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)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Not Boring

Let's start at the very beginning. Every month we dig ourselves deeper in the hole. Every month the future bottleneck looks tighter, the future crisis deeper, the future losses more tragic. And for a few years, we have been out of the realm of the hypothetical, with real damage starting to occur.



The changes we will need to avoid a disaster are immense. Politicians try to sell them by minimizing them, by pretending they are a jobs program. Many people don't believe in jobs programs. Most people don't find them interesting, either way.

The messages we send are soothing, boring and earnest, because politicians are in the business of achieving short term victories. You don't achieve short term victories by saying "we need to lose the growth imperative, we need to reorganize, we need to urbanize, we need more calculus and more spinach, less ATV riding and less barbecue." It's not a product that is easy to sell.

What is the alternative product? Doubt of course, as Oreskes and Conway explain so well. Doubt sells better than calculus and spinach. In times of poor educational standards and stress, doubt feeds paranoia, a favorite pastime of many. Suddenly the earnest hippie is the establishment that is being rebelled against!

Allons enfants de la patrie! For freedom! For gasoline! For beef! (Liberte, petrol, boeuf!)

Who provides the doubt product? Pseudoscientists, of course, or at best arithmeticians and nitpickers. You know who I mean. And who buys? People who flatter themselves that they know some science and who (in some cases desperately) want to believe that the unsustainable is going to be sustained.

To some extent this dynamic is insurmountable. There are people whose only interest in the science is to provide cover for their hostility and their anger and their disbelief. Providers of pseudoscience will emerge to serve that market. It's capitalism at work.

But who takes the long view? Where is the actual reality-based science-informed world view in all this?

Increasingly isolated.

People who support action do so in a tepid sort of way, not understanding what vast changes may be in store. A couple of degrees of warming doesn't sound like much, and all the talk is about "warming", not about the accompanying climate change. A cessation of all net carbon emissions is seen as an absurd goal. And much as we need to move that way overnight, we cannot convince people of the necessity overnight.

What's the problem here? It's simple. People have forgotten that spinach can be fun. And calculus too! Political types do what they do not because they adore science but because they are afraid of it. Some can't handle it, some just think they can't, some just don't want to. Grant agencies encourage outreach but abhor political controversy.

The paranoid story, the environmental equivalent of Obama's birth certificate, is an exciting narrative full of intrigue, cloak and dagger stolen emails, forged data, and competing lawsuits. It's engaging. The opposing story is about retraining steel workers to install solar panels. Good visuals, but really, ho hum. Small scale renewable energy is a niche market, not a solution. And large scale renewables are, well, big, and controversial, and make for tedious town council meetings and sleepy reporters in those towns where somebody still bothers to collect the news.

So we have two competing ideas: 1) The future is a boring place full of nice windmills where we don't want them or else some fluffy creatures will starve 2) the future is a dangerous place where people want to steal our money for stupid windmill projects, but if we stop them, nothing will change at all and gasoline will be cheap again and we can all drive to the coast for a weekend on the beach again hurray!

This is really weird stuff for an old science fiction fan. The future is not boring! It's dangerous, it's strange, it's full of new threats and new opportunities, and it is a world of survival of the fittest, where fittest means smartest. WIRED magazine, which sells gadgets, generally tells only half the story. But every smart young person needs no assistance in seeing the other half. The old world is never coming back. I think Bush Jr. hastened the end of it by a decade or so; I can't understand anyone blaming Obama who is trying very hard to put Humpty back together again. But Humpty will never be quite the same even under the best of circumstances.

We have to give up on fossil fuels or face massive starvation (or maybe factory foods imported from the moon?). And people think this is dull? The whole way we talk about the future here in the 21st century is so bizarre and alienated and avoidant.

Our job as communicators is not just to get the science across, but to get its implications across. They are pretty huge. And though there is hope, whatever will come out in the end will be strange. We need to understand it, and exercise collective will to prevent it from being awful. And we need careful and diligent thinking to get there. But thinking itself is not an awful fate. An obsession with the future, which is collectively adaptive, is also great fun once you have enough of the puzzle pieces in your hand. As LBJ liked to say, come, let us reason together.

As long as people are bored they just aren't getting it.


It's a small world now. A large world is an environment. A small world is just a vehicle. And once it crashes, you are just about done.

So that's really the message, not politics, not culture, but reality.

The thing you are tuning out, that is reality. It will no longer take care of itself. Wake up and start learning how to drive. This thing is moving already!

Image: NASA

68 comments:

grant said...

What are these items of "real damage" that are starting to occur? I do not want more of the "disaster is around the corner" predictions as examples. I see the future that you are fearful of and I see it as a better place for me. Are these higher temperatures not proposed as raising the low levels (more than raising the highs)? I look at the world temperature map that Jeff Masters posted and see the dark blues around my part of the world. How can raising the temperature be other than good? I ask how more CO2 cannot help but encourage plant growth?

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks for your question, Grant. Let's crowdsource some answers.

I provided one in the inset to the article: forest loss in British Columbia on a massive scale due to the expansion in range of a pine beetle to which the forest has no immunity.

Here's another: ongoing wildfires in West Texas.

I invite everyone to try to find an actual (not hypothetical) cost plausibly attributable in whole or in part to climate change.

Tom said...

You will end up the old man muttering in the corner of the room.

The messages you send have to date been ludicrous--polar bears, Himalayan glaciers, etc.

The threat global warming poses to the environment is real--but 'future crisis, future losses more tragic' is hyperbolic scare talk.

It's not Mad Max. It's not Water World. And until you quit preaching this crap there's no reason anyone should take you seriously.

Now you owe Liljegren and Mosher apologies, in addition to Curry.

Marco said...

I'll bite:
Increased costs due to sea level rise. It requires barriers to be constructed, fortified, and increased in size.

And that's just one part of the problem with sea level rise. One may also include salination and the problems that causes.

Tom said...

In 1990 the EPA estimated remediation costs for 1 meter sea level rise at a very reasonable one-time cost. Don't remember the exact figures and inflation has surely jumped it up, but it's completely manageable.

The city of Tokyo has suffered massive subsidence, equivalent to maybe 15 meters of sea level rise. Still there.

Geebus, you guys are maroons.

Tom said...

No. Sorry about the maroons crack.

Tom said...

Two apologies--it was 15 feet, not meters:

"Since 1930, excessive groundwater withdrawal has caused Tokyo to subside by as much as 15 feet. Similar subsidence has occurred over the past century in numerous cities, including Tianjin, Shanghai, Osaka, Bangkok and Jakarta. And in each case, the city has managed to protect itself from such large relative sea-level rises without much difficulty."

Hat tip to Bjorn Lomborg, always a favorite here.

Tom said...

Sorry to bore you all but here's more from Bjorn:

"There is no better example of how human ingenuity can literally keep our heads above water than the Netherlands. Although a fifth of their country lies below sea level - and fully half is less than three feet above it - the Dutch maintain an enormously productive economy and enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living. The secret is a centuries-old system of dikes, supplemented in recent decades by an elaborate network of floodgates and other barriers. All this adaptation is not only effective but also amazingly inexpensive. Keeping Holland protected from any future sea-level rises for the next century will cost only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the country's gross domestic product."

greenfyre said...

In the more immediate term we have reached the point where we have to be taking it to the streets through non-violent direct action.

That means leaving our comfort zones of pretend security, sometimes that means arrest and jail ... nothing boring about that narrative either (OK, jail is actually super boring, but you take my meaning)

Michael Tobis said...

Oh well, so much for crowdsourcing.

Green, how is that going to help?

Dan Olner said...

Grant, three questions there: what 'real damage' is happening now? How can raising the temperature be other than good? How can more CO2 do anything but encourage plant growth? Apols to MT, going to post in separate comments.

First-off - I personally think the climate blog community should use the same etiquette as open-source software development: that means the onus is *always* on the questioner to make sure they have done their best to answer their own questions before asking others for help. In open source projects, you will generally find everyone amazingly helpful if you've made sure you've done your research, and amazingly rude if you haven't. The same goes here, for me at least. You should generally expect short shrift if you don't have any more detailed question than "isn't more co2 good for plants?" and haven't even attempted to find out if the question has already been addressed. For example, just yesterday, skepticalscience.com posted a very detailed answer to exactly that question. That would be a good place to continue with any questions you had about co2 and plants.

Dan Olner said...

Nice little rebuttal to Tom/Lomborg here. See, that's just from googling 'Lomborg holland flood'. Quote -

"- Tokyo didn’t ALL subside. Just a portion of it. So it wasn’t the same as an across-the-board sea level rise.
- The Japanese didn’t deal with it by building dikes around the entire city (which is what you’d have to do in a global sea level rise). They dealt with it by stopping the thing they were doing that was causing the problem.
- Specifically, the subsistence was caused by pumping too much groundwater out of a river floodplain. So they stopped. And the subsistence stopped.
- So from that example, we shouldn’t build dikes – we should stop the thing we’re doing that is causing the problem."

It also points out the obvious things about Holland - e.g. they're defending against 1 in 10000 year events; 65% of their GDP is produced in at-risk areas; the total cost for Dutch flood defences over the next century is about $150 billion dollars - what would the global cost be?

Not to mention: what are the implications of the fact that money was NOT spent shoring up New Orleans defenses?

Dan Olner said...

(1) Grant again. Going to pick on "how can raising the temperature be other than good?" This is an area I'd like to learn more about myself: what are the likely impacts, and what's the scope for us taking action to avoid the negative impacts or adapt to them if we have to?

Here, I avoid discussing of ways of measuring impacts, though there are a lot of places to start looking to answer your question. The IPCC, of course, has written entire reports on 'impacts, adaptation and vulnerability', as well as mitigation. The Copenhagen Diagnosis is good place to get an overview of the physical impacts and associated risks.

I think you can avoid a lot of the confusion about measuring impacts by remembering one thing: risk is expensive. Even if we had 100% certainty about global temperature changes, we wouldn't know exactly what the regional impacts were going to be. Starting in the present, this means insurers are calling for action. Without it, as they point out, it will become massively expensive, or just plain impossible, to insure against climate-related activities. One thing about insurers: you can be reasonably certain they've looked into the issue pretty thoroughly.

Risk has always been expensive: a study back in the 70s looked at the village of Daiikera in Rajasthan, near Jodphur. Monsoons mean an unreliable quantity of rain. The result: farmers cultivated many distant plots to hedge their bets because they knew only some would produce. The more carbon we put into the atmosphere, the more we face exactly this situation: any one food-producing region is going to be more at risk, and the cost of managing that risk will continue to rise. The Chicago Exchange has its roots in managing the risk of producing egg and butter; the World Bank's work on agricultural risk nicely outlines various ways it can be managed, but none are free. I know I'm repeating myself, but - climate change just makes all this more and more expensive.

Studies of oil shocks also conclude that a lot of the associated cost is due to the risk, not the direct impact. Not knowing what prices are going to be in the near future halts firms' abilities to make choices about investment - and this is the case regardles of the direction the price is going in.

This Wired article has a great overview of the costs involved for flood defenses. It also points out that back in the 50s, Dutch engineers were quantifying the cost as: 'risk = probability of failure x projected cost of damage'. (See previous comment link for more on the associated costs.) (see next comment...)

Dan Olner said...

Grant (2): All that's before we get onto the risks of huge movements of people displaced by environmental problems. This is already happening, and has been for decades. Same as with all the other risks, pinning any event on climate change is very, very hard - but knowing that the aggregate numbers and risk will increase is a no-brainer.

So three basic facts to finish with: the carbon we put into the atmosphere will stay there for, I think, between 100 and 200 years. The climate forcing caused by that carbon will take 1000 years or more to equilibriate. So we won't fully know the outcome of our carbon experiment for many centuries, and every bit of carbon we add now is stuck there. The one outcome we do know is that sea-level rise will persist throughout those centuries. Nice quote from Nature: "the climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel co2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge, longer than time capsules, longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilization so far."

And, as I say, though we can be certain (within error bounds) of some of the aggregate outcomes, the risk involved will only continue to increase over time - until we stop putting carbon into the atmosphere. But even then, we'll have to wait a loooong time to see the all the consequences play themselves out.

Chris S. said...

"I invite everyone to try to find an actual (not hypothetical) cost plausibly attributable in whole or in part to climate change."


(Prediction made):

Wittmann & Baylis (2000) The Veterinary Journal 160 pp 107-117

"...We review here the risk that climate change poses to the UK's livestock industry via effects on Culicoides biting midges, the vectors of several arboviruses, including those that cause bluetongue ... [midge] species may be able to spread the viruses over much of Europe including the UK ..."


(Prediction comes true):

Wilson & Mellor (2008) PLoS Biology 6 pp 1612-1617

"...Historically a tropical and subtropical disease, bluetongue has become a regular visitor to southern Europe in the last decade ... BTV reached northern Europe for the first time in 2006, and affected around 2,000 holdings ... and [later] spread to a further 45,000 holdings ... making it the most economically damaging outbreak of bluetongue ever seen."

(How damaging?):

http://www.iah.ac.uk/ecosoc/docs/Blue-Tongue-case-study.pdf

"The total potential expenditure on BTV-8 vaccination in the UK could be £35m in the year of an outbreak. The vaccination process would have to be repeated each year for any new born animal, leading to lesser, but still significant costs."

Chris S. said...

(How damaging part 2, or What Could Have Happened Without the Initial Prediction)

From the same DTZ report:

"If we assume similar exports restrictions to those applied in Belgium after the BTV outbreak in
2006, ie restrictions on exports of all ruminants and ruminants‟ meat, the impact could therefore
reach £210m losses for UK farmers.

A ban on exports of unpasteurised milk could add further negative impacts on the British
economy, although data on the proportion of unpasteurised milk in the total milk exports is not
available.

...


The overall employment impacts of such a BTV-8 outbreak in the UK, without the intervention of
the IAH and their partners to stop the disease from spreading would therefore represent about
10,000 job losses throughout the UK economy.

...

By preventing a major BTV-8 outbreak from affecting the UK‟s agricultural sector, IAH and its partners contribute to protect British farmers from a potential £485m loss in their annual income, as well as to protect 10,000 jobs throughout the UK's economy that would otherwise be lost."

Dan Olner said...

Fresh link via climate crocks, a breakdown of the costs for every US state.

greenfyre said...

Mike

The short answer is that it is a tool. Like any tool it will help when applied correctly to the appropriate job, and it will do nothing or even do damage otherwise. There is no carte blanche 'always works' political action, and nonviolent civil disobedience is no exception. It has to be done thoughtfully and intelligently.

That said, read Gene Sharpe's "The Politics of Nonviolent Action."

Andy F said...

I've found almost the opposite problem: dramatic events like hurricanes and AI-style sea level rise capture the imagination, even though the greater and more certain risk is from less Bruckheimerian things like rain-induced flooding, heat waves and drought. This weekend somebody was asking me about the link between tornados and climate change -- everybody's all about the storms.

There's this line from The Sopranos delivered by a hitman to a disturbed ex-lover of Tony who won't take the hint that she's been dumped: "It won't be cinematic. The last face you'll ever see won't be Tony's, it'll be mine."

(This is Tom's or Richard's cue to decry mob-style threats.)

ijish said...

MT, dang it again! You're once more mashing your 3 goals into one totally confusing 'pseudo-goal'.

When you're trying to gain political ground, you should just focus on gaining political ground. When you're trying to communicate the scientific method, you should just focus communicating the scientific method.

There's no doubt that communicating the scientific method itself to the public at large will be an extremely long-term proposition. So if that's what you're aiming for, you need to forget about the 'urgency of the political brouhaha at hand', or at least not think so much about it.

Reserve short-term tactics for short-term tasks.

-- frank

Grypo Saurus said...

There are also the ethical impacts of this. Judging yourself to be a "winner" in this great x-peer-ee-mint of ours is no reason for not acting. I know this won't help with the most selfish of the human race, but I would hope to think that wasting too much time on them is not necessary. Especially with Afred E Newman showing up to make sure to reassure them that they'll be fine. Cuz Afred E Newman is so smot.

Adam said...

Fuller: "You will end up the old man muttering in the corner of the room."

Snort!

Look who's talking.

Tom said...

Can we agree that sea level rise is not going to be a planet buster, at least?

Because if you don't want to talk about the real world you can just hold your own ClimateCon and wear green uniforms and talk to each other.

Be sure to hold it in some faraway place.

Grypo Saurus said...

Nothing has to be a planet buster or water-world or madmax to discuss that kind of situation seriously. There will likely be some places where it used to be somewhat dry, but it will turn into a situation like mad-max. There will be some places that are no longer livable because ankle deep water sucks in your living room. Why the conversation has to warned off of shitty things that will likely inevitably happen to lots of people is a mystery. Where is the logic in the statement, 'well it won't be like mad-max planetbuster so how does this effect me?' If our thought process has degraded this much over the course of the industrial era, then just throw in the towel now.

Marco said...

Tom, try this link:
http://www.moorga.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Presentation-N-Tsuchiya.pdf

I think you can understand the implications. And this is what they're doing in a very rich country. Think Bangladesh or Vietnam can do the same without spending a huge amount of their GDP?

ijish said...

Tom, can we at agree that Obama isn't a terrorist Marxist Muslim, at least?

(To the lurker: let me explain. Tom is trying to paint climate scientists and activists as 'extremists' by attributing all sorts of extreme predictions to them. After doing that, he then proceeds to 'magnanimously' offer to compromise with them by asking that they accept a proposition that's less 'extreme'. Classic strawman tactic, with a twist. Now that I've learnt his tactic, I'm using it back against him.)

-- frank

Tom said...

Frank, don't put words in my mouth. Same goes for several others. I'm not trying to paint climate scientists as anything at all.

I'm saying Michael Tobis, supported by so many of his faithful commenters, is painting a hyperbolic picture of the impacts of global warming.

You all have moved far beyond the IPCC, using brand new studies that have not been validated by the proper amount of study and replication (e.g., GRACE).

You are in effect creating a science fiction future, and using emotive imagery from apocalyptic scenarios from past depictions.

But they were fiction.

Paul Daniel Ash said...

The dangers are real, but the timing and scope are difficult to quantify with or without a bandiera tricolore. So I think focusing on potential outcomes is uncompelling.

The reason why I've always been fond of the term "climate chaos" instead of CC, GW, AGW, CAGW, OMGBBQGW etc. is that it underscores the uncertainty factor.

To me it just evokes driving a truck with worn out ball joints and brakes. Sure, you might get through OK if you're lucky. You might end up in a ditch, or flipped over and in flames. Why not figure out a safe way to at least slow down, if not stop and fix the problem?

Dan Olner said...

Tom, I can't help but notice you're not actually responding in any way to anything anyone says.

Tom said...

Dan, I'm not really interested in talking to the flamers, and I do work for a living.

Which of the above questions in your opinion most needs an answer?

Tom said...

Umm, actually Dan, I don't see any questions directed at me in this thread...

Grypo Saurus said...

Permit me to indulge my inner Willard...

Watch what Tom does. Micheal mentions being a science fiction fan. Creates interesting narrative around how we think about our future. This, I imagine, is to put aside some of the pessimism that infects this debate. Instead of focusing on our inability to agree on needed and difficult changes, we can focus how the process is a challenge, and that challenge can be..."fun".

Tom focuses in on "science fiction" derails thread with strawmen about science fiction movie plots. Fun's over. Derailment - a success.

BTW, I wonder which version of the IPCC Tom discusses.

Tom said...

Your inner Willard is no better than the other one.

Michael Tobis said...

heh.

Tom, a serious question about non-serious comments.

Should I tell people to back off empty but funny flames against you? Or do you want free reign yourself?

We obviously can't let things between us get off the rails as badly as they did in the past. But I do like to see some disagreement in the comments; it keeps people engaged and keeps the ideas coming. What's your opinion?

I am inclined to think more leeway if the snarks are funny than if they are just angry or mean.

Tom said...

It's your blog, your rules. Just tell Bloom not to accuse me of lying about my military service and anything goes. (Note to Bloom: In the real world, you know, the one where falsifying your military service has consequences, do you really think I would go over to a hostile weblog and tell porkies about my life that can be easily checked?)

Apart from that, let 'em rip.

Ric said...

Thank you, this kind of trenchant post is just why this blog is the top (in Cole Porter's sense) for those who can tell the difference.

When I segued from the post to the comments, the dropoff in quality was disappointing, but that should not detract from the post itself.

Tom said...

Michael, you have often said you have more confidence in the work of WG1 than in WG2 or WG3, which is what we're discussing here.

What real world impacts do you foresee in this century due to business as usual emissions? What do you use as sources for these beliefs? How are they an improvement on WG2 and WG3?

For 2030

For 2050

For 2075

For 2100

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, too big of a question for a short reply, and a bit too far outside my expertise for a quick one.

But I agree that we should be asking exactly these questions. I'd welcome anyone actually coming up with something specific.

What I take from Camille Parmesan is that ecological damage is already occuring. Some people do not care about that, though we have an Endangered Species Act to show that this indifference is new.

Direct damage to human welfare is less obvious, but I think there are many cases where it is arguable.

Tom said...

You can argue any of the effects on the environment, from insect infestation to incidence of malaria to sea level rise.

But people argue back with cogent explanations that are also based on science.

You brought it up, Michael. Don't just wash your hands and walk away.

Sea level rise can be mitigated by existing technology at a fraction of one percent of GDP.

Raising the level of productivity of Indian farmers to that achieved in China by the 12th Century would basically eliminate world hunger. And leave some grain left over for biofuels. Adoption of GMOs in Africa would result in a huge surplus.

Be specific about the impacts that threaten world civilization.

Is it rising sea levels?
Is it reduced agricultural productivity?
Is it loss of large portions of the biome?

Is it fire or is it ice?

Marco said...

Tom, interesting claim that sea level rise can be mitigated by a fraction of 1% of GDP, considering that the Netherlands, one of the richest countries in the world, will spend about 0.3% of its GDP, annually(!), to mitigate sea level rise. I'll ask you again (yes, there WAS a question to you): Think Bangladesh or Vietnam can do the same without spending a huge amount of their GDP?

Tom said...

Yes.

rustneversleeps said...

I love the part where Tom admoishes that we should not stray from what the gospel that is the IPCC AR4 says on SLR, despite its own caveats on ice sheet dynamics and subsequent research... But then will elsewhere blithely assert his own estimates - contra the IPCC AR4 - on little things like climate sensitivity, CO2 atmospheric residency, etc.

Tom said...

The topography of Vietnam is very different than most people think. About 40% of it is mountains and another 40% is hilly country. Although it has a long coastline, about 3,440 kilometers, the areas affected by sea level rise are principally the five river deltas.

Action has already begun on mitigating sea level rise, with Germans and Austrians helping Vietnam recreate the mangrove defense network of groves.

So yes, I think Vietnam can protect its coastline without spending a huge proportion of its GDP.

Steve Bloom said...

Michael, here you are again engaging a propagandist. I can't imagine it being of interest to lurkers, it being too repetitive aside from the content, so what gives?

Tom said...

Bangladesh has a coastline of between 710 kilometers along the Bay of Bengal. Most of the country is low-lying and 17% would be heavily impacted by sea level rise as high as one meter.

However, they are fortunate in the short length of exposed coastline and in the ability of river deposits to compensate for subsidence. Given even a lukewarm response from the outside world, which has been quick to aid Bangladesh in the past, SLR could be mitigated (and efforts are beginning using river silts) at a reasonable percentage of GDP.

Given the value of the land at risk, they have no option but to combat sea level rise.

The best defense for Bangladesh would in fact be a rising GDP to make the costs bearable.

Michael Tobis said...

Steve, I do not limit conversation to people who agree with me.

"I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, excessively contentious, repetitive, or spammy."

I don't see any of the above happening as yet in the present round. Fuller has taken some harsh hits with grace. So far he is ahead on points, actually.

The objective of being maximially interesting is not achieved by ignoring any opposition.

Adam said...

Michael, here you are again engaging a propagandist. I can't imagine it being of interest to lurkers, it being too repetitive aside from the content, so what gives?

Indeed--and propagandist is a polite term.

I am baffled at what the point may be. Do you imagine, MT, that Fuller will ever be anything better than what he has been? What sign has he ever given that he might?

Often, MT, you remind me of the indefatigable enabler of a hopeless drug addict: loaning credibility to the Fullers, Kloors and Pielkes to tide them over just a bit longer in the hope they'll get clean and sober at last.

greysparkles said...

Michael,

Recently I saw a lecture by Michael Collins (the Apollo 11 astronaut) on you tube where he spoke to some of your concerns regarding the current notion that economic growth is a thing which we can have without let into the future.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJGzK23jVVk&feature=fvsr

Mr. Collins observed that when he was orbiting the Moon the population of Earth was some 3 billion people. He further stated that our numbers are more than 6 billion and are headed to 8, "so the experts tell us." He goes on to say:

"In my view this growth is not wise, healthy, or substainable. The loss of habitat, the trashing of the oceans, the acumulation of waste products, this is no way to treat a planet."

"Yet how do you stop it? Our economic models are all predicated on growth. The require it. Grow or die, or maybe both."

It is somewhat encouraging to hear him say these things. As you say, "You don't achieve short term victories by saying "we need to lose the growth imperative, we need to reorganize, we need to urbanize, we need more calculus and more spinach, less ATV riding and less barbecue." It's not a product that is easy to sell," but at least you aren't the only one making the observation.

Michael Tobis said...

I have taken to repeating Itzhak Rabin's line "You don't make a peace treaty with your friends".

Keeping communication open with people who are at best stubbornly confused is an ongoing cost. Failing to do so, however, reinforces the claim that we are afraid to defend our position, or that we have not got an adequate basis for it.

On the other hand, it leads to going round in circles about old news rather than moving the conversation forward, which is in many ways more important.

I have some ideas about how to do this, but Blogger isn't the tool for the job. Do stay tuned.

Adam said...

Well, you are a better man than I, MT. I guess that's why I follow your blog.

Tom said...

Here is the propaganda I spew, having published it in several venues various times:

Global warming is a serious issue that needs to be addressed starting now.

I favor a carbon tax starting now, at $12/ton, re-evaluated against benchmarks every ten years.

I favor technology transfer to developing countries to help them prepare for and combat climate change at $150 billion per annum.

I completely support the EPA's regulation of heavy emitters of carbon dioxide.

I have said this for years, at examiner.com, on other weblogs, in our book, and here.

And yet I am the denier here.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, you are getting Gishy. Try to stay on one thing at a time, please.

All, including Tom, the topic is not Tom Fuller.

Tom said...

Yeah, but you won't talk to the topic. You say my questions are good, but you don't offer any answers.

ijish said...

MT:

"I have taken to repeating Itzhak Rabin's line 'You don't make a peace treaty with your friends'."

Your use of that quote in this context is so wrong on so many levels that it's not even wrong. The war you should be fighting isn't a war for MT, it's a war for scientific thinking. And you do want to win that war, and win 100%, not sign a peace treaty.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

OK, I admit the conversation here is not what I had hoped for. But what can I do? I can hold for moderation, and moderate only for excellent, insightful comments. That's tedious for me, frustrating for others striking up a conversation, and irritating to those I flush.

The blog medium is not made for sifting and winnowing. It's possible to envision alternatives. But meanwhile, erring on the side of openness and trust usually has modest costs.

Drawing the line with Mosher was more expensive, but I couldn't let people think our points of agreement mean that I forgive him for his role in the recent fiascos.

Fuller is sort of an everyman. His ideologies drive his opinions, methinks. (I suppose this is true for everyone. The definition of a scientist almost comes down to being able to resist this tendency to some extent.) I don't think he is malign. I think he is quite representative of the sort of resistance we face, wherein realism about our circumstances is regarded as extremism. So although he isn't as interesting as he thinks in the way he thinks, his opinions always fascinate me as diagnostic of an upside-down idea of what "reasonable" means.

But now we have to create a Fuller thread again to avoid all converstaion being about fuzzy middle-of-the-roadism...

EliRabett said...

The Nile delta is what fraction of Egypt's area. The Nile delta is what fraction of Egypt's =agricultural land.

The Red River delta is what fraction of Vietnam's area. The Red River delta is what fraction of Vietnam's agricultural land. Throw in the Mekong for small change.

Grypo Saurus said...

The Drowned World
JG Ballard

Pete said...

We are heading for 450 or more ppm CO2. What was sea level last time CO2 got that high?

Tom said...

Don't bother, Tobis. Boring.

David B. Benson said...

Pete --- About 60 meters higher, I think.

Marco said...

Tom, I like the naive optimism that developed countries will just help those poor countries.

And if those countries would just get a bit more developed, oh, how wonderful it would be.

Grypo Saurus said...

Has anyone put together a list worldwide 100 yr flooding events since 2009? It would make an interesting follow up to the Min study in Nature, which did fingerprinting on precipitation ending in 2008. I know Masters and Heat online follow the stories but I'm looking for comparisons of global flooding for several 2-3 year time periods also, such as mid 70's.

Mal Adapted said...

Marco has identified the foundation of Fuller's denialism. The reality in Bangladesh, according to the National Geographic, is this:

"Today India seems determined to close and fortify its border, girding against some future mass migration of the type hypothesized in Washington. It's building a 2,500-mile security fence along the border, and security guards have routinely shot people crossing illegally into India..."

Meanwhile, "All around Bangladesh bright, ambitious, well-educated young people are plotting their exit strategies." So much for development.

Michael Tobis said...

"Tom, I like the naive optimism that developed countries will just help those poor countries.

And if those countries would just get a bit more developed, oh, how wonderful it would be."

Marco, is this fair? Tom recommends help to the poor countries. That's a prescription, not a prediction. Do you not agree with the suggestion?

Note, however, $150 B over a century $1.5 B over a year. Assuming this is a transfer form the richest third to the poorest third in a population of 9 B, it amounts to a half dollar per capita.

I am not sure it is worth mentioning in the broad brush context.

Michael Tobis said...

As for Tom's question to me, it is not an off-topic follow up to the essay. But it is unreasonably demanding on blog timescales. It would be a huge endeavor. There's plenty written about the spectrum of impact questions for anyone willing to do their homework, although WG II AR4 is not all that impressive in my opinion.

Paul Daniel Ash said...

I think it's reasonable to ask, without personalizing, if there is any more likelihood for the minimal harm scenario (exempli gratiae trivial impacts to sea level rise, end of world hunger et cetera) than for the maximal-harm scenario (increase in deaths from heat stress, collapse of the food chain, mass extinction und so weiter).

Michael Tobis said...

Paul, I would say, more or less by definition, not at all.

What's more the worst case is more bad than the best case is good. The risk spectrum weighs the dangerous side of the response spectrum. The expected cost of each individual component of disruption exceeds the cost of the expected disruption.

People who find this baffling need to learn a little bit about statistics.

So, overall, given multiple roughly independent possible disruptions of high uncertainty, we don't know which one or ones will bite the hardest, but we can say with some confidence that the worst one will bite pretty hard. Yeah, statistics again.

Grypo Saurus said...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-h-gleick/tornadoes-2011_b_855032.html