30 April 2010

Will You Walk Into My Parlor?

I see that in a few weeks the Marshall Institute is holding a Washington, DC briefing titled: Understand Climate Science Before Making Climate Policy. The briefing announcement explains:
Legislation and regulation aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions are predicated on the belief that science definitively shows that man’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise, with serious deleterious effects. What if the cause-and-effect relationships between GHGs and temperature are greatly overstated? What if the data used to measure temperature change and its effects are of poor quality? What if we don’t adequately understand important climatic systems (such as clouds or oceans) to simulate them accurately in the computer models used to predict climatic change? What if the stated positions of key scientific societies are under assault by the member rank and file? What if the state of empirical knowledge points to only a small human effect on climate?

The answers to these questions directly impact the legislative and regulatory debates underway in the Congress and the Obama Administration.

I reject the premise of the briefing. Legislation and regulation aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions are not in fact need not be predicated on the belief that science definitively shows that man’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise, with serious deleterious effects. I recognize that there are some people who make this argument, and they are wrong also.

My rejection of the premise has nothing to do with the state of climate science or what the Marshall Institute or their opponents belief about it. A compelling case can be made that decarbonizing the global economy makes good sense independent of uncertainties in climate science. Reactions to an earlier post along these lines from self-described climate skeptics suggest that some people will strongly resist efforts to move beyond engaging the political debate through science. This is understandable of course, because once the political debate is engaged in terms of science, it confers a distinct advantage to those opposing action. Of course, at the same time I expect that many of those calling for action will face similar difficulties in giving up on science as a political battleground. The irony of course is that both sides agree on where the battle should be waged, but only one side seems to appreciate who is the spider and who is the fly.

24 comments:

  1. As noted above climate change is a call to:
    •change our energy sources to prevent warming,
    •change our energy production for other reasons
    •lead less materialistic lives
    •replace capitalism
    •social justice
    •preserve ecosystem
    •etc, etc, etc

    Climate change is:
    •Coal versus gas versus nukes versus wind versus solar interests
    •Taxes, financial, political opportunities
    •Costs, grants, legal fees
    •Etc etc etc

    Climate change is the arena in which we fight all ideological and interest battles and the reason for so little trust associated with any climate change “solution.” Who would have though a simple molecule could be used to do all these things?

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  2. I understand your point Roger, but I can't help thinking you're making too much of it. Perhaps you're right about decarbonization making sense independent of the uncertainties. Still, it seems to me that different levels of alarm and pseudo-certainty require different kinds and degrees of action. In fact, it's one of the paradoxes of AGW alarmism. Alarmism is invoked to try to motivate decarbonization. But at the extreme, if you think disaster is unavoidable (think James Lovelock) mitigation becomes totally unrealistic and all you can do is adapt and survive as one of the remaining one billion people in the world.

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  3. "Legislation and regulation aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions are predicated on the belief that science definitively shows that man’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise, with serious deleterious effects"

    That is the game the whole world has been playing for some time. The premise is "Give us money, or you are all going to die."

    It was engaging.

    A new game that says that sustainable energy is better, please give us money, just isn't going to attract the same amount of attention. Joe the Statistician is unlikely to engage with 'elasticity of substitution' after work.

    The price of energy / gas has always been absolutely crucial to the survival of American politicians. It is not a trivial issue.

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  4. Roger,

    I am not sure how to square your statement that “Legislation and regulation aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions are *not* in fact predicated on the belief that science definitively shows that man’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise, with serious deleterious effects" and the EPA’s “The Administrator finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases…in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations” and that “These findings do not themselves impose any requirements on industry or other entities. However, this action is a prerequisite to finalizing the EPA's proposed greenhouse gas emission standards for light-duty vehicles, which EPA proposed in a joint proposal including the Department of Transportation's proposed CAFE standards on September 15, 2009.”

    Maybe it has to do with the word “and” between “legislation” and “regulation”?

    -Chip

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  5. -4-Chip

    Yes, indeed. See the sentence that follows. Of course, I'm not convinced that EPA is going to do anything meaningful anyway!

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  6. But, Roger, as far as the EPA is concerned, its regulations aimed at controlling GHG emissions *are* predicated on the finding (belief) that man’s greenhouse gas emissions are (or will) cause deleterious effects to our health and welfare.

    There is no argument for you to recognize. It simply is the way it is.

    -Chip

    PS. As far as the EPA doing anything meaningful, if you mean “achieving” anything meaningful that has do with the climate, I agree!

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  7. Roger,

    Your persistent error in this is that the costs of any given strategy for 'decarbonization' need weighed against the benefits.

    The statement that, "A compelling case can be made that decarbonizing the global economy makes good sense independent of uncertainties in climate science."

    Is, in effect, "Decarbonizing makes good sense even if we don't understand the cost/benefit ratio."

    That is plainly wrong.

    There a many options ahead, all of which have different costs per kWh and different ratios of C to kWh produced. Without understanding the cost of C we can't choose between the alternatives intelligently. We might overestimate C and choose an alternative which is more expensive per kWh, wasting resources which could have been employed else where more productively. We might underestimate C and choose an option that costs us more in ecological damage than the reduced production saved us.

    GDP growing faster than C alone is not a good enough measurement. It assumes that current GDP is properly incorporating any future costs of C, which it obviously cannot do if the market participants don't actually know the future costs of C.

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  8. Roger, I love your blog dearly, but you've completely lost me on this one. I have no idea what you're talking about.

    'Legislation and regulation aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions are not in fact predicated on the belief that science definitively shows that man’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise, with serious deleterious effects.'

    So what is all the policy response about then? presumably all the legislation and regulation aimed at controlling GHGs is based on something other than their deleterious effects? What is it?

    Please, seriously, descend to my level and tell me why the legislation and regulation is not to mitigate deleterious effects, but for some other purpose?

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  9. -7-anoldwhig

    I didn't say anything about costs and benefits here, but you can be assured that I think implementing those policies that lead to an accelerated rate of decarbonization will pass a CBA test;-)

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  10. -6, 8- Chip and Roddy

    You guys are right, my efforts at symmetry with Marshall were not quite right or what I wanted to express.

    So I've edited, and hopefully its more clear. Thanks!

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  11. Roger, I'm less confused, but still confused.

    'Legislation and regulation aimed at controlling GHG's need not be predicated on the belief that science definitively shows that GHG emissions are causing .... serious deleterious effects.'

    'A compelling case can be made that decarbonizing the global economy makes good sense independent of uncertainties in climate science.'

    If there were no deleterious effects, you're saying decarb is still a compelling proposition, which was your 'thought experiment' post that Jeff enjoyed so much.

    I'm not clear why, I guess I have to read your book!

    From a UK perspective decarbonisation seems to take two forms:

    1 Export it
    2 Diversify energy supply, preferably to wind and nuclear, for security and CO2 reasons.

    If there was no GHG debate I think 2 would take a different form. The main reason nuclear is back on the scene after 30 years away is GHG, which takes the wind out of the green sails, and simultaneous realisation that Russia turns our lights on and off because we have run out of gas.

    In practice how do you decarbonise the global economy if (as I assume) there are GDP costs of doing so? I would, selfishly, be in favour of others decarbing while we dig coal and have a party. Does it require Copenhagen-like global agreement?

    I liked your Heathrow Chinese airports map - where did that come from? Presumably there is one for power stations too somewhere.

    Where we would agree whole-heartedly I think is in more honest explanation of what a particular policy is for, what it achieves, and what it costs. The elision of GHG-driven umbrella policy objectives with other energy-related objectives is a recipe for ineffective policy overall. An example would be the US mandating a biofuel % in petrol. What are the objectives, costs, unintended consequences etc.

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  12. With all due respect, there is no compelling argument based on facts to decarbonize the world energy economy.
    And in fact to use climate science by way of AGW to make a scientific sounding case for decarbonization is deceptive.

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  13. -12-FoFaS

    Be careful with those facts, the global economy has been decarbonizing for ore than a century.

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  14. -11-roddy

    "If there were no deleterious effects, you're saying decarb is still a compelling proposition"

    That is right ;-)

    "In practice how do you decarbonise the global economy if (as I assume) there are GDP costs of doing so?"

    I don't think that accelerated decarbonization is in the cards if it requires a meaningful impact on GDP.

    If you click on the China airport map it'll take you to the source. I'd love to see something similar for power stations.

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  15. Roger

    The world has not been decarbonising any more than it has been de-horsifying, de-cassettising or de-jazzifying. It has been evolving from one technology to another, without backward reference or public funding.

    I can understand an environmental enthusiast like Mike Hulme stretching the limits of post normal science and wishing to take advantage of the unjustified demonisation of Co2 to achieve his own personal goals.

    You need a reason voters can identify with. Cars pollute streets, electric cars don't.

    We were told that nuclear power would be too cheap to meter, we were told that the biggest social problem of the 1980s would be boredom, because machines would work for us. Long term pipe dreams like cheaper energy will no longer sell.

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  16. -15-eric144

    You do not seem to have read Hulme's book.

    You write: "The world has not been decarbonising any more than it has been de-horsifying, de-cassettising or de-jazzifying."

    Jesse Ausubel and colleagues call this "dematerialization", and is worth thinking about.

    You write: "It has been evolving from one technology to another, without backward reference or public funding."

    I don't think so. Worth discussing at a later time.

    Thanks!

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  17. You are extremely dogmatic and sure of yourself Roger, but you are indeed wrong.

    It does not "make sense", an unacceptably fungible term in my view, to direct a change in energy technology to a lower carbon content.

    There doesn't seem to be any point debating your position, because all you have is a position, no apparent logic, vis,

    "I don't think so"
    "That's right"

    The economy will naturally decarbonise itself over time as and when it genuinely makes sense to do so.

    I claim it makes sense to de-aquafy the global economy. It just makes sense.

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  18. Roger,
    I don't have a problem with "decarbonization" in and of itself. I do generally have a problem if it's done by fiat (yes, I include subsidies and taxes in that bucket) by some policy maker. Sorry, but I simply don't trust them to figure out how to get it done.

    If you really mean, support research, etc, and let the market sort it all out, then I'm in complete agreement, but I don't get the feeling that's what you're after. Otherwise, why the focus on policy makers?

    Could you perhaps clear up what exactly you would like to see (policy-wise) in terms of decarbonization? Perhaps it's in a post that I missed, but about the only thing I can recall might be some sort of carbon tax. There are many places where you claim that decarbonization makes sense, but to my knowledge, nowhere that you state explicitly how that might happen (unless I just missed it, which is very possible).

    Thanks.

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  19. -17-Geckko

    Thanks for the comments ... if you can bear with me, over the coming months I'll be discussing these issues a great deal and will be more fully explained.

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  20. Roger

    I am a passionate advocate of dematrialisation, particularly optical, quantum computing, mp3, digital books etc.

    I also believe that coal mining and oil drilling are undesirable occupations. However, given the choice, most people will take the money rather than a clean job. Most consumers will prefer dirty, cheap energy.


    I haven't read the Hulme book, I may get back to you on that.

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  21. Roger

    We know that Mike Hulme is a very strong believer in the post modern science ideas of Jerry Ravetz. Here they share their thoughts with the BBC

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8388485.stm

    In the summary of his book below, he proposes exactly what I accused him of, perhaps with the edges slightly blunted. This is even more dishonest than the rest of the climate cannon. I am very familiar with new age tone and language, that isn't a problem.

    http://mikehulme.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Hulme-Carbon-Yearbook.pdf



    We need to reveal the creative psychological,
    spiritual and ethical work that climate
    change can do and is doing for us. By understanding the ways climate change connects
    with foundational human instincts of nostalgia,
    fear, pride and justice we open up a
    way of resituating culture and the human
    spirit at the centre of our understanding of
    climate.

    Human beings are more than merely
    material objects and climate is more than
    merely a physical category. Rather than
    catalysing disagreements about how, when
    and where to tackle climate change, we must
    approach the idea of climate change as an
    imaginative resource around which our collective
    and personal identities and projects
    can and should take shape.

    We should be using the idea of climate
    change to reveal, animate and mobilise
    the latent human values of temperance,
    compassion and justice. And we should be
    promoting actions that contract the time
    and space scales that separate purposeful
    actions from their visible benefits.
    In practice this involves action and
    change that is local and rooted in a sense of
    place and community, where the benefits
    are both tangible and immediate – improved
    air quality, enhanced local mobility, greater
    energy and food sufficiency.

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  22. "A compelling case can be made that decarbonizing the global economy makes good sense independent of uncertainties in climate science."

    Roger,

    I'd like you to be more careful with your language, even if this is only a blog. As you point out, the world has been decarbonizing, as you define it, on its own for a long time. That is likely to continue, with or without the climate change issue. But you argued earlier that ACCELERATED decarbonization makes sense, and I suspect that is what you meant in the above sentence. But such a statement is too general to be correct. Whether accelerated decarbonization makes sense independent of climate change issues depends on how accelerated it is and how the decarbonizing technologies are chosen. A lot of possible trajectories in both areas would hurt everyone and not make B/C sense.

    More to the point, the focus on decarbonization per se almost certainly seems wrong. For example, there are likely ways to diversify our energy portfolio without using decarbonizing technologies. The focus on carbon has, by and large, been driven by perceived scientific issues. or so it seems to me.

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  23. -22-Brian

    "Whether accelerated decarbonization makes sense independent of climate change issues depends on how accelerated it is and how the decarbonizing technologies are chosen. A lot of possible trajectories in both areas would hurt everyone and not make B/C sense."

    Agreed, 100%.

    "For example, there are likely ways to diversify our energy portfolio without using decarbonizing technologies."

    Not sure what you mean, can you give an example?

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  24. "'For example, there are likely ways to diversify our energy portfolio without using decarbonizing technologies.'

    Not sure what you mean, can you give an example?"


    In terms of specific technologies, I'm not sure what I mean, since I'm not familiar with the full range of practical technologies. So let me choose MY words more carefully. :)

    One of the purposes of energy diversification is to ensure that everyone can choose the energy source that is optimal for himself or herself. I highly developed, highly carbonized economies, diversification will automatically tend toward decarbonization (since those technologies are underrepresented). But for less developed economies, the push for development may lead to a MORE carbonized society, at least in the short- to mid-term. This will happen if the carbonized technolgies have a better B/C ratio. So diversification combined with rapid energy growth in underdeveloped economies could lead to a short-term increase in global carbonization.

    I guess this is what I really meant.

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