Why U.S. Climate Policy is Radioactive

By Keith Kloor | May 26, 2011 10:15 am

Below is a guest post from Jonathan Gilligan, an associate professor in the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Vanderbilt University. He is also the associate director of Vanderbilt’s Climate Change Research Network. Gilligan works at “the intersection of science, ethics, and public policy with a focus on the ways in which scientific knowledge and uncertainty affect policy decisions about the environment.”

I have been struck by the similarities between the national impasse on climate policy and the breakdown of policy on nuclear waste disposal. The two cases are by no means identical, but perhaps we can learn useful things from both the similarities and the differences.

As Daniel Sarewitz pointed out years ago, in both climate politics and nuclear waste politics, policymakers have tended to “scientize” the issue by acting as though greater scientific certainty would solve problems that were fundamentally political. No advances in earth science, hydrology, materials science, or engineering will do much to reduce our uncertainties about how spent nuclear fuel will behave underground over the course of tens or hundreds of millennia. Neither do I think it likely that advances in climate science will give us great certainty about exactly how bad global warming will be over the coming centuries.

Fundamentally, the impasse over Yucca Mountain had a lot more to do with politics, values, and trust than with science. Congress had originally called in 1982 for ten prospective sites to be studied, narrowed down to six prospects, from which two permanent waste repositories would be selected, and states would have the opportunity to veto their selection as the home of a repository. But before those studies were complete new legislation amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which simply declared Yucca Mountain the only repository for high-level nuclear waste. This “Screw Nevada Bill,” as it came to be known, poisoned the whole endeavor as far as most Nevadans were concerned. Subsequent attempts to justify this political action in terms of science carried little weight in Nevada and the failure to openly acknowledge that the site was selected for political reasons made it impossible for proponents and opponents to have useful discussions.

Another aspect that was unfortunately neglected in most discussions of Yucca Mountain was the fact that people in Southern Nevada may well have been much more concerned about the prospect of frightened tourists choosing other resort destinations than they were about the health impacts to distant future generations.

The Yucca Mountain site was initially defended by ignoring the political and economic implications and instead, focusing purely on scientific health safety issues: It was estimated that water percolated through the volcanic rocks at a very slow rate of less than one millimeter per year, which would mean that it would take hundreds of thousands of years for radioactive material to reach the water table. The decision to store waste at Yucca Mountain was largely presented to the public as “the science is settled: the site is safe, so you don’t have any valid cause to complain.” The political opposition accepted this framing and proceeded to oppose the site by challenging the scientific certainty of the proponents. Evidence quickly emerged that water was actually flowing through the rocks at up to 30 millimeters per year.

As geologists and hydrologists continued to study the site, further controversies and uncertainties emerged. With the revelation that water could get from the repository to the aquifer fast enough to pose a problem, new questions were raised about the resistance of the waste containers to corrosion and there were proposals to modify the design to include an elaborate and expensive set of titanium drip shields to protect the containers.

In 2005, as this was going on, opponents of the repository unearthed emails between hydrologists working on the question of how fast water percolated through the mountain which seemed to indicate (much as the CRU emails would several years later), that the scientists were falsifying their data. Inflammatory exceprts, such as

I’ve made up the dates and names…. This is as good as its going to get. If they need more proof, I will be happy to make up more stuff…

and

I keep track of 2 sets of files, the ones that will keep QA happy and the ones that were actually used.

with instructions to the recipient to “delete this memo after you’ve read it,” led opponents of the project to conclude that they couldn’t trust any of the scientific assurances the site was safe and the governor of Nevada to accuse the Department of Energy of having “intentionally fabricated” the data “in service of shoring up predetermined and politically-driven conclusions.”

Ultimately, much as happened in Climategate, a two-year investigation determined that no data had actually been falsified, that no one had actually committed misconduct, and that informal banter had been mistaken by overheated imaginations to be evidence of a criminal conspiracy.

But by then, it was too late. As the late Edward McGaffigan, a Commissioner at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told the Las Vegas Sun,

Bad law, bad regulatory policy, bad science policy, bad personnel policy and bad budget policy [meant that] there is no chance Yucca can go forward under current statute. I would go back to the beginning. When you go out of process it’s a problem, it’s a huge political problem. If a process is done fairly, I think you have a shot.

So what are the lessons? I’m not sure, but here are some thoughts: It’s popular to point to well-funded, carefully-organized media campaigns, supported by major industrial interests for the public’s distrust of climate change science and for the political paralysis on climate change policy. But the fact that similar tactics carried out by grassroots environmental activists and local politicians were equally successful at killing Yucca Mountain suggests that the success of inactivist propaganda on climate change may not be due to the power or malevolence of its sponsors.

In both cases, connecting policy action to scientific certainty was likely a bad tactical mistake. In both cases, there is substantial uncertainty about the things we most care about and in fact, in the case of climate change, Martin Weitzman’s Dismal Theorem concludes that calculations of the expected economic cost of climate change are dominated by the mathematical details of the low-probability/catastrophic-consequence tail of the probability distribution. (Weitzman’s theorem is controversial, but the controversy is over the mathematical form he chooses for the tail of the probability distribution.)

Thirty-two years ago, the Charney report on climate change concluded that

If carbon dioxide continues to increase [there is] no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible. … A wait and see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.

Twenty-three years after the Charney report and thirteen years after the birth of the US Global Change Research Program, Daniel Sarewitz and Roger Pielke Jr., argued that we had known for a very long time that political action on climate change was necessary, but it had become politically convenient to spend billions on a futile task of reducing uncertainty as a way to avoid taking prompt action to address the dangers of climate change:

Motivating politicians and policymakers to improve energy policies and reduce vulnerability to climate effects may be challenging, but it does not require a reduction in uncertainty about the future climate.

Finally, there is a very important difference between these two cases. It is not a tragedy that Yucca Mountain was killed. Ultimately, we will need a place to store high-level radioactive waste, but there is no time pressure. Nevada Senator Harry Reid  has argued that it will be fine to keep spent fuel in dry casks at reactor sites for as long as a couple of centuries while we deliberate on how best to dispose of it and while scientists and engineers develop new technologies to make the disposal safer and cheaper.

We do not have a similar luxury of time in the case of climate change. Every decade we fail to take serious action to clean up our energy supply we increase significantly the risk that we will cross some uncertain, perhaps even unsuspected point of no return for truly horrifying consequences. Our ignorance of whether such tipping points exist or at what concentrations of greenhouse gases should not be an excuse for delay, but more reason to act quickly. As climate scientist Wally Broecker has famously described the problem, “It’s like being blindfolded and walking towards the edge of a cliff.”

  • http://bishophill.squarespace.com Bishop Hill

    “Ultimately, much as happened in Climategate, a two-year investigation determined that no data had actually been falsified, that no one had actually committed misconduct, and that informal banter had been mistaken by overheated imaginations to be evidence of a criminal conspiracy.”

    The Climategate inquiries did not investigate most of the serious allegations.

  • kdk33

    Our ignorance of whether such tipping points exist or at what concentrations of greenhouse gases should not be an excuse for delay, but more reason to act quickly.

    Yes, yes, the less we know the more scared we should be. 

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Problematically, opponents use uncertainty the other way.  Case and point, is Judith Curry.  Also, the use of unrealistic expectations of scientists, both in their behavior and their ability to give 100% assurances before acting.  It is basically a complete rejection of the precautionary principle.  It’s to the point where a reasonable conversation like this one is impossible to have.  Unfortunately, even though climate change is both, incredibly risky and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are cumulative, the opposition has anchored the planet whatever consequences await us.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for this incisive analysis. There is much to chew on.

    Just curious: if we remove “certainty” out of the volatile mix that has fueled contentious debate on climate change, and there is greater acknowledgment of “uncertainty,” then it seems we should be having more discussion about risk (hey, I’d settle for any discussion).

    But as indicated by the previous post on this site (by David Ropeik), we’re not that good at “risk perception.” It seems to me that discussion of “uncertainty” would be more constructive if we (society as a whole) had a more informed understanding of risk.

  • Dean

    In the broader analysis, I think that the core problem is less the tactics that the other side uses to undermine whatever policy, than a decision-making system that cannot look at the broader picture. After all, climate is not the only issue in the United States that seriously needs addressing. Vaguely similar tactics are used to derail policy-making on these other issues.

    We can’t really control what tactics are used by advocates, but we do need a system that responds more rationally. And I acknowledge that there are a few cases where that might result in a policy I don’t like where I would prefer inaction.

  • RickA

    Very nice article Jonathan!

    I agree that both issues have suffered from “spin” to try to paper over actual uncertainty – which damaged the ability to take action on each issue.

    The way I look at it is mostly economic.

    If we fund research which can make non-carbon energy actually cheaper than coal, oil and natural gas, then we will switch over to the cheaper energy source without any mandates, laws, subsidies or caps.

    The key is to figure out ways to produce energy cheaper than we currently produce it, in a way which doesn’t move carbon from where it is at into the atmosphere.

    Nuclear is non-carbon, but is more expensive than coal, oil and natural gas – which is why Nuclear, while good (despite storage issues) isn’t catching on.  That will change when the cost of coal, oil and natural gas are higher than nuclear – but for right now, it is a tough sell.

    This won’t be a popular idea, but why not a Manhattan project based on energy production, with the goal to produce the cheaper non-carbon energy we need.

    We are doing some research on this issue, but it is mostly uncoordinated.

    Forcing people, business and countries to spend more for energy than they have to just doesn’t work (IMO).

    I would like to see a twenty year research plan, funded at the tune of 50 to 100 billion per year thrown at the problem, so see if we can invent the technology we need to switch to – rather than force a switch to more expensive energy production, which will be fought tooth and nail (because it doesn’t make economic sense).

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    @Keith (#4). Exactly. We need a better discussion of uncertainty and risk. I’d just resist the desire that some risk folks have to reduce everything to mathematical representations. Research on the complex psychology of preferences, emotions, and uncertainty by Paul Slovic, Dan Kahan, and others seems to me to be potentially showing us ways that we might use better understanding of how people think about these matters so we can have more productive conversations and fewer pointless arguments.

  • http://www.dropeik.com david ropeik

    Wonderful piece by Prof. Gilligan,

    May I suggest that the most important point he makes is the lesson, for climate change, of how things turned for Yucca Mountain, and WHY.  The DOE and Congress, in their infinite lack of wisdom and intellectually naive belief in the facts and science and ‘reason’, effectively told Nevada “Tag! You’re IT!”, and ignored the findings of Slovic et.al. that people fear imposed risks far more than risks they choose to take themselves. This key oversight, embodied in the ‘Screw Nevada Bill’, predictably doomed the Yucca project to decades of delay and opposition. Indeed, this is the precise factor cited by Phil Sharp of Resources for the Future and The President’s Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future when he says in their preliminary report that the reason Yucca failed was that it was jammed down people’s throats. Compare that to the way the Finn’s cited a high level nuclear waste repository…offering potential host communities $$$ to study what would be involved, BUT GIVING THEM VETO POWER IF AFTER THEIR RESEARCH THEY STILL WANTED TO SAY NO. Of 6 possible host sites, 4 said no and 2 fought to host it! It got done in under 10 years (it’s nearing completion.)The Swedes are copying this, and the Spaniards are trying. The BRC is wisely studying all those models, and visited Finland to learn how they did it.

    This is a valuable lesson for climate change. As Prof. Gilligan points out, risk is not just about the facts, but how those facts FEEL. If we understand WHY people feel the way they do about climate change, (not HOW they feel, but WHY), we can respect the powerful psychological underpinnings of where people are coming from as we look for ways to encourage actions to mitigate and adapt. THAT’s where we will find progress, not in arguing the facts alone and trying to convince people to change their minds about the evidence per se.

    (by the way not to be too self-promoting, but “the research on the complex psychology of preferences, emotions, and uncertainty by Pal Slovic, Dan Kahan, et. al” is precisely what I have brought together and summarized in my book “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts”. Ch. 5 has initial proposed solutions to some big problems, using these insights, and is available free online at http://www.dropeik.com

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Dan Kahan, who heads up the Yale Cultural Cognition Project, sent this via email:

    D. Braman, H. Jenkins-Smith & I  featured climate change & deep geologic isolation of nuclear wastes in our study of how cultural values skew opposing groups’ perceptions of scientific consensus. [Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus. J. Risk Res. 14, 147-174 (2011).]

    I’d like to think the juxtaposition of the issues, precisely because of their opposing cultural or ideological valences, could in fact help citizens form a more psychologically realistic, & politically constructive, understanding of the dynamics that generate conflict between public opinion & science.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Great post Jonathan and follow up comments as well. Democratizing risk does indeed lead to broader acceptance as Dave points out.  However, I again fail to see how this insight translates into more effective or representative choices at the policy level when it comes to climate change.  Does it mean holding broader consultations at utility regulatory hearings? Extending the comment period on EPA/NHTSA fuel economy regs? How about holding 48 hour talk-till-you-drop debates between the NAS/IPCC and SEPPI/AEI/Heritage on the risk tradeoffs of various climate policies?

    While I think that these questions no doubt have a role to play in shaping more effective advocacy strategies, I don’t see how it changes the fundamental sausage making process that is politics.

    We may wish for more effective political processes and institutions that are better able to communicate and adjudicate issues of environmental and economic risk. Wishing for these things, however, sadly doesn’t make it so.
     

  • harrywr2

    RickA Says:
    May 26th, 2011 at 11:23 am Very nice article Jonathan!

    Nuclear is non-carbon, but is more expensive than coal, oil and natural gas ““ which is why Nuclear, while good (despite storage issues) isn’t catching on.
    For nuclear be competitive against oil or coal the coal or oil has to cost about $4/Million BTU’s. About $24/barrel for oil or $80-$100/ton for coal. The price of oil has long been above an inflation adjusted $24/barrel.
    Steam Coal is location dependent. I surely won’t live long enough to see steam coal in Wyoming selling for $80-100/ton(It’s at $13 now).
    Central Appalachian steam coal is currently selling for $78/ton. By the time shipping and handing is added some locations are paying well over $80/ton.
    Combined Cycle natural gas power plants have a high thermal efficiency and compete well against new nuclear at a price at or below $6/MBtu.

    Most of the sources of energy can make the case that they are ‘cheapest’ somewhere and they all do in their marketing brochures.
    The delivered price of coal and gas varies by location, how much the wind blows or the sun shines varies by location.
    The coal industry points to how cheap electricity from coal is in Wyoming but not many people live in Wyoming and transmission loses become substantial with distance not to mention the cost of long distance high voltage lines. The cost of transporting coal is about 3 cents/ton mile.









  • Marlowe Johnson

    @RickA

    you might be interested in the work that ARPA-E is doing. With the exception of some libertarians, I think you’ll find that it has pretty broad support as it addresses energy security (which appeals to the right) as well as climate change (which appeals to the left).  Where people tend to part ways is when the discussion gets to the number of zeros that should be attached to its budget and whether or not other ‘complementary’ measures should be in the mix (e.g. carbon taxes, C&T, efficiency standards, etc.)

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    Re: Dan Kahan (#9): Dang! When I was writing this I remembered the climate and gun control questions from Kahan, Jenkins-Smith, and Braman, but I forgot that they had also discussed nuclear waste disposal. The Cultural Cognition Project has been a powerful influence on my thoughts about risk and policy and I wish I’d said something about their work in my post.

    I share Kahan’s hope that juxtaposing similar responses to issues that have very different ideological valences may help us toward more useful and constructive discussions.

  • Ed Forbes

    “.. It’s to the point where a reasonable conversation like this one is impossible to have.  Unfortunately, even though climate change is both, incredibly risky and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are cumulative, the opposition has anchored the planet whatever consequences await us…”

    Humm…so a “reasonable conversation” is one where one side accepts the true faith and repents. I have wondered about that. Thanks!

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Humm”¦so a “reasonable conversation” is one where one side accepts the true faith and repents. I have wondered about that. Thanks!

    I’m talking about people who refuse to discuss action on climate issues when the science is not yet certain of the outcome.  To me, this is unreasonable.  It’s about risk, not faith.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    (cont) This is also more severe problem when the conversation can only start after the standards for determining certainty are so out-of-whack from reality that the sincerity is questionable.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    @David Ropeik (#8): Excellent points about the Finnish and Swedish approaches to building trust and acceptance into their process. Another good example of managing trust and transparency regarding cleanup of radioactive contamination is the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) (disclosure: Vanderbilt is the lead institution in CRESP, although I have no formal involvement with it).

    Thanks too for the pointer to your book. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it before this, but the excerpt is very nice with its emphasis on empowering people to make their own decisions with greater clarity as opposed to telling people what their preferences should be, and the clarity with which you present a good deal of technical material on risk perception.

  • Sashka

    Our ignorance of whether such tipping points exist or at what concentrations of greenhouse gases should not be an excuse for delay, but more reason to act quickly.


    Sorry but I don’t see any logic in this.

    And BTW there may be no cliff at all.

  • kdk33

    @18

    A formal appeal to ignorance.

  • kdk33

    Don’t you agree.

  • Sashka

    @ grypo (3)

    I don’t know who wants 100% assurances from scientists. What they should be asked is is the credible probability distribution. But they cannot produce even that. Which is why Dismal “Theorem” is worthless.

    I don’t see any reasons to abide by “precautionary principle”.

    But you’re right that reasonable conversation is almost impossible. To me, it’s because of the irrational “arguments” of the alarmists.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Sashka,
    Our ignorance of how far removed from us the next car is or if there is one at all should not be an excuse for continuing to drive 80 mph in a snowstorm, but more reason to slow down.
    See the logic in that?
     

  • Gaythia

    This is an excellent analysis of the politics and science behind the Yucca Mountain decision.  I strongly agree that attempting to deny scientific uncertainty  when promoting a policy decision was and is a large tactical mistake.

    On the flip side, I disagree on the “no time pressure” conclusion.  David Ropeik could explain to us what is is about our risk assessment processes that cause us to accept something that is ongoing, increasing incrementally, but requires no large decision, as opposed to something entirely new.

    As the Japanese tsunami has demonstrated, wet pool fuel rod storage poses serious hazards.  Dry cask storage, is an improvement, but these are generally also located next to nuclear power plant sites (although there is one at INEEL, located in a desert area near Idaho Falls Idaho).  Nuclear Power Plants are usually located near a cooling water source, and as such come nowhere near the standards set for nuclear waste storage when sites like Yucca Mountain were investigated.  Open air is obviously not the same as any form of dry below ground storage.

    It would be nice if communities could be found that were both accepting of hosting a nuclear waste disposal site happened to also be excellent locations for such sites.  Frequently, communities that display such an interest do so for economic reasons that have an historic basis but are not ideal from the point of view of underlying geology.

    Canada does not seem to be making progress towards long term nuclear waste disposal in the area they have determined scientifically to be best, the stable granites of the Canadian Shield, although there are local interests promoting a site in sedimentary rock near Hamilton Ontario.  Similarly, the WIPP waste depository near Carlsbad, NM has done some campaigning to “take it to the next level” now that the Yucca Mountain facility is not moving forward.  People living near the Hanford site in Eastern Washington are much more supportive of waste site proposals than those living on the western side of the state.

    As with climate change, there are people who benefit from the changes as well as people who will lose.  Somehow, we need to find the political will to make the decisions that are the best overall.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    @Sashka and kdk33: For normally distributed risks, the probability falls off fast enough in the tails that you can ignore the really low-probability/high-consequence events.

    But when the tails of the distribution are fat (i.e., when they fall off a lot more slowly than exp(-x^2), and especially if they fall off only polynomially) then the expected cost of the risk is dominated by the extreme of the low-probablity/high-risk tail.  First, uncertainty about climate sensitivity is fundamentally asymmetric, both because of the mathematical form of the feedback function and also because there’s more data to constrain the low-sensitivity side of the distribution. Second, there’s also a lot of uncertainty about the economic damage function for a given temperature change. These combine to give good reason to believe that not only is our uncertainty about the cost of climate change is very asymmetrically distributed, but that uncertainties about enormously catastrophic damage have fat tails, possibly fat enough to dominate any calculation of expected value.

    This is similar to the argument Benoit Mandelbrot and Nassim Taleb made about Mandelbrot’s observation that fluctuations in markets for shares, futures, and commodities are not normally distributed but have fat tails: this means that standard risk-management practices (e.g., stress-testing portfolios) will fail to account properly for extremely unlikely events.

    My argument is that even if there is probably no cliff, there is still enough chance of a cliff that it’s foolish to wander around blindly. If I were wrong about this and the tails fell off in a Gaussian fashion, then your argument would refute me. It all comes down to the mathematical shape of the probability distribution of our ignorance.  Or, as Dirty Harry said more succinctly, “Do you feel lucky?”

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    Something I would like to emphasize in the argument between Bart V. and myself on one side vs. Sashka and kdk33 on the other: There is no right or wrong here. We’re arguing more about our comfort or discomfort with uncertain risks than about science. Bart and I are more precautionary and tend to put more credence in fat tails; Sashka and kdk are more comfortable with uncertainty and more dismissive of the fat tail hypothesis.

    The shape of the probability distribution for extreme catastrophes is not something that can be empirically verified with any great precision, so there is room for reasonable people to disagree both on the shape of the curve that represents our ignorance and on the proper policy response to it.

  • Sashka

    @ Bart

    You might want to think of a better analogy. Do I really need to point out that (i) driving 80 mph in a snowstorm is very dangerous irrespective of other cars; (ii) while there may be no cars at all ahead, the experience tells us that in most cases there are, i.e. the probability to rear-end someone is in fact very high; over long stretch of the road this probability is near 100%.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Sashka,

    Guess you’re inviting me to respond with “do I really need to point out that (i) climate change …..”

    but I’ll follow in Jonathan’s footsteps and point out that in the end it comes down to a difference in both risk perception and our differing levels of risk aversion.

  • Sashka

    @ Jonathan

    We know nothing about the probability distribution at this point. We don’t know whether the future climate is deterministic (for fixed emission scenario) or chaotic. In the former case the “probability distribution” would reflect only our ignorance. In the latter case both that and chaos dynamics. Therefore any discussion of the tails of the distribution makes no sense. There is no similarity with Taleb other than that he managed to make pontificating about risks a profitable business.

    Further, there is no such thing as known “mathematical form of the feedback function”. If we knew the feedback function there would be no uncertainty. The low-sensitivity is constrained not by data but by pure log law.

    My argument is that even if there is probably no cliff, there is still enough chance of a cliff that it’s foolish to wander around blindly.

    What I would like you to recognize is that it’s not an argument. You just feel that way.

    “Do you feel lucky?” is a false dilemma. We have a continuum of options along the mitigation-adaptation axis. There is geoengineering option. So, the short answer is “I feel smart.”

    The idea to describe our differences in terms of risk preferences is not without merit. Except in this case it’s very hard to define the risk.

  • Sashka

    Bart, I was inviting you do come up with something better than a lame analogy. You can point to climate change if you like but make sure that you can back it up.

    There is some truth to the point about differences in risk perceptions and preferences. But I’m not sure where it leads us. With that we can only agree to disagree and there is nothing more to discuss.

  • jeffn

    @25
    “The shape of the probability distribution for extreme catastrophes is not something that can be empirically verified with any great precision, so there is room for reasonable people to disagree both on the shape of the curve that represents our ignorance and on the proper policy response to it.”

    – I think this is a really important contribution to the discussion and I thank your for it. To what extent do you see the definition of what is a “proper” policy response driving the global warming debate? I’ve always felt that it was the unreasonableness (perceived and real) of the policy proposals that had more of an impact than the science. After-all, if you (the royal you, not you in particular) believe in a pure “precautionary principle” response, you should have been standing around waiting for the rapture last Saturday- I mean talk about your extreme catastrophe that can’t be empirically verified, why take the risk, right?

    Yet I doubt anyone reading this blog on either “side” of the debate was expecting the rapture last Saturday, so I suspect the reasonableness of the “policy proposal” came into play.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    “…inviting you to come up with something better than a lame analogy.”

    Sashka,

    It’s probably best to keep your dismissive tone in check if you want people to continue to engage with you.

    Or you could just try to score points. It’s up to you.

  • Sashka

    @ Keith,

    You probably see it otherwise but IMO Bart’s car analogy was an attempt to dismiss not to engage. I’ve been in a reactive mode.

  • Shub

    Dear Sashka,
    Keep your dismissive tone in check. CRACK!

    /cracks whip

  • Jeff Norris

    Mr. Verheggen
    Sashka does not like your analogy but I think it is just incomplete.  Why am I doing 80 on a snowy road?  Is it the speed limit?  Is there a reward for going 80 in this situation?  Wife in Labor, late for work etc…  Risk without reward is contrary to human nature.  No matter whether the risk is certain or not humans expect a certain tangible reward for their action. 

  • kdk33

    It was pointed out above, but I don’t think it appropriate to talk about risk aversion.  What is really at play is fear of the unknown – irrational fear, IMO.

    Yes, CO2 has certain radiative properties and will probably, in some sense warm the atmosphere.  So what.  The danger is SLR, floods, storms, drought, and like that.  Those consequences are, at this point, pure conjecture.  Conjecture does not equal risk.  Pretending that it does is simply appealing to ignorance in a rather formal way: we can’t rule out the possibility that…

    To determine risk, we look to the data.  AFAIK, SLR is not accelerating, storms & floods & droughts aren’t trending significantly, polar bears aren’t dying, etc., You get the point.  Temperature has risen modestly, but not lately, and not in a way inconsistent with natural change.   

    OTOH, fossil fuels are a profound good for humanity and it will be painful (very painful, depending on your circumstances) to get rid of them.  And for what?  To quell irrational fears of the unknown.

    The proper course, it seems to me, is to wait and see. 

    It should also be mentioned that there is value in delay.  Climate science will improve, ditto energy technology, and wealth will accrue.  Choosing to do nothing is a perfectly rational (and the correct, IMO) decision; not a reflection of a broken system or some widespread public pathology.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “To determine risk, we look to the data.  AFAIK, SLR is not accelerating, storms & floods & droughts aren’t trending significantly, polar bears aren’t dying, etc., You get the point.  Temperature has risen modestly, but not lately, and not in a way inconsistent with natural change.   ”

    I’m at a loss at where to start.  Your wrong to words ratio is impressive.  Dave Roepik, if you’re still following the thread, I’m curious how you’d push the dialogue forward in this instance…

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    And there in-lies the problem.  See how kdk calls climate science prediction conjecture.   Then follows that up with total conjecture on wealth and technology’s ability to adapt.  Now, of course, those familiar with the science can go into the certainty of the hydrological cycle, past climate, etc etc, but where does that get us?

    Oh, you’re not totally certain?  Come back when you are.  Oh, you’re very certain?  Prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    It’s another ‘science is settled’ quandary.  I’m afraid there’s nothing left to discuss.  It’s time to move on and make the case to the general public about the risk.  Trying to come to some ‘middle ground’ is just wasting time unnecessarily.

    Let’s hope the media can help with that;)

    Certain of Risk.  CoR.  That’s easy to remember.

     

  • Michael Larkin

    “It’s another “˜science is settled’ quandary.  I’m afraid there’s nothing left to discuss.  It’s time to move on and make the case to the general public about the risk.  Trying to come to some “˜middle ground’ is just wasting time unnecessarily.”

    As if AGW proponents haven’t been making the case for years. As if it hasn’t been accepted merely because it hasn’t been made, when it has, over and over. It hasn’t been accepted because too many people haven’t bought into it, and place more tangible risks far ahead – such as threats to standard of living and from terrorism, for example.

    No point arguing that AGW will bring Armageddon and render many other risks trivial. That would equally apply to asteroid collision, supervolcano eruption, or purely natural catastrophic climate shift that would have its worst effects if it were towards cooling rather than warming.

    One credible risk, at least as credible as AGW, it is that the recent climate saga will turn out to be the most remarkable instance of mass hysteria ever recorded, unfortunately too late to prevent the expenditure of huge amounts of money (that could have been used to address many more worthwhile issues, including environmental ones) on a phantasm. This is the risk that the other side fear every bit as much as human-induced climate catastrophe. To boot, it is a risk that is much more cheaply addressed by maintaining a watching brief and continuing the scientific research, but importantly, in an unbiased and transparent manner.

    There are risks that can be perceived on both sides, and the actions required to address them can be diametrically opposed. It’s correct, I believe, that there is a psychological component in deciding which side one chooses; but what concerns me is that one side wants to frame the debate as if the risk is unidirectional. It’s actually bidirectional, if not multidirectional.

  • kdk33

    Marlowe,

    You seem unable to start, and that’s different.  How’s about let’s start with a really simple one: sea level rise.  Point us to the data showing that sea level rise is accelerating.

  • Nullius in Verba

    The Precautionary Principle in the absence of quantified risks is equivalent to Pascal’s Wager. It means that the decision is determined entirely by the scariness of the hypotheses being offered rather than the strength of the evidence. Usually a false dilemma is being offered – two scenarios, one scary, one not, when there are many more scenarios possible (and more likely).
    A better approach to uncertain risks is to develop more flexible resources ready to jump the right way when more information becomes available. Be an adaptable generalist. Creating economic prosperity for the poor would therefore seem to be the priority, as it is applicable to many different problems and scenarios, rather than only one.

    “…the risk that we will cross some uncertain, perhaps even unsuspected point of no return for truly horrifying consequences. Our ignorance of whether such tipping points exist…”
    What is this talking about? Some sort of runaway Venus? Ted Turner’s ‘cannibal’ scenario? The last remaining humans moving to Antarctica? Or merely being flooded with refugees in a few decades time as the river delta nations sink like Atlantis?

    Or does it not matter? Something bad could happen, therefore we have to restructure the entire world’s economy exactly as I say?

    How do we know that suddenly stopping emissions is safe? For example, if cooling aerosols vanish much faster than the CO2, causing a warming pulse? Could that trigger a tipping point that a more gradual decline would not? The game appears to work equally well both ways.

  • kdk33

    I’ll save you some time.  Hers’s the data.  Feel free to comment.

    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/

  • Gaythia

    @36, I agree that it would be interesting to hear David Ropeik’s or Jonathan Gilligan’s take on this hypothetical conversation, but I also believe that there a few things we can work out for ourselves.

    Do we think that the commenter @35 really is interested a genuine discussion of such things as the dynamics of polar bear populations or does he/she simply want to rattle off a number of clever sounding arguments to impress or confuse others?  Is anyone else listening to this conversation?  How are they likely to be influenced by this and can we help out?
    I field an amazing number of ignorant questions or statements somewhat related to my field of chemistry, but if the person really is asking because they really do want to know, or are open to counter examples to their statements I always try to answer patiently. or try to help them find resources.

    On the topic of climate change for example, a number of people have heard that the CO2 readings are suspect because many are taken on Mauna Loa, which is, after all an active volcano.  It is not at all clear to me why these people think that if they can figure this out that the scientists who are, ager all, on the actual volcano wouldn’t have noticed this fact also and made appropriate adjustments to their sampling routine, but again, I think patience is key.

    So, as I mentioned in the previous “Getting Past The Argument’ thread, in which I think you also participated, I am not sure I entirely agree with David Ropeik on his “getting past the intellectual argument” stance.  Evidence can be useful to those who have an open mind.

    But like you, I think it would be interesting to hear from Ropeik or Gilligan on this.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Do we think that the commenter @35 really is interested a genuine discussion of such things as the dynamics of polar bear populations or does he/she simply want to rattle off a number of clever sounding arguments to impress or confuse others?”
    I think commenter 35 assumes that we’re all well aware of both the data and the projections on polar bear populations, and is instead trying to make a point about empirical evidence versus computer models founded on contentious assumptions. Polar bears specifically are not the issue.

    “It is not at all clear to me why these people think that if they can figure this out that the scientists who are, [after] all, on the actual volcano wouldn’t have noticed this fact also and made appropriate adjustments to their sampling routine”
    That sort of assumption is dangerous. There is a risk that everybody makes the assumption, and the method never gets checked. It is better to ask and be told the answer, than to assume the scientist has thought of everything and taken it into account.

    Take the example of climate-monitoring thermometers located next to air conditioning vents, on tarmac, or under trees. Don’t we think the scientists would have noticed this when gathering the data, and made allowance? As it turned out, no they hadn’t noticed. It was worth checking. There are many other examples in science.
    There is obviously a problem when, even after the answer has been given, some people still refuse to accept it. But it’s not excusable to not answer the question, or to hide the method and say “trust me”.

    “I am not sure I entirely agree with David Ropeik on his “getting past the intellectual argument” stance.”
    Me neither. It’s all very well to switch from arguments to motives, but the same logic applies in reverse. Should sceptics instead of trying to argue climate science, instead try to find out why AGW believers believe as they do? And then find ways we can respect the powerful psychological underpinnings of where people are coming from as we look for ways to discourage hasty and counter-productive action. If the method works at all, it should work for us too, shouldn’t it?

  • intrepid_wanders

    @41,

    I think we have something else in common with alarmists.  A simple addressee change and viola, table is 180 degrees…


    Do we think that the commenter @35 41 really is interested a genuine discussion of such things as the dynamics of polar bear populations or does he/she simply want to rattle off a number of clever sounding arguments to impress or confuse others?  Is anyone else listening to this conversation?  How are they likely to be influenced by this and can we help out?I field an amazing number of ignorant questions or statements somewhat related to my field of <insert your field>…


    Specifics would be helpful…or we could discuss the cool concepts of micro-Raman and vibrational energies of various carbon structures; which I assume is “…somewhat related to…” your field?

    While we disagreed in the past, I do like Gilligan’s insightful and forward step towards trying understand where the common ground may be in the future world without fission reactors in everyone basement (and them throwing cores all over the place).

  • intrepid_wanders

    Hmmm… strikeout does not work…<so>35</so> 41…

    <wink>

  • Gaythia

    @ Nullius, In my experience, the Mauna Loa point is cited initially by those who know full well what the right answer is, (analogous to Wakefield and autism).  These people don’t need to be jousted with.  But just as parents of infants asking questions about vaccines for the very first time, others who might hear this do deserve a careful explanation.  You are right about verification of the initial scientific process.  I think that it is true that (again analogous to the vaccine controversy) that the science of this has been settled long before.

    So, at least as I see it, our disagreement with Ropeik’s “getting past the intellectual arguement” stems from us feeling he is perhaps not making a sharp enough distinction between jousting and actual reasoned discussion, and as you point out, he also needs to emphasize that we should trying to be as cognizant of our own emotional biases  as we are of those we are so quick to identify in others.

    Intrepid_wanders might be happier with me had I more wisely chosen a less pejorative word than ignorant to describe people who didn’t know something yet, and a less vague phrase than “point towards resources” to indicate that I am not all knowledgeable.  At any rate, neither raman nor carbon containing structures are areas in which I have much depth of expertise.

  • Gaythia

    @Jonathan Gilligan: both your precautionary tendency to put more credence in fat tails and Nullius in Verba’s approach of waiting to jump the right way when more information becomes available, seem to be phrased as if what you are both evaluating is overall risk.  However, just as Yucca Mountain was seen as the “screw Nevada bill”, the effects of climate change will be very unequally distributed.  One’s perception of risk might vary vastly if one were located on a coral atoll at near sea level with few resources for moving elsewhere than if one were located in a part of the world likely to suffer minimal direct effects, or were wealthy enough to assume that actions could be taken personally to move away from the badly affected areas.   A potential farmer in Siberia or northern Russia might view warming as a local improvement, but not so one in northern Africa.

    The risk of waiting until it is too late depends upon the context.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Sashka,

    If you interpret what I wrote as an attempt to dismiss rather than to engage, then I guess agreeing to disagree is the only option.

    About climate being deterministic vs chaotic: Last time I checked the state of the climate depends on the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation, amongst other things (like energy moving around within the system itself).

  • kdk33

    So, no takers on SLR?

    FWIW, I don’t dispute the basic tenants of AGW – that CO2 will, in some sense, warm us.  The various hypothesis that CO2 will causes bad weather and human suffering are interesting questions.  I support having real scientists ask and answer these kinds of questions.

    But putting forth a plausible sounding hypothesis does not create risk.  If you tell me that CO2 will cause sea levels to rise precipitously inundating coastal areas and I should therefore reorganize the world economy… then I expect SLR data indicating just that.

    SLR data does not show acceleration.  That’s a problem.  Pretending it’s not is, well, part of the problem.

  • Edim

    First, we have to get rid of the Orwelian speak. Climate change is climate change, not more and not less. It is not ACC nor (A)CO2CC nor (A)CO2GW…

    And AGW is not ACO2GW!

    There might be some AGW (likely insignificant and unmeasurable), there is definetely ALW (L for local), but the evidence is piling up that there is no significant (A)CO2GW.

    For me it was clear from the beginning that both ACO2GW and CO2GW are highly unlikely. The climate system would be very unstable if “global temperature” and CO2 content would drive eachother up (or down), because any small disturbances would be amplified.

    In the real world, positive feedback loops are always controlled eventually by negative feedback or limiting effects of some sort.

    What are the limiting effects in the climate system? I know ACO2GW believers think that ACO2 emissions are unprecedented CO2 input, but I find it ridiculous. They are easily overwhelmed by natural CO2 fluxes. Fortunately, we will be able to test it if the cooling continues. I predict CO2 content will stop rising and eventualy start to decrease.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “In my experience, the Mauna Loa point is cited initially by those who know full well what the right answer is, [...].  These people don’t need to be jousted with.”

    That does bring up a genuine problem with the debate, that those experienced in it have memorised point and counter-point and counter-counter-point like chess grandmasters with their openings. Both sides know what’s coming next. But you have to go through it every time to get to the middle game, where the contest is more genuine.

    “One’s perception of risk might vary vastly if one were located on a coral atoll at near sea level with few resources for moving elsewhere”

    That’s another good example of an opening move. I counter with Darwin’s observations on how coral atolls are formed and the recent island area survey data, you probably respond with the unprecedented rate of change argument, I cite meltwater pulses and empirical data on rates being constant and starting too early to be anthropogenic, you point out the predictions of future acceleration and the multitude of factors, I question the models and the understanding of ice dynamics, and so on…

    Yes, people on coral atolls are worried; I’ve talked to them. I’ve been told about how entire beaches have disappeared over the past ten to fifteen years, and I point out that in ten years the seas have risen less than two inches, and they don’t know what to say. I talk to them about coastal erosion/deposition and land subsidence due to water extraction, and they are like the parents of infants asking about vaccines for the first time. But which story is which? Am I the one telling them Science says your baby is in danger, or the one saying Science says your baby is safe?

    I don’t know. I rely on holding debates with people who disagree with me to find out, as you are more likely to see a way round my cognitive biases than I am. But until that debate is settled, would it be right for me to talk to laymen as if it is?

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    As we can see, there is one side telling people that science is showing serious risk, and the other side questions the science based on spurious equivalencies to vaccines and a misunderstanding of how much risk assessment is tied to models.  It’s pointless and time to move on from these types.  Sorry, done wasting time.

  • Gaythia

    @51 I am largely in agreement with your comment here.  Promoting this type of discussion is  why Keith Kloors blog is generally an interesting one to follow, and what makes Jonathan Gilligan’s comments above about the pitfalls of having been so absolutist, in the case of Yucca Mountain, that the science dictated a certain policy.

  • Sashka

    Bart,

    If the car analogy could be even half-useful your side would have won the argument long ago. Do you really think it was helpful to bring it up?

    I am very well aware of the importance of the radiative balance. That fact alone tells you nothing about chaos in the system. Before I misinterpret your intentions (again) let me ask you a straight question: were you trying to answer the chaos question or was it something else?

  • Sashka

    @ grypo

    Such a pity that you left to educate the masses elsewhere. I was really looking forward to being disabused from the notion that risk assessment is very strongly tied to model. Not that I expect to like the part that is not linked models, but that would be for entirely different reasons.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “Not that I expect to like the part that is not linked models, but that would be for entirely different reasons.”

    Of course you’re not.  There is plenty of information about what science tells us about the risk, using all sorts of methodology.  If none of it is good enough, then I am correct to just move on, as I cannot produce a new science for you.  There are many people who know very little about that risk, who may disagree may not want to themselves or their offspring to face it. Those are the people who need to be focused on.  There’s much to be done, and we need more help to do it.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Ok kdk33 I’ll play.

    From CSIRO:

    “High quality measurements of (near)-global sea level have been made since late 1992 by satellite altimeters, in particular, TOPEX/Poseidon (launched August, 1992), Jason-1 (launched December, 2001) and Jason-2 (launched June, 2008). This data has shown a more-or-less steady increase in Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) of around 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/year over that period. This is more than 50% larger than the average value over the 20th century. ”

    ” I support having real scientists ask and answer these kinds of questions.”

    So who would you put on the list of ‘real’ scientists and who would you exclude.  What criteria would you suggest using?

    @nullius
    could you elaborate on “computer models founded on contentious assumptions” bit?

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > The Precautionary Principle in the absence of quantified risks is equivalent to Pascal’s Wager.

    I’d like to see a formal proof of that.  As far as I can tell, this only is the usual libertarian Internet claptrap.
     

  • kdk33

    Marlowe,

    OK, now maybe we can talk.  This is the data I see:

    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/

    I see no acceleration.  And, as you point out, CSIRO people do not detect accerlation.

    To what are you comparing when you claim a 50% increase if high quality measurements only became available in 1992? How do reconcile a 50% increase over the 20th century average if there is no acceleration?

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    And to sound less snippy, I’ll say that I like this analogy:

    > That does bring up a genuine problem with the debate, that those experienced in it have memorised point and counter-point and counter-counter-point like chess grandmasters with their openings. Both sides know what’s coming next. But you have to go through it every time to get to the middle game, where the contest is more genuine.

    I like this analogy, even if it breaks down on at least two important points:

    The first is that Internet debates are not two-players, zero-sum, non-cooperative, sequential, and symmetric games with perfect information, although we all seem to play as if all these were true. They’re quite the opposite.

    The second one is that we have no way to determine who wins.  Touch-down dances do not count.  That means that a player can play his tired, refuted gambit over and over and over and over again and still believe he can win with it, even if he’s been outplayed over and over and over and over again.  I’d be tempted to call this kind of behavior the Girmanian strategy.

    But the idea that these debates follow some Encyclopedia of Chess Openings “theory” paths is quite obvious.  All that remains to do is to transpose everything into some kind of formal dialectic.  If anyone has references about this kind of project, I’d be interested to know.

     

  • Nullius in Verba

    #57,
    RE: sea level -
    “Whether or not this represent a further increase in the rate of sea level rise is not yet certain.”
    Quoted from the same source.

    You are comparing a short-term trend line to a long-term one. Is the change in trend significant? What statistical model do you use for the decadal natural variability?

    RE: Polar bears -
    The endangerment of polar bears, which is an important political and legal argument, is not based on empirical observations of polar bear population. About 1000 a year are hunted to control their numbers – corresponding to a 4-5% annual increase. Data on exact population changes are disputed and uncertain.

    (http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050404/full/news050404-2.html)

    The endangerment claims are based purely on modelled predictions of expected warming, combined with models of the effect this may have on sea ice, combined with speculation about the effect of this on the behaviour of the seals, and the adaptive response of the polar bears, combined with models of population dynamics to the loss of a food source.

    The polar ocean covers a small proportion of the Earth; the limited ability of models to project regional responses to warming (as opposed to global) has been noted in even the mainstream. Ice response is strongly affected by winds and ocean currents, not just temperature. Animals are often remarkably adaptable, and polar bears have apparently survived past warm episodes. It’s not a simple question.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    A number of people raise the important question, if I recommend a precautionary approach to climate change what makes climate change special because it’s well-established that you can’t be precautionary about everything.

    My answer is that there are several things that make climate special. My colleague Michael Vandenbergh and I have an essay that’s currently under review in which we will make this case at greater length, but for now, here are the key points:
     

    Greenhouse gases are very long-lived, which means that in the absence of air-capture, anthropogenic climate change will be irreversible on a time scale of many millennia.

    There are substantial time constants, so the impacts of climate change occur decades to centuries after the irreversible commitment has been made.

    The climate system is very nonlinear and has exhibited tipping-point behavior in the earth’s past.

    These three points mean that unlike most risks we face, we cannot manage the risk by observing the consequences and adjusting our policy accordingly. Moreover, the nonlinearities mean that we can’t even extrapolate confidently from present trends. Rather, we have to commit to a policy on GHG emissions (continue on our present trajectory, curtail emissions modestly, or curtail them sharply) without knowing with great certainty what the impacts of different policies would be, and if we continue on BAU, by the time we learn the impacts of that policy, it will be too late to change paths.

    The risks are global in scope, although the details vary greatly from one location to another, and have the potential (although it’s important to emphasize that this is a low-probability potential) to severely disrupt civilization and defy our ability to adapt.

    And finally, while we don’t know the shape of the probability distribution in great detail, there are many reasons to believe that it has very fat tails, which means, in my judgment, that the prospect of civilization-disrupting catastrophes should play a prominent role in shaping our policy response.


    This is a normative argument. It’s based on subjective judgments about uncertain science, on the value of civilization and society, and on aversion to uncertainty or ambiguity.  But it’s important to emphasize that uncertainty does not mean utter ignorance. Just because we can’t assess precisely whether the probability that climate change would produce global heat waves severe enough to kill hundreds of millions of people per year is one in a thousand or one in a million (i.e., are we 99.9% or 99.9999% certain that these heat waves won’t happen) doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything useful about this risk.

    I will also emphasize that nowhere do I say that we need to engage in boundlessly expensive policies to prevent catastrophic global warming. What I am saying is that I don’t see standard cost-benefit tests as being terrifically useful in dealing with risks as uncertain as these, so I am advocating that we should acknowledge the uncertainty and make our judgments about how much to spend with an emphasis on the role of uncertain and unlikely catastrophic outcomes.

    Finally, I am perfectly comfortable saying that these are political questions and that we should treat them as such.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Nullis:

    You are really missing the point of risk and what science says about it.
    Question, are polar bears at risk of extinction in an ice-less arctic:
    answer of experts: yes.

    Is the arctic at risk of being ice-less within the century:
    answer of experts:  yes.

    And as far as polar bears “surviving” past warm episodes, you may want to look into that further.
    http://news.discovery.com/animals/polar-bear-evolution-warming.html
     

  • Nullius in Verba

    #58,
    How formal do you want? And can I ask for formal proofs of any statements that I don’t agree with, as well?

    The analogy is fairly straightforward. The Precautionary Principle as commonly applied to climate change says that even if you’re not fully convinced that it will definitely happen, if you accept that it might happen, the costs are so high (e.g. Ted Turner’s cannibal scenario) that it’s still the only rational choice to act to prevent it. Pascal’s Wager applied to the Christian afterlife mythology says that even if you’re not fully convinced that it will definitely happen, the costs (eternal torment versus eternal bliss) are so high that the only rational choice is to believe.

    The distinctive features of the argument are that it offers only two alternatives with the putative costs embedded the hypothesis, and the conclusion arises from the hypothesised costs alone, not the evidence.

    #60,
    Chess isn’t a zero-sum, symmetric game with perfect information either.
    Nor is it about winning. You don’t play chess as an hobby to win games, and you don’t debate to win arguments. You debate to learn new ideas, new arguments, new perspectives, to try out ideas, to spread good arguments and kill off bad ones, to gain a deeper understanding, to make people think.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #63,
    “Is the arctic at risk of being ice-less within the century:”
    Do you include Greenland in that?

  • Gaythia

    More polar bear discussion:
    Response to Dyck et al. (2007) on polar bears and climate
    change in western Hudson Bay

    e c o l ogi c a l com p l e x i t y 5 (2 0 0 8) 1 93 ““ 2 0 1
    Ian Stirling a,b,*, Andrew E. Derocher b, William A. Gough c, Karyn Rode d
    a Canadian Wildlife Service, 5320 122 Street, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 3S5
    b Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6H 2E9
    c Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Scarborough, ON, Canada M1C 1A4
    d U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage 99503, AK, USA
    https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~wsoon/myownPapers-d/Stirlingetal08comments-FINAL.pdf
    “Research conducted since 1997…

    Long-term trends in the population
    ecology of polar bears in western Hudson Bay in relation to climate change. Arctic 52, 294″“
    306.]) continues to be consistent with the thesis that climate warming in western Hudson
    Bay is the major factor causing the sea ice to breakup at progressively earlier dates, resulting
    in polar bears coming ashore to fast for several months in progressively poorer condition,
    resulting in negative affects on survival of young, subadult, and older (but not prime) adults
    and reproduction. When the population began to decline, the hunting quota for Inuit in
    Nunavut was no longer sustainable, which in turn probably resulted in the decline accelerating
    over time as a result of overharvesting”

  • Nullius in Verba

    #62,
    “Greenhouse gases are very long-lived,”
    I understood that about half the CO2 emitted each year got absorbed by the natural sinks, like the oceans?

    “so the impacts of climate change occur decades to centuries after”
    I understand that for the transient climate response, the lag is about 5-10 years. For the long-term deep ocean response, the lag means the changes occur only very slowly.

    “The climate system is very nonlinear and has exhibited tipping-point behavior in the earth’s past.”
    And yet the climate models are very nearly exact linear functions of the forcing (with about 5-10 years thermal lag) out to beyond the end of the 21st century, at least. Are the models therefore reliable?

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Bottom line, whether or not Greenland loses all of it’s ice or not.  Arctic sea ice loss is a serious concern for survival of the polar bear.  This is biologists, not climate modelers.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @nullius,

    It’s not my model fyi. from Church and White 2010:

    “We estimate the rise in global average sea level from satellite altimeter data for 1993″“2009 and from coastal and island sea-level measurements from 1880 to 2009. For 1993″“2009 and after correcting for glacial isostatic adjustment, the estimated rate of rise is 3.2 ± 0.4 mm year-1 from the satellite data and 2.8 ± 0.8 mm year-1 from the in situ data. The global average sea-level rise from 1880 to 2009 is about 210 mm. The linear trend from 1900 to 2009 is 1.7 ± 0.2 mm year-1 and since 1961 is 1.9 ± 0.4 mm year-1. There is considerable variability in the rate of rise during the twentieth century but there has been a statistically significant acceleration since 1880 and 1900 of 0.009 ± 0.003 mm year-2 and0.009 ± 0.004 mm year-2, respectively. Since the start of the altimeter record in 1993, global average sea level rose at a rate near the upper end of the sea level projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.


    “…there are a number of features which are comparable to/larger than the uncertainty estimates. Firstly, there is a clear increase in the trend from the first to the second half of the record; the linear trend from 1880 to 1935 is 1.1 ± 0.7 mm year-1 and from 1936 to the end of the record the trend is 1.8 ± 0.3 mm year-1. The period of relatively rapid sea-level rise commencing in the 1930s ceases abruptly in about 1962 after which there is a fall in sea level of over 10 mm over 5 years. Starting in the late 1960s, sea level rises at a rate of almost 2.4 mm year-1 for 15 years from 1967 and at a rate of 2.8 ± 0.8 mm year-1 from 1993 to the end of the record.”

    There are plenty of uncertainties in climate science, but I’d suggest that historic trends in sea level rise is probably at the lower end on the controversy scale.  Wouldn’t you?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Bottom line, whether or not Greenland loses all of it’s ice or not.”
    You think the question might be in doubt?

    “Arctic sea ice loss is a serious concern for survival of the polar bear.”

    Yes, probably, but that is only one link in the chain. And it depends what you mean by sea ice loss. I’m sure you can’t be thinking that winter sea ice will disappear. You’re no doubt aware that 70% of sea ice disappears every year anyway. You presumably mean something like late-summer ice disappearing, and therefore coverage during the spring, early summer and autumn declining severely. Without in any way saying there is no issue, the term “ice-less” is still an exaggeration.

    Certainly things could not continue as they are if such a severe loss of ice did occur. But it depends too on the response of the seals. If they’re not hunted, would their population explode? Would they too have to find new habitats on land? And could the polar bears follow them?

    Biologists are no different from climate modellers in having their own private views and interests. I don’t make any distinction – the evidence is the only thing that matters.

    #66,
    Interesting looking paper, Gaythia. I’ve seen it discussed before, but not read it. It will take me some time to chase up all the references and responses, though.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    @Nullius (#67). Long-lived: Half of the GHGs get absorbed by natural sinks. The other half takes a much longer time to equilibrate (driven in part by exchange between different reservoirs, e.g. shallow vs. deep oceans). Moreover, the faster natural sinks have limited capacity and saturate, so the equilibration time for CO2 is not a single number, but gets longer the greater the concentration becomes. David Archer has published very extensively on the carbon cycle and the equilibration time of CO2 concentrations. Go read his stuff if you’re interested. I’m not a carbon cycle expert, so I’m not the right person for you to argue with if you don’t believe the long lifetimes.

    Lags: Don’t focus only on temperature. Sea level rise lags by centuries to millennia.

    Model reliability: I’m not an expert on models. Many people are. It’s not going to be useful for you and me to argue about the science of models. I will point out that the big nonlinearities are in the feedback response (how forcing changes as a function of temperature), not in how temperature changes as a function of forcing, but that’s about as far as I feel competent to comment on the details of the models. But the more important thing is that nothing in my argument rests on the premise that global coupled climate models are very reliable. In fact, if the models were extremely reliable, then we could easily set an upper limit on the probable consequences of climate change and my argument would fall apart.

    The less reliable these models are, the greater the probability that climate change will be much worse than we think. It’s also true that the less reliable models are, the harder it is to argue that geoengineering by albedo modification could solve the climate change problem: For albedo engineering  to work, one would need to simultaneously cancel out the effect of greenhouse forcing not only on temperature but also on precipitation and circulation and that one could  do this for all regions of the planet simultaneously. To show this was possible would require great confidence in one’s modeling of the climate.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #69,
    The relevant diagram, in my view, is figure 8 in that paper. It shows the trend measured over comparable periods, rather than comparing long-term to short term. (Which has problems if there is long-term persistence not included in the model.) The uncertainties they plot earlier are about 1sd, they don’t seem to say for figure 8 specifically.

    I haven’t managed to locate where they say what statistical model they use, but my guess from looking at figure 8 is that I’d be suspicious of it. The difference between the 1900-1930 period and the post-1940 period they appear to be detecting looks like autocorrelated noise to me. Opinions may differ, of course.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “I’d be suspicious of it.”

    Indeed :roll:

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    It’s fascinating to me that I started this thread by asserting that there’s a lot of uncertainty and that the most important questions are political rather than scientific and yet, the discussion is returning largely to arguments about details of science that look to me mostly irrelevant to the politics and the policy.

    Consider: if firm scientific evidence emerged that you were completely wrong about polar bears or observed sea level rise, how would that change your policy recommendations?

    If you wouldn’t change your policy position if you were proved wrong about polar bears or the acceleration of sea level rise, then why are you arguing so heatedly about these things?

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Jonathan,

    Your observation is very much worth discussing in this thread.

  • kdk33

    Marlowe,

    The tide gauge data (TGD) is, I think you will agree, noisier and less reliable than satellite data.  The TGD trends from 1900-2009 and from 1961-2009 are statistically the same. 

    Even if I accept an acceleration of 0.01 mm/yr2, that would put sea level rise in 2110 at 4 mm/yr – hardly scary.  If I factor in that the more accurate satellite data shows no acceleration.  Then I can reasonably conclude that sea level rise is not much worth worrying about.

    My mind is futher eased knowing that this is an area without much uncertainty. 

    So, are we agreed that, given what we know today, SLR is not something we need to worry about?

  • kdk33

    Jonathan,

    If clear data emerged that sea level was rising dangerously, that would move me closer to the *do something* camp.  The something I’d choose would be a political choice – if, for example, the BRIC countries refuse to participant, I would probably favor adaptation over mitigation.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #74,
    Yes. it often happens that way. We did discuss the politics and policy points earlier, but people are now asking me questions or raising points about the science. I have to say, I’d probably find the policy more interesting, but I’ll pursue the sidelines for a little while.

    “if firm scientific evidence emerged that you were completely wrong about polar bears or observed sea level rise, how would that change your policy recommendations?”
    The polar bears would bother me, but that would be a trade-off between competing costs and benefits. Would I try to find some way to save the polar bear? Yes. Would I do it by a major restructuring of the global economy, at a cost of trillions? No, probably not.
    Sea level rise wouldn’t lead to any policy changes – that’s something we can more easily adapt to than try to prevent.

    “If you wouldn’t change your policy position if you were proved wrong about polar bears or the acceleration of sea level rise, then why are you arguing so heatedly about these things?”
    Because I’m not motivated by the desire for a particular policy outcome. I’m motivated by getting the science right.

    #71,
    “Long-lived: Half of the GHGs get absorbed by natural sinks. The other half takes a much longer time to equilibrate”
    I don’t follow your reasoning, there. If half the CO2 emitted gets absorbed each year, then the short-term decay rate is of the same order of magnitude as the rate of rise. Saturation of sinks could be a problem, if it happens, but in the absence of saturation then I don’t see why it would take millenia.

    “Sea level rise lags by centuries to millennia.”

    Then how is it possible for anthropogenic global warming, which some say only became significant in the second half of the 20th century, to lead to observable sea level rise? The lag can be no more than a decade or two, surely?

    “the big nonlinearities are in the feedback response (how forcing changes as a function of temperature), not in how temperature changes as a function of forcing”

    Isn’t the temperature response what we’re concerned about “tipping points” for?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @jonathan,

    I completely agree that debates about the details (e.g. detection of accelerating sea level rise trends within a noisy data set) misses the larger point (in this case that sea level is rising).  It seems to me that many ‘skeptics’ would prefer to keep the debates about climate policy circling around endlessly on these largely irrelevant details rather than on what, if anything should be done to address future climatic change that we are likely committing our descendants to on our current emissions path. None of the relevant details have changed since the Charney report that was released more than 30 years ago. CO2 and methane are GHGs. Their concentrations in the atmosphere are rising. Normal wait and see approaches aren’t suitable due to substantial lags in the system. The impacts are likely to be somewhere between bad and very bad under most BAU scenarios.  And most importantly IMO, the costs and benefits of any climate policy are asymmetrically distributed in time and space.

    I’d further suggest that in the case of climate change, skepticism about the science is used to deflect  attention from precisely what your getting at; namely, that fundamentally climate policy aught to be decided on the basis of normative considerations such as risk aversion, intergenerational equity, etc.  If I were to speculate about motives, I’d suggest that in many instances objections to climate policy are based on ideological aversion to the solutions (e.g. regulations, international agreements) and selfishness (e.g. unwilling to pay more for energy so that someone born decades from now 5000 miles away benefits).  Skepticism about the problem (or outright denial) is merely a convenient pose to avoid having to talk about these sorts of values, which some might say are less than admirable, even if they are widely shared.

  • Sashka

    I’d like to acknowledge that Jonathan’s position is different from the classic warmist “the science is settled” “all academies cannot be wrong” attitude. He is honest when he describes the problem for what it is (political) and his opinion for what it is (subjective).

    I don’t find it surprising that the conversation turns back to science all the time. This is because all our subjective opinions are ultimately formed by our understanding of science. When I meet a person who talks about fat tails I want to know to see what is it that he really knows and how his perceptions are formed (see 28 above). Frankly, I don’t find it interesting to pit my own subjective (of course I think I’m objective but I don’t expect too many people to agree) judgement against other people. That would amount to a shouting match. What’s interesting is to challenge his assumptions or get challenged. If the challenge is not met then the value of the opinion is not high and vice versa.

    @ 62

    It’s true that the climate system is nonlinear. It is not necessarily true that the climate experienced “tipping point behavior” in the past. This is a matter of definition. What’s more important though is that none of the sharp climate shifts that we know of were driven by CO2 or other greenhouse gases.Therefore the applicability of this argument is questionable.

    I agree that we are not utterly ignorant. But I disagree that much of what we know is useful for risk assessment.

    I am happy that you are not calling for super expensive mitigation policies. However I don’t understand what you are actually suggesting. “we should acknowledge the uncertainty and make our judgments about how much to spend with an emphasis on the role of uncertain and unlikely catastrophic outcomes” means absolutely nothing to me in any practical sense.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @kdk33

    Why is the rate of sea level rise more important to you than actual (total) amount of sea level rise?  What thresholds of acceleration would alarm you? Do you think that there are good physical reasons to believe that sea level rise may not follow a linear trend in the future? If so, are you willing to bet that several trillion dollars worth of coastal infrastructure won’t be negatively impacted?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “rather than on what, if anything should be done”
    Is that “if anything” an option you would seriously consider?
    “The impacts are likely to be somewhere between bad and very bad under most BAU scenarios.”
    That’s the question – are they? What’s the evidence for that? Yes, rising CO2 will very likely make some positive contribution to temperatures, but will it be significant compared to the natural background, and will it have a severe impact? How confident should we be? This is not the first time that scientists have predicted imminent planetary doom.

    “fundamentally climate policy aught to be decided on the basis of normative considerations such as risk aversion, intergenerational equity, etc.”
    I agree. I just disagree about what the risks and equities are.

    “If I were to speculate about motives, I’d suggest that in many instances objections to climate policy are based on ideological aversion to the solutions [...] and selfishness”
    Yes and no. People disagree because they think you’re wrong. They care enough to argue passionately about it, rather than shrugging their shoulders as they do to all the other people who get things wrong, because of its use to drive policy they disagree with.
    People who believe in UFOs are wrong, but nobody cares enough to argue with them because they’re not proposing the introduction of UFO taxes, the shutting down of industries thought to interfere with UFOs, or the restructuring of the entire economy to use the power of UFOs as an energy source. So yes, policy implications are an issue, but dodging them won’t result in people suddenly agreeing, they’ll just lose interest in discussing it.
    Personally, I don’t really care about policy any more. As far as I can see, global warming as a driver of new policy is dead – it’s just a question of when the corpse stops twitching. It will take a while to undo the damage already done, but there’s little political appetite left for going further down this road. The only remaining question for me is what the long term fallout for science’s reputation will be.

  • kdk33

    Marlowe @81,

    Wow.  That really caught me off guard. 

    The reason is:  sea level has been rising for a century and we’ve managed to adapt reasonably well – it hasn’t been a problem.  Further, we are (or at least it was thought prior to climate change science) exiting a little ice age, so it is perfectly reasonable and natural that sea levels would be rising some.

    So, if sea level continues to rise at an about constant rate, then there’s no reason to fear, no reason to think it unnatural, and no reason to think we could do anything about it.

    Even if the .01 mm/yr2 acceleration is entirely attributable to CO2, that ammounts to, over the next centuray, about 2″ of extra rise beyond what appears natural.  I don’t see how that justifies much in the way of energy policy change. 

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Sashka,

    In comment # 79, Marlowe, in response to Jonathan, suggests (my emphasis),

    that in the case of climate change, skepticism about the science is used to deflect  attention from precisely what your getting at; namely, that fundamentally climate policy aught to be decided on the basis of normative considerations such as risk aversion, intergenerational equity, etc.”

    In your comment # 80, referring presumably to the body of climate science research, you write:

    “I agree that we are not utterly ignorant. But I disagree that much of what we know is useful for risk assessment.”

    How have you come to this conclusion, that we do not have enough information to make an adequate risk assessment? And what would it take for you to have the information you need to make that risk assessment?

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Re: #64

    > How formal do you want?

    An engineering-level formal derivation would be ideal, but a simple decision-theoretic interpretation of Pascal’s wager and the precautionary principle would be nice.

    > And can I ask for formal proofs of any statements that I don’t agree with, as well?

    Yes, as long as they are equivalence claims like “the precautionary principle in the absence of quantified risks **is equivalent** to Pascal’s Wager”, with my emphasis on the operative words.

    > Pascal’s Wager applied to the Christian afterlife mythology says that even if you’re not fully convinced that it will definitely happen, the costs (eternal torment versus eternal bliss) are so high that the only rational choice is to believe.

    Pascal’s Wager, in the original text is this paragraph:

    > Vous avez deux choses à perdre”‰: le vrai et le bien, et deux choses à engager”‰: votre raison et votre volonté, votre connaissance et votre béatitude; et votre nature a deux choses à fuir”‰: l’erreur et la misère. Votre raison n’est pas plus blessée, en choisissant l’un que l’autre, puisqu’il faut nécessairement choisir. Voilà un point vidé. Mais votre béatitude”‰? Pesons le gain et la perte, en prenant croix que Dieu est. Estimons ces deux cas”‰: si vous gagnez, vous gagnez tout”‰; si vous perdez, vous ne perdez rien. Gagez donc qu’il est, sans hésiter.

    This simply says that you have nothing to lose believing in the existence of God (“si vous perdez, vous ne perdez rien”), considering what you might gain in return (everything, i.e. “si vous gagnez, vous gagnez tout”).  So Pascal’s wager can be interpreted as a special case of the precautionary principle, and not the other way around.  Climate Change is everything but an academic question, with no incidence if we’re wrong.

    If one considers only pure strategies, Pascal’s argument is actually valid; there is no philogical reason the believe that Pascal had any other kind of decision matrix in mind.  And please bear in mind that Pascal’s original settings, agnosticism was forbidden (“il faut nécessairement choisir”, which means “you must choose [right fekking now]“), which is a little proviso some contemporary critics seems to kinda forget, but let’s not digress.

    ***

    I admit that the formal proof I am asking for was more a rhetorical question more than anything.  I have reasons to believe we’re talking about the precautionary principle without really knowing what it means.  And I know that Bayesians do not like it very much.  But to try to dismiss the precautionary principle with a little of Pascal’s wager armwaving does not sound very constructive, to say the least.  It might lead to what Resnik [Resnik, 2003] feared:

    > Since the PP is not a theory, hypothesis or methodological rule, I have reframed this question as asking whether the PP is a rational rule for making practical decisions. I have argued that the PP can be rational, provided that one adds the following qualifiers to the principle: (1) the threats addressed by the PP should be plausible and (2) the precautionary measures recommended by the PP should be reasonable. In this paper I argued that we can use epistemic criteria, such as coherence, analogy and explanatory power, to determine whether a threat is plausible, and that we can use practical considerations, such as effectiveness, proportionality, cost-effectiveness, realism and consistency, to determine whether a response to a threat is reasonable. If it is handled with discretion and care, the PP can be a sensible approach to making important decisions in the midst of scientific uncertainty. Without such clearly defined restraints on its use, the PP can become twisted into a highly politicized, paranoid and irrational rule.

    And so we must face the fact that no, we should not expect that what we formalize protect us from our own feeling of what is plausible and reasonable.  And so one of Jonathan Gilligan’s conclusion obtains.  And so we can observe the usual divide between commenters here.

    [Resnik, 2003]: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369848602000742#toc2

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @kdk33

    Let me ask again. Do you think that there are good physical reasons to believe that sea level rise in the future may accelerate in the future and that it may do so in a non-linear fashion? Further, if you accept that this is a possibility, do you accept that some people might want to take steps to avoid the risks that might arise from substantial, and relatively rapid sea level rise?

    On a side note, what portion of current sea level rise is ‘natural’ in your opinion? How do you distinguish ‘natural’ from ‘unnatural’?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Climate Change is everything but an academic question, with no incidence if we’re wrong.”
    “incidence”? In the usual application of the PP to CC, the cost if it turns out that there is no significant climate change is usually ignored, not mentioned, or assumed to be trivial in comparison – in much the same way that Pascal omitted to mention the costs of all the time wasted praying and studying the Bible. (Hardly “rien”.)
    “Let us weigh the gain and loss in wagering that God is. Consider these two cases: if you win you win everything, if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then it is without hesitation.”
    I don’t think agnosticism was forbidden, it was just counted as not believing. Do you wager or don’t you?

    A few, like Stern or Lomborg, do try to quantify costs (and usually don’t call it the PP). But for most users I’ve seen, the costs if CC is true are invariably catastrophic, and the costs if it is not are assumed to be a minor reduction in rampant consumerism and corporate profits, (which frankly most of the arguers seem to regard as a plus as well) that won’t cause any significant harm. Not all cases of its use are the same, though.
    Perhaps I ought to clarify/caveat that I’m talking about the most common usages. If I remember correctly, the original formulation of the PP was slightly different to how it is understood today, and it is no doubt possible to apply it sensibly.

  • Sashka

    Keith,

    I fundamentally disagree with Marlowe’s “suggestion”. Please have no doubt that I do have other choice words for this but few of them are printable. We are not skeptical about science. We disagree with their interpretation of what science is saying.

    I don’t see how the issue can be decided based on normative considerations. We all have different risk preferences. How do we reconcile?

    “How have you come to this conclusion, that we do not have enough information to make an adequate risk assessment? And what would it take for you to have the information you need to make that risk assessment?”

    I haven’t seen anything resembling adequate risk assessment therefore I am so bold to assume that it doesn’t exist. Surely if it existed the warmists would hang it over every door like they do with Knutti & Hegerl.

    A credible measure of risk would be an integral over the probability distribution of the economic damage. As I pointed out before, they cannot even define what they mean by probability, much less to calculate it (Jonathan does admit the latter).

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    #60,

    > Chess isn’t a zero-sum, symmetric game with perfect information either.

    I can’t imagine Chess otherwise.  We must not be playing the same game, then.

    > Nor is it about winning. You don’t play chess as an hobby to win games, and you don’t debate to win arguments. You debate to learn new ideas, new arguments, new perspectives, to try out ideas, to spread good arguments and kill off bad ones, to gain a deeper understanding, to make people think.

    I agree.

    ***

    #87,

    > If I remember correctly, the original formulation of the PP was slightly different to how it is understood today, and it is no doubt possible to apply it sensibly.

    The best formulation I saw was by Martin Peterson, a critic of the PP.  He still holds the precaution principle among his three fundamental principles of rational decision-making:

    > Precaution: If one act is more likely to give rise to a fatal outcome than another, then the latter should be preferred to the former, given that both fatal outcomes are equally undesirable.

    http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v8/n4/full/7400947.html

    Let’s not try to find similarities between that principle and Pascal’s Wager!

  • Jeff Norris

    @Jonathan
    I am still reading but would not the current situation here and abroad show that Kahn’s idea that Reciprocity Theory is more effective for collective action than Conventional Theory is not accurate. He does have several caveats that apply like Free Riders and Trust that Reciprocity must overcome but I think he gives too much weight to emotional/moral incentives when an action has time to be evaluated or opposed.
    I have come across some studies one by Metz I think that suggest that initial emotional/moral implications dissipate quickly over time and economic benefits are more easily realized.
    Putting this out to anybody what is the immediate societal reward for adaption or mitigation?  Please don’t  say because we will all die in 50 years because that dog ain’t hunting right now. 
     

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I can’t imagine Chess otherwise.  We must not be playing the same game, then.”
    Apparently not. It’s not zero sum because there’s the pleasure of playing, and a pleasure in elegance and interest that – for example – normally stops one player chasing a lone king around the board for 30 moves before it is finally pinned. It’s not symmetric because white moves first. And it’s not perfect information in the sense that part of the play is an understanding of the other player’s psychology and experience. Are they feeling impatient? Have they seen this trap before? What are their favourite openings? (And if you exclude psychology and knowledge from consideration, then blog debate gives perfect information about what each participant has said in the debate as well.)

    Martin Peterson’s version of PP looks much better to me, although I still don’t agree with it. I’ll look forward to everyone starting to use that one instead.

  • kdk33

    Marlowe,

    Good physical reasons for non-linear sea level rise??  I think climate is too complex for anybody to know.  If you tell me that there are palusible sounding hypothesis suggesting this is so, I’ll take your word for it, and if you want to expound on it, I’ll give an opinion (FWIW) on how plausible I find it. 

    But creating an hypothesis does not create risk.  The data simply does not suggest sea level rise is a problem – seas rose about 200mm last century, accepting a .01 acceleration they will rise 350 mm next century.  Big deal.  If you are arguing for a 3rd derivative response, then the lack of acceleration over the last 20 years of accurate satellite data argues against it being positive (>0) (and, if we’re honest, casts doubt on the .01 accelration, but that’s a slightly different argument).

    So, we have a poor understanding of a highly complex system.  We have hypothesis that bad things will happen, but they are questionable and the data simply doesn’t support them so far. 

    I’m willing to wait and see. 

  • RickA

    Jonathan Gilligan #74:

    You ask why the discussion keeps coming back to science, when you think the scientific uncertainty is irrelevant to politics and policy considerations.

    Here is my thought.

    Both sides are doing a cost benefit analysis and reaching opposite conclusions.

    Your side thinks the risks of rising sea level etc. outweighs the expensive of mitigation.

    The other side thinks the cost of mitigation outweighs the risk of rising sea level etc.

    The argument circles back to the science because the science actually plays into both the cost side of the analysis and the risk side of the analysis.

    You say the science is irrelevant because of the high uncertainty – but it is relevant to your assessment of high risk, and the other sides assessment of low risk.

    The other side uses the science to show that given the low risk of rising sea level (or whatever), the costs outweigh the benefits of mitigation.

    That is my analysis anyway.

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    @Rick A (#93): The problem I see with your analysis is that the fate of polar bears makes very little contribution to the expected cost of inaction. Similarly, while sea level rise is important, what I’m saying is not that the science is irrelevant to policy, but that the uncertainty about the sea level rise is so great that settling the specific question of whether there is a statistically significant acceleration in sea level rise over the past few decades will do roughly nothing to reduce the uncertainty about the cost of sea level rise, and therefore is irrelevant to the cost-benefit analysis or to policymaking.

    I agree that if we could reduce the uncertainties significantly, that would help clarify the policy choices. However, I doubt that the two sides can agree on a clear and objective statement of what would constitute a scientific criterion for deciding policy. And if they can’t agree on what would evidence would be sufficient to make the decision, then arguing about small details, such as whether there has been a statistically significant acceleration of sea level rise is pointless.

    Suppose there were such an acceleration. Then the do-nothing side could just say, “Well it’s not enough of an acceleration to justify action,” or “Maybe the acceleration is just a transient phenomenon and not part of a trend due to climate change” or any number of other things.

    @Jeff Norris (#90): Intergenerational equity is a tough one. Robert Heilbroner once wrote a nice essay on the subject called, “What has posterity ever done for me?” I’ve wrestled with it too and am not satisfied with my answer, but the best i could do was to look to religion as the one institution we have that’s really interested in the kinds of time spans we’re talking about.  Avner De-Shalit’s book, “Why Posterity Matters” looks at the importance people place on having descendents to carry their memory into the future and tell their story. Avishai Margalit raises similar questions in “The Ethics of Memory.”  So the best I can do at the immediate social reward for adaptation or mitigation is that we care about what our great-great-great grandchildren will think about us. We really want them to give us a small bit of immortality by carrying our memory forward through the generations. I address this in somewhat greater detail in “Ethics in Geologic Time” but as I said, I’m not satisfied with the answers I came up with there.

    @Nullius (#78) Your question about the long equilibration time of CO2 is answered in detail elsewhere. It’s not a good use of this space to rehash all that, so I’ll recommend that you go read David Archer, “The Global Carbon Cycle” (Princeton 2010). Chapter 4 answers your question very clearly. Books are really a better place than blogs to learn about basic science. At a more advanced level, Archer’s 2009 review of the atmospheric lifetime of CO2 is excellent and very clear at answering your question.

  • Jeff Norris


    Jonathan
    Thanks for the response and the deep metaphysical paper. Don’t know why exactly but St. Augustine came to mind.  Your solution seems to be in line with the movement in Europe for a Guardian or Ombudsperson for the future in the democratic process.  I can imagine all sorts of constitutional crisis that could result depending on the authority of such a position.  I am reluctant to say this and you said you are still dissatisfied, but your idea seems to suggest not only a new world wide religion but would also demand a world government with potentially very draconian power.  Have you looked into  Benefit-Sharing of some kind,  that surely would be more  attainable.

  • Tom Scharf

    @51 Nullius in Verba
    “That does bring up a genuine problem with the debate, that those experienced in it have memorised point and counter-point and counter-counter-point like chess grandmasters with their openings. Both sides know what’s coming next. But you have to go through it every time to get to the middle game, where the contest is more genuine.”….

    That is one of the most insightful comments I have read in a while.  Very well put.  I have commented before on other blogs that we could easily write each others posts to save ourselves some time, but your analogy seems more on point.
    I think there has been a beginnings of a shift to a middle ground, namely energy policy based on fossil feel independence.  This works better because it does not require “acceptance” of AGW as a precursor to a solution, with is politically unpalatable to many.

  • Tom Scharf

    SLR et. al.
    Always beware of a scientist taking a near linear trend with noise and projecting the most recent slight up-tick (or down-tick) into an exponential type change.  Although possible to do from a purely mathematical perspective, it seems to form the basis of a lot of incorrect predictions and derived hysteria.  A little too much Matlab worship is happening.  The proper response in most cases is to wait and what happens in the trend.

    @71 “The less reliable these models are, the greater the probability that climate change will be much worse than we think.”…

    …or much better…or much the same…or much anything.  The point is they currently provide very little useful information at all.  To say this somehow helps your side is invalid.  It helps the  “wait and see” crowd.  Over-amped fear of the unknown can be applied to almost any argument.

    @82 “The only remaining question for me is what the long term fallout for science’s reputation will be.”…

    This is what originally got me interested in this issue.  How deep does this rabbit hole go?  When you couple in all the “medical breakthroughs” you have heard about on CNN over the past 20 years that disappeared completely (only needs 5 more years to get to market…), you begin to question whether science deserves the sterling reputation it has (had?).
    Bad car analogies:

    While we are sharing these, I will throw in mine.  I find it quite curious that society totally accepts a system where we place random drivers in 2 ton vehicles and have them drive at each other at closing speeds of >100 mph and to pass within 10 feet of each other…millions of times a day.  The result is inevitable…and quite measurable with pretty high statistical certainty, ask the car insurance industry.  And prevention is a much more solvable problem.

    My judgment is the threat from death by automobile is much higher than death by climate (and shall remain so in the future), and society should adjust its resources accordingly with wider roads, lane separation, etc.

    This problem would likely get more attention if car fatalities occurred in large concentrated groups, such as 1,000 death mega-wrecks in random cities every week as the rates would suggest.  My only point is that there are very valid competing problems with AGW, and dismissing AGW as insignificant *** relatively *** is completely justifiable given the state of the science.

     

  • Lazar

    I’m not getting the analogy between anthropogenic climate change and Christian afterlife mythology.

    We know that the climate system exists.
    We know that the climate is our life support system.
    We know that GHG emissions have changed and will continue to change the climate system.
    We don’t have much idea of how those effects will impact human and other life.
    We don’t know if the afterlife exists.
    We don’t know which hypothesis about the afterlife is correct if any.
    We therefore have no guide to action wrt the afterlife.

  • Judith Curry

    This is a very interesting post with unusually good discussion.  I have just posted a related essay on Climate Etc entitled “Uncertainty, risk, and (in)action”  at http://judithcurry.com/2011/05/28/uncertainty-risk-and-inaction/

  • Nullius in Verba

    #94, (part 1)

    On the subject of sea level rise, the basic problem is to do with river delta cities/states. As you know, river deltas are very fertile, which means that historically they were popular places to settle, but at the same time they periodically flooded, both by the river that maintains them against erosion, and by the sea because the river flood only slows and deposits the silt when it gets to sea level.

    There are various options for what to do with them. One option is to continue to allow them to flood. The deposition of new silt will keep pace with the rising seas, as it has for the past century. Because this is quite inconvenient, a lot of places have built flood defences and drained the land. This introduces several new problems. The land sinks by compaction (and other effects), and without the continued influx from floods, soon drops below sea level. Your flood defences, built on the land, drop with it. Sea level rise therefore adds to an already existing problem.

    It’s an issue that we’re still working on. We have a variety of technological quick fixes, that can in principle be maintained indefinitely. We can certainly build and update defences faster than the land is sinking or the seas rising at the moment. A longer term solution will require new ideas and technologies.

    So how does projected sea level rise impact policy? Well, Al Gore said something about 7 metre rises in a context that implied it could happen within our lifetimes. (All those climate refugees…) A 7 metre rise by 2050 would either be beyond our capacity to cope or extremely expensive. There’s no doubt that if that was a serious possibility, policymakers would have to look very seriously at the question. However, looking at the IPCC report, we see only 20-60 cm being projected for 2100, and the currently observed rise is around 20-30 cm per century. From a policy point of view we’re only really interested out to 2050 – we can’t predict our technological capability beyond that horizon – so we’re probably only talking about 10-30 cm, which is comparable to our already existing problems and well within our current capacity.

    Thus, from a policy point of view sea level rise is not an issue, unless someone tells us that the rise is being seriously underestimated and Al Gore actually got it right.

    The question is not whether the rise is accelerating significantly, but whether it is accelerating significantly enough to pose a short-term engineering problem.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @kdk33
    I’m somewhat amazed that you haven’t been willing to mention the elephant in this particular room — ice sheets.  In a warming world these sheets will melt and they will contribute to sea level rise significantly. Now I would think that it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to imagine that as they melt they could break apart in a non-linear fashion and thus make non-linear contributions to sea level rise.  This is a common sense prediction based on known physical  properties of ice sheets. I get the sense that if I can’t tell you exactly in what decade or what temperature threshold will trigger these kinds of disintegrations then our knowledge is insufficient to include these sorts of factors in a risk assessment  (or drive policy change).  To me is the essence of denial when it comes to climate change.

    @Tom Scharf
    The short answer to your question is that the aggregate utility that people get from an automobile-highway-centric mobility system outweighs the obvious costs.

    wrt your last point, where would the ‘state’ of the science need to be for the dismissal of AGW to be unjustifiable?  To me this position is logically incoherent.

    @Lazar
    Pascal’s wager applies to the extent that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost action if we are wrong (i.e. climate change is real or eternal damnation in Pascal’s case) and far less consequential if we are right (energy independence, health benefits, but lower standard of living). The corresponding ‘loss’ in Pascal’s case is presumably a hedonistic lifestyle where one is free to be as selfish and wasteful as one wants.

    btw there is a special place in hell reserved for analogy nitpickers :P

    @jonathan
    Nice to see an academic openly admit some dissatisfaction with their work. One wonders what the blogosphere would look like if that sort of humility spread :)

  • Nullius in Verba

    #94, (part 2)

    Intergenerational equity is not as tough as one would suppose. The easiest way to think about it is to look at what our ancestors did for us. Look at how they lived, their poverty, their lack of technology, the difficulty they had creating resources and the resulting high prices. By developing the means to help themselves, they built a legacy of technology and capability that they handed down to us, making us vastly wealthier, healthier, safer, and more capable. They built the infrastructure on which our further developments were built. So that now the poorest household in our nations contain luxuries that no medieval prince could have dreamt of. We even have the resources spare to devote to cleaning up and protecting the environment.

    As we are to the people of 1900, so the people of 2120 will be to us. They will be richer than we are, live longer than us, and have a lot more resources. Because we will build them for them.

    What if the pioneers of the industrial revolution had said “if we use all the coal up, there will be none left for future generations. Let’s stick to subsistence farming instead.” Where would we be? Living like Medieval serfs, mostly, and no doubt very ungrateful. Is that any sort of inheritance to hand down to future generations?

    It’s a different point of view to the usual, and no doubt many here will disagree. But it is another way to look at intergenerational equity that ought to be taken into account in policy discussions.

  • Dean

    It’s true that countries with 10 trillion dollar economies will not restructure their economies to save the polar bear. They will not do it to save southern pacific countries of tens of thousands from slipping under the waves either, though they may relax immigration policies for them so they can move.

    But if per chance it was proven that AGW was going to cause the polar bear to go extinct soon (I recently read that polar and brown bears in the Arctic are starting to mate and the two species – separate for tens of thousands of years – may merge), is there a reasonable chance that such an impact would stand alone?

    The loss of the polar bear means the loss of Arctic sea ice, which plays an enormous role in global heat transfer, ocean currents, and on and on. As such, it is not the loss of a visibly cute animal, it is the _possible/likely_ (given the undertainties the post author has described) indicator of far larger changes.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “But if per chance it was proven that AGW was going to cause the polar bear to go extinct soon [...], is there a reasonable chance that such an impact would stand alone?”
    There is no shortage of catastrophe predictions. It has in the past been predicted that by the 1970s millions would starve to death, that all important animal life in the seas would be extinct, that the coastlines would have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish, that resources would run out before the mid 1980s, that the population would by then have reduced to 1.5 billion, that life expectancy in the US would fall to 42, and that by the end of the 20th century, the US population would have fallen to (an astonishingly precise) 22.6 million, and there’d be a 50% chance that our civilisation would no longer exist.
    Much of that was predicted to be certain. The only way to mitigate the impact was to introduce immediate draconian population control.

    It has already been predicted that by the mid-1990s global warming would lead to devastating droughts in the US (and elsewhere) that choked everything with vast dust storms and that in the following decades middle America would be abandoned to the desert dunes.
    The author expressed apparently confidence, saying it might be delayed by up to ten years if certain measures were taken. This was based on the best science available at the time, he said.

    So what would happen and what we would hypothetically do if it was proved that the polar bears were dying out and Ted Turner’s cannibals were on the way is not really the issue. Assume for the moment, rightly or wrongly, that you haven’t persuaded us. The problem is how should we factor these predictions into policy if we don’t believe you? Is the sheer magnitude of the catastrophe sufficient to outweigh the low probability we assign to you being right? Or is it that we only don’t believe you because we don’t like the draconian measures being proposed to prevent it, and the solution is therefore to offer some other more acceptable methods, or a veto, persuade us that you’re right, and only then perhaps move on to real solutions?

    The argument in this post is that ramping up the catastrophe and the expressions of certainty from authority figures hasn’t worked, and therefore other methods need to be tried. The one proposed here is to find out why climate sceptics object, and then to propose options that don’t trigger those ideological hot buttons and leave us feeling in control, not as if the solution was being rammed down our throats. It is noted that it worked for nuclear waste disposal. It’s a reasonable proposal, on the assumption that the real reason sceptics disagree is purely ideological and consequentialist rather than scientific. Speaking as a sceptic, I don’t think that assumption is valid, but it’s an interesting question to ask anyway.

    So the question is, what can you do to find out why sceptics object, and what can you offer that doesn’t raise their hackles? The scientific question of predicted consequences is moot for the moment.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “They will be richer than we are, live longer than us, and have a lot more resources. Because we will build them for them.”

    A

  • Tom Fuller

    If I could amplify on Nullius in Verbia’s comment at 104, those seeking to re-establish dialogue with opponents could quite easily avoid the principal mistake made by their predecessors in the public debate, which was lumping all those who disagreed with various (but differing) aspects of the consensus storyline into one unleavened mass.

    It was not so long ago that Pielke(s) = Lomborg = Singer = Curry = Monckton = Morano = Lindzen, ad tedium. This is plainly absurd and was suited only to the shock and awe approach taken by those seeking to rush policy solutions into force.

    Those wishing to advance the discussion in 2011 would be advised to do a bit better.

  • Dean

    @104

    “So the question is, what can you do to find out why sceptics object, and what can you offer that doesn’t raise their hackles? The scientific question of predicted consequences is moot for the moment.”

    If somebody made a “confident” prediction of some calamity occurring in the 1990′s, you can be skeptical _of that_.

    The subject of this thread is how we respond to uncertainty. But the quoted text above does not respond to what I asked. Sashka had said quite reasonably that the US will not restructure it’s economy to save a specific animal if that is what it will take. I added that we will not do so for small countries either (leaving aside whether or not we should).

    My question is: is it really reasonable to think that the polar bear could go extinct from AGW (and I’m not assuming it will) with no other significant impacts? With the given uncertainty, isn’t it a fair response to be concerned that such an event is an indicator and not an isolated impact, given that we know that if it happens, it is because of a significant loss of Arctic sea ice?

    I would add that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if historians look back in 1000 years and decide that some of the most serious impacts are ones that in 2010 were not seriously considered. That’s how uncertainty works. But given what we do know (Gilligan’s comment that we are not at all completely ignorant), it stretches credulity to bet on there being no impacts of significance. (and a bet it is)

    That still leaves deciding what policy is worthwhile, but not not whether any is called for now. But it seems that for many respondents here, such a debate should wait for less uncertainty, and that to me is the core of the real debate. Are we at a point where a debate on policy to do something nontrivial is called for? Or should we just wait for more research and more certainty?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “My question is: is it really reasonable to think that the polar bear could go extinct from AGW (and I’m not assuming it will) with no other significant impacts?”
    To answer the question – no, obviously it isn’t.
    Just as when someone predicted in the 1960s that all the fish in the sea would die, it’s not reasonable to think that would have been the only impact.
    At the time, it was obviously uncertain. At the time they faced the same sort of question that we do now. What is the right policy for such circumstances? It may be argued that it is unfair for me to pick an example where with hindsight we know the prediction was wrong. But I would argue that whatever policy we pick needs to be realistically applicable to the situation then too. A prediction was made, many believed it, but little was done in response. As it turned out we were lucky and the predictions were wrong, but if they had been right it would have been an epic disaster.

    What should the doom-predictors have done? (Or do, since many still believe.) How might they have persuaded the world to take action? And what should the world have done to steer the right course between possible environmental apocalypse and proposals for an extremely unpopular and damaging policy? Bearing in mind that you might be disastrously wrong, either way?

    It seems at first like one of those ridiculously artificial moral dilemmas sometimes posed for debate, but it is a practical question too. And considering this past example may be useful to you for another reason in that many sceptics quite explicitly think exactly the same thing is happening again. So arguments that work for the past might stand a chance today.

    I gave my answer above – universal prosperity by the fastest means is our best defence against whatever may come – but others may have other suggestions.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    gah…stupid laptop keyboards..

    Nullis, the assumptions that are inherent to that point of view (some might call it a prediction) in many ways cuts to the heart of the debate that was popularized by Simon and Erlich…
     

  • Dean

    A couple things regarding “all the fish in the sea would die”. If they did, the direct consequences would be a calamity since many people’s and other animal’s sustenance depends on them. The direct effects of no polar bears on humans would be far, far less, and the only direct impact might be an increase in seal population.

    Also, I don’t agree that nothing was done about it. Many countries have policies to prevent over-fishing. Whether or not it was in response to claims that all fish would be gone or not, there has been a policy to preserve fish populations. It’s not a complete success, but it has been successful in some regions. So there is a policy in response to threats to fish population declines.

  • kdk33

    “I get the sense that if I can’t tell you exactly in what decade or what temperature threshold will trigger these kinds of disintegrations then our knowledge is insufficient to include these sorts of factors in a risk assessment  (or drive policy change).  To me is the essence of denial when it comes to climate change”

    Nice, Marlowe.  Now you are putting words in my mouth.  And responding.  To the words you put in my mouth.  Bizarre. 

    Anyway, regarding elephants.  AFAIAC, the elephant in the room is that SLR data shows nothing to be concerned about.  I think the possiblity of a continental ice sheet break up anytime in the next 100 years is so remote that it isn’t worth worrying about.

    Perhaps you can change my mind.  Please point me to the ice melt data that suggest an ice sheet break up in the next century.  (BTW, wasn’t this Al Gore’s story in AICT?)

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    #91,

    > It’s not zero sum because there’s the pleasure of playing, and a pleasure in elegance and interest that ““ for example ““ normally stops one player chasing a lone king around the board for 30 moves before it is finally pinned. It’s not symmetric because white moves first. And it’s not perfect information in the sense that part of the play is an understanding of the other player’s psychology and experience. Are they feeling impatient? Have they seen this trap before? What are their favourite openings?

    In chess, a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant.  So if you take the sum of what you gain and substract it from what the opponent gains, you obtain zero.  Chess is in that sense zero-sum.  (Salov once argued that it was negative: there is more to lose than to gain.)

    Chess is symmetric in the sense that the payoffs for the strategies depend only on the other strategies employed; in the sense that each sides has the same number of pieces; and in the sense that the strategies are reversible.

    Chess is a game of perfect information because you and your opponent share the same common knowlege about the game structure: you both see the same board and know the same game history, i.e. the sequence of moves previously played.

    > [I]f you exclude psychology and knowledge from consideration, then blog debate gives perfect information about what each participant has said in the debate as well.

    That argument entails we can determine when a debate starts, who the players are, what are the strategies, the payoffs, the rules, etc.  These are not trivialities for the analogy to hold.

    There is no intent to exclude psychology and knowledge from consideration.  The only intent is to provide some room for a more complicated game than chess as a model for debates.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #112,
    Hmm. Perhaps it’s not that we’re playing different versions of chess, but that we have different definitions of symmetric, zero-sum, etc.

    Chess is certainly a narrower game than debate. The rules are fewer and better defined. A narrower range of background knowledge is applicable. I wouldn’t claim any exact analogy.

    The analogy was primarily with the opening book. There are other parallels, as there are with any game, but I wouldn’t push the analogy too far.

  • Gaythia

    Deliberating potential futures of the planet is ideally not supposed to be like a game of chess.  Starting with the fact that it is not a game.  But I would agree that politics frequently works in ways that make chess seem like a useful analogy.   As examples, I would cite the economic forces of political influence that seem to be holding in check key Republican potential Presidential candidates (Pawlenty, Huntsman, Gingrich and Romney) with regards to previous statements expressing agreement with global warming and in some cases, even support of cap and trade.   See for example: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_18162932

    Returning to the analogy between the Yucca Mountain debate and that on global warming that is the theme of this post, I think that a substantial portion of Nevada politics is driven by a “not going to be kicked around anymore” psychological attitude, which is substantially different than an actual risk calculation.  Yucca Mountain can be opposed despite (or maybe even because of) Nevada’s role in such also potentially hazardous installations as the Nevada test site, as well as other forms of hazards, such as a significant industry based on cyanide heap leaching of gold.   In terms of threats to ways of life that could make significant areas of Nevada uninhabitable, Los Vegas’ buyout of rancher water rights is also quite significant.   Yucca Mountain is an action yet to be taken, as opposed to ones in the past, ones that are kept more or less out of sight and out of mind, or ones that are already tied closely enough to ones economic survival that, at some deeper psychological level, it seems best not to think about in depth.  This could be mining, it could be military, or it could be casino tourism, somehow dependent on irrigated golf courses and large pools and fountains.  This in an area that gets 4 inches or so of rain a year, and has huge evapotranspiration rates.

    In the day and half or so that I have been absent from this conversation, do those of you participating feel you have gotten any closer to Marlowe’s statement @10: ” However, I again fail to see how this insight translates into more effective or representative choices at the policy level when it comes to climate change”  ?
    How do we get humans to analyze long term sustainability?
    How do we move beyond chess?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @kdk33

    Me:
    “I get the sense that if I can’t tell you exactly in what decade or what temperature threshold will trigger these kinds of disintegrations then our knowledge is insufficient to include these sorts of factors in a risk assessment  (or drive policy change).”

    You:
    ” Please point me to the ice melt data that suggest an ice sheet break up in the next century.”

    Thanks for proving my point.

  • Jeff Norris

    @Gaythia (114)

    My immediate answer is humans have and they have decided the potential risks are not worth the potential rewards.  I  think using the retirement planning  strategy of “The Greatest Generation”  vs. “Baby Boomers”  could be useful in why we are at a cross roads and what is probably needed to come to a solution.
    Most TGG’s planned and saved for retirement at age 60 but in reality some continued to work.  Most BB’s fully expect to retire before 60 and yet make no significant plan to be able to sustain that retirement despite the fact their life expectancy is 33% longer.  TGG’s   practiced frugality and even continued to pinch pennies throughout their retirement. In contrasts Boomers want to travel, vacation homes, new cars, dining out right now and expect to continue this into their retirement without doing any saving or even any planning.  Boomers exchanged a stable income, pensions, and the live within your means philosophy for higher salaries, freedom to change employers, and immediate satisfaction.

    So how do you change that?  Well having experts and the government constantly tell the public to save did not make a real difference.  Essentially I believe there are two options.  Either you have to give us boomers, Generation X & Y some sort of tangible reward for sustainability or some sort of global energy disaster with lasting effects that forces us to change our hedonistic ways.   

    For the sake of argument how big were the incentives for Yucca Mtn to the residence of South Nevada?  My understanding that it was about 2% of gaming and general tourist revenue.  Imagine if the pot had been significantly sweetened perhaps not only with money but with more or exclusive water rights.   I will avoid putting on a tinfoil hat needed to give an immediate or near term disaster or policy scenario that could have changed public opinion.   Please note I am not disparaging AGW as lunacy.    

  • Gaythia

    @Jeff @116,
    I disagree with your characterization of retirement strategies and other stereotypes.

    One could note that not only did TGG frequently internalize the lessons of the Great Depression on a personal level, but also applied them to government as well.  This government (FDR) attempted to control the robber barons.  War (WWII) was partially funded by an increase in income taxes, price and wage controls, rationing,and with some minor contribution by imploring the public to buy bonds.  Later governmental programs distributed educational opportunities (GI Bill), housing (VA loans) funded scientific research (NASA, NSF) and  more equitably distributed societies wealth (Great Society) and attempts were made to alleviate discrimination (MLK).  The expanding population beneath the TGG’ers sometimes made work promotions more likely.  Health care was covered by full insurance and so serious illness generally did not throw them into bankruptcy.  Most TGG’s saved, but also retired with full pensions in addition to Social Security and Medicare coverage.  . Houses, purchased inexpensively, and with the low interest rate VA loans, were sold at great increase in property value and thus provided a substantial portion of the “nest egg”.

    The unraveling of the above started with Regan and continues today.  Wars have been run “off the books”.   Banksters have thrown housing and the financial markets into chaos.  A very large wealth transfer has occurred so that now the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000 (this particular statistic I lifted from Wikipedia).

    Most BB’s and younger do not have pensions and the politics of resentment threaten to eliminate those remaining in the public sector as well.  Businesses find it convenient to employ workers part time or intermittently, or transfer jobs overseas.  Periods of unemployment have increased.  Real income for most workers has dropped.  I do not believe that we should blame the victims for lack of savings.

    Your stereotypes don’t always hold, and could be presented differently.  You could look at TTG’s as the ones who are driving around in large gas guzzling RV’s with bumper stickers stating that they are spending their children’s inheritance.  The Social Security/Medicare plan proposed by Paul Ryan’s budget could be seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between  “we got ours” TTG’s and older BB’s against all of those younger than 55.

    Conversely, Generation X and Y could be presented as the hardest working of all.  They could be seen as the super inventive and creative ones who have worked very diligently to make lives for themselves  and in the process of looking in new places, have given birth to entirely new, sometimes internet based, industries.

    (On water rights, one could note that the Colorado River is, on a historical basis, already oversubscribed).

    I would prefer to de-emphasize the stereotypes and instead look at how we can all work together to use earth’s resources more equitably and sustainably.

  • Jeff Norris

    Gaythia

    I think I could be accused of overgeneralizations but the connotation associated with stereotype seems a little harsh.
    With the exception of Healthcare all those benefits you list have been available to subsequent generations and even amplified.  Have not boomers and others benefit by the continued expansion of Medicare, social security and other social programs.  If you want to complain that they have not kept up with population growth I would counter that they cover a large percentage now than they did when they were first in acted.  Not by events mind you but by design. Essentially we (the voters) wanted more benefits but were not willing to pay for them.
    I think if you take an objective look around you will find plenty of studies that suggest that BB’s (like me) and following generations have suffered from a lack of long term planning, excessive risk and massive wasteful consumerism.

    Most Americans are not saving enough for retirement. As recently as 2004, more than half of all U.S. households had zero savings in an employer-based 401(k)-type plan or tax-preferred savings plan account””and the median savings for those who did hold such accounts was only $34,000.
    Pew the Retirement Security Project

    My Father worked is ass off and never enjoyed his retirement before his death.  Why shouldn’t my mother travel the world, and she does, spending my inheritance.   They were supposed to do it together.
    The jury on Gen X and Y is still out but are they saving more for retirement than boomers or are they spending money as fast as they can get it on every new phone or electronic device that is produced?   They like my generation are always living in the moment and not spending enough time thinking about tomorrow.
     If you want to look at how we can all work together to use earth’s resources more equitably and sustainably you can’t do it in a vacuum.
     


    Adopting the stance that best expresses their cultural values, citizens invariably conclude that activities that affirm their preferred way of life are both beneficial and safe, and those that denigrate it are both worthless and dangerous. “
    Douglas A. Kysar

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Re: #113

    > The analogy was primarily with the opening book. There are other parallels, as there are with any game, but I wouldn’t push the analogy too far.

    Indeed.  And I repeat that I like it, as it reminds me of correspondence chess.  This is a chess variant that is played by correspondence.  Once, it was snail mail.  Not, it’s played over the Internet.  There are very strong amateurs in this variant.

    Books are allowed.  So it’s easy to follow what chessplayers strangely call “chess theory”.  For the endgame, this expression makes sense: all the positions with 5 men (and most of positions with 6) are solved.  Openings are far from being solved, albeit there are many, many, many moves we know are wrong.

    Computers are also allowed.  Considering that chess engines are quite powerful, this provides a very big boost.  Ironically, only by playing by correspondence can we see that the human mind still has its assets.

    The analogy between playing correspondence chess and debating on climate blogs should be quite obvious.

    ***

    But there is more to it.  An example comes from the difference between the many levels of play, whether it’s a game between Supergrandmasters, Grandmasters, Masters, Experts, way down to Patzers.

    When one plays by correspondance, about everyone follow theory, at least up to a point.  But the “repertoire” (i.e. the set of openings of a player) flavor changes a lot.  The stronger the player is, the sharpest, solid, up-to-date, and personalized the repertoire is.  The Supergrandmasters bread and butter consists in developing cutting edge openings on a working day basis.

    More humble players do not have the resources for that kind of workload.  So they have few choices.  They buy books and follow the lines that attract them.  They build a tight repertoire with less recommended choices but that they know very well. They try to avoid any theorical debate and improvize their way out of the openings.

    Interestingly, the latter players are the easiest preys for the stronger players…  Let’s wonder why.

    ***

    I could go on and on stretching the analogy.  Perhaps I’ll close with my experience of the hierarchy of chess players.  Really good chess players will always consider the suggestions of patzers.  Only the prima donnas and the meek will frown upon suggestions without looking at them.  Good chess players like to look at an idea they did not have, even if it turns out to be crap.

    This point should be conceded: the dismissiveness of the establishment, however justified, will always look and feel bad.

    On the other hand, as soon as the crap gets into an opening book, the strongest players stop caring much: once they realize that the suggestions of a given amateur are known to be dubious, they will stop listening.  Chess players can be quite rough on one another, not unlike scientists.

    Ther reason is that they are interest-oriented.  An idea that might get them some short nights thrill them.  But if they know they have virtually no chance to play something, they could not care less.  (As always, there are exceptions, e.g. Kasparov’s Caro-Kann blunder vs Deep Blue.)

    This other point should also be conceded: the best in a field do not spend time dissing weaker ones.  That is why there exist opening books.  And so another conclusion of Jonathan Gilligan (#94) obtains:

    > Books are really a better place than blogs to learn about basic science.

    ***

    The analogy also reminds me of this:

    http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/post/5986919630

    Perhaps a card game would be a nice extension.  I already have a name for the game.  It would be called RHETORICS (TM).

  • kdk33

    Marlowe,

    I take it then that such data simply does not exist.

    Sad. 

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com Bart Verheggen

    Sashka (54),

    Yes.

    Because if climate depends on the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation, then it’s at least partly deterministic.

  • Gaythia

    @118  I don’t think any stereotype could be linked with “always”.  One of the things that can sometimes be said about results like: “worked is ass off and never enjoyed his retirement before his death” ties into previous comments on this thread.
    Standard of living, and material abundance, are not necessarily the same thing as quality of life.  Thus, while it may have seemed to previous generations that working long hours, purchasing large homes in sprawling suburbs and owning a fleet of cars was the route to happiness, independence and freedom of action, subsequent generations may note that this led to a high stress existence and spending much of one’s time stuck in traffic jams.
    Thus, changes made to reduce CO2 output and attempt to limit climate change might entail using less of Earth’s resources (for those in developed nations) but do not necessarily have to be unpleasant ones.  Resources can be used wisely in ways that lead to lessening of a variety of forms of excess.
    @119  I think that there are analogies that can be made between chess and what David Ropeik describes as “The Argument” which frequently is how climate change is debated on blogs.  However, I agree with Ropeik that this is not a good way to proceed and that the conversation, needs to be structured as more of a deliberation.  Books are good.  But I would not rule out online resources.

  • http://www.veteransfreedomfarm.org steven mosher

    Nuillus and willard.
    When you guys are done discussing whether debate is or is not a chess game, just let me know if it will be an allowable move to say:
    GHGs warm the planet and hiding the decline was wrong.

    Have either of you ever played 3 man chess?
     

  • Stu

    Jeff N says-

    “They like my generation are always living in the moment and not spending enough time thinking about tomorrow.”

    Recent generations have been bombarded with all manner of apocalyptic future scenarios- is it really any wonder we look to the moment when all the future holds is a nuclear catastrophe, or the seas evaporating into space? …

    “THE world’s greenhouse gas emissions accelerated to unprecedented levels last year, putting hopes of limiting warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to estimates from the International Energy Agency.”

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/emissions-surge-to-record-level-20110530-1fctm.html

  • Gaythia

    I think that Stu brings up an interesting point.  Visions of a high risk catastrophe in the future do not necessarily bring out action, and can in fact inhibit it.
    Further up the thread, Jonathan Gilligan @94 mentions religion ” as the one institution we have that’s really interested in the kinds of time spans we’re talking about” .  But in this country, religion frequently carries a belief in Armageddon.   Even if climate change is accepted, if it becomes another “sign” of the end of days, it becomes something humans shouldn’t mess with (even though such things as burning fossil fuels for example is already messing with it).
    I like Jonathan Gilligan’s work (as found on his website) on household actions that serve as  “behavioral wedges”, which I see as convincing people that small steps lead to larger steps and that their actions really do matter.

  • Jeff Norris

    Gaythia (122)

    You are correct I should not have used the word always.  Let me rephrase They like my generation are currently living in the moment and not spending enough time thinking about tomorrow.  With that done it does not change my argument that Either you have to give us boomers, Generation X & Y some sort of tangible reward for sustainability or some sort of global energy disaster with lasting effects that forces us to change our hedonistic ways. 
    My impression is that you reject my solutions not because they won’t work but because they are unpleasant.  You reject giving people a tangible reward for change and or punishing them for not changing.  Please do not take this to literally or that I endorse animal cruelty.  Rats don’t run the maze because they want to.
     

  • Gaythia

    Me @117 “I would prefer to de-emphasize the stereotypes and instead look at how we can all work together to use earth’s resources more equitably and sustainably.”

  • Jeff Norris

    Gaythia
    I just read Energy and Climate Change: Key Lessons for Implementing the Behavioral Wedge that Mr. Gilligan helped produce. It clearly suggests that a combination of Rewards (financial, social), Punishments (framed with Euphemisms), Regulation and Education would be successful and I agree.  I also think that his 10 principles rely heavily on various rewards and punishments more than education or technology.  
    Gaythia I prefer women not be beaten for driving alone, children not be killed by aggressive pets, deputies not be assassinated and protestors not be brutalized by police but that will not occur without strong actions supported by the populace;  righteous desire is not enough.
     

  • Sashka

    Bart,
    Could you provide a definition of “partly deterministic”. This one is new on me.
    I’d be much obliged.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    #123: An illustration on the cover of a WMO report (not a formal graphic as part of a peer reviewed report) showed marginally poor judgment.

    On the other hand, stealing emails meant as private was criminal unless justified by revelation of a larger crime, which has in no way occurred. Using those emails to tar the reputations of individual scientists is worse. Using those calumnies to tar the reputation of an entire field, which would never have occurred in the absence of a political controversy, is an epic and contemptible act of malice. Using that to derail progress on urgently needed policy decisions is bizarre and terrifying.

    It’s like you are asking me to affirm that Stalin murdered millions of his own citizens and terrorized the rest AND Churchill occasionally drank too much.

    Seriously, Mosher. Give it a rest. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Those assertions are not comfortable in the same sentence.
     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    #129, Consider the analogy of some goldfish in a fish tank on a table.

    The unforced behavior is chaotic in that I cannot predict the position of the fish more than a few seconds into the future except as a probability distribution.

    However, if I lean on the tank so that it starts to tip off its support I can still predict that the fish will soon be closer to the floor than they were.
     

  • Sashka

    @ 131

    Thank you but I asked for a definition not for another unhelpful analogy. I understand that I am talking to two scientists. I really expect that you guys should be able to at least define what you are talking about.

  • http://www.veteransfreedomfarm.org steven mosher

    #130.
    Sorry MT, I should have been clearer. I’m talking about Hiding the decline in the context of Ar4 ch 06. Where a reviewer asked that the decline be shown and explained. instead, the decline was hidden and explained.
    So, what you are saying is that “AGW is correct and hiding the decline in chapter 6 of Ar4 was poor judgement’  is not allowed in our new conversation.
    In short, as long as we do not  criticize scientists for failure to use best practices we are welcomed to discuss things.  That hardly seems civilized. Its much more rational to say, ‘yes, that chart was poorly done, lets fix it and move on.”
    I have a question for you : what if Al gore made another movie and passed on that poor chart into the broader media. That is, what if that chart were plastered all over billboards without the caveats in the text or the footnotes explaining all the back story. Would you support that chart ( which exhibits poor judgement) as a broader communication device?
    Try to answer that question. yes or no. Would you support that chart being used in a mass market communication sort of way?



     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Mosher, I don’t think it (or the other debatable decisions revealed in the emails) are even in the worst case remotely comparable to the damage that has been done by irresponsible people wielding those emails as a weapon to derail human civilization.

    Given those circumstances, there is little point in dwelling on the things the victims of the hacking might have done somewhat differently in retrospect, except in adding to the damage.

    If your hypotheticals happen, we can deal with them then. Meanwhile you are comparing apples and carpet bombing. I never appreciated it and I still don’t.
     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Sashka, it’s not an analogy. It’s a simple, realizable, intuitively accessible and mundane system which shows the same behavior.

    How you choose to reduce that to a mathematical model is up to you. Science is only secondarily about mathematical models. It is primarily about reality.

    The climate problem is ill-posed in a mathematical sense. For instance we treat it as ergodic when it really, in the final analysis, isn’t. There is no hard separation of the time scales of the system from time scales where the evolution of the sun is important. There may be no strict mathematical sense to the concept “almost ergodic” or “kind of ergodic”. If there is one, it is not common knowledge to climate scientists.

    Clearly, this doesn’t mean there is no such thing as climate or no such thing as a scientific approach to climate.

    Similarly, there may be no strict separation between the forced and the free response of the system. But once you force it hard enough, that distinction becomes academic in the pejorative sense, and there are scales on which the unconstrained internal variability is swamped by the forcing and may be neglected.

    If you propose otherwise, explain to me why I can confidently predict how hard to push to tip over a fishtank even if I don’t know which way the fish are swimming.

    The argument I hear from mathematical dynamicists boils down to “you can’t seriously think you are tipping over the fishtank because you admit you can’t even predict the fish”. It makes no more sense than that if I understand it correctly, but dressed in high dudgeon and mathematical jargon it looks impressive to casual onlookers.
     

  • Sashka

    Michael, I really have no interest in that fish tank b/c it has no relation to climate in any sense. If you think you have defined the “partly deterministic” for the fish tank then, whatever, but you still need to explain what it means for a general dynamic system, particularly climate. Your fish tank analogy, pardon me – definition, doesn’t help one bit.

    Whatever happens on the time scales comparable to those of sun evolution is not of practical interest. Do we know that climate is (not) chaotic on the time scales of 100 and 1000 years? I don’t think so but please feel free to correct me. If we don’t then I don’t know how we can talk about probabilities. If science failed to develop even proper definitions to help frame the discussion then it’s not the reason (to me at least) to skip forward to “conclusions”.

    “But once you force it hard enough, that distinction becomes academic in the pejorative sense, and there are scales on which the unconstrained internal variability is swamped by the forcing and may be neglected.”

    I agree but I think this point is academic in the pejorative sense because you need to show how much forcing you need for it become applicable.

  • http://www.veteransfreedomfarm.org steven mosher

    MT.
    Can you answer a simple question. What is wrong with saying that the mails dont reveal any fraud or wrong science, but they do reveal some institutional behavior that we need to fix.
    Can a climate scientist make an honest mistake? can we point it out and move on.
    You’ll say that people blow these mistakes out of proportion and the planet is at risk.
    And please, you answer hypotheticals all the time


     

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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