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Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway recommend that grassroots Internet writers focus on Climate Change Policy, in this Climate Science Watch interview shot at Netroots Nation 2010.

The subject of government policies to deal with Climate Change borders on the excessively dull – which is why most Internet web loggers (or “bloggers”) don’t want to touch Policy even with a full HazMat suit on.

It’s the kiss-of-interest-death to try to open up discussions on Carbon Taxation, Cap-and-Trade, Cap-and-Share, Cap-and-Dividend, Cap-and-Giveaway, Contraction & Convergence, Kyoto2, Border Tax Adjustments, Clean Development credits, Carbon Intensity and the like.

Only really seriously geeky, mildly obsessive people really want to think about the Big Picture. And many of us get stuck in a corner of unworkable aspiration, where we know something has to change, we fix on just a snippet of the giant problem, and then we find we cannot communicate it well enough for others to understand.

For example – very public insistence that the Coal-burning power generation industry has got to cease trading doesn’t make it happen, despite excellent reasoning and even entire Climate Camps of resistance and protest amongst the activist community.

This is probably because (a) most people don’t understand how banning Coal fits into the bigger Carbon picture, (b) most people don’t know how to go about asking the right people to ban Coal and (c) most of the Coal-burning industry don’t want people to look into their business too deeply so they have invested lots of money in public attitude smokescreens. No, it’s not a “conspiracy”. It’s a documented public relations exercise. Just ask Naomi and Erik.

The majority of people are unaware of the compromises being made in their name every day – from the high Carbon fuels used to make their electricity, to the highly-subsidised rotten old gunk that they burn to move their overweight cars around with.

More to the point, the majority of people don’t even care about the energy waste and Greenhouse Gas emissions of their lifestyle arrangements.

And why should they ?

Most Policy seeks to pose the question : should there be a deliberate financing of the Low Carbon Transition ?

But why would ordinary taxpayers be prepared to fork out extra to pay for greening up the power sector ?

Why should people have to pay more for Low Carbon food, clothing, technical gadgets and low impact chemicals ?

The only time most people feel the affects of Policy is when they find that the cost of things changes. And so that’s the only time they care about it.

So, while people accept, on the whole, that we, as a society, should reduce our Carbon Dioxide emissions, they’re not ready to think about what needs to happen to make that happen, and they probably aren’t going to like it, even if they do.

Investing in the Low Carbon Transition effectively means putting wealth creation on hold for a few years, while the whole Economy invests in Low Carbon Energy, energy efficiency, Low Carbon building renovations and changing a whole raft of chemical processes, agricultural practice and transportation systems for freight and passengers.

A recession is a great time to start implementing the Low Carbon Transition – people will barely notice the altered financial framework – the jam will come a couple of years later than expected, but it will be worth it in the long run.

The Low Carbon Transition is all about thinking for the long-term, making genuine investments, now, for long-term decarbonisation. And this investment will bring significant returns. That’s why the Big Boys (and Girls) are investing in wind farms.

Short-term concerns about tax payments and returns on savings will always trump the Low Carbon Transition in the minds of the ordinary person, even though the Big Players know where their future bread will be buttered.

Any Climate Change Policy that bumps up the prices of goods, power, fuel and services for the ordinary citizen won’t be acceptable – so that rules out Carbon Taxation, Cap-and-Trade…in fact most policy wonk proposals.

Most people aren’t interested in Policy, that’s why most Climate Change bloggers don’t talk about it. Most recommendations for Policy from the Economists make them look like eggheads or airheads, or just fantasists. Naomi and Erik call it “magical thinking”.

The average response from the cabbie in the street is “Just tell us how much it’s going to cost us, will you ?”

I talk about Policy because it’s important to rule out those schemes that are simply unworkable, inoperable, unfair or unethical.

Some Climate Change Scientists are becoming “activist” in their outlook, and have started daring to recommend Policies.

But do Climate Change Scientists, or even government people, really understand the limits and liabilities of modern Economics in handling the Low Carbon Transition ?

Here is James Hansen’s latest communication, wherein he recommends a “carbon fee”. I have the highest respect for Jim. He is a plainspeaker, a truly ethical fellow, smart, brave and a great researcher. However, I cannot see how this proposal could work. My most important first question is : exactly how does he think that people could be made to agree to it ?

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