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, June 2, 2008

Getting Things Backwards

A whole series of articles is possible on how climate change delusionists get things backwards.

Joe Romm has an excellent one, that takes Vaclav Klaus's Marxists in green clothing argument and argues that, after actually accounting for science, climate delusionism actually is a very good way to promote centralization and gigantic government.

I have noticed other cases of them casually or earnestly getting things backward. Each could be the subject of an article. Temperature leads CO2 in the Antarctic ice cores, therefore no worries (umm?? You like positive feedbacks?) Past natural climate variations were large therefore no worries (umm?? You think it is good news that the system is precariously balanced in a comfortable regime?) Matters are far more uncertain than IPCC claims therefore no worries (umm??? you like making the risk-weighted outcome even worse?) and so on.

I'd just like to point out a small example for now, a case where no less than the Free Republic site follows in the footsteps of the National Post in celebrating what is intended as an alarmist point of view. The author of the denialist-celebrated point of view, by the way, has also written a brief celebration of what he calls "post-autistic economics", a name which I dislike, because in all seriousness it strikes me as unnecessarily unkind to autistics as well as conventional economists.

I doubt, though, that this is what the delusionist camps have in mind. Personally I think the cure Orrell is pushing is worse than the disease, but that's neither here nor there. What we see is another example of how weak the reading abilities and reasoning abilities of the delusionist camp are. Anyone, anyone willing to say a word against climate science is surely an ally, right, because it is science that is at fault here, right? Any enemy of climate science must be a friend of theirs.

If, by some chance, you wanted to make a coherent skeptical case you would need to argue
  1. climate is well understood
  2. greenhouse gases matter very little on Earth for some reason
  3. the recent warming is well understood and attributable to other forces, including in the vertical and horizontal distributions which match climate model predictions
I haven;t seen any serious effort to do that.

Alternatively there is this simpler goal. Demonstrate that it is possible to construct a climate model of comparable or better quality to what we have that has dramatically lower greenhouse gas sensitivity. Computers are cheap these days and decent compilers are free. Go to it.

Delusionists take neither of these paths. Instead, their arguments are almost invariably specious. There is only one way to understand this that I can see, and it has two simple parts. 1) They are wrong and 2) they don't seriously care whether they are wrong or not. The second part is very disturbing, though. It's hard to understand people taking such risks with the future consciously.

At best they have convinced themselves of their nonsense. It's worth thinking about how that is possible.

11 comments:

tidal said...

It's the cognitive dissonance thing, no? Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state that describes the uncomfortable feeling when a person begins to understand that something the person believes to be true is, in fact, not true... In simple terms, it can be the filtering of information that conflicts with what one already believes, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce one's beliefs. In detailed terms, it is the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, where "cognition" is defined as any element of knowledge, including attitude, emotion, belief, or behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions... Maintaining conflicting principles (e.g. logically incompatible beliefs) or rejecting reasonable behavior to avoid conflict can be increasingly maladaptive (non-beneficial) as the gap being bridged widens, and popular usage of the term "cognitive dissonance" tends to stress the maladaptive aspect. It is often associated with the tendency for people to resist information that they don't want to think about, because if they did it would create such dissonance, and perhaps require them to act in ways that depart from their comfortable habits. They usually have at least partial awareness of the information, without having moved to full acceptance of it, and are thus in a state of denial about it. This "irrational inability to incorporate rational information" is perhaps the most common perception of cognitive dissonance...

I'm not a psych guy, but as I recall, this is one of the more profound and well-established insights of modern psychology. And it tends to operate at a subconscious level.

There are a number of well-known pre-existing beliefs that are challenged by the implications of anthropogenic climate change.

I think that this phenomenom contributes in large part to the frustration of those trying to logically present the case. If it creates, for a particular audience, a dissonance with a deeply-held belief - i.e. something that tends to define a person's self-image - then it is largely an involuntary response to assemble a defence against that challenge/dissonance, irrespective of its veracity.

tidal said...

Or maybe it is just the truthiness thing... wink!

bi -- IJI said...

"Computers are cheap these days and decent compilers are free."

Hmm... I suspect the NOAA's climate models may require distributed computing facilities in order to run in an acceptable amount of time. I'm not sure about whether that's the case for UVic's climate modelling code -- maybe some day I'll download it and give it a whirr, but I have other things at hand. In any case, anyone who wants to run an existing climate model must be prepared to have to ask heaps of questions on how to use them properly.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Michael Tobis said...

No question that a full-blooded GCM is not for amateurs, but with this much at stake you'd think the denial camp

Actually I'd like to make it easier to 1) build 2) run and 3) understand GCMs. I think average home commodity hardware would be able to run a meaningful coupled GCM.

The UVic and similar (EMICs) are not good places to start for the skeptical; some rather complex approximations are built in in the interests of efficiency.

There is already the EdGCM which you can run at home. I don't think it has a true coupled ocean but it's a place to start.

Steven said...

MT: in your first comment here, is your first paragrah cut-off?

Having read the article, I can only say it is a comedy in which the author accuses others of not understanding science, then he proceeds to make an argument clearly with no understanding of economics.

MT: You don't like the term "post-autistic", but you routinely make your jabs and insults. "Delusionists" being a good example. A good question to ask in debate is whether the labels you use would be accepted by your opponent. Do you think the opponents would readily accept "delusionists"?

MT: What scientific method do you use to determine when to take the moral high road and look like the bigger man in relation to someone else's sarcasm, OR when to use sarcasm and other low brow techniques yourself?

From an econ-lib perspective, I occsionally want to make sure I articulate myself instead of being albatrossed (I made a verb!) with the assumptions of others.

I am against rent-seeking period. I do not decry rent-seeking by some but excuse it for Wal-Mart or Exxon or others. I am against rent-seeking for Exxon, Southern Co., or Wal-mart- all; categorically.

I don't deny that government can create value for specific parties. I do believe that the costs of government providing good outweight the benefits. And that markets can and do provide good with lower costs and markedly better coordination.

If someones robs Peter to pay you, there is no doubt you think they did good- because you are the recipient of a given good. The larger context obviously reveals a great transaction cost.

One thing I did appreciate in that link. I'm almost fond of the term "delayer".

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

"What scientific method do you use to determine when to take the moral high road and look like the bigger man in relation to someone else's sarcasm, OR when to use sarcasm and other low brow techniques yourself? "

A fair criticism. I will ponder.

"I am against rent-seeking period."

I am not sure what this means in whatever dialect of economics you find compelling.

In general I'd prefer you write less and spend more time making clear what you mean. No sense getting huffy if people don't understand you. Eventually they'll just get bored. You haven;t yet convinced me that you have enough to say for me to worry about it.

Pointing to the literature assumes not only that I consider the literature worth pursuing but also that I consider you a reliable guide to it. You convince me of both by making cogent arguments, not by asserting that I am a lazy person who doesn't already know them.

Anna said...

> "the Free Republic site follows in the footsteps of the National Post..."

Interesting, that this:
"“There’s a sense in which uncertainty is actually scarier and more likely to make us act than if you have bureaucrats saying, ‘Well, it’s going to get warmer by about three degrees, and we know what’s going to happen.’”"
didn't seem to register with the Freeper readers.

> "I think the cure Orrell is pushing is worse than the disease"

agreed, upon reading that article.

Steven said...

Rent-seeking as a modern economic term began around the 70's.

It refers to a medieval practice. Lords had land they could not protect, knights needed an income, peasants pretty much got the shaft.

Knights would travel around seeking rents from lords; asking for an area of land granted to them to protect, in return for which they would keep a part of the rent earned.

The essence is in not creating value, but being granted (usually due to heavy lobbying) some rent earning land, or production facility, or any favor that allows someone to earn money strictly through the granted object.

Wal-Mart taking advantage of government tax breaks and land claims is rent seeking.

Hospitals and "certificates of need" are rent-seeking writ large. Farm subsidies are rent-seeking.

I mention it only as clarification- since it was brought up in the referenced article. I am mindful to be clear; I have to be vigilant about assumptions of what bundle of political beliefs I get lumped into.

Hence Gary Becker's quote, "There is only one economics". I don't favor certain policies when one political team does them, and dennounce them when the other team does the same.

Policies are for better or worse, the actors are all interchangeable.

And really Michael, it's setting the bar a little high to ask for convincing with your thumbs in your ears. No one can overcome the intentional will to ignorance.

Steven said...

I remembered a personal, though minor league example that makes rent-seeking clear.

My school's honor society used their parking space (usually a bonus for the chapter president) as something they could auction off to raise money (for planting trees). Now, the parking space had belonged to the chapter for as long as anyone could remember; but let's say they ask the school for the best parking spot, so they can auction it off.

They would be asking a grant from authority, of something valuable, which they would then convert into income. That's rent-seeking. Happens all the time- in much more high stakes examples. It's a bad thing.

Two crucial points of economic theory.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_seeking

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage

This second one is OK, but the narrative explanation here is much easier to understand.

http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2006/Robertscomparativeadvantage.html

anna said...

Thanks Steven for the explanation of rent-seeking; it was unfamiliar to me too.

> No one can overcome the intentional will to ignorance.

Steven, you (vastly) underestimate our host; he's concerned (as we should all be) with the return on investment of his time and attention.
(to give an example: choosing not to listen to shills does NOT demonstrate an intentional will to ignorance.)