Friday, May 12, 2006

Expanding My Global Warming Stance

I must continue the fight in the valiant front-line against scientific inanity in regards to global warming. We will begin with economics, reiterate the difference between scientific theory that has been proved vs. 'expert' speculation, and end with group think as it applies to the social dynamic of scientific funding. All in response to Tom's comment to A Chill Wind Blows Through Tokyo. However, as opposed to that piece of reasoned contemplation, we must leap from the peaks of civil discourse and delve into the gutter of political rhetoric. Otherwise, whats the point?

The accusation is thrown against me that I have a 'lack of understanding of the economic principles' in regards to this issue. Ah, that verges away from science does it not? Or is econometrics just a tool to be used by advocates of a political position? From a pure growth perspective, something quite positive in economics, unless you are interested in vitiating policies, global warming might be something to embrace! Look at the benefits of increased CO2 for agricultural crops. Do away with the growth stifling regulations that cripple many industries. The list could be extensive.

More seriously, are successful western nations supposed to throttle growth in deference to emerging industrialization? There is a big difference between so called 'global' economics, which is loosely controlled through treaties and trade agreement, taxes and resources, and the 'national' economics for which each country is intimately involved in expanding. The position of the 'global citezen' is inevitably one of fair distribution for all humanity, which sounds fine, but is actually the most unnatural and unsuccessful modern political philosophy (apart from overt communism), which is unfortunately embraced by many. Who is going to enforce these fair distributions? It is pure social liberalism, and in my view, the cancer of modern governance. We were born to compete, and in healthy competition, thrive and make great progress. Under socialism, humanity historically stagnates, why should we expect any difference in the future?

And more practically, no sane nation is going to sit back and be nice, while every other nation strives to the goal of growth through any means. Ludicrous and naive. So, while I do not have a major in economics, I have significant exposure to real economists working in various fields, both government and private sector, and have seen how economic statistics are ginned up as political tools many times. It is not that I don't understand the principal (of green economics), I just don't believe that it works. Again, to reiterate, I am not an advocate of unlimited resource abuse. But that is not common sense economics either, and should be obvious. Furthermore, I am not naive concerning non-renewable resources, but that is a separate discussion addressed previously.

Moving on to bad science. First, one greener's pollution is one gardener's growth enhancer. And if you are a geologist, the only thing that constitutes long term pollution is arguably elements that do not occur naturally. Of course we need to control pollution, but to what end? Some go so far as to claim humanity is a scourge upon life itself, and should be restricted greatly. Others simply want safe clean living spaces. Now, to the other side, some are only concerned with profitability, at any expense. There are many different issues. And each of these positions utilize scientific methods and results to justify themselves. For me, I am interested in having the most productive society with the least negative impact on livability. But what does that mean?

I will never get the chance a being the first to explore the highest mountain, the first to see the deepest depth of the ocean, or be the first to either pole. In fact, there are very few places where man has not gone on this planet. In another millenia, we may all have to fit into very high density population areas, or maybe we will move to Mars. Certainly by then, all the geologic oil will be gone and whatever impact burning it all up has will be well established. Should we prepare for that? Of course, and the best way in my view is by having continued growth and success in all areas of society, on a national level first, an then globally. Science applies to this in many ways, some regulatory, some as new technology. But for my concerns, provable science is different from statistical forecasting, which is still better than speculation, even if its from 'experts' in the field.

If a disease appears, researchers try to develop techniques and medicines to combat that disease. This clearly benefits society. It is tax money well spent, and no normal person would object. But what about the drug trials for the 'new' medicine? Some people may experience complications, some might die. If the trial is successful, the pharmaceutical company will make a significant profit, shareholders will benefit, and so will the recipients of the drug, if they can afford it. Ah, what a tangled web! But, principal to this argument if the emergence of a disease. Would it be wise to spend untold tax dollars upon a disease that was hypothetical? And what if the hypothetical disease was not shown to be deadly? Or the effects were completely unknown?

This is the state of affairs with global warming. Yes, I agree that many people have now jumped on the train condemning mankind for the catastrophic climate change, that has not happened yet. And no one is denying, again, the data on global temperature. But I will reiterate again, and again, there is no scientific provable link between anthropogenic forcing and global temperature. I must quote Tom at this point:
Based upon what I understand the bulk of climate scientists believe (including the AGU, the NAS and the chief international national academies of science), I understand that we have a sufficiently clear idea of the present and likely future consequences of human-induced climate change to justify taking modest actions now, and to try to coordinate with China and India to reduce the amount of GHCs that they can otherwise be expected to produce.
First, there is a huge difference between what someone believes, and what is proved. I don't care if it is Einstein Jr., if he says he thinks this is the case, fine. But if he says it 'is' the case, based upon some substantial evidence, then we can go validate that and establish it as verified. So from the start, the above statement is suspect. Next, we have no idea of the future of the climate. That is a provable fact. We do not know what the consequences of the global increase in temperature will be. And we do not know that that increase is anthropogenic. What actions should you take to 'protect' something you have not shown to be in danger? It is a huge lie at this point to believe any climate model conclusively. That is one of the reasons I recommended the journal article previously, but maybe I need to be more explicit.

In the article (Linday's HP), there were a number of things one should notice. If the cause of arctic ice thinning is directly global warming, why was there a local maxima in sea ice in 1987? They rightly warn, concerning the Arctic temperature, "Trends in air temperature are notoriously dependent on the interval examined." This gets to the heart of why, for every scientist who is honest, there is no definite statement about anthropogenic forcing of global temperature. It also explains the disconnect between real forecasting, and pure speculation. With trends in global temperature only well established in the last twenty years (and there is argument about that as well), predicting accurately just the temperature next year would be hard, let alone the climate.

Furthermore I would encourage every reader to at the minimum read the beginning paragraph of the conclusions. This is a good representation of the state of regional climate modeling, and as they correctly state, is extremely dependent upon the sparse data available. Now, the modeling effort is worthwhile, and seems to point to the confluence of two long term oscillations coinciding to shift the balance of ice production in the Arctic (in 1989). And, they make no prediction to the future, except to speculate. This again is common, and the speculations are the main source of climate news. The scientific results are boring, but the speculations drive the debate. Not that it is bad to have such discussions, but to create policy on such as if they were irrefutable is foolish.

In synopsis, the real research identifies a mechanism to describe the observations, and is scientifically presented as such. That initial trigger mechanism has very little connection to global temperature. Increasing Arctic temperatures (over 16 yrs) then prevent the re-thickening of the ice sheet. Again, not a direct connection to global temperature, and certainly says nothing about long term Arctic temperatures, of which we have little.

I use this example for another reason. These regional models, which are more accurate arguably, than global ones, can not predict regional climate, they are principally used to explain what we have seen, not what we will see. For the global models, the predictive ability is even more tenuous. Yet every researcher running a model such as this can run it ahead for a while and speculate on the result. Doing this usually involves guessing something which is normally provided by a analyzed data set. So the second the model moves forward into the future, all of the possible dynamics represented by the control data set are released as free relationships. In other words, the current level of modeling is very weak at long term prediction.

Most of my colleagues are not naive, and that is why they separate scientific results from speculation, even if they believe the speculation. Many of them promote personally a liberal socialist agenda, yet this does not contaminate the science. It does stain the speculation which colors the resulting dialog in regards to policy. So again we fall back to what is accurate and how should society respond to it. That response takes us into the realm of opinion. Again, before we move on, it is not established science that anthropogenic forcing has increased the global temperature. And, no one has the ability to predict future climate at this time. Even expert speculation is highly inaccurate on both points.

Now what would benefit society in terms of climate? More arable land would be good. What if that land is dominated by specific countries? Is it fair for them to have increased farming resources, and not the rest of the world? Especially if it is proved that the industrialized nations warmed the climate thus creating that wealth? Sounds ridiculous, but just as likely as vast new deserts being created by the same. Only, with the desert, it's a catchy threat, and blame can be conveniently placed. Not so with something beneficial, which is non-news. This brings us back to the medical argument. What disease are we to prepare for? What policy are we to implement to save the world? What are we saving the world from? When we know for sure what threatens us, we can prepare for it.

For example, sea level has been constantly increasing over the last 18k yr. We know (maybe) that low lying areas will be underwater at some point in the future. But how long? Even if you double the current rate (~2mm/yr) there would be an increase of 40 cm by 2100. Yes, even my grandchildren will be old, and not see much societal impact. Would I rather give them a strong safe country to live in and thrive, or reduce the inevitable (maybe) increase in sea level? Any sane person will chose the former. Not that there couldn't be dramatic and threatening changes. There is evidence of rapid onset ice ages, one of which happening now would be detrimental to society. So would complete melting of Greenland and Antarctica, with its expected ~50m increase in sea level. Neither scenario is predictable, and planning for either is foolish at this point.

None of the arguments I make are targeted to dissuade one from actively advocating for sustainable livability. I do not agree with overfishing, overpolution, destruction of green spaces, cheap suburban development, subsidized agriculture, blah blah, etc. But in each instance, there are subjective measures which weigh for and against. I do think there are far greater threats to humanity for us to focus our energy on. The fear mongering surrounding global warming is itself a threat. If society responds to perceived threats in lieu of real ones we will suffer from inefficiency and distrust. In my view, we are already suffering from the lack of common sense.

To conclude, I return to the concept of global regulation. Apart from the fact that it is unenforceable by a global body at this time, the concept itself is a pipe dream of utopiana. What should be obvious to all involved, is the inevitable use of every possible resource mankind can access, and some resources we will never see recovered on this planet in millions of years. How to move forward? I believe all factors must come into play for fundamental progress to occur. We can encourage limiting our impact, but if that process is not economically viable, it will not happen. And regulation can be a part of that, but to much regulation will delay the shift in technology, as well as encourage defiance of those regulations. So what to do in the immediate future? Fund more primary research into efficient use of non-renewable resources. Other than that, what can society do? How do you proactively deal with some tenuous future threat that does not affect you in the present?

If one was world dictator, then there could be fantastic protections put in place to preserve utopia. But I can guarantee the overthrow of that government. And the world's strongest economies are going to get stronger in the near future, so what incentive does any one of them have to stifle their own growth for the benefit of emerging nations? Furthermore, until a viable threat materializes and begins to pressure humanity from global warming, no treaty will have any impact. Not to say we shouldn't try to be clean and encourage others to be clean, but no one will stop the growth. Even as world dictator, would you want more people to enjoy a higher standard of living, or restrict growth in hopes of preventing some yet unknowable disaster? It boils down to different philosophies and what those philosophies view as beneficial for mankind.

This world dictator model is perfect to explain scientific funding as well. Lets say some dynamic scientist speculates death and destruction for all based on his research. It gets airtime because it is dramatic. Some other scientists see it as a possibility and want to find out. They head to das üat;berlord and say, "Hey, lets see if we're all going to die! Give us money, please." Some swag is distributed and the scientist go out and do the research. They find out that it is a perfectly good possibility that we all will drown, given a set of assumptions. More scientists read the research and think to themselves, "Hey, Einstein Jr. got funded, let's get some swag!" They proceed to write many proposals with the words 'global climate change' in the abstract, and by this time the whole world is eating up the possible destruction of all that is decent. As world dictator, you must please the press, who are clamoring for action to save the world, so spend some more dough. It's all fine, yet the results for the most part are greater understanding of past events and more tenuous speculation.

That is the state of the art in Climate Predictions, speculation. I am not impressed by whoever jumps on board, signs a petition, drafts a resolution, or proposes a treaty. I do think it is a good idea to fund this research. It is also a good idea to have global political debates on resources and pollution. We all breath the same air, and particulate pollution from China is in the U.S. a few weeks from production. Just as the U.S spouts gasses the world over. And smog in some cities is so bad as to create mortal health threats for residents. All things we should try and fix. Yet on the time scale of global warming, the current debate is ineffective. And the specifics regarding the science that the debate is based upon are overlooked in favor of the speculation, by both expert and lay. That is what irritates me the most. Hopefully, you the reader can extract some salient perspective from the ramblings above and demand greater proof regarding this issue. It is your economy, your jobs and future that will be impacted by undue restriction. But keep in mind that we must have progress to exist as well, so lets try to choose clean solutions to our immediate needs.

1 comment:

Tokyo Tom said...

Dear Carlos,

Thanks for your follow-up post. Again, quite long, but rather rambling. It seems very curious to me that many evangelical Christian leaders in the US have been persuaded of our current knowledge regarding GHGs to agree that we should do something, and now. I gave you the link to the Evangelical Climate Initiative's site in my last response - did you take a look? In particular, you might review the May 2005 presentation by Sir John Houghton, a devout evangelical Christian who headed the IPCC, to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Allow me to make a few comments:

1. In principle, the climate change is an issue that is not different in principle from other environmental and natural resource problems. Thye arise not from clear property rights , but because they involve resources that nobody owns or that are "publicly" owned, and the nature of the use and the damages suffer make it practically impossible for the "owners" to try to protect their propoerty, or for people who are damaged to seek legal redress. As a result, the use of the resource is under-priced, and the reource is over-consumed.

Fixing environmental problems has at its goal improving economic efficiency by solving the ownership or pricing issue - either by giving someone clear property rights - such as the permits that are sold now now for SO2 pollution or taxes, so that the pollution is no longer free.

2. There is a good argument to be made that much environmental regulation is inefficient and over-bureaucratic, but it cannot be denied that environmental regulation has resulted in a much improived environment and did not stop economic growth. We can deal with climate change issues without ruining the economy or creating a huge global bureaucracy.

As I point out, much of the problem actually stems from subsidization of the production and consumption of fossil fuels. We have a very good and adaptible economy that can adapt quite flexibly to changes in price signals - has our economy been ruined even though the global price of a barrelof crude has risen from $30 two years ago to over $70 now?

3. One persistent aspect of environmental problems is that often the government owns the resource or is the only institution in a position to make changes. The result is a political fight over the resources, a political fight that appeals to influence-peddlers. Under Bush, it is clear that the energy producers have won the debate, even though many large and responsible corporations including electric utilities, are persuaded and would like to take action.

Taking action will not imperil our society or our economy; those who try to discredit the scientists and say that dealing with climate change will ruin the economy misunderstand the economics, and are the real ones engaged in "fear-mongering". Did you know that even the US senate agreed in a resolution last year that there is a need for the US to take action on climate change?

4. Since we are talking about the global atmosphere and climate, yes, there is an international "tragedy of the commons" aspect. This means that it is in our interest to persuade other countries to take meaningful action, so that no countries are "cheating" by continue to produce alot of GHGs while other countries are taking action. Another aspect is that the effects of climate change will be felt differently and more/less severly, in different places. Developing countries are expected to be more severly impacted than the US - does this mean we should care less about taking action?

5. The longer we take to do something, the bigger the problem is likely to be. The startlingly rapid growth in GHGs now is going to manifest itself over the NEXT 100 years, not immediately. There is a real cost in lost opportunity for waiting for "proof" that man is responsible for most of the current heating. Who benefits from delay?

6. The proof you are looking for is not different in principle from the arguments about causation relating to air and water pollution, carcinogens and smoking madein the 60s and 70s - those argument were largely smokescreens by manufacturers that fortunately we were able to look through (although tobacco was able to to buy off the legislators).

I`m sorry, but we have every right to demand that our legislators to take similar action now.