A Free-Market Energy Blog

On the Climate Train to Destruction? Another View (adaptation, not futile mitigation)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 2, 2023

“In business and economic terms, what is physically ‘worse’ [with climate] today is actually better [than in the past]. Thus I would argue that social justice demands affordable A/C for many more or all rather than mitigation policies that make A/C less affordable or unaffordable.”

This exchange was with Susan Krumdieck, “Professor, Author and Leader in Energy Transition Engineering.” While I have criticized her approach to “transition engineering” as uneconomic in a true marketplace and thus government-driven, I appreciate her polite engagement toward mutual learning.

Our latest exchange began with her post comment:

Thanks everyone for sharing the news about the extreme weather. But I feel like we are on a run-away train. Here is a metaphor story. Maybe it will help.

A Speeding Train?

Her article, “We Are All on Board a Speeding Train,” (August 17, 2020) followed.

We are all on a train. 

Most of the people on the train are passengers. The passengers have their own concerns, hopes and fears. They have paid for the ticket, found their seats, and are busy swiping on their devices. 

The owner, business manager, board members and investors for the train business are in the exclusive first class carriage. They are focused on profits from the rail business. The financial analysis data shows that as train speed has been increasing, the revenues have been increasing. Therefore, they have come to believe that train speed must increase in order to sustain the business and grow profits. 

There are stewards on board who provide the passenger services. The stewards have to do their jobs to serve the rail business. The stewards provide services and say comforting things and enforce the rules on the train to improve consumer confidence. 

The science-minded people on the train are interested in how fast the train is going. The science indicates the train can’t keep going faster and faster, there must be a limit to growth. The scientists have started making measurements and running models. Some of the scientists are pointing out that the train is going too fast already. When the train is on a flat, straight stretch, the high speed doesn’t seem to be a problem. But on a curve, going over a bridge or going through a tunnel, the train is really going too fast to be safe. The high speed is increasing the risks of disaster. Some of the scientists ask the steward to slow down the train. The steward asks how do they know for sure what the risks are?

A disaster could mean a derailing that just injures a few people in the economy class cars, or it could be a total disaster like coming off a bridge or hitting the side of a tunnel, killing scores of people. It is hard to predict details of a disaster, but the risk of bad things happening is increasing. The scientists try to tell the other passengers that the high speed is a risk, and that the train must slow down. Most of the passengers are asleep or busy on their devices. The stewards assure passengers that the speed is necessary. The scientists try to get into the first class area to talk to the rail executives, but there is a clown selling hydrogen balloons in the way.

Some academics on the train are interested in the fuel use. They have some data and have done some calculations. They are pretty sure that the faster the train goes, the more fuel is used per km, and the faster the remaining fuel is being used. They talk to some of the scientists worried about speed. The scientists and academics hope the fuel problem will convince the owners to slow down the train so the journey is safe and secure. Surely the owners are aware of the fuel problems and the speed risks? Maybe they should do more refined calculations?

There are engineers in the locomotive of the train. Their job is to deliver the acceleration. There are only a few of them. The engineers feel responsibility for the safety of the passengers, but their jobs depend on the profitability of the business. Most of the people on the train don’t really think about the engineers. They take it for granted that the train is working correctly and all will be fine. But the engineers know that the train is going too fast, and that the fuel is not sufficient for the journey at this burn rate. They know for sure that there will be a disaster if the speed isn’t reduced dramatically. The train is doomed if the speed keeps increasing. They know there are curves and bridges and tunnels ahead. They know.

One of the engineers decides it is time to do something out of character and rather radical. She develops a plan and presents it to the guys. They don’t like it. We can’t just slam the brakes on! It could cause a jackknife, or derailment. She explains of course we don’t just slam on the brakes, but right now we need to quickly assess the upcoming track, the rate of speed, the fuel consumption and the capacity of the brakes and we need to work out the safest way to decelerate by reducing fuel use, apply the brakes, and bring the train down to a safe slow speed.  That is the only way to get to the destination.

The engineers could plan and execute the safe slow-down operation. The scientists have all the evidence that this slow-down operation is essential. The stewards worry that the passengers won’t like the slow journey because they are used to the fast one. The rail executives perceive the slowdown as a disaster for the business. The passengers could panic if they know about the disasters ahead. Would they adapt to the slow train and continue to pay for rail travel? 

Should the engineers downshift the fuel supply, decelerate the train and apply the brakes in a safe manner?  Should they wait until the scientists and academics figure out how to convince the stewards of the risks? Should they wait for orders from the rail businessmen to give the order to slow down? Should they wait until the passengers protest and demand a slow speed?  

Krumdieck brought the analogy home to her work and passion: 

This metaphor story illustrates the role of Transition Engineering for Rail Engineers.

  1. Be honest with employers, policy-makers and the public about the problems, risks and the possible solutions.
  2. Use expertise, apply knowledge and act with professional duty of care
  3. Take actions to prevent what is preventable
  4. Lead and share practical experience with the field

The challenge for transition engineers in real time is to find the courage to save the train and everyone on board, even though it means changing the journey, and even if they will never be thanked for safely arriving at the destination.

Our Exchange

I commented:

Today’s ‘extreme weather’ means adaptation. The world needs a lot more conditioned air, fans, ice machines, mist machines. So energy needs to be reliable and affordable during the heat peaks. Climate policy that will not change temperature for decades is in last place. And for the rest of the year, good for global warming–benefits of over costs.

She responded:

OK, so in our train metaphor, what is really needed is crash helmets and body armour so some can survive the crash. But don’t talk about deceleration. Slowing down now won’t really stop the overspeed, so …

I responded:

No. Nature has always required a ‘human helmet,’ which has been enabled in large part by affordable, reliable, plentiful energies to have shelter and resiliency and, in modern times, conditioned air and many other things (such as in Houston, an underground tunnel system to beat the heat and bad weather in general).

The “crash” predicted by Malthusians/neo-Malthusians for more than a half century has been falsified time and again, and now the threat to human betterment is climate policy that interferes with adaptation and resiliency.

As Alex Epstein has argued:

“The popular climate discussion … looks at man as a destructive force for climate livability … because we use fossil fuels. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite; we don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe. High-energy civilization, not climate, is the driver of climate livability.”

She responded:

I tell you: (using the accelerating train metaphor)

The biggest risk requires the most focus for mitigation – thus safe deceleration is the top priority. This isn’t easy. There is the physics of system stability. And there is the whole psycho-social belief problem of the DECISION to decelerate based on the science. You know how hard that is. Imagine if you made this decision, I would really want to know the dynamics of that transformation.

The biggest challenge in adaptation requires the most focus – The passengers will adapt fine to a decelerating train as long as it is done safely, and the operation is done so that they get to their destination. The adaptation to a crashing train gets more and more pointless the more the train accelerates. Thus, the focus in my work is on the adaptation of the business models of the train owners, investors and share holders, and on the adaptation of the engineers to put application of the science and duty of care for safety of the whole enterprise above the short term belief in acceleration by their bosses.

As you can see, these are all really exciting areas of work for transition engineers around the world. https://www.aemslab.org.nz/masters_hwu

I responded:

Your train analogy is an interesting one. I would say yes the train is accelerating (physical temperature, but one-half of model predicted) but that the tracks have been made safer and overall safety is improved.

A/C and other adaptations … improve comfort and life amid the concrete. We have mist machines and open doors on the busy outdoor commercial establishments for cooler air. Chillers for shallow pools are selling briskly right now where I live (near San Antonio).

In business and economic terms, what is physically ‘worse’ today is actually better. Thus I would argue that social justice demands A/C for many more or all rather than mitigation policies that make A/C less affordable or unaffordable.


Discussions and debates on LinkedIn (see my other posts here) offer an excellent opportunity for a classical liberals to exchange, discuss, debate, and learn with those of different opinions. In so doing, I have refined my messaging and marketing, while learning more about the issues involved in the debate.

Yes, I have had a number of unpleasant experiences with zealots who are convinced that I am an evil ‘disinformer’ and “shill” of the fossil fuel industry (no, I am a classical liberal). But it has been a very positive experience overall.

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