Category Archives: Climate Change

Debate Over?

Proponents of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming aka human caused climate change) are getting a bit nervous. A number of recent polls suggest they are beginning to lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the public. Granted, still about half of Americans believe in AGW, but that number is declining. So how do the champions of climate change choose to turn this tide? By engaging in a positive information campaign? By answering the questions of their critic’s head on in a forthright, open, and honest manner? No. Rather than shine a light they hand out blinders. More and more of them outright refuse to engage in any kind of debate (e.g. Gavin Schmidt refused to even sit at a table on air with a slightly skeptical fellow climatologist on The Stossel Show). And it’s not just scientists playing this game; the state apologist media eagerly snuffs out any hint of dissent. The Los Angeles Times refuses to publish letters to the editor that hold a skeptical position on AGW. The BBC refuses to air debates on the topic. Michael Mann (of “ClimateGate” fame) attempts to suppress those that would question his scientific conclusions regarding climate change by seeking the protection of the state. To wit, he convinced a judge that it is a violation of his rights for such skeptics to “question his intellect and reasoning.”

But it is the latest tactic that is the most frightening. Some have proposed to throw into the state’s dungeons those that have the audacity to publicly not conform to the officially sanctioned viewpoint on AGW (see here and here . Yes, you read that correctly: many now desire to make it illegal to publicly question AGW. Well I suppose that is one approach to winning an argument: gag your critics. Even the most contentious science-centered public debate of the 20th century, evolution vs creationism, never drew calls from either side to criminalize the opposing view. What are those pushing the AGW agenda so afraid of? If the science is so overwhelmingly on their side they should be able to wipe the floor with the skeptics. And by skeptics I mean genuine science-based skepticism, not conspiracy theorists. There are actual legitimate scientific questions concerning the magnitude, rate and quality of expected changes as well as the extent to which human activity has contributed to those changes.

Climate change will be to the 21st century what Keynesian economics was to the 20th century: a “science” backed justification to expand the power of the state.

They claim the science is settled and thus debate would be pointless, however their behavior reveals this to be a spurious excuse. They scorn not solely skeptics but likewise those in 100% agreement with their scientific conclusions – when, that is, such individuals (i.e. Bjorn Lomborg ) have the temerity to question the conventional wisdom of proposed ameliorative solutions. It’s not about the science; it’s about what many want to do in the name of science. Climate change will be to the 21st century what Keynesian economics was to the 20th century: a “science” backed justification to expand the power of the state. If those in power can slap the science label on their political ideology in order to shut down all debate, then even the fantasy that democracy can solve all problems will not long endure. No vote necessary dear citizen, science says we’re right.

“The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science.” (Carl Sagan, Cosmos, pg 91).

Science is supposed to be a process of uncovering truths about the natural world. It is always open to the possibility of revision in light of new information or insights. To suppress new information or insights is to short circuit any hope of moving closer to the truth. Maybe the skeptics are wrong, maybe they are right, but simply telling them to “shut up” is not how science works. Science should never be rejected – but scientists, whose behavior runs counter to the scientific method, should be rebuked. Although Carl Sagan was one of the earliest proponents of the dangers of climate change, he, as a scientist, would be aghast at the current state of debate on the subject: “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science.” (Carl Sagan, Cosmos, pg 91).

 

Energy Independence (Autarky) Makes Us All Poor

If you enjoy the soft warm glow of an incandescent light bulb then you might want to head over to your local hardware store and stock up. As of January 1, the manufacture or importation of 40- and 60- watt light bulbs has been outlawed (100-watt bulbs were banned in 2012 and 75-watt in 2013).  This ban was mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 – a monstrosity of a bill passed with bipartisan and industry support and signed into law by a Republican president (so much for the “Republicans are for small government” myth). It is, like all such bills, predicated on irrational fears and willful ignorance of human nature. The very title betrays adherence to an economically self-destructive goal: market independence. Such independence not only makes us poorer (paying more for less) it actually encourages belligerent behavior. Withdrawing ourselves as a country from the global market (becoming “market isolationists”) by striving for independence or erecting trade barriers makes us more, not less, likely to go to war. Equating energy independence with security is 21st century doublespeak that permits the political class to con the country into following their lead. A country that depends on acquiring its goods through a global network of trade is unlikely to foul that network by killing its participants. But a country that is “independent” has free reign to attack its neighbors if it in fact relies on those neighbors for nothing.

If market independence enhanced one’s security then the state should hold the hermit in highest regard. The hermit produces all for himself and thus relies on no one. But such independence has a cost. It is not money that enhances our standard of living; it is other humans interacting freely with one another. Money is merely a ledger entry, simple bookkeeping to measure the balance of subjective value between such voluntary exchanges if we so choose (e.g. friendship is valuable, but we don’t track that valuable exchange in terms of money). If human interactions add value to our lives, then it follows that limiting those interactions will suppress such value. Government intervention in the market arbitrarily limits these potential interactions by limiting choice. Selecting only from the approved options is no choice at all. So, if government intervention always limits choice, it follows that this will always leaves us all with less value in our lives – even those that appear to benefit from such interventions are harmed, for they too exist in a world with fewer goods because of their legally permitted decreased output.

Now one might have imagined that this “bulb ban” was vociferously objected to by the evil bulb manufacturers (who just wanted to keep foisting cheap bulbs on America in order to preserve their profits at the expense of our “energy independence”). The exact opposite was the case. Industry had been trying for years to entice consumers into switching to the higher margin CFL bulbs with promises of bulb longevity (that never materialized in practice) to offset the exorbitantly higher cost (20-fold in some cases). Once industry realized they could get government to do what the free-market would not (compel consumers to buy their product by leaving them no other choice), they quickly formed a coalition with environmental groups and pushed for crony-capitalist legislation under the cloak of eco-friendliness.

What are the results so far? The consumer has less money, the bulb manufactures have more, and the public, having been sold on the idea of greater bulb efficiency, now leave their bulbs on longer, thus entirely negating one of the primary goals of the bill. That greater efficiency would lead to greater usage should have been easily predicted by anyone who has observed the human penchant to double up on a low calorie meal. Try as they might, Congress cannot legislate away human nature.

Popular science?

If you were ever looking for proof that climate science is based more on consensus than actual experimentation, you need look no further than the IPCC’s recent “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis” report in which the report’s “Summary for Policymakers” states it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Really? Extremely likely? You sure that isn’t just “very likely”? Is climate science based on nothing more than subjective opinions of probability?  There is no possible way to isolate this one variable (human actions) from the ocean of factors that may influence global temperatures and state with near absolutely certainty that this one variable is not just a cause, but the dominant cause. Unless of course they have a time machine stashed away we don’t know about in which to explore the outcome of alternate timelines. Popular opinion is an illegitimate means to finding truth. The pronouncements of scientists are not endowed with scientific certainty by virtue of them having been made by a scientist. Truth is determined by the evidence, not by the credentials of the messenger. The scientific method (observation, hypothesis, confirmation, prediction) is the only objective means we have to uncovering truth about the physical world. We must understand what science is and is not in order to recognize those who would claim to stand for science but in fact have adulterated the method in order to serve their own interests. Oh, and for those wondering where I get off discussing the scientific method, I have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry – so I know a little something about the scientific method.

 Popular opinion is an illegitimate means to finding truth.

 

It is one thing to make observations and conclude the earth is warming, however it is quite another to leap from that observation and conclude there is one and only one possible cause. It is the height of cognitive dissonance to accept that local weather patterns are far too chaotic to predict beyond a few days but that global long term weather is a vastly simpler system, so simple in fact that we can say with high confidence it is a function of only one variable: carbon dioxide. We can’t predict next month’s weather, but somehow we can say that in one hundred years the temperature will be X. Properly conducted climate science could only be done if we held godlike powers over all activity on the planet (in the same way the chemist can control the conditions of his experiments in the lab). Obviously we do not posses godlike powers. So to get around this lack of omniscience we build an environment in which we can be omniscient: the computer model. But models are imperfect; they rely on both empirical evidence and assumptions. Computer models work well over very short time spans but are inherently flawed at making long-term predictions. The difficulty arises out of the attempt to predict unpredictable quantum level events. Just as we can make reasonable short term predictions about what the traffic around us will do we will utterly fail to predict what that same traffic will be doing 30 minutes later.

And then there is the problem of the unknown unknowns that plague even simple models. For example, if one knew nothing about humans and tried to build growth models based on the first five years of life one would predict that by age 20 humans should be 20 feet tall and weigh 400 lbs. Climate models are now bearing this truth out. In the journal “Nature Climate Change” (that wellhead of conspiracy nuts) a study was published that showed during the last 20 years observed warming was half of what the models predicted and only one quarter of what those same models predicted over the last 15 years. The power of science is prediction, but when the predictions do not pan out one must reevaluate their hypothesis.

Even those demanding “something be done” about climate change should call for a reevaluation of what we think we know. It would be quite disastrous indeed if we made drastic changes in society that resulted in the deaths of billions (due to higher energy costs resulting in decreased food output) only to find out that while global warming is indeed real – it turns out humans have actually played little to no role. We could waste decades prescribing aspirin for the patient’s headache while remaining blissfully ignorant of the brain tumor.

Calculating The Social Cost of Horse Manure

Imagine the following: It is the year 1700 and growth in the American colonies is threatening an economic and environmental catastrophe. Human and equine populations are expanding rapidly in tandem. The horse is integral to the economic engine that drives all economic output. But there is an unaccounted cost: manure. The horses are fed fuel (hay), do work, and out comes waste (manure). Harvard scientists have extrapolated that based on current trends there will be so many horses that manure will cover the colonies to a depth of three feet by the year 2000! Something must be done! There is clearly an unaccounted cost to all this manure lying about. The only solution to stem the tide: a manure tax.

Hopefully this seems a bit silly – it was meant to be. However our betters (those in government) are in engaging in similar sophistry. They make pie in the sky predictions cloaked in an aura of mathematical certainty concerning the “social costs of carbon” up through the year 2300. To wit: to little media fanfare the White House Working Group recently released an update to its estimates of the Social Cost of Carbon. Why is this notable?  The revised figures were up to two times larger than the previous “estimates” made by the same office only 3 years ago. Is the problem of climate changing getting worse? Hardly. The White House has merely “updated” its numbers in a climate cost-analysis model that has enough variables in it to send an algebra student screaming into the night.

These “equations” are nothing so scientifically resolute as E=mc2. No, rather they are a mathematical house of cards that can be manipulated to yield any desired value. For example, one of the key variables is something known as the “discount rate”, that is, the interest rate one would need to invest a dollar today in order to earn some amount in the future. So, if we invest $1 today that grows to $40 in one hundred years and we assume by then there will be $40 in economic losses due to one pound of carbon, then we say the cost of one pound of carbon today is $1. This is the “social cost of carbon”. The goal then is to spend $1 today to clean up one pound of carbon, thus averting $40 in damage in one hundred years. We would not spend $2 to clean it up because it would be more profitable to earn $80 and incur the $40 cost. If the social cost of carbon is low, then it is difficult to justify expensive remediation efforts, whereas if it is high then imposition of costs on the populace is that much easier to rationalize.

All we can do is pile assumptions on top of estimates of cherry picked data.

Of course the rub is how does one actually figure out the cost of environmental “damage” in 100, 200 or 300 years? All we can do is pile assumptions on top of estimates of cherry picked data. For example, loss of tourism dollars at ski slopes is counted as a cost, however the shifting of those dollars to newly more temperate regions is not counted as an offsetting benefit.

Even if we assume the science is ironclad and the calculations of the costs are solid, there is still the problem of the discount rate. It is the logarithmic volume control on the stereo of climate economics. Small changes have dramatic effects. For example, a discount rate of 2.5% yields a cost of $98/ton but 5% yields only $27/ton. Curiously the WHWG ignored the government’s own Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directive to also include a value of 7% in the analysis. It is estimated that at a 7% discount rate the Social Costs of Carbon would likely have been nearly $0 or even negative (meaning that CO2 actually confers a net benefit, not cost). It is also telling that the White House Working Group also ignored the OMB directive to only integrate domestic costs into their models, not global costs, an apparent “oversight” which further tends to push the Social Costs of Carbon estimates upward. This is what is known as “stacking the deck” in your favor.

So, back to our horse manure tale. What would the outcome have been had such a tax been implemented 300 years ago? Money would have drained from the economy, thereby lowering people’s standard of living while simultaneously retarding capital growth. This lack of capital would have had a deleterious effect on future generations’ economic output. Just as people in the year 1700 never could have conceived of the technological marvels that would make their hypothetical fear moot, so should we not be so conceited as to believe future humans will not make similar discoveries that will render our fears of climate catastrophe about as realistic as drowning in a sea of manure.