Archive for the ‘Pielke’ Category

Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, Avatar & the Climate (of distrust); or, Can we move from a tribal questioning of motives to win-win policies?

February 13th, 2010 No comments

“Whhhaaat the heck is TT up NOW?” I can hear some of you asking yourselves. Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, the movie Avatar and climate?

Just what elusive illusions am I alluding to here? (Stop playing, you say.) Well, brace yourself, and bear with me.

Roger Pielke, Jr. has a post up regarding a interesting recent piece by Bill Gates on how to address climate issues (I will address Gates’ piece separately). The comment section at Roger’s predictably fell into into the usual patterns of questioning climate science, and a mutual questioning of motives and rationality. I just happened to run into it, and was moved to try to post a few thoughts there.

Libertarians ought to understand why suspicions run rampant on climate issues – even as they can’t seem to get past it (despite my annoying, incessant and level-headed ravings). But many others are so wrapped up in Climate KombatTM that they never think to even to question WHY – why all of the hostility, why all of the circling of wagons, and why the lack of interest in examining root problems and possible win-win approaches?

Well, that’s what my “Avatar” reference is intended to shorthand (pardon an archaic expression; maybe I shouldn’t telegraph my antiquity like this!): that movie was all about thefttheft that we can see all around us even today as I have noted in a number of posts (even as we may be blind to those that advantage us) –  group advantage, and communal responses to threats. Communal responses involve perceiving threats and banding together with brothers to defend all that is good, sacred, holy and OURS. This, I posit, is not only instinctive and reflexive, but EXACTLY what the climate discussion is about, on many levels.

It’s just that the disputants have entirely different views on who is trying to steal what from whom, and what or who is the threat, on who is an enemy, who is a brother, what is to be defended, and on strategy and tactics (as well as how to be advance personal interests).

I penned a few thoughts at Roger’s (I note that both Roger and his father. climate scientist Roger Pielke, Sr. , are in the thick of the climate wars, their own positions frequently being misunderstood in the fog of war). Being a bit inspired and prolix, the Muses ran a bit long. Roger is pretty good at letting comments through but I thought I post a copy here; perhaps you will be amused.

Here is what I tried to post (cleaned up slightly and with additional links and emphasis), in response to several who said to the effect, “Why should we agree to anything, until it is established to our satisfaction that CO2 reduction is important?“, and to others who questioned the motivations of Roger and others:

Those who do not agree now – with either the AGW thesis/science or the good faith, motives, intelligence or rationality of those who profess concern about a clearly changing climate and about whether man’s activities pose serious threats to human welfare and to things
that we value – still have lots to gain from plenty of win-win policies, policies that
would advance the interests of those who profess to love free markets but that are now just sitting about unused because practically everyone is too busy fighting, vilifying and mistrusting to actually step back from the emotional rush of partisan battle, sit back and to
exchange their armor and weapons for thinking caps (more on
these policies at end of this comment).

political economist Elinor Ostrom reminds us that one sine qua non for solving
any commons problem is TRUST [see my post here].

that lack of that trust – nay, distrust and active hostility – are what
characterize our “discussions” on modern-day politics, and especially
climate change (the “our” in this case being a complex one at many

DISTRUST is the natural product of many factors:

– the
lack of property rights in the atmosphere & of any legal recourse by
individuals against GHG emitters/albedo changers
, which together mean that –
unlike for other resources that can be bought, sold and husbanded – the
voluntary actions of individuals and firms via market exchanges simply are not
functioning, thus forcing climate concerns – and scientists and this discussion
– into the political realm;

 – in
the US, both parties have grossly MIS-governed and abused the public trust, via
political pandering, grasping for power at all costs (cynically sowing division
and cheapening discourse by selling war, hatred and suspicion, corruptly
selling favors to the highest bidders, and simply managing resources
incompetently). As a result, I think many people rightly feel that the US
government generally DOES NOT DESERVE our trust (this sentiment can be seen not
only in the TeaParty movement, but in calls by the likes of Larry Lessig for a
Constitutional Convention
to fix our corrupt, broken political system);

 – as
has been the case since corporations were created as the faceless profit-making
of wealthy investors whose liability for the damage they do and risks
that they shift to others is limited by statute (, those corporations that have
licenses to pollute under current law and whose climate-risk generating
activities are now FREE and unregulated work hard to protect their favored status
(via behind-the-scenes influence-buying of politicians and
“free-market” pundit/voice-pieces, and deliberate PR
smokescreen/mis-direction campaigns designed to GENERATE mistrust)

likewise, other corporations/investors have been busy working to buy climate
legislation that will help to put money in their pockets
– while those who act
as spokesmen have not been voluntarily taking actions that show they put their
money (and life-style) where their mouth

 – most
of the science has been funded by governments
, which makes it easier for
skeptics to dismiss it – and to ignore all of the sophisticated private
institutions and corporations that now strongly agree with the
(viz., notably virtually all oil & gas majors and
virtually all insurers);

 – the
fact that the chief “solutions” proposed by our Western governments
are coercive and ham-handed
, would serve to further drive basic manufacturing
to developing countries
that care even less than we do about respecting
human/property rights, would give further give domestic industry rights to
behave in ways that are seen as harmful, would provide benefits to a host of
favorite insiders while shifting costs to middle and lower income classes
, is being agreed behind closed doors (and written up
drafted by lobbyists in mind-mumbingly long and opaque legislation) and our leaders lack the moral and political courage to be straight-forward and transparent about the need and purposes of the legislative/regulatory actions;

Mistrust is not only NATURAL, it’s something that we LOVE to do; there is an
undeniable human penchant for viewing issues in a tribal, “us against
them” manner, which reflects a natural cognitive conservatism that means
we subconsciously ignore information that contradicts our pre-existing mental
map of reality, and to a strong tendency to reflexively support our tribal
brothers and “comrades” and to defend our pre-existing views against
what we tend to see as “attacks” by “enemies”;

– this
leads to group-think, black & white views, hostility, self-justification and to strawmen that
ignores the real issues
: you know, “they have a religion”, we are
right and act in good faith, they are stupid, irrational, are evil and want to
destroy all we hold dear, versus capitalism is evil, those against cap and trade are
all pawns, of Big Oil and a host of other mantras regarding “truths” that respective group-thinks requires its members to hold as “self-evident”;

– while our moral senses are essential for managing our in-group interactions, unfortunately that lends itself both to moral outrage and to intolerance of the moral preachings and inconsistencies of others;

 – the
“climate” is enormously complex, will never be fully understood or
predictable,  the changes that we
are  forcing in it cannot be simply and
convincing demonstrated or understood by anyone
, the system has many
inputs/outputs and displays tremendous variability, has great inertia that is
played out on scales of centuries, 
millennia and eons, and we have NO OTHER EARTHS to run ANY independently
verifiable “TESTS” on … just a number of computer models – again,
funded by governments, and with innards none of us has any real ability to
verify, much less understand;

finally, as climate change is a global issue, it cannot be solved unilaterally
by ANY single individual, group, community, corporation or government/polity;
the “community” that must address it is the community of nations, the leaders and citizens of which all having a welter of differing interests and priorities.

To be flip – Trust
me; it’s natural for you NOT to trust me! Don’t we ALL understand this? (Roger,
I’m pretty sure you – and Joe Romm – know what I mean.)

But the high we get from self-righteousness and group struggle is such an easy
evil, such an addictive self-drug.

it is a clear political tactic by many on the climate issue to treat it as a war, and
to deliberately sow mistrust and misinformation,
with the intention either to
defend turf previously purchased from government or to use government to cram
down preferred solutions. But I repeat myself.

Let me
end by noting that

those who are concerned about climate change risks would do well by
fostering not anger but trust, and by seeking to use hammers only to build

those who are concerned chiefly with the mis-use of government might do well to
re-examine how government has already been misused, and explore whether there
are ways to harness the passionate “delusions” of evil/stoopid
enviro-fascists to actually achieve goals that self-professed market cultists
(I’m one!) ought to desire

 – I
have humbly picked up my own hammer and started an exploratory
“task-force” of one, to look at the ways that corporate interests
have already mis-used government to lot in economic rigidity and market share,
and stand in the way of economic freedom and the massive wave of innovation,
investment and wealth-creation that would surely result if existing blockages
were removed. My
chief thoughts are here, intended initially as a plea to fellow libertarians
(who are deeply distrusting of enviro-facists like me who hope to disguise
their nefarious goals by falsely putting on libertarian clothing):

A few
related thoughts at (libertarians/climate) and  (delusion).


Readers, thanks for your indulgence!


Capitalism, the destructive exploitation of the Amazon and the tragedy of the government-owned commons

May 25th, 2009 5 comments

Searching for solutions to problems is admirable, but the effectiveness of such efforts will be limited if they are based on a faulty or incomplete understanding of the problem.  

Many of those who have some familiarity with the “tragedy of the commons” paradgim outlined by Garrett Hardin can identify a free-for-all when they see one, but fail to understand the perverse role that governments often play in perpetuating such situations.  While there may be a productive role that government can play in ameliorating destructive exploitation, it is undeniable government involvement can be counterproductive as well.

Further, while modern markets and technological advances certainly increase the pressures on “common”, open-access resources, trying to change “capitalism” or “global trade” systems may be much less productive than addressing the institutional failure at the location of the particular resource.

These thoughts come to mind in connection with ongoing discussions regarding the application of the “tragedy of the commons” paradigm to fisheries and to climate change.  Unfortunately, what passes for discussion on climate change (and other environmental issues) is too often people talking past each other (frequently with all of the hallmarks of a tribal battle):  some correctly see a looming commons problem that they believe requires government regulation but ignore the risks of pork, partiality and wasted resources in the policies themselves, while others, not anxious for government to expand its regulatory purview, downplay or dismiss the resource problem and focus on the downsides of government action or the motives of those calling for government action (while ignoring those invested heavily in a status quo that is replete with moral hazard).

To further illustrate, I take the liberty of copying below portions of a discussion with Myanna  Lahsen at Roger Pielke, Jr.`s Prometheus blog in 2007 (emphasis added):

Concluding paragraph of the linked Lahsen & Nobre paper:

“While solutions to sustainability problems in the Amazon in some cases might be found through technology, the problems themselves are responses to national- and global global level economic structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance, and unsustainable, short-sighted extractive approaches to natural resource management. To truly understand and address environmental degradation in the Amazon, one must thus strengthen understanding and recognition of the connections between sustainability problems and global and regional structures of power and inequality, including the impact of capitalism and liberal globalization on environmental practices, standards and policies (Bunker, 1985; Campos Mello, 2001). Unsustainable uses of the Amazon, and the associated land-related violence, human rights violations and exploitation in the region, are influenced directly or indirectly by global markets in (and, hence, global consumption of) export commodities such as soybeans, meat and timber. Recognition of such connections render evident that the causes of local-level problems in the Amazon and their solutions are, in practice, far from purely local, suggesting that the most deep-cutting solutions depend on systemic changes at the global level.

Ms. Lahsen, allow me to make a few comments. Roger has just steered me here from a different thread.


1. I think you are absolutely correct that the incentive structures of funding institutions and the individual incentive structures of the scientists involve are key reasons why so little applied science connected to developing sustainable practices in the Amazon has come out of the LBA. But they are not the only reasons.

Few scientists take naturally to politics. Even when important public policy issues are at stake, the efficacy of those scientists who do choose to step into the policy arena may be severely limited, as is clear from the climate change debate in the US. Decision-makers act or delay action based upon perceptions of self-interest and the interests of constituencies they identify with.

Scott Saleska alludes to this when he refers to the travails of Hansen and the changing official agenda of NASA.

This problem is even more acute in the Amazon, where land tenure and land use practices are highly politicized, and where speaking out in ways that affect the strongest interest groups is outright dangerous, not merely to one’s career, but to one’s health.

2. There are plenty of scientists who engage in applied science – but mainly with respect to fields of application where there is a strong demand from the private market. I suspect that the only area where applied science is in significant demand in the Amazon is for agricultural science and technology in the areas that have been converted to soybean farms. Interest in silvaculture and ecosystem protection may grow if groups interested in preserving forests or growing trees can find a greater voice, both politically and legally.

3. In your conclusion, you rightly refer to international factors that fuel “sustainability problems” (viz., deforestation) in the Amazon, but these are very thinly sketched out and deserve greater attention. But even more importantly, I think you misunderstand the relative importance of the various institutional failures that are driving the destruction of the Amazon, and are wrong to conclude that “the most deep-cutting solutions depend on systemic changes at the global level”.

While global markets create incentives for some to cut and export logs and others to burn forests and raise cattle or crops for export, the rest of the developed world faces the same the markets and still does not destroy its forests – in fact, forests are growing in the north. Trying to tackle Amazonian deforestation by destroying export markets, “capitalism” or “liberal globalization” is simply Quixotic (if not counterproductive), and the implication that embargoes should be placed against Brazilian products derived from forest destruction are objectionable not only on grounds of practicality but morally – shall we beggar Brazilians to protect the forests that we find more valuable than they do?

The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon (or in other tropical ares), or where there are indigenous peoples and others who do, these rights cannot be effectively enforced. Most of the Amazon is government owned, but the government does not care (and is probably incapable even if it desired) to protect its forests against politically well-connected cattle and farming interests. As is frequently the case when the government “owns” resources, those resources are very vulnerable to depredations by national elites.

The result in the Amazon is that forests are essentially a free resource that can be easily taken from the public treasury and converted into private wealth – and local interests that wish to protect forests (from rubber tappers like Chico Mendez to indigenous peoples and their sympathizers, like priests and nuns) are dealt with brutally and with essential impunity , as you have recognized. Like the open and secretive ways that fossil fuel interests have made efforts to protect their free use of the open-access atmosphere, we can expect that entrenched interests in Brazil will try to forestall measures that eliminate their free plundering of public forests and forests titled to the powerless.

While there is indeed a problem that there is no mechanism presently in place by which wealthier nations could pay Brazil to protect the Amazon, such steps are being discussed, but will still require effective enforcement on the ground to be at all meaningful.

Accordingly, rather than looking to “systemic changes at the global level”, one should recognize that the causes of local-level problems in the Amazon and their solutions are, contrary to your conclusion, in all tractable senses purely local to Brazil [and other Amazonian countries].

The destructive exploitation of the Amazon is a paradigmatic case for the problems of sustainable development everywhere. To have wealthy societies, we must have instititions that eliminate destructive exploitation by establishing clear and enforceable rights (whether private, collective or public) to property.

This means that one effective investment in research will be towards low-cost technology that helps resource owners on the ground to identify their property, to provide warnings of trespassers, and evidence that can be used to bring private or public proceedings to protect property.



Posted by: TokyoTom at January 17, 2007 10:36 PM

Dear Tom,
You frame the problem as a strictly local one, and we beg to differ.
Global consumption patterns drive natural resource use. Growing demand for soybeans in China, and to feed cattle in Europe in the wake of the mad cow disease scares, is centrally driving soybean production in the Amazon, for instance, which has greatly accelerated deforestation in the Amazon in recent years. The oscillations in deforestation rates correlate closely with the prices of soybeans on global markets.

Yet another global, systemic cause of deforestation as well as human rights abuses in the Amazon is neoliberalism, which has weakened national governments, especially in Latin America, as we mention this in the paper and back up by reference to scholarly studies.

Finally, we take issue with your suggestion that “The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon.” As indicated in critiques of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” theory, private property is not a solution. Indeed, much of the destruction of the Amazon is on private lands.


Myanna Lahsen and Carlos A. Nobre

Posted by: Myanna Lahsen at March 6, 2007 09:11 AM

Hi Mayanna,

You write, “Finally, we take issue with your suggestion that “The principal problem is simply that by and large nobody owns the forests in the Amazon.” As indicated in critiques of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” theory, private property is not a solution. Indeed, much of the destruction of the Amazon is on private lands.”

Here’s a website that says:

“In Brazil, 65 percent of forested area is in public hands, but the proportion reaches 75 percent in the Amazon region. According to Azevedo, the new law, accused of “privatising” the forests, seeks precisely the opposite: to combat de facto privatisation through illegal means. Currently, more than 80 percent of illegal lumber production comes from public lands.”

So that website is saying 75 percent of the forested area in the Amazon region is in public hands, and that 80 percent of illegal lumber production comes from public lands.

Do you disagree with either of those numbers? If so, what do you think the numbers should be?


Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 6, 2007 07:24 PM

Oops. This is the website that had those figures on land ownership and illegal logging:

Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 6, 2007 07:29 PM

Myanna and Carlos:

Many thanks for the response.

However, you misinterpret me. First, I have NOT said that the problem is a strictly local one, and I completely agree that global consumption patterns are closely tied to natural resource use. Any rational observer of the international economy will see not only that market economies are great at creating wealth where private transaction occur relating to OWNED resources, but are also great at the destructive exploitation of resources that are not effectively owned or protected.

The Amazon is a classic case of the latter. There are essentially two possible approaches to the problem – one can try to put a stick in the gears of the global markets for foreign resources (by destroying export markets, global “capitalism”, “liberal globalization” or “neoliberalism”), or one can focus on trying to ensure that Amazonian forests are more effectively owned and protected.

Which of those seems to you like a more manageable task? (And if you chose the former, don’t forget the ethical questions I posed to you on them.)

I don’t think that the problem is an easy one at all, and I commend you both for trying to tackle it. However, I think that solutions, if any are to be found before the Amazon is gutted, will most likely be found in trying to ways to help people on the ground identify and protect resources that are important to them – and in trying to co-opt the wealthy elites who are essentially plundering Brasilians’ “national wealth” by using brazen physical power.

How can this be done? Imaginative people can think of many ways. A few come immediately to mind. One is to push the Brasilian government (and foreign aid agencies) to stop subsidizing the development of physical infrastructure like roads and power, so that those who would profit from destruction have to pay all of their own costs. It would help to identify clearly those who are converting forests, but this is not strictly necessary if taxpayers can be made aware that they are being fleeced twice – in the theft of government property and in the subsidization of it. Perhaps the government could even be persuaded to get out of the land ownership business altogether, and have all of the land auctioned off to the highest bidders. Police forces, courts, land registration offices and technologies that help identify land and trespass would all be beneficial. Markets can also be harnessed to tap “green” demand for sustainably owned and maintained resources, thus further empowering natives.

Please also understand that I am not advocating solely “private” ownership. Community ownership of resources may be quite effective. But government ownership of resources is simply a recipe for those resources to be ripped off – literally or figuratively – by those with the best politcal connections/the powerful, and at the expense of the little guy/disenfranchised.

Some focus on the demand side can also work – if PR light can be shed on the home economy firms colsest to the exploitation. But this is very difficult to do, as one purchaser can easily be replaced by another, and there’s always the Chinese, who really don’t care what we might have to say.

I’m happy to expand/expound further if you’re inclined.

Posted by: TokyoTom  at March 16, 2007 05:40 AM