ll engage with the folks that are focused on the substance rather than (or at least in addition to) those focused on what we agree is poor strategy at this point. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.