The difficulty of communicating climate change

I haven’t mentioned RealClimate here for quite some time (old posts are here) but continue to follow its articles and browse the comments pages, because it’s such a great source of informed debate about climate science. This recent exchange amongst the comments on a post about climate “skepticism” caught my eye because Dan Miller’s explanation for the difficulty of communicating the climate crisis is so succinct.

Gordon Shephard said:
… Ernest Becker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Denial of Death,” argues that anxiety about one’s mortality is (for the vast majority of people) the psyche’s strongest motivator. It is not that people don’t believe they are going to die, or that they fear death specifically, but that they hope that, somehow, their symbolic immortality will be assured as long as their particular vision of the future of humanity persists. Tell someone that their particular version is doomed, and they will fight you tooth and nail.
Certainly some individuals have conscious motives for “sowing confusion.” But many will feel (unconsciously) that the possibility of a radical change in the course of humanity’s future (such as that which will result from significant climate change) is a direct threat to their vision of their symbolic immortality. They will grasp the thinnest of straws just to say it isn’t so.

Dan Miller replied:
In addition to the psychological resistance to a vision of a failed future, there are other psychological barriers to facing climate change.
Humans evolved to filter information and focus on near-term dangers, like a lion approaching. There are six triggers that get us to focus on a problem: 1. Immediate, 2. Visible, 3. Historical Precedence, 4. Simple Causality, 5. Direct Personal Consequences, and 6. Caused by an Enemy. Until recently, climate change had 0 of 6 (you could now say that it is somewhat visible). Number 6 is an important one… imagine if we found out tomorrow that all the excess CO2 is being released by North Korea in order to destabilize the climate. We would take care of that swiftly!
It’s almost as if the climate crisis was designed by a diabolical genius specifically so that we will not respond in time. You can see more on this in my TEDx talk.

Harbingers of the Wet

Honeyeater
Juvenile Blue-faced Honeyeater feeding in the Poplar Gum

Birds have been visiting us in greater numbers than usual thanks to the simultaneous flowering of all our biggest trees, the poplar gum, paperbark and mango. Rainbow Lorikeets have joined our resident friarbirds and honeyeaters (the Yellow Honeyeaters are still around, by the way) taking advantage of the abundance.

In the last week or so I have heard (but not seen) both a Koel and a Torres Strait Pigeon (aka PIP) in my garden. Both are Wet season visitors and both are here earlier than usual, if only by a few weeks. Of course, our weather has not been following ‘normal’ patterns. (Nor has the weather anywhere else, and climate change is largely to blame.) So far we’ve had a warmer and wetter Dry season than usual (120mm in June-July-August, more than offsetting a dry April and May), although not wet enough to relieve our water restrictions.

Rainbow Lorikeet
Rainbow Lorikeet looking for his share

Home solar update

The 1.5 KW solar system on our roof has just passed a good round number in its total output – 12 000 kWh, or 12 MWh – and that’s a good enough excuse for another update.

We installed the system in May 2011 so it has produced an average of 6.26 kWh per day for five years. That’s a useful percentage of a household’s consumption: according to Ergon’s figures on the back of our power bill, the average consumption for a household like ours is about 20 kWh per day, so our panels are producing nearly a third as much as we use.

Of course, we use some of our solar power during the day and export the rest of it, and then use Ergon’s power all night, so our net benefit doesn’t quite reflect those numbers. I did the sums a year after the installation and came up with a figure of $700 p.a., with the expectation that that would increase if power prices increased. Using the same logic now for the five year period, we find:

  • Total produced = 12 000 kWh (6.26 kWh/day)
  • Total exported to grid ~ 5200 kWh, for ~ $2300 income
  • Total PV power used at home ~ 6800 kWh, for ~ $1700 savings
  • Total benefit ~ $4000

In 2011 I said:

All in all, making the best guesses I can for the unknowns, pay-back time for the whole project (PV system and switchboard) looks like being in the 5 – 8 year range. That’s perfectly acceptable … Of course, if the electricity tariff rises (hands up everyone who thinks it is going to fall? No, my hand didn’t go up either), pay-back time will drop accordingly.

The cost for the system was $3500. Even if my new figures on exports and savings are on the optimistic side, it looks like our system has paid for itself, just a few months ahead of the earliest date I anticipated.

That’s pleasing, of course. The thought that it will continue to  bring us that $800 p.a. benefit indefinitely is even more pleasing. So is the thought that we have done our little bit to reduce CO2 emissions, and that it has basically cost us nothing to do so.

Was there any downside?  Maintenance costs? Repair costs after the cyclone? None at all. It just sits there quietly on the roof, collecting photons and turning them into useable electricity, day after day.

For the record, the general tariff was 19.4 c/kWh when we installed the system five years ago, had risen to 30.8 c/kWh by July 2014 and has now (surprisingly) dropped back to 22.3 c/kWh. In May 2011 the “service fee” or “daily supply charge” was only $23 per quarter, whereas by May 2014 it had risen to 55 cents per day ($49 per quarter). It has continued to rise and is now $1.07 per day, closing in on $100 per quarter. The supplier is simply trying to maintain revenue in the face of flat or falling demand and the service fee is a favoured strategy – but that’s a topic for another day.

Composting and industrial recycling

compostingComposting

[no author]
Penguin, March 2009, $19.95

Composting is a brief but very practical, hands-dirty, guide to turning garden waste, food scraps and waste paper into the kind of soil that will have your plants moaning in ecstasy as they grow a mile a minute. As the authors say, it isn’t rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules. Anything organic will rot if you leave it long enough, and learning about composting is simply learning how to make the process work better for you and your garden.

If you just want to put lawn clippings on the garden beds, fine. If you want to buy a bokashi bucket to keep in the kitchen, fine. If you want to make a worm farm, fine. If you want to establish a hot-compost heap and turn it every week, that’s fine too. Composting points out that many people evolve a mixed system for dealing with waste and when I looked at our own household to check, I counted nine different paths we use to convert green stuff into good soil or dispose of what we can’t use. Our system makes the most of our resources with the least possible time and effort but it was never planned, it just grew. The garden does, too.

cradle-to-cradleCradle to Cradle

Michael Braungart and William McDonough
Random House, April 2009, $24.95

Cradle to Cradle applies the composting model to industrial design. Continue reading “Composting and industrial recycling”

Dry season, 2016

Just over a year ago I wrote:

The Dry arrived this week, with an almost-audible thump: humidity halved between Tuesday and Wednesday. After hanging around the high fifties (RH at 9 am, figures from this chart) for the first three weeks of [April], it was 22, 32 and 52% on Wednesday – Friday this week …

The same change of weather hit us yesterday and last night, three weeks later than last year. For me, at least, it’s the confirmation that our Wet has truly ended – not that we really needed one, since the only rain we had in April was about 20mm in the middle of the month, as per the BoM data, and we’ve only had a bit of drizzle this month. The garden has been telling us, too: the frangipanis are shedding their leaves and the Cape York lilies have died back, amongst other indications.

In the six months November-April we’ve had rainfall totals of 26, 111, 76, 95, 558 (March was a good month!) and 21 mm respectively, for a not-so-grand total of 887 mm. March alone put us well above our record-low 2015 rainfall total but we would still have liked more. Ross Dam is at 26%, an alarmingly low level for the start of the Dry. I may say more about that in a follow-up post but, meanwhile, the TCC chart here will show you what’s going on.

The Stone Gods

The Stone Gods - coverThe Stone Gods

Jeanette Winterson
Hamish Hamilton, October 2007

Jeanette Winterson is a fiercely intelligent writer and this is her response to climate change, much as The Word for World is Forest was Ursula Le Guin’s response to the Vietnam war.

The cover may be restrained but The Stone Gods is as zany, in part, as anything Douglas Adams ever wrote. It is also sweetly romantic, raunchy and searingly polemical – The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy meets Rubyfruit Jungle and Collapse.

Superficially it is a love story replayed against our remote past and our near future but lurking just beneath the surface is a savage attack on the myopic corporatism which insists on business as usual while the global environment goes into toxic shock.

It’s a wild ride. The protagonist, Billie Crusoe, is female in two of her incarnations and a sailor marooned on Easter Island in the third, and her beloved is sometimes a robot. In one incident in the post-apocalyptic near future, bikie vigilantes rescue Billie from corporate thugs disguised as Japanese tourists. The confrontation escalates, and a few hours later members of the lesbian vegan rock band are handing out assault rifles.

Review by Malcolm Tattersall, 2007, revised and extended for Green Path 2016.

Manne on climate change

What follows is a severely condensed version of an essay, Diabolical, by Robert Manne in The Monthly for December 2015. It makes so many important points that I have overcome my reluctance to recycle others’ work here, but I do apologise to Manne and The Monthly for doing so and encourage my readers to read the original here. I have added the links and a few [words] of explanation but that’s all. Now, over to Manne:

Unless by some miracle almost every climate scientist is wrong, future generations will look upon ours with puzzlement and anger – as the people who might have prevented the Earth from becoming a habitat unfriendly to humans and other species but nonetheless failed to act. … Our conscious destruction of a planet friendly to humans and other species is the most significant development in history. … 

[Tactics for change agents]

Several studies reveal that the choice of language helps determine the level of concern. Conservatives are significantly less resistant to acknowledging there is a problem when the talk is of “climate change” rather than “global warming”. Because many studies have found the level of “visceral” response to the problem to be low, communicative calmness is implicitly or explicitly recommended. One concluded that people are repelled by climate-change messages that seem to them “apocalyptic”. Presenting the issue in this way interfered with their desire to live in “a world that is just, orderly and stable”. Another discovered that people were increasingly irritated by claims they regarded as “alarmist”. … 

Many studies also emphasise the importance of framing. One suggested a problem with using the frame of “care”, as this was the kind of narrative conservatives rejected. Another found that climate-change warnings were more effective if framed as public health concerns rather than as national security ones.

… Norgaard’s [Norwegian] study is interesting in part because it suggests that psychological denial offers a more general clue to the puzzle of humankind’s incapacity to rise to the challenge of climate change than the kind of political denialism found more or less exclusively in the US, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. 

[The way forward]

… In recent months Lord Nicholas Stern has published a new analysis of the climate-change crisis, Why Are We Waiting? The tone is now much more urgent [than in his 2006 review, summarised here]. …Stern accepts that the world must aim for the now internationally agreed limit of no more than a 2ºC temperature increase on pre-industrial temperature. According to his calculations, for there to be any hope of only a 2ºC increase in the next 15 years, in the developing world – where both greenhouse-gas emissions and population levels are currently accelerating very rapidly – emissions will have to be reduced. In the developed world – where emissions have become more or less stable – they will have to be cut in half. … What Nicholas Stern now calls for is nothing less than an immediate, global-wide “energy revolution”.  

Yet, as many people now realise, something much more profound than all this is required: a re-imagining of the relations between humans and the Earth, a re-imagining that will be centred on a recognition of the dreadful and perhaps now irreversible damage that has been wrought to our common home by the hubristic idea at the very centre of the modern world – man’s assertion of his mastery over nature.

Such a recognition signals a coming moral shift no less deep than those that have already transformed humankind with regard to the ancient inequalities of race and gender. … It is this recognition  …  that is already making Bill McKibben’s international movement for divestment from fossil fuels one of the fastest growing, most effective and most morally charged international protest movements since the anti-apartheid struggles. And it is this recognition that forms the core of Pope Francis’s recent summons for a worldwide cultural revolution. “No system,” he writes, “can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful … An authentic humanity … seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door.”

It is on our instinct for what is good, true and beautiful, and on the arousal of that authentic humanity from its present slumber, that hopes for the human future and the future of the species with whom we share the Earth now rest.