Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category
Things just got worse if you put your faith in the “consensus” about catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (AGW). You’ll recall that the disclosure of internal emails undermined confidence in both the surface temperature record and the peer-review process that qualifies research for inclusion into the blue ribbon International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.
Now we find out that some of the more sensational claims about potential consequences contained in the IPCC AR4 report are not actually backed up by peer-reviewed research. Instead, they come from assertions made by advocacy groups such as the WWF and Greenpeace. Then there’s the dependence on anecdotal newspaper and magazine reports. Oh, and an amusing reference to a boot cleaning manual from an Antarctic tour operator.
It all started with the infamous, “Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035,” claim, which was substantiated solely by a WWF report. Not cool because IPCC rules state they should only reference peer-reviewed research from respectable journals.
Things get worse. Bear with me here. The story is a bit involved, but it reveals how feckless the guys at the top of the AGW food chain can be. India’s environmental minister tried to call BS by referring to, you know, actual measurements of glacial retreat. But the chairman of the IPCC called this “voodo science.” Of course, the scientist who lead the development of that section of IPCC AR4, eventually admitted that the claim about glaciers disappearing by 2035 was not supported by peer-reviewed research. And it turns out that the chairman of the IPCC was actually informed about the problem months earlier.
I realize that people want to defer to the leading scientists in an area. It’s perfectly rational. In fact it was what I did before I started looking into AGW myself. But there should be some evidence that will cause you to update this position. I think we’ve reached that point.
As you may have heard, an unknown hacker breached the Hadley Climatic Research Centre and disclosed a large volume of email and documents, thus giving us a peek inside the sausage factory. First, let me say that the breach itself rather concerns me. We’re talking about a government sponsored research facility. Somebody virtually waltzed right in and and took everything but the kitchen sink. Heads should roll in the information security department.
Second, the email correspondence is pretty damning. It won’t affect my position much because I was already fairly sure these types of shenanigans were going on. But if you put your faith in the “consensus”, you should consider updating your position. There are numerous instances of three types of egregious behavior from senior scientists:
- Coordinated efforts to portray all results as supporting the conclusion that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a serious threat. Such efforts included the spinning of results, application of statistical “tricks”, and selective use of data.
- Coordinated efforts to suppress professional dissent. Such efforts included going after editors of journals that published articles supporting a skeptical view and lobbying university administrations to pressure researches who didn’t toe the line.
- Coordinated efforts to evade Freedom of Information Act requests and destroy data that might support the skeptical position if disclosed.
By themselves, these actions should be alarming because they obfuscate the real answer to the question of how serious a threat AGW presents .
But the real take home point is the tone of many emails. These are leading scientists in the field. Yet they clearly hold bitter contempt for colleagues who don’t agree with them. This isn’t business. This is personal. To paraphrase, Robin Hanson, climate science isn’t about the science of climate. It’s about social status. The AGW proponents see themselves as an “in group” and AGW skeptics as an “out group”. They are more concerned about destroying the out group than actually figuring out what’s going on with the climate.
Given this attitude, it’s hard to have any confidence that we’ll get a rational, scientific answer any time in the near future.
Declan McCullagh of CBSNews reports that a Department of Treasury analysis released under the Freedom of Information Act estimates that a cap and trade program would raise $100B to $200B a year in taxes. Those taxes come from us one way or another. Recall that my estimate of the cost to cover the uninsured is about 2/3rds of that amount ($63B to $126B).
So we have a fortuitous illustration of the tradeoffs we have to make. There are two issues, priorities and effectiveness. It’s not that I don’t think there is some merit to reducing CO2 emissions. Rather, I think there are other problems that are higher priority with solutions that are more likely to be effective. Health care for the poor is one of those. I’m willing to pay an extra $1000/year to solve health care for the poor. I’m not willing to pay an extra $1500/year on top of that to address global warming.
Last night, I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the California Academy of Sciences from Dr. Brian Fisher, a taxonomist specializing in ants. He’s doing some amazing work trying to help Madagascar prioritize and save the 10% of native rainforest they have left. It’s reminiscent of Willie Smits‘ work in Borneo, though focused on preservation rather than revitalization. But it has the same feel of getting the local people committed to managing their own ecological resources.
You can donate here (I gave them $500), but make sure to write “For the Fisher Madagascar Project” in the “Comments” field. Otherwise, you’ll be paying for the building lights. Go ahead and leave the “Allocation” field at the default, “Campaign for a New Academy”. Update: Forgot to mention that if you donate $2,000 they’ll name a new species after you or whomever you designate.
It’s hard to do justice to what I saw last night in a blog post, but here goes…
Normally, I don’t debate random bloggers on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). However, I made an exception for Robin Hanson. For those who don’t already know of him, he was both an early proponent of decision markets and has a reasonably well known journal article on why two Bayesian rationalists can’t agree to disagree. I’m a fan of his work and have been reading his blog for years.
Yesterday, he put up a post titled CO2 Warming Looks Real. He’s not an expert. Like me, he has an economics background and did some detailed research. Yet from the title and body of the post, I though he must have reached a very different conclusion than I did. So I thought I’d try to engage him to find out where we differ. The results were interesting.
In order for you to believe we should do something about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) such as impose a carbon tax, you really need to believe all of these things:
- CO2 causes a direct temperature increase
- Positive feedbacks amplify the direct temperature increase several fold
- The effects on humans of the total temperature increase are significantly bad
- The cost of reducing CO2 emissions is less than the bad effects we can avoid
Rafe posted this TED talk by Willie Smits without much commentary. I would like to add some. When I first started watching, I thought, “Wow, you can make a lot of hay out of simply applying Econ 101.” This was in response to the fact that they bought the former rainforest land in question, making it private property. This is one of the classic solutions to a Tragedy of the Commons problem. But then my appreciation made an exponential run upward.
Somehow, he managed to perfectly balance the economic and ecological package into a rapidly growing and self-sustaining system. You see, he had to figure out how much economic benefit the land could generate at each point in time and never have more than the corresponding number of people working the land. He had to figure out how to mesh psychological factors with incentive structures to get the locals to adopt the land both socially and economically. He also had to plot the path for an ecosystem in time and space.
Each of these three prongs represents an effort to control a dynamic system and he had to mesh all of them at once. He makes it sound obvious in retrospect, but make no mistake, this is a feat of sheer brilliance. I think there are some good general lessons to learn from this, but the real ongoing value is in the human capital he has built for managing this process. He should cycle through groups of apprentices that then go forth and attempt to replicate this miracle. I really hope this lasts and expands in the long term.
I try not to practice false modesty (those of you who know me well probably just did a spit take at that understatement). So while I try to stand up and admit when I’m wrong, I also like to stand up and point out where I’m right.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of you that I came to the conclusion that climate models are pretty much total bullshit. My problem with them is that they are incomplete, overfitted, and unproven. It turns out that one of the foremost experts on forecasting in general also thinks that these models have no predictive value. In fact, items (6) and (7) of their statement shows that you can predict the future temperature really well simply by saying it will be the same as the current temperature.
You can read their more formal indictment of climate forecasting methods here.