Green Haze

How Wood-Burning Environmentalists Show Behavior Changes Won't Solve Climate Change

{photo_credit}

Local resentment around “no-burn days” in the Bay Area for wood fires is a microcosm for the broader challenges of reducing greenhouse gases. Public-spirited as my neighbors are, they also can deny uncomfortable truths about pollution (and other externalities) when the implication is that they need to change the way they live, even if the change is fairly small. This realization has helped move me in the last few years to argue for much greater emphasis on subsidies for R&D to reduce the cost of substitutes for fossil fuel. Any shift away from fossil fuels will create losers, but if it’s due to a new technology then all the government needs to do is step back and let the market have its way.

February 13, 2014 | Severin Borenstein,

While much of the US has been dealing with severe winter weather, California is experiencing a record dry spell. The clear skies have also brought some cold nights and, with them, wood smoke. What I’ve noticed in my neighborhood is that the desire for a cozy wood fire cuts across political lines. And as the local air quality authority has called a record number of no-burn days due to poor air quality (high levels of PM 2.5, the fine particulates that can get through the respiratory system and lodge in lungs), the anger at restrictions on those cozy fires has also cut across political lines.

Many of these neighbors are friends of mine. They are caring people who recycle their newspapers and bring home their groceries in reusable bags. Most are concerned about pollution in general and believe that greenhouse gases are causing potentially devastating climate change.  Yet, they ignore warnings about the pollution from their wood fires, in some cases even blatantly violating the burning bans that have been called on nearly half of all days in the Bay Area since November 1.

The science on local particulate air pollution is settled – both that wood fires are the primary source in winter and that the health threat is significant. And it takes much less imagination to understand the danger from wood smoke than the danger from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Particulates are visible in higher concentrations, and your nose, eyes, and throat tell you that there is a problem with the air. GHGs are invisible and odorless.

Addressing the wood smoke problem does not require a fundamental shift in the way we live.  Sure there is a sacrifice – even I enjoy a wood fire on occasion – but it doesn’t mean living in a colder house, travelling less, reducing electricity consumption or anything else that has a broad impact on standard of living. The houses around me already have natural gas furnaces that are a less-expensive way to heat.

Yet, judging from news reports, letters to the editor in the local papers, and discussions with my neighbors, there is widespread resentment that the air quality district is restricting wood fires.  Many of the excuses are of the “my contribution is so small it doesn’t matter” variety. One recent letter in the local paper dismissed policies that are designed to reduce pollutants so small that they aren’t even visible, a “what I can’t see couldn’t be that dangerous” attitude that I bet is more widespread that we’d like to admit.

My point here is not to scold my neighbors. I think they are just as public-spirited as other people. What I take away from this is that people have a strong ability to deny uncomfortable truths about pollution (and externalities more broadly) when the implication is that they need to change the way they live, even if the change is fairly small. The changes we will have to make to address climate change are going to be much more challenging than just substituting a cleaner, easier, and cheaper heating source for a dirtier one that is also a hassle to use.

This realization has helped move me in the last few years to argue for much greater emphasis on subsidies for R&D to reduce the cost of substitutes for fossil fuel. The renewables advocates are right that we have the technology today to address climate change, but we don’t have the technology to address climate change without sacrifice.

There are people who will voluntarily sacrifice to reduce their pollution, but that’s not most people. Even among the upper middle-class households in my neighborhood (by world standards, quite wealthy), most people react by denying the problem or denying their ability to have any impact on it.

Broad support for national or international strategies to reduce carbon emissions quickly dissipates if those policies turn out to be expensive (see Spain’s abandoning renewable subsidies) or if other priorities come to the fore (see how Germany’s decision to ditch nuclear power has led to increased coal-fired generation). In the developing world, where incomes are much lower and the other threats to life are more immediate, sustained support for more expensive alternative technologies will almost certainly be even more scarce.

These political realities also point out another, related, reason to lean towards greater R&D funding. Any shift away from fossil fuels will create losers (think coal miners, oil drillers, Big Carbon shareholders). If the loss is directly attributable to regulation (or even pricing GHGs) there will be tremendous pressure to loosen the regulation. If it’s due to a new technology then all the government needs to do is step back and let the market have its way. “Regulation is killing our industry” carries a lot more political heft than “A new lower-cost technology is killing our industry and we need government regulation to slow it down.”

Digital photography destroyed the film industry without a murmur of government intervention. If the shift had been due to expensive regulations on film (even if they were good public policy), we’d still be getting our photos developed at the local drug store.

With apologies to Donald Rumsfeld (now there’s a phrase I didn’t ever imagine I’d be writing), we have to go to war against climate change with the human and political constraints that exist, not the benevolence, rationality, and far-sightedness that we wish existed.

 

Severin Borenstein is E.T. Grether Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the Haas School of Business and Co-Director of the Energy Institute at Haas.  He is also Director of the University of California Energy Institute. This post originally appeared on the Energy Institute at Haas blog Energy Economics Exchange.


Comments

  • Simple complimentary idea.  Gas Tax, massive (but gradual) increase in the gas tax.  Federal Gas tax in this country is $0.18 per gallon.  That is absurdly low.

    By David on 2014 02 13

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • You folks ought to cover the fuss in So Cal about the fire pits on the beaches. Some folks are trying to ban them, and I am fighting back.

    By Hcat on 2014 03 03

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • One of the ways to handle this situation is to raise awareness in your neighborhood regarding burning wood and its law in your state. This way no one can take direct offence and you can distribute flyers to mention key points in it and share them on Assignment Help Online, they will spread the word as well. If no one is directly targeted, i guess the chances of listening our wrongdoings are more.

    By Adam Cole on 2017 11 26

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • There are people who will voluntarily sacrifice to reduce their pollution, but that’s not most people. Even among the upper middle-class households in my neighborhood (by world standards, quite wealthy), most people react by denying the problem or denying their ability to have any impact on it.
    <a >punjabi status</a>

    By sachin on 2017 11 28

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • Addressing the wood smoke problem does not require a fundamental shift in the way we live.  Sure there is a sacrifice – evenpunjabi status I enjoy a wood fire on occasion – but it doesn’t mean living in a colder house, travelling less, reducing electricity consumption or anything else that has a broad impact on standard of living. The houses around me already have natural gas furnaces that are a less-expensive way to he

    By sachin on 2017 11 28

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • Diaries are main thing that all school maintained for students to memorize the home work and will learn the lesson for tomorrow. In the school level we learn that something written can never forget. A best way to writes Star Wars Jacket down any information for next time is a good practice. Diaries for performance are the ever best thing.

    By lauratrott on 2017 12 21

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • wow such info thanks write an assignment for me for this pal

    By kathyjoe on 2017 12 27

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • Stunning, brilliant site design! To what extent have you been blogging for? you made blogging look simple. The general look of your site is magnificent help with essay and additionally the substance!. Much obliged For Your article.

    By jany watson on 2018 01 04

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • Your moving questions answered compiled a list of questions that our customers with this kellermoving blog. Generating on advice we can assignment writing uk give communication is key to successful stress to start researching.

    By jameskurt on 2018 01 04

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • I am currently persuaded that persuading individuals to clean up and turn down their indoor regulators isn’t the place we should center our vitality in the event that we need to switch environmental change Do my Assignment the main reason is that such endeavors have little effect and breed carelessness in supposing we have done our part. The second reason is that concentrating our vitality on aggregate activities towards fundamental arrangements is much more compelling in making the progressions we require.

    By Jessica Kevin on 2018 01 25

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • Diary is the main content of homework for memory all students retain for students, and will study homework for tomorrow. At the school level dissertation writing help, we know that what we write can never be forgotten. The reason is that focusing our energies on group activities to arrive at basic arrangements is more persuasive about the progress we need.

    By Amanda Leon on 2018 01 26

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • Which one?
    Google

    By Checker on 2018 01 30

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • The Samsung consumers should be aware that authorized Samsung Service Centre in Hyderabad comes with doorstep service. You can perfectly hire their unique and expert service when your Samsung products are under warranty period and out of warranty period. Whatever minor or major components have to be instantly changed, they will bring to your home plus change them in the front of you and your family members only.
    Samsung Service Centre in Hyderabad Whenever you avail their unique service, the nearby service center will send immediately their technician and experts in order to attend your complaint related to Samsung Geysers and Water Geysers products.

    By Samsung Service Centre in Hyderabad on 2018 01 31

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • we at University Essay Help would like to say Lighting a hearth because even though your sending carbon dioxide into the air your not burning oils and energy.

    By James M Oliver on 2018 02 01

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • I was simply perusing through the web searching for some data and ran over your blog. I am awed by the data that you have on this blog. It demonstrates how well you comprehend this subject. Bookmarked this page, will return for additional.  funny whatsapp status

    By pioneerseo on 2018 02 03

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • Get Cheapest Bulk SMS in Nigeria @ 76kobo per SMS unit & enjoy immediate delivery. We provide fastest,affordable & most reliable bulk SMS service in Nigeria. Bulk SMS in Nigeria I Bulk SMS in Nigeria I SMS in Nigeria

    By pioneerseo on 2018 02 15

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply


  • I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.
    Game Of Thrones Leather Costumes

    By Game Of Thrones Leather Costumes on 2018 02 15

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

Submit a comment