Diffusion Of Responsibility

1) The belief and expectation that someone else will take a necessary action and so freeing you from the obligation.

2) A phenomenon where a necessary action is neglected because all those who can take the action expect others to do so.

3) One cause of passivity and inaction.

Example: An individual waits for a scientist to discover a new technology to address CO2 levels in the atmosphere while continuing to live a carbon-intensive lifestyle and continuing to support fossil-fuel dependency. Diffusion of responsibility is one of the contributing factors to passivity in the face of an imminent danger.

Disinformation Campaign

1) An effort to deprive human beings of knowledge so that they cannot see what choices are available to them.

2) A tactic used to prevent people from making decisions based on the facts or in their best interests because the facts are withheld from them, cast in doubt or buried in lies.

3) An effort by an entity or company to mislead or confuse the public about the consequences of the company’s actions in order to destroy any resistance to those actions.

4) A ploy by a company or entity to conceal harm or risks imposed on the public or to ecosystems; a way to increase informational asymmetries between the company and the public.

The purpose of lies and misinformation is to deprive people of choices.
The purpose of lies and misinformation is to deprive people of choices.

For example, cigarette makers were aware for decades of the dangers of smoking but claimed in public that smoking was safe. This disinformation distorted public policy in order to guard their profits.

Another example is the actions of Exxon. Exxon, whose own scientists warned as early as 1989 of the catastrophic consequences of increased CO2 levels and greenhouse gases (caused by the burning of fossil fuels), funds organizations that run campaigns of disinformation whose purpose is to sew doubt in the public’s mind about the existence or dangers of the warming of the planet. Doubt in the public about the dangers of greenhouse gases has delayed action against this threat.

One report showed that Exxon gave, despite knowing the dangers of climate change, almost $16 million from 1998 to 2005 to organizations who sought to discredit the scientific evidence related to climate change and convince the public that climate change was a hoax. Exxon also spends (if the company’s 2010 expenditure is typical) between $100 million and $300 million a year in advertising. Media companies are the beneficiaries of much of this expenditure.

See also risk asymmetryinstitutional pathology and media.

Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gasses are the thermostat (or an important part of it) of the planet. Dial up the greenhouse gasses and the planet’s temperature goes up. Dial them down and the planet’s temperature goes down.

The pre-Industrial Revolution thermostat setting was relatively stable for the last 15 million years and set the conditions that made it possible for many of the planet’s current species to exist. A change in that thermostat setting and the planet’s temperature will change what species can survive on the planet.

So greenhouse gasses are an important element of the current biosphere and a foundation for life on the planet.

Greenhouse gasses make the atmosphere function like a greenhouse by holding a certain amount of heat from the sun (much of the heat from the sun is reflected back into space). This ability to store heat makes the temperature of the planet’s surface conducive to many forms of life.

Since the Industrial Revolution homo sapiens have increasingly relied on the burning of carbon (wood, coal, oil, gas) and since the beginning have dumped the waste product (CO2) of this activity into the atmosphere. This dumping of CO2 waste into the atmosphere continues today and at higher levels each year. Currently, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher than there were for the last 800,000 to 15 million years. As a result the planet is now in the early phases of another mass extinction. This extinction is being called the Holocene extinction (current rates of extinction are estimated to be 10,000 times higher than a typical species extinction rate) and resembles, in terms of the changes to the atmosphere, the Permian-Triassic extinction event.

See this short video primer and this explanation of the role of greenhouse gasses in the biosphere.

Fossil Energy Non-Proliferation Groups

Allies to the biosphere.

These groups seek to stop the proliferation of coal and gas burning power plants and to shut down the plants that currently exist. This makes them and the people who join them a great ally to the biosphere and the unusual but delicate conditions that support life on this planet.

These non-proliferation group make agreements with regions and countries that stop them from building these plants and give them incentives to use alternative sources of energy, such as wind or solar or even tidal energy. These groups may guarantee debt or subsidize the cost of the solar investments or deliver other terms that make solar or wind energy infrastructure investments more appealing than those for coal or gas.

Such incentives are often necessary because many benefits of wind and solar go to parties other than the energy producer (just as many costs of coal and gas power plants—such as pollution or ocean acidification or weather distortion—fall on the shoulders of people not involved with the company) and the energy producers are structurally incapable of  accounting for these benefits or accepting an event short term reduction in profitability—or increase in debt—that might result from solar or wind investments.

Because many developing countries are now developing an energy infrastructure and because coal is often readily available in these areas, these non-proliferation groups and agreements are necessary in order to reduce global CO2 emissions and reduce the existential threat posed by catastrophic climate destabilization.

There are also market distortions and pricing failures that make coal and the burning of coal less costly for producers. So the burning of coal is subsidized (implicitly and explicitly) by many governments, laws and policies. Non-proliferation groups are important in the effort to make these distortions and subsidies more widely recognized and to propose reforms. One reform might be for governments to refuse new permits for coal mining operations.

Fossil energy non-proliferation groups push policies and agreements that defend existing ecosystems and deliver energy sources that free people from the current moral predicament of needing energy for daily use but not wishing to contribute to the destruction of the biosphere.