Joining the Climate Hawks

Can I say how happy I am about Dave Robert’s new term, from his post: Introducing ‘climate hawks’? Three backgrounders on me before we get into it.

The first is that one of the foundational stories about my extended family growing up was how one of my older family members was terribly disappointed he missed the massive 1968 protests of Chicago’s Democratic National Convention.  The protests with all the leaders of the Yippies and the New Left.  Protests that disrupted a Democratic party ignoring the serious problems in Vietnam.  Protests that had 10,000 protestors in total.  The protests that ended in what was later termed a “a police riot.” He was so close to being there, but the timing didn’t work out and he had to see, and hear all about, his friends being there instead.

I should clarify that the family member was a police officer, and during the 1968 convention was in training to join the Chicago police force. And growing up I got to hear about how if only he could have joined one class earlier, if not for an accident of year of birth, he could have been there beating hippies with all his friends. And really, with all of America.

So baked pretty deeply into the Konczal habitus is the notion that punching hippies is a form of civic service, like voting or serving on a school board. I can’t particularly help it, but organizing around the idea of making things more “crunchy” gives me a viscerally negative reaction.

However I have an equally visceral and negative reaction to the following two graphs from the IPPC “The Physical Science Basis” (chapter 10, box 10.2), which are warming estimates from the dozen and a half leading models that have tried to predict the increase in temperature from global warming, with all kinds of tail risk floating out there (we discussed these graphs here):

And a third thing:  I don’t mean to brag, but as a financial engineer I’ve been at some of the cutting edge of ignoring, hand-waving and justifying away tail risk in a manner profitable to the top 0.1% of Americans and that maximized the social costs to everyone else.   So I’m also conscious of that move by elites as well.

So you see the dilemma.   Severe warming, impossible to reverse once it has happened, with serious tail risks.   But my natural reaction is to hate hippies.  What can I do?  And how can I think of myself?

David Roberts has the answer: embrace the term “climate hawks.”

A lot of people seemed to mistake the nature of the undertaking. The point is not, emphatically not, to “rebrand environmentalism.” Please kill me if I ever have to listen to another discussion about rebranding environmentalism. The point is not that environmentalists need something new to call themselves, but that the class of climate hawks is not coextensive with the class of environmentalists. They are not the same group. In a Venn diagram, there would be substantial overlap but also substantial … underlap? nonlap? disjoint? Point is, there are plenty of people who understand climate change and support clean energy but do not share the rest of the ideological and sociocultural commitments that define environmentalism as historically understood in the U.S. (Which is fine!)….

First and foremost, it doesn’t carry any implications about The Truth. It doesn’t say, “I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m smarter and more enlightened than you.” Instead it evokes a judgment: that the risks of climate change are sufficient to warrant a robust response. By definition, everyone must make such judgments on their own. Rather than being a Manichean choice — you get it or you’re stupid — it becomes about values, about how hard to fight and how much to sacrifice to defend America and her future. That’s the right conversation to be having….

In foreign policy a hawk is someone who, as Donald Rumsfeld used to put it, “leans forward,” someone who’s not afraid to flex America’s considerable muscle, someone who takes a proactive attitude toward gathering dangers. Whatever you think about foreign policy, is that not the appropriate attitude to take toward the climate threat? Does it not evoke a visceral sense of both peril and resolve, the crucial missing elements in America’s climate response?…

Why not “clean energy hawk”? For one thing, two words are snappier than three and easier to write. For another, it’s important to keep the threat of climate change at the center of the conversation; clean energy is one way of fighting back against that threat, but there are many others. A climate hawk leans forward, wants to attack on as many fronts as possible.

This is all embedded in the term, and that’s the other advantage: the meaning is immediately clear. No explanation required. It will strike people as something they already are, not something they have to be persuaded to become. It may not appeal (as much) in other countries, but most everybody gets what it means. It is shallowly descriptive enough to capture the desired referent class, but at the same time normative enough to evoke some of the right values.

This is all fantastic. I also like it because the flip-side of it, climate doves, are the right representation for those who acknowledge warming but fail to see serious problems about it. Usually the answer is couched in how growth will fix every single imaginable problem, even problems we are already having trouble dealing with in rich countries that will only get much, much worse (changing nature of water collection, massive global population displacement, flooding and natural disasters, etc.). “Hey, let’s just keep doing what we were doing, and we’ll be so rich and happy things will just take care of themselves” is the response of climate doves, and it’s the response of doves everywhere on all dovish topics.

But that kind of naïvety won’t work for serious climate hawks. And we are very serious, and deserve to have the debate framed around us, because we are climate hawks!

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26 Responses to Joining the Climate Hawks

  1. Michael Logan says:

    Makes a lot of sense. I have a business idea, which a colleague wanted to present to a few local environmental groups meeting for a conference. My stance was that we weren’t ready, (which is true), but my goal was/is to keep it from dying still-born beneath the weight of all those interested in “contributing”, resulting in some grotesque design by committee, doomed to environmental buzz-lexicography.

    Pointing to the flip side as you have seems to resolve the difference between climate hawks and environmentalists, the latter simply being when doves cry*, and way too much. So much, that many ultimately make ‘environmentalism’ into a vehicle for delivering a dependable emotional fix. Of course they are not alone in demonstrating this sort of thing.


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  3. Crissa says:

    Except… What issue doesn’t a climate hawk share with an environmentalism view? Saving wildlife specifically? Savings specific habitats? The national park system? I haven’t seen anything but a visceral hate of the word ‘environmentalism’.

    The venn diagram of those who care vs those who call themselves is certainly not two congruous areas, but the issues seem to be pretty nearly congruent.

  4. Winston Smith says:

    > So you see the dilemma. Severe warming, impossible
    > to reverse once it has happened, with serious tail risks.
    > But my natural reaction is to hate hippies. What can I do?

    Grow up? If that’s too hard, don’t worry too much about your childish and stunted emotionality — but keep working against global warming.

  5. askew says:

    To answer Crissa: a fair amount. True, there’s significant overlap, but I only get worked up about large scale ongoing systematic threats. This means climate change, worldwide diversity loss, overpopulation and threats to fresh water supplies. I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of measly stuff to get there. So I’m pro-nuclear (including breeder reactors), not anti-GMO, indifferent to offshore drilling except that it perpetuates carbon production, pro-view obstructing windmills, pro-building solar panels on top of desert tortoises, and generally indifferent to the extinction of fuzzy species X except that it’s genuinely a bellwether of larger diversity loss. I like the parks but think they’re mostly for education and entertainment, insufficient to really preserve habitat. Good enough? I know that some of this is straw-man bashing, but most of those who embrace the label “environmentalist” would disagree with much of this.

  6. MobiusKlein says:

    A Climate Hawk says “Fission power is one of our tools.”
    A Climate Hawk says “We can sacrifice the Mojave Desert to solar power – it’s that important”
    A Climate Hawk looks at power lines and thinks “That’s keeping carbon out of the atmosphere, bypassing inefficient coal plants.”

  7. Chris Dornan says:

    True, but in my experience peace-niks are generally more tough-minded and rational than you seem to give them credit for.

  8. Alex SL says:

    So lemme get this straight: you need to frame the issue to yourself in a pleasant way, because otherwise you would be unable to remove your ideological and sectarian blinders sufficiently to acknowledge that those environmentalist “hippies” are simply smack right about the issue? Well, that is honesty, though in a very sad and roundabout way…

  9. conradg says:

    This kind of plays into my skeptical view of the climate change science and its political correlates. I see them as basically of the same mold as the Neo-con war hawks, who distort the fears of the future into a justification for making really bad decisions in the present. They talk about not letting the warning signs of WMDs being a mushroom cloud, and how we have to take any 1% risk of war as a 100% certainty and act accordingly. So the term “climate hawk” and “climate dove” is fairly accurate in my view, but it doesn’t work in favor of the climate hawks. In fact is makes it clear that they are manipulative con men trying to scare the country into leaping into something that’s actually stupid and probably bad for us all, like most “hawks” are, and that it’s the doves who are reasonable and making intelligent points and trying to inject valid skepticism and non-fear based logic into the process, and being rejected by people jumping up on chairs and screaming about the holocaust to come if we listen to these people.

    So yeah, go ahead and embrace the “hawk” mantle. Hippies are capable of being stupid and violently obstinant fear mongers also. It’s not like the yippies rioting at the ’68 convention actually helped end the Vietnam war. In fact, they prolonged it by ensuring the election of Richard Nixon. Humphrey, one of the most liberal guys ever to run for President, would have won rather easily without the fallout from that convention. But being self-righteous protectors of the planet suits some people with dubious fantasies about their own messianic role in this world.

  10. Joe Lunchbox says:

    A better term than climate hawk might for the new earth-worshipping might be “neo-azteks”. You know, the society that dissipated itself economically by going to extremes worshipping some made up gods. Hippie.

  11. futzinfarb says:

    I suppose those who have had their hair on fire over climate change for a decade or more should welcome anyone into the fold, no matter their little idiosyncrasies, but holy f**k. Clean energy hawk, or environmentalist, or climate hawk? The Lord of the Manor is holding up swatches of wallpaper while the servants are battling a flooding moat that is, quite literally in Pakistan, washing crocodiles and s**t into the place? And could there be a worse metaphor for how we approach climate change than with Donald Rumsfeld’s brand of “proactive attitude toward gathering dangers” – his resolute indifference to the expertise of and consequences to others? Holy f**k. Well, that’s out of my system. Door’s open, come on in, welcome to fold climate hawks.

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  13. Michael Logan says:

    No further offense intended, but it seems some comments missed what I read in the post as a play at mixing sarcasm and self deprecation. This indicates the sincerity of those taking issue with the hawk vs dove distinction, which I put additional emphasis on. I find the more sincere someone is, the less they pick up on sarcasm, which is a fine thing.

    The tricky part is maintaining a resilient sincerity in tandem to a sense of the sarcastic when living/working in DC. It’s a sarcastic town.

    That doesn’t mean that I am going to run out to the next environmentalist meet&greet and ask for help getting my uber-green business up and running. The reason why? While it may be a rational matter of seeing there is not enough to go around, forever, in my experience, personal and professional, the environment is also way to easy to get emotional about. The rest of my hesitation is a pareto-borne cynicism.

    I could have gone the way of the tree-hugger, (i only use the word to indicate a view common of those on the other side of the debate. I’m not above hugging a tree) but I became an engineer.

    There are so many different ways of achieving the goals of an industrial enterprise, and thankfully more and more industries are learning that even pollution itself translates into inefficiency, which translates into cost of operation. Yet, I see opportunities for improvement that the hierarchy does not condone, based on perceptions of need vs benefit, cost. It’s almost ridiculous how little American industry appreciates ‘soft’ value in operations. A clean floor does not add or detract from the bottom line in any immediate sense, so who cares?

    At the same time, groups of people who are environmentally inclined have little to no way to quantify, and by extension, design a potentially favorable impact on the environment at large. Also, it’s nearly impossible to please everyone with such a broad spectrum of views, so moving forward en masse becomes excruciating. Too much momentum to inspire and direct.

    I guess witnessing this potential schism could be read as a good sign that a sort of critical mass is being approached.

    Don’t know, I don’t claim to answer any ills, but questions should be asked. Is what you are doing having a quantifiable impact? We all know the need, but do we delineate how much wasted time can one stomach? Could you do more by listening to another talk on the benefits of living vegan, or by designing a modular garden kits & protocols & best sources to distribute amongst those receptive to start your own cooperative garden?

    Create solutions, test them, watch them die, then create better solutions. Let everyone else do the moaning.

    Sorry for not being more straightforward in the first go.

  14. Russ says:

    Ah, that brings back memories of when I used to hang out at Gristmill. Same old Roberts, never passing up a chance to embrace corporatism. Rumsfeld has shown us the way!

    This is all embedded in the term, and that’s the other advantage: the meaning is immediately clear. No explanation required.

    Actually, it still looks like a smoke machine to me, just like all neoliberal drivel. It’s precisely the inkblot quality and misdirection, always so useful for expansion of corporate power, which is “embedded in the term”. It’s definitely supposed to appeal to the pro-war mentality: paying lip service to climate change will render our aggressive wars more effective.

    I guess we can file this one with Broder and Yglesias calling for war with Iran as an economic stimulus. The chickenhawks are getting bizzayyy!

  15. Michael Logan says:

    “It’s definitely supposed to appeal to the pro-war mentality: paying lip service to climate change will render our aggressive wars more effective.”

    Neo-liberal drivel created to help pro-war inclinations? Right. “Hawk” must always reduce to “let’s kill people!”, now I understand.

  16. Noah says:

    I want a post on why the Konczals like hippie-bashing. Hippies may not be No. 1 in terms of personal cleanliness habits, but otherwise they seem like a very nice bunch of well-intentioned folks…

  17. Mark T says:

    “The Lord of the Manor is holding up swatches of wallpaper while the servants are battling a flooding moat that is, quite literally in Pakistan, washing crocodiles and s**t into the place”

    Sorry I must have missed the science that shows Co2 emissions caused flooding in Pakistan. The problem with the excitable fringe is that every natural disater calls fro another wind farm to be built.

    The real problem with this whole climate thing is that it is about 3 different questions .1) is it warming?, 2) is it down to humans? and 3) what do we do about it? Despite attempts to insist that the answers to 1 and 2 are yes, neither the data nor the science are conclusive, so we waste almost all of our time arguing about it, when in fact we should be focussing on the third question.

    So in the interests of time, let’s say I accept that the answers to 1 and 2 are yes (which I don’t) why must I then accept the climate hawk solution? After all, much is made of my inability as an economist to have a view on the climate compared to a climate scientist, surely by logical extension I have a greater ability to reach a conclusion on the poicy response than said scientist?

    The solutions are almost entirely anti growth and ironically (or perhaps not) involve keeping in poverty the very people they are claiming to help – Bjorn Lomberg’s point about dealing with today’s problem of 2billion people without access to drinking water instead of worrying on their behalf about a theoretical rise in water levels in 100 years time is well made. And while the hippies claim that “oil companies” are funding skeptics (painting themselves as lone fighters against big business) they fail to notice that oil companies, utilities, investment banks and others are all lining up to make a killing out of their “solutions”.

    The expression Carbon Footprint? First heard in a BP ad. Governments love the idea of more tax and more control, while the idea of 21st century “Indulgencies” as companies are forced to buy permits to produce Co2 has them positively giddy with excitement, while the rest of the g20 wait for said companies to close down production in the west and open it up in emerging markets where they actually get paid to do exactly the same thing. Meanwhile Goldman Sachs and friends can’t wait to run the climate exchange, clipping their coupon on the way by.

    Far from being feisty environmentalists fighting the system, they have become the useful idiot shock troops of an enormous bandwagon of vested interest.

  18. futzinfarb says:

    It just warms the cockles of one’s heart to witness the empathy of Mark T towards the 2 billion people without access to drinking water. It’s therefore unfortunate that his argument fails because remedying their situation does not require increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere nor, self-evidently, does increasing the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere necessarily remedy their situation. (That is, this is what’s known in the trade as a red herring.) Now it’s hard to ascertain beyond those 2 billion, who Mark T envisions as the white hats – not Goldman-Sachs, not oil companies, utilities, investment banks, it would appear not big business, definitely not useful idiot shock troop environmentalists, not BP. I’ll venture a hypothesis: economists – economists who advocate growth, fossil-fueled growth. And that is a very seductive crew. Why I myself have succumbed to their charms on occasion. I understand that in their models economic growth, in particular, fossil-fueled growth, is a mechanism that can address the drinking water needs of the earth’s thirsty. But those same models have repeatedly and conclusively demonstrated that what can happen and what does happen are two very different things. Toxic assets anyone? Anyone? In 1900, at the dawn of fossil-fueled economic growth the entire population of the world was less than those thirsty 2 billion today. One simple conclusion is that providing drinking water to the world’s impoverished is probably not a top priority of fossil-fueled economic growth. Tell ya what I’ll do though. I’ll donate $250 to a drinking water charity of Mark T’s choice if he’ll forgo one planned air travel journey (and the CO2 it produces) this year. Deal?

  19. Mark T says:

    I don’t recall suggesting that increasing the concentration of green house gases would help the 2 billion without drinking water. That Mr(?) futzinbarb is a straw man, while toxic assets? That is a red herring. As it happens I don’t believe that economist are all good guys, I am merely pointing out the curious situation whereby through the virtue of their climate science “expertise” the only people seemingly allowed to offer an economic solution are climatologists and poeple who apparently believe that “fossill fuelled growth” is a bad thing, period. Currently hundreds of billions of dollars are confiscated from individual around the world under the banner of “green taxes” and many economists (myself included) would agree that if the tax sets a correct “price incentive” then behaviour will follow. But it is never enough, every day we are exhorted to make more sacrifices to this greater (unproven) good while the unholy alliance of tax and spend government, social engineers and big business spend our money on themselves.
    The point on drinking water is Bjorn Lomberg’s and the same applies to issues such as clean air or even malaria. I will take your deal, and I won’t take my planned trip to Tokyo in February so long as your £250 goes to a suitable charity (you can pick it) because that is exactly my point. I am already charged heavily to travel (more than the cost of the Co2 according to the governmnet’s own Stern report calculations) but that tax is then spent of inefficient idiocies such as windfarms, not to say paying for thousands of governmnet flights to climate change “conferences” around the world..

  20. Michael Logan says:

    “surely by logical extension I have a greater ability to reach a conclusion on the poicy response than said scientist?”


    “I am merely pointing out the curious situation whereby through the virtue of their climate science “expertise” the only people seemingly allowed to offer an economic solution are climatologists and poeple who apparently believe that “fossill fuelled growth” is a bad thing, period.”

    An economic solution could be a policy response are not necessarily the same thing. Of course, policy is constrained by economics, but just as physical phenomena have their boundary conditions, but economics as plied by the people who think they’ve a serious study in the matter may be heavy-handed.

    The real-world effects of pure policy(sans economic constraint) are more readily predictable by scientists, so they understandably have a place at the table of policy. Do you know many economists who can reliably predict outcomes of a purely economic policy? If so, could they have spoken up a few years ago? Of course, there is no such thing as policy unadulterated by economics, but perhaps you will be charitable and forgive my uneducated ramblings. (No formal study of econ. , but I just may buy that textbook Mike posted a month or so back)

    As far as I see it, fossil-fueled growth is delaying the inevitable. It is also trading resource abundance for ease of business / lifestyle. It’s ghastly to think how much we’ve blown in the time we could have moved on in efficiency and preserved those assets. I’m not saying don’t use them, but make efficient use of them.

    On the way to this plateau of economies and energy resources, we should have prepared to land softly on alternatives. The alternatives we have now are a scramble for some safe landing, or stop once the tank hits E.

    From where I look, there is no more boom, no 2nd American century, without proliferation of solar policy and energy. Wind has a place, but the way it’s being done today is clumsy.

    As far as 2 billion people drowning in 100yrs or dying of thirst in ten years?
    Not to be a meanie, but remember that classical intro to differential equations back in school? About the fox population(x), versus the rabbit population(y)?


    x’ = (-d + ey)x and x(0) = x0. Fox Eq.
    y’ = (b – cx)y and y(0) = y0. Rabbit Eq.

    I’m not saying we don’t or can’t help people living today (though wouldn’t some call that uneconomical?), but we can not grow for growth’s sake, it’s cancerous.

    Have a good weekend all.

  21. futzinfarb says:

    Mark T-
    Thanks for taking up the challenge. In trade for your trip to Tokyo, I’d like to donate $250 to Mercy Corps for Pakistan Relief with a designation that the donation be specifically applied toward fresh water. I hope this meets with your expectations.

  22. Mark T says:

    It suits just fine. Thank you………now maybe the next Copenhagen conference can cancel all their private jets and limos and donate the “Budget” to something similar.

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