But only if we try.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
My own family experienced the same oppressive communist regime in Czechoslovakia as did Klaus, so for what it is worth I have no sympathy for Stalinism. I have no choice but to acknowledge that an increase in collective power over individual power is necessitated by anthropogenic climate forcing as well as other global change issues. The question, really is whether the evidence for the necessity is real. That question should be decided independent of politics, and society's failure to do so cannot be said to speak well of us or our prospects.
Klaus had an interesting speech to the Cato Institute about all this some months ago, which I linked to, wherein he treats environmentalism and climate concerns in particular to distasteful political movements. I don't agree with his points but I think it's worth considering the worldview which finds them plausible.
Klaus' book "What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom" has been translated into English and his presentation to the National Press Club on that occasion is also interesting.
Here, I'd like to draw attention to what seems to me the core of his argument, in which he quickly brushes by its fundamental weakness:
The book was written by an economist who happens to be in a high political position. I don't deny my basic paradigm, which is the "economic way of thinking", because I consider it an advantage, not a disadvantage. By stressing that, I want to say that the Climate Change Debate in a wider and the only relevant sense should be neither about several tenths of a degree of Fahrenheit or Celsius, about the up or down movements of sea level, about the depths of ice at North and Southern Pole, nor about the variations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.I agree in two respects: 1) there is a standard "economic way of thinking" about the problem which concludes it does not rise to a level worthy of a contemporary collective solution and 2) it depends crucially on the presumption that future generations will be "much wealthier".
The real debate should be about costs and benefits of alternative human actions, about how to rationally deal with the unknown future, about what kind and size of solidarity with much wealthier future generations is justified, about the size of externalities and their eventual appropriate "internalization", about how much to trust the impersonal functioning of the markets in solving any human problem, including global warming and how much to distrust the very visible hand of very human politicians and their bureaucrats. Some of these questions are touched upon in my book.
The second point ties into the whole question of sustainability, neatly sweeping it under a rug by fiat. We observe growth over two centuries, arguably three or even four, therefore growth is considered inevitable and permanent unless actively interfered with. Consequently governing best is governing least. Anything which promotes growth is natural and anything that restrains growth isn't....
I don't buy it. The common outcome of exponential growth processes in nature is a logistic curve, asymptoting to a constant, non-growth pattern. Slightly more complex scenarios are asymptoting to wild oscillations, and crashing. Indefinite growth is not sustained in the real world.
Have we reached the point of inflection in the logistic curve? There are so many arguments that this is the case that it is surely pointless to recount them all. Presumably you have spent some time in the last week being concerned by energy prices, to pick an obvious example.
So the crucial idea in the economists' argument, that future generations will be wealthier ("much wealthier") than the present generation, is in no way certain. The very problems we are discussing are the ones that are most likely to cause that pattern to fail.
Conventional economic thinking as defined by a prominent economist, then, systematically ignores sustainability as an issue. A keystone of the argument crumbles, and the whole approach that economists from Stern to Lomborg advocate falls apart.
The NYTimes reports:
The report also reflects a recent, significant shift by the Bush administration on climate science. During Mr. Bush’s first term, administration officials worked to play down a national assessment of climate effects conducted mainly during the Clinton administration, but released in 2000.
The new report, which includes some findings that are more sobering and definitive than those in the 2000 climate report, holds the signatures of three cabinet secretaries.
The report also emphasized that the country’s capacity to detect climate shifts and related effects was eroding, as budgets and plans for long-term monitoring of air, water and land changes — both on the ground and from satellites — shrank.
Drying of the southwest is probably the most robust and consequential result.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
"Specific information pro-AGW that is understandable to the layman has been very thin... which is unfortunate because I think it's an area you could really make your niche (or one of)."
Leaving aside my easily guessed objection to the awful name "pro-AGW"...
While I have made some efforts in this direction over the years, I admit that isn't the focus here. I began this blog specifically with the observation that no matter how much information is aimed at the layman, it will be insufficient in the face of organized opposition.
That said, I somewhat sympathize. We can't just be pointing people to IPCC, and a few simple tutorials. The $300 M "We Campaign" is an embarassment of earnest and shallow positioning as long as it lacks any effort to educate. I am on Mr. Gore's mailing list, of course. I think I need to say that I find the whole approach the opposite of inspiring.
Some reasons that we are not doing better:
1) There is no funding for people who understand the material to convey it. In America at least, academic outreach funds go exclusively to non-controversial topics of research and are aimed almost exclusively at schoolchildren. (American schools, it need not be stressed, are in a disastrous state largely because of their incompetence in dealing with matters of controversy). Skeptics have been funded generously by fossil fuel interests and private foundations run by people very suspicious of collective activity.
2) Scientists are in very competitive positions, and any significant efforts spent on reaching the public detract from their competitive position both as a matter of reducing available time and as a matter of reducing their perceived seriousness among their peers. Outreach is for the Isaac Asimovs, Stephen Goulds, Carl Sagans etc. who are perceived as having given up trying to make a mark directly.
You could put me in that category, by the way. Having spent enough time with Ray P. (we are the same age and grew up reading the same science fiction) makes me very sure I won't ever be able to contribute in the way he does. I think I have something to add regarding how scientific software is done, but that's pretty abstruse and will likely never get me first authorship in the sort of Science or Nature article that gets quoted a lot by climate blogs.
3) There are fewer ways to tell a true story than a false one. It just gets tedious writing up various version of the Gore slide show over and over. By contrast, the variety of nonsense that can be put up in opposition is relatively vast. In other words Mamet's Law applies.
4) People who understand the material best have no formal training in conveying the material or in participating in the rough-and-tumble of polemics. We constantly fall into traps set by our more politically adept opposition.
5) We don't actually spend our time thinking about AGW; only the opposition does. We spend our time on science. Our expectation of AGW is a fairly straightforward consequence of science and is rarely studied as such. So when we write about what we are thinking about or working on, it does't apply directly to what the public is thinking about.
6) It's very hard to get it right, much harder than if you don't care. Even a single mistake does a lot of damage to a scientist's credibility, especially given the idiotic sport of gaffe-pouncing that has developed in the mainstream press. Say one stupid thing and you run the risk of being identified with it forever. Best therefore to say nothing.
All this said, I have concluded that the quantity of intermediate level materials matters a lot.
It's not necessary to be redundant. There are so many interesting stories to be told about actual, real science in ways that the public could understand. I wish some of the "We Campaign"'s funds were directed toward scientific communication. It is symptomatic of how they operate that there is no way to communicate with them other than by checkbox or by check. If anyone wants to create such a job, please consider me interested.
The current situation is that, of course, the peer-reviewed literature is long past the point of arguing about global warming, but that isn't what most people see. Starting from a typical Google inquiry, the materials proposing that AGW is in some way false tend to be more sophisticated than those which assert a reasonable balance or those which are unduly alarmist.
Adding material isn't primarily what this blog is about, though I will poke at it now and again. Actually, I would love to have this task take over my life. Short of that, though, I can't see amateur efforts making enough of a dent to matter. I'm under no illusions about how difficult this would be. Some fraction of the $300 million for the We Campaign ought to be going that way, though.
I agree that it's a real problem.
Update: Per a suggestion in the comments I am looking over RealClimate's off-site links. They seem rather perfunctory on the whole. I think the best example of an introductory FAQ is Tom Rees's site. And of course, there's GlobalWarmingArt. Both are inexplicably missing from RC's links. Any other suggestions?
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
An interesting report in the NYTimes documents the Rockefeller family's efforts to nucleate a shareholder push toward a broader energy portfolio at Exxon. I found the following of interest:
Kenneth P. Cohen, vice president for public affairs at Exxon, said the shareholders pushing the resolutions were “starting from a false premise.” He added that the company was already concerned about “how to provide the world the energy it needs while at the same time reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.”Now, while this is (ahem) consistent with a rather lukewarm acceptance of the global climate problem, it is not very consistent with outright denialism. This would mean that even with a failure of the shareholder resolution, the last of the major oil companies has already turned toward a more realistic position.
Since taking over the company two years ago, Mr. Tillerson has gradually shifted the company’s positions away from those of his predecessor, Lee R. Raymond, who was considered a skeptic on the science of global warming.
How did we reach a point where a huge slice of the public is still buying the bogus arguments of the denialists when they no longer hold any influence even at the most resistant of the major oil companies?
Update: In the comments, John Mashey points to a relevant story on DeSmog. Thanks, John!
Update: The financial press is reporting it thus.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Forty years ago I think very few people would have argued otherwise. Perhaps science is not as healthy as it was then, but on the other hand, the very idea of expert opinion is threatened these days.
I make these observations in the light of an interesting opinion piece by Geoff Davies out of Australia arguing that
Those in strategic positions in our society, like politicians and journalists, who treat scientists’ collective professional judgments as no better than any other opinion are being seriously irresponsible.
(Update: Link inserted; thanks to Molnar)
Saturday, May 24, 2008
The target audience of denialism is the lay audience, not scientists. It's made up to look like science, but it's PR.
Climate science is perfectly healthy; many points of view are represented on matters that are in doubt; rational revisiting of points generally treated with good humor. Communication aimed at political rather than scientific discourse are not necessary and hard to see as other than malicious.
Would most scientists agree with this assessment? Maybe not. Most scientists are only dimly aware of the denialists. This is because the denialists avoid actual scientific meetings for the most part, preferring to talk to the press. Some busy scientists don't feel a need to follow the press on their area of expertise, so they never really hear about all this supposed scientific controversy unless they find themselves entangled in it.
While it's progress that they are no longer getting equal time, how long will the press misrepresent the denialists as serious? There's a great deal of damage that needs to be reversed. It will be interesting to see the reactions to David's calling a thing by its right name.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Here's a cheerful article in the NYTimes about it.
But after decades of seemingly terminal decline, Japan’s coal country is stirring again. With energy prices reaching record highs — oil settled above $133 a barrel on Wednesday — Japan’s high-cost mines are suddenly competitive again, and demand for their coal is booming. Production has jumped to its highest in nearly four decades, creating a sensation rarely felt in these mining communities: hope.Appearing nowhere in the article are the words "climate", "warming" or "greenhouse".
“We are seeing a flicker of light after long darkness,” said Michio Sakurai, the mayor of Bibai, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. “We never imagined coal would actually make a comeback.”
Update: Fleck and Appell also noticed this story, pointing out that it is consistent with Appell's Theorem. (PS - Those who know me as "mt" please take note that I am not the "MT" who comments on Quark Soup.)
Appell's Theorem: Despite the worst threats to the planet, earthlings will burn whatever it is that keeps them warm.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The image is lifted from The Oil Drum and shows the progress of oil futures prices over the past couple of months. Normally, future prices are lower than present prices, because of discounting. Discounting amounts to an expectation that you can invest money somewhere else now and buy the commodity at a lower net price because of your profits. So when the curve goes the other way, it's unusual. According to the site (this is all news to me) this sort of reversal in futures is a prediction of a shortage and is called a "contango".
This week is apparently the first time ever that all future dates are in contango. There is an expectation of rising prices built into the market even with discounting.
Of course, there's some sort of tie-in between discounting and the growth imperative, so at some point the whole idea of futures pricing gets a little dicey if you enter a regime where what economists call "growth" is not the normal or long-term condition.
That's all interesting enough, if a little aside the point of the obsessions of this blog. But there's this comment from "westexas":
Yeah. This is related to what I am saying about the effectiveness of prices in regulating behavior. We have a world where the distinction between the richest and the poorest is vast. The rich use the vast majority of the resources, and are very price insensitive compared to the poor.
My 2¢ worth:
In my opinion, we are looking at an accelerating net oil export decline rate, combined with a requirement for an accelerating rate of increase in oil prices, in order to balance supply & demand, as forced energy conservation moves up the food chain.
Let's take all consumers in all oil importing countries and break them into five groups, and then rank them by income. So, at the bottom of the bottom quintile, we have a poor Third World consumer. At the top of the top quintile, we have Bill Gates. As we go up the income ladder, the cumulative purchasing power vastly increases, which as noted, IMO, suggests a requirement for an accelerating rate of increase in oil prices in order to balance supply & demand.
I think that these two factors will interact--and are interacting--to produce the following oil price trend: $50, $100, $200, $400, $800 . . .
I continue to search for something resembling a decent loaf of bread in Texas, the sort that any average boulangerie in Montreal will sell without a second thought (or a word spoken, but that's Montreal for you). I don't know what bread sells for in Montreal these days, but the closest equivalents (usually either too sour and pasty or too grainy and leaden, grumble) sell for almost $4.00 per loaf at Whole Foods or Central Market. (sigh)
Anyway, the cost of the wheat in that bread was what, like two cents. If it doubles to four cents it will not materially affect my decision whether to buy a loaf of somewhat disappointing bread or simply accept the wonderful tortillas on offer and eat tacos instead of sandwiches.
Enough whining. My nostalgia for a decent sandwich is something I can go on endlessly about, but somewhere in the world the difference between two cents and four is making a real impact on the budget of a desperately poor family. Their necessity is impacted long before my discretionary decision is influenced at all.
Similarly, people who can afford Hummers are not the people who care about $4 gas or even, in a lot of cases, $12 gas. I won't say they dominate fuel usage (there are freight trucks to consider) but they are a major player. High prices don't change their behavior much.
Families on a tight budget, meanwhile, often have long commutes and their lives are dramatically impacted by these changes.
Putting a price on carbon gives the most wasteful users a pass. When relatively few people were wealthy, when commodities were labor-limited rather than supply-limited, this sort of thing didn't matter. In the new order, newly-many wealthy people and still-many poor people are bidding on very different uses of the same resources (grain, fuel) that are changing from demand-limited to supply-limited.
I don't know if anyone saw this particular train wreck coming, but here it is. Commodities rule but prices aren't effective in reducing demand. This seems madly inflationary to me. It's also immensely destabilizing since it essentially makes the poor bear the burden of the adjustment, more or less on the grounds that if they wanted that flour badly enough they'd have been willing to bid a dollar on it.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Kleiman's demolition of Tierney's thinly vailed attack on Mr. Gore. Here's what Tierney said, in case you missed it:
If you travel frequently by air, even on commercial flights, you can’t escape having a huge carbon footprint. Yet many of the most vocal advocates of cutting emissions — politicians, environmentalists, journalists, scientists — are continually jetting off to campaign events and conferences and workshops. Are they going to change the way they operate? If not, how are they going to persuade anyone else to cut back emissions? (My advice to the peripatetic preachers: Do not try explaining why your work is more important than everyone else’s.)Here is Kleiman's response. Lots of hits. Here's the home run:
Rich people use more goods and services than poor people. That's what "rich" means. Of course multi-millionaires have larger gross GHG footprints than you and I do. So what? If Tierney wants to work on decreasing income gradients, I'm all for it. But of course he's not. He just hates the idea that some rich people use their wealth to promote ideas he dislikes.Go read the whole thing.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I think you are right that you can't win a debate, not only about climate change, but about any reasonably complex scientific issue, with someone who knows what they're doing. I believe, for example, that it is unlikely life would be found on any planet orbiting a red dwarf star, because I have no reason to distrust the vast majority of astronomers. At the moment this particular scientific majority opinion is politically uncontroversial; but if some industry group were to find itself threatened by it and invested huge amounts of money in poking holes in tiny details of astronomy papers, accusing astronomers who talk about starspots of fearmongering and conspiracy, etc., I'd soon find myself out of my depth and unable to win the argument. So it's essentially a debate about trust in scientific authority, not about the science itself.Update: Here's a real world example for you to consider. Does exposure to the sun increase cancer risk? Of course there's no clear evidence of that, at least according to some people wearing white coats.
John McCarthy is right in identifying something he calls "lawyer's science", but he's wrong in identifying who most commonly uses it. Unlike those of us in the public sector, industry has a "bottom line".
This leaves them unconflicted about, well, if not actually lying, at least misrperesenting the balance of information within the limits of the law. You may imagine that a well ordered marketplace would impose consequences on this sort of behavior, but we are all too overwhelmed for that to happen effectively. I would imagine that they would at least be punished by sleep disorders, but apparently the population of sociopaths who sleep like angels is sufficient to overcome this.
It turns out, however, that Pielke Jr. is a proponent of the idea that the global warming theory is a conspiracy — or something like a conspiracy. And if there’s one thing we know about conspiracy theories, it’s that they tend to be unfalsifiable. Let’s look at Pielke Jr.’s theory:
Today’s scientists could oppose research whose funding is predicated on the claim that action depends on further reduction of uncertainties. The effect in both cases would be to remove science as a cause of gridlock and to make viable new lines of research that would better support the needs of society.
Such a quixotic response is of course unlikely, not simply because it would require scientists to argue against their own professional self-interest, but also because it would reveal the amazing incoherence of our current approach to connecting climate policy and science.
Given that climate scientists aren’t actually claiming that “action depends on further reduction of uncertainties” — indeed, James Hansen argued the opposite — I wonder what potential observations will convince Pielke Jr. that scientists aren’t engaged in a conspiracy to secure funding!
Monday, May 12, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
American beliefs about inequality are profoundly political in their origins and implications. Well-informed conservatives and liberals differ markedly, not only in their normative assessments of increasing inequality, as one might expect, but also in their perceptions of the causes, extent, and consequences of inequality. This is not simply a matter of people with different values drawing different conclusions from a set of agreed-upon facts. Analysts of public opinion in the realm of inequality--as in many other realms--would do well to recognize that the facts themselves are very much subject to ideological dispute. For their part, political actors in the realm of inequality--as in many other realms--would do well to recognize that careful logical arguments running from factual premises to policy conclusions are unlikely to persuade people who are ideologically motivated to distort or deny the facts. While it is certainly true, as Jennifer Hoschschild has argued, that "Where You Stand Depends on What You See," it is equally true that what you see depends in significant part on where you stand.Or more succinctly from "The Boxer" by Paul Simon:
I have squandered my resistance
for a pocketful of mumbles,
such are promises,
all lies and jest,
still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
In March 2007, just about when I started this blog, another article appeared in Scientific American by G Musser ("Please Stop Talking about the Global Warming Consensus") that made points very similar to the ones I started with here, about the perception of arrogance among legitimate scientists. Musser did not go so far as to discuss how the trap was baited.
We see many fine examples of denialists' victims. I find this one most striking:
When I encounter believers of Anthropogenic climate change who wish to force me to accept point-blank the whole story of how humans are destroying the environment, if not the world, with their wasteful ways and greenhouse-producing lifestyles, I have to feel that it is my duty to stand in direct opposition to them. In fact, what choice do I have but to believe that they are afraid of my facts because they are likely closer to the truth than theirs are and stand a chance of subverting their campaign--whatever that might be.
I for one am willing to stand my ground and defend what I feel is the Truth in Science. I must say that no matter what position I have taken, and what I say about it, I am alway willing to be convinced otherwise. But to be convinced that climate change is taking place by other mostly natural causes, the AGW proponents have to be convincing. Brute force will not do the job. It amazes me that they continually resort to harsher tactics and more extreme exclamations of their points to berate non-believers. It just doesn't work. Instead, it polarizes the debate into factions which more and more represent extreme positions on the issue and the reality is stuck in the middle with almost no one left to defend it.
Important things to note: 1) these people (victims of denialism) are not stupid 2) they are very interested in science and truth 3) if this person is indicative, and I believe he is, they overvalue their ability to detect truth on the basis of what is "convincing" and 4) they don't understand the disadvantage scientists in an underfunded field have in competing against professional opinion swayers.
The tilt on the playing field is invisible to the public. This is how the press has failed us.
Friday, May 9, 2008
I like the Woody Allen version of Cassandra: "I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers."
Anyway this come to mind in reading Chris Colose's review of a fairly respectable presentation, about as repectable as I can imagine, of a skeptic's global warming lecture, summarized as follows. The skeptic in question, Dr Chris Walcek, leaves out the hyperbole and the ludicrous accusations, and summarizes as follows:
So what to say to these seemingly reasonable positions? Well, one thing is that it neatly invites us into the usual trap, presenting two sides to a story, when there are at least three. Another way of looking at it is that it asks the wrong questions. So herewith my attempt at a correction:
Consensus– Yes it is
Skeptics– Yes, but trends very small compared to natural fluctuations
Consensus– Mostly anthropogenic (human-induced) factors in recent times
Skeptics– Possibly some anthropogenic, more solar variation, very low confidence for attribution
Is it bad ?
Consensus– Is bad
Skeptics– Maybe some bad, maybe some good
Can we slow it down?
Consensus– Can slowSkeptics– Can’t stop global warming in any significant way
I like much of what Chris C has to say, but he is allowing Chris W to frame the conversation.
Consensus– Yes it is
Skeptics– Yes, but trends very small compared to natural fluctuations
Cassandrites - An overvalued question. The past warming is of interest only as confirmation we know what we are talking about. Trends are now detectable against natural variation, soon will swamp them because forcing is cumulative.
Consensus– Mostly anthropogenic (human-induced) factors in recent times
Skeptics– Possibly some anthropogenic, more solar variation, very low confidence for attribution
Cassandrites - Same as consensus. Trends make anthropogenic component increasingly dominant. Skeptics do not understand the physics, perhaps willfully.
Is it bad ?
Consensus– Is bad
Skeptics– Maybe some bad, maybe some good
Cassandrites - You ain't seen nothin' yet, and you don't want to.
Can we slow it down?
Consensus– Can slowSkeptics– Can’t stop global warming in any significant way
Cassandrites - The anthropocene has started. The fate of the world is solely the responsibility of humans.
The Cassandrite position is not in opposition to the consensus, for the most part. The main distinction with the consensus (except possibly about sea level rise) is about what scientists ought to do about it. Scientific tradition is to stay out of policy, and in a functioning democracy the information would have been passed on to the policy sector and acted upon.
At some point the social response may become so totally misaligned with the facts of the matter that it becomes necessary to step outside the role of scientific equanimity, and to act in some fashion on the understanding that the current social response is grossly negligent. The Cassandrite position is that this point has been passed.
Another Cassandrite position worthy of note is that no matter how polite, the skeptic position is manipulative and far less honest and openminded than it claims.
For instance, Walcek's focus on detection and attribution is a classic skeptics' sleight of hand. Every year the balance of evidence shifts more in favor of the consensus and the pile of cherry picked evidence against the consensus also gets a bit bigger. Detection and attribution has been a done deal for ten years now, and they are still talking about it. This is not because it is really an open question or one they can win. It is primarily because putting attention on the past and present takes attention away from the future, where the best estimates of our unmanaged trajectory are becoming truly disturbing.
The recent cyclone in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, heavily damaged rice fields there and sent rice prices soaring in the country. But rice traders said this had not pushed up world prices because Myanmar’s exports were tiny and the country and aid agencies lacked the money to buy large quantities of rice on world markets.
“I don’t think the Burmese cyclone is having any significant effect,” said Korbsook Iamsuri, the secretary general of the Rice Exporters Association in Thailand.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
The Lovelock formulation, which treats the stability rather than the change as the unexplained phenomenon, may be the right way round for this question.
How did the biosphere persist for so long? Are we just really really really lucky?
A variation of the anthropic principle indicates that this might well be the case: if we weren't really lucky (compared to other planets) we wouldn't evolve far enough to ask the question. That's even scarier than the Gaia hypothesis since our luck might well run out at any moment even without us rocking the boat. Both of these points of view make it unlikely that our current behavior will be benign.
(Indeed, climate models tend to be unstable; it seems to require a narrow range of parameters to get realistic behavior. The reasons for this are interesting, but can only be investigated if people relax and accept that the models themselves are worthy of certain forms of investigation. Had computers preceded the carbon spike, so that there was less controversy, I suspect we would have broader investigations about climate modeling than we do now.)
Starting from the point of view that climate change needs explaining is wrong. If we assume that it is stability that needs explaining, we are quickly left wondering at what point the stability we count on will fail, and how much pushing it needs to fail very badly.
We are left with a very silly proposition, that we establish beyond a shred of doubt what the least amount of carbon (etc.) in the atmosphere is that is absolutely certain to have vast consequences. This treats carbon as a defendant in a courtroom with intrinsic rights. But we only have one planet.
The main job we have as climatologists should be to establish beyond a shred of doubt the greatest amount of carbon absolutely certain NOT to have vast consequences.
Those who find our methods unimpressive, those who believe we contribute no information should rationally act as if any increase in concentration of radiatively active substances is extremely dangerous.
It is the fact that the 'skeptics' argue the exact opposite that convinces me they are not intellectually serious. It's not a coherent position at all. If they are serious, and really mean well, and really don't believe much that we say, they would argue for extreme caution. After all, if we don't really know at all how big or how small a change in aerosols or greenhouse gases might be enough to make the world dramatically worse, we really ought to stop doing any of that.
Nevertheless, those who advocate extreme policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions inevitably base their case on GCM projections, which somehow become real predictions in publicity releases. But even if these advocates admitted the uncertainty of their predictions, they might still invoke the Precautionary Principle and call for extreme reductions “just to be safe.” This principle says, “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”34 That is, even if we don’t fully know that CO2 is dangerously warming Earth climate, we should curtail its emission anyway, just in case. However, if the present uncertainty limit in General Circulation Models is at least ±100 degrees per century, we are left in total ignorance about the temperature effect of increasing CO2. It’s not that we, “lack … full scientific certainty,” it’s that we lack any scientific certainty. We literally don’t know whether doubling atmospheric CO2 will have any discernible effect on climate at all.
If our knowledge of future climates is zero then for all we know either suppressing CO2 emissions or increasing them may make climate better, or worse, or just have a neutral effect. The alternatives are incommensurate but in our state of ignorance either choice equally has two chances in three of causing the least harm.35 Complete ignorance makes the Precautionary Principle completely useless. There are good reasons to reduce burning fossil fuels, but climate warming isn’t one of them.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
(Update: Eli argues in the comments that this quote sort of slyly backs into Pielke's actual position, rather than advocating it. Note the telltale "when" and the "inevitably" in "when these sorts of approaches inevitably fail", and this LATimes article wherein he describes himself as a "non-skeptic heretic".)
Unrestrained emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will no doubt have effects on the global earth system, including the oceans, atmosphere, and land surface. There is a chance that these effects could be relatively benign, but there is also a chance that the effects could be quite severe. I personally lean toward the latter view, ...and here's an interview with Jeffrey Sachs who seems to get much more attention in the UK than he does on this side of the pond, for some reason:
I am certainly not opposed to efforts to put a price on carbon, but at the same time we also need to be fully aware of the realities of politics which suggest that putting a price on carbon may not actually occur or, if it does occur, may be implemented at a meaningless level in small parts of the global economy. Therefore, we’d better be ready with another strategy when these sorts of approaches inevitably fail. ...
The flip side to making carbon pricier is to make carbon-free energy sources relatively cheaper.
And even if these technologies do exist, so do intractable barriers at every level from between different disciplines of science and squabbling government departments on the minute scale to, on the global level, a system of multilateral institutions which is at its lowest ever ebb - not to mention the war on terror which is "a disastrous distraction from real problems".
"It's an American habit," he concludes. "We seem to move from defining an enemy to defining an enemy. The idea of my book is that we all have common interests and common problems, and it's trying to surmount them for future generations."
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
See, the way I look at it is like this. The optimal change is the smallest social change that achieves environmentally sound objectives. That may be large but we should try to make it as small as possible to maximize the chance of avoiding a human population crash. Postindustrial postcrash humans are likely to be an extremely nasty ratlike species.
One might assume, given this setup, that Speth would argue for a revitalization of the environmental movement. He does not. Environmentalism, in his view, is almost as compromised as the planet itself. Speth faults the movement for using market incentives to achieve environmental ends and for the deception that sufficient change can come from engaging the corporate sector and working "within the system" and not enlisting the support of other activist constituencies.
Environmentalism today is "pragmatic and incrementalist," he notes, "awash in good proposals for sensible environmental action" -- and he does not mean it as a compliment. "Working only within the system will . . . not succeed when what is needed is transformative change in the system itself."
So I am with Gore on methods. It infuriates me that even NPR casually characterizes this position as extremist when in fact it is by far the most market-friendly and least culture disruptive position consistent with the circumstances. What we need is an optimally small transformative change, small enough that it can actually happen.
This ties in with new evidence about the priorities of the press and of the government which seem finely tuned to the twentieth century, which would be very excellent, except for that that one is over, guys.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Daly also has ten points, though his ten don't go up to eleven.
I don't fully understand this; I've only followed the article in detail about a third of the way through. So I'm not defending this list, at least yet, but for what it's worth, here it is:
1. Cap-auction-trade systems for basic resources. Cap limits to biophysical scale according to source or sink constraint, whichever is more stringent. Auction captures scarcity rents for equitable redistribution. Trade allows efficient allocation to highest uses.
2. Ecological tax reform—shift tax base from value added (labor and capital) and on to “that to which value is added”, namely the entropic throughput of resources extracted from nature (depletion), through the economy, and back to nature (pollution). Internalizes external costs as well as raises revenue more equitably. Prices the scarce but previously unpriced contribution of nature.
3. Limit the range of inequality in income distribution—a minimum income and a maximum income. Without aggregate growth poverty reduction requires redistribution. Complete equality is unfair; unlimited inequality is unfair. Seek fair limits to inequality.
4. Free up the length of the working day, week, and year—allow greater option for leisure or personal work. Full-time external employment for all is hard to provide without growth.
5. Re-regulate international commerce—move away from free trade, free capital mobility and globalization, adopt compensating tariffs to protect efficient national policies of cost internalization from standards-lowering competition from other countries.
6. Downgrade the IMF-WB-WTO to something like Keynes’ plan for a multilateral payments clearing union, charging penalty rates on surplus as well as deficit balances—seek balance on current account, avoid large capital transfers and foreign debts.
7. Move to 100% reserve requirements instead of fractional reserve banking. Put control of money supply and seigniorage in hands of the government rather than private banks.
8. Enclose the remaining commons of rival natural capital in public trusts, and price it, while freeing from private enclosure and prices the non rival commonwealth of knowledge and information. Stop treating the scarce as if it were non scarce, and the non scarce as if it were scarce.
9. Stabilize population. Work toward a balance in which births plus immigrants equals deaths plus out-migrants.
10. Reform national accounts—separate GDP into a cost account and a benefits account. Compare them at the margin, stop growing when marginal costs equal marginal benefits. Never add the two accounts.
Note: Comments are off here; this is a bit out of my league though it seems worthy of your consideration. Please reply to the original article.
Point 8, though, ah, point 8 is a thing of beauty. I haven't seen it put that way, but it seems pretty compelling.
It happens that I agree with all of it, though I wasn't aware I agreed with point 8 before reading it.
Perhaps point 10 is so important that, like the twentieth principle of the Zen of Python, it is never written down.
John Mashey says important enough things often enough that I think he ought to have his own blog, but meanwhile, if he cares to honor my comments section with stuff this good I at least ought to call your attention to it. Everything that follows is John's commentary, and not mine.
1) Given the history of AEI & WSJ Op-ED, it is very likely this is a "misdirection" argument, even if pieces of it are certainly true. I.e., it's like Lomborg's arguments - see my recent comments over at http://www.desmogblog.com/bjorn-lomborg-bibliography#comment-290344
2) But in any case, to be clear, most of the economic arguments I've seen seem very dubious to me, in that they:
a) Model the US economy via typical neoclassical economic assumptions
b) Which means ~3% GDP growth, more or less indefinitely
c) of which 1.5-2% come from "technological progress" or "Total Factor Productivity" or "Solow Residual" ... See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exogenous_growth_model
To me, this means: we' don't really understand it, but it's been that way, so it will be that way.
3) If past data more or less fits a straight line (for decades, or as in the US GDP case, for ~100 years), then the natural prediction is to predict it to continue indefinitely.
4) If it's more or less a straight line on a log scale chart, it's exponential growth with an approximately constant CAGR, and the temptation is to predict it to continue.
EX: Moore's Law for semiconductors
5) INFLECTION POINTS: if one just does mathematical predictions, without relevant physics underpinnings, one would predict Moore's Law to go on forever. It won't, but it is nontrivial to predict inflection points, and worse to analyze multiple trends and their inflections and make good bets.
6) The "biophysical economists", like Charles A. S. Hall, Robert Ayres+Benjamin Warr, Vaclav Smil, etc, think that a lot of that "Total Factor Productivity" is really:
useful work = energy * efficiency,
with perhaps a bit of a residual boost in the last few decades from computing. I think they make a very good case for it, but then I'm not an economist.
I do observe that the UK got rich in part because it was early to exploit coal heavily, and the US likewise, but for oil.
I also observe that:
- subsistence farmers with nothing but human labor, tend to be poor, but it's why they often have big families.
- farmers with draught animals usually can grow more; many poor farmers would consider the Amish lifestyle unimaginably wealthy, with say, 60 acres/family.
- farmers with electricity, diesel fuel, tractors, and combines do OK, and can (in mid-West) handle hundreds of acres of wheat or corn, and do pretty well.
7) But, if the biophysical model of the world is a better approximation than standard necoclassical, then Peak Oil+Gas is the biggest inflection point in recent history, and all these happy 3% CAGR predictions are ...useless...
8) In that case, it isn't a question of "how much will it cost", it's a question of "can we move fast enough on efficiency and renewables, and *invest* the oil+gas that's left (about 50%) so that there's an above-subsistence economy left when fossil fuels are gone?" (and not be driven by desperation into massive coal-burning). And can we avoid building infrastructure and vehicle fleets that are instant "stranded assets"?
9) Put another way: in the standard neoclassical model, an airplane can keep accelerating upward without burning fuel. Very happy.
In the biophysical model, acceleration depends in large part on increasing fuel * efficiency. In the next decade, fuel starts going down, and then accelerates downward. The plane's eventual altitude depends on the ability to increase efficiency ... and over the next century, replace the 2/3 of US energy from oil+gas. Sad, but true, if one tries to keep acceleration going as fuel diminishes, you can actually damage the engines. [If you try to extract oil too fast from a field, you can damage the oilfield and get less total oil.]
11) Assumption of ~3% growth is built into many plans. I hope it happens ... but personally, I think even folks like Stern are underestimating the problem and the urgency of moving REALLY fast.
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.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
“On the climate issue,” University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. famously told the New York Times a number of years ago, “we appear to be on the brink of having Republican science and Democrat science.”This is clearly a sign of a malfunctioning democratic process. We can't manage a complex society if we are in disagreement about the facts. Even getting it wrong is less risky than half of us getting it wrong; even if you don't agree with me which half is wrong you have to agree that this is a very serious problem.
On climate science, every major arbiter that has reviewed the question — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union — has come to the same conclusion: that Earth has been warming for more than a century, and that emissions from burning petroleum and coal are the only reasonable explanation.
A survey published last year by the Pew Research Center found that 20 percent of conservative Republicans in the United States believe humans are causing global warming, compared to 71 percent of liberal Democrats.
Over time, according to American University political scientist Matthew Nisbet, ... if you drill down in the data, you find a hardening of partisan positions over time.
I'd like John to speculate on the mechanisms for this disconnect. Some of this, I believe, is the result of malicious obfuscation of the facts by interested parties. Why is the press not getting to the bottom of the roots of misinformation? Can we go so far as to say the press is complicit?
I'd like to count John among my friends, even if he persistently fails to blogroll "In It". Some of my best friends are journalists. Hell, I'd be a journalist in a heartbeat if I could get steady work. (Anybody interested? Let me know.)
So I really don't want to get nasty about this, but the stuff that really ought to be making the papers these days is Oreskes' work. Nisbet and Pielke are only a start. We need to say not just that this correlation between what we believe about science and what we believe about politics is a fact, but also that it is a problem, and that it is a problem deliberately instigated and maintained.
All of which will probably prevent me from getting a job as a journalist, but I have to wonder why. It's true, after all.
Friday, May 2, 2008
There is some implication that there is an "AGW theory" and that there is an argument in its support, and that said argument is a cohesive thread starting with Fourier and ending at the dreaded-extremist-boogeyman-Gore, and that failure of any chain in said argument necessarily implies "see, so no carbon policy is necessary". (I'm missing a few steps in their reasoning here, too, but that's another topic still.)
I claim there is no "AGW theory" in the sense that there is an argument that four colors suffice, or more fairly, that stars follow an evolutionary path based on their mass. AGW is not an organizing principle of climate theory at all.
Hypotheses, organizing principles, of this sort emerge from the fabric of a science as a consequence of a search for unifying principles. The organizing principles of climatology come from various threads, but I'd mention the oceanographic sysyntheses of Sverdrup and Stommel, the atmospheric syntheses of Charney and Lorenz, paleoclimatological studies from ice and mud core field work, and computational work starting with no less than Johnny von Neumann.
The expectation of AGW does not organize this work. It emerges from this work. It's not a theory, it's a consequence of the theory.
Admittedly it's a pretty important consequence, and that's why the governments of the world have tried to sort out what the science says with the IPCC and its predecessors. That tends to color which work gets done and which doesn't, and I think it should. As Andy Revkin pointed out, it may be time to move toward a service-oriented climatology, or what I have called applied climatology. The point is that this amounts to application of a theory that emerged and reached mathematical and conceptual maturity entirely independent of worry about climate change.
So attacks on climate change as if it were a "theory" make very little sense. Greenhouse gas accumulation is a fact. Radiative properties of greenhouse gases are factual. The climate is not going to stay the same. It can't stay the same. Staying the same would violate physics; specifically it would violate the law of energy conservation. Something has to change.
The simplest consequence is that the surface will warm up. That this is indeed most of what happens is validated pretty much in observations, in paleodata, in theory and in simulation. Further, all those lines of evidence converge pretty much about how much warming: about 2.5 C to 3C for each doubling of CO2. (It's logarithmic in total CO2, not in emitted CO2, guys, by the way.) There's no single line of reasoning for this. There are multiple lines of evidence.
If you want to convince me that the sensitivity is less than 2 or more than 4, you will have to provide quite a good deal of evidence, but I don;t think this is what the denialists have in mind when they ask me what would "falsify the hypothesis". In fact, though, they haven't defined their terms. If the sensititivity is less than 1, is the supposed hypothesis falsified? What if it is more than 6? If the onset time is a hundred years rather than ten?
They want to know what it would take to pry my free of my "beliefs", but they are not beliefs, they are estimates. Estimates of the sensitivity (2.8 C per doubling). Estimates of the built-in delays (about twenty years for full effect of current concentrations). Estimates of the threshold of excessively high social risk (some range here but I go with 2 C ~ 450 ppmv).
What would it take to change my opinion of the threshhold to 451 ppmv? A nice dinner at Fonda San Miguel, margaritas included, would surely do it. If that constitutes a falsification, bring it on.
Really, though, I don't understand the question. If these numbers wobble around a bit that might shift the optimum policy a bit, but we're so far from the optimum now that it's not worth putting much thought into it yet. The numbers, however, are never going away. There will always be a sensitivity, a response curve, a risk threshold. If you are asking what evidence could make me believe that there are no such numbers, I can't actually imagine it.
That's not because I have a blind attachment to some theory. It's because the numbers must exist, and we have lots of evidence as to what they might be.
What would it take to change my estimate of the numbers? That depends by how much. What would it take to convince me that the meteorology and oceanography I have learned is wrong? I don't know. What would it take to falsify any mature quantitative science?
It's a perfectly normal mistake for a lay person and it's common in the wingnut press, but I certainly didn't expect to hear it at an AGU meeting. (The surface temperature of Venus makes an excellent counterargument if you don't actually want to work through the math.) So I turned around expecting to see a young beginner and set him straight, only to find myself staring at Dr Ball's nametag, so I saved my breath.
Keep his ability to get things totally wrong in mind as you read his history of the IPCC. See, in the alternate universe from which Dr Ball hails, the evidence for anthropogenic climate change gets weaker and weaker every year. Yet another transporter beam accident?
Note the concluding paragraph:
As evidence grew that the hypothesis was scientifically unsupportable adherents began defending rather than accepting and adjusting. The trail they made is marked by the search for a clear human signal, identified in modern parlance as ‘smoking guns.’ They also became trapped in what Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoi identified many years ago, namely, “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.” Next we will examine how the political system that Strong and the UN set up allowed perpetuation of incorrect science and falsely identified smoking guns.As evidence "grew" ???
Thursday, May 1, 2008
We need intelligence regarding the planet we actually live on as opposed to advice about some alternate earth.