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Systematically, for numerous issues, those advocating for action to mitigate our headlong rush over the Catastrophic Climate Chaos Cliff understate the case.  The scientific community, notably the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), is 'conservative' -- taking a very measured (scientific, one might say) approach with use solely of already published peer-reviewed literature which makes the IPCC reports dated by years the moment they're released.  Advocates for action on environmental issues often overestimate the costs of action in part because it so difficult to assess the dynamic nature of technological, policy, and cultural response to mandates to reduce pollution.  And, supporters for action typically understate the benefits from action due to, in part, the difficult analysis to assess systems-of-systems benefits.  There are very understandable (even defendable) reasons for this, but (even though we can find the examples that break this rule) remember a systemic truth:

Advocates for climate action are understating the costs of inaction, overstating the costs of action, and understating the benefits of action.
Yesterday, Oil Change International provided an example of this fundamental truth with the (powerful) graphic to the right (full size table after the fold).  What a powerful set of images to get across the point that developed countries are subsidizing fossil fuels more than they are financing climate change action in the developing world.  Wow. A powerful image that will leave an impression.

There is a problem.  This significantly understates the extent of subsidization of fossil fuels for a very simple and very significant reason: externalities are not included in the equation. Increased cancer rates, polluted rivers, acid rain, greenhouse gas emissions, etc, are not included, they are 'external' to the graphic just as they are 'externalities' to the financial contracts to buy energy.  That such costs are 'externalities' is one of the major reasons why we are failing to restructure our energy systems to a low-carbon future -- advocates of action understate the case for action when they leave such externalities external to the discussion.

As the world's attention is absolutely not riveted on the international climate change talks underway in Doha, take a look to the right (full size graphic below) for a simple reality:  the developed world has more than five times the resources going to financially-related dirty energy subsidies than it is spending in climate finance.  As Oil Change International suggests, look at these figures with this question in mind:

How serious is your country, really, about fighting climate change?
This comparison between fossil-foolish subsidies ($58 billion per year) and climate-finance pledges ($11 billion/year) is rather stark.
OECD analysis shows that fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 in Annex 2 countries were more than $58 billion. Climate finance pledges over the last three years averaged $11 billion annually.
While a 5.5 to 1 ratio might seem bad enough, we should recognize that this actually seriously understates the equation since 'externalities' are external to the OECD analysis.

For example, if we take a reasonable "Social Cost of Carbon" (SCC) of $80 per ton (even though some analysis puts this figure up to $1000 ton), each and every ton of coal burned for electricity production has an additional $228.80 additional subsidy as burning that ton of coal puts 2.86 tons of Co2 into the atmospheric mix (the 2.86 is one example, see this EIA report for discussion of the Co2 per ton based on type of coal). Even with the Obama Administration's grossly understated $21 per ton SCC, this means $60.06 of externality subsidies for every ton of coal -- without even considering the energy required to get the coal to electricity generation station and all the other 'externality' costs such as mountain-top removal damage on fragile eco-systems, increased asthma rates from particulates, and mercury's impact on average IQ rates.

With that externality cost in mind, taking the SCC as a partial surrogate for those externalities, consider this:

CO2emissions from coal were down 18% to 387 million metric tons in the January-March 2012 period.
Great news, emissions down 18%.  A true success story in the United States due to very low natural gas prices (and the prospects for continued low gas prices), limited government action to begin to bring 'grandfathered' (and grandfather) 50 year-old coal plants into the Clean Air Act, and public pressure from efforts like the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.  

However, consider the figure: 387 million tons.  At the anemic Obama Administration $21 SCC, this represents a 'hidden' subsidy of nearly $8 billion just for the first three months of the year or, in quick estimate, a fossil foolish externality subsidy of over $35 billion.  With that somewhat more reasonable $80 figure, the absence of a social cost of carbon from burning coal represents an additional $140 billion annual subsidy for fossil fuel usage in the developed countries -- counting only carbon pollution only from burning coal only in the United States of America.

Apply a reasonable estimate as to the full figure by placing fossil fuels' true subsidies outside the financial equation means that the figure to the right represents only the smallest tip of the iceberg in terms of the imbalance between developed countries' fossil foolish subsidies and their commitment to finance climate mitigation and climate adaptation efforts in the developing world.

While we are not at the stage where the world community (outside some areas, such as the EU and California) is going to put into place a global warming impact fee (e.g., a carbon tax), openly discussing the true subsidies for fossil fuels should help the drive to eliminate the (much smaller) direct financial subsidies for fossil foolish energy usage.

Originally posted to A Siegel on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 03:59 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS, DK GreenRoots, Climate Hawks, and Kosowatt.

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Comment Preferences

    •  It was well past time when I was a teenager and (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mightymouse, A Siegel, George3

      first began telling my family and friends about AGW in the '50s. With sincere and due respect to your formidable advocacy, I submit that not even you, or Bill Mckibbean, or James Hansen are talking head-on about the facts in my sig. That is the real situation.

      Enough fossil fuel remains on Earth to warm it 6 degrees C by 2100 AD if it is all used. A +6 C planet will only sustain half a billion humans. Human population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. Any questions?

      by davidincleveland on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 07:22:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There is a challenge ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        davidincleveland, George3

        of 'how much do you scare people' and to what extent can you get them to look at reality without having them fall into drunken stupors and working to act to reduce the havoc.

        Dependent on 'adaptation' measures, far more than 500 million could be alive in +6C world or, well, far less. Reality: we don't want to be in that world ... or a +4C world and, well, we'd prefer to get back under a +.5C world (ASAP).

        I've sketched out discussion which might fall into the zone you're discussing and, well, perhaps owe it to myself to attempt to make these substantive enough to put into public. The horrid risk of tail-end risk analysis isn't talked about enough -- and, since I recognize that, i shouldn't contribute to that failure.

        Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

        by A Siegel on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 12:07:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well said and considered. I and others would be (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A Siegel, George3

          quite grateful to read your perspectives on the coming 'end times' for civilization as we now know it. For my own part, for over half a century I've known the likely things humans will do and suffer between now and 2100. We now have a forum where we can discuss my take, widely and very candidly.

          The likeliest path the species will take to 2100 is a discussion we need to have, in order to mitigate the extinction possibilities for our chosen 'offspring.' I deeply dread writing that diary. I suspect I won't be able to restrain my tears, both during the writing and while responding to comments. I'm going to write it before next Spring.

          Enough fossil fuel remains on Earth to warm it 6 degrees C by 2100 AD if it is all used. A +6 C planet will only sustain half a billion humans. Human population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. Any questions?

          by davidincleveland on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 01:36:07 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  there can be no other way (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel, George3

      the peer review process still acts as a bullshit filter and you cant throw it out. Manuscripts need to be written, and that remains to be something different than blogpost writing. And they need to be reviewed. And ultimately you can not make policy based on the unsettled apperances of the scientific moment.

      All the more, the policy that is made, for an issue like this, HAS to be seriously conservative and .. whats the word? playing it safe against surprises.

      So when the IPCC tells us that with x Gt emission we could just scratch by 2 degrees, then a serious climate policy would aim for maximally 0.5 x - to have a safety margin.

      I. e. regardless whats in coming reports, any sane climate policy today would have to aim for zero emissions in the shortest manageable time; since we already seem to have reached the 2 deg C emission budget.

      The "cautiousness vs realism" objection should be made against the politics, not the science. Politics fails it, not the science.

      In fact, it would be death for science if it would want to somehow "paint a picture" to make up for polictics´ shortcomings.  

  •  the acronym for the name you give (13+ / 0-)

    to the crisis is CCCC ... or C-4 if you will.  The immensely powerful plastic explosive.  Seems apropos somehow.

    "Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra." -- me "Social justice is love, made public." -- Cornel West

    by billlaurelMD on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 04:18:35 AM PST

  •  Do humans deserve to survive? (6+ / 0-)

    this is a valid question

    can we learn to work together before civilization collapses?

    i see which way we are headed

    •  What Do You Mean "Learn?" I Know What to Do. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mightymouse, davidincleveland

      But then I also know we must withdraw from Afghanistan.

      Humans have survived and thrived over millennia in times of crises of scarcity. The species and the individuals are more than smart enough already.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:31:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Neither of these sentences are actually correct: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A Siegel
        Humans have survived and thrived over millennia in times of crises of scarcity. The species and the individuals are more than smart enough already.
        The first sentence pre-supposes that crises and scarcity describe a necessary reduction of the world population by 18 to 1 in 50 years. The second sentence is belied by the fact that we have reproduced like deer and rabbits despite a couple centuries of warnings from many sources, farmers to scientists. Man the wise? The universe is laughing at our pretensions.

        I'm not advocating doing nothing. Doing nothing will doom your offspring to extinction. We are a war-making species and only the strongest will survive the inevitable world-wide battles for resources that began decades ago. What I am saying is that as long as you waste time trying to get humans to do what they've never done before, in any culture, or any historical period, you are depriving your offspring of the chance to be among the one-in-eighteen savages still roaming our heated-up planet in 2100.

        But your very first two sentences show that you already know all this, as do we all. The first 'rule' of biology is that no species can live/survive in its own wastes. The first rule of sapience is that knowing what is required and having the will to apply that knowledge have always been two separate things.

        Enough fossil fuel remains on Earth to warm it 6 degrees C by 2100 AD if it is all used. A +6 C planet will only sustain half a billion humans. Human population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. Any questions?

        by davidincleveland on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 07:52:25 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Democracy Now right now from Doha conference (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, davidincleveland

    It is on 8 to 9 AM EST.

    Rebroadcasts available on their web page

    the US has not signed onto binding regulations

  •  Thanks for this important post (4+ / 0-)

    Republished in Kosowatt.

    The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

    by HoundDog on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:31:24 AM PST

  •  so true (6+ / 0-)

    I don't know why more people don't have their hair on fire .... one issue is people in the news talk about climate like this: "Scientists tell us ...", or "The science says ..."

    All this talk about "science" makes the problem seem remote and somehow non-threatening. And impossible to understand for non-science geeks. Better to leave the word "science" out of it and go with: "Here's what's happening ..." or "The facts are ...."

    What is science but careful observation of nature?

    The other day I had the opportunity to hear Janet Lubchenko talk. She was good, but .... when asked why Obama was silent on this most important issue she BS'd and redirected.

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:33:00 AM PST

  •  benefits of fossil subsidies in terms of jobs, (4+ / 0-)

    quality of life, 'american values', vs ridiculous 'pie in the sky' green energy, silly electric cars, bird-massacreing wind power, etc., is a regular part of university-endorsed RW radio content including frequent guest visits from fossil think tank shills like Marita Noon and Ann McElhinney.

    i know it's old, but i'll keep saying it: talk radio keeps working well for them and is greatly underestimated by environmentalists as it yells over everything we do, enabling and intimidating politicians and media despite the natural disasters that should be making it increasingly clear we need to act now and big.

    efforts and legislation to reverse the subsidy situation will work a lot better and faster if our universities pulled out of RW radio and no longer put their team stickers on the community soapboxes that attack and yell over everything environmentalists do nationally and locally.

    and while plans a 'fossil fuels out of our universities' campaign many of the same unis will be endorsing the local talk radio monsters that will be shouting over them in their own communities. it's absurd.

    the argument that the unis would look like they were being partisan by pulling from long-established contracts with stations that just happen to be partisan may have some weight but the universal anti-science global warming denial of right wing radio means those unis have NO excuse for not ending those associations or at the very least demand balance.

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and partisan lying by broadcasting sports on Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:35:06 AM PST

  •  It's the growth industry of the future (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Don midwest, citisven, A Siegel

    if there is to be a future, similar to the past.

    Entropy always needs a "new ordering principle",

    if it is to overcome its natural tendency

    toward chaos and disorder.

    Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
    -- Here's how.

    by jamess on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:54:40 AM PST

  •  True costs (4+ / 0-)

    First off, you cannot place a meaningful monetary value on global warming's effects. In my opinion only population decrease (billions in the long term) and diminishment of living standards. (short to long term) are meaningful indicators of the toll that global warming will cause.

    I see a world of 1 billion by the year 2100 probably organized as semi-feudal states.

  •  Time to take action (4+ / 0-)

    for Bay Area folks, tonight is 350 Bay Area's Plug into the Movement event, at which I'll be pitching the Bike the Math idea from my interview with Bill McKibben.

    Should be an interesting event all around, if anyone wants to join.

       Plug into the Movement

        Tuesday, December 4
        Doors open 6:30 pm (please come early to make sure we can start on time)
        Program 7:00 - 9:00 pm
        Ed Roberts Campus (above the Ashby BART Station)
        3075 Adeline
        Berkeley, CA 94703

        We're fired up and ready to take the climate fight to the next level. Please bring your ideas and talents. We need them!

        We'll get started with reports from the Climate Action Front:

        Niles Molloy, Program Director for Communities for a Better Environment, will report on Chevron action in Richmond.

        Peter Appleseed and Doug Grandt will report on Keystone Pipeline action in Texas.

        Lakota Hansen will report on Canadian Native Peoples Oppose Tar Sands

        Then join in a conversaton of ideas and possibilities for local, collective climate action.
        Dump the Pump
        Stop Chevron
        West Coast Blockade
        Climate Action Training
        Got a campaign idea? We're all ears!
        PLUS special guest performance by Occupella

  •  surely you saw (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven, John Crapper, A Siegel

    CO2 is up to 2m lbs/sec.

    sorry if it was mentioned elsewhere.
    Not sure why that figure hit me so hard.

    feeling like this guy today: Someone who would rather whine about climate change than try to help do anything about it.

    And remember: if we fail on climate change, nothing else matters. - WarrenS

    by LaughingPlanet on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 08:03:26 AM PST

    •  I don't blame him though (3+ / 0-)

      if you're a 20 or 30 something and you're just waking up to this, your first reaction may very well be WTF. Like JanF's daughter saying "thanks a lot, I kinda wanted to live my life." After a while, of course, after you realize that just your first 20 years as an American produced more CO2 than entire African villages and that all the complaining and sulking won't do anyone any good, the grieving process needs to shift towards doing something constructive.

      •  All the more reason why those of us that (4+ / 0-)

        blog for a sensible energy future need to convey a message of hope and empowerment.  That is why I think the Do the Math tour is on the right track.  We need to demonstrate how addressing climate change is going to immediately and positively affect each person's life.  Then  we need to give individuals things they can do that translate for them as being effective in the grand scheme of things.  If there would be one thing I would hope would happen it would be a fireside chat/state of the union/crisis of confidence speech by POTUS to call on the nation to launch a WWII type effort to tackle the problem.  Then start down the path that Roosevelt whet down to mobilize the entire nation and declare war on fossil fuel use.  That is what I'm asking Santa for Christmas.  

        If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

        by John Crapper on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 08:37:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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