A Christmas Delusion

Meerry Christmas everybody!

When I was a kid, I believed Santa Claus was real longer than I care to admit because I couldn't believe the world, as a whole, would agree to tell a lie. I was taught about the importance of honesty from an early age, and while I understood there were times deception might be appropriate (such as lying to hide a victim from their assailant), I couldn't see any reason people would lie to me about the idea of a mythical figure who was supposed to bring people joy and hope.

I'm still not sure I understand why people do that. I've heard plenty of arguments about why it's okay, but none make much sense to me. It reminds me of how my first grade teacher told my class you can't subtract a larger number from a smaller number because, as she explained to me later, she felt the idea of negative numbers would be "too confusing." I get that's a "reason," but it's not one that I makes sense to me.

Regardless, the reason I bring this up is this was one of the first in a long series of things that led to me ultimately deciding the world is insane. Realizing I had been lied to by everyone and everything around me for my entire life was something of a shock. That shock has never fully worn off. I still feel like you have to be insane to fit in this world.

And in that spirit, I'd like to highlight an example, an example of something only a person who is completely and utterly delusional would ever say. Read on if you're interested.

Now, there are actually a number of examples I could give. Look at the discussions I have on any given day, and you'll likely find at least one person saying things that should get them committed. Try it on a holiday when I'm around family members, some of whom want to vote for Donald Trump for president, and well... tweets like this just seem less remarkable:

But there are a couple differences. First, this tweet involves things that are put to print, meaning they are documented for anyone to check and verify. Second, it involves material I had no hand in. I always prefer to use examples where I played no role in the discussion.

Those two factors ruled out a number of examples I could have used, giving us this tweet which doesn't seem all that remarkable at first. After all, the idea of reaching zero emissions is quite simple. It's just so unlikely to ever happen nobody can even offer a plausible plan as to how we could do it. And yet, the article linked to in that tweet begins:

One important element of the Paris climate accord has been somewhat overshadowed in all the press coverage. Before the whole thing fades from the news cycle, I want to take a moment to celebrate it.

I'm talking about the shared goal, endorsed by 195 nations, to reduce net global greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the end of the century.

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Let that roll around in your mindgrape for a moment. It has a ring to it.

The author of the article acknowledges "the Paris climate accord" is not binding, meaning it has no legal force. That means it can be ignored without any consequence (other than public relations), And yet, he says everyone should focus on this goal. Not only does he say everyone should focus on this goal, he says:

o my mind, zero is a much more compelling and evocative goal than the longer-standing and better-established climate goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees or less.

He wants people to focus on the goal of zero emissions rather than the more established goal of less than two degrees of warming. To be fair, there aren't legally binding treaties for that goal either. There's no particular evidence we'll meet that goal any more than we'll meet the other. There isn't even any evidence which shows that goal is the right one. There's nothing magical about the "2 degrees" number that means we need to keep temperatures below it. It was arbitrarily chosen, largely for the fact it was a nice, round number. He kind of alludes to the problems of this goal by saying:

The 2 degrees target has the advantage of being "science-based,"

i think saying the "2 degrees target" is "science-based" may be a bit of a stretch, but in comparison to the target of zero emissions, it's perhaps appropriate. There isn't the slightest shred of science to suggest humans need to achieve zero carbon emissions, so whatever issues there may be with the science used to support the "2 degrees target," it is still way more "science-based."

The author continues:

at least insofar as science is capable of putting a hard number on the amount of warming that qualifies as "dangerous."

Science isn't remotely capable of putting a hard number of on the amount of warming that qualifies as "dangerous." Any amount of warming, or even any lack of warming, will cause benefits and damages to different areas. There's no singular point at which warming becomes "dangerous." Even if we oversimplify things and looks at the net benefits/damages to the entire world as a singular entity, we still can't say a single specific amount of warming is "dangerous" because the rate of warming is a huge factor. Two degrees of warming by 2050 would be very different from two degrees of warming by 2100 or 2200.

But let's leave all that aside. The problem this author has with this target isn't about the science. It isn't about the complexities of determining what benefits or harms might come from global warming. He explains:

But it is difficult to explain to the uninitiated. It doesn't sound like much extra heat, even when you translate it to Fahrenheit (3.6 degrees). It's not a target you want to achieve, but a threshold you want to avoid, which makes it difficult to talk about aspirationally. Above all, it means almost nothing to the public.

It doesn't make for a good message. That's the problem he identifies with it. His problem isn't with the goal. His problem is with the message. To him, the message shouldn't be, "Prevent dangerous global warming." It should be, "Decarbonize the planet." It should be:

Does it emit carbon? If so, then it has to be transformed or eliminated. Easy.

Now, I disagree with that message. I think it's a stupid one, not based in any real understanding of the science. That's not the point though. The point is he actually believes people take this goal seriously.

Really, he does. He thinks people are seriously considering decarbonizing the planet. He thinks people are actually considering giving up fossil fuels and everything that comes from them... like, right now. He's not dreaming about some utopia in a far off, distant future. He's expecting it to come fairly soon. As he says:

."in the second half of this century" — this leaves a wide swath of room between 2050, when climate hawks would like to zero out emissions, and 2100, when oil-producing nations would likely prefer. And of course there's huge dispute over how fast emissions feasibly can be phased out, so this wide latitude avoids committing nations to anything that may turn out to be impracticable.

He thinks there will be zero net emissions sometime between 2050 and 2100. A person might get away with claiming it'd happen by 2100 just because most people alive today would be dead by then, but... 2050? That's 35 years from now. There are power plants being built today that will still be running in 35 years. There are cars coming of the line that will still be running in 35 years. Heck, I bet there are yacths millionaires campaigning against global warming today are sailing around the world which will still be sailed around the world 35 years from now.

There isn't the slightest chance humans would reach zero (net) emissions by 2050. The idea is beyond absurd. There is no plan under which it could possibly happen, save perhaps to nuke the entire world so as to eliminate most of the human race.

Still, that's not the point of this post. After all, 2100 is ~85 years out, which is far enough away we can't really rule things out. And the author of this piece didn't actually say he thought the climate hawks had achievable goals. He just referred to those goals without snickering. So yeah, I'd cringe and snicker at this, but I'd never write a post about it. I wouldn't even write a post about him saying:

All of this amounts to a lot of fuzziness and hedging, which is inevitable when you're getting 195 countries to agree to something. The target isn't legally binding anyway, so its precise contours are less important than the headline: We're headed for carbon zero. It sends a clear signal to investors that each new long-term fossil fuel investment, each new mine, well, pipeline, coal plant, or export terminal, is riskier than the last.

Even though I don't agree a treaty which was intentionally negotiated to be non-binding sends a "clear signal" of much of anything. Spending millions of dollars to negotiate a deal which doesn't require people do... well, basically anything, doesn't really seem to send any clear signal other than, "We're not going to take a strong stand on this issue at this point."

Still, that wouldn't merit much attention. Some guy thinks countries negotiating a non-binding treaty which doesn't require them do much of anything sends a clear signal to people. Whatever. He thinks the target of zero (net) emissions is actually plausible. He's a fool. Again, whatever. Lots of people say lots of silly things. I wouldn't have even thought to mention anything he said in a post here except after all this he concludes:

There's still a lot we don't know about the transition to a zero (net) carbon world, to say the least. We don't know exactly how long it will take or how much it will cost. We don't know exactly what variety of energy sources will drive it.

But the unanimous agreement in Paris declares that it is underway, and inevitable.

And that's just insane. I'm not using rhetoric here. I'm not resorting to hyperbole. I think this author must be certifiably insane. I think he must be in some sort of delusional state. That is the only explanation I can see for him claiming a non-binding treaty which has no force of law shows unanimous agreement the goals of the treaty will inevitably be met.

I just don't see how anyone could possibly see people say, "We've come together to agree these goals are important enough we need not take any actions to achieve them" and conclude that proves those people have declared those goals will inevitably be achieved.

I mean, is this some sort of satire? Is the guy trolling everybody? Is he just trying to earn a paycheck? I don't see anything which makes me doubt his sincerity, but this guy sounds crazier than my sibling who thinks shapeshifting lizard aliens are secretly controlling the world's events. At least he understands people creating non-binding treaties aren't doing it to declare things will inevitably be achieved.

One comment

  1. There is no plan under which it could possibly happen, save perhaps to nuke the entire world so as to eliminate most of the human race.

    The big blood-red zero is certainly suggestive...

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