"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

World Doomed; No Action Required

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which,
if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “
But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.
Say it is thus with what you show me!”

I had been seeing signs of progress from Andy Revkin, but the scratched side of the coin came up this week. Check this article.

Now I want to say that critics of science ask good questions, even though they tend not to listen to the answers. Revkin kicks off by quoting Larry Griesel (apparently disgruntled by the whole climate question) asking for quantification:
I would encourage Mr. Revkin to post a Dot Earth blog entry in which he QUANTIFIES the following:

1) “A big buildup of greenhouse gasses”: Please restate, in ppm of atmospheric CO2.

2) “A long-lasting and very disruptive shift”: Please specify the exact nature of the one or two most-serious disruptive shifts, and QUANTIFY the minimum degree of this risk. For example, if the “disruptive shift” is future flooding and droughts, specify the predicted annual agricultural output in the period following this “disruptive shift”. “Long-lasting” to be quantified in number of decades.

3) “RISKS”. For each most-serious disruptive shift specified in (2), state the probability of this shift, as a range. For example: Probability range = 0.1 to 0.5. Or, probability range = 0.01 to 0.10.

4) Present the “consensus climate science” that substantiates the RISK probability range specified in (3), to the 80% confidence level. Presumably this consensus climate science is available in an IPCC publication.
This begins with the not uncommon confusion is the idea that the amount of greenhouse gases in the air is a quantity not under conscious control. What will be depends crucially on what we do. (Think of Scrooge's question to the Ghost.)

But these questions can be answered quantitatively as a function of emissions trajectory, and the uncertainties only get severe as the outcomes get severe. I think it's worth giving it a try. And indeed, a team (including In It reader Jim Bouldin) Vince Gutschick takes a shot at it in Revkin's article.

And here is where things get weird. The group concludes:
The most extreme risk envisioned in all climate studies is surely a runaway greenhouse effect, in which human activities cause a buildup of CO2 to a level (ca. 1400 ppm). In this condition, as hot as it would be and as much as the patterns of precipitation and other processes have been altered, large additional rises are unstoppable. Natural processes release massive amounts of CO2. Some are biological, such as rapid respiration of vast stores of organic carbon in soils globally by bacteria, activated by high temperature. Others are a-biological, such as ocean degassing from the lower solubility of CO2 in warm versus cool water and also melting of methane clathrates (ice with trapped methane, which is more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. There is good evidence of past runaway greenhouse events. One or more ensued as the recovery from Snowball Earth episodes (a fascinating story, but there is no room to detail this here). Another is themid-Cretaceous period, when CO2 has been inferred to be as high as 3000 ppm (very indirect evidence, such as from the structures of plant leaves). Ocean temperatures as high as 38 C (100 F) are inferred. This level would be lethal to us; dinosaurs prospered in what Richard Alley from Penn State has called the “Saurian Sauna.”
OK, that is some scary stuff. It's not "runaway" as on Venus; the ocean does not boil off, but geochemical feedbacks act to take us into territory far beyond normal, far beyond what complex terrestrial life can handle.

Basically, anything that can't survive in a zoo is doomed in that scenario. If civilization survives through something like that, the only silver lining is that it will be great for space colonization, there being no particular advantage to the Earth over other planets.

This is at 5x background CO2 + CO2-equivalent. That won't happen overnight, but it isn't outside the realm of the possible if people continue to make a religious issue out of not accounting for externalities.

That's weird enough. I mean, how scary do things have to get. But that's not the weird part of the article.

Revkin doesn't question this terrifying scenario at all. But he throws in a pitch for Pielkian insouciance anyway. He can't resist.
"(For what it’s worth, I agree with Yohe’s assessment, although I differ with his preference for a rising price on carbon as the most feasible way to develop an energy menu that works for the long haul.) "
(Lest I be misunderstood, Yohe is not the one talking runaway. That isn't the point, really.)

The point is, how strong is the compulsion to be "reasonable" and "centrist" and "opposed to draconian taxes" in the face of the literal destruction of the world!

I'm not saying I think the total destruction of the world is on the table. I am resisting believing that. It's probably my own coping mechanism.

Revkin, however, is quoting people saying that the destruction of the world is on the table, and isn't calling that into question. He just doesn't think that an outcome like that is serious enough to try raising taxes.

The evidence is piling up that our circumstances are beyond our cognitive or managerial abilities. I'm more scared of that than of hundred degree oceans right now. I think at the present rate we will not manage to maintain what we are pleased to call civilization long enough to get to 5xCO2. I suppose you could say that may be more good news than bad news; at least a few vertebrates will straggle through.

Note: Attribution in part to Jim Bouldin above was incorrect. The error followed Revkin's erroneous attribution. Jim corrected this and in fact replied in a very scientifically conservative and unimpeachable way which you can now see at the referenced article.


Lou Grinzo said...

I had much the same reaction to Revkin's piece. It's just one more manifestation of a phenomenon we've all seen far too many times -- an adamant refusal or outright inability to accept the full implications of the situation we've created.

Part of the problem is that you have to immerse yourself in sustainability issues, not just CC, for some time before you can intuitively connect the dots. I think this is one of the main reasons why CC is a tougher problem for civilization to deal with than peak oil; people tend to "get" peak oil pretty easily once you show them data on oil production and consumption, how dependent we are on it, the difficulty of coming up with substitutes, etc. But even that amount of material is a bumper sticker compared to CC's book: the basic science, the energy-water-food nexus, SLR, storms, floods, disease vectors, etc. Before we can grasp the urgency of the CC situation we have to intellectually understand its potential impact.

Tom Curtis said...

Being fair to Revkin, he did point out that he did not believe the catastrophic part of the predictions in a footnote to the post. The footnote reads as follows:

"It’s worth including my full response to the initial question: “I have doubts about the catastrophic part, sure. So do many climate scientists. But I also have no doubt that the RISKS of long-lasting and very disruptive shifts from a big buildup of greenhouse gases [are] sufficiently clear to justify an aggressive energy quest that works for the long haul.” "

I think that means he deserve neither your criticism on this point, nor your initial praise for signs of improvement.

Anonymous said...

possible, to fix this (per Tom C), Micheal would only need to delete the bolded part:

"Revkin, however, is quoting people saying that the destruction of the world is on the table, and isn't calling that into question."

And accentuate:

"Now I want to say that critics of science ask good questions, even though they tend not to listen to the answers."

And change the phrase "...not to listen to..." to:

"...to listen to whatever climatologist gives them the answer that fits there prescribed policy solution, for..."

Is that a good fix?

Robert said...

Michael - Something seems missing or off in these sentence - "The point is, how string the compulsion to be "reasonable" and "centrist" and "opposed to draconian taxes" in the face of the literal destruction of the world."

Not sure what you are trying to say.

Robert said...

"this sentence" not "these"


Michael Tobis said...


mt's standard typos:

string for strong (fixed)
form for from
don;t for don't
appply for apply

If I ever go back to Lucia's, it will be anonymously. I'll have to be diligent about those. Dead giveaway to have a bunch of standard typos.

Otherwise I actually like the sentence with the verb implicit, but I put an inconspicuous "is" in for the sticklers.

Michael Tobis said...

@Tom, @Grypo, I disagree that I need to fix anything or concede anything to Revkin.

Having doubts about total catastrophe is not enough. Having the suspicion that total catastrophe is on the table really ought to be enough to arouse people out of their slumber.

If 5xCO2 = planetary distinction deserves inches at the times, it doesn't deserve a shrug and a "doubt", it deserves one of two counterarguments: 1) 5xCO2 cannot happen 2) the system response is definitely overstated.

I for one cannot make either statement at this moment.

Mosher has proposed another escape, which is that our ethical responsibilities have a sort of a discount rate; that we have no ethical obligations to distand descendants.

Do I think the oceans will reach 100 F within the lifetimes of people now living? No I don't. So on this view the catastrophic outcome can be neglected in our calculations.

To me that is like saying you can carpet bomb people just because you would never meet them anyway. I simply can't grasp such contingent ethics. Avoiding destroying any living world at any time is a joint ethical responsibility of everybody. (The more so now that we only have the one that we know of.)

That said, Revkin's choices are either to dismiss the analysis or to emphasize the urgency and stringency of the required response.

I really think Revkin likes to think of himself as a mensch, an all-round decent human being. But he fails to live up to menschlichkeit (menschiness) with alarming regularity. If there is a real risk of total destruction (and in fact there are several of them) it doesn't merit a shrug and a bow in the direction of wishful thinking.

This isn't to say we should stop wishing for an easy way out, or stop looking for an easy way out. It means it's, well, little short of criminally insane to insist on one.

Tom Curtis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Curtis said...


I'm not going to dispute with the overall coherence of Revkin's position, which I do not know enough about. It does appear to me that someone with similar views to Revkin could make at least three coherent repsonces.

First, Revkin could argue that the present cost of radical measures are sufficiently high, and sufficiently certain as to balance out the uncertain cost of future catastrophe.

In decision theory, the relative value of given actions is given by the sum of the costs or benefits of each individual consequence times the probability of that consequence. Its the same logic as gambling. So Revkin can grant that the catastrophe might cost everything (species extinction), but still claim the risk is so low that it is counterbalanced by the much lower but still high (and very certain) costs of a carbon tax.

Second, Revkin could argue that the ideal action to prevent global warming is simply unachievable. If correct, because you cannot have a moral obligation to do that which cannot be done, he has no obligation to bring about that ideal responce. He would still have an obligation to bring about possible goals that would reduce the risk of the catastrophe (even if not as much as the unobtainable ideal).

You actually accept the logic of this argument when you spend no time looking for a wonderfull device that when activated, for low energy and with no polution, sets atmospheric CO2 to any desired concentration. An ideal solution in many ways, but also instantly dismissable as impossible and therefore of no moral interest to us. On this argument, Revkin and you do not differ on moral theory, but on what you believe is achievable in responce to global warming.

Third, Revkin could argue deontological contraints. The idea is that certain moral obligations hold no matter what the outcomes in terms of utility. A Libertarian may, for example, believe that taxes except for certain very tightly defined purposes are immoral, and that no matter how desirable a carbon tax might be given prospects in the future, the benefit of the tax cannot remove the immorality of the taxation. (I doubt Libertarianism is itself coherent, but if it were, this argument would not be automatically incoherent.)

In fact, I am myself a deontologist. I will under no circumstances suport undemocratic government, or arbitrary murder of innocents, or ... ( a whole host of things) even to prevent a Venus style runaway greenhouse effect.

These three arguments can obviously be run together. For example, it may be a deontological commitment to democracy which makes instituting a carbon tax impossible (in Revkin's opinion). (And again, I am making no claims as to Revkin's actual opinions, only to potentially coherent responces to the challenge you make.)

Having said that, I disagree with all three responces in this case because I think they are wrong in fact. But the principles are still sound for all that.

Andrew Revkin said...

You make the jump from the seriousness of the problem (which I accept, as I described) to a rising carbon tax as the response with no hint of doubt that this is the right way to decarbonize human energy systems as we head toward 9 billion people seeking decent lives (with nearly all emissions growth coming in countries where there is zero interest in raising energy costs).

What's the source of your confidence in a carbon cost as the "solution"? Or your rejection of my preference for an energy quest that works for the long haul? http://j.mp/eQuest

dhogaza said...

So over at Kloor's, Tom Fuller posts:

"Species extinction is a perfect crime for environmentalists. Nobody knows how many species exist, nobody knows how many are dying off, nobody knows if those that do go missing are actually extinct, nobody knows if the die-off rate is more, less or the same as in previous periods–the people that have published scary totals have flat out admitted in the press that they… made…the….numbers…up."

And Keith Kloor says that Tom's view of reality is more accurate than our hosts.

So apparently Tom and Keith are both on record as saying that E.O. Wilson and other prominent biologists make shit up ... and admit that they just make shit up ...

So not only is climate science a fraud, but population ecology is a fraud.

I think they're helping to prove Michael's point, myself ...

Robert said...

MT - Thanks for clarifying that sentence.

manuel moe g said...

Part 1 of 2

At the risk of splitting hairs, there are some minor mistakes in Tom Curtis's post. I think it can be demonstrated that Tom Curtis is being a little too generous to the Revkin-like position he describes.

> In decision theory, the relative value of given actions is given by the sum of the costs or benefits of each individual consequence times the probability of that consequence.

This is not strictly true, when we talk about insurance. Imagine a gun with six chambers, a cartridge in one chamber, the rest empty, spin the chambers, put the gun to your head, pull the trigger. If you had the opportunity to remove the single bullet before pulling the trigger, it would be wise to do so, to avoid death by bullet. Now imagine a gun with sixty chambers, a cartridge in only one chamber, the rest empty, etc. It would still pay to remove the single bullet before pulling the trigger. Now imagine a gun with six billion chambers, and it is just as easy to remove the single bullet as the six chamber gun (difficult to realize, because the gun is now the size of a small office building, but humor the example). A single intervention with a low bounded cost is warranted to remove the chance of identified singular "worst-case-scenario" no matter how small the chance, because after the actual bullet passes through your brain, the billions of probabilistic bullets that *don't* pass through your brain offer no relief.

Granted, with global climate disruption, I don't see anything I am comfortable calling "a single intervention with a low bounded cost to remove the chance of identified singular 'worst-case-scenario'". But if we are talking about insurance, then we should talk about insurance. I think the situation is best described as "a cost we bare now, and will continue to bare, to reduce the chance of a singularly defined morally horrific event taking place in the future, where the only confusion between this singular event and all hypothetical horrific events is sown by those already demonstrably disinclined to bare *any* significant cost now for *any* reason - understood as insurance taken by those under the weight of moral responsibility".

manuel moe g said...

Part 2 of 2

> Second, Revkin could argue that the ideal action to prevent global warming is simply unachievable. If correct, because you cannot have a moral obligation to do that which cannot be done, he has no obligation to bring about that ideal responce.

You can only make this argument... by making this argument. It cannot be used to excuse a different deficient argument. If he is actually arguing this [Revkin has assumed that he is free to blather about inadequate remedies and foster controversy around sound analysis, because all adequate remedies are socially/economically/politically impossible], but he shirks from the social consequences of always making this explicit, then he is craven and not arguing in good faith.

Similarly with what you describe as a "deontological" argument. (Peculiar that a duty to burn fossil fuels is more deserving of explicit recognition than a duty to not to break the thread of extant western civilization - but, hey, different strokes fo' different folks. The Romans dropped the ball once, and now my only access to ancient Greek thought is through fragments and secondary sources. I don't want some smallish vertebrate 10,000 years forward similarly cursing me.). Make the "deontological" argument - not everyone is willing to grant the Hayek was divinely inspired, so the actual chain of probable consequence between carbon-taxation and jack-booted-thuggery will need to be made explicit. (Then there is the problem of *which* Hayek - _The Road to Surfdom_ or _The Fatal Conceit_ or Hayek's academic publishing? For example, many imagine support for laissez-faire capitalism in _The Road to Surfdom_, when in that book Hayek actually distances himself from supporting that form of capitalism.)

Repeating, I attempted to demonstrate that Tom Curtis is being a little too generous to the Revkin-like position he describes. I understand that Tom Curtis is not describing his own position.

manuel moe g said...

Revkin: What's the source of [...] your rejection of my preference for an energy quest that works for the long haul?

Speaking for myself: Consider two families that each wish their sons to have a college education. One family bears the cost of funding an education savings account, and the second has a "preference" to place all hope in a possible football full scholarship, and makes no sacrifice ahead of college.

The "preference" is all very sweet, but only one family is expressing a moral commitment.

An "energy quest" is magical enough to solve all of problems of the future and the past, but still reasonable sounding enough to allow blissful inaction today. That is its attraction, not to put too fine a point on it.

[This is one of weird situations where if you cast a skeptical eye at an alchemist's beaker, you must "hate science" - anticipating the criticism to this comment.]

Michael Tobis said...

Andy, I'll have a more detailed response later, though you can see the outlines in Moe's latest.

Meanwhile, as a fellow fan of Marc Roberts' cartoons, you surely can't be unaware of his masterpiece, Easter Bunny Island, which remains my favorite environmental cartoon of all time.

Tom Curtis said...

Manuel Moe (part 1), to make your gun analogy relevant, you need to implement a genuine cost to taking action. Obviously if action has no cost, then it is always rational to take it to prevent potential disaster.

Suppose in your example the billion chamber gun had one bullet and one billion - 1 empty cartridges in the chambers. Further, imagine it takes one second to remove and replace (or discard) either bullet or cartridge. Then on average it takes 15 years and ten months to find the shell.

If you are compelled to play the game, in this case the 1 in a billion chance of blowing your brains out does not make it worthwhile wasting nearly 16 years of your life (on average) making sure the game is safe.

In fact, people take exactly this sort of risk everyday. It's called driving. The chance of a fatal accident is real, but very low for a given trip. The outcome of such an accident is personally catastrophic. The risk of not getting to work on time is low (loss of wage or job) by highly probable. Hence people drive. (The same point can be made about public transport, and walking.)

So, I conclude that you have not found an error with the argument, you have merely described a case which does not meet the conditions of the argument.

Paul Daniel Ash said...

Andy, this question has been asked of many "questers" before, but never - to my knowledge - received an answer:

What would motivate such a quest while energy that adds carbon to the atmosphere is cheaper?

Put differently: how does this differ from the Underpants Gnome Business Plan, other than replacing "Collect underpants" with "Develop clean energy?"

Michael Tobis said...

PDA, you misunderstand Magic Pixie Dust.

Not only is it a clean and sustainable energy source that is based on a subtle high technology, it is cheaper than digging up rocks and burning them.

In fact it is so much cheaper and scalable that everybody will abandon all their investments in fossil fuel infrastructure. So we can build more fossil fuel infrastructure anyway.

Now, if there were in fact any hope for this plan, you'd think there would be less tendency to build new fossil fuel infrastructure. Maybe there's some other magic that accounts for this not happening.

But otherwise, yeah. Cheaper than free! The universe will send us checks for using this new kind of energy.

Gravityloss said...

"Basically, anything that can't survive in a zoo is doomed in that scenario. If civilization survives through something like that, the only silver lining is that it will be great for space colonization, there being no particular advantage to the Earth over other planets."

That's very unrealistic and borders on absolutely untrue! Earth would be far more habitable than Mercury, Venus or Mars even with 60 C average temperature.

Just the right gravity and reasonable atmospheric pressure do wonders.

It also detracts from an otherwise more cogent article.

Alas, there's a point I think you miss there too.

Picture a deranged person on a rooftop, threatening to jump. The police arrives and an expert negotiator gets the person to back off. The negotiatior might tell the jumper that there's a pink elephant in the police van that he can let him hug once he gets down...

This is basically how I viewed the "rising carbon price" comment. It's not a statement on what's right, it's about what's effective.

-GL (can't use my normal login right now)

Tom Curtis said...

Manuel "Moe" g (2 of 2),

Fairly obviously, it a person is going to argue a position, they need to argue coherently from that position. I am, of course, not claiming that the real Andy Revkin actually argues any of the three positions I describe, let alone that he argues them coherently. I need only point out that the failure of a given individual to argue a position coherently does not prove the position is incoherent.

I will note that somebody adopting the second position may well feel it incumbent on them to argue against the "unachievable" method to combat climate change, particularly if pursuit of that method is makes it less likely that the best achievable method is not tried.

Further, you are imposing a very vigorous standard on the third argument. Many philosophers believe that Hume's dilemma cannot be overcome, that no moral rules can be justified by more than intuition. Nor do I see any expectation that MT should justify his moral intuitions from first principles. In this area, in common dialogue, it is normally enough that a disputant adhere to his principles consistently, and that those principles be at least coherent. I would expect no less from anyone arguing the third position; but as I do not expect more from MT or anyone else disagreeing with that position, I do not expect more from holders of that position either.

steven said...

"Mosher has proposed another escape, which is that our ethical responsibilities have a sort of a discount rate; that we have no ethical obligations to distand [sic] descendants. "

well,our obligations most certainly do. You can google intergeneration justice for starters and see the rich set of positions on our obligations to future generations, discounts usually apply for those systems where ethical decisions have a cost benefit component, or even I think I could argue, in a rawlsian egalitarian approach. Or, you could apply the golden rule and say I have no obligation to people born after I die. I cannot do unto others if they cannot do unto me.
One could, some have, made those arguments.
What you need to note here is that our ethical obligations are far less certain than the science we are arguing about. And somebody who argues that I have ethical obligations to the humans of 2300, is as strange to me as someone who argues that a mother has ethical obligations to a clump of cells growing in her uterus.Or somebody who argues that infanticide is ok ( See singer)

So, while I think we do have ethical obligations to humans living now, I think those obligations carry more weight than my obligations to those living in 2100, and they have more weight than those living in 2300, and I have no obligation to those who may be alive when the sun burns out. Which means I have no obligation to bear the cost of finding those creatures a new planet to live on.
I have no obligation to the humans who will be living in the US when Yellowstone blows. So, I would expend no money to try to prevent or adapt to that disaster.

steven said...

"Many philosophers believe that Hume's dilemma cannot be overcome, that no moral rules can be justified by more than intuition. "

Basically. and throw in GE Moore for good measure.

Unknown said...

dhogoza (hey, it's been a while):

Nice try. I specifically said that Fuller presented an "alternate universe" that I found "more accurate and reality-based" than Michael's Soylent Green version that he seems to think is just around the corner.

That's a general statement I made. Don't take that as a ringing endorsement of every individual assertion made by Tom Fuller in that comment. But yes, roughly speaking, I thought Tom offered a more realistic picture of the way things stand today.

Tom Curtis said...

Andy Revkin,

First, your energy quest is only a solution to the problem of global warming if it is possible to develop a renewable energy system cheaper than coal powered electricity generation and petrol powered transport. If it is not possible to do that, and that is certainly a risk we face, then the renewable energy economy will not take over untill we have exhausted coal reserves, ie, until potentially catastrophic levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are reached.

In this scenario, a price on carbon is clearly the superior strategy because while it will not achieve a renewable energy system cheaper than our current one, it will still achieve a renewable energy system at sufficiently low cost to maintain a high standard of living in the long term. While doing so, it will reduce emissions of CO2 both by replacing fossil fuel consumption directly (though at a higher price than fossil fuels without tax); and by encouraging much greater energy efficiency.

Second, even if a cheaper energy renewable economy is possible, a price on carbon will stimulate research into renewables; thus achieving that economy at least as quickly (and probably quicker) than it would be achieved by your strategy. That means the cost of a price on carbon is not more than its cost up until the renewable energy economy is achieved, after which the costs of the two strategies become identical.

However, for those costs, the price on carbon also achieves additional reductions in carbon emissions by energy efficiencies. Indeed, arguably energy efficiencies mean that in the first years of operation, a consumer neutral carbon price will generate an economic dividend by eliminating waste.

So the choice is between a strategy with an uncertain outcome and high costs of failure; and a slightly more expensive strategy with highly probable favourable outcomes, an equal best outcome, and a much reduced chance of failure.

That seems like a no brainer to me.

Tom Curtis said...

Steven, even if we accept that we only have moral obligations to those alive today, if we accept the golder rule (or any of its practical equivalents, which in this instance would include utilitarianism), then we have an obligation to ensure that everyone alive today has at least the same lifetime opportunity to make a life as we have.

As there are people alive today who will be alive in 90 odd years, it follows that we have an obligation to ensure either that the Earth's resources are not diminished in 90 years sufficiently to restric their ability to make a life. If we, for example, deplete the worlds fisheries we condemn the young alive now to a food deficiency (either in higher prices, or lower quality foods, or possibly starvation) in the future; thus depriving them of the opportunities we currently possess. If we would not have anyone arbitrarill deprive us of all fish products, then we must not (golden rule) arbitrarilly deprive the young of all fish products in future years by collapsing the worlds fisheries.

The same argument appplies to all substantial environmental degradation, including without question to atmospheric greenhouse gasses.

So, we do not need to invoke future generations to justify an ethic of sustainability. We need only invoke our children and grandchildren.

Even if you do not think CO2 levels will reach the level of substantial danger in 100 years (a doubtfull suposition), if our current action will impose on our children and grandchildren very high costs to avoid imposing costs on their children and grandchildren, then we have an obligation to not do so. And the problem with CO2 is that the more we put up there without doing anything about it, the higher the costs, and the shorter the time to do anything about it later.

Steve Bloom said...

Nicely put, Tom Curtis (1:12 PM). I would add a couple of points:

If by some miracle non-fossil energy does turn out to be cheaper, we lose nothing by making the transition as rapidly as we can.

Given that, the benefit of it is entirely as a more politically appealing strategy than one that includes going after fossil emissions directly. I would say there's now strong evidence that this isn't true. The alternative argument that it might become true due to near-future technological developments assumes not only the existence of something that doesn't yet exist but that the extra large slug of emissions we'll get while waiting does not carry with it an unacceptable degree of risk.

Back here in the real world, the energy quest pony seems to be having a hard time getting to its feet, in this country anyway (HuffPo via Romm):

"The push to develop cleaner energy technologies--a widely embraced strategy for nurturing innovative new industries--is increasingly threatened by a shortage of investment, according to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and renewable energy experts.

"New technologies that can enable broader use of wind, solar, and other renewable forms of energy require billions of dollars in research and development. But potential investors are balking at the sums involved, cognizant that early-stage technologies are an especially risky bet, with the majority of start-up companies almost certainly doomed to fail."

If VCs etc. aren't assured that it's cheaper, perhaps it isn't. And if we wait for it to get cheap enough for the pony enthusiasts to like it, the Chinese will, as Joe says, eat our lunch:

"At the same time potential American ventures are stalling, China's leaders are directing enormous political and financial support toward forging a Chinese-made clean energy future. And they are moving fast. Chinese factories churn out enormous quantities of solar cells and wind turbines. More importantly, China is investing aggressively in innovation, with spending for clean energy exceeding $51 billion last year--a 31 percent increase from 2009, and ten ten times the level of American governmental support."

Steve Bloom said...
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Steve Bloom said...
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Steve Bloom said...
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steven said...


"Steven, even if we accept that we only have moral obligations to those alive today, if we accept the golder rule (or any of its practical equivalents, which in this instance would include utilitarianism), then we have an obligation to ensure that everyone alive today has at least the same lifetime opportunity to make a life as we have."

Sorry, but I do not see how that follows. However, if I were to accept your moral intuition, I would probably make the case that the most salient aspect of my lifetime opportunity that I would owe future generations is the ability to live and work in society with low taxes. (Since I don't eat fish, I'm not so sure I owe the exact same fishery to the future.) In fact, most of what you require of me in your world is something that I cannot give. Requiring moral responsibilities that are impossible is not a hallmark of a workable ethical system. You see, you look at the physical world and think that you owe the future the same physical world you inherited. I'm glad my ancestor's didnt have that view of things. In the end it comes down to a conflict of values. The things you think are valuable to pass on, I think are less valuable.

But lets try a different way of looking at it.

If you look at the SRES for AR4 you will find that A1F1 is hot world. It also happens to be a wealthy world. If you look at the cool worlds, they happen to be poor worlds. So, given the choice between Cold, dry, poor, and controlled by governments.. and hot, wet, rich and free. I'll choose to pass the hot wet rich and free future down.

You see I look at the SRES and say, wow the A family worlds are a whole lot better than the B family worlds.

Now if you want to convince me that I should pass on a cold poor world to the future, I'll listen, but your argument had better be better than the science.

I don't think you are unethical to have a different value system than I have. That's known as tolerance. Tolerance for people with different value systems is a thing I would like to pass down to future generations. And given the right environment I bet we could reason together about a series of actions we would both agree to. No regret actions. However, since the debate has been framed in a manner such that.

1. any disagreement with the science is taken as "denialism"

2. Any discussion of no regret actions is taken as "evil" delayers

It's hard to even begin. That said I do think there are areas where people with different views of the science and different views of values, can find common ground.

However, you are free to call me evil and then try to convince me that your value system is one that I should embrace. Seems like a tough rhetorical stance to take, but go ahead.

Steve Bloom said...

I shoulkd also note that Revkin's "other climatologists tell me otherwise" bit is a dodge deserving of no respect. Few things are entirely predictable in this world, but one of them is that John Christy, Richard Lindzen etc. will always tell the press that climate science concerns are overblown. A couple years back I pointed out to Revkin that for present purposes these people are laughingstocks, and he responded by saying that their colleagues do not treat them as such.

This dodge also gets Revkin out of having to keep up with and try to assess the latest science, which I'm afraid is a pretty unremitting drumbeat of bad news (to be expected, per Freudenberg).

Steve Bloom said...

"hot wet rich and free"

Not so much evil as insane, I'm afraid.

manuel moe g said...

In reply to Tommy C.: if my original post anticipates your quibbles, the charity drains from my heart.

You originally made a statement that was in conflict with the concept of insurance. I reminded you about the concept of insurance. Do with it what you will. Do me a gosh-darn favor and respond to the meat of the point, if you are going to respond at all - the paragraph beginning with the word "Granted", which, coincidentally, should have preempted your lame follow-up.

Your pleadings numbered 2 & 3 would be in conflict with norms about arguing in good faith, as pertains to the original post, as I pointed out. No one is compelled to argue in good faith, but there are social consequences to arguing in bad faith. If you are going to reply to anything, reply to this.

[Where the heck "you are imposing a very vigorous standard on the third argument" came from, I cannot say. I think you are latching upon the concept of "consequence/causality". Familiarize yourself with modern thinking on causality - I recommend Pearl. Even people who disagree with Pearl cannot reasonably argue that Hume is the final word. I will make the crude statement that the fact that Hume put his pants on one leg at a time, and never attempted the experiment of putting his pants on by pulling them over his head, means that Hume never applied his scholarly skepticism consistently over all his behavior - nor should he be expected to. I request you apply the same sense. Hiding under Hume's britches to excuse yourself from demonstrating a consequence that you assert... is a lowly thing.]

Reply to the totality of my argument, at the center and not at the periphery, or else reveal yourself as indulging in face-saving.

Jim Bouldin said...

Andy posted an update to the piece this morning. The answer originally printed was written primarily or entirely by one person, not the group. This whole issue has problems, stemming from the phrasing of the original question.

Jim Bouldin said...

Michael, I failed to mention that the mis-attribution was NOT Andy's fault--it was the fault of the AGU referral service for not making clear who wrote what. We have discussed this and the Q&A coordinator is correcting the situation to prevent it happening in the future.

manuel moe g said...

This is a very confusing comment thread to follow... if you think that "steven" and "Steve Bloom" are the same person... as I kept doing.

Revkin had the possibility of leaving his exact level of venality and ignorance unclear - and then he joined the comments. Kloor likewise following was then inevitable. How they found a pair of running shoes with two sets of openings and lacings, I wonder?

Michael, it is not so bad:

[*] The Crash of 2008 freed us from a lot of market-worship. The upcoming bond crash should free us from what remains. (Funny how every move that brings short term interest rates down, also pushes up long term interest rates, like a see-saw. Is it supposed to work like that?) This will give us more latitude - as, before, sensible mild interventions would be reflexively slapped down.

[*] Half of the sweet crude is already gone. Imagine the horror if the amount of sweet crude was a hundredfold.

[*] Intercontinental nukes in nuclear subs make World War III unpalatable to the ruling elites. It takes but a single warhead to wipe out your old prep-school.

[*] The very highest earners cannot shield themselves from global climate disruption, for the exact same reason that Bond villains don't actually exist - dependable henchmen cost a lot more than film extras. If you were a handyman, how much would you charge to hang the 5 foot thick door on the bunker, with 2 hinges? $25 for the first hinge, $25 billion for the second hinge - and also cot space and daily meals for a lifetime inside the bunker. And these small expenses add up.

[*] You can learn a lot about the Inuit lifestyle on the Discovery channel. And our great-grandchildren should learn even more.

[*] Semi-automatic weapons are plentiful. This is neither good or bad, but as a red-blooded 'Merican speakin' 'Merican, I am obliged to sing it out loud on the quarter-hour.

[*] The cute species die first. We can fill our belly with the ugly ones, and there are a lot more ugly ones than cute ones.

Michael Tobis said...

No, they are sort of opposites.

I think "steven" is Mosher. But I'm not sure.

Tom Curtis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Curtis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Tobis said...

Tom C., that was too rude. I don't like flame wars. I will never entirely recover from watching the slow death of usenet.

Feel free to try again.

Steve Bloom said...

I always sign as Steve Bloom. "steven" in this case sounds like Mosher to me. Given the substance of his comments, I'm actually a little shocked that you would confuse us, Moe.

dhogaza said...

The other is certainly Mosher, and is interesting because it gives us an insight into his moral thinking and attitude towards ethics that leads him to monkeywrench against science he claims to believe in.

In other words, he makes clear that he feels absolutely no moral imperative to take action based on future impacts of today's activities. In fact, quite the opposite, it helps one understand why he takes action against doing anything to mitigate future impacts due to CO2 emissions in his lifetime.

Explains a lot, really.

Michael Tobis said...

Andy, I followed your link and I didn't see anything new.

I've worked at DOE, and it has its good sides, but it is as greedy and manipulative as a public sector enterprise could possibly be. I am sure there are smart people making the case for throwing money at energy research. But the press really ought to be raising an eyebrow, not just swallowing the line because it makes for a nice happy ending.

Because, you see, it probably doesn't. Digging up rocks and burning them is something we've had down for over 200 years. It's pretty unlikely that a high-tech solution will be cheaper.

But what about the ever-cheaper prices on computers, or on mechanical hardware like disk drives you ask?

Well, run this by an engineer. The reason things get cheaper is because we get better art making them smaller and less energy consumptive. Have air conditioner units gotten smaller as they got better? Car engines? Power plants?

No. That is because they are about energy not information. The sorts of progress you can imagine are more like the progress in car batteries. The battery in a hybrid car is amazing, but it isn't cheap or tiny.

The breakthroughs to carbon free power are all around us, starting with nuclear power which we've had for forty or fifty years. The breakthroughs to CHEAP carbon free power are nowhere to be seen. If one ever shows up we will be very lucky; at present there is no sign of such a thing.

No, we can either mandate cuts in carbon or even the playing field by directly attaching a price to carbon. In practice these are more similar than they sound at first. There are lots of ways to do this, and it's essentially a no regrets policy. Because, see, if the breakthrough happens, the caps and taxes will be moot anyway.

What's more, if there's a breakthrough to be had, apologies to my friends at DOE, but I would bet on GE to do it for a potential profit far more effectively than DOE for a bunch of guys getting publication records.

In short, you are hardly proposing anything at all. But if you are proposing anything, it probably won't work worth a damn. And if I'm wrong and the breakthrough happens, you won't lose much by implementing the backstop policy anyway.

No, the only thing your policy achieves is pissing off the republicans much less, and feeding the DOE snake another baseball.

Carter was right of course. He was right all along. But it's too late for Jimmy Carter policies. Much, much too late.

So please reconsider this "energy quest" idea. Of course it's an energy quest. Everybody knows it's an energy quest.

So let's price the energy so the people doing the damage pay for the damage, goddam it. Is that so hard to understand?

Do that and the market will step up so fast you won't know what hit you. Don't do it and it's good news for DOE and bad news for the planet.

And good news I suppose for paid pundits. Hmmm...

Nick Palmer said...

The comments that relate to risk analysis remind of when the first atomic bomb was tested.

Whether it is apocryphal or not, I am not sure, but fears were raised by Teller that the atmosphere could be ignited via a nitrogen fusion reaction. Calculations subsequently showed it couldn't happen but the genuine validity of those calculations was relied upon at the time. A chance was taken when the bomb was ignited that risked the whole world. What if they had made an error?

People often seem to miss that they have a right to take decisions that risk their own lives but they should not take decisions that risk everybody else's.

I don't mind (at all) if the Anthony Watts' of this world risk their own lives by spreading their propaganda but I do mind if they risk mine and everybody else who doesn't want the risk imposed upon them.

Steve Bloom said...

mt: "Because, see, if the breakthrough happens, the caps and taxes will be moot anyway."

I know you know this, but unlesss such a breakthrough is *very* cheap to build, there's the not-so-small matter of all the sunk costs, which is to say that they likely wouldn't be moot for several decades after the advent of the pony. In the meantime, lots more CO2.

Anonymous said...

supplemental @ Steve Bloom...

as per the Davis, Caldeira, Matthews paper... here, here, here...

"But the authors caution that while existing infrastructure is less of a threat to climate than they had expected, this does not minimize the threat of future emissions. "Because most of the threat from climate change will come from energy infrastructure we have yet to build, it is critically important that we build the right stuff now -- that is, low carbon emission energy technologies," says Caldeira."

If we're gonna have a breakthrough, it better happen yesterday. In the meantime, while we confidently wait for its inevitable arrival, we apparently need to deploy what we have. Ergo... it needs to be price competitive... ergo...

Steve Bloom said...

Just so, rust. Revkin's delusion (a common one) is to admit that we must have sharp CO2 reductions within a generation, and then to blithely (insouciantly is batter but mt used it already) proceed as if it's OK for solutions to kick in not long before. Put that way, it's just another form of denialism.

William T said...

steven, it is interesting to read your "moral justification" for opposing mitigation actions. However... a couple of observations.

-you may be willing to take the risk you say (not restraining emissions now because your g-grandkids will hopefully be much richer anyway) but you're forcing the impacts of your choice on everyone who would prefer a different way forward. Climate is totally global so the classic libertarian mantra of 'you do your thing, I'll do mine' doesn't really hold water. We're all in this together and the solutions or lack of solutions is going to impact on everyone.

-you say that your choice is for a "warm, wet, and rich" world in 2100 in return for no restraint on emissions, rather than current restraints to achieve a "cooler but poorer" world. But the political debate is not even about that. Instead, as posited by nearly all republicans it is about "taxing carbon is a scam to enrich the elite and impose world government", versus "freedom to consume fuel - with no consequences because the science is corrupt". This is a very different scenario than the one you are saying is your position. If people really were faced with the choice you say you have made, I think there wouldn't be many who would choose your "burn now, 'cos I don't care if the world gets too hot in the future" option.

-You might even like to think carefully about your assumption that the 'A' scenarios are "warm, et, and rich". Both climate and economic projections are based on models. We all know there are assumptions and uncertainties in these. The economics models probably much more so than the physics models. And as others have pointed out, if environmental stresses are increasing due to climate change, the nice "business as usual" assumptions underlying the economic models don't hold. Anything can happen. And it probably will.

- Indeed, the hope that those in the future live in a "low tax environment" might not be best served by insisting that we now don't pay for the damage being caused to the environment by our emissions. If things get "bad" in a few decades it is easy to imagine all kinds of scenarios where people start to "demand action" and the action that occurs is much more draconian than what we might have to "suffer" today.

Tom Curtis said...

MT, for the life of me I cannot think of what you found objectionable in my post. However, your kitchen, your rules.

Manny G, I did have a detailed responce which MT saw fit to delete. It is not worth the effort to reproduce it as it added little of substance to my prior responces except to point out that my prior responces had already dealt with the little substance in your arguments.

There is only one point of particular note: Hume's dilemma is, as I indicated, the purported impossibility of proceding from statements of fact to statements of value, ie, from proceding from "is" statements to "ought" statements. Hume stated the problem in terms that should delight you, ie, that people procede from one to the other without filling in the argumentative steps. There is a substantial literature on the topic, generally called the "is - ought" problem. In so far as there is a concensus opinion amongst philosphers, it is that this gap is unbridgable; but it is just that gap that you demand an arguer of the third prospective position to bridge. As previously noted, you do not make similar demands of Michael Tobin (or others whose ethics you are comfortable with) even they also do not argue their ethics from first principles.

adelady said...

Don't like the idea of "climate" taxes? If you're in this camp, just reflect on the suggestion, and it *is* only a suggestion just now, that Australia may impose a levy on income tax to pay the expected several 10s of billions of dollars needed to deal with the results of the current flooding.

All well and good to deal with a once off catastrophe, you might say. What will you say if it happens ten years on? Or again in another 5 or 10 years?

adelady said...

As an aside. I sometimes wonder about people who have no "vision" of the people who may follow them. They clearly aren't gardeners or bridge engineers or architects.

Noone would ever plant a chestnut or an oak if they had no 'feeling' or 'vision' for those, as yet unborn, who will use or enjoy these things when they mature long after the gardener or forester has died.

And .. whenever you think of Easter Island, remember Ascension Island. The stark contrast between human folly and practical wisdom. Both of these outcomes were the result of human action. All we have to do is choose the better action.

manuel moe g said...

Michael, if you saw fit to delete a post responding to me, feel free to delete my post too - if it is disturbing to one, that is one too many. Technically, my post did not improve on silence.

I thank you for your characteristic patience, and this is a characteristically interesting thread.

manuel moe g said...

Steve Bloom and "steven" (probably S. Mosher) can only be confused if somebody thinks Steve Bloom is indulging in some particularly dark irony - which I honestly actually did, I am ashamed to admit. Steve Bloom is like John Mashey - a valued commenter that with repeated reading leaves one wishing to subscribe to their blog, only to be confused that they don't maintain one. I apologize to Bloom.

Happily, un-ironic "steven" is self-refuting here.

I admire some of the courageous stands that Steven Mosher has taken, but if "steven" is representative of some of the moral priorities, the whole man is repellent.

[Specifically, I believe in population control, but I think it is important to acknowledge:

[1] Because of my privileged class and income and the country I chose to be born into citizenship, I can reasonably secure a genetic legacy with but a pair of grand-children. These grand-children have the best hope to have ideal health conditions in childhood, medical interventions throughout their fertile ages, and available fertility treatments, and have a stable political/economic system to allow these to be passed down generations.

[2] For the same to be said of a poor underclass third-world resident, only a fertility rate much higher than replacement could possibly do likewise.

So I find most discussions of population control to be morally dubious, because birth rate is discussed in isolation from the other factors named above. So I have to admit that along with Steven Mosher, I find most discussions of population control to be morally dubious.]

Michael Tobis said...

Moe, nobody was offended at anything you said. Tom C was merely contemptuous of you, because you don't think like he does.

His rigor of thought is admirable, but I am not sure it is the right approach. As he says, I don't get my opinions from axioms and rational derivation therefrom.

I understand that legalistic thinking is valued in some circles. When it comes to establishing ethical values, I find this quasi-mathematical method dubious in the extreme.

He expressed some contempt for you not living up to his rational standards.

I know full well that despite your self-effacement you are quite capable of intricate logic when the situation calls for it. Different people are playing different games here. An ethic that is only available to a highly trained mind, for example, does not solve the problems of democracy.

But that's fine. Different strokes for different folks. Anything is fine here except boring and rude. He crossed into rude. You didn't.

Tom Curtis said...

Michael Tobin, I was not contemptuos (as you put it) of Manny G because he thought differently to me. I responded to a post that was in my opinion dismissive and insulting. That I can accept, but in this case its author did not even bother to have the virtue of being informed. When someone is being dismissive of an argument that they have plainly failed to comprehend, I see no virtue in hiding that fact from the world.

As I said before, your kitchen, your rules. But that does not give you the right to misrepresent the reason for my low opinion of Manny G's contribution to the debate.

Michael Tobis said...

It was the "but your current dummy spit shows you are not worth being charitable to" bit that put you over the line, dude.

Tom Curtis said...


""Steven, even if we accept that we only have moral obligations to those alive today, if we accept the golden rule (or any of its practical equivalents, which in this instance would include utilitarianism), then we have an obligation to ensure that everyone alive today has at least the same lifetime opportunity to make a life as we have."

Sorry, but I do not see how that follows."

Perhaps it would follow more clearly if you applied the full golden rule rather than the truncated version you quoted. The golder rule states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The modal form is satisfied even if people are unable to effect you in any way. I like the golden rule stated as Epictetus stated it, "What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." If you would avoid suffering the effects of ecosystem collapse, and I know I would, do not impose eco system collapse on others. Given the science, an obligation to avoid global warming seems to follow straightforwardly.

Nor is this, as you suggest, an impossible task. It is true that by your actions alone, you cannot guarantee there will be no eco-system collapse within the next 200 odd years. Therefore you have, no obligation to do so. But you can by your actions make such an ecosystem more, or less likely. Therefore you can, and do have an obligation to make that ecosystem collapse less likely to the extent that you are able.

At least, you do if you would object to an ecosystem collapse in your near future; and if you accept the golden rule as a moral guide. From your comments, I suspect you do not in fact accept the golden rule as a guide, but rather subscribe to some form of ethical egoism (I would like some clarificition here, as there is little point in arguing the consequences of the golden rule if you do not accept it.)

From your further comments I see that we are in very serious dispute about the science, and significant dispute about the sociology and economics. For example, you have plainly read into the IPCC scenarios a lack of freedom (or presence of freedom as the case may be). The IPCC does not discuss forms of governance, and all scenarios are compatible with all forms of governance, and indeed, all extent forms of economic system.

Further, when I read the IPCC scenarios, I see the option between an impoverished world with collapsing ecosystems, and a wealthy world with relatively healthy ecosystems. The difference is that I do not suppose the effects of global warming will magically leave economic growth rates intact. In just one example, the effect of global warming on the ongoing floods in Australia is likely to wipe around 1% of GDP growth this year, with further but lesser effects in following years. That is a significantly greater cost to GDP than the cost of a price on carbon. By 2050, the costs of inaction will become much greater, much more frequent and, shold be act now, largely avoidable. Our choice is not between high growth rates for a hundred years with ecological catastrophe, and low growth rates and no ecological catastrophe. It is between high growth rate for the first part of the century with ecological catastrophe causing negative growth rates in the second half of the centry; or moderate growth rates in the first half of the century sustainable into the second half because we are avoiding the catastrophe.

Tom Curtis said...

And the charity I was reffering to was not picking fault with his egregious misrepresentation of stated argument, ie, of politely arguing substance instead of drawing attention to his underhanded rhetoric.

What is more, I consider "dummy spit" to be a perfectly apt description of a post that reffers to me using a dismissive corruption of my name, accuses me of not adressing the meat of his argument, accuses me of arguing in bad faith, accuses me of doing a "lowly thing" with a carefully placed elipsis to suggest he was carefully using a more polite term for a more contemptible act; and ends by suggesting that I am likely to indulge in mere face saving.

crf said...

It's Phosphorus, not Potassium, that we're going to run short of.

manuel moe g said...

Part 1 of 3 - I am begging for a huge indulgence here. I hope I have captured thoughts shared and stated them clearly. The points are: [1] the specific deficiency of a widespread form of a Hayek-like argument against sustainability; [2] that some morals resonate with certain groups more than others irregardless of "proof of universal fitness"; [3] the analogue of abolitionism and responsibility to ecological stewardship for future generations; [4] the reality of selective advantage for genetic and social/intellectual legacy in the absence of ecological stewardship. I write this to lessen my own immense ignorance, and I am happy to try to alleviate my ignorance no matter what quarter the source of a reply.

[I don't wish to be more of a hot-head. I am attempting to calm my annoyance with the fact that in a forum that I respect, it is the those with a sense of responsibility to honest argumentation that can rest, and the dissemblers that must sweat and juke and jive to have traction - opposite of the norm.]

Message to Tommy C encoded in ROT-13: cvcr qbja. This is the full extent of my reply to Tommy, the remainder is a reply to patterns of cheap controversy fostering I have noticed.

[1] When we say carbon taxes, some say fascism. It is dressed it up more, but the pattern remains and is consistent. It is an equivalence that is asserted, never demonstrated. It is tolerated other places, hopefully not here.

A chain of probable consequence from carbon taxation to the destruction of the individual should be provided upon demand. Snottily remarking that "some here may prefer the destruction of the individual" (or an equivalent statement) is not a substitute.

manuel moe g said...

Part 2 of 3

[2] Lets talk about a very specific moral responsibility - leave for now the question of universal desirability. The scope of this responsibility is:

* pervasive through mankind

* pervasive through dozens if not hundreds of future generations

This responsibility is to provide:

* ecological stewardship and sustainability

* access to study and contribute to the best of human thought - particularly western liberalism and science.

* ability to have a genetic and/or social/intellectual legacy

* If not freedom from pain, then freedom from pain with no ability contribute to moral growth.

* health through and past the reproductive years

* access to the simple pleasures and freedom from fear found in the actual garden of Epicurus (different from the slander of the Stoics and early Christians - happily since the 1970's we have found more documentation)

This is what personally interests me - I have no ability or desire to "prove" its worthiness universally. I perform the experiment upon myself and find that this has the ability to motivate me, now. I cannot prove its worthiness universally, but I have some encouraging hints that it might resonate enough with a numerically large enough group of people to make a positive difference.

I assert that there are those who fear their explicit *demonstrable* moral motivation to be exposed to a group they admire. They might try to hide underneath Hume's britches, in contradiction to the substance of that man, to forgive themselves from stating their explicit *demonstrable* moral motivation so they can better skulk in the shadows ("demonstrable" means consistent with actual behavior and, at the very least, free from trivial logical inconsistency on the surface).

manuel moe g said...

Part 3 of 3

[3] Personally, I feel responsibility to ecological stewardship for future generations is on a par with the incomplete attempt to eradicate slavery, 1700s through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through today. (Leave aside the issue that not all would agree with this as a pairing of equals.) Philosophical arguments about the inability to "prove" specific universal moral strictures were available to slave-holders - I say happily those argument were inadequate to keep the slave-owners' hold on their slaves.

There are some encouraging hints that responsibility to ecological stewardship for future generations can resonate with sufficient numbers to have a victory like abolitionism.

[4] Speaking honestly - don't imagine that I am overcome with faith in mankind. If no ecological stewardship is socially/politically/ economically possible, I am willing and able to secure a selective advantage for my genetic and social/intellectual legacy. Speaking honestly - I am not putting all my eggs in the "peace, love, and understanding" basket. It is to my selective advantage that the mentally addled cannot tell truth from comforting lie, are dazzled by cheap controversy, and dunk their heads in moral swampy bogs. I can also lay out my plans in plain sight, because any explanation above a grade-school reading level is effectively invisible, as my alleged intellectual sparring-partner has demonstrated. If the upcoming "eye of the needle" will not allow through any vertebrates above a dozen pounds, so be it. But if the eye of the needle with allow humans through, I intent to exist on the other side, through a genetic and social/intellectual legacy, since the option of personal corporal immortality is not available to me.

This can be a response to the childish natter of "why don't you just go kill yourself, hippy" and such. I am prepared to skin and eat both the Hippy and the Natterer to secure a selective advantage.

Lately, it has made me realize that losing the spare tire around my waist is the best thing I can do for the planet and myself, since necessitating a medical intervention for diabetes is costly to the planet and my family and my work. I will never give up eating meat, but I am not attracted to doughy rolls of fat attached to my person in the same way I am attracted to the smell of roasting meat. Being healthy (or at least non-diabetic) forgives a lot of sackcloth wearing if it avoids an expensive medical intervention.

Tom Curtis said...

Manny G may well want me to "pipe down" and leave his attack on my argument unanswered, but I see no reason to do so.

1 of 3: The remarks about Hayek are obviously a continuation of Manny G's "rebutal" potentialy coherent deontological objection that I outlined. As such, it is completely irrelevant.

There are in fact people, many people in the US, who believe that taxation for any purpose other than for funding the army, the policeforce, the judiciary and the wages and facilities of congress and the president (in the US) is in fact immoral. Some go further and claim that compulsory taxation even for these purposes is immoral. These people may or may not believe taxation leads to serfdom; and that belief may or may not be relevant to their opinion about the ethics of taxation. Lets allow them to follow Manny G's example and simply assert their moral motivation about taxes. They then have a coherent deontological objection to any price on carbon.

Less extreme, there may be people who believe (rightly wrongly) that the political situation in the United States is such that no carbon tax can be legilated there by democratic means until it is way to late for such a tax to be effective. As the US is sufficiently economically powerfull that if they do not restrain CO2 emmissions, it will sink all our ships, the fact that democracies in Europe have legislated a price on carbon becomes irrelevant. I have seen it argued by people who believe this that the correct strategy in this situation is to overthrow democracy at least as much as is required to impose a carbon price.

Many others (including myself) would argue that there are strict deontological reasons why democracy is the only acceptable form of government; and so that if we where in that situation, we would have no other course than to pursue the best available solution consistent with democracy in the actual political situation in the US. For this position, refference to Hayek is not even relevant.

It is seen, therefore, that my supposed "minor mistake" in this context is just the ability to have a broader knowledge of positions that have been, or could be argued on this point - to not think that any appeal to deontology must inevitably be an appeal to Hayek (however interpreted). Or, if you like, the fallacy in Manny G's responce was that he chose to argue against a straw man.

Tom Curtis said...

Part 2 of 3:

I have to say I like Manny G's stated ethic, although I note (with no intention to insult) that it is not his actual ethic. His reserve position, the position in which he would "... skin and eat both the Hippy and the Natterer to secure a selective advantage" is his actual ethical position. It just so happens that he believes (probably correctly) that he will secure the greatest advantage for himself and his posterity by bringing about the ideal that motivates him.

He, however, makes no attempt to justify this ideal beyond the claim that it motivates him. Nor does he attempt to justify his underlying ethic, or show how the underlying ethic justifies the stated ideal. This lack of justification contrasts sharply with his claim that "[...] excus[ing] yourself from demonstrating a consequence that you assert... is a lowly thing."

There are people who are in fact motivated by "ethical egoism", or by a desire that they and theirs (their familly, their friends, possibly their nation or other larger collective) should prosper. Still others are simply motivated by greed with no pretence to being ethical about it. So long as Manny G's ethics stand simply on what motivates him, and no firmer platform, he can have no coherent objection to people having, and acting on different motivations. It is not clear that what motivates Manny G precludes dictatorship or brainwashing (I think it does, but it is not stated and does not automatically follow from the stated desiderata) so Manny G may avail himself of nonrational routes of persuasion. But if he does not,he can have no principled objection to people who value later generations not at all and put material wealth above ecological health (although he is free to dislike those people and their actions).

Michael Tobis said...

I haven't seen part 3.

I have seen enough, though.

It's tricky. I'm on record for ethics and for coherence; this sort of approach to ethics has its fussy coherence.It then gets sticky with the mom and apple pie attachment to "democracy". It all seems to be leading to a position where the meaning of "democracy" is essentially the incapacity for humans to contrive a humane response to historical forces.

Funny that.

One question comes to mind: is it ethical for a slim majority of the voting minority of one country to get their way at the expense of the vast majority of the rest of the world?

Is that in principle democratic? What sets the boundaries of interested parties on this or that issue, and how much input they are allowed into the democratic processes?

I believe I detect a subtle yet desperate sophistry.

Ethical issues in the academy require close reasoning. In reality, there is being a mensch and being a schmuck.

The close calls are weird academic constructions; essentially in a close call you are back to your own preferences. As a stakeholder, you are the tiebreaker in your own ethical dilemmas.

A genuine dilemma usually happens is when a situation makes a transition from ethically tolerable to intolerable. This stuff about absolutes and abstractions is intended to confuse. "Democracy" is a good word and it describes a good condition in a society.

But the world sinks or swims as one. Ethical constraints apply to democracies themselves as well as to individuals. People must be convinced to behave ethically as a collective. It's not undemocratic to try to convince a democracy of its ethical obligations. On the contrary, it is unethical to give up.

So long as Manny G's ethics stand simply on what motivates him, and no firmer platform, he can have no coherent objection to people having, and acting on different motivations... he can have no principled objection to people who value later generations not at all and put material wealth above ecological health (although he is free to dislike those people and their actions).

I prefer the mensch to his opposite number and that's pretty much good enough for me. Any argument that reaches "no principled objection" to such a hopeless lack of perspective on reality is an argument that is twisted by a lack of respect for humanity.

The utilitarian argument against this sort of "ethic" is trivial.

I am new to this deontology business but it smells demonic to me. Words which are undefined totems that are leveraged to twist ethics into its opposite just confirm me in my simple Buddhist vows to fight suffering and support joy.

Tom Curtis said...

Michael Tobis, you seem determined to find an enemy where you should have found a friend. It has been very clear from my comments that in this thread alone that I am personally in favour of a price on Carbon (see my responce to Andy Revkin at 1:12 PM of the 19th). Further, I object to the "ethical" egoism espoused by Randians and other Libertarians (see my responces to the Steve who is possibly Mosher). At the same time, your original post is based on a false dichotomy, the assumption that if you are concerned for the well being of future generations, and understand the science, you must therefore be committed to a price on carbon. Whatever the merits of your opinion on Andy Revkin, employing such a false dichotomy leaves your analysis without merit in this case. Indeed, in any case in which you employ it.

AS you your suggestion that there is a difference between ethical considerations for academia and ethical considerations in real life, what nonsense. It is no more credible than a suggestion that there is a difference between science in academia and science in real life - as though evolution could be true in the universities, but young earth creationism true on the streets.

What is true is true, simpliciter, whether in academia or the streets. And what is rational (or irrational) is likewise rational (or irrational) regardless of location. We do not expect the person on the street to be as subtle in ethical argument as the ethicist in the university, but we should expect the person in the streets ethics to be a simplified version of the rational ethics of academia, and the justifications to likewise be simplified versions of the rational justifications.

Claiming that because you are not in the ethics department of academia, you can ignore subtleties of ethical reasoning if they show your opinion to be irrational (which I am not saying you have done, but you have claimed a right to do), employ simple fallacies (such as false dichotomies) in ethical reason, and resort to demonization instead of persuasion to accomplish your "ethical" objectives does not wash. Slovenly reason is slovenly reason no matter where found; and if there is no role for reason in ethics, then trumpeting your moral vision has no more role in public debate than flying the flag to trumpet your patriotism. More troubling is that where reason fails, so does persuasion. Which leaves you with no recourse in the event of substantial disagreement than to resort to force. On this principle, what was wrong about the positon of the South durring the Civil War was only that they did not have the resources to win the war.

Unfortunately, on this issue you have also now become hypocritical. In characterizing deontological view points as "demonic" (just one example of abusive language from your post) passed beyond the pale. I mean, seriously, Kant demonic? Jesus demonic? Ghandi demonic? (Just three well known examples of ethical deontologists.) And of course, by implication me demonic as well. That far surpasses Manny G's earlier imputation that I was a moron (the strictly defined IQ level of an adult who cannot comprehend beyond grade school level).

From your practise in this thread, "politeness" is primarilly a function of what you believe (or possibly who you are friends with) rather than how you say it.

There are several other points in your comment I would be happy to discuss with you, but not while you are using such a hypocritical moderation policy. Your call. Either moderate yourself and Manny G's also offensive 3 of 3; and then restate your objections in a way that invites rational discussion. Or reveal that you are, despite appearances not worth following because your ethical thought is firmly and deliberately rooted in irrationality.

Michael Tobis said...

At the same time, your original post is based on a false dichotomy, the assumption that if you are concerned for the well being of future generations, and understand the science, you must therefore be committed to a price on carbon. Whatever the merits of your opinion on Andy Revkin, employing such a false dichotomy leaves your analysis without merit in this case. Indeed, in any case in which you employ it.

Well, there's a tiny little bit of understanding of economics involved, so I guess it depends of you consider economics a science.

If you substitute "evidence" for "science" I think the arguments for that position are clear enough.

You are pretty quick to judge merit.

By the way, Blogger dropped your reply into the spam filter, which is the reason for the delay in its being posted. Your part 3 never arrived.

AS you your suggestion that there is a difference between ethical considerations for academia and ethical considerations in real life, what nonsense. It is no more credible than a suggestion that there is a difference between science in academia and science in real life - as though evolution could be true in the universities, but young earth creationism true on the streets.

More huffing and puffing. Yet I see lots of examples of this all the time. For instance, the overvaluing of statistical significance in discussing climate change. People with a narrow specialty simply put too much value on the stuff they have studied. It's absolutely common in the academy. One of the best things about studying climate is that it is relatively immune to this problem. To some extent the climatologist must sacrifice depth for breadth. But the breadth is useful as perspective.

In characterizing deontological view points as "demonic"

Just a weak pun, dude, demontology, get it? Chill.

... Ghandi [sic] demonic? (Just three well known examples of ethical deontologists.)

I am not entirely sure your claiming Mahatmaji as a philosophical ally would have been reciprocated.

Nor are your vague hints that you might agree with me about something sufficient for me to consider you an ally. For one thing, you are contentious and prickly. For another by your own admission, indeed your own claim, you are uncompromising. To claim that one of your ethical principles is "democracy" and yet to hold so tightly to behaviors that are anathema to functioning democracy makes you effectively a champion of paralysis.

We don't have time for hairsplitting. If that's what deontological ethics amounts to I'll have none of it.

Anna Haynes said...

Forgive me if I've overlooked it, as is likely, but what (where) is Andy Revkin's succinct response to the points raised here by Tom Curtis re the advantages of the "pricing carbon" vs the "energy quest" approach?
(in his comment starting with "First, your energy quest is only a solution to the problem of global warming if it is possible to develop a renewable energy system cheaper than coal powered electricity generation and petrol powered transport...")

I'm sure Revkin must have addressed it, because the issue is so important and the objections raised here appear so cogent.

Anna Haynes said...

Replying to my past (Jan.24) self...
I emailed Andy Revkin to ask where he'd addressed this, & while he did respond to my email it was (IMO) an "I'm too busy to get into detail on this"-flavored response, in which he seemed to think that pricing carbon wasn't practical. Which makes me wonder if he's read & agrees with Krugman's Building A Green Economy (link), and if he's ever had an exchange with Krugman that clarifies if/how/where/why they don't agree.