"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In My Defense

So, Joe Romm wrote a piece suggesting that climate change may have been a precipitating event of the crises in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The question is why specifically now have the Egyptians and Tunisians rioted after decades of anti-democratic rule? Certainly one can ignore the experts and say that it is a complete coincidence that the rioting occurred as food prices hit record levels — in spite of the fact that the last time there was this kind of rioting globally food prices were at record levels, which is precisely why experts were predicting that record hide food prices would lead to riots. Now the question is, why are food prices are at record levels? Again, reality pretty much speaks for itself here. Extreme weather is a major contributing factor — and our top climate scientists say global warming has contributed.
And Keith Kloor was having none of it.
you ... have to marvel at the hubris of someone who sees a global warming angle to the Egyptian revolt.
I showed up to ask why that was hubris, and have been met by a fair amount of spluttering and no real answer. But by the end of the discussion I was being accused (you can guess by whom) of being indifferent to the suffering of Egyptians or the other causes of the problems.

In my defense I direct you to my Reader feed which since the events began has featured the following items:

Piece of the Middle East

Pakistan flood crisis as bad as African famines, UN says – ‘Humanitarian crisis of epic proportions’

Al-Jazeera's Revolution

Egypt Cut Off

Will 2011 be the next 1989?


Add Al-Jazeera English NOW!

Middle East Democracy vs American Control

The Best Egypt Protest Signs From Around The World

My blog is somewhat focused, if not as narrowly as Joe's. My Reader Feed is pretty eclectic though some of the same interests as those of this blog frequently appear. (Note that me finding something to be interesting does not necessarily mean I agree with it. Occasionally I will even link stuff I find particularly, notably awful.)

Anyway, that all said, look at the thread at Keith's and see if you can understand what the fuss is all about. It seems like there is a tremendous and irrational attachment to the idea that climate change has had no ill effects as yet though it might have some impact eventually. One wonders what might be sufficient to break that.

Update: Joe Romm's follow-up is compelling. And I'm fairly pleased with my sign-off at the link at Kloor's.


manuel moe g said...

The extreme weather, energized by warmth the oceans have not yet evenly absorbed, is one of the few *good* things about climate disruption. It is practically our only hope for a commensurate response *now* that will allow a recognizable global civilization to make it past the wild weather we have already set ourselves up for.

How do these "humanitarian-in-theory-not-in-practice" denialists reconcile that we are currently burning fossil fuels at a full clip, with the fact that we currently have desperate deprivation for the bottom billion? Are they really satisfied with *potential* welfare for the bottom billion in the remaining fossil fuel stores, all the while knowing full well it will never become *actual* welfare without collective moral motivation?

Part of me enjoys how a mild push-back on Kloor prompts him into becoming even more unbalanced. That place is unrecognizable from what it was five months ago.

Lou Grinzo said...

The mechanism at work here is pretty obvious, I think. Some people have invested a lot in the basic notion of climate change being real and man-made, but not a serious threat in the next few decades (if ever). Therefore, they see every "new" (or newly talked about) linkage between more heat in the air and oceans and knock-on effects as "alarmists connecting everything to CC". Of course, rejecting or accepting such a linkage uncritically is always a mistake.

I've long contended that the most difficult thing scientists or lay people can do is "go exactly where the science leads you, but nowhere else". Call it reality fundamentalism. This will force us to reject conclusions we'd find convenient and accept others we detest. The latter is the source of my own struggles with the topic of CC; the seemingly endless parade of "it's worse than we thought" news in Science and Nature and similar venues makes remaining optimistic quite a challenge.

Marion Delgado said...

The Darfur crisis is the poster child, IMO, but the idea that it can't be a factor in Egypt or Tunisia is pretty extreme. It would also be extreme to claim for sure that it was a dominant factor. If Joe's saying "may," he's got a point.

moe: I quite agree with your last paragraph. It's an object lesson to all of us. Marc Morano, a despicable weasel, almost a Shakespearean villain, nonetheless never loses his calm, so he's probably right now more convincing to masses of people than, e.g., a Keith Kloor, despite the fact that Morano's selling outright snake oil, phlogiston and unicorn husbandry.

Steve Bloom said...

I find it entirely recognizable, Moe, although I would agree that the signs of disfunction have become more obvious.

One problem with Kloor is that his gut tells him that things just can't be all that bad. That journalists are trained to always seek the middle doesn't help (although of course not all journalists have this problem). Another is that it takes a considerable commitment of time to keep up with the science, and so he's missed the recent developments that have greatly worsened the picture (notwithstanding efforts by Michael and others to fill him in -- it really is a form of denialism). Most of what he knows about the science is probably still what he learned ~8-10 years ago when he was an assistant editor at Audubon magazine.

All of that said, you'd think he'd be a little embarrassed by the cheering section he's attracted.

Paul Daniel Ash said...

Well, sharper00's comment about Curryism I think is apposite with regard to Keith's approach as well:

Remove the individuals who actually want to take action as well as those who oppose the basic physics, redefine climate science in a soft non-threatening manner (“Well maybe some bad things will happen but they might be good, nobody knows!”) and water everything down so all points of view are “fairly” represented (via “majority” and “minority” positions)

Now, one could attempt to mind-read until the cows come home, but there's no way of knowing what motivates this. Maybe for some it's an aversion to conflict (some version of the ACOA "peacemaker"), for others it could be jockeying for position in a new political environment, for some it might be doubt-mercantilism.

I don't know - don't really care - where it springs from. In the world as it is, it's useful idiocy in new clothes.

manuel moe g said...

reply to Marion Delgado:

I see it worse than that. I don't give a hoot about Kloor's demeanor. I am saying: a mild push-back on Kloor prompts him into becoming even more unbalanced on all matters of fact and substance.

reply to Steve Bloom:

How long was Fuller held in moderation at Kloor's? Five minutes? Making no statement about Fuller - is any amount of un-sober un-serious ridiculous commenting disallowed? Curry won a t-shirt as a prize ( http://shewonk.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/a-cadre-of-dogmatic-scientists-trampling/ ), is Kloor vying for a pair of sweat-socks?

TheTracker said...

I try to talk about this issue at my blog, which is a humble little thing, being blessed neither with major technical or scientific chops nor great political acuity. But it's an important point that has received comparatively little attention to date, namely:

The political and socioeconomic response to climate change is part of the "feedbacks" which will determine the ultimate harm that results. The cost of climate change is often estimate as if our response will be both rational and transparently generous, when in fact all evidence historical and contemporary suggests reactions to economic disruptions (like the failure of Russia's wheat harvest last summer) like protectionism, accelerated consumption of natural resources to maintain existing standards of living, and less ability to innovate, cooperate, and share burdens -- just at the point when we are counting on the acceleration of those adaptive mechanisms.


Steve Scolnik said...

There's some basic Econ 101 going on here; to deny that is pure ignorance. Whether one admits that there is a climate component or not, major weather disruptions have pushed food price inflation to an all-time high. For a country in which 40% of the population attempts to live on $2 a day, that has an immediate impact. If KK doesn't see the impact on the price of his Wheaties, that's because "civilized" food prices are dominated by processing, transportation, packaging, and, most important of all, advertising.

BTW, one of the more interesting feedback loops in this whole thing:
Instability in Egypt --->
Higher oil prices --->
Coal becomes more attractive --->
More CO2 emitted, und so weiter.
Witness the highly profitable takeout of Massey Energy this week:

dhogaza said...

"I see it worse than that. I don't give a hoot about Kloor's demeanor. I am saying: a mild push-back on Kloor prompts him into becoming even more unbalanced on all matters of fact and substance."

Actually I think it happens the moment he reads something by Romm ... I don't see much sign that he actually bothers to try to understand the point Romm was making.

Likewise, if you point out, for instance, that in a few short decades china's gone from having one of the last remaining railroad networks using steam locomotives to having the largest amount of modern high-speed train service in the world ... you're a commie lover who looks lovingly at the government there, wishing the US were a dictatorship as well.

(just read the "china lust" thread, the particular point I make above wasn't made, but similar statements about positive change in China were greeted such as I describe.)

Steve Mennie said...

I must say I agree with manuel "moe" g regarding KK's foaming at the mouth when he runs into what appears to me to be legitimate arguments against him particularly when he's dissing his favourite whipping boy - Joe Romm. Whatever Romm says, Keith seems to react (or should that be over-react) like the Pavlovian dog and then gets hissy when others disagree with what to him appears as obvious melodrama on Joe's part.

Another angle to the rising food prices that hasn't been directly mentioned is the part played by wild speculation in commodities by stalwart humanitarian institutions like Goldman Sachs. The creation and sustaining of such bubbles in the face of more bizarre weather events is another way inwhich AGW and it's effect on global agriculture will play out.

And no, I'm not suggesting that Goldman Sachs is to blame for the uprising in Egypt.

And for the record, I find your posts on Kloor's blog to be some of the most restrained and rational Michael Tobis.

Steve Mennie said...

Slightly off topic perhaps but an interesting read:


David B. Benson said...

Just keep hammering away with

droughts, punctuated by extreme precipitation effects.

Unknown said...

Excuse me for commenting without reading Romm or Kloor.

As Michael Glantz wrote in the book "Climate Affairs" published in 2003, in the century of anthropogenic climate change, every social-scientific issue has climate dimension. It is inappropriate to say something like "XXX is not related to climate change".

But, precisely because of this, we do not need to say "XXX is related to climate change" every time. We should not blame anyone for not mentioning it.

Michael Tobis said...

We should not blame anyone for not mentioning it.

Certainly not.

The issue at hand is whether we should actively criticize someone for indeed mentioning it.

Andy F said...

Keith Kloor has demonstrated, at least inductively, that he has a tough time dealing rationally with anything related to Joe Romm.

So before you respond, ask yourself if what you have to say will improve on silence.

Anonymous said...

I think everything that I was thinking has already been said here, but Lou's post needs punctuation. The "it's-not-so-bad-crowd", along with having no scientific justification for their strong beliefs, has spent a few years trying to move the skeptic movement to some point of intelligent respectability, so the idea that climate change is already effecting events today pretty much bursts that bubble of security. So this very easily explains the reactionary nature. They don't want to have that conversation, in much the same way I don't want to have a conversation about how the "greenhouse effect" is a hoax.

Also, in regards to the connection between the riots and climate change. Think about the vitriol on the US right wing over the last couple of years. These people truly believe that they are living in, or are headed for a tyrannical government. Yet, the best they can muster is misspelled poster-boards in sparse demonstrations, organized by political groups. Now picture that crowd when they can no longer afford to eat. My point is that politically driven anger is much different and enters a different stage when lots of people have nothing to lose.

Ron Broberg said...

The costs of climate change are similar to the steadily rising price of energy - a persistent background stress on modern economies. In a global economy, floods in AU and PK, heat waves in RU and UA, freezes in US and EU, all work to drive up commodity prices. Just trying to price extreme heat waves and push aside everything else fails to arrive at a full accounting. OTOH, to arrive at a good accounting, you would want to be able to distinguish between what the climate costs are with AGW and what it would be without AGW - a difficult calculation.

But if (1) AGW is real and (2) it is contributing to current climate change, then (3) it is inescapable that some part of the current costs of climate changes are due to AGW.

Is the price of bread rising?

Paul said...

OK you forced me to go over to Kloors. I seldom venture over there. Fuller makes my head explode and Kloor just doesn't have that much to say.

I was glad to see you quote Jeff Masters on extreme weather events. I follow his blog closely and upload my personal weather station data to Wunderground. Check out Copalis Beach, WA.

Masters is not afraid to link the current spate of extreme weather to anthropogenic climate disruption. He also ventures into the climate blogosphere now and then to take on the deny and delay crowd.

Paul Middents

William M. Connolley said...

If you're a denier, I guess you have to deny.

But aren't you (and Romm as well) missing the main point? this is rather similar to the people who post "ZOMG! GW => butterflies coming out earlier in the Spring! Doom!" to which the answer is: OK, so why exactly is earlier butterflies such a bad thing?

In this case, *if* GW lead to the food riots... then that is, overall, clearly a good thing, since it triggered the political change.

skanky said...

This is pretty tangential to this post, and blog in general, but something in the above discussion brought some part of the talk to mind (it should be obvious if you watch it):


The blog itself is well worth a read too.

Deech56 said...

Michael, I think that discernment of societal effects is at the same stage as discernment of warming in 1988, when Hansen provided his Congressional testimony.

It's like the problem of traveling and wondering if the recent bumps in the road are just another set of hills or the foothills of the expected mountain range.

EliRabett said...

Making Kloor's head explode is God's work because it exposes his duplicity.

Michael Tobis said...

William, counting those unhatched chickens, I'm afraid.

Even if something good does come of it, I doubt that el Baradei will be able to fix Egypt's problems given that Obama can't get enough traction to do much about America's. I wonder if the best we can expect from our leaders under present circumstances, if you'll pardon the expression, is to hide the decline.

If we don't get a grip on the real problems, several of which are currently tabu for mention in polite company, it's hard to see any improvement as more than temporary.

But alas, today's news from Egypt is far less encouraging than it has been.

Paul Daniel Ash said...


There's something oddly melancholy about trollbait on a dead thread...

Steve Bloom said...

"a good thing"

Until people begin to starve, perhaps. It's early days for this sort of thing.

Michael Tobis said...

PDA, yep, I am pretty stunned by that one. Not sure what to do with it, but it shouldn't pass without notice.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a poll to decide which one of those statements is more ignorant?

And I see Keith hasn't given up the fight with Romm!

William M. Connolley said...

> Even if something good does come of it

Good things have already come of it. It isn't true that all the worlds problems are ecological / climatological. Lifting an entire country out of autocracy into democracy (and in all probability being the catalyst for more) is good. I realise it hasn't quite happened yet and who knows it may still fail but the point remains: Romm's post is still part of the reflex GW-is-inevitably-bad kind of stuff, even when it isn't. And of course Kloor is totally failing to think too.

Paul said...


I don't think anyone's hair is on fire over phenological changes. The concern is that they confirm the warming climate.

Paul Middents

Michael Tobis said...

William I think that is silly. Increasing food prices are not good news. Unrest is in part symptomatic of that.

If (and I emphasize the conditional, **if**) there is a positive outcome, that is of course a good thing. But that doesn't mean failed crops themselves are a good thing! I would have a hard time seeing how to put crop failures in the benefits column.

dhogaza said...

" Lifting an entire country out of autocracy into democracy (and in all probability being the catalyst for more) is good. I realise it hasn't quite happened yet ..."

Not even close. The Muslim Brotherhood's obviously been caught by surprise, and has been slow to react, but is starting to do so.

Now maybe something like Turkey's secular democracy may grow out of this, but I'm dubious, given Egypt's role as one of the wellsprings of modern fundamentalist islamism ...

Brian said...

I see William had the same idea I mentioned at Kloor's (and had it earlier, but I didn't peek, I swear).

The way I'd view it though is that AGW's net tendency of making things worse (possibly food prices in this case) will be especially challenging to corrupt/incompetent governments, leading to their possible destabilization and possible replacement with something better.

Overall I don't see it as argument that favors the delayists.

Marion Delgado said...

The Keith Kloor Kicks the Kooky Klimate Hippees Blog is about as bad as WUWT by now.

I like the one market fundie wanting you to list "Pareto" ordering of causes of the riots in Egypt.

They love that, my favorite example being the proof that free markets guarantee employment due to "Pareto optimums" (in this case, where the employees are willing and able to not only work for free but in fact to pay employers to let them slave for them).

This syndrome the market fundies exhibit, there should be a name for it. It's a sort of parochial solipsism.

When Monbiot critiqued Heaven and Earth, Plimer, an Aussie mining geologist, demanded million-year "time flitches" from him. A flitch is a core wedge from a living tree, but in Aussie mining geology it means sampling a slag heap, more or less, to detect its motion. Seriously. But Monbiot was supposed to take a Time Drill and chip out a respectable core sample of Eternity before Plimer would acknowledge modern AGW.

And when Eli Rabett said the ocean was less alkaline now, a commenter demanded "6 sigma gauge Repeatability and reproducibility" to that effect. I mean, the change since the 80s, even, is measurable by people in Hawaii with pH meters like you'd have in your HS chem lab.

It's a combination of anti-intellectualism with extreme postmodern solipsism about the working reality that economic theories are supposed to be models of - how bizarre is that, given their pathological hatred of modeling?