Watch Before the Flood, an urgent call to arms about climate change

Originally published at:

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I’ve cut my private jet travel down to zero flights per year as my personal act of sacrifice to save the Earth. Leo, will you join me??

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And what about those pilots and other flight crew? Geez, if they would just stop jet-setting around the world, Climate Change would be in our rear view mirror!

(The path to the solution includes having an international star getting around to make his point to people who are more receptive to hearing the message because it’s coming from an international star who is right in front of them. That’s how people work.)


It also looks at pragmatic steps we can take right now to slow the damage.

Step one: give Rupert Murdoch lots of money.

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How would that help? Individual choices can’t really have a significant impact on carbon dioxide emissions.

Go fly your heart out you wealthy magnate, you.

I think that what’s being said is more like, “the good things I do are so important that my personal carbon footprint is irrelevant”.

Which is fine, as long as each and every one of us gets to make that personal judgment and that decision about themselves.


In my case, not. When I want information about possible threats to my health, safety or livelihood, people who are paid to read fiction written by others are pretty darn low on the list of sources I consult.

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True, except, I think, for air travel.

One thing for sure then, my choice to drive a diesel Ram pickup doesn’t have a significant impact, and I’ll continue to do so guitl-free.

ok, I’ll take the bait. For the sake of argument, let’s agree that Leo is a hypocrite. If I drive drunk every night, does that make it less true that drunk driving is dangerous if I tell my kids not to do it? I’m sorry if (perceived) hypocrisy rubs you the wrong way, but it’s the weakest rejoinder to global warming propaganda–and I don’t mean “propaganda” to have a negative connotation–you can make.


Even taking that into account, Jevon’s paradox assures us that any carbon dioxide emissions you prevent by failing to engage in air travel will pop up somewhere else in the economy as the decline in demand causes a drop in fossil fuel prices.


Conventionally, to make a globally significant impact requires mass action in the ballot box. Be sure to hold your breath on that one! (no, don’t, please).

But I have had a significant impact on my carbon dioxide emissions, cutting them by 90% or so every couple of years. And if everyone reading this doubled the insulation in their attic, most of them would save a lot of money, and it’d also have a globally significant impact.



no, for the reason already mentioned (Jevon’s paradox)

Rather than dispute the accuracy of Jevon’s predictions I’ll just point out there’s no reason not to do it.

The money I save on efficiency is invested in more efficiency and I just keep rolling it on around… works a treat.

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Sure, I’m not arguing that people shouldn’t upgrade their insulation. I’m just arguing that it’s not going to have an impact on global carbon dioxide emissions, which is what’s relevant in a discussion about climate change.

If you really enjoy your hobby of increasing your household’s energy efficiency, then go for it. Be the most efficient cat on the block. I support your lifestyle choices!

If you have any reason to dispute Jevon’s predictions, though, I’d love to hear them. It would be really surprising to me if decreasing a price did not cause a corresponding increase in demand!


Shouldn’t outlawing beans, cruciferous vegetables, and Reddi Whip be our first step???

  • 1 x – carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • 25 x – methane (CH4) – I.e. Releasing 1 kg of CH4 into the atmosphere is about equivalent to releasing 25 kg of CO2
  • 298 x – nitrous oxide (N2O) – I.e. Releasing 1 kg of N2O into the atmosphere is about equivalent to releasing 298 kg of CO2

Well, economic predictions that rely on aggregate behavior of the mythical “average man” are subject to cultural influences, and differing uses of fuel do not have identical carbon outputs. And oil producers always restrict supplies artificially when prices are low (and if they get low enough, deep-sea drilling becomes unprofitable).

So I say Jevon’s only mostly right, at least right now, and acting individually is the way to make change in aggregate.

If you buy a Prius, you reduce pollution at the tailpipe by 90%. The cost of fuel goes down because of the reduced amount of fuel you now use, but if everyone’s buying Priapi (my official :wink: plural of Prius) for cultural reasons, the fuel is also being burned cleaner. Or if you buy a 98% efficient home heater. It burns cleaner, not just less. My spouse has a Nissan Leaf - the power plant burns fuel more efficiently and cleanly than a car can, so the electricity her car uses is cleaner. And so forth and so on.

I’ve reduced my use of fuels dramatically, but I have also decreased the pollution my remaining uses of fuel create. If we all do that, only the oil barons really suffer, and their response will be to shut down the more costly forms of oil production, which are the most harmful anyway.

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This narrative misses a lot of very important points:

  1. Priapi’s power trains aren’t necessarily cleaner. If the source of electricity used for recharging is dirty, then it is dirty regardless of whether it’s used in a Prius or a blender or a rechargeable battery in a vibrator.
  2. Assuming the Prius is charged using a relatively clean source of energy, it’s still not clear that the overall system costs of the Prius are less than those of a more typical gasoline engine. The manufacture of batteries for Priapi is not exactly clean, and mining for the materials needed is very dirty indeed. Taking into account lifetime costs, it’s not clear to me that hybrids are cleaner than efficient, long-lived ICEs.
  3. This goes for renewables in general – lifetime and system costs aren’t taken into account in EROEI analyses, meaning that most sources of “green” energy are much less clean and efficient than advertised, and almost invariably underestimates the costs. Costs for renewables are mostly paid up-front and need to be recouped over the cost of decades of maintaining capital equipment (which also means that producing renewable electricity requires increasing carbon dioxide output in the short term, though it’s unclear how this should affect the cost/benefit analysis from a whole system perspective). What’s more, they’re affordable mostly because of huge tax subsidies and incredibly loose credit from QE. Which brings us to our next point:
  4. Clean energy costs money, dirty energy provides money. Even despite the subsidies, oil companies are net contributors to the US federal government budget. We could argue all day about whether the federal government should really get more money, but the point I’m really making is that you can’t replace something that provides taxes (oil) with something that uses taxes (renewables) without some kind of negative impact on revenue.
  5. There are costs associated with switching/substituting from fossil fuels to electricity given that much of our technological infrastructure is built with fossil fuels rather than electricity in mind. For example, the mines for the rare earths for those Prius batteries – those run on diesel, not batteries. If the cost of diesel fuel goes up, so does the cost of batteries. These costs typically aren’t accounted for in projections of our bright green carbon-free future.

Honestly, I’m not sure how to do this cost/benefit analysis. Global warming might cause billions of deaths, but I suspect the decline of industrial society would also cause billions of deaths, and by some analyses, trying to prevent global warming will cause the decline of industrial society. (The story I’ve found most plausible recently: subsidized renewables distort the energy market and contribute to making oil extraction unprofitable, but since oil is extracted on credit and lending money to oil companies for this purpose is a huge part of the economy, doing this will almost certainly cause an economic disaster on par with 2008 or even worse. Then no one can afford anything, no one can pay anyone anything, everyone loses their job, no one buys anything, and oil becomes even less profitable to extract.)

My home heating, cooking, and clothes drying is now handled by natural gas supplied by a fracked well on my property, rather than by electricity generated by the coal fired plant thirty miles away.

If I can find a workable gas-powered air conditioning system, (can’t go geothermal as it’s solid rock under my house) I can probably reduce my use of coal-generated electricity to about one-fourth or less of what it once was.

So I’m doing in microcosm what the US is doing on the macro scale:

Now if I could get a few hundred of my neighbors to do the same, it might be enough to offset Leo’s next jaunt to the Med. Think that would be a good motivator?

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Most libertarians see this and are all like, “hey, that’s what three billion people pulling themselves out of poverty looks like. I guess you’d prefer they just stayed poor?”


Are absolute numbers or per capita numbers more relevant? We’re talking about personal choices, right?

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Not bloody likely…
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