Physics Says Screw the Poor

There's a point in a debate where even if you are right in what you're saying, you should know your audience won't agree with you. That doesn't mean you have to give up. You can rethink your strategy, revisit your premises or do other things, but you have to just realize saying things like, "Screw the poor" will make everybody think you're an loon. Apparently global warming advocates don't get that.

A couple weeks ago, there was an article by someone named Stephen Leahy titled, "A Hard Deadline: We Must Stop Building New Carbon Infrastructure by 2018." I've never heard of the guy, and I didn't hear about the article. Then yesterday, a reader pointed me to the comments section of a Skeptical Science reposting of the article for an humorous example of Skeptical Science's moderators abusing their powers in their typical, dishonest fashion, something I've discussed a number of times. I thought it was amusing to see them at it again, and while I was there, I happened to read the main article. It's insane. No, it's worse than that. It's evil.

I don't use rhetoric like that lightly, but I'd say condemning millions of people to death is evil. That's just one of the things the article does. Its central point is summed up in this exchange:

“By 2018, no new cars, homes, schools, factories, or electrical power plants should be built anywhere in the world, ever again unless they’re either replacements for old ones or are carbon neutral? Are you sure I worked that out right?” I asked Steve Davis of the University of California, co-author of a new climate study.

“We didn’t go that far in our study. But yes, your numbers are broadly correct. That’s what this study means,” Davis told me over the phone last fall.

Yeah, that's right. If you live anywhere which doesn't already have a school, you don't get one. If you don't have a home, you don't get one. If your area doesn't have a hospital, you don't get one:

I couldn’t accept that we need to immediately slow production of new things like factories, hospitals, homes, and ten thousand other things that use fossil fuels. I couldn’t accept that everything had to change…right away. I sent out emails to leading scientists in different countries practically begging them to tell me I screwed up the math or something. “It’s a different way of looking at where we are but you’ve got it right,” they said.

The only exception is if you can make these things be "carbon neutral," something nobody can reasonably expect any of these things to be in the foreseeable future. So if you live in the first world, great. Unless you live in an urban area with high levels of poverty and crime where your schools have metal detectors, sit 50+ students to a classroom and have a 40% graduation rate. Then you're screwed.

But hey, if you have a nice home in middle-class suburbia with two personal vehicles, who cares that hundreds of millions of people will be permanently left without access to things like basic medical care? Who cares if new factories can't be made as long as we maintain enough factories to keep producing our smart phones and computers so we can keep accessing the blogosphere?

Sounds great, huh? All we have to do is be willing to condemn hundreds of millions, or more likely billions, of people to horrible lives in order to combat global warming. Except not. It turns out the article actually undersells the problem. In the comments section, a number of people pointed out it makes no sense to say it would be okay to build new things if they were replacements for old ones. For instance:

Actually, I'm with TomR on needing an explanation of the 'replacements clause'. As worded, it would appear to indicate that we could continue replacing existing old coal plants with new ones indefinitely and never hit 2C... so long as we stopped building 'non-replacement' carbon commitments by 2018. Which is certainly false and thus presumably not the intent.

The author of the article, Stephen Leahy, showed up and accepted the point:

To be perfectly honest I can't remember why "replacements" is in there — I wrote the original piece nearly a year ago. It has been read by the authors of the paper and many others and this is the first time it's come up.

I may have meant replacements of existing ones before the projected end of spanlife. i.e. an existing 20 year old coal plant replaced by a more effecient one to complete its end of life of 20 years.

If that's the case, probably shouldn't have mentioned it. I'd have to re-read the original studies and my mountain of notes to be sure. I don't have time to do that right now.

But thanks for pointing it and should I do another version I will definitely delete or explain the reference. That said, I think the topic of carbon commitments is a very important 'story' to tell and needs much broader airing amongst decision makers and the public.

Somehow, the Skeptical Science group has taken an article which could be fairly summarized as, "Screw the poor" and made it worse. According to them, not only should the poor not get new hospitals, homes and schools unless they can be made carbon neutral (which nobody has shown would even be possible, much less be possible by 2018), nobody should.

No new schools. No new hospitals. No new homes. No new factories. No new stores. No new roads. No new anything. No new economic activity, unless it can be made carbon neutral, as of 2018. And if people die, too bad. They have to die - because of the laws of physics:

In only three years there will be enough fossil fuel-burning stuff—cars, homes, factories, power plants, etc.—built to blow through our carbon budget for a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. Never mind staying below a safer, saner 1.5°C of global warming. The relentless laws of physics have given us a hard, non-negotiable deadline

Anyone can understand this:

Even a seven-year old child knows you don’t solve a problem by making it worse.

I mean, even a seven-year old can understand why those relentless laws of physics require us tell those people who've never once experienced air conditioning why they should never have any of the wonderful conveniences you and I have had every day of our lives.

I'm going to go throw up now.


  1. Remember, in Medieval Europe heretics were burned at the stake. Why? Because their influence on others would cost 'more souls', better to kill a few heretics than lose a city of souls to the heretic's influences. Seems, that this is quite analogous, as these climate fanatics are willing to sacrifice the poor (although the heretic was a willing participant the poor are not) to save the future. On top of it, it requires great faith that what they believe is absolutely correct.

  2. Forty-six years ago today Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Apollo 11 on the moon. Most of us thought we were getting the knack of technology and that we would be making the lives of poor people better in the future. Seems the vision has been lost in a fanatical search for dystopia.

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