If you are not a U.S. citizen, then you may not be following American politics. But if you follow climate policy, you should also be following U.S. politics, at least somewhat. From the standpoint of unlocking international climate change policy, U.S. politics are probably a —if not the— master key.
“Can USEPA’s new power plant ‘rule’ break our climate logjam?”
There is a small but growing literature that considers the challenge of climate change through the ethicist’s lens. So-called “climate ethics” addresses the ethical imperative for action on climate change. (See this short interview for a good introduction to the flavor of the discourse.) This discussion is important, but while the broad issue of climate change is analyzed at a macro-level, there is a separate litany of ethical questions relevant to those working on the ground to design and implement climate programs and policies.
Electrons flowing down a wire. How many times have you heard this description in discussions on how electric power grids functions? Our greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting framework for indirect emissions from purchased electricity (i.e., Scope 2) is built around this mental model — the idea that electrons in the electric grid are analogous to water or natural gas in a pipe where we just replace molecules with electrons. Indeed, it is hard to find a reference in our field on the topic of indirect emissions that does not lean on or allude to this description of the physics of electricity.
Well, in the spirit of earlier semantic alerts I’ve posted on misused terminology in GHG accounting (see previous entries on “real” and “counterfactual”), in this blog post I’m going to come after another esoteric GHG-related linguistic bubble with a pointy stick.
One of the more frustrating issues I deal with as an educator is the focus by many governments, NGOs, foundations, and much of the scientific community on “climate literacy” as a strategy for shifting the climate change policy debate.
Climate literacy is the label given by organizations, such as the U.S. National Science Foundation, to the work of teaching the lay public about climate science and global warming. Let’s be clear, I soundly believe that the world would be better if more people had a deeper understanding of science (perhaps starting with the reality of biological evolution through natural selection).
Much of the world right now appears largely unconcerned with climate change. And, this state of affairs is just what social psychology tells us we should expect. People will avoid thinking about and accepting as real problems like climate change that feel remote and have complex long-term causes and solutions. Combine the enormous distractions of ongoing economic upheaval in many parts of the world and the quadrennial naval gazing in the United States that is the Presidential election season and it is unsurprising that the outcome is indifference to the specter of the climate problem.
Continuing on the theme of widely held fundamental misconceptions in the carbon management community (see previous blog posts here and here), today I am going to write on a matter of terminology I find particularly irksome: the use of the term “counterfactual” in additionality discussions.
I am about to commit an act of minor heresy by telling you that something everyone repeats as gospel is flat bunk. The qualities of a good emission offset project are one of the most common refrains you hear in the carbon offsets community. You can probably repeat most of them by memory: real, additional, permanent, verifiable, etc. Different programs or protocols might add other points about leakage or accuracy, or conservativeness or some other offset quality principle. But common to almost all programs and standards and protocols is the criterion that offset projects or credits must be “real.”
Here is a question for you: What does it mean for an offset project to be real? What would an unreal offset project be? How could we tell if it was unreal, and is this something we should be concerned about?