Friday, January 19, 2007

Notes on Stephen Schneider presentation, Jan. 17th at Stanford

My random notes, no particular order. Some of what he said was more or less off the record, so I'll skip that stuff.

On Kyoto:
-The most important accomplishment of Kyoto isn't controlling emissions, it's setting up an ongoing process for countries to work together to manage climate change.
-Instead of a cap-and-trade system, he proposed at Kyoto an income tax-and-transfer system that would transfer payments to poorer people who produce fewer emissions. He said he was laughed at.

-People who would spout nonsense in large, crowded auditoriums always become reasonable in small conference rooms.
-The US used to act as a fair broker between OPEC nations and nations with exposed coastlines, but no longer.

US politics and climate change:
-Climatologists like him used to have a contentious and negative relationship with previous Republican administrations (Reagan and Bush I). With Bush II, there's no relationship at all - this administration doesn't even want to talk to climatologists.
-Pre-early 1980s, science wasn't polarized like it has been in the last two decades. It hasn't been polarized in California politics, and he's not sure why. (My comment - I can think of several reasons why California is different, at least on climate: no coal industry, little car industry, long involvement with air pollution regulation, and the collapse of the state Republican party in the mid-1990s.)
-He believes there's now a sea change in business attitudes and moderate Republican in the United States generally. He now talks to business people more than environmentalists.

Tools for reducing emissions:
-Conservation is the low-hanging fruit. California's requirement of energy standards for refrigerators, later copied by the Reagan Administration for the rest of the country, has reduced emissions more than all the installed photovoltaics in the country.
-Cautious supporter of underground carbon sequestration, never mentioned ocean sequestration.
-More cautious supporter of solar towers, which I'd never heard of (possibly referring to concepts like this).
-Skeptical of nuclear power - said that cost-effective ways to eliminate meltdowns and safely store nuclear waste are needed.
-Supports carbon offsets, especially in the form of technology transfer to industrializing countries.

Role of scientists:
-Can't answer value questions - is opening an Arctic shipping route more important than destroying Inuit/Eskimo culture? Politicians ask scientists to create cost-benefit analyses where it's not possible to do it.
-Shouldn't portray certainty where it doesn't exist - like giving a value to four decimal places when in reality they're not sure if the value is positive or negative.

His website for more info.

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