Book Review: Don’t Even Think About It, by George Marshall

Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, by George Marshall, link to the Kindle edition.

This review is in the “Global Warming Fiction” section, though it is not fiction. But I recommend reading it for anyone writing global warming fiction.

And anyone concerned about how to improve the impact of global warming campaigning.

I started writing global warming science fiction novels in the first place because Bruce Schneier pointed out what George Marshall did in this book. Again, here is a link to the Youtube video of Schneier’s talk:

The Security Mirage

In that talk, Schneier explains that the ability to accurately assess risks is important for survival in evolution. He uses the example of a rabbit who hears a predator approaching. If he bolts to soon, he will starve. If he bolts to late, he will be eaten.

Humans have evolved in the same environment. That means that visible, present, individual risks with a face and a name like a large predator will impress humans.  In contrast, abstract, slow changes in the environment will not.

I have not found any reference to Schneier in Marshall’s book, but he makes the same point in much more detail and backed up with opinions from many noted experts in related fields like psychology.

So I find confirmed what I already knew. But there is much more.

For starters, Marshall fictionally attributes global warming to the North Koreans. I discussed this yesterday, and he wrote that at the Guardian as well:

The discovery that North Korea has been secretly pumping climate-altering chemicals into the atmosphere in an attempt to destroy agricultural production across the US has sparked an international crisis.

This is an excellent way to show the basic point. Global warming is a problem without the face of an enemy. If this really was some plot to intentionally inflict damage by a clearly defined bad actor, the reaction would be much more decisive than the lukewarm response global warming got until now.

Next up: Marshall shows that some of the symbols used in connection with global warming campaigns are not chosen very well.

For one, the idea of turning of lights for one “Earth Hour” is actually exactly what denial campaigners like to use. They want to paint global warming activism as turning the lights off.

Next, the polar bear symbol. That makes as much sense in the context of global warming as choosing a camel if you were concerned about global cooling.

Marshall doesn’t try to find better alternatives. I will do so right now.

The “Earth Hour” event should be one hour of fun with electrical vehicles and solar panels. People getting together to celebrate all the technology we already have. I don’t have time to elaborate in this post, but the basic idea would be to get a community experience and to turn the lights on brightly and have a party, instead of turning them off.

I don’t know what to do about the polar bear yet. (Update: I propose the desert fox as an alternative).

The most interesting part of this book for me was Chapter 32, titled “Wellhead and Tailpipe”.

He notes that most solutions (like the European Emission Trade System) are concerned with the consumer side, the tailpipe, the gas emissions. In contrast, there is not much discussion about what could be done at the producer’s end, the wellhead.

That’s interesting, because my favorite solution (phaseout profit theory) is addressing the wellhead. I think the owners of fossil fuel could make enormous extra profits by reducing their production voluntarily and see prices shoot up because of reduced supply. I have a category on this blog with over 50 posts discussing that basic idea.

And I learn from that chapter that wellhead solutions are much easier than tailpipe solutions. That’s because there are only very few producers involved. Marshall says only about ten major oil producers. They can all easily fit around one medium sized table and figure out how to reduce production in the most profitable way.

And the next Chapter 33 is titled “The Black Gooey Stuff – Why Oil Companies Await Our Permission to Go Out of Business”.

That was also rather interesting. He cites someone from Shell like this:

The oil industry is not given the permission to make a transition out of fossil fuels. The main reason is that the international agenda is driven by people with political agendas that are unrelated to solving the problem.

After thinking about the issue for about 0.5 seconds, I have decided to give the oil industry the permission to make that transition.

And I think we should give them a permission that is actually worth a lot of money. That is an antitrust exception allowing a coordinated phaseout.

As discussed earlier, the famous Standard Oil antitrust case decided by the American Supreme Court a hundred years ago gives these reasons for antitrust law:

1. The power which the monopoly gave to the one who enjoyed it to fix the price and thereby injure the public; 2. The power which it engendered of enabling a limitation on production; and, 3. The danger of deterioration in quality of the monopolized article which it was deemed was the inevitable resultant of the monopolistic control over its production and sale. (Emphasis mine).

“Enabling a limitation on production” is not a “danger” right now. It is exactly what we need to make happen.

They should love this antitrust exception so much that they might even accept a moderate carbon price of $50 a ton in exchange.

 

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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