The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Monday, May 5, 2008

High but Surmountable Cost, Except for Pride

Very interesting rebuttal to the "high cost" arguments I endorsed recently in an article by Adam Stein on Grist.

I don't buy the argument that responding to climate change is "an opportunity" for society at large. An atmosphere sensitive to CO2 is worse than an atmosphere not sensitive to CO2. The "cost" may be exaggerated, but that doesn't make it cost-free or a small matter.

There are also reasons that it is very over-optimistic to set the rate of progress in information technology as achievable in energy technology. Joe Romm explains this repeatedly, e.g., here.

At least one huge cost at this point is pride though. The market libertarians will have a very hard time admitting that climate forcing is at the least an important exception to their principles. They have painted themselves into a corner, and the rest of us are sort of stuck there along with them.

They have recently been doing a really impressive job fooling themselves that the evidence is piling up on their side. They will, eventually, be genuinely surprised when the problem fails to go away. I wonder when the realization will set in. Alas, I am not holding my breath.

8 comments:

Steven said...

That having been said, at what time would you be willing to admit you were mistaken?

My guess is never. If "nothing happens" in even twenty years, I suspect you'll say "Well, it's only because we raised the alarm that we managed to survive catastrophe".

Not to be morbid, but if this takes 50 or 100 years to resolve, neither of us will be around to argue the point.

I'm just trying to point out the one-sidedness. You say things, and attribute things that cannot be neutrally applicable (regardless of which side is right).

Similar, the laughable back-slapping circle thread previous where you all cry about how bad your PR is. From my seat, I see and hear nothing but wall-to-wall AGW acceptance and compliance from the MSM. You can't seriously be in rational perspective if you are upset that the 1% of dissenting news stories aren't immediately squashed to your satisfaction.

Listening to you, it seems you want nothing less than total media control. You know, I talked face to face with Ralph Begleiter (of CNN) and he was sputteringly furious that Fox News existed and the Pentagon was coming out with their own news channel. It wasn't OK for anyone other than the mono-bloc ABCNBCCBSCNN to have input to the public awareness. I promise you with hand raised, scouts honor, this was his point.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't think there's the slightest possibility that there is a mistake in this fact: humans are changing the atmosphere fast enough that climate must necessarily change.

We could be wrong as to the details. Lindzen used to grasp at this straw (he doesn't bother anymore) and Spencer has picked it up: a mechanism such that the change conveniently avoids disrupting human activity called "the iris effect". That's at least conceivable, though it's generally considered refuted.

I could be very wrong regarding costs and impacts. Indeed, there is no scientific consensus as to what to do about our circumstances.

most of what is being p[roduced by the skeptics camp and echoed by the right wing press is bogus science, though. Some of it is outright fabrication. You have to exert some quality control somewhere.

All sorts of BS comes out of all sorts of quarters. An advanced society needs reliable channels of information to the people who really understand the evidence.

I don't particularly want wall to wall acceptance of the consensus. I want the consensus placed sqaurely in the middle. Every time a Heartland story goes up you need a
story about someone who thinks the IPCC is biased to understate risks. There are plenty of people out there who think that.

How much to feature the outsiders vs the conventional wisdom is a perpetual struggle for the media. What they shouldn't do is portray the center as having equal weight to one of the extremes. It totally distorts people's views of the matter.

Most people like to split the difference. In so many cases, one side isn't heard at all, and the middle gets shifted toward the other side.

If you think your guess is as good as mine on these matters, I'll have to say no, I don't think so. There are real experts and sometimes there are fake experts. I'm in one of those groups and you're not.

Your evaluation of these matters is based ultimately on whether you think I and people like me represent real expertise or fake, and not on your own independent investigation.

If real, then the complaints about media emphasis can be valid. The balance of evidence presented to the public needs to represent the balance of evidence available to experts.

jpbenney said...

"High, But Surmountable Cost, Except for Pride" is actually a misleading title.

The real problem is the excessive humility of the young exurban populations of Australia and Red America in the face of climate change. These people do not see it as right to challenge a legitimate authority, and generally feel bad damage will be done by efforts to seize political control from road and coal lobbies. They also fear efforts to end road building will make houisng unaffordable.

The worst trouble is that this humble, excessively meek population is growing whilst more assertive "selfist" inner-city populations who could help fight for necessary changes decline. In some cases fertility differences can be as much as three to one in favour of the exurbanites, so we know who will inherit the world, even if a deformed one where Melbourne is a sandy desert with daily dust storms and 40˚C temperatures every day for several months!

Michael Tobis said...

I don't have much of a sense of Australia.

I have some theories as to what makes people susceptible to these stories, some of which are generational/cultural/demographic, but the real point is that when professional manipulators of opinion go up against earnest somewhat obsessive amateurs, they can make quite an impressive showing.

In America there is great success on the part of the denial squad in influencing opinion leaders, e.g., engineers and MDs "looking into" the matter. All of those people will have their pride at stake in coming to terms with the real balance of evidence.

I think most of the scientific community is unaware of how badly we are messing this up. Gore finally has some money to address this, but his impulses are of a politician reaching toward the masses. He has already gravely disappointed us 7 years ago by his foolish capitulation to the wrong marketing experts and he may well do so again.

We can't continue to concede the opinion leader class. Somebody has to explain the balance of evidence persistently and effectively. I will note that efforts in this direction by me, far from being encouraged, are barely tolerated.

Steven said...

So we're back to you claiming to be right, and using all sorts of slanted and biased language against others. Exactly the same thing they do. You have said yourself that Lomborg and some others seem to be self-genuine.

But a lot of AGW proponents rule out everything Hayward, Christy, and others say by waving Exxon at them. Which is the exact converse of your blog title joke. What makes one side less susceptible to influence when there are incentives in their own best interests? There is no one-way rule that only corporate money can influence people. And no rule that people funded by Exxon must simply be a mouthpiece.

Do you consider Freeman Dyson to be a corp. mouthpiece; or a non-field expert?

In reference to your investigation, do you actually measure anything, or are you primarily involved in computer modeling? If there is a section on your site that explains that in detail, you could link here as a substitute to re-explaining.

At any rate- I don't think your reply helped me understand how you think a neutral arbiter position can be acheived in the world media. As I said, it seems overwhelmingly in your favor at the moment, and that's not enough for you.

Of course everyone involved would say "But I'm *really* the expert, and our evidence is real."

Since you've probably also covered this before, could you link me to any writings of your own on exactly what your predictions are? I suppose I should start with knowing your exact opinion on the effects and timetable.

Michael Tobis said...

I think things have changed so that the consensus position is represented more often than one fringe, but the view out there is still of two camps, not of a legitimate gaussian spread of opinion, with one wing of that spread very talented at gettign attention.

IPCC is not revealed truth, but it isn't the extreme either. IPCC is the middle as far as the science is concerned. People are reasonable and try to split the difference.

They should be aware when a big part of the serious discussion is hidden from them. They should be aware when organized efforts to mislead them exist.

At present they are not. People just split the difference between the positions they hear. When NPR refers jokingly to Al Gore as an extremist, that completely misrepresents the policy spectrum.

Michael Tobis said...

Asking for a timetable is a little weird. This isn't a bus line. But what they hey. Here's a summary of what I think is going to go down, since you ask.

I defer to IPCC WGI on climate projections for the next 50 years.

I believe that things could get very bad after the 50 years, worse than IPCC WGI suggests, possibly accompanied by quite rapid sea level rise and possibly driven by positive carbon cycle feedbacks.

RealClimate, along with Tamino, Maribo and Eli and others are doing a very good job explaining the science, and I usually feel I have little to add.

That's as far as my expert opinion will take me. The remainder is just informed opinion of an interested, nay, obsessed, observer, as is most of this blog.

As an interested observer, I have little confidence in IPCC WGII or WGIII, or comparable studies, whether Stern's or Lomborg's, because I think economics has very little meaning on such long time scales, and because these problems are much harder than climate, which is hard enough.

We simply don't know how bad the next 50 years will be, and we should be prepared for worse as well as better. Many other daunting factors are also in play over this period.

A dramatic increase in the maturity of the world political community, reversing the trends of the last 40 years, is absolutely necessary but it's very hard to see how it's going to happen.

Expecting no such significant rallying of the world's people, if my life expectancy would support it, I would bet the great crash occurs between 2040 and 2080, preceded by a number of increasing shocks of which we have just entered the second (1970s were the first).

A crash is distinguished from a shock by a significant population decline due to stress.

Lucky for me I expect to be checking out around 2040.

What mostly fascinates me is why we are getting this so badly wrong and whether there is some way to fix it. I don't think more arguing about science will help much. I think, instead, we should discuss how society should detect the real scientists from the charlatans.

Hope this helps.

Steven said...

I think the one thing that would make the change you seek is an "incontravertible sign".

I'm sure everyone has seen the list of news stories blaming over 600 different things on global warming. From hearing both sides, AGW proponents say various things like hurricanes are due to AGW.

Those on the other side say hurricane patterns haven't changed, and remain essentially random. Take whatever other phenom you want, it's difficult to distinguish between what would have happened anyway, or is happening due to other more directly attributable causes.

So the question is, what is the earliest event that can ONLY be attributable to AGW, no doubt? And what are the real costs in dealing with that event. And, how different is the cost between dealing with the problem when it becomes apparent, as opposed to dealing with the problem now.

What I don't often hear from the AGW side is "This is the specific list of things that will happen. Here are the costs, and here are some measures given current technology to make corrective measures".

You may think Lomborg is wrong, but this is what I appreciate in his delivery, specifically the book "Cool It". I think most people have this cartoon image in their head of the earth just exploding like the death star.

Lomborg, working FROM the IPCC predictions, says "Ok, specific things are going to happen at a specific time. Here is a laundry list, here are the costs, here's how we'll deal with those with known technology. Here's some future technology we can reasonably expect. Here's similar problems from the past that we've dealt with for some perspective."

You may say he is wrong (and I confess I don't understand exactly in what way AGW proponents believe he is wrong). But say you believe he is wrong about the consequences by 200%, or 300% of whatever number.

I'd like to see someone detail the problem in the same way with numbers they think are more accurate. I haven't seen anyone lay out such a rational look at the issue. What I hear are dire warnings of something horrible and then leaving it your imagination, or vague claims of wars over resources, flooding, etc.

If you think it would sell, go write "Freak Out!" and in the same format, explain exactly how we should freak out, to what degree, and list solutions along with costs.