Liars and Hypocrites


Who do you trust: the liar or the hypocrite?

Some people like to accuse those are worried about climate change of being “hypocrites”. Why? Because we still fly around in planes, drive cars and so on.

What’s the argument? Could it be this?

“If even those folks who claim there’s a problem aren’t willing to do anything about it, it must not really be a problem.”

That argument is invalid. Say we have a married couple who both smoke. The husband says “we should quit smoking.” But he keeps smoking. Does this mean that it’s okay to smoke?

Or suppose he says “you should quit smoking”, but keeps on smoking himself. That’s would be infuriating. But it doesn’t make the statement less true.

Indeed, our civilization is addicted to burning carbon. It’s a lot like being addicted to nicotine. Addiction leads people to say one thing and do another. You know you should change your behavior—but you don’t have the will power. Or you do for a while… but then you lapse.

I see this in myself. I try to stop taking airplane flights, but like most successful scientists I get lots of invitations to conferences, with free flights to fun places. It’s hard to resist. It’s like offering cigarettes to someone who is trying to quit. I can resist nine times and cave in on the tenth! I can “relapse” for months and then come to my senses.

In fact the accusation of hypocrisy is not about the facts of climate change. It’s about choosing a social group:

“The people who want you to take climate change seriously are hypocrites. Don’t be a sucker. Don’t let them boss you around. Join us instead.”

This takes advantage of a psychological fact: most of us prefer liars to hypocrites. A lie is forgivable. But hypocrisy—someone publicly saying you should do something when they don’t themselves—is not.

There are studies about this:

• Association for Psychological Science, We dislike hypocrites because they deceive us, 30 January 2017.

The title of this article is wrong. Liars also deceive us. We hate hypocrites for other reasons.

We’re averse to hypocrites because their disavowal of bad behavior sends a false signal, misleading us into thinking they’re virtuous when they’re not, according to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research shows that people dislike hypocrites more than those who openly admit to engaging in a behavior that they disapprove of.

“People dislike hypocrites because they unfairly use condemnation to gain reputational benefits and appear virtuous at the expense of those who they are condemning–when these reputational benefits are in fact undeserved,” explains psychological scientist Jillian Jordan of Yale University, first author on the research.

Intuitively, it seems that we might dislike hypocrites because their word is inconsistent with their behavior, because they lack the self-control to behave according to their own morals, or because they deliberately engage in behaviors that they know to be morally wrong. All of these explanations seem plausible, but the new findings suggest that it’s the misrepresentation of their moral character that really raises our ire.

In an online study with 619 participants, Jordan and Yale colleagues Roseanna Sommers, Paul Bloom, and David G. Rand presented each participant with four scenarios about characters engaging in possible moral transgressions: a member of a track team using performance-enhancing drugs, a student cheating on a take-home chemistry exam, an employee failing to meet a deadline on a team project, and a member of a hiking club who engaged in infidelity.

In each scenario, participants read about a conversation involving moral condemnation of a transgression. The researchers varied whether the condemnation came from a “target character” (who subjects would later evaluate) or somebody else, as well as whether the scenario provided direct information about the target character’s own moral behavior. Participants then evaluated how trustworthy and likeable the target character was, as well as the likelihood that the target character would engage in the transgression.

The results showed that participants viewed the target more positively when he or she condemned the bad behavior in the scenario, but only when they had no information about how the character actually behaved. This suggests that we tend to interpret condemnation as a signal of moral behavior in the absence of direct information.

A second online study showed that condemning bad behavior conveyed a greater reputational boost for the character than directly stating that he or she didn’t engage in the behavior.

“Condemnation can act as a stronger signal of one’s own moral goodness than a direct statement of moral behavior,” the researchers write.

And additional data suggest that people dislike hypocrites even more than they dislike liars. In a third online study, participants had a lower opinion of a character who illegally downloaded music when he or she condemned the behavior than when he or she directly denied engaging in it.

I believe the accusation of hypocrisy is trying to set up a binary choice:

“Whose side are you on? Those hypocrites who say climate change is a problem and try to get you to make sacrifices, while they don’t? Or us liars, who say there’s no problem and your behavior is fine?”

Of course, being liars, they leave out the word “liars”.

One way out is to realize it’s not a binary choice.

There’s a third position: the honest hypocrite.

Perhaps the most critical piece of evidence for the theory of hypocrisy as false signaling is that people disliked hypocrites more than so-called “honest hypocrites.” In a fourth online study, the researchers tested perceptions of “honest hypocrites,” who—like traditional hypocrites—condemn behaviors that they engage in, but who also admit that they sometimes commit those behaviors.

“The extent to which people forgive honest hypocrites was striking to us,” says Jordan. “These honest hypocrites are seen as no worse than people who commit the same transgressions but keep their mouths shut and refrain from judging others for doing the same — suggesting that the entirety of our dislike for hypocrites can be attributed to the fact that they falsely signal their virtue.”

There’s also a fourth position: the non-liar, non-hypocrite. That’s even better. But sometimes, when we need to take collective action, we should listen to the honest hypocrite, who tells us that we should all take action, but admits he’s not doing it yet.

And now, here’s a great example of someone trying take advantage of our hatred of hypocrites. Pay careful attention to how she cleverly tries to manipulate you! By the end you’ll feel different than when you started. If she were trying to get you to smoke, by the end you’d light up a cigarette and feel proud of yourself.

An example

The Hypocrisy of Climate Change Advocates
Julie Kelly

So according to all the hysterical people, President-elect Donald Trump has appointed the most climate denier cabinet ever. As cabinet confirmation hearings get underway, expect to hear the charge “climate denier!” a lot.

For those of you who don’t know what a climate denier is, it means you either challenge, question or flat-out reject the idea that the planet is warming due to human activity. In the scientific world and in the world of international liberal groupthink (but I repeat myself), this is blasphemy. Should you remotely doubt the dubious models, unrealized dire predictions, changing goal posts or flawed data related to climate science, you are not just stupid according to these folks, but you are on par with those who deny the Holocaust.

Even people who believe in manmade climate change (or AGW, anthropogenic global warming) have been excommunicated from the climate tribe for raising any concern about climate science. Last month, Roger Pielke, Jr. wrote a revealing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about how he became a target of the climate junta for saying there was no connection between weather disasters and climate change. Although Pielke believes in AGW and even supports a carbon tax to mitigate its impact, his scrutiny made him a target of powerful folks in Congress, the media and even the White House.

The first time I was called a climate denier was a few years ago, after I started writing about agricultural biotechnology or GMOs. The charge was an attempt to undermine my credibility on supporting genetic engineering: the line of attack was, if you don’t believe the science and consensus about man-made global warming, you are a scientific illiterate who has no business speaking in defense of other scientific issues like biotechnology. This was often dished out by climate change pushers who also oppose GMOs because they are anti-capitalist, anti-corporate ideologues (Bernie Sanders could be the poster child for this).

As I did more research on climate change, I learned one important thing: being a climate change believer means never having to say you’re sorry, or at least never making any major sacrifice to your lifestyle that would mitigate the pending doom you are so preoccupied with (but, sea ice!). You can go along with climate change dogma and do virtually nothing about it except recycle your newspapers while self-righteously calling the other side names. From the Pope to the president to the smug suburban mom, climate adherents live in glass houses that function thanks to evil stuff like oil and gas while throwing rocks at us so-called deniers.

So who are the real deniers: those who are reasonably skeptical about climate change or those who give lots of lip service to it while living a lifestyle totally inimical to every tenet of the climate change creed?

To that end, you might be a climate change denier if:

You are the Holy Father of the largest denomination of the Christian faith who calls climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” and that coal, oil and gas must be replaced “without delay” yet lives a palatial lifestyle powered by fossil fuels.

You are the president of the United States who tried to ban fracking on public land because it emits greenhouse gases but then takes credit for cutting “dependence on foreign oil by more than half” thanks to fracking.

You are a presidential candidate whose primary message is blasting big corporations from Exxon to Monsanto for destroying the planet but then demands a private jet to make meaningless campaign appearances on behalf of the woman who beat you so you can keep getting attention for yourself.

You are a movie star who works in one of the most energy-intensive and frivolous industries but now earns fame by leading protests against fracking and demands the country live on 100 percent renewables by 2050 then jets your family off from Manhattan to Australia on a jumbo jet to take pictures of the Great Barrier Reef.

You are Robert Kennedy, Jr.

You drive a Tesla but don’t know the electricity comes from a grid supported by fossil fuels.

You are a legislator who pushes solar panels and wind turbines without having the slightest clue how much energy and materials — like steel, concrete, diesel fuel, fiberglass and plastic — are needed to manufacture them.

You are Leonardo DiCaprio.

You are a suburban mom who looks down at other moms who don’t care/know/believe in climate change but you spend the day driving your privileged kids around in a pricy SUV and have two air-conditioners in your 6,000 square-foot house,

You oppose nuclear energy and/or genetically engineered crops.

You eat meat because meat production allegedly emits about 14.5 percent of greenhouse gases or some made-up number according to the United Nations.

You eat any sort of food because agriculture uses all kinds of climate polluting energy not to mention the big carbon footprint to process, package, ship and deliver that food to your local Whole Foods.

You are John Kerry.

So if you live off the grid, never fly in an airplane and don’t eat, then you can call me a denier. For the rest of you, please zip it. You deny climate change by your actions because you contribute daily to the very greenhouse gases you contend are destroying the planet. I’d rather be a denier than a hypocrite any day.

37 Responses to Liars and Hypocrites

  1. streamfortyseven says:

    In this age of instant – or near instant – electronic communication, why do you need to go anywhere – especially by jet? Julian Assange and Edward Snowden do just fine with Skype, and while they don’t have a choice, you could do the same thing pretty easily. If you’re in a position where you set an example for others, the knock-on effects may be greater than you think. Someone calculated that for each person on a transatlantic flight – or flight of equal length, three square meters of Antarctic ice turned to water. Of course, it takes several million passenger trips to have an effect, but once you have that, it’s there to be reckoned with.

    On the other hand, it’s a bit late to really turn things around, so you may as well hop on board and have a good time and not worry about any of this.

    • John Baez says:

      streamfortyseven wrote:

      In this age of instant – or near instant – electronic communication, why do you need to go anywhere – especially by jet?

      If you have tried using Skype or something to discuss science with a group of 30 people for a week, listening to talks together sometimes, but with smaller groups peeling off at times to focus on topics interesting only to them, you’ll realize that it’s very hard. Nobody has figured out how to do it yet. Skype is okay for meetings of 2 or 3 people, and it’s okay to watch a video of a lecture, but a scientific meeting is much more complicated.

      A lot of progress happens in science at such meetings. If I didn’t go to such meetings I would be cutting myself off from a key part of professional life. I would be “out of the loop”.

      Of course, this sacrifice may be worthwhile to save the planet! But for for a researcher without tenure, it could easily be career suicide.

      I believe a technological solution is possible. But it’s not sitting there yet, easy to grab off the shelf. We need to do better.

      Even for one-shot lectures, which are much more easy to do remotely, the technological solutions are not widely known. I’ve done a bunch of lectures remotely, and half the time the lecture is spoiled by feedback, my inability to see the audience, etc. I always try to do a practice run to work out the bugs, but my hosts often forget to reproduce the precise conditions of the actual lecture, and run into unexpected problems when I do the real thing.

      On the other hand, it’s a bit late to really turn things around, so you may as well hop on board and have a good time and not worry about any of this.

      I’ve considered that too. I’ll probably be dead before things get too bad, and I don’t have kids. I could non-hypocritically but cynically say “this isn’t my problem”.

      • streamfortyseven says:

        If conservatives can manage to do talk radio with listener interaction – such as it were – I’m surprised that scientists haven’t figured out how to do virtual scientific meetings. Of course, there’s no such thing as “virtual vodka” or “virtual beer” or “virtual akvavit”, so the after-meeting talk might not be so free and convivial, so that might be a problem… In the meetings I’ve been to – long ago – there were mostly lectures with very few questions, which could be fairly easily handled with a “webinar” format, and then poster presentations – that’s the difficult part, mostly those are low-level people, grad students, up-and-coming types, and there’s a lot less structure there, which might present tough technical problems. Still, it’s something to think about, from a standpoint of resource depletion, if not climate change. Jets require a fuel load of 10,000 gallons of aviation kerosene, and if there’s significant depletion of light sweet crude oil – as there eventually will be – flying off to conferences may no longer be financially feasible.

        • A crack radio talkshow is gonna be structurally very different from a scientific debate, where hands-and-feet talking and gesturing, and showing, and drawing on black- or whiteboards will likely be an important part of the process.

        • John Baez says:

          Yes, there’s no good way to discuss math or physics without access to a blackboard, a pad of paper, or their electronic equivalent. Furthermore, one needs to allow for shifting groups of people to discuss different topics: three people talk to each other, then a fourth wanders over from another group and joins in, then two lose interest, walk over to another blackboard, and start working on something related, etc. This is how brains multiplex to solve problems no one brain can solve alone!

          By contrast, radio talk shows are not designed for solving technical problems: they’re designed to entertain a large audience and encourage conformity with the host’s opinions. There is no way for a group of guests to agree that the talk show host is confused, start their own separate conversation, and allow the audience to switch channels and listen to that. (It would be an interesting experiment to make this possible.)

        • The internet is not the solution; in fact, it’s becoming more and more of the problem:

          From the Time Magazine article: “We already use 50% more energy to move bytes than we do to move planes in global aviation.”

          There is no social solution to this problem; what we need is a new source of clean energy and/or better ways to neutralize the carbon generated from conventional sources. We need more ideas like this:

          and a government that will support them.

          The reason humans hate hypocrites more that liars is because we’re perfectly logical beings and hypocrisy is the worst of all the logical fallacies.

        • arch1 says:

          Sombrero, I agree that clean energy sources and carbon neutralization are crucial, but disagree with your assertion that because the internet uses more energy than global aviation, it cannot be part of the solution.

          To the extent that the internet could displace the need/desire to travel and do so at lower energy costs than the travel displaced, it could be part of the solution. The fact that internet’s overall energy consumption exceeds that of aviation is a red herring.

          [As a layperson this raises a Q I’d welcome help with from knowledgeable readers: Even with perfectly greenhouse-free energy, one can only increase global energy utilization a finite amount (for any given composition of the atmosphere) before the waste heat causes global temperature to exceed any given limit of acceptability, right?]

        • John Baez says:

          arch1 wrote:

          As a layperson this raises a Q I’d welcome help with from knowledgeable readers: Even with perfectly greenhouse-free energy, one can only increase global energy utilization a finite amount (for any given composition of the atmosphere) before the waste heat causes global temperature to exceed any given limit of acceptability, right?

          Yes, there’s a limit, but we’re not close to it. Steve Easterbook has a nice blog post where he did a relevant calculation. Thanks to global warming, the Earth is currently gaining heat energy at a rate of 300 terawatts. On the other hand, in 2010 humans were using energy at a rate of about 16 terawatts. So, even if all the waste heat of our energy usage were trapped here on Earth, unable to radiate out, we could multiply the rate at which we use energy by about 18 before this effect exceeded current global warming!

          This is a crude lower bound on how much we could boost power consumption before its effects exceeded current global warming. It would be nice to do more realistic calculations. For solar power, one would have to compare what already happens when sunlight hits the Earth, to what happens when it hits solar power apparatus and gets converted to electricity and ultimately waste heat.

        • Arch 1 says, “The fact that internet’s overall energy consumption exceeds that of aviation is a red herring.”

          From Google: Red herring is a kind of fallacy that is an irrelevant topic introduced in an argument to divert the attention of listeners or readers from the original issue.

          I fail to see how the internet’s energy consumption is irrelevant. The internet has many positive characteristics to recommend it but every positive has associated with it a negative. Perhaps you should use the positive aspect to conduct a little research into the negative aspect. Allow me to be of some assistance:

          Click to access a14-hazas.pdf

          From the very first link:

          “In terms of energy conservation, the leaps made in energy efficiency by the infrastructure and devices we use to access the internet have allowed many online activities to be viewed as more sustainable than offline.

          On the internet, however, advances in energy efficiency have a reverse effect: as the network becomes more energy efficient, its total energy use increases. This trend can only be stopped when we limit the demand for digital communication.

          Although it’s a strategy that we apply elsewhere, for instance, by encouraging people to eat less meat, or to lower the thermostat of the heating system, limiting demand is controversial when applied to the internet, in part because few people make the connection between data and energy.”

          I believe the early comments to this post, as well as your own, are indicative of this ignorance and my comment was intended to address this. The second link is to a scientific paper inspired by the first. Sorry it took so long for me to respond; I failed to check the Notify me box . . .

    • Graham Jones says:

      John said

      Yes, there’s no good way to discuss math or physics without access to a blackboard, a pad of paper, or their electronic equivalent. Furthermore, one needs to allow for shifting groups of people to discuss different topics

      Have you tried an online whiteboard? The only thing I have tried for real is the scribble tool in Google Docs, but it is not a good implementation. This ( looks much better. I’ve only played with it by myself, but with a graphics tablet it is very nice. I don’t see a problem with running several whiteboards at once, and letting people move between them.

      I’ve done a bunch of lectures remotely, and half the time the lecture is spoiled by feedback, my inability to see the audience, etc.

      Can’t feedback be solved by making everyone use a headset? I feel the real problem is to with attitudes, or the culture in academia. If people were as careful about making (existing) technology work as they are about arranging flights and hotels and checking their travel documents, I think the technology would work fine. And it is not as though travel is free from glitches.

      I think biologists, who I usually work with, are worse than mathematicians or physicists. I attended a workshop in May, three days of talks, then two days writing a ‘perspective’ paper, using Google Docs. The latter was more difficult than it needed to be because several participants were unable to connect to the internet! I like Google Docs though, and it’s alright for drawing as opposed to scribbling.

      • John Baez says:

        Graham wrote:

        Have you tried an online whiteboard?

        No, but downstairs of my office at UCR there’s a room with a couple of them, and I’ve seen elementary schools with tech of this sort that puts UCR to shame: a teacher can write on the board, click to turn it into a PDF, and print out copies—say, for homework.

        Can’t feedback be solved by making everyone use a headset?

        Yes. The problem was sloppiness: the people tested the setup ahead of time, but under significantly different conditions than the actual talk.

        If people were as careful about making (existing) technology work as they are about arranging flights and hotels and checking their travel documents, I think the technology would work fine.

        I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it would be a huge step forward.

        If I were an entrepreneur I’d try a startup: a chain of conference centers where people in different locations can meet virtually in rooms specially designed for that purpose—including restaurants and bars where they can eat and drink ‘together’ at tables facing video screens.

        I feel someday this is bound to be better than flying people around, at least for most business and academic purposes. But it would take quite a lot of determination and money to work out all the bugs and make a profit on this.

        • lwbut says:

          Please forgive me for butting in but i believe Graham was referring to an on-line whiteboard in a chat or chatroom online whereas you are referring to an electronic (physical) whiteboard.

          I have used the on-line version in either AIM chat or Yahoo chat or similar and multiple parties can draw or write on a common screen on their computer in real time just as if the participants were present in a classroom with a blackboard.

          Multiple chatrooms can be opened by individuals and group participants can switch to any group, or watch/participate in several groups at the same time. Assuming they have decent computer and internet access of course! ;-)


        • John Baez says:

          lwbut wrote:

          Please forgive me for butting in but i believe Graham was referring to an on-line whiteboard in a chat or chatroom online whereas you are referring to an electronic (physical) whiteboard.

          You’re probably right. I’ve used a kind of online whiteboard where I draw things with my finger on a mousepad, but the quality of the drawings is just barely usable. Drawing with a stylus on a tablet would work better. I don’t have a tablet like that.

        • lwbut says:

          And you are right too – the quality is not so great – the technology exists but being able to afford, get hold of it, use it for purpose, is another matter. We might need to wait a few years before we can surpass the need for air travel huh? ;-)

          But then there is always virtual reality – things are improving rapidly there.


  2. I think what’s really hard about this is that no single person’s actions are going to do anything even remotely measurable to climate change, unless they are, like, burning down all the forests. That could probably conceivably done by very few people.

    It’s actually hard to feel personally responsible. And you kiiind of aren’t. But yet you still are. All (or a lot) of us together are collectively “personally” responsible. Each one of us isn’t though.

    So even if you stopped engaging in hypocritical behavior, you didn’t even do anything yet to save Earth. Not really.

    Take flights, for instance: Unless you convince enough people not to take a particular plane to make it unreasonable for the companies to fly it, you haven’t even taken out a single flight. It just doesn’t work that way. So since your own change in behavior doesn’t even do anything, you might as well do it anyway, unless you have the opportunity to halt the entire plane, somehow.

    Car driving is more personal. You can make a difference there by making sure to buy a clean car, to use it as rarely as possible and to, if you use it, make sure as many people as possible come with you rather than driving their own cars.

    But even here, hypocrisy lingers. If you just go “Oh, I know, I’ll sell my current gas guzzling car and get a fancy all electric Tesla”, you may actually do more harm than good. Unless your car is close to the end of its lifespan, it’s likely that selling it early and getting a Tesla will cause more pollution overall. Tesla Model Ss are produced rather uncleanly, causing almost all their life time pollution before they are even driven once.

    Some other E-cars fair much better but also are more restrictive, causing (often unfounded) range anxiety or other issues. But at any rate, the calculation of how to best save Earth by car choice isn’t as straight forward as immediately switching to all electric.

    The better option would be to maximize public transport, getting a huge number of people to essentially only use a single car – possibly even an electric one. It unclogs roads and it’s far more efficient.

    Unfortunately, for many people that’s just a non-option. Public transport isn’t exactly great everywhere.

    There are dozens if not thousands of caveats like this, but the bottom line is: Not being a hypocrite isn’t exactly easy, and unless you can personally somehow affect large scale change, your personal choices won’t even really matter. – Which is not to say you shouldn’t try anyway.

    I think, since this is something that requires large scale solutions, it’s largely up to governments to make it as easy as possible for people to collectively change their behaviors. Tax carbon production – not just on heavy industries but also on, say, farming, so food gets pricier proportional to how carbon inefficient it is. Heavily invest in infrastructure, especially in clean public transport. Have awareness and education programs. Maybe even give heavily subsidized or outright free, perhaps mandatory tests of people’s homes:

    How much are they expected to save within x years if they
    – insulated their homes better
    – considered different heating
    – paid more attention to standby gadgets or lights. Or automated that process with timers, movement sensors or other such tools.
    – got more efficient gadgets in the first place
    — including the often comically wasteful chargers that get searingly hot even if chargers just a dollar more expensive could basically do conversions at near perfect efficiency, staying cool forever. (Personal pet peeve of mine)
    – Could they install a solar panel / battery solution or even a solar panel to grid solution?
    – How about wind energy? (Not sure how feasible this is, especially considering this is likely not gonna be quiet. But in principle: Why not have small electric wind turbines in every home? It’s not gonna be as good as the huge wind farms but it ought to be something, right?)

    And the same assessment for their cars:
    – Is it actually a good idea to switch the car now?
    – To what models?
    – Would it suit their needs? (Especially educate about often unfounded range-anxiety if an electric car is a good solution, but even hybrids are usually great).

    Oh and a neighbourhood comparison program. “You’re doing this good compared to your neighbours!” – That apparently works wonders.
    Also maybe one for eating habits (less meat, more veggies, especially avoid carbon dense meat like beef; maybe try insect protein? – you don’t have to be a vegan to drastically lower your carbon eating footprint), but that’s inevitably gonna be an even tougher sell.

    And combine all of that with once again heavily subsidized plans to actually move towards these proposed solutions. You can’t really expect people to act on all the little things they could do if you don’t actually push them towards it. If there isn’t a clear benefit to it, then people are likely gonna stick with defaults. That’s just how we are. So we gotta operate with that in mind.

    But of course, especially in the US right now, much that’s… not gonna fly.

    • nad says:

      Kram Einsnulldreizwei wrote:

      Maybe even give heavily subsidized or outright free, perhaps mandatory tests of people’s homes

      who should do these tests? Like you I am from Germany. We had some construction works lately and I can only say there are a lot of people out there whose “tests” can only be trusted that much. Alone getting a small leaking roof fixed included 3 companies, a lot of hassle and in case you wonder: all companies were registered german companies and 2 of them even “Meisterinnung”. For fairness I should say that one of the Meisterinnung companies finally fixed the problem successfully and decently. But still just thinking about solar installations sends me chills down the spine. Think of BER.

      Tax carbon production – not just on heavy industries but also on, say, farming, so food gets pricier proportional to how carbon inefficient it is.

      There are ads in between, but it’s worthwhile to watch this documentary (in german) , especially the part where they buy half a pig:

      • Obviously, corruption or incompetence will always be a problem. Doesn’t mean you can’t try. Not every program is inherently destroyed by that. Mandatory tests may admittedly take it a bit too far, not only for privacy reasons, but also logistically.

        Not entirely sure what your problem is with solar installations. By BER I assume you mean Berlin? I’m sorry but I don’t associate anything regarding solar with that.

        We have solar on our roof, both for heating water and photovoltaics. The later for like five years now, the former for probably around twenty. It worked flawlessly for all that time. In fact, we were surprised by how much we got back from the photovoltaic panels even in winter months.

        What about that video? I don’t really see relevance here. Sure, that pig’s gonna be a good bit more expensive if it’s carbon-taxed. But meat is already ridiculously subsidized. It really should be more expensive in the first place. Instead, other food could be subsidized. People will adjust to that eventually.

        • nad says:

          With BER I referred to the construction chaos and the general misplanning to put an airport so close to a city. It was meant to illustrate that there is a problem in the construction business – at least in Berlin. May be it is better at your place. And for a little more elaborate regenerative energy plan you need good construction people. I should maybe say there are more problems involved with solar installations than just the construction, like financing or how the local neighbourhood develops (and in particular I can’t say that I appreciate that they lowered the flight height for Tegel or that they plan european superhighways in my vicinity).

          We had paid for an hour of consulting by an expert and he gave the recommendation to configure solar basically similar to what you have, he suggested though optionally to also supplement heating with solar thermal, however just a bit, because in summer its useless. Now in retrospective and after looking a bit more into the thing I ask myself why (at least as a future option) he didn’t suggest STES. It seems also that there are not many options to use the excessive heat like in steam engines, I had asked about that at a solar company, but got no answer.

          About the documentary. You are of course right agriculture is very carbon intensive and its not very “dense” in terms of energy density. I made a small back of the enveloppe calculation of the land use of humans vs. the land need of photovoltaics in terms of energy production and got a factor of 560 . But this is of course a priori a big social problem.

          I don’t know what the subsidizes are for meat at the moment
          this article says that despite subsidies farmers can’t live on it, because prices are so low, But the woman in the video bought half a pig in a discounter and chopped it herself instead of bying the chopped pieces because she hardly could afford to buy food for her and her son. I also think if you don’t want to rely too much on food imports then in Germany you need meat production.

          And then back to solar, I find there is still the question looming in the air, wether eventually one would need to extract and burn the methane which is lurking in permafrost. By looking a bit more into that question I have gotten the impression that this is not at all, all so clear whats going on there. In particular I recently got the impression that the global warming potential of methane might be too low. I actually did some back of the envelope calculations to that and asked (amongst others) John in march whether this should be made into a blog post, but he had so far found no time to think about that. If you are interested I might send you an email with a draft. I would especially appreciate it if anyone could check the computations, since I have no computer algebra program and thus had to simplify terms by hand. But of course the ansatz needs also to be checked.

  3. Quick post because I forgot to check the box to being informed of new comments.
    (Seriously, why isn’t there a way to do this without commenting yourself?)

    • John Baez says:

      You could try the RSS feed that says “RSS – comments” on the upper right of this blog. I’ve never tried it myself, so I don’t know how it works.

      I’ll reply to your main comment later… I’m feeling a bit busy now, and it deserves a longish reply.

  4. I am Aranab says:

    it is really tough being 100% pure that way. But that does not mean we should discourage people. If you do A but then do not do B i think it is okay. Because it is really all about collective effort. In today’s time and age it is not possible to be 100% not a hypocrite. But we can all play a small but significant role here.

  5. John Baez says:

    Over on G+, Matt McIrvin responded:

    My response to the charge of hypocrisy against people sounding the alarm about climate change (that we must not really believe it ourselves, because we don’t live the monastic off-grid lifestyle) is this:

    While it’s good for people to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint, and I try to do some things along those lines, that’s actually not primarily what I want other people to do. A strategy against climate change that focuses on people making best choices through individual willpower is doomed.

    Partly because most people are just like me–they’re lazy bastards who like nice things and cool experiences more than they like making the morally optimum choice every second of their lives. And partly because market forces will push against it. If people who can afford to avoid dirty products and dirty behaviors, they’ll just bring their prices down (supply and demand!) and make them more attractive to people who want to save a few bucks. Individual consumer action is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the main thing and is powerless by itself.

    What I want people to do is to support policies and technologies that make doing the right thing easy (and affordable) and doing the wrong thing hard (and expensive), so that lazy bastards who like nice things will do less damage to the planet. As conservatives like to say, people respond to incentives. So give them the right incentives. That means things like carbon taxes, smarter zoning laws, and research into better tech and better ways of living.

    • That’s basically a nicer, more concise version of what I said above. I agree.

    • Eugene says:

      I think this reply pretty much nails it for me. On the other hand I do believe in quantum mechanics, which makes it impossible to deny the green house effect :). In other words I do believe that global warming is happening, it’s bad and my children will suffer for it.

    • Robert McLachlan says:

      I’m a bit late to the party here, but thank you John for a very interesting post, and thank you Matt (and others) for interesting comments. Matt, you make a very good point, although I do not agree that “A strategy against climate change that focuses on people making best choices through individual willpower is doomed.” (Though focusing solely on that is not the best idea.)

      We are in a tragedy of the commons (or as optimists call it, a drama of the commons). Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, wrote that successful management of commons requires shared, reliable information; an agreement to jointly share responsibility; knowledge of what everyone else is doing; and a desire to be seen as trustworthy reciprocator. (Ostrom, A polycentric approach for coping with climate change, Without these, we are unlikely to get widespread support for the policies (like carbon taxes and strong international agreements) that will do the job. Commons are managed through collective action, which can be effective at all levels starting with the individual. Widespread hypocrisy repels people psychologically and undermines collective action.

      There are other issues that share various aspects of climate change to different degrees (such as free riding, unpriced externalities, and a need for collective action). I’m thinking of things like voting, taxes, vaccination, rubbish, labour rights, public safety, human rights. Progress was difficult in all these areas for many of the same reasons that progress in climate change is difficult. A society which exhibits widespread hypocrisy in any of these risks backsliding.

      I look forward to a day in which a multinational would not even consider moving an industrial facility to a country with unpriced fossil fuels, because they know it is a wrong thing to do.

      There is one small complication. Leonardo DiCaprio (or whoever) could easily buy some land and plant trees. He would then be carbon neutral (or carbon negative) in his personal life. But I suspect he would still rub some people up the wrong way for flying around the world preaching climate change.

  6. lwbut says:

    Great post John, but with respect – your opening line is equivalent to saying: “Who would you rather have as your neighbour – A Rapist or a Sodomite. (The correct answer is: i’d prefer a harmless, friendly type actually.)

    Offering a choice so as to have only two evils frames the whole topic very negatively.

    Also every single human being tells lies of some sort (often to themselves first) and every one of us is, and can often be, hypocritical in one or more aspects as well as in almost every aspect of our lives. So let they who have not sinned cast the first stone (accusation).

    Being a liar or a hypocrite in no way changes the data regarding AGW but it can change the conclusions drawn from data or made by those who don’t do any decent research into the matter themselves but rather form their opinion based upon someone else’s opinion. (ie. the majority of us).

    As for the person who commented that: “The reason humans hate hypocrites more that (sic) liars is because we’re perfectly logical beings and hypocrisy is the worst of all the logical fallacies.” Humans are perfectly logical?? Really??

    Now THAT is the worst of all logical fallacies! ;-) It has been my experience that the vast majority of human kind is crap at actual logic and that we are primarily emotionally, and not rationally, based creatures.


  7. Wolfgang says:

    I think the main problem is, that every discussion about climate change is dominated by emotions rather than facts and ideology rather than science. If you tell someone “we will all die, because you are behaving like this or that” this seems not very promising to change behavior, even if it is true, maybe especially if it is true. Moreover, people go rather for the short term benefits than for some long term goals. Why stopping driving around in cars, when oil is gone for the next generation only? I do not know how to change the discussion, because that would mean that one would be able to let logical reasoning alone be the master and the sole base for decisions, but has this ever been the case in human history? Especially on the level of international politics? Or even on the private level? 99% of the time people do not act like that.

  8. Toby Bartels says:

    Wow, so in the end, Kelly’s conclusion is that you must starve yourself to death before she’ll listen to you. She’s made up her mind, and nothing is going to change it!

  9. Mikko Kiviranta says:

    Isn’t being a hypocrite just a game-theoretical strategy to the Tragedy of the Commons? A frank hypocrite wants to change the game into co-operative because everybody’s utility would then be greater. During the time the game is still played non co-operatively, the hypocrite tries to maximize his/her utility under the non co-operative rules.

    The difference between a frank hypocrite and an ordinary hypocrite is that the frank hypocrite really tries to change the game rules, whereas the ordinary hypocrite does not.

    I’m using here ‘frank hypocrite’ to distinguish the concept from the ‘honest hypocrite’ of your post.

    In fact it sounds like an interesting question how one would mathematically include changing the game rules as a part of the game itself.

    • John Baez says:

      Mikko wrote:

      A frank hypocrite wants to change the game into co-operative because everybody’s utility would then be greater. During the time the game is still played non co-operatively, the hypocrite tries to maximize his/her utility under the non co-operative rules.

      That’s a nice description of a certain position.

      I reject ‘utility maximization’ as a good description of my behavior: I don’t really believe I’m trying to maximize any simple quantity (though of course my behavior thus far has maximized infinitely many different quantities, most of them completely useless for predicting my future behavior).

      But setting that aside: I’m happier when I try to reduce my carbon emissions, but I’d be even happier if there were rules that required me, along with everyone else, to limit my carbon emissions even below my current levels.

  10. What’s bad about global warming? Plants generally love the doubling of CO2, possibly offsetting the destruction of marine life. Shifting of farmlands is probably not going happen faster than we can adapt, as evidenced by Netherlands (of all places) being 2nd largest exporter (in dollars) of vegetables. I read a study that concluded it has no impact on manufacturing. It appears solar cells for fueling cars and homes (with thorium reactors for night?) could stop the CO2 increases. Worse, I do not even see global warming as relevant. We will still continue destroying species at roughly 5,000 the background rate until we are left with only the ones we find economically relevant. But it’s not exactly “us” destroying biology. The “rise of the machines” makes other species irrelevant to the point of unintentional destruction. Even human thought and labor are already so irrelevant that it’s hard to imagine of what use humanity will be to our economic machine 50 years from now other than spending basic guaranteed income. Free money destroys culture and seems to create needless violence (research on the result of the past 50 years of U.S. welfare). Even now “the machines” don’t even need capital to suddenly change everything via 1 or 2 decent programmers and/or someone making good marketing decisions. I mention capital because it has always been thought of as the tool by which the machines and a few capitalists would enslave everyone else without government intervention. The tech that makes capital irrelevant could make everyone wealthier and more independent (for example: solar cells and hydroponic gardening packages for your backyard, not to mention peer-to-peer blockchain technology replacing governments and financial industry). But I do not believe the physics that governs evolution (closed thermodynamic system receiving energy and emitting energy and entropy to the universe) that results in economizing structures of lower and lower entropy per mole is going to forever blindly find it optimal to merely fulfill human desires. Even now thinking we are somehow in control is a suspect idea. We are merely one of the many resulting enzymatic pathways physics uses to move matter via potentials. The machines are vastly better than biology at every aspect of evolution: capturing energy from the sun, moving matter with that energy, having strong structures to do it, and to model and optimize future scenarios with thinking machines. It’s taking my children 4 hours a day for 6 years and ~100 grams of grey matter to understand spoken and written Chinese as well as 1 gram of silicon on my smart phone learned in 30 seconds. It’s because the low entropy per mole of silicon allows the control of electrons instead of ions in wet brains that weigh 40,000x more. Global warming is irrelevant because biology as we know it will soon be irrelevant.

    • Eugene says:

      This is a very depressing comment.

    • Eugene says:

      Allow me to amplify: it’s depressing because it dismisses a real urgent problem by pointing to a list of hypothetical problems: “why worry about X when we may have Y, Z and W to worry about.”

      • I have believed in global warming since a popular science article I read in about 1986. I do not believe it is a significant threat to humanity. I used to care about other species, but now I do not. Maybe it is because I find it easier to not care, given the amount of destruction so far, and the destruction that is on the way. But higher CO2 gives more carbon and more water in the atmosphere for plants, the primary limiting factors to all biological life, so it’s not even clear to me that global warming is a bad thing. Especially since there are molecules that can be released to the upper atmosphere that will immediately stop the heat without reducing the CO2. Ice ages are far more destructive, and appear to have occurred from too little CO2. The next and subsequent ice ages have been prevented thanks to CO2.

    • John Baez says:

      zawy wrote:

      What’s bad about global warming?

      Here’s one of many answers:

      This summer, while Americans were watching Houston drown under Hurricane Harvey, floods were disrupting life for 20 million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. When I last checked they killed at least 1,200 people. In India’s financial capital Mumbai, people struggled to evacuate as transportation was paralysed and water rose almost 2 meters in some parts of the city. Over in Bangladesh, 1/3 of the country was under water!

      Of course flooding happens in South Asia every year during the monsoon season, June to September. But this year’s floods were much worse than usual. Why?

      Are floods getting worse because of climate change? Hurricanes and monsoons start with the evaporation of warm ocean water. The Earth is the hottest it’s been in the last 100,000 years—and getting hotter. So it would be very strange if floods weren’t getting worse.

      Attributing specific floods to climate change is a tricky and interesting subject, much discussed in the recent scientific literature. But let’s focus on an easier question: what was the underlying atmospheric physics behind Hurricane Harvey’s unusual behavior? Warmer waters in the Gulf were crucial:

      Harvey benefited from unusually toasty waters in the Gulf of Mexico. As the storm roared toward Houston last week, sea-surface waters near Texas rose to between 2.7 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average. These waters were some of the hottest spots of ocean surface in the world. The tropical storm, feeding off this unusual warmth, was able to progress from a tropical depression to a category-four hurricane in roughly 48 hours.

      “This is the main fuel for the storm,” says Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Although these storms occur naturally, the storm is apt to be more intense, maybe a bit bigger, longer-lasting, and with much heavier rainfalls [because of that ocean heat].”

      This also suggests an explanation for one of Harvey’s strangest and scariest behaviors. The storm intensified up until the moment of landfall, achieving category-four strength hours before it slammed into the Texas coast. This is not only rare for tropical cyclones in the western Gulf of Mexico: It may be unique. In the past 30 years of records, no storms west of Florida have intensified in the last 12 hours before landfall.

      Why do storms normally weaken—and why didn’t Harvey? As mentioned above, hurricanes feed and grow on warm ocean surface waters. But as they grow, their strong winds often pick up seawater, churning the oceans and moving the warmest waters deep below the surface. The same winds also bring newer, colder water closer to the atmosphere, which usually serves to drain energy and weaken the storm.

      That didn’t happen with Harvey. The hurricane churned up water 100 or even 200 meters below the surface, said Trenberth, but this water was still warm—meaning that the storm could keep growing and strengthening. “Harvey was not in a good position to intensify the way it did, because it was so close to land. It’s amazing it was able to do that,” he told me.

      • I’ve been neglecting the 3rd world in my concerns about humanity. The floods do not concern me except to the extent they are probably part of the irreversible loss of snow-caps that enable annual spring-time water. Long term, the prevention of ice ages is a good argument for CO2, but short term, the rapid change in the biosphere will cause disruptions to humanity and other species. But humanity advances, especially in the 3rd world, are far outstripping the negative side effects of their increase use of fossil fuels. Solar cells will likely make clean water plentiful. Assuming the “rise of the machines” does not make it irrelevant. So I’m left with species destruction, and the possibility that lack of coral could ultimately lead to excess human stress in some unforeseen way. U.S. wealth is so great (partly from unnecessary use of fossil fuels), 2x more hurricanes with 2x the dollar-destructive power is not concerning to me. Solar cell production is doubling every 3 years. The energy needed to produce them is a small fraction of the energy they supply. In about 5 years, the solar industry will have installed more daytime watts than the U.S. electrical grid supplies. In 5 years more solar will be installed each year than coal-fired plants. There’s no doubt climate change deniers have been ridiculous. Granted, we’ve added 50% more CO2 than we needed to stop the ice ages. But I feel the discussion is sometimes like Washington: both sides argue to deceive the public into giving support for one side or the other. The thing that scares me is how fast our economic machine is changing everything, including humanity and our view of it.

      • John Baez says:

        zawy writes:

        I’ve been neglecting the 3rd world in my concerns about humanity.

        That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone admit it, but yes, it’s very common. To most people, money and power are what really matter, not other people. ‘Twas ever thus.

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