Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute wrote an essay for Foreign Affairs published last week, headlined “The Two-Degree Delusion; The Dangers of an Unrealistic Climate Change Target.”
While Nordhaus and Breakthrough are not your typical climate science deniers, deniers often appreciate them. Both Nordhaus and his parent institute have long been described as hippie-punchers for their consistent attacks on the left as a way to position themselves as Very Serious Centrist Thinkers. For example, Nordhaus and colleagues wrote in Foreign Affairs last January that “the trajectory of emissions is unlikely to differ significantly under a Trump administration from what it would have been under a Hillary Clinton administration.” That kind of laughable both-siderism is par for Breakthrough’s course.
With that in mind, reading Nordhaus’s latest essay on the 2C target provides a lesson in applying the critical thinking and argument analysis skills we discussed last week.
The premise of the Foreign Affairs piece is threefold. Nordhaus’s first point is that adaptation and mitigation are either-or options. Secondly, he argues that developing countries will be more resilient as they grow more wealthy--wealth only achievable by fossil fuels, as renewables, he claims, can’t exceed 20% of a grid’s capacity. From there, Nordhaus concludes that meeting 2C would mean sacrificing developing nation’s ability to adapt to changes.
Take a moment to read those points again. Can you spot the disconnects between premise, reality, and conclusion?
That’s right! Adaptation and mitigation aren’t either-or decisions. Countries can reduce emissions while also fortifying infrastructure! (Particularly if there were some sort of policy to put a price on carbon emissions, and use that revenue to improve resilience…)
And of course, renewables are perfectly capable of replacing fossil fuels as developing countries electrify. Nordhaus’s claim that renewables can’t provide more than a fifth of a grid’s power is disproven by several existing examples. Mexico is already at 21 percent, and aiming higher. Chile has doubled Nordhaus’s imagined limit, with 45 percent of its electricity coming from clean sources. Costa Rica ran for 300 days on 100% renewables last year. Denmark, the UK, Germany and Portugal have all briefly run entirely on renewables, albeit for short periods of time.
There’s a lot more you could say, but we’ll leave it up to you to find the fallacy in essentially every paragraph of the piece that accuses the climate community of being delusional.
Because as the clean energy experiences of Mexico, Chile and others show, it’s Ted who appears delusional for thinking a high renewable threshold is impossible. We’ll just caution that people who live in glass Nordhauses shouldn’t throw stones.
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