13 Comments

Good for her! And good for her new nuclear activism. Not only would nuclear be a very fast path to arresting climate change, it would have geopolitical benefits too.

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"We need to come to terms with the fact that fossil fuels both have us a high quality of life and did damage to the planet." Exactly! I'd analogize it to the sort of coping mechanism that once once helped an abused child survive (the poverty that most of us lived in before we started burning coal and oil was pretty horrible), but as an adult it's doing you more harm than good and you need to stop. We can understand the need to change our ways without beating ourselves up for our past.

The belief that the planet was an eco-paradise before humans (or Western humans) desecrated it is just another version of the Garden of Eden myth. We need to stop confining evolution to lab and textbook and start using it to understand the real world.

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"Climate change means that we risk losing the only known habitable planet in the universe."

I'd suggest hyperbole like this doesn't help. I recognize the consequences of climate change driven by fossil fuels are grave. But no credible science suggests the planet is at risk of becoming uninhabitable to humans.

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The hard left-wing activist community does more harm than good on the environment, as elsewhere. I applaud Ms. Lights for moving away from it. I would emphasize these points, when "getting real" about climate change: go nuclear; avoid unrealstic demands (it's much too expensive to get to net zero by 2050 and isn't necessary); avoid catastrophizing. The planet isn't going to die. Nor will great numbers of people. Cities aren't going to drown, just ask the Dutch. The worst case scenario projections -- based on 20 year old data and the supposition that we aren't going to mitigate -- have been dismissed by serious bodies as highly unlikely at this point. Level with people and make doable policy decisions. We'll get through to, dare I say, to a world much better than this one (See UN economic projections on the world at 2100).

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Bravo for you! You deserve an incredible amount of credit for the changes you’ve made. And they are all for the better. I’d like to add a little to your new perspective. First, some history. We’ve been through this before, but the crisis was even more urgent!!!! "Sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come — and by the end, I mean an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.” We're all gonna die!

That was the “population bomb” crisis, and the quote is from Paul Ehrlich in 1970. Everyone on the left was convinced, from high school kids to Martin Luther King. You’re still caught up in left catastrophizing a bit, “Climate change means that we risk losing the only known habitable planet in the universe.” Actually, it doesn’t mean that. Not even close.

And no I’m not a climate denier. Starting in 2006, I gave up two-plus years of prime consulting work to teach myself climate change and write a book on fixing it. That led to organizing a dozen notable people in the field, including Joe Stiglitz and two other Nobel Prize winners. We published a book with MIT press in 2017, Global Carbon Pricing: The Path to Climate Cooperation.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit too technical. But all of the authors agree on the basics, which is pretty amazing. Climate is a global problem in a much deeper sense the most realize. Nations are playing what is called a global "public goods game." And the nature of that game is to cause them to fail to cooperate. Which we have seen for thirty years now. Paris is an agreement that each country will do its own thing. And Christiana Figueres, who brokered the deal said that the “driving force” was that countries were doing it “for the benefit of their own economy,” and that “The United States or China or Tuvalu … none of them are doing this to save the planet.” Yep, that's straight from the horse's mouth.

The U.N. has given up on real cooperation because they think in terms of countries being good or bad — having “ambition” or not, having “political will” or not. No one sees that the problem is the game they are trapped in. No one sees that the game can be changed.

This is odd because there is so much talk of science. But the focus is on tech or temperature. The science of cooperation is completely ignored. Yet, psychology, political science, and economics have run experiments on public goods games more than 1000 times. And they have explored many ways to change the game to get players to cooperate. This is never mentioned in the UN negotiations.

So I agree with Lights’ 7 points, except for the excessive doom. But the focus needs to be more global and much more on cooperation. And environmental intuitions on cooperation are exactly backward. As I show in the preface to Global Carbon Pricing, if you prevent altruistic behavior in a public goods game, then bad players find they need to cooperate.

And to end on a practical note. Yes, rich countries should cut emissions, but not so that the poor countries can emit more (although some will need to). Instead, we should realize that it is cheaper to help a poor country to emit one less ton than for the US to emit one less ton. Doing things cheaply instead of saying “money is no object,” will get more done and make cooperation with the majority much easier.

P.S. We bought the rights from MIT to give away the book as a free PDF. So you can get it and read the preface here https://carbon-price.com/

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"Understand that we are in a climate emergency." Can someone point me to facts that support this statement?

I'm old enough to remember the 70's "air pollution bringing a new ice age" warnings, so I'm skeptical of anyone telling me the sky is falling.

Our air and water in the US are vastly cleaner than they were 50 years ago. Why isn't continued incremental progress good enough for environmentalists?

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I understand how you feel. Read my population bomb quote in my comment above. I think it makes your point perfectly. I have a science background, and I spent a couple of years studying the "climate emergency." I went back and forth several times as to whether it was real or not. Here's where I ended up. (1) nearly every climate story in the liberal press is biased, often dramatically. E.g. the oceans are rising a foot a year in the South Pacific (Ross Gelbspan) turned out to be, No, the islands are sinking a foot a year. (2) We are increasing CO2 and that definitely causes warming. (3) The temp difference between NY being covered in ice in the last ice age and now is about 5 deg C. So a fairly small temp change does have a big effect. (4) It will take a long time cut CO2 emissions enough, so it pays to start early. (5) There's a UC Berkely physicist that checked all the temperature data and yes it really is going up and probably has gone up almost 1 deg C. (6) Five more years won't matter much, but it's silly to waste that time when we could be making fairly cheap global changes -- if we could get global cooperation. (6) Most environmental regulations are not cost-effective. But fossil fuel took over because it was cheap. If we tax it and return the revenue equally per capita the cost per ton of emissions saved will be low and the redistribution will be just. (7) Don't think of it as an emergency, think of it as we should buy insurance against a real but unpredictable risk.

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Refreshing.

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founding

A fantastic perspective! Thank you!

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Good for her! And good for her new nuclear activism. Not only would nuclear be a very fast path to arresting climate change, it would have geopolitical benefits too.

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I really appreciated this piece especially the writer's humility. Something we all need for a functioning government and society. Thank you kindly!

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This is a message delivered with humility, which makes it convincing. Nuclear yes, more please!

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I'd suggest that folks read Bjorn Lomborg's recent 'False Alarm' which includes extensive modelling that compares the costs of (a) climate change, (b) CO2 reduction, and (c) non-CO2 reduction climate mitigation; then models how much CO2 reduction is necessary to achieve the temperature targets cited by the IPCC. This article is entirely devoid of such numbers (temperature targets, Gtons CO2 to be reduced, dollars, etc.) so it does not add much that is persuasive for advocates and deniers.

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