Blair King’s weak political reasoning


in Economics, Politics, Psychology, The environment

Blair King has added another post to our back and forth discussion about climate change politics: Let’s face it hypocrisy matters in the pipeline and climate change debates.

He’s still discussing his claim that people who advocate for decarbonization while still relying on fossil fuels are hypocrites:

There is no denying that an activist who claims that we should not use fossil fuels while wearing a gortex jacket and driving a car to the protest is indeed a hypocrite.

He’s still wrong, because he still fails to grasp how the call for decarbonization is about changing how things are now done. It’s a pretty basic point. If it were already possible to live without fossil fuels, the kind of global transformation that I and other activists are calling for would have already happened and not be necessary. Saying that you’re a hypocrite to be stuck in a bad system while calling for a better one is a bit like saying that we need to keep being dependent on fossil fuels because that’s the bad situation we’re already in (see: previously).

Dr. King argues that his position is valid because in public opinion surveys other people agree that people who use fossil fuels are less credible in calling for their phaseout. That’s the nature of fallacies: they are superficially or emotionally convincing. People have an intuitive sense that an anvil should fall faster than a feather on the airless surface of the Moon, but it just isn’t so.

He argues:

Climate change and pipelines represent global issues that require global solutions. Because they are such big issues a lot of activists claim that their personal efforts won’t make a difference and that any change will need to be implemented by governments and businesses. This response is a cop-out. In essence, these activists are off-loading the responsibility to show leadership and instead demanding that government force a change in behaviour on the population.

In doing so, he continues to misunderstand the nature of large-scale political change. He’s buying into an atomized liberal capitalist notion that what matters most is individual consumer choice and then when all those little actions get added up they should produce the kind of change people want in aggregate. This totally misses how people aren’t free to choose the global-scale systems that underlie their lives. You can’t opt out of the global energy system. The only way to change it is through politics, and particularly through the kind of efforts activists are making to discourage fossil fuel use, discourage new fossil fuel projects, and encourage the emergence of climate-safe forms of energy.

He very misleadingly claims:

If the activists are successful in implementing their preferred policies then every citizen will be affected and the hardest hit will be the poorest among us.

This misses how decarbonization has the potential to vastly decrease inequalities in energy access and lifestyles around the world, as we move from an extractivist system where fossil fuels are extracted where they are abundant to produce goods and energy to serve people where they are rich to one where people everywhere are increasingly able to produce and use similar amounts of energy generated in ways that don’t harm the climate. The need to address extreme poverty globally is why only a contraction and convergence based approach to decarbonization is politically plausible: everyone needs to cut fossil fuel use, but at the same time there must be more equality between the richest and poorest. Furthermore, Dr. King misses how the people most vulnerable to climate change are those with the fewest resources, making a global deal where we trade some fossil-fuel driven affluence for more equality and planetary stability still more appealing for them.

Another odd thing about Dr. King is that he keeps asserting the superiority of his expertise as a scientist, while the subjects he is actually commenting on are essentially politics and ethics. He has no special claim to expertise in those fields, and the quality of his arguments suggests that his self-assessment of his level of proficiency is faulty.

There’s probably not much point in continuing to engage with him. The broad strategy of climate change deniers and delayers is just to maintain the false sense that what we ought to do remains unknown. It’s straight from Frank Luntz’s infamous memo and the tobacco industry’s “doubt is our product“. Wrap that up with a few legitimate claims about why the transition to decarbonization is hard (which decarbonization activists nearly all accept, aside from a few techno-cornucopians) and you can produce what appears superficially to be a meaningful critique of climate change activism, but which is really resentment intermixed with excuses to preserve the status quo, with no credible proposal for addressing the planetary crisis we have created.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan January 3, 2019 at 4:08 pm
Blair January 3, 2019 at 4:42 pm

A fascinating word salad that really adds nothing to our discussion. You make assertions about energy. Your suggestion that decarbonisation will decrease inequalities demonstrates that you have no clue how renewables are generated. The technologies necessary to take advantage of renewables are even more restricted than the fossil fuels you decry.
As for my claim of expertise, the reason is that expertise matters in this topic. You keep pretending this is an argument about politics and ethics…which explains why you are so bad at this. This is a topic about energy, food production and environmental science. Your arguments, while entertaining, lack any substance because you make claims about energy and food production that are demonstrably false. Until you spend the time to actually understand how energy is used, generated, stored and transported you will keep making the same fundamental errors and will post blog posts like this that demonstrate how completely out of your depth you really are.

R.K. January 3, 2019 at 5:14 pm

“If you ask a scientist how much more CO2 do you think we should add to the atmosphere, the answer is going to be none. All the rest is economics.”

-Gavin A. Schmidt

R.K. January 3, 2019 at 5:18 pm

In Blair King’s world:

Man walks into cardiac surgeon’s office.

Surgeon: “Opening up your heart to fix the problem would be hard, expensive, and risky… Bye!”

Milan January 3, 2019 at 6:08 pm

It’s true that Dr. King does a lot more criticizing than proposing solutions.

What if anything do you think ought to be done about climate change? You’re awfully caught up in the question of how activists conduct their personal lives, but if you were dealing with someone who lived an entirely post-fossil-fuels existence what do you think they ought to propose politically?

R.K. January 3, 2019 at 7:40 pm

His climate change politics is all rather petty pweaonal criticism of people who want more action, with no posts about how to solve the problem:

Seems a classic case of a guy fixated with being respected and getting deference and is responding mostly emotionally to people who don’t fit his aesthetics.

Blair January 3, 2019 at 10:26 pm

If you had bothered to to the tiniest bit of research about me you would see that I was involved in advancing the carbon tax in BC, was one of the voices fighting to get Site C built to provide us with low-carbon electricity and have written a lot about the positive alternatives of wind, solar and storage but none of that is relevant to this discussion.

What is relevant is that you don’t understand the topic and keep pontificating on it. You need to learn about how our food and transportation systems work and what is needed to ensure that Canadians get to eat every night. Until then you will simply be a loud, uniformed voice mostly ignored by those who actually understand these topics.

Milan January 4, 2019 at 12:44 am

So, do you think that people who use fossil fuels cannot legitimately advocate for carbon taxes and renewable energy? Wouldn’t they be hypocrites who should be ignored, following the argument you keep expounding?

Blair January 4, 2019 at 12:53 pm

No I did not say that and your inability to grasp that point is amusing. I said that to demand that gov’t impose conditions on others that one will not impose voluntarily on oneself makes one a hypocrite. The speaker may have a valid point and still be a hypocrite, these are not mutually exclusive options.

I also point out that by being a hypocrite one fails to take the opportunity to discover if the things being demanded are even possible.

In your case, you continually demand the impossible because you are simply too ignorant of the ways we rely on fossil fuels. You imagine that things are possible that aren’t because you live in a Dunning-Kruger haze of your own making. Should you decide to take the time to actually learn a bit about the science of the topic you keep expounding on then reasonable discussions may become possible. Your unwillingness to become informed results in the types of discussions you repeatedly have on Twitter where you say uninformed things to experts and they try for a bit to explain the truth to you and then simply ignore you. Your timeline is filled with these types of exchanges.

R.K. January 4, 2019 at 1:22 pm

That’s not an answer to the question, which isn’t surprising because it reveals how absent your logic is.

Whether the policies a person advocates make sense or not have nothing to do with their personal conduct, and so all your hypocrisy complaints are irrelevant.

You’re also not an expert in public policy. A chemistry degree doesn’t qualfy you in that regard.

R.K. January 4, 2019 at 6:10 pm

This has been the one note he has been sounding since 2014:

“The proud defender of the land, Dr. Lynn Quarmby, has built her entire career using petrochemicals to advance her science. Get rid of the petrochemicals in her lab and she would be out of business. Just for interest, how do you think Whole Foods gets their organic kale to market? It is done using big diesel-powered trucks that need fuel.”

Milan January 8, 2019 at 10:53 pm

On the question of who has expertise to comment on public policy, I remembered that I wrote a paper about this for a public policy course: The semi-empirical ‘science’ of policy analysis

Milan January 16, 2019 at 10:08 pm

Oh, and I literally wrote my MPhil thesis on the role of science in environmental policy-making.

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