Climate explained: the environmental footprint of electric versus fossil cars



The best way to compare emissions from electric cars is to assess all phases of a life cycle analysis.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Md Arif Hasan, Victoria University of Wellington and Ralph Brougham Chapman, Victoria University of Wellington


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

There is a lot of discussion on the benefits of electric cars versus fossil fuel cars in the context of lithium mining. Please can you tell me which one weighs in better on the environmental impact in terms of global warming and why?

Electric vehicles (EVs) seem very attractive at first sight. But when we look more closely, it becomes clear that they have a substantial carbon footprint and some downsides in terms of the extraction of lithium, cobalt and other metals. And they don’t relieve congestion in crowded cities.

In this response to the question, we touch briefly on the lithium issue, but focus mainly on the carbon footprint of electric cars.

The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries as a major power source in electronic devices, including mobile phones, laptops and electric cars has contributed to a 58% increase in lithium mining in the past decade worldwide. There seems little near-term risk of lithium being mined out, but there is an environmental downside.

The mining process requires extensive amounts of water, which can cause aquifer depletion and adversely affect ecosystems in the Atacama Salt Flat, in Chile, the world’s largest lithium extraction site. But researchers have developed methods to recover lithium from water.

Turning to climate change, it matters whether electric cars emit less carbon than conventional vehicles, and how much less.




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Emissions reduction potential of EVs

The best comparison is based on a life cycle analysis which tries to consider all the emissions of carbon dioxide during vehicle manufacturing, use and recycling. Life cycle estimates are never entirely comprehensive, and emission estimates vary by country, as circumstances differ.

In New Zealand, 82% of energy for electricity generation came from renewable sources in 2017. With these high renewable electricity levels for electric car recharging, compared with say Australia or China, EVs are better suited to New Zealand. But this is only one part of the story. One should not assume that, overall, electric cars in New Zealand have a close-to-zero carbon footprint or are wholly sustainable.

A life cycle analysis of emissions considers three phases: the manufacturing phase (also known as cradle-to-gate), the use phase (well-to-wheel) and the recycling phase (grave-to-cradle).

The manufacturing phase

In this phase, the main processes are ore mining, material transformation, manufacturing of vehicle components and vehicle assembly. A recent study of car emissions in China estimates emissions for cars with internal combustion engines in this phase to be about 10.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO₂) per car, compared to emissions for an electric car of about 13 tonnes (including the electric car battery manufacturing).

Emissions from the manufacturing of a lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt-oxide battery alone were estimated to be 3.2 tonnes. If the vehicle life is assumed to be 150,000 kilometres, emissions from the manufacturing phase of an electric car are higher than for fossil-fuelled cars. But for complete life cycle emissions, the study shows that EV emissions are 18% lower than fossil-fuelled cars.




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The use phase

In the use phase, emissions from an electric car are solely due to its upstream emissions, which depend on how much of the electricity comes from fossil or renewable sources. The emissions from a fossil-fuelled car are due to both upstream emissions and tailpipe emissions.

Upstream emissions of EVs essentially depend on the share of zero or low-carbon sources in the country’s electricity generation mix. To understand how the emissions of electric cars vary with a country’s renewable electricity share, consider Australia and New Zealand.

In 2018, Australia’s share of renewables in electricity generation was about 21% (similar to Greece’s at 22%). In contrast, the share of renewables in New Zealand’s electricity generation mix was about 84% (less than France’s at 90%). Using these data and estimates from a 2018 assessment, electric car upstream emissions (for a battery electric vehicle) in Australia can be estimated to be about 170g of CO₂ per km while upstream emissions in New Zealand are estimated at about 25g of CO₂ per km on average. This shows that using an electric car in New Zealand is likely to be about seven times better in terms of upstream carbon emissions than in Australia.

The above studies show that emissions during the use phase from a fossil-fuelled compact sedan car were about 251g of CO₂ per km. Therefore, the use phase emissions from such a car were about 81g of CO₂ per km higher than those from a grid-recharged EV in Australia, and much worse than the emissions from an electric car in New Zealand.

The recycling phase

The key processes in the recycling phase are vehicle dismantling, vehicle recycling, battery recycling and material recovery. The estimated emissions in this phase, based on a study in China, are about 1.8 tonnes for a fossil-fuelled car and 2.4 tonnes for an electric car (including battery recycling). This difference is mostly due to the emissions from battery recycling which is 0.7 tonnes.

This illustrates that electric cars are responsible for more emissions than their petrol counterparts in the recycling phase. But it’s important to note the recycled vehicle components can be used in the manufacturing of future vehicles, and batteries recycled through direct cathode recycling can be used in subsequent batteries. This could have significant emissions reduction benefits in the future.

So on the basis of recent studies, fossil-fuelled cars generally emit more than electric cars in all phases of a life cycle. The total life cycle emissions from a fossil-fuelled car and an electric car in Australia were 333g of CO₂ per km and 273g of CO₂ per km, respectively. That is, using average grid electricity, EVs come out about 18% better in terms of their carbon footprint.

Likewise, electric cars in New Zealand work out a lot better than fossil-fuelled cars in terms of emissions, with life-cycle emissions at about 333 g of CO₂ per km for fossil-fuelled cars and 128g of CO₂ per km for electric cars. In New Zealand, EVs perform about 62% better than fossil cars in carbon footprint terms.The Conversation

Md Arif Hasan, PhD candidate, Victoria University of Wellington and Ralph Brougham Chapman, Associate Professor , Director Environmental Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Double counting of emissions cuts may undermine Paris climate deal


Ice floe adrift in Vincennes Bay in the Australian Antarctic Territory. There are fears efforts to combat global warming will be undermined by double counting of carbon credits.
AAP/Torsten Blackwood

Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Lambert Schneider, Oeko-Institut, and Maosheng DUAN, Tsinghua University

In the four years since the Paris climate agreement was adopted, countries have debated the fine print of how emissions reduction should be tracked and reported. One critical detail is proving particularly hard to work out – and a weak result would threaten the environmental integrity of the entire deal.

The sticking point is rules for carbon markets: specifically, how to prevent double counting of emissions reductions by both the country selling and buying carbon credits.

These rules are proving a major barrier to reaching consensus. In December, the negotiations move to Chile for this year’s major climate talks, known as COP25. The double counting issue needs to be resolved. It will not be an easy job, and the outcome matters to many countries, including Australia.




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The Morrison government says Australia will meet the Paris emissions targets by 2030 without international trading – partly by counting old carbon credits towards its Paris efforts. But in future Australia may adopt a stronger target in line with global climate goals. This may entail government and businesses buying carbon credits from overseas.

In an article just published in the journal Science, we and our co-authors* explain why double counting could undermine the Paris goals, and how a robust outcome could be achieved.

The Port Kembla industrial works in Wollongong. Industrial activity is a major contributor to overall global emissions.
AAP/Deal Lewins

What’s the problem here?

International carbon trading allows two or more countries to achieve their emissions targets more cheaply than if going it alone. Countries where cutting emissions is relatively cheap do more than is required by their targets. They then sell the additional emissions reductions, in the form of credits, to countries that find it harder to achieve their targets.

Carbon credits could be produced through activity such as replacing fossil fuels with zero-emissions energy, greater energy efficiency and electrification in transport and buildings, new technologies in industry and better practices in agriculture and forestry.

Rules for carbon trading are defined under Article 6 of the Paris agreement. Trading under the deal could be big: almost half the parties to the agreement have signalled they want to use carbon markets. Airlines might also become major buyers of emissions credits, under rules requiring them to offset increases in carbon emissions from international flights above 2020 levels.

The cost savings from using carbon markets could make it easier for countries to adopt more ambitious targets – ultimately resulting in greater emissions reductions.




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But if trading rules are not watertight then the use of carbon markets could lead to greater emissions, undermining the agreement.

One fundamental risk is double counting: a country selling a carbon credit might claim the underlying emissions reduction for itself, while at the same time the country buying the credit also claims the same emissions reduction.

Obviously any international transfer of emission reductions should not lead to higher total emissions than if participating countries had met their targets individually. This could be ensured through a form of double-entry bookkeeping, wherein the country selling carbon credits adjusts its emissions upwards, and the country acquiring the carbon credits adjusts, by the same amount, downwards.

But the devil lies in the detail – and in the self interest of the parties involved.

Planes lined up at Sydney Airport. The aviation industry will likely buy carbon credits to offset its emissions growth from 2020.
AAP

The bones of contention

Countries are wrangling over what double counting is, how it should be avoided and whether it should sometimes be allowed.

Some countries hoping to sell emissions credits, notably Brazil, propose rules under which emissions reductions sold to another country could effectively also be claimed by the selling country. Such rules existed under the Kyoto Protocol, which came before the Paris agreement. However under Kyoto developing countries did not have emission targets. All major countries have emissions targets under Paris, making the method unsuitable now.




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Another potential pitfall lies in the potential purchase by international airlines of large amounts of credits to offset increases in their emissions. Aviation emissions are not counted in national emissions inventories. So it would be logical to adjust the selling country’s inventory for any emissions reduction sold to airlines.

But some countries, notably Saudi Arabia, argue that this should not be done because the airline industry is governed by a separate international treaty. This approach would allow emissions reductions to be included in both agreements and counted twice.

In a separate point of debate some countries – including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States – oppose the idea of a single international body overseeing carbon trading under the Paris agreement, arguing for more national sovereignty and flexibility between nations buying and selling.

Making things even more complex, the Paris agreement allows each country to determine how to frame their emissions target. Some countries frame them as absolute emissions, others as a reduction relative to business-as-usual, or as a ratio of emissions to gross domestic product. Some countries’ targets are simply unclear.

A deforested area in the Amazon forest in Brazil. Carbon credits can be earned by nations that retain forest rather than cutting it down.
Marcelo Sayao/EPA

Letting each country determine its own ambitions and approach was key in making the Paris agreement a reality. But it makes accounting for carbon markets more complex.

There are also questions over whether a portion of carbon trading revenue should be allocated to help pay for climate change resilience in developing countries, and whether old credits from a trading scheme under the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism, should be tradable in the new scheme.

The way forward in Chile

The solutions to all these issues will be nuanced, but will require that governments agree on some fundamentals.

The first is that a single set of common international accounting rules should apply, irrespective of which carbon market mechanism is used by countries or groups of countries.

The second is to ensure robust emissions accounting, regardless of how mitigation targets are expressed.

The third is that over time, all countries should move toward economy-wide emissions targets, as the Paris Agreement foresees.

The need to reach a political deal in Chile must not result in loopholes for international carbon markets. The rules must ensure environmental integrity and avoid double counting. If this is achieved, emissions reductions can be made more cheaply and global ambition can be more readily raised. If not, then the accord could be seriously undermined.

The article in the journal Science “Double counting and the Paris Agreement rulebook” is authored by Lambert Schneider, Maosheng Duan, Robert Stavins, Kelley Kizzier, Derik Broekhoff, Frank Jotzo, Harald Winkler, Michael Lazarus, Andrew Howard, Christina Hood. See here for the full manuscript.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Lambert Schneider, Research coordinator for international climate policy, Oeko-Institut, and Maosheng DUAN, professor, Tsinghua University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cattle prods and welfare cuts: mounting threats to Extinction Rebellion show demands are being heard, but ignored


Piero Moraro, Charles Sturt University

Scores of arrests have been made across Australia as the Extinction Rebellion enters its fifth day of protests.

The activists are desperately trying to force the Australian government to take serious and effective action against climate change. And their brand of civil disobedience has caused major inconveniences, from hanging off bridges to locking themselves to gates, vehicles or cement blocks.

But while inconvenient, their protests are still non-violent. This is an important point to stress, as the members of state and federal government peddle the view that they are criminals and anarchists.

In fact, as the movement grows stronger, so do the governments’ attempt to stop it. It shows the Extinction Rebellion’s demands are actually being heard, but at the same time, the drastic responses make it clear policy-makers will still choose to ignore them.

Draconian responses to social protest

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last month used social media to denounce the “sinister” tactics of “stupid” protesters. She claims the current XR protests are “absolutely ridiculous” and are endangering people’s lives.

Her government is now fast-tracking new legislation that would mean possessing a locking device could lead to a jail term of up to two years, or a fine of up to $6,000.

Pauline Hanson has said Queenslanders should use cattle prods on climate change activists, whom she labelled “unwashed idiots”. And a few days ago, Studio 10 host Kerri-Anne Kennerley said motorists should run over XR protesters.




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Peter Dutton and Michaelia Cash added fuel to the fire. The Home Affairs minister labelled the XR protesters “fringe-dwellers”, and claimed they should face mandatory jail sentences and welfare cuts.

Senator Cash added: “taxpayers should not be expected to subsidise the protests of others”, since protesting is not an exemption from a welfare recipient’s obligation to look for a job.

What’s more, NSW Police have imposed stringent bail conditions on protesters, traditionally used with members of bikie gangs. The bail conditions prevent them from “going near, or contacting or trying to go near or contact (except through a legal representative) any members of the group Extinction Rebellion”. They’re also not allowed to be within 2.5 kilometres of Sydney’s CBD.

These conditions had the curious result of also preventing defendants from attending court in the Sydney CBD.

Ad hoc laws

Yesterday, former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam had his bail conditions revoked by deputy chief magistrate Jane Mottley, who said they were not necessary given the low seriousness of the offences. It’s expected many more cases will be dismissed on the same ground.

Nevertheless, this use of bail conditions against XR activists raises serious concerns, as citizens are threatened with jail if they insist on partaking in political activism.

The conditions appear to violate basic democratic rights, namely, freedom of opinion, movement and assembly, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.




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But it’s not the first time we see these kinds of ad hoc responses to social protest. Earlier this year, the federal government introduced The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, specifically targeting the growing animal rights movement in Australia.

Before then, the NSW government introduced the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016, targeting anti-mining protests.

And some have expressed concerns that Palaszczuk’s efforts to crack down on civil disobedience are reminiscent of the authoritarian Bjelke-Petersen era, when the QLD government allowed extreme police violence against peaceful protesters.




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But it’s worth remembering these XR protests have so far only caused traffic disruptions. While it constitutes a punishable offence, they are fine-only offences at most, as the judge noticed in Ludlam’s case.

Laws already exist to sanction those who breach traffic regulation. With reference to Queensland’s proposed anti-protest legislation, the Human Rights Law Centre noticed:

devices such as sleeping dragons, monopoles and tripods are commonly used in peaceful protest across Australia — our criminal laws already adequately cover their use when they cause major disruption.

The new laws may allow the police to search and arrest anyone who engages in a peaceful protest.

Communicative nature of protest

As I argue in my recent book on civil disobedience, this form of illegal protest has an inherent communicative nature. It seeks to elicit a reply from governments concerning the necessity of changing a law or policy.

From this standpoint, the tough, and seemingly unnecessary, responses to the XR movement are, paradoxically, encouraging. They reveal governments cannot continue to ignore the voices of environmental activists.

On the other hand, the way state and federal governments have chosen to respond show their unwillingness to entertain the activists’ demands.

Besides the mere goal of deterring people from engaging in further protest, governments are also following a familiar strategy involving the use of patronising language, aiming to dismiss XR activists as not worthy of its attention. For instance, the millions of young people who took part in the School Strike for Climate were just “skipping school”.




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These are all ways for governments to avoid having to answer for the legitimate questions about its controversial policies and careless attitude about scientists’ warning about rising global temperatures.

As they strives to come up with more demeaning labels for the XR movement, we are left to hope they may eventually apply their creative skills towards finding ways to finally cut Australia’s carbon emissions.The Conversation

Piero Moraro, Lecturer in Criminal Justice, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: A little more confusion added to the climate policy debate



Australia’s overall emissions are rising, high electricity prices remain a burden, and there is nervousness about the summer power supply.
Shutterstock

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Joel Fitzgibbon was on his mobile at a cafe at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Sydney on Thursday when he encountered Scott Morrison getting a mid-morning coffee.

“You’re making a lot of sense,” Morrison said to Labor’s resources spokesman, who’d set off a fire storm in his party by suggesting the ALP revise its climate policy to adopt the upper end of the government’s target of reducing emissions by 26-28% by 2030.

“Your love won’t help me, Prime Minister,” Fitzgibbon shot back.

He’s right there. Fitzgibbon’s radical proposal has burst open the conundrum the opposition has in reshaping one of the ALP’s centrepiece election pitches.

It’s a great deal more complicated than, for example, dealing with the franking credits plan, which Labor can’t afford to keep in its present form. That can be restructured, or dumped, without much political angst.

But the climate policy – for a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 and a target of net zero by 2050 – has become an article of faith within Labor, and among many of its supporters. It’s also a policy that in the election split the voters Labor needed, attracting some but driving away others.

Weaken the policy and there will be a reaction from the ALP’s inner city constituents, who tend to look toward the Greens out of the corner of their eye. Keep a very high target and lose people once again – to the Coalition or minor parties on the right – from the traditional base, including in regional areas, especially in Queensland where coal mining is a thing.




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Fitzgibbon maintains that by adopting the 28% target, Labor would not just be more acceptable to blue collar voters but would put more pressure on the government to act – although this latter point seems a stretch.

Getting to 28% without destroying blue collar jobs or harming the economy would also provide “a great foundation” for prosecuting the case for further action, he claims.

Among the multiple problems Labor has in reviewing its policy is that it will be considering a more pragmatic, less ambitious approach just when the climate debate is once again taking off in public consciousness.

It’s hard to assess precisely the extent to which the step up in activism represents the wider public view. Indeed the civil disobedience demonstrations are infuriating some people because of the disruption. Nevertheless, the period ahead could see the issue biting more, as the ALP is considering easing back.

Given how quickly things change and the relevance of what other countries do, in strict policy terms Labor arguably would be best not to settle a policy until, say, early 2021, for a 2022 election. But the government (and the media) will be able to exploit a Labor vacuum, so that holding out does carry political cost.

Fitzgibbon, who represents the NSW coal seat of Hunter and experienced voter wrath in May, won’t get the ambit claim he outlined this week. That would be going too far for the party, and for its climate spokesman Mark Butler who has a lot of reputation at stake. As soon as Fitzgibbon made public his proposal, Butler said it wouldn’t be embraced by Labor, declaring it was “fundamentally inconsistent with the Paris agreement and would lead to global warming of 3℃.”

Fortunately for the government, Fitzgibbon’s intervention reduced the attention on its energy policy, the inadequacy of which was again highlighted this week.




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As the Coalition pushes ahead with seeking to get its “big stick” legislation to deal with recalcitrant power companies through parliament, criticisms of its policy came from, among others, the chair of the Energy Security Board Kerry Schott and the Grattan Institute.

Schott, whose board advises federal and state governments, wrote in the Australian Financial Review, ahead of the paper’s energy summit, that “government interventions to cap prices and to effectively subsidise certain generation projects will not encourage the considerable new investment and innovation that is needed”.

The Grattan Institute, which released a report on Australia’s electricity markets, said the government’s “fight to avoid the impending closure of the Liddell coal power station in NSW makes it harder for Australia to achieve its emissions reduction targets, and is likely to increase electricity prices and reduce the reliability of supplies”.

The AFR summit saw much finger pointing, with energy minister Angus Taylor blaming industry for the lack of investment, and industry blaming the government.

Taylor said dismissively: “Time and again we’ve seen industry participants and commentators swept up in the excitement of complex new programs represented by the latest fashionable acronym that everyone pretends to understand but few ever do.” Origin Energy’s CEO Frank Calabria said “the mere existence of the big stick is acting as a handbrake on investment, right when we need investment the most”.




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In theory, Morrison could have tried to use the great authority his unexpected election win gave him to pursue more appropriate energy and emissions reduction policies. Admittedly, it would have been extremely difficult, as it would have contradicted much the government had been saying and doing.

But it was never an option. Morrison is either wilfully blind to what needs to be done (although when treasurer he supported the more rational policy of a National Energy Guarantee), or he is afraid to stir those powerful naysayers in his party.

So where are we left?

With a government stubbornly tied to a set of policies that experts insist won’t deliver effective results. And an opposition that’s in a funk about where it should position itself in the future.

Meanwhile Australia’s overall emissions rise (although electricity emissions are down, as some coal fired power goes out of the system); high electricity prices remain a burden on private and business consumers alike; and there is nervousness about the summer power supply.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There are three types of climate change denier, and most of us are at least one


Iain Walker, University of Canberra and Zoe Leviston, Edith Cowan University

Last week, amid the cacophony of reactions to Greta Thunberg’s appearance before the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a group of self-proclaimed “prominent scientists” sent a registered letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The letter, headed “There is no climate emergency”, urged Guterres to follow:

…a climate policy based on sound science, realistic economics and genuine concern for those harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.

The group, supported by 75 Australian business and industry figures, along with others around the world, obviously rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. But this missive displays remarkably different tactics to those previously used to stymie climate action.




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The language of climate change denial and inaction has transformed. Outright science denial has been replaced by efforts to reframe climate change as natural, and climate action as unwarranted.

However, this is just another way of rejecting the facts, and their implications for us. Denial can take many forms.

Shades of denial

The twin phenomena of denial and inaction are related to one another, at least in the context of climate change. They are also complex, both in the general sense of “complicated and intricate”, and in the technical psychological sense of “a group of repressed feelings and anxieties which together result in abnormal behaviour”.

In his book States of Denial, the late psychoanalytic sociologist Stanley Cohen described three forms of denial. Although his framework was developed from analysing genocide and other atrocities, it applies just as well to our individual and collective inaction in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence of human-induced climate change.

The first form of denial is literal denial. It is the simple, conscious, outright rejection that something happened or is happening – that is, lying. One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, among others, have at one time or another maintained this position – outright denial that climate change is happening (though Senator Hanson now might accept climate change but denies any human contribution to it).

Interestingly, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday blamed “climate change deniers” in his own government for blocking any attempt to deal with climate change, resulting paradoxically in higher energy prices today.




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It is tempting to attribute outright denial to individual malice or stupidity, and that may occasionally be the case. More worrying and more insidious, though, is the social organisation of literal denial of climate change. There is plenty of evidence of clandestine, orchestrated lying by vested interests in industry. If anyone is looking for a conspiracy in climate change, this is it – not a collusion of thousands of scientists and major science organisations.

The second form of denial is interpretive denial. Here, people do not contest the facts, but interpret them in ways that distort their meaning or importance. For example, one might say climate change is just a natural fluctuation or greenhouse gas accumulation is a consequence, not a cause, of rising temperatures. This is what we saw in last week’s letter to the UN.

The most insidious form of denial

The third and most insidious form is implicatory denial. The facts of climate change are not denied, nor are they interpreted to be something else. What is denied or minimised are the psychological, political, and moral implications of the facts for us. We fail to accept responsibility for responding; we fail to act when the information says we should.

Of course, some are unable to respond, financially or otherwise, but for many, implicatory denial is a kind of dissociation. Ignoring the moral imperative to act is as damning a form of denial as any other, and arguably is much worse.

The treatment of Thunberg, and the vigour with which people push away reminders of that which they would rather not deal with, illustrate implicatory denial. We are almost all guilty, to some extent, of engaging in implicatory denial. In the case of climate change, implicatory denial allows us to use a reusable coffee cup, recycle our plastic or sometimes catch a bus, and thus to pretend to ourselves that we are doing our bit.

Almost none of us individually, or we as a nation, has acted as we ought on the science of climate change. But that does not mean we can’t change how we act in the future. Indeed, there are some recent indications that, as with literal denial, implicatory denial is becoming an increasingly untenable psychological position.

While it is tempting, and even cathartic, to mock the shrill responses to Thunberg from literal and interpretive deniers, we would do well to ponder our own inherent biases and irrational responses to climate change.

For instance, we tend to think we are doing more for the planet than those around us (and we can’t all be right). We also tend to think literal deniers are much more common in our society than they in fact are.




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These are just two examples of common strategies we use to deny our own responsibility and culpability. They make us feel better about what little we actually do, or congratulate us for accepting the science. But they are ultimately self-defeating delusions. Instead of congratulating ourselves on agreeing with the basic scientific facts of climate change, we need to push ourselves to action.The Conversation

Iain Walker, Professor of Psychology, University of Canberra and Zoe Leviston, Postdoctoral research fellow, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate explained: why some people still think climate change isn’t real



Even people who accept the science of climate change sometimes resist it because it clashes with their personal projects.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

David Hall, Auckland University of Technology


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Why do people still think climate change isn’t real?

At its heart, climate change denial is a conflict between facts and values. People deny the climate crisis because, to them, it just feels wrong.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, acknowledging climate change involves accepting certain facts. But being concerned about climate change involves connecting these facts to values. It involves building bridges between the science of climate change and peoples’ various causes, commitments and convictions.

Denial happens when climate science rubs us up the wrong way. Instead of making us want to arrest the climate crisis, it makes us resist the very thought of it, because the facts of anthropogenic global heating clash with our personal projects.

It could be that the idea of climate change is a threat to our worldview. Or it could be that we fear society’s response to climate change, the disruption created by the transition to a low-emissions economy. Either way, climate change becomes such an “inconvenient truth” that, instead of living with and acting upon our worries, we suppress the truth instead.




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Negating reality

Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna were the great chroniclers of denial. Sigmund described this negation of reality as an active mental process, as “a way of taking cognisance of what is repressed”. This fleeting comprehension is what distinguishes denial from ignorance, misunderstanding or sheer disbelief. Climate change denial involves glimpsing the horrible reality, but defending oneself against it.

Contemporary social psychologists tend to talk about this in terms of “motivated reasoning”. Because the facts of climate science are in conflict with people’s existing beliefs and values, they reason around the facts.

When this happens – as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt memorably put it – they aren’t reasoning in the careful manner of a judge who impartially weighs up all the evidence. Instead, they’re reasoning in the manner of a defence lawyer who clutches for post hoc rationalisations to defend an initial gut instinct. This is why brow-beating deniers with further climate science is unlikely to succeed: their faculty of reason is motivated to defend itself from revising its beliefs.

A large and growing empirical literature is exploring what drives denial. Personality is a factor: people are more likely to deny climate change if they’re inclined toward hierarchy and against changes to the status quo. Demographic factors also show an effect. Internationally, people who are less educated, older and more religious tend to discount climate change, with sex and income having a smaller effect.




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But the strongest predictor is one’s politics. An international synthesis of existing studies found that values, ideologies and political allegiances overshadowed other factors. In Western societies, political affiliation is the key factor, with conservative voters more likely to discount climate change. Globally, a person’s commitment to democratic values – or not in the case of deniers – is more significant.

This sheds light on another side of the story. Psychology can contribute to explaining a person’s politics, but politics cannot be entirely explained by psychology. So too for denial.

The politics of denial

As the sociologist Stanley Cohen noted in his classic study of denial, there is an important distinction between denial that is personal and psychological, and denial that is institutional and organised. The former involves people who deny the facts to themselves, but the latter involves the denial of facts to others, even when these “merchants of doubt” know the truth very well.

It is well established that fossil fuel companies have long known about climate change, yet sought to frustrate wider public understanding. A comprehensive analysis of documentations from ExxonMobil found that, since 1977, the company has internally acknowledged climate change through the publications of its scientists, even while it publicly promoted doubt through paid advertorials. The fossil fuel industry has also invested heavily in conservative foundations and think tanks that promote contrarian scientists and improbable spins on the science.

All this is rich manure for personal denial. When a person’s motivated reasoning is on the hunt for excuses, there is an industry ready to supply them. Social media offers further opportunities for spreading disinformation. For example, a recent analysis of anonymised YouTube searches found that videos supporting the scientific consensus on climate change were outnumbered by those that didn’t.

Undoing denial

In sum, denial is repressed knowledge. For climate change, this repression occurs at both the psychological level and social level, with the latter providing fodder for the former. This is a dismal scenario, but it shines some light on the way forward.

On the one hand, it reminds us that deniers are capable of acknowledging the science – at some level, they already do – even though they struggle to embrace the practical and ethical implications. Consequently, climate communications may do well to appeal to more diverse values, particularly those values held by the deniers themselves.

Experiments have shown that, if the risks and realities of climate change are reframed as opportunities for community relationship building and societal development, then deniers can shift their views. Similarly, in the US context, appealing to conservative values like patriotism, obeying authority and defending the purity of nature can encourage conservatives to support pro-environmental actions.

On the other hand, not all deniers will be convinced. Some downplay and discount climate change precisely because they recognise that the low-emissions transition will adversely impact their interests. A bombardment of further facts and framings is unlikely to move them.

What will make a difference is the power of the people – through regulation, divestment, consumer choice and public protest. Public surveys emphasise that, throughout the world, deniers are in the minority. The worried majority doesn’t need to win over everyone in order to win on climate change.The Conversation

David Hall, Senior Researcher in Politics, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s climate and resources spokesmen at odds over future policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has had his proposal to bring Labor’s climate change target into line with the government’s immediately torpedoed by the party’s climate spokesman Mark Butler.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute made public ahead of its Wednesday evening delivery Fitzgibbon suggested the ALP offer “a political and policy settlement” to match the higher end of the government’s 26-28% target for reducing emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.

Labor’s controversial election policy was for an ambitious 45% reduction.

Fitzgibbon said the change he advocated would mean “the focus would then be all about actual outcomes, and the government would finally be held to account and forced to act.

“A political settlement would also restore investment confidence and for the first time in six years, we could have some downward pressure on energy prices,” Fitzgibbon said.

But Butler rejected the proposal saying the government’s target “is fundamentally inconsistent with the Paris agreement and would lead to global warming of 3℃.

“Labor remains committed to implementing the principles of the Paris Agreement, which are to keep global warming well below 2℃ and pursue efforts around 1.5℃,” he said.

“Labor’s commitment to action on climate change is unshakeable. We will have a 2050 target of net zero emissions and medium-term targets which are consistent with the agreement,” Butler said.

Despite dismissing Fitzgibbon’s idea, Butler has acknowledged that Labor’s climate change policy must be up for grabs in the party’s review of all its policies between now and the 2022 election.

But revising the climate policy will be one of its major challenges, because the party is caught between its inner city progressive constituency and its traditional blue collar voters. Its ambivalent position on the planned Adani coal mine cost it votes in Queensland at the election.

Apart from the politics, the 45% target for 2030 would be more unrealistic at the next election because emissions at the moment are increasing, meaning ground is being lost.

Fitzgibbon, who takes a more pro-coal attitude than many of his colleagues, had a big swing against him in his NSW coal seat of Hunter.

He said in his speech that a 28% reduction would be a “meaningful achievement” and could be built on later. He also pointed out bluntly that Labor couldn’t achieve anything if perpetually in opposition.

“If we could get to 28% by 2030, and also demonstrate that we could do so without destroying blue collar jobs or damaging the economy, then we would have a great foundation from which to argue the case for being more ambitious on the road to 2050,” he said.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, who is from Queensland, refused to be pinned down when pressed on Fitzgibbon’s proposal.

“My view is we can take real action on climate change without abandoning our traditional strengths, including in regional Queensland,” he said.

The Victorian minister for energy, environment and climate change, Lily D’Ambrosio, asked at the Australian Financial Review’s national energy summit about Fitzgibbon’s comments, said she wasn’t much interested in what a federal opposition did.

“We have a very strong and ambitious policy and we took that to the last state election, and we all know the result of that election, so we will continue to implement our policies and get them done,” she said.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor pointed to the divisions in the opposition but welcomed that there were “people in Labor who are making sensible suggestions about dropping their policies from the last election.

“What we saw happen there was Labor went to the election with policies – 45% emissions reduction target, 50% renewable energy target – where they weren’t able to or willing to detail the costs and impacts of those policies,” he said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.