Climate Change and Bar Fights

So was reading John Quiggin over at Crooked Timber writing about climate change, and something crystallized in my thinking a bit.

Here’s Quiggin:

In one sense, the blogosphere has reached a near-universal consensus on climate change. Everyone who follows the issue at all closely agrees that there is no real debate. Instead, it’s generally agreed, we have a situation where (1) a large body of people devoted to serious scientific research is confronted by (2) pushers of silly Internet talking points who are ideologically motivated, financially driven or just plain delusional . The only disagreement is which group is which.

I’ll get to my own beliefs and prescriptions in a bit; what’s interesting to me is that Quiggin neatly sets out what makes me so uncomfortable with the state of the argument today. It’s the tone of the people who are pushing hard for Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).

In my somewhat misspent youth, I put myself in places where I often encountered stupidly aggressive people. Bars. And there’s an interesting point about aggressive people in bars; you should pay close attention to the ones who are loudly threatening to kick your ass – but you don’t need to be afraid of them. Because if they were serious, they would already be kicking your ass, not just telling you about it.

Two things put my environmental-regulation-loving, hybrid-driving, solar-panel powered self off from supporting AGW and the policies that fall out from it:

1. The bullying tone of the supporters of AGW. Look, if you’ve got the facts and the science, you don’t need to try and rhetorically drive people out of the debate. But if you don’t…

2. The fact that many (not all) of the supporters of AGW are people who also – for a variety of reasons good and bad – have issues with “the dominant paradigm” of Western industrial society. It’s kind of like the local Lothario discovering that nude hot oil massages are the key to preventing some kind of fatal disease.

As someone who knows something (certainly not everything) about physical sciences and complex systems, I can say with some certainty that there is no way in hell that the level of certainty in the data we have supports an absolute society-restructuring belief in AGW. We’re talking about something vastly more complex than markets, and yet with a smidgen of data and a few complex computer models we have a group of bright people assuring us that absolutely they know what’s going to happen next.

Note how well that worked out in the financial markets…

At the same time, it’s hard to argue that we are taking on some unknown risk – a risk that could be catastrophic – by dumping ever-increasing amounts of anything into the environment. So maybe it makes sense – a lot of sense – to do what we can as quickly as we can to minimize our byproducts.

The devil is in defining “what we can” and “as quickly as we can.” Some people – Quiggin certainly among them – don’t like industrial capitalism much for reasons of their own, and arguably see this – the deep regulation necessary to reverse our carbon impacts – as both good for its own sake and good because it will provide an opportunity to move society closer to the desired model.

I have a good friend who is a senior official in a national agency tasked with environmental management, and we’ve talked about this; how the same people who argued that resource constraints and population growth required that we remake society; then species protection; now climate change. The constant is the need to remake society and the issues are sellable justifications for why it should be done.

I’m not so interested in remaking society; but I do worry about the impacts of climate change.

My response on AGW is somewhat different than Quiggins, and more like the “on one hand, and on the other” that many AGW proponents criticize.

We have some data which is highly suggestive of an impact by human activity on climate. Even if we accept the existence of the impact, and its significance in changing a naturally-variable climate, its extent is hard to determine with the information we have. But in the worst reasonable cases, by the time we have enough data, it may be too late to act in any meaningful way.

So we should act.

Our inefficient dependence on oil and coal wastes finite, valuable resources, creates pollution, has significant geopolitical impacts, and possibly worsens out climate.

There are a variety of painless things we could do to be more efficient, and we should do them immediately.

There are a variety of things we can and should do to improve efficiency and security, like building a smarter electric grid and beginning to decentralize power production, which also have positive impacts on overall energy efficiency and our climate impacts. We should do them quickly.

And there are harder, more complex things we should do – from changing land use development patterns to adding nuclear power – and we should be looking hard at them with an eye to deciding on what we can do soon.

That seems like a set of positions it would be relatively easy to build a consensus on, and one that could lead to relatively quick and somewhat effective action. No one has to – or needs to – bully anyone else, we just start doing it.

And that, perhaps, is the most challenging step of all.

68 thoughts on “Climate Change and Bar Fights”

  1. My litmus test has always been- are the sounders of the panic alarm acting like they are truly panicked. The answer (to date anyway) is NO. And i’m not so much talking about Al Gore and his huge carbon imprint home (although that is certainly testimony to the silliness that is Al Gore), but moreso the organizations and agencies that actually have the resources to do things.

    For instance- if i’m George Soros and i’m convinced AWG is going to have a massive impact on us in the next few decades, i’m buying resort property in Oregon and farmland in Alberta. Or if i’m the US congress, i’m not investing ‘stimulus’ money in designing a polar ice breaker if i’m convinced there will be no polar ice by the time its built.

    Its intellectually possible to believe in something as a matter of group think, but deep down in the gut to doubt it enough to be unwilling to _personally_ act on it with your own resources. People make much worse decisions than a Person.

    Worse, the alarmists insist on muddying the waters. Is this an imminent threat, as in the next 50 years? What does that mean exactly? If not, can we talk about the opportunity costs involved in kneecapping our wealth creation? IE- two centuries ago what if we decided to massively slow down the industrial revolution to halt the growing scourge of overwhelming horse manure clogging our cities? Not only would we be eliminating something that would shortly eliminate itself, but we cost ourselves the wealth that would have developed an answer for it at _far_ less cost compared to today.

    The irony of this is that we aren’t doing our children any favors. Instead of punting them a problem they will be able to solve much more easily, we are sending them a much higher bill instead. What kind of sense does that make?

  2. AL, this piece is way off the mark in more ways than I can respond to, so I’ll just deal with the most obvious. You say

    Some people – Quiggin certainly among them – don’t like industrial capitalism much for reasons of their own, and arguably see this – the deep regulation necessary to reverse our carbon impacts – as both good for its own sake and good because it will provide an opportunity to move society closer to the desired model.


    In reality, I’m one of the more prominent proponents of the view that the appropriate response to climate change should be focused on market-based instruments rather than regulation, and that the cost of dealing with climate change will be very modest in relation to the capacity of a modern economy.

    I spell this out at greater length, explicitly criticising the view you impute to me here.

  3. John – really? Help me understand.

    My claim is pretty straightforward; it is that many people take a view that AGW is “settled” and are aggressively dismissive of people who question what I and others see as weak science.

    Many of those people also believe that industrial capitalism is deeply flawed, and look forward to changes that would result in a different society.

    Both of those – the dismissive arrogance of AGW proponents, and the alignment between deep passion about the need to act on AGW and belief in the ‘badness’ of Western industrial capitalism – weaken the claims of the AGW proponents, in my view. The first because it doesn’t demonstrate confidence in the strength of the facts to make one’s argument, and the second because it suggest an ulterior motive.

    I do not criticize the specifics of your claims or proposals on AGW, but I do hold your argument in your post up as one that supports and exemplifies my first claim. And am I wrong about your feelings about late industrial capitalism??

    My guess is that we’re closer to agreement than not on what should be done about AGW; the core point of my post is that the style you (and many, many others) wrap your claims in is both unjustified by the evidence and politically a bad thing given the need to reach consensus for action.


  4. This appears to me to be the point of reckoning from Quiggin’s piece linked in comment #2:

    bq. _only an international agreement embracing all major countries will suffice, and the search for such an agreement is stalled until next January, when George W. Bush finally leaves office_

    At what point in time will Obama’s failure to obtain such an agreement with India and China result in similar anticipation for the end of his Presidency?

  5. John, seriously, “information is not subject to diminishing returns”? Obviously you’ve never had to deal with large databases! You’ve got to admit that you’re hand-waving here. That portion of your article adds nothing to the current discussion; if you failed to understand that the spread of information technology is one of the elements in the technological constant of the production function, that’s your problem, not the economists’.

    I reject your “dark brown” vs “deep green” analogy. On the one hand you’ve got environmentalists who are utterly disinterested in the costs of additional environmental protection, or indeed see those costs as a positive good in and of themselves – another way to limit human impact on the environment.

    The analogous group would be the proverbial fat-cat businessmen sitting in a back room, smoking cigars, saying “to hell with the environment, global warming will only benefit air conditioner sales!”

    But you attribute that position to anyone who questions whether the cost of global warming mitigation exceeds the cost of not mitigating – i.e. anyone who cares but doesn’t come up with the answer you like.

    Then you immediately throw out discussions of the discount rate as being “for the experts”. No wonder you seem to think that 2-3 percent of income is no big deal. Of course, to actual people, it’s the difference between “you saved for retirement” and “you’re 65 and broke, good luck working the rest of your life”…

    You say, “Fortunately, at least for anyone willing to accept the view that massive changes in the climate are a bad idea regardless of the economic number attached to them, the problems of discounting can safely be left to the professionals to sort out.” But that’s precisely what we’re not prepared to cede. The economic number attached to climate change is precisely the measure we should be looking at, especially when considering “is mitigation an acceptable alternative?”

    There are several different elements in the analysis regarding global warming. Economics is one of them – can we afford to mitigate? Will mitigation work? Is it more risky to grow without mitigation and deal with the consequences, or to attempt mitigation and have it fail because the climate warms anyway, and then be forced to deal with the consequences with a significantly smaller economic base?

    There’s also the political aspect, and you recognize that it’s there (“But only an international agreement embracing all major countries will suffice…”), but you completely gloss over the difficulties contained therein. The relative merits of mitigation versus growth look very different for China and India; they’d be foregoing much more growth than advanced Western nations if they lack access to hydrocarbon energy sources. Yet the West can’t implement a solution without China’s and India’s cooperation; if our industries just move over there, then we’ve done nothing to actually mitigate global warming, at tremendous cost to our own economies. Frankly, I don’t see how we could possibly convince them to sign on. Do you have any ideas along those lines, of constructive proposals to induce these countries to limit their growth? And are you prepared to answer for the massive degradation of quality of life in those countries that would result? Being a subsistence farmer is no fun at all!

    About the only thing that we agree on is that technological advances can help. So sure, let’s spend more money in making solar and wind energy generation more efficient. Let’s build MANY more nuclear power plants.

    For that matter, why don’t we have more nuclear power plants? It’s a technology that’s almost price-competitive with hydrocarbons, we can scale it up quickly, and we’ve already worked out the safety issues.

  6. Here is an exchange from the comment thread from Crooked Timber:

    First Comment: “I only believe it is a little bit more complex than you make out.”

    Second Comment: “Standard denialist bullshit. Yawn.”

    Quiggin isn’t responsible for his comment thread of course, but this is certainly a familiar dynamic.

  7. OK, unfortunately, as someone with at least an “informed amateur” interest in the physical sciences, and a trained interest in using science in public policy, I gotta say that Quiggen is being diplomatic in his description of the “symmetry” of the two sides of the debate, and A.L.’s being WAY too kind in his characterization of the anti-AGW-side’s talking points and tone, when compared with the AWG proponents.

    In a similar vein, “Young Earth Creationists” have spent much of the last three decades finding an occasional supporter with some sort of credentials in the bio sciences, having him pitch a bunch of stuff, and when the (vast majority) of people with serious expertise in the field say “What the #$#&* are you talking about?!? ” the YEC’s rejoin with “Aha! See? There’s still SCIENTIFIC DEBATE! These issues AREN’T SUBJECT TO ANY UNIFORMITY OF SCIENTIFIC OPINION!”.

    Except, in regard to this environmental effects business, it’s not just a question of educational policy, and offending someone’s personal beliefs. If we’re wrong about this one, we’re kinda screwed.

    If I saw a lot more of the anti-AGW position being espoused by a lot more folks with (a) serious scientific credentials and (b) no ideological axe to grind, I’d be a lot happier. If I saw some number of folks who believe in a comprehensive critique of late period globalized industrial capitalism,(and I know a bunch of THEM) but who also said, “You know, this AGW stuff’s a crock which the ruling class is trying to cram down our throats as propaganda!” I’d be less inclined smell an ideological rat. (I think I know of ONE. That’d be A. Cockburn. THERE’s someone to have on your side!)

    In other words, I’m still not convinced that the anti-AGW position, at its extreme, is not being staked out by lab-coated stalking horses for the “Mine it out, drill it out, fish it out, cut it down, and devil take the hindmost!” crew exemplified by a certain ex-Interior Secretary who opined that we didn’t really NEED to conserve oil, or forest, or mineable minerals, because the Apocalypse was coming soon.

  8. Whenever we wade into this swamp – er, wetland – the conversation gets icky quickly. For a large number of people, AGW is simply a part of a Gaia-ist religious catechism. Such people are easy to find: they use word like “believe in” when referring to AGW support, the “orthodox” positions, and even “heretics” when referring to climate and weather scientists who oppose the IPCC take on things.

    For my part, I’m still quite skeptical, not least of which because I’ve been a weather geek since I was a kid and got all excited over Global Cooling in the 1970s, which coincided with the worst California drought in modern times (San Jose got a total of 3 inches of rain one year). Later, we learned about El Ninos and La Ninas, and we were in a severe La Nina at the time (and we’re in a La Nina now, and sure enough, CA has had a dry winter.)

    Also, I worked at Berkeley on some of the early climate sims and learned early on that a computer simulation is simply a recipe that implements someone’s opinion on something, and is no more “scientific” by itself than any other way of rendering an opinion.

    That said, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been increasing, and there is some – although far from perfect – correlation with industrial activity. (There are a number of climate history studies showing that CO2 levels in the atmosphere may rise _after_, not before, atmospheric warming, as warmer oceans release embedded CO2.) The correlation between CO2 level rise and temperature changes is weaker. But in any case, getting away from power generation that pumps CO2 – and a lot of “real” pollution like partially burnt hydrocarbons, soot, etc – into the atmosphere is probably a good long-term idea.

    For my part, I’d support revenue-neutral gas taxes (offset with bottom-loaded FICA tax decreases), expansion of nuclear power, and improving/standardizing the power grid. Carbon trading and other corporate welfare schemes are not good ideas, and have failed in Europe, so I don’t support those. The policies I’d support would be “double-whammy” policies that reduce our dependence on oil and coal as well as reducing CO2 emissions.

    And for AGW fans, lose the hysteria, and realize that if you’re talking about spending trillions on something, people will want to know what’s up with it before letting you go “all in”.

  9. A few points. First, as my blog says, I’m a social democrat. That means I support a mixed economy, and oppose many of the policy shifts of the last thirty years, particularly the massive expansion of the financial sector. But obviously, I don’t need global warming to justify my views on that score and in fact, the policies I favor, like emissions trading, would work better if the financial sector worked better.

    As regards tone, you ignored the symmetry in my post, but you can pick it up from the comments here “Gaia worshipping” “alarmists” “group think” and so on. And this is polite compared to the standard fare on delusionist websites when someone like Al Gore is discussed. Moreover, the comparison with creationism is entirely apt on this point. Defenders of science like PZ Myers are routinely criticised in exactly the terms you use to attack me, for being harsh, “shrill” and so on.

    The basic point of my post is that there is no defensible middle ground here. Either (1) the entire climate science profession is made up of incompetents and liars (or, if you prefer, the IPCC and all major scientific academies are massively misrepresenting the true state of opinion) or (2) the AGW hypothesis is the strongly-supported conclusion of a vast body of scientific work, and those who say otherwise, such as George Will, are themselves either lying or deluded by liars.

    Finally, on the question of certainty. No one sensible claims certainty about the future of climate change. But there is pretty general (not universal, but nearly so) agreement among economists that uncertainty strengthens the case for action. That is because the losses associated with climate stabilisation that turns out to be unnecessary are far smaller that the costs of doing nothing and discovering that the problem is actually worse than the median estimate. Since say, IPCC 3, the latter has clearly been the case in most respects.

  10. AvatarADV, a lot of your comments are objections to the simplifications necessary in a magazine article aimed at a general audience. I’m happy to point you to numerous articles on discounting if you want them.

    But I mainly want to respond to your last point “For that matter, why don’t we have more nuclear power plants? It’s a technology that’s almost price-competitive with hydrocarbons, we can scale it up quickly, and we’ve already worked out the safety issues.”

    The almost here isn’t quite right. There’s a significant cost gap, that will only be bridged by the imposition of a carbon tax or requirement to buy emissions permits. But, once these policies are introduced, nuclear power should be cost-competitive in at least some locations with other low-emissions energy sources.

    OTOH, if the suggestion is that “we” should pay for nuclear power plants without a cost-benefit test, it’s time for me to go free-market on you, and say “let the market decide”.

  11. I have some personal experience with the emissions trading system set up for VOCs in the Chicago area. It takes about three years for a new emission source to get a construction permit from application to approval.

    In this context, one solution for new construction is to consider building outside of the Chicago non-attainment area. The downside is that Chicago has a pre-existing industrial-level transportation network, a broad labor base, and a local government that doesn’t mind taxing its citizens to pay part of the construction or operating expenses. And then there is Mexico . . ..

    I see little evidence that current proponents of emissions trading care or are even aware of the number of businesses that have not been built because of the existing permitting hurdles (which admittedly are not solely on the emissions trading side). And many of these new businesses would have been cleaner than the old ones that don’t have that initial permitting hurdle.

  12. _”the entire climate science profession is made up of incompetents and liars (or, if you prefer, the IPCC and all major scientific academies are massively misrepresenting the true state of opinion)”_

    Wait a minute John, there is a very valid third option here- that AGW alarmists are misrepresenting the IPCC findings.

    Isn’t it true that there is a wide gulf between the long term implications the scientists are predicting and the relatively short term (ie, now to 50 years from now) hysteria being peddled by people like Gore?

    Should we take a look at the IPCC findings and decide if they are really as dangerous as they are being made out to be?

    And wouldn’t you admit that there are a growing number of climate scientists skeptical of the dire ramifications, much less the need to take massive economic steps to combat it? “Here’s”: a list of climate scientists with objections even to the IPCC, which as i said isnt necessarily that dire to begin with. Is it denialist to point this out?

  13. John Quiggen wrote (#11) —

    bq. The basic point of my post is that there is no defensible middle ground here. Either (1) the entire climate science profession is made up of incompetents and liars (or, if you prefer, the IPCC and all major scientific academies are massively misrepresenting the true state of opinion) or (2) the AGW hypothesis is the strongly-supported conclusion of a vast body of scientific work, and those who say otherwise, such as George Will, are themselves either lying or deluded by liars.

    In my opinion, this analysis is incorrect.

    Based on something I’d read this morning, I was going to bring up George Will, too. The ‘something’ was a discussion of Will’s dopey anti-AGW Op-Ed by Fabius Maxiumus.

    [That post, “George Will: climate criminal or brave but sloppy iconoclast?,”: will be the sole link in this comment, as more than one typically triggers the routing of my remarks to permanent Moderation Purgatory.]

    Whatever one may think of F.M.–overall, he probably agrees with John Quiggen’s opinions more often than not–his analysis of AGW discourse is well worth reading. (Links to 16 prior posts in the series can be found at the end of the cited post.)

    Contra J.Q., the science of climate change is not settled. This is illustrated at the linked post; F.M. offers copious links to and exceprts from serious AGW-skeptical authors, and also to the pro-consensus-view blogs and literature.

    The reader can discern for himself/herself that the legitimate points of contention do not focus on questions such as “Is global warming real?” Instead, skeptics attempt to pressure mainstream climate scientists and advocates for the AGW consensus view (intersecting but nonidentical sets) to conform to the precepts of Good Science.

    More often than not, the challenges of the skeptics are met with contempt, derision, and stonewalling.

    If proponents of the AGW consensus are tempted to riposte with an analogy to the antics of creationists: before doing so, please familiarize yourself with the specifics of the point being made. It ought to be obvious that the characterization does not apply to the actions memorialized in the linked posts.

    Behavior that is considered acceptable and normal when undertaken on behalf of the AGW consensus would be considered unethical in the areas of science that I am most familiar with (molecular and cell biology), and, I think, in most fields.

    Here’s a tinyurl link to Fabius Maximus quoting Richard Feynmann’s famous Cargo Cult Science lecture, and demonstrating its application to the subject matter at hand.

    “Global warming” over the past century is real. The extent to which it is anthropogenic is probably substantial–but remains to be clearly determined.

    To get useful answers to the questions “Where’s our climate headed over the next century?” and “What are the likely benefits of possible warming-mitigating policies?” will require excellent (and expensive) science, and lots of it.

    Unfortunately, there’s a great deal wrong with climate science as it is now practiced. There is very little insight on the part of consensus AGW-advocate climate modelers and their lay cheerleaders as to the degree to which the climatology mainstream has strayed from good scientific practices.

  14. What strikes me most forcefully about this entire debate is the remarkable bifurcation between earth scientists and astronomers on the one hand … and “environmental” and life scientists on the other.

    The former are widely opposed to the entire AGW approach; the latter, almost unwavering in their support. It seems that scientists with solid exposure to long periods of time are generally quite skeptical.

    Those of us familiar with Earth’s history — my first two degrees are in geology — understand that the 1970-2000 era warming was by no means unique in either its magnitude or intensity. The world has been in an extended cooling period for the last 60 million years, with occasional spikes of warming.

    450 million years ago, by contrast, Earth was at its coldest in a billion years — yet atmospheric CO2 levels were ten times present values.

    That’s without even dismissing the 22 different AGW climate models for the simple reason that not one of them has functional predictive capacity either presently or retrospectively. Good theories have good models with good predictive capacity.

    AGW theory most decidedly does not have predictive power, a rather unsurprising result in view of the fact that 92% of all terrestrial heat radiation is completely unaffected by CO2, which absorbs energy at largely non-relevant wavelengths.

  15. My problem is that those who oppose the ‘fixes’ demanded by the AGW crowd are always written off as denialists or wannabe planet destroyers.

    Yet the AGW crowd cannot tell us what the correct temperature (without human intervention) for this year should be, what the correct temperature should be in 100 years, what the natural rate of change should be currently, or what is should be in 100 years.

    They cannot tell us what results proposed alterations in emissions should produce, heck they can’t even give us a 0 emission result analysis (what would happen if the human race mysteriously vanished tomorrow).

    In other words they don’t know where we should be going, how fast we are going, how fast we should be going, and what effects any actions we take will have on either of the above.

    What I can’t figure out is what the heck is wrong with the poli-sci types and other ‘public policy’ experts.

    Vast and sweeping power granted to a chosen few, backed by the iron fist of the government (gloved or otherwise), fueled by apocalyptic fear, with no (clear or otherwise) end goal, no metrics to measure efficacy of efforts (let alone efficiency), and long (multi-generational) timelines?

    Oh, I don’t see what could possibly go wrong with this…

  16. Bart Hall said: “What strikes me most forcefully about this entire debate is the remarkable bifurcation between earth scientists and astronomers on the one hand … and “environmental” and life scientists on the other.

    The former are widely opposed to the entire AGW approach; the latter, almost unwavering in their support. ”

    The evidence does not support Mr. Hall’s claims.

    The American Geophysical Union, the professional society of physical scientists who study the earth (and other planets) have a very unambiguous official statement about AGW (from ):

    The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons—are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century.[…]

    Furthermore in a recent survey of scientists, both climatologists and generalists, of how accepted AGW is among the specialty and other scientists, found that the overwhelming majority of those working in climate concur that humans can are are affecting the climate (from ):

    A group of 3,146 earth scientists surveyed around the world overwhelmingly agree that in the past 200-plus years, mean global temperatures have been rising, and that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.

    Peter Doran, University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, along with former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, conducted the survey late last year.

    The findings appear today in the publication Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union.

    In trying to overcome criticism of earlier attempts to gauge the view of earth scientists on global warming and the human impact factor, Doran and Kendall Zimmerman sought the opinion of the most complete list of earth scientists they could find, contacting more than 10,200 experts around the world listed in the 2007 edition of the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments.[…]

    Mr. Hall claims to have a couple of geology degrees; that may be true, but that does not give him freedom to misrepresent the views of the scientist who are actually working in the field.

    Finally, Mr. Hall takes a common tack for the denialists – state only part of the scientific truth, and actually deny the other parts. By dismissing the portion of the outgoing radiation that CO2 does absorb, Mr. Hall hopes the reader won’t realize that portion is still nevertheless very critical. The basic physics involved is conservation of energy, and saving a little bit of the out-going energy every second of every day eventually adds up to a very significant change.

    It is no wonder Armed Liberal and others get confused about what the scientific consensus is – there is so much noise generated on the internet over this subject (as with many others) that even the educated reader has to take considerable time sorting the wheat from the chaff. Mr. Hall is the classic case of trying to add noise to the discussion, in hopes of discouraging meaningful discourse on solutions to a very difficult problem.

  17. bq. Mr. Hall is the classic case of trying to add noise to the discussion, in hopes of discouraging meaningful discourse on solutions to a very difficult problem.

    Mind read, much?

    You haven’t definitively ruled out the possibility that Mr. Hall is sincere, but in certain ways mistaken.

    There’s a lot of jumping to conclusions that goes on as far as why people might say and think what they do.

  18. “Wait a minute John, there is a very valid third option here- that AGW alarmists are misrepresenting the IPCC findings.”

    Well, it’s not hard to check this, since the IPCC findings are published on the web. The shortest version is here, and is quite alarming enough for me

    While this is a cautious, consensus-based document (they had to get the Bush Administration, among other governments, to sign off on it), it’s certainly grim enough for me to favor strong action to avoid the consequences of Business as Usual, notably including extinction of at least 30 per cent of all existing species and, in the worst case, many more. Beyond about 3 degrees, the impacts on agriculture are bad, and get dramatically worse.

    If you are going to reject the findings of the IPCC, as many here seem to wish to do, a minimal requirement ought to be to read the entire Fourth Assessment Report, as I have. AL, since you describe the science as “weak”, can you point to particular chapters in Working Group I Report “The Physical Science Basis” that you think are an inadequate summary of the relevant science?

    Finally, Gore’s film was useful as a publicity exercise, and broadly accurate as a summary of the science, but that’s not where people seriously interested in discussing this issue should get their information. Much less should they get it from people like George Will, who are presenting second-hand misinformation.

  19. A.L. at #8:

    You raise some interesting points.

    Your original post acknowledges that there’s a non-trivial, non-nut-job body of scientific evidence regarding AGW. You then specifically note a number of points which “put you off” from a more thorough acceptance of AGW. The first two you list in order as being: (1) the “tone” of the debate from the pro AGW side, and (2) the political views of what you perceive as a significant chunk of the pro-AGW side.

    I therefore specifically _didn’t_ provide cites to scientific articles, because I suspect you’ve read a bunch of ‘em, and because these first two points frankly and explicitly have little to do with the scientific content of the work.

    What I’m noting is first that the “tone” of the debate isn’t as asymmetrical as you may be suggesting (some of the posts on this very site bear me out) and that second, there has been frequently been an equally strong correlation between anti-AGW advocacy and advocates of right-wing late capitalism, both coupled and not coupled with religious fervor. That makes ME as wary of THEIR position as the leftist bent of the pro-AGW folks makes YOU. You complain, or are troubled by, the correlation in one direction, but apparently not nearly as troubled by the similar correlation running the other direction. Hard to find “vigorous” (or “extreme”) pro-AGW advocates with vigorously “conservative” political views? I’ll acknowledge this, but I await someone’s pointing out some number of leftist anti-AGW folks. . .

    Thorley Winston’s reply at #10: my argument doesn’t “rest” on what Watt said on one occasion, ** but from his actions, implemented with substantial subtlety, going some way towards disassembling much of the work Interior had done in the preceding fifty or so years. I didn’t infer his intention to open almost all national forest land to drilling, mining, and logging, his desire toivatize national parks for the benefit of the highest bidder, and his desire to lease every inch of possible offshore land for drilling, from any one statement he made, but from his repeated statements and his actions. A quick summary can be found in that noted eco-terrorist rag _Time_ , 10/24/83.


    ***which I remember not from Moyers, but from reading it the day after it happened; I also have a pretty clear recall of the fracas over the mis-quote by Moyers

  20. John, I hope you don’t mind if I pick up that gauntlet.

    First objection is right on page 2 – the use of 90% certainty figures in error bars. This is not in keeping with standard statistical practices; usually a scientific paper would present its estimates with 95% certainty figures, if not 99%. The choice of 90% reflects a much wider degree of uncertainty about actual magnitudes of the ranges presented than you’d think; in particular, 95% error bars for a lot of those figures include “zero change”.

    This doesn’t necessarily mark the report as mendacious. Climate science has to deal with hideous amounts of uncertainty; climate models are emphatically not accurate representations of actual climate processes, and there’s a lot of interactions that we approximate with best-fit values rather than actually model (including tremendously important, yet difficult-to-model, ones such as albedo and water vapor content.) When the report was initially released, there was not a small amount of derision pointed at its use of “very likely” to describe 90% scenarios that could equally be described as “not likely enough to merit publishing in a medical journal”, much less one related to the hard sciences.

    Page 22 contains some interesting disclaimers. Essentially, the cost of climate change scenarios is incredibly responsive to the assumptions that go into the model; there is no widespread consensus on these factors, just an average of assumptions. The table at the bottom of page 21 doesn’t even list mitigation GDP costs for the low range of the table; we can safely assume that, because that’s the most stringent category of reduction, that the costs are probably pretty high.

    The IPCC report refers to technologies that are “very likely to become commercialized in coming decades” as contributing to reduction efforts. I hope so! Frankly, if we get large-scale fusion power generation working, withdraw my objections and full speed ahead with the GHG reductions. The more that technological advances reduce the cost or increase the efficiency of alternatives to fossil fuel combustion, the better for everybody. Nevertheless, in such circumstances it’s not necessary that governments take stringent action against carbon emissions; market forces alone will do the trick.

    Examine the chart on page 21 referencing various scenarios for mitigation. The difference between the average prediction for the most stringent scenario and the we-didn’t-do-anything, full-speed-ahead one is approximately 2 degrees Celsius, and the error bars are pretty large (and keep in mind the 90% error bars, so a stringent scientific standard would have that error bar all the way down in negative territory, though also way up into oh-god-we’re-gonna-cook land…)

    These objections don’t even go into specific problems with modeling assumptions, data integration, or any of that; even if the models are all methodologically correct, we’re still left with this degree of certainty. But the models themselves have significant shortcomings, as does the data that they are based on. Again, a lot of this isn’t actively intended to deceive people (excepting Mann’s graph data – not showing your math is unconscionable!), but just a result of the best that science can do on the topic. Climate modeling is pretty hard!

    At the same time, if all I’m saying is, “Whoa, that’s somewhat thin scientific evidence to go immediately handing you blank checks and the keys to the worlds’ economies,” all of the sudden, I’m committing a moral sin of the magnitude of denying the holocaust? Nuh-uh. I’ve got enough background to have informed objections, and I’m difficult to intellectually bully; there’s no topic upon which someone can say “you’re just not smart enough to understand what we’re talking about.”

    Nor need I question my own motives. I don’t own a car company or a coal plant or anything; I stand nothing to gain or lose directly, other than as a citizen of the nation with a citizen’s interest in its policies and its purse.

    Surely you can see that calling me, or those like me, things like “climate deniers” is counterproductive?

  21. There is a serious problem with getting to agreement in the debate over AGW: we are mixing up the debates and the meta-debate. That is, there is debate about whether AGW is happening, and if so to what extent and over what time frame. There is debate about the consequences of AGW, should it be occurring. There is debate as to what to do about those consequences, if anything. And there is debate about the debate, which is what AL was trying to raise here.

    But look how we talk past each other, by shifting levels. When challenged by AL on the meta-debate (ie, AL was saying he agrees or might agree with Quiggin’s conclusions, but believes Quiggin’s rhetorical approach is ineffective for promoting their shared belief), and responded by shifting the debate to what to do about AGW (#2). And so forth: every level of the debate gets involved.

    As long as we are arguing in different layers, and shifting from one layer to another when our arguments are effectively challenged, we will never get to anything approaching common ground. I often suspect, observing the AGW debate, that for some people on both sides, that is their goal, as for those people, this is a debate about power and who gets to wield it, rather than AGW per se.

    Pardon me for digressing here, but I find that most people, including (oddly) some scientists, have no clue what science is or why it is useful. In my experience, there are differences between science and ideology on the inputs, the process, and the outputs.

    The inputs of scientific debates are observed results of experimentation, previously-accepted theoretical frameworks and their predictions (which are compared against the observed results of experimentation), and proposed hypotheses to explain discrepancies between the first two. The process of science is to examine the observed results of experiments to find deviations from theoretical predictions, and then to find rational and logical explanations for those differences, in the process testing new hypotheses to find which ones work and which do not, where “work” is defined as “successfully predict future results.” The outputs of the process of science are new theoretical frameworks, and a larger body of observations.

    The inputs of ideological debates are existing power relationships. The process is politics. The output is new power relationships.

    In science, therefore, what matters is falsifiability (theories must be disprovable, or they cannot be tested) and predictive power (a theory which generates no predictions, or inaccurate predictions, is not useful). In ideology, what matters is winning the debate.

    That the most famous proponent of the AGW hypotheses is a politician should be a red flag in and of itself, that the nature of the debate is ideological rather than scientific, and that science enters in only because, since science is perceived as automatically “true” in our culture, it is a very useful tool in claiming that the other side are liars, charlatans or worse.

    Even without Al Gore, though, I am deeply disturbed by the reliance of AGW theory on climate models. Climate models are predictions, hypotheses; they are not results. Yet the models are being used by the AGW proponents as “proof” (a word no respectable scientist uses about theories; they would instead say “evidence”) of … the models’ results. Um…WTF? So the basic argument for AGW, as I see it, is that a few observations (which themselves have been challenged in reasonable ways) are coupled with climate models, and then rather than testing the models, the expected result is to jump directly to the end, claim the theories “proven” by the theories themselves, and then attempt to shout down all opposition.

    By all means, given me a scientifically valid body of theory and evidence as to how AGW is happening, and I would be happy to debate what to do about it. But as with most political debates, that’s not what this is about. As AL himself noted, the Venn diagram of “AGW proponents” and “political progressives” has a lot of overlap, and the Venn diagram of “AGW proponents” and “anti-free marketeers” is even more congruent. And that, as far as I can tell, is what this debate is about: a standard political debate about transferring power to a given faction, using bad science as a tool to bludgeon the other factions into acquiescence.

  22. Alarmists are couching their arguments quite literally on the survival of the human race (if not life on the planet). That’s a far cry from X more species extinctions, or Y more floods and hurricanes per year. Neither the IPCC nor any consensus of scientists is upholding the argument that the survival of the species is at stake, certainly not in the timeframe relevant to any real picture of the future, technologically or socially.

    The real question, the question _most_ Americans assume we are to be addressing is if AGW threatens the western level of civilization we have become accustomed to. Moreover- will our wealth and technology outpace the damage being done?

    We _know_ the remedies being suggested will kill people. We know that for a fact. Money dumped into carbon control is a resource not being spent on health care or agriculture or charity.

    So why do we see so precious little conversation about the trade-offs? As AL suggested, it’s probably because the main AGW vanguard is (sadly) convinced that their solutions actually help the human race in and of themselves. That’s a big red flag (ahem).

  23. “This”: article in the NYT speaks directly to this post.

    _”But climate change, like most political issues, isn’t so simple. While most scientists agree that anthropogenic global warming is a threat, they’re not certain about its scale or its timing or its precise consequences (like the condition of California’s water supply in 2090).”_

    _”“Public debates over climate change,” Dr. Pielke says, “often are about seemingly technical questions when they are really about who should have authority in the political debate. The debate over the science thus politicizes the science and distracts from policy.””_

    _”One possibility, Dr. Pielke says, would be to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the future. He calculates that it could cost about the same, in the long run, as making drastic cuts in emissions today, and could be cheaper if the technology improves. It could also be a lot easier sell to the public._

    _Yet research into this strategy has received little financing in past budgets or the new stimulus package because it doesn’t jibe with the agenda of either side in the global-warming debate. Greens don’t want this sort of “technological fix”; their opponents don’t want to admit there’s anything to fix.”_

  24. There’s no need to pay attention either to alarmists claiming the end of the earth is imminent (some Greens and others) or to those who reject the findings of science (George Will, most Republicans, and AFAIK all rightwing thinktanks).

    As I’ve said, the IPCC has done a great job of summarising the scientific research. Anyone who thinks they know better, without even having read the IPCC Reports, let alone mastered the massive body of scientific research they summarise, is deluding themselves.

    Coming to the policy implications, I and lots of other economists and policy analysts have done plenty of work on this. But obviously there is no place in a debate on policy for people who’ve already proven their dishonesty in discussions of the underlying science.

  25. bq. But obviously there is no place in a debate on policy for people who’ve already proven their dishonesty in discussions of the underlying science.

    Somehow, I’ve learned more about attitudes towards the underlying science from this commenter than I have about the underlying science itself.

    Widely shared attitudes: consensus attitudes, in some quarters.

  26. I get so tired of the appeals to authority. There are more then a few instances in the history of science where the “consensus” has been dead wrong. You would think that nobody ever heard of Eugenics. Anybody who thinks a “consensus” is proof of a theory is ignorant of how science progresses and ignoring historical fact.

    Any project that involves the public safety such as building a bridge is required to go through a process to insure the integrity of the design. A detailed engineer report is generated covering all aspects of the design. That report is audited by a third party and any shortcomings are sent back to the designers to correct. This due diligence is completely lacking in the IPCC. The situation is such that lead authors are reviewing their own work.

    Well enough of that. I have a novel idea. Lets discuss the science. The basic hypothesis is that CO2 is a green house gas. There is no argument there. It can be shown experimentally that this is true. It can also be calculated from first principles that a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels, everything else being equal, would raise earths temperature about 1 °C. No one disagrees with that. So far so good. The hypothesis goes on to assert that increases in CO2 causes an increase in temperature (still no problem) which leads to an increase in water vapor (the primary green house gas) that leads to a further increase in temperature. This is referred to as a positive feedback. That is how the IPCC arrives at the 1.5 to 4.5°C increase in temperature for a doubling of CO2. There is one problem. There is no proof that this positive feedback exists. The problem is with clouds. Clouds, you see, are formed from … drum roll please … water vapor! We know that high clouds primarily increase warming by trapping more IR. We also know that low clouds promote cooling by reflecting the suns radiation back out to space (anybody that has flown can attest to the brightness of the cloud tops). The problem is we don’t know if the net effect is positive or negative (in the feedback sense). IOW, we don’t even know the sign of the feedback. All 20 of the IPCC’s climate models assume the feedback is positive. It may be, then again it may not be. Nobody knows. Bottom line. The global warming hypothesis hinges on the unproven assumption that the water vapor feedback is positive.

  27. John, a final question. Neither Hansen nor Mann has released their raw data nor their actual algorithms. So we have direct access to neither the raw GISS data and smoothing models; and we don’t have access to the math or data behind the hockey stick – in either revision.

    Scientists make their work available so it can be checked.

    So if one (John, SB) wants to make the claim that amateurs like me should defer to scientists like Hansen or Mann, might it be reasonable to ask that we all agree that Hansen and Mann et al act like scientists??


  28. Oh no, it’s the hockey stick!

    AL, if you’d started with this standard delusionist material, instead of the “more in sorrow than anger” metacommentary, I would have realised where you were coming from and not bothered wasting my time.

  29. AvatarADV, since you’ve raised a serious point, I’ll reply before leaving. The 95 per cent pnumber used in classical hypothesis testing is entirely different from the probability number used by the IPCC in the statement you quote. p or rather 1-p (5 per cent), is the probability that a given statistical result would have been observed on a random draw, assuming the null hypothesis to be true. A probability less than 5 per cent is taken to justify rejection of the null.

    The IPCC number is more like the forecast probability of rain, and your response is somewhat like saying that, if the forecast gives only a 90 per cent probability, you’ll leave your umbrella at home, given that the forecasters can’t be certain.

  30. I understand that Quiggin has left the field, but I wonder why/how he could label A.L.’s question delusional? Data and methodology either is or is not available. When either or both is not available, you don’t have science.

    I also love the misrepresentation of the IPCC numbers as being analogous to a daily weather forecast; when using statistics to argue a causative relationship between one variable and another, the correlation has to be very high to be persuasive because (everyone repeat after me) correlation does not imply causation. In other words, you could probably find a couple of hundred independent variables that had at least as high a correlation. (The first I’d look at would be functions of the DJI, and I bet it would be a good correlation over the last 50 years. But maybe that would just once again make Marc’s point.)

    Weather forecasts aren’t descriptions of nature, they’re predictions based on models that are constantly tweaked; theories of AGW, on the other hand, are theories, and as such need to perform better than the old “frog with no legs cannot hear” joke.

  31. I do so enjoy raising serious points.

    What you are having trouble understanding is that the p or rather 1-p number is inherently tied up in the range. At 90% certainty (assuming their statistical models are valid and that they produce a classic “bell curve” distribution, and that’s an assumption I’m not otherwise prepared to grant), the observed value will fall somewhere in the presented error range – and no, not necessarily “the actual mean will trend toward the center”; that’s not something you can conclude.

    The error bars with less certainty shrink down – you can make a more accurate forecast, but the chance that you’re just totally wrong goes up. With greater certainty, the error bars get larger – you have a smaller chance of the observed value being outside the range altogether, but the forecast widens. In this case, using a standard 95% certainty would give you a range that’s so large as to be utterly useless – essentially “anywhere between cooling a little bit and heating up by over ten degrees celsius”.

    Did you really not understand the relationship between the probability of falsification of the null hypothesis and the size of the error bars? Seriously, this is quite basic statistics, ignorance of which certainly precludes you from lecturing people on the topic. Still, I’d rather believe that you failed to appreciate the significance rather than assume that you did know, but are overlooking it so that you can justify making weather forecast metaphors.

    The reason I make a big deal of this is that most science is kept to a more rigorous standard. A new medication that could only show effectiveness at 90% certainty would not get approved by the FDA. A civil engineering design that could hold up under anticipated loads within 90% certainty would result in the engineer being sacked before construction started. The choice to use 90% error bars cannot have been incidental, and the scientists on the panel have to have been aware that they were using a lower standard of scientific evidence.

    The IPCC report DOES NOT ADMIT THIS. Oh, you can learn about the error bars if you look at their table which translates “likely”, “very likely”, and the like to the equivalent scientific ranges (though at a level of equivalence that doesn’t necessarily correspond to the normal rigors of scientific analysis). Its “very likely” is, from the perspective of science, not actually that likely at all.

    Were “taking an umbrella” the only action required to avoid global warming, we could accept a great deal of uncertainty and take the preventative measures. If I take an umbrella to work and it doesn’t rain, I’ve burned a tiny amount of calories and a smidgen of extra gasoline.

    In reality, preventing global warming will require massive investment and allocation of scarce resources in ways significantly deviating from their optimum distribution. (In a way, that’s kind of the point.) The risk is not of a summer shower tomorrow, it’s you saying “there is a 90% chance that there will be an unprecedented hurricane which will scythe your town off the map, unless you build underground buildings and transportation infrastructure, and you’d better hurry because I’m not sure when the hurricane will get here.” The mayor can’t be faulted for eyeballing you and saying “now exactly how did you get that 90% number?”, now can he?

    We have come to some scientific conclusions; we can say with reasonable certainty that carbon dioxide emissions have some effect on the environment, that we’ve observed heating in the last century, and so on. The causal relationship is less clear, but plausible. The actual forecast, though, is much more difficult, because both positive and negative feedback mechanisms exist and the science of the day is simply not adequate to tell which mechanisms will be controlling in a warming scenario. The models don’t actually model all of those mechanisms – they approximate them, because that’s all we can do with our current knowledge and computing capacity, and the results of the climate models are very sensitive to the approximations we choose to make.

    To say “the debate is over; those who do not agree with the AGW platform, Al Gore, and massive intervention to prevent AGW immediately are fools, delusional, or dishonest”… Seriously, there might be someone who can say that with a straight face, but Mr. Quiggin, your understanding of salient information is clearly inadequate for you to have reached that conclusion. Do you not wonder why we, in turn, might question your motivations, your intelligence, and your grasp of reality?

  32. _”I understand that Quiggin has left the field, but I wonder why/how he could label A.L.’s question delusional?”_

    Because engaging in debate is more difficult than shouting claims of authority. Strange that the hockey stick dispute set him off though. Not really strange, just more of a sore spot I suspect. Mann fudged his results and then refused to share the data. Small wonder this could be a problem when resting your argument on the purity and expertise of climate scientists.

    _”in other words, you could probably find a couple of hundred independent variables that had at least as high a correlation.”_

    I have it on excellent “authority”: that global temperature is negatively correlated to the number of pirates sailing the Caribbean.

  33. John may be a heck of an economist (I have no clue), but he’s an awful debater. Basically, his line is “I’m the prof, you’re the student, go away and do your homework and get back to me. If you can’t be bothered to do the assigned reading, shut up and trust your bureaucratic superiors to make wise decisions on your behalf”.

  34. One other point: the elephant in the room is whether you trust generic “public servants” or not. Few Righties (including me) have a lot of faith in most bureaucracies, especially those with ambiguous and unmeasurable objectives, and have an instinctive feel for the “public choice problem” and “agency problem” issues that bureaucrats and politicians have.

    This enters into AGW because many Lefties see the IPCC as a heroic band of scientists tasked with saving the world. Righties see it as another unaccountable bureaucracy brought to you by the same wildly corrupt organization who did Oil-For-Food, endless Israel bashing, and “peacekeeper” sex scandals in Africa.

    One simple test I use is do you refer to the government as “we” or “they”? I refer to the government as “they”; it may be democratic, but the various bureaucracies of the government have little to do with me or anyone I can have hope to influence. At the international level, things are even more abstract and alienated from anything I’m connected with.

  35. His debating-technique is called burden-shifting, but the ends are the most interesting part. The crack about “most Republicans” form their insights from scrutinizing the entrails of poultry, though true, indicates that he is more interested in finding heretics, than converts.

  36. PD shaw: the difference is that “scientific misconduct”: is the largest crime in the scientific community. Even the accusation of falsified data ends careers.

    And so it should. However, that’s certainly a higher standard than op ed writers, politicians, or steve miloy.

    I’m not an expert on climatology (though I have worked in close proximity to a few) but it is part of science that when a theory has been accepted, it is very, very hard to shake it out again. There must be specific proof that a theory is a wrong (not disproof) in order for the community to start over again. Normally, this happens slowly with little fanfare. As there are political dogs in this fight, the scientific community has insulated itself from critiques more than usual, and therefore is less self-critical than it typically is.

    Those who are working on the current theory are not “lying” or “power hungry” as some have insinuated, they’re just working on the current theory, as they know it, and trying to find better avenues of proof for their data. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as it’s treated honestly.

    But again, it’s difficult to throw political ideologies into a science argument and expect to keep a bunch of us nerds civil. The system isn’t designed for that.

    In the meantime, it would be nice to have a climatology expert come in and breakdown the data…. John did not seem to be playing nicely. But as a scientist won’t be happy to be happy to be taking some of these digs either.

  37. What I find striking about this debate is that AGW proponents have the easiest argument in the world to make, at least over time. Don’t believe my hypothesis? Just wait.

    I understand that if the alarmists are correct, waiting will make solutions more expensive (perhaps) and risk lives and ecology, but the point is if you feel you have the science solidly on your side, you don’t need to convince everyone instantly. You can stand firmly on your predictions when faced with skeptics or counter data. There is very little point in demonizing skeptics, much less declaring them morons, shills, or deniers.

    Yet we rarely see measurable predictions. Why is that? We might hear the Arctic is melting, but how about someone making a firm prediction of how much is going to melt how soon? In other words, how about a prediction that if it is wrong becomes an admission that the hypothesis is flawed? IE- falsifiability?

    Is there a prediction on record with the IPCC or anyone else in the next 20 years or 50 years that if it doesn’t come to pass will indicate global warming either isn’t accelerating or isn’t a problem for humanity? Not just temps, but lack of water, drought, etc.

    I’m perfectly willing to concede that if temps continue to climb at .2dC in the next decade, and food and water prices spike, we have a genuine danger.

    The catch is i thought the same thing in 1998, and it hasn’t happened. When new data is introduced i re-evaluate my opinion. What do you do?

  38. My question for the advocates of AGW is “how many people are you willing to kill?” Please don’t start comparing the deaths from the supposed effects of AGW. That comes after. First – how many?

    The climate change enthusiasts advocate policies that must in the end destroy industrialized society. An energy starved “green” society cannot support the modern industrial base. Kyoto, a tiny step toward ending AGW, would likely wreak the industrial nations’ economies without doing much about climate change. The next step would have to more radical and if followed to a conclusion that really reduces greenhouse gases eliminate almost all heavy industry and most light industry. We would need to return to a simpler economic model- agricultural feudalism with the AGW “scientists” as the noble class. That paradigm would support at most about a billion people, probably less. So, how many are you willing to kill?

    I think an industrialized technological society is far more likely to discover the materials and processes to limit the damage of pollution than a primitive one. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, right after you answer my question.

  39. PD Shaw: Sorry, I didn’t mean to over-insinuate, sometimes it’s hard to read inflections in tone. Still, a number of comments gave the impression of intentional misconduct, I was just trying to identify that this is likely not the case.

    And yes, open source data should be expected.

    Ken, that’s a ridiculous way of phrasing the question. I’m not willing to “kill” anyone. I want to continue to fix the bugs the environmental energy until they are sustainable and can take over. Doing so will undoubtedly SAVE lives.

    Look at the toxins in burning coal, (or, as seen recently) toxic fumes ejected from oil stacks in rural areas. Now imagine a low-cost solar plant in Saharan Africa with almost 0 waste. It could literally change 3rd world countries (and desert wastelands) into valuable, energy-exporting enterprises. (ok, so solar-dictatorships are plausible too).

    yes, it’s not there yet, but it’s within 10-15 years of some amazing breakthroughs. Chemical solar systems are on the verge of redefining system efficiency. Billions stand to be made (without killing anybody). We can make money on this, or we can leave the profits to Asia. It’s up to us.

  40. _”Look at the toxins in burning coal, (or, as seen recently) toxic fumes ejected from oil stacks in rural areas. Now imagine a low-cost solar plant in Saharan Africa with almost 0 waste.”_

    Imagine a ladder that takes us up to heaven. Hope isn’t a plan and miracle renewables aren’t realistic nor magic bullets, nor are they cost effective if saving lives is your ultimate aim.

    Perhaps 10 million people starve to death every year. AIDS kills 3 million. Malaria kills at least a million.

    How many die from coal toxin? How many die from global warming? How many would die if we do nothing?

    We need to establish what our goals genuinely are. If its purely saving lives, Bjørn Lomborg is absolutely correct and we could save exponentially more lives by taking the resources devoted to AGW and doing simple things like feeding the hungry and fighting malaria.

    Now if the real threat is to our Western wealth and way of life, we have a different conversation. One that certainly involved nuclear power.

  41. For the most part, crummy remarks on a blog are hardly worth raised eyebrows. The poverty of John Quiggin’s commentary on this thread is notable because of who he is: a prominent, popular, intellectual writer at a high-traffic blog, and an authority figure in his own right (Professor at Queensland University).

    Comment #35 is his only contribution of substance to the issue of AGW (as opposed to illustrations of the consensus position in the AGW meta-debate). Even #35 is not altogether impressive when viewed in the light of #25 by AvatarADW, to which it is a response, and AvatarADW’s further thoughts at #37.

    This is a bit like attending a recording session where a noted artist isn’t able to carry a tune. And afterwards, discovering that this vocalist doesn’t recognize that his performance was off-key.

    The original Crooked Timber post that A.L. linked concerned George Will’s ill-founded op-ed on AGW. There, Quiggin links to Tim Lambert, who has an exhaustive post on the data that Will erroneously cited and interpreted. “Link.”: Lambert is a smart and credentialed guy who can marshall impressive evidence on a number of topics… yet that evidence always (AFAICT) overwhelmingly supports his prior position.

    Compare Lambert’s version of the relevant background to this shorter take by Fabius Maximus, a more skeptical and open-minded observer. “Link.”:

    If you had to pick one or the other to gain a well-rounded view of the controversy, which would you choose?

    A related matter that immediately predated the Will kerfluffle concerned Nina Rastogi’s 2/10/09 article in on Michael Asher’s Daily Tech piece on sea ice anomalies. URLs for primary sources in Fabius Maximus’ compilation, again, I’ll provide a link —

    Unsurprisingly, considering the “bar fight” format of the meta-debate, neither Lambert nor Quiggen had anything to say about the distortions in Rastogi’s prime-time piece.

    In a similar vein, Asher emailed me —

    bq. For the record, Slate failed to contact us [Daily Tech] before running their article, and in fact refused to allow us any sort of rebuttal or response.

    Like nearly all of the sensible and reasoned commenters that precede me on this thread, I don’t know what the real climate-change story is, or will turn out to be. I do believe that AGW advocates have turned this into a case study of how Science should not be performed. It’s also a case study of the hazards of high-stakes public-policy decisions that must rest on Science that is complex, hard to interpret, and uncertain in its findings. As long as scientists arrive at the “right” results, the “AGW consensus” side is largely untroubled when data collection, data compilation, and modeling take place in the absence of sunlight and thus without benefit of the scrutiny of skeptics.

    As regards the practice of science, this is a mistaken attitude. One of its ill effects can be seen in the cited article. Will’s errors deserve to be fully aired; so do Rastogi’s.

  42. Mark; This all depends on what you want to do in Africa. This isn’t a hypothetical do this OR “this puppy must die!” question. (Reversing this: it could be “We could fund the Raptor program, but that money could save millions in Africa!)

    Even if we gave them every dime they wanted today, people are still going to die. AND they are still going to need a financial infusion tomorrow. What these countries need is an industry that can generate upward mobility. For some of these countries, it’s certainly plausible that solar could be that industry. Teach a man to fish…

    It’s certainly safer than nuclear, and will require a smaller initial payment for building countries than a nuclear powerplant.

    BTW: If the US ran nuclear powerplants with the same environmental laws used in Europe, I would be much happier about them. But we don’t, and so I am not.

  43. _”Mark; This all depends on what you want to do in Africa. This isn’t a hypothetical do this OR “this puppy must die!” question.”_

    I agree completely, which is why i want to define WHOM we are battling AGW for. If its really for the people in third world nations subject to famine and natural disaster, is it cost effective to waste trillions on capping Carbon when we could simply feed them and save more lives? If saving lives is ultimately the goal.

    Now if the goal is to protect our own place in the world, again, different subject. But I don’t think its intellectually honest to pretend they are the same thing.

  44. If you really believe that sea coasts will be flooded if we don’t stop AGW, than it doesn’t make sense to save millions in Africa when BILLIONS could die from other devices.

    I’m not from that camp (yet). I want some modest changes that boost our use of renewable, cost-affordable energy, and limits our use of the dirtiest fuels (coal, gasoline, etc). I also think that peak-oil is coming soon, and we should prepare for it.

    Green energy has the potential to solve multiple problems simultaneously.

  45. AL:

    bq. “Our inefficient dependence on oil and coal wastes finite, valuable resources, creates pollution, has significant geopolitical impacts, and possibly worsens out climate.”

    I agree with everything including and following “creates.”

    However, we are not wasting oil and coal; we are using them. The difference is total.

    As to AGW vs. anti-AGW, it is inaccurate to characterize much of the disagreement with AGW as “anti-AGW.” AGW is a hypothesis. Refusing to agree with the AGW hypothesis when significant arguments remain against it is not anti-AGW. It is standard, logical, scientific procedure.

    AGW has not begun to address the multitude of reasonable challenges presented to it (e.g. why does CO2 historically lag rather than lead, etc.)

    Also, regarding the original IPCC report, much is made of the alleged 2500 reviewers of the report. I write engineering reports for a living. There are many reviewers, but their opinions are not evident from the final document. Only the author’s opinions are evident.

    We have no reason to believe that all, some, or even any of these reviewers agree with conclusions of the report. What comments did they make? How were the comments incorporated, if at all?

    We do have 31,000 technically inclined folks (9000 climate scientist among them IIRC) who individually signed a public document stating that they do not believe that AGW is supported by the existing data.

    Neither document is proof of anything, but the second is more compelling as a statement of mass opinion.

  46. bq. _”When the hunt for new sources of energy had at one point got particularly frantic, one bright young chap suddenly spotted that one place which had never used up all its available energy was–the past. And with the sudden rush of blood to the head that such insights tend to induce, he invented a way of mining it that very same night, and within a year huge tracts of the past were being drained of all their energy and simply wasting away. Those who claimed that the past should be left unspoilt were accused of indulging in an extremely expensive form of sentimentality. The past provided a very cheap, plentiful, and clean source of energy, there could always be a few Natural Past Reserves set up if anyone wanted to pay for their upkeep, and as for the claim that draining the past impoverished the present, well, maybe it did, slightly, but the effects were immeasurable and you really had to keep a sense of proportion._

    _It was only when it was realised that the present really was being impoverished, and that the reason for it was that those selfish plundering wastrel bastards up in the future were doing exactly the same thing, that everyone realised that every single aorist rod, and the terrible secret of how they were made, would have to be utterly and forever destroyed. They claimed it was for the sake of their grandparents and grandchildren, but it was of course for the sake of their grandparents’ grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandparents.”_

    Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

  47. AL: In re the 3% solution, it is a good thing that the Odyssey was available, because it met your needs better than the other options. One of your needs was to minimize fuel operating costs, and meeting this need benefits others in the market for fuel by increasing the available supply.

    Other people choose differently, and we do not see the same benefits from their choices.

    Unless I’m willing (and able) to spend their money on what I want them to have (i.e. on what maximizes my benefits), then I’m just out of luck. Which is as it it should be, though it would be nice if everyone would just do what was best for me.

    Note that I do not think that you would argue differently. This is intended as a good faith conversation, not a strawman ambush.

  48. Marc, I don’t see the activist class pushing nuclear, much less breeders. Of all the sources you mentioned it is the only one that is schedulable 24/7. In my opinion, nuclear is our only choice.

    I don’t know much about tidal other than structural integrity is a big issue.

    Wind and solar are the ones were pouring gobs of money into. The idea being that we replace the energy we produce with fossil fuels with energy from “alternative” sources. Electrical energy is delivered on demand every second of every day. The power companies monitor demand and adjust supply to meet that demand. On that time scale wind and solar are finite. Sometimes zero. Another reality of power generation is you have to have generating capacity that exceeds the peak demand. Peak demand often happens on very hot days and very cold nights. Those days also happen to be the days with little to no wind that extends over large geographical areas. The effect of course is wind and solar do not reduce the number of conventional power plants that are needed. They only save a bit of fuel.

    On the time scale at which you run out of conventional sources of power generation, wind and solar also become effectively zero. At that point you have no base load and only intermittent supply making it, for all intents and purpose, useless.

  49. SB –

    I’ll suggest that your comment is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

    Instead of links to scientific papers, you backhand AGW questioners by comparing them to Creationists.

    Instead of looking at the institutional biases on both sides, one side is full of noble scientists and the other with “lab-coated stalking horses for the “Mine it out, drill it out, fish it out, cut it down, and devil take the hindmost!” crew.”

    The form of your argument weakens the substance of it.


  50. In other words, I’m still not convinced that the anti-AGW position, at its extreme, is not being staked out by lab-coated stalking horses for the “Mine it out, drill it out, fish it out, cut it down, and devil take the hindmost!” crew exemplified by a certain ex-Interior Secretary who opined that we didn’t really NEED to conserve oil, or forest, or mineable minerals, because the Apocalypse was coming soon.

    So basically your argument rests on a smear that Bill Moyers made about James Watts which was “exposed years ago”: Good to know.

  51. John, I not only noted the symmetry in your post, I quoted it. My issue is – one more time – that as someone predisposed to support environmental concerns, the fact that AGW supporters are making certainty claims well beyond the validity of their data or models, and the fact that if I did a population Venn diagram of passionate AGW believers and “social democrats of better” politically, the overlap would be huge – the AGW folks weaken the actual likely actions by the electorate.

    And of course there is a middle ground. I set it our, explicitly, in my post.


  52. Either (1) the entire climate science profession is made up of incompetents and liars (or, if you prefer, the IPCC and all major scientific academies are massively misrepresenting the true state of opinion) or (2) the AGW hypothesis is the strongly-supported conclusion of a vast body of scientific work, and those who say otherwise, such as George Will, are themselves either lying or deluded by liars.

    False dichotomy. The history of science is loaded with these types of disputes. The late Dr. Thomas Gold wrote an interesting piece about the realities of doing science.

  53. AMac – no, I don’t mind read!

    However, I do occasionally read several blogs that seem to have a Mr. “Bart Hall” show up in their comments. Furthermore, if you Google “Bart Hall” and AGW you will get several hits.

    It is the same MO… over and over again, repeating either outright false claims (such as what most earth scientists’ views are on the subject), or bringing up very common so-called debunking points which themselves have been shown to be quite wrong.

  54. Hang on, John…(looks around)…no, I didn’t dispute the hockey stick. I made a point consistent with my original meta-argument and your repeated attempts to backhand the argument out of the room through claims to authority.

    If AGW is “accepted science” as you’re claiming (which would make my whole argument kind of a waste of time), why don’t the root scientists in the field play by science rules??

    And if they don’t – do you or anyone else get to make the claim that the science is settled enough that we shouldn’t be discussing it any more.


  55. alchemist, I didn’t mean to imply that any body has been involved in misconduct. Having followed the autism/immunization debate over the years, I am still shocked that the original study appears to have been a fraud, as opposed to simply wrong for failing to account for some unknown variable. We do have to consider scientific misconduct within the realm of possibilities, and at least when public policy is heavily implicated, the public should be assured that that possibility is being addressed.

    That’s all to say: open source the data.

  56. TF, I disagree; they are finite resources (even if I don;t buy peak oil, I buy that) and if we’re using them at a greater rate than we conveniently could, we’re wasting them – meaning that future generations will have less of them than they would if we were more parsimonious.


  57. AL: I agree with your latest point, but ask that you indicate what other power source is available _right now_ that is in the same class as petro-fuels? What other source is even reasonably foreseeable?

    Petro-fuels are cheap, portable, pumpable, packagable in units both large and small, high-energy-density, stable, non-toxic, and low-polluting. Nothing else is even close.

    We do not help future generations by beggaring ourselves — by handicapping ourselves — to the point where we cannot efficiently invent the new technologies they will need to have lives as good or better than our own.

    We will find a replacement, or we will die. It helps no one for us to die early so that a smaller number of us can last a little longer.

  58. I cannot reconcile the numbers in your 3% solution. To save 500 gallons per year based on the MPG numbers you used would require the average mileage per vehicle be 17,850 miles. The Federal Highway Administration estimated miles driven per vehicle (2006) for vans, pickup trucks, and sport/utility vehicles is 10,920 miles.

    The MPG numbers you use are also suspect. At I dug up the EPA estimates for the 2006 Chevy Suburban and Honda Odyssey. There are 3 estimates for the Suburban and two for the Honda. For the Suburban City – Combined – Highway:
    Suburban 1 – 15 17.2 19
    Suburban 1 – 14 16.75 19
    Suburban 1 – 13 15.2 17

    For the Honda City – Combined – Highway:
    Honda 1 – 19 22.3 25
    Honda 2 – 20 24.4 28

    (Note: I used the “Old MPG” from the EPA since that is what Al would have been using in 2006)

    Using the average of the combined city/highway, based on the average miles traveled, the gas savings is less then half of your 500 gallons, about 216 gallons per year. The average for the Honda is likely an over estimate. The combined 24.4 mpg Honda is the more expensive model which probably sold less units. The opposite appears to be the case for the Suburban.

    What should be obvious is that all resources are finite. There is no such thing as an infinite resource. Wind and solar are finite in that we need to use “finite resources” to construct the tools to extract the energy from those sources. For example, solar cells require silver for the electrical contacts. Isn’t silver a “finite resource”?

  59. Greg, my original links have rotted, but I was looking at EPA data for the actual 2000-model cars I was looking at – a Honda Odyssey EX and a Suburban 1500 4wd…I imagine things have changed somewhat between 2000 and 2006…

    And I don’t follow the last point you make; everything costs something; to some extent one transfers the cost from petroleum to coal or to labor or to technology…


  60. TF – Actually, fuel economy wasn’t the key trigger for choosing the Odyssey for me.

    I’d had a SUV (A FJ60 Land Cruiser) and learned what a PITA it is in the city – parking, too tall for parking structures with a roof rack, etc.

    My core criteria was actually 3 rows of seats with room in back for gear, so I could separate the 3 boys and haul stuff for camping or skiing.

    And the reality is that functionally, there’s little if any difference between an Odyssey and a 4wd Suburban except the case of snow or mud – and I don’t live somewhere where that’s an issue.


  61. And I don’t follow the last point you make …

    I have an issue with the use of the marketing terminology as a point in a debate. Terms like “finite resources” are tossed around as absolute truths. Specifically, when used to promote alternative energy it is misleading. It promotes the fallacy that energy from the wind and sun is infinite in the sense it will always be available. And free in that we don’t have to send a check to the sun every month. While in a literal sense this is true, it is misleading as it significantly oversimplifies reality. It creates in society a myth that is at odds with reality.

    The original subject of this thread was “bullying”. It seems to me a myth and bullying are related. Bullying doesn’t come until after the myth has gained a foot hold in society. In a cause and effect sense, the myth is the cause and the bullying is the effect. I think it is inevitable that the true believers of a myth will rally political support to ‘bully’ the rest of us for our own good. They don’t need a majority, just passive acceptance by the broader population. I think it is also inevitable that the true believers are beyond rational discourse. They have to much invested emotionally. Any attempt to convince them with facts will result in a bar fight.

  62. Greg, I think it’s very reasonable to distinguish between “finite” resources – which are, in principle, exhaustible – and resources which are for all intents and purposes inexhaustable.

    Obviously exploiting each resource has costs and challenges, and balances the costs/rewards for each matters.

    But I don’t see it – at all – as dishonest to suggest that coal and oil exist in large, but finite amounts.


  63. I think it’s very reasonable to distinguish between “finite” resources – which are, in principle, exhaustible – and resources which are for all intents and purposes inexhaustable.

    There are no resources that are “for all intents and purposes inexhaustable”. Pick a resource you think is “inexhaustable”.

    Obviously exploiting each resource has costs and challenges, and balances the costs/rewards for each matters.

    That is what the economics of any resource tells us. We, at our own peril, ignore the quantitative information the economics tells us.

    I didn’t say it was “dishonest”, I said it was misleading.

  64. Greg, can you explain to me on what basis – in a human/historical qualtity or time scale – you consider solar, wind, tidal, or nuclear (presume breeders) power “finite” (i.e. based on a resource that can only be used once and will not be regenerated)??


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