Jul 21, 2022·edited Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Great article. The green vortex is real and it's here. This is especially evident within climate-tech. A confluence of corporate acceptance, both voluntary and regulatory carbon markets, base-level technology breakthroughs (batteries, biotech, etc.) that open the door for new applications have led to a massive influx of talent and capital in just the past two years.

As someone in that ecosystem, I feel pretty strongly that we're in the steep part of the S curve of climate-tech right now, many of the hardest parts of the hardest problems have been solved, and there's a lot of really low hanging fruit to be picked. Also important to note how many of these advances are not subsidized by carbon markets or consumer premiums for low carbon products, but are improvements along every dimension (true win-wins).

There is still so much that is going to be required from a regulatory perspective, but I feel extremely optimistic that the next decade or two of private climate-tech companies will make much more impact than expected (and make the political concessions required... well, much easier to concede).

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I think you have misunderstood. Degrowth, anticapitalism, and doomerism are not the strategy of climate change activists. Climate change is the strategy of degrowth, anticapitalism, and doomerism activists.

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Jul 21, 2022·edited Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Nixon to China, I know, but I think it will be a Republican who basically vows to make energy free and gets the federal government behind that. Lots of nuclear to start, eventually geothermal and fusion. If energy is free, decarbonization is possible at scale. As is desalination. So is onshoring.

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Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Came to jeer, stayed to cheer. Thank you for writing this.

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Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

I'm generally conservative, but I consider myself an environmentalist, and support a carbon tax and plenty of govt investment in green energy and the like.

But I want to emphasize how counter-productive and annoying the doomerism and ever-more-ridiculous exaggeration of the likely effects of climate change are.

I'm in Alabama, and even here most people aren't coal-rollers who just love coal and are just reflexively opposed to green energy.

I think they can eventually be persuaded, but the screeching of climate activists and anticapitalists makes it much more difficult.

Because so many of the claims are clearly ridiculous, a lot of people here are convinced that climate change is just being used as a vehicle to promote leftist economic nonsense.

I don't know how to shut these people up, or remove their access to the media spotlight, but it needs to be done if you want a chance at persuading more than a sliver of Red America.

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Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Good piece Noah. The one thing that I think is missing is acknowledging the climate activists who have been telling this optimistic story already for years. Saul Griffith and Rewiring America come to mind (Leah Stokes who you quote is an advisor). And Inslee. And RMI. And a lot of activists at the state and local level who helped pass very good legislation in a bunch of states.

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Noah: “... a dire, angry, hectoring leftism...”

I have to say you hit the nail on the head. You need a positive vision of the future. To many non-leftists, the Left just comes across as a profoundly unhappy movement staffed with militant people who see everything as “problematic” in some way.

I think that as soon as you discourage people from having children you have lost the argument. People will write you off.

The American Left increasingly seems like a movement dedicated to telling people what they shouldn’t do, say or think versus offering a vision for human flourishing.

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Jul 21, 2022·edited Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

"There’s just one catch: The organizations that advocate Green New Deal style programs support growth, but only if it comes via the abolition of capitalism."

Noah is correct to point out that this approach is about as popular, and about as plausible, as straightforward degrowth.

I think, though, that there's a bigger catch. Green New Deal style programs might plausibly result in measured increases in GDP, but only by making anything reliant on energy much more expensive. This would still result in dramatically lower living standards, which are the real sticking point. Green New Deal is just degrowth coupled with socialism.

The biggest consideration, though, seems beyond the imagination of climate change activists: What is the convincing argument that the cost of preventing climate change is less than the cost of dealing with climate change? I believe the current consensus among climate scientists it that there has been about 1C of warming over the last 150 years. The alarmist position is that a further 1C will be disastrous. The scientific basis for this projection is entirely speculative. Why can't we adapt to 1C of further warming as well as we've adapted to the 1C we've already seen?

Scare stories about "unprecedented heat waves" shouldn't be convincing to scientifically and mathematically literate people. To take just one example - record high temperature in the UK. The world is a big place. It has about 58 million square miles of land area. The UK has about 94,000 square miles of land area - about 1/6 of 1 percent of the earth's land area. If there were no temperature trend at all, but only random variation within a fixed distribution, and if we had 150 years of reliable temperature data, then we would expect to see new all-time high temperatures in about 1/150 of the earth's surface each year, or about 4 new records covering UK-sized areas each year. And a similar number of new record lows. Also a similar number of new record floods and droughts, of wildfires and storm surges.

I don't claim that there is no long-term warming trend, but dramatic events don't demonstrate it. Especially, listing dramatic events does nothing to demonstrate that there is a trend in dramatic events. Getting back to the question (Is the cost of preventing climate change less than the cost of dealing with climate change?), it seems to me that voters in the US and other democracies have a better intuitive grasp of the question and its answer than the activists.

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Hey, good post.

I'm much more on the center-right Lomborg/Shellenberger side of this, where climate is a modest issue that will be solved by capitalist forces and mild gov path-clearing. Sue me later, but for now, I am rapidly decarbonizing and electrifying my home. I already own a Tesla and will be getting another. Not because I see gas as an existential threat, but because it's the best safest most awesome car. I'm getting a massive solar system installed at my home. Not because I want to lower my carbon footprint, but because I get immediate net-present-value by doing it: my electricity bill will be $100 lower than my solar loan on month 1, and I will save hundreds of thousands in the long term. I'm getting heat pumps to replace my propane furnace and boiler, not because I worry about emissions but because heat pumps are very efficient and operate on the same electricity that my oversized panel system creates. I'm replacing my gas cooktop with induction. My water heater with heat-pump water heat, and so on, and so on. All because it is an economically rational money-saving investment that is so good I'd be harming my family to NOT do it....not harming the climate or whatever, but simply making my own family poorer.

This is why I don't worry about climate change much, because your optimistic part of the article is right: no matter how much I despise the climate activists, no matter how counterproductive they are, the capitalist system is producing such low cost high quality environmentally friendly products that even a climate lukewarmist like myself cannot help but "go green." I'm like you but even more optimistic! My own experience leaves no room for doom.

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Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Good article. Even though I’d see myself as a center right neoliberal economically in the vein of Reagan and Bush Sr, I always find your economic writings very insightful and thought provoking. Your one of my favorite economists on Twitter. Only thing I’d say is I don’t think the Green New Deal is necessarily anticapitalist. I know the original version pushed by the Green Party was but the more popular and well known version pushed by progressives in the Democratic Party mentions private public partnerships and reforming anti trust laws to ensure businesses have a fair shot at competing in the market.

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Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

I'm about to get a loaner EV tractor to try out for a month, during which we'll park out diesel beast in the barn. Next up: A ground-based solar array (we already have one on our separate homestead) to power the house and all the equipment that we need on a sliver of acreage that we've never used for corps. Neighboring farmers will be watching -- and copying. We've been ignoring the potential for alternative energy generation where it is greatest -- in the red states and counties that have the excess land for the generating capacity. And, by the way, when I can show my neighbors that my electric tractor can outpull their old diesels, there will be a rush to adopt them.

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Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Some version of the Green Vortex is the path we will take but I find the climate alarmism Noah embraces is more a social construct than a reflection of the best science. A great resource available to Noah in person is the Berkeley Earth (BE) project initiated by Richard Muller (a UC Berkeley Physics Professor at the time, now emeritus). Initially with intuitive scientifc skepticism he questioned the human dominance of AGW. With top level physical scientists (not climate scientists) they archive and analyzie all the available temperature data and besides peer reviewed articles all the data and data analysis methods are open source. They concluded that in fact it was human activity that dominated in the observed warming over the past 250 years. But reasonable attribution to AGW is only moderately well established for Heat Waves, and Coastal Flooding. It would be great if you interviewd Richard Muller, including discussing how an Astrophysicist thinks about the climate models. As a Physical Chemist who has done a lot of differnt types of modeling (though not any finite element) and having read about these models I'm naturally skeptical of the predictive skill of the climate models far into the future. At the core the climate models will never be able to treat water vapor and clouds from first principles, and never able to descritize the model grid on the small scale of the physical dimension of clouds. Frustratingly reducing grid sizes with these parameterized models increases error measured by backtesting.

On the Green Vortex side I observe anedodtadly the powerful sway of culture. In both the SF Peninsula where I just returned from a family funeral to Colorado where I live near Boulder the transition to electricity is well underway. Tesla's sedans, while not as common as BMW 3 series sedans, are so common they no longer stand out. Perhaps 50% of the houses in my neighborhood have solar and new developments often have solar on every house. I put 98% solar in about 4 years ago (which is dominantly impacted by AC in the summer). I'm replacing my 80% 20yr old furnace and AC with a modern heat pump (at 6000 ft in CO I also will put in a 97% gas booster) with a smart thermostat that can calculate when you need gas to heat based on your electrical and gas costs. It has become, among my friends from growing up through grad school and post-docs, something that is discussed almost competivly. I'm sweltering through a warm July with a broken HVAC system being replaced with the highest efficiency heat pump not delivered on time. I could downgrade the heat pump and get it installed earlier but I want to install the optimal system over a period likely far longer than I will live in this house. Economically it is probably a cost to me but it is net positive for the environment.

Something you might address: How do the electrifying regions of the world expand. What is the compelling argument? Where I have visited in parts of the world a 2-stroke motorbike is almost a red-line between individual winners and losers in younger peoples view of the world. I don't see any way this will change across the less devolped world.

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Noah, I’d like to add one more factor. As the left increasingly identified climate change as “their issue” (which occurred for many reasons, such as fossil fuel companies’ support for Republicans, but also for less scrupulous reasons, such as the idea that climate change prevention could be a way to sneak socialism into the agenda), the scientific literacy of anti-climate change activists declined.

Now, both my parents are professors of atmospheric chemistry specializing in climate science. My first job was as a research assistant analyzing IPCC national communications documents. So I am extremely confident in saying that much of the rhetoric surrounding how bad climate change will be is simply false.

David Wallace-Wells is definitely one of the villains here. Anyone taking a 3 sigma-out possibility and presenting it as the obvious conclusion is not being honest, and while--as a follower of Toby Ord--I am very concerned about small existential risks, many communicators have misunderstood that climate models become less accurate the further you get from the expected average. This is not even discussing the basic facts about climate change people get wrong

- Methane is not 1000x worse than CO2 (it is 25 times worse of a 100 year estimated lifespan)

- Plants do not take CO2 out of the atmosphere, net. They temporarily sequester it in their biomass. Hence, cutting down a forest represents only a one-time emission, not a recurring loss.

- Greenhouse gases are in fact a distinct category from pollutants, traditionally defined (though there are overlaps, e.g. NOx and SOx)

- the US is not still the largest emitter (to be fair, people are probably confusing historical emissions with present-day ones, but they often insist on the error even when corrected)

- Courtesy of my mom: “Save the planet,” when the planet has experienced temperatures and CO2 levels this high during the Permian

- Organic farming is not a solution (???)

- Most emissions are not corporate emissions, and instead are individual emissions (cars, electricity, heating, and agriculture are the vast majority of all emissions)

- etc.

And these unscientific talking points are far from rare. They are parroted by elected officials, by radical leftists, and even by ordinary left-leaning Democrats. You yourself, in my estimation, have generally overestimated the costs (for a rich country like the United States--poor, equatorial countries will have a much harder time, which is a separate moral question) of adapting to climate change.

The abuse of science and statistics to turn a crisis into an apocalypse destroyed the credibility of many of the scientists who quietly work behind the scenes producing good data. Worse, it removed everyone who wasn’t willing to swallow and regurgitate bullshit from many of the major activist groups. The Sunrise Movement and Sierra Club regularly say things no self-respecting scientist or science communicator should.

Climate change will be brutally expensive. Much of the infrastructure we have built is designed for this climate and this sea level. Sea level rise, increased hurricanes, massive heat waves, cold shocks as far south as Texas--these are serious costs, and it costs far less to mitigate climate change than to rebuild trillions of dollars of infrastructure to suit our future conditions. But it will not be world-ending, and at worst (for rich countries) will cause stagnation.

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Glad you linked the climate change movement to anti capitalism. It is a political movement not scientific. Even the 2 degrees limit was political not scientific, as is the revised down 1.5 degrees. It is just an extension of peak oil and other Malthusian ideas.

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Jul 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Excellent Noah.

As an old P&L manager who won major new product acceptance in Automotive due to the best ever Environmental regulation...CAFE... good goals and clear timeframes and economic penalties worked very very well. We should plagiarize this one.

I do see and think a number of entrepreneurs and investors see the Green Market Opportunities ahead. That's just Darwin providing free market awareness.

Nuclear Energy has a direct and simple, well rational path to broad acceptance in the US.

1. There is real Fear of Nuclear. Earned Fear.

2. Never deny Fear. Address it head on.

3. Be humble. Learn from the best. Replicate the French Nuclear energy approach because..... it Solved the Fear problem.


As noted, the Experience curve and repetition drive down costs, reduce risks dramatically. A single US nuclear destign eliminates the core major risk of Plant 1 from A, plant 1 from B, plant 1 from C. No learning curve.

Standardized design lowers cost by higher purchased part counts, more replacement parts, and shared multi-site design and operating experience learning.

US: compete the Builds around the French design standard.

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"Climate Activists" as described here seem to be more in love with their proposed solutions to the problem than solving the problem itself, because those solutions have become an ideological lifestyle.

At this point, if an miracle new energy technology solution was discovered, I suspect climate activists would oppose it because it isn't wind/solar/an-expensive-status-symbol-toy-car-that-I-can-pretend-makes-me-a-good-person.

Likewise, I have the funny feeling that the ones who are proposing anti-capitalism solutions are more like hammer salesmen trying to convince you that all your problems are nails.

I'll cop to being a very sentimental, "Many of these trees were my friends," crying-indian environmentalist. I have a zoology degree, I volunteer at a bird refuge, I raise tadpoles as a hobby. And yet when people talk about how important it is we Do Something about climate change, all I hear is *World Ending; Women and People of Color Most Affected, Give me money so I can buy a Tesla."

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