Sunday, February 18, 2007

Global Warming, Nanotech, and Who to Believe

I've recently been involved in an exchange with Mike Huben in the comments section of an earlier post to this blog, having to do with global warming, hurricanes, and Chris Landsea's pulling out of the IPCC—the group that does the "official" reports on world climate—a few years ago. Interested people may want to look at our exchange and at the web pages cited.

There is a more general issue that such disputes raise: How, in controversies where most of us do not know enough to form independent opinions, one should decide who to believe. One way is to look at the incentives various people have to express the views they do.

Let me start with the case of nanotech—specifically, whether it presents dangers that call for government regulation. I've been involved, at least peripherally, for a long time and know some of the people at the Foresight Institute, the group that pushed the idea of nanotech for many years before it became suddenly fashionable. One thing I know about them is that that their general political biases are libertarian. Hence when I observe them expressing serious concerns about the dangers of unregulated nanotech, I am inclined to take it seriously. They may be wrong, but they aren't believing it because they want to believe it.

Mike Huben, if I understand him correctly, wants to view criticism of evidence for global warming as the work of sinister interest groups, in particular energy companies. I suspect that to some degree he is right; clearly that are industries that will be injured if countries adopt the sorts of policies recommended by those concerned with the threat of global warming, and I expect such industries do their best to push arguments that it is in their interest to push.

On the other hand, a scientist such as Landsea, who apparently wrote a good deal of the relevant part of the previous IPCC report, has no such incentive—unless Mike can point to evidence that he is being secretly funded by the oil companies, which nobody seems to be claiming. It's hard to see any likely reason for his actions other than the belief that the scientific work of himself and others was being misrepresented in order to push a political agenda. And the followup articles—the ones Mike found and pointed out to the rest of us—suggest that in fact Landsea's view of the subject was correct and that his protest was one factor in pushing the IPCC, in its most recent report, to give a mostly accurate account of the current consensus. Their summary account reported that there was no clear evidence of a trend to more hurricanes. One of the authors of the relevant part of the report, decrying misrepresentations in the media, wrote that:

"We concluded that the question of whether there was a greenhouse-cyclone link was pretty much a toss of a coin at the present state of the science, with just a slight leaning towards the likelihood of such a link."

My current conclusion, looking over what I can see of the opinions of people who don't have an obvious axe to grind in either direction, is that global warming is probably real, is probably but not certainly anthropogenic, is probably not going to have large effects on size and frequency of hurricanes and is probably not going to have large effects on sea level. It is a real problem but not, on current evidence, an impending catastrophe.

Mike, and many other people, see it as a much bigger problem than I do. My reason for distrusting their conclusions is the same as Mike's reason for distrusting the conclusions of global warming sceptics: On the whole and with, I am sure, some exceptions, they appear to me to be believing what they want to believe.

I see it that way because:

1. Governments, and people in government, seek power for obvious reasons. Over the past fifty years the intellectual justification for the large expansion in government power from about 1930-1970 has largely collapsed. The belief that capitalism is inherently unstable and inefficient and must be fixed with large elements of governmental intervention and central planning is no longer taken very seriously by either the general public or economists.

Environmentalism in general and global warming in particular provide new arguments for expanded government power, new taxes, and the like. That does not mean, of course, that those arguments are wrong, but it does mean that there are a lot of people who have an incentive to support them whether wrong or right. That seems to me consistent with what I observe—what is probably a real problem being extensively exaggerated for political reasons, with a predicted sea level rise of up to 80 cm over 93 years being reported in terms of massive flooding around the world, converting the World Trade Center Site into an aquarium in the piece I commented on in my earlier post.

2. Global warming provides arguments for things that a lot of people, mostly left of center, want to do anyway—shift lifestyles away from automobiles towards mass transit, reduce consumption of depletable resources, and the like. Environmentalism is in part a real argument, in part a religion, in part an aesthetic; the second and third parts make people too willing to accept the first.

Which gets me to Mike's various queries about why I choose to align myself with the forces of evil and ignorance by expressing skepticism about the horrors likely to arise from global warming. Simply put, I am skeptical of conclusions that appear to go well beyond the scientific evidence, pushed by people who have reasons to want other people to believe them.

36 Comments:

At 6:13 PM, February 18, 2007, Blogger Howard Lovy said...

It gets even more complicated with Foresight, however, since the far-term nanotech that it has studied for decades bears little resemblance to the near-term "nanotech" (nanoscale particles in sunscreens and cosmetics, for example) that is the focus of regulation today.

Howard Lovy
Winner of the 2004 Foresight Institute Prize in Communication

 
At 7:22 PM, February 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of people either believe it is ethical to shade the truth (lie) for a good cause, or alternatively succumb to the temptation. Being totally honest may feel like unilateral disarmament, given that people on the "other side" will keep lying.

People are not Vulcans, unfortunately.

 
At 7:38 PM, February 18, 2007, Blogger Jordan said...

Even if sea levels rise 80cm, Manhattan won't be flooded. The land is way too valuable, so people will build dikes to keep it useful.

 
At 12:30 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Taylor said...

David,

You might like this link for a new perspective on global warming: http://graemebird.wordpress.com/2007/01/27/continental-layout-and-ice-ages/

I hadn't really heard this side of the story before I read that post.

 
At 7:01 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger isonomist said...

I type this from a location that is, I believe, about 3 meters under sea level. Surely, there would be a lake here if it weren't for a complicated network of drainage ditches feeding into little canals feeding into large canals feeding into the sea, and some pumps along the way. The Dutch have been doing this for ages, and similar contraptions could be used to prevent other densely populated and wealthy areas from turning into swamps or lakes, if need be. I am afraid it would be less feasible in places like Bangladesh, simply because water management requires elaborate institutions, political or otherwise, that tend to be stable once they exist but don't usually appear out of nowhere.

In fact, I have heard theories linking the development of political institutions in The Netherlands to the need for water management, and they are wholly plausible. In particular, the ever-changing and often foreign feudal lords had no clue about draining swamps and were forced to let the local peasants organize water management among themselves. (I am not suggesting that rising sea levels would be good for the people of Bangladesh because they would be forced to develop better political institutions; there is already plenty of potential benefit to them in doing so, and they still seem not to have gotten much of anywhere with it. The unfortunate fact of the matter seems to be that political institutions only get better very occasionally, even though the good ones are fairly stable once they develop and can last for several centuries at least.)

By the way, in deference to Dr Friedman, I should probably note that "political institutions" might also mean "apolitical institutions", that is, there is nothing a priori that says that the best equilibria involve centralized power. Nonetheless, it seems more likely that the Bangladeshi will some day successfully copy Westminsterish liberal democracy than that they will independently develop an alternative market-based set of institutions.

 
At 10:38 AM, February 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking at the incentive is an economist way of understanding complex systems, therefore we should not believe your post advocating to look at incentives because you have incentives to advocate it. However, if I don't believe in looking at incentives, I should not care what your incentives are and therefore should do as you advocate and look at incentives in your post.

 
At 10:01 PM, February 20, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous raises the issue of my incentives to post (or, presumably, believe) as I do. I considered discussing that in my post, but decided I should leave some of the fun to other people.

 
At 1:30 AM, February 21, 2007, Anonymous F0ul said...

This is a really cool debate you have going here.
I would like to point out however that I don't think the energy companies would have much to lose either way with the global warming debate - so to suggest that they would be the main fund holders for an alternative view is a simple assumption.
It would seem to me that regardless of what happens, we will all still need power of some kind. The only people who have the money behind them and the true incentive to create the infrastructure are the energy companies.
If people want more eco friendly power, then the energy companies would be more than happy to supply it - as they can charge an eco premium which the customers will be happy to pay to keep their guilt free lifestyles.

 
At 11:03 AM, February 21, 2007, Anonymous Arthur B. said...

An energy company paying for research debunking "global warming" wouldn't be subtle. A finer strategy would be to pay studies indicating that there is indeed global warming, and other studies claiming that there is no global warming to expect.
Therefore, they could conclude that there is no consensus and that evidences are inconclusive, while at the same time brandishing studies they financed concluding to global warming, as a proof of their good faith and as an evidence of independence.
So the real incentive for oil companies would be to produce a wide set of different results, to discredit the all point of studying rather than a particular hypothesis.
However, since this behavior could be interpreted as a natural answer to incentives, they could however outwit everyone and disguise it even more, by producing coherent results. However, I think the general public stops at the previous level.
So if the results of the oil companies sponsored studies are coherent... is it a sign of good faith?

 
At 9:06 AM, February 22, 2007, Blogger Lester Hunt said...

David makes an excellent point. To me, I guess it is obvious that I have motives for being skeptical about global warming: I like my car and don't want to spend squillions of dollars on this other stuff. But there is also "motivated belief" on the other side, which is typically overlooked.

 
At 3:48 PM, February 22, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

David Friedman is weaving an elaborate set of superficially plausible excuses to justify his skepticism. But the overall thrust of his arguments for years has been little different than that of Steven Milloy, Mr. Junkscience. For an example, look at David's Faith Based Science screed from 2 years ago. Just like the junkman, his stuff is real science, and everybody else is merely a believer.

Milloy has been employed for many years as part of a well-documented public relations propaganda strategy of large industries. Painting opponents of those industries' harms as unscientific kooks or environmental nuts.

This is a long-term, low intensity strategy aimed at creating public dismissal of claims of harm by poisoning the well. Critics are dismissed as unscientific cranks.

"Mike Huben, if I understand him correctly, wants to view criticism of evidence for global warming as the work of sinister interest groups, in particular energy companies."

Wow, sure sounds like I'm a crank, doesn't it? Except that it's extremely well documented that major corporations have extensively funded global warming critics, and even now are looking to fund a new generation.

"unless Mike can point to evidence that he [Landsea] is being secretly funded by the oil companies, which nobody seems to be claiming[...]"

Wow, I sure have a huge burden of proof, don't I? Except that Landsea was not criticizing evidence for global warming: he was criticizing one administrator's misrepresentation of effects of global warming. Isn't it funny that David has kindly offered me a hoop to jump through to save myself from being one of those nutty conspiracy theorists? Why might he be harping on that?

David presents a conclusion that minimizes the importance of global warming, because it's "not going to have large effects on size and frequency of hurricanes and is probably not going to have large effects on sea level."

But as I cited in another response:

"Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period."

So, numerous models predict worse storms. And current models can't account for how bad recent storms have been.

"Mike, and many other people, see it as a much bigger problem than I do."
A classic case of distraction from the big picture: most people view global warming as a huge problem because of the shifting of climate patterns such as extremes of heat and cold, rainfall patterns, displacement of species ranges and accompanying extinctions, etc. Not simply because of increasingly powerful tropical storms (which I notice when reading these documents, but you don't.) It's really easy to portray opponents as silly worriers over little things, rather than what they really think. I tell you what, David: if you want to say what I think for your arguments, please cite me.

But what's really disturbing to me is your use of the big-lie strategem of propaganda: accusing your opponents of your own sins. "[T]hey appear to me to be believing what they want to believe": there's a blanket accusation of the first magnitude. So let's see just how ludicrous your justifications are.

"Governments, and people in government, seek power for obvious reasons[...] Environmentalism in general and global warming in particular provide new arguments for expanded government power, new taxes, and the like."

That's right: the tyranny of the worldwide ban on ozone-depleting substances though the Montreal Protocol has us well on the Road to Serfdom. As George Bush clearly demonstrates, there are simpler, more reliable, non-scientific routes to expanded government power. And of course if this actually was an opportunity for more government power, the Republican war on science would not have opposed global warming.

"Global warming provides arguments for things that a lot of people, mostly left of center, want to do anyway—shift lifestyles away from automobiles towards mass transit, reduce consumption of depletable resources, and the like. Environmentalism is in part a real argument, in part a religion, in part an aesthetic; the second and third parts make people too willing to accept the first."

(Sarcasm.) That's right: these things are all irrational whims: not a consequentialist thought in the heads of those leftists. After all, automobiles have no harmful side effects: accidents, pollution, sprawl, and other problems are figments of leftist propagandists. Depletable resources also have no costs, and who cares if their use is unsustainable? Those silly irrational leftists: what are they thinking? How can their values compete with the one, true, god-given value of economic man, making more money?

Oh, and of course libertarianism can be denounced in the same style, but I won't bother: plenty of conservatives do that already. You can find those denunciations at: Conservative Critiques Of Libertarianism.

"Simply put, I am skeptical of conclusions that appear to go well beyond the scientific evidence, pushed by people who have reasons to want other people to believe them."

I'm sure Steven Milloy says the same thing. It's very innocent sounding. But so far, you haven't cited one such conclusion: you have dwelt on one statement by one administrator two years ago. And in the mean time, you've made arguments that the oil companies would probably be glad to pay you to make to larger audiences, using public relations propaganda techniques. They would dearly love to have the IPCC presented as a political, rather than scientific enterprise.

Perhaps you consider this a training exercise.

 
At 4:26 PM, February 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But as I cited in another response:

"Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period."

So, numerous models predict worse storms. And current models can't account for how bad recent storms have been."

Keep your citings to yourself: give me links to articles. So far this fluid physicist hasnt seen anything even resembling an argument for more hurricanes or the much beloved and equally baseless 'more extreme weather' in general.

Temperature doesnt drive weather. Temperature GRADIENTS do.

Warm oceans dont cause hurricanes: warm oceans relative to a cold athmosphere do. But a global, or average warming doesnt affect that much, does it?

Yet thats the argument you often see in the media by supposed scientists: its obvious that warmer weather would lead to more hurricanes, since everyone knows hurricanes require warm water.

Ofcource as climate changes (as ofcource it will, one way of the other) you will be able to find dry regoins that get drier or windy regions that get windier if you look for them. But that is ofcource no proof nor even indication of any sort of global pattern.

In other words: instead of your snippets, give me a link to any paper in the category 'more extreme weather' of your choosing, and im willing to bet it doesnt allow for the conclusions that youd like it does.

(as a sidenote: emperical data seems to suggest that our planet is at the moment well below its optimal temperature in terms of life sustainability.)

 
At 6:46 PM, February 22, 2007, Blogger Lester Hunt said...

Mike,

Sheesh! Take a deep breath, will ya? You need to de-grump a little.

 
At 2:16 AM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the anonymous fluid physicist said. Storm energy is a matter of differences in heat. Warm the whole planet up by 5 degrees due to greenhouse gas effects and the change in temperature differences is insignificant. Indeed, the greenhouse effect brings about slightly less difference in day/night temperatures, leading if anything to slightly gentler weather.

The idea that global warming is leading to greater storms is pure pseudoscientific garbage, perpetrated by people who don't care much about the truth or just don't know about or care to apply basic physics. Why let actual science get in the way of a grand scientific-sounding apocolyptic vision?

Alas, the vast majority of people simply worship scientists as the intermediaries of all knowledge, just like they used to worship priests as God's intermediaries. Scientific method? Critical thinking? Think for yourself? Can't be bothered.

 
At 5:12 AM, February 23, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

I just love when anonymous idiots use fatuous statements like "gradients drive weather" to show that they have a ridiculously simple model. It's just like creationists invoking thermodynamics: they show they don't even understand the premises. Get beyond the grade-school earth science, folks.

Here's the quote from page 8 of the IPCC summary: "There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There are also suggestions of increased intense tropical cyclone activity in some other regions where concerns over data quality are greater."

Page 16: "Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs."

 
At 5:31 AM, February 23, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

If you want to see how David now sounds like part of the right-wing echo chamber, check out this Deltoid entry by Tim Lambert.

Notice especially how the WSJ article says "The IPCC confirms its 2001 conclusion that global warming will have little effect on the number of typhoons or hurricanes the world will experience."

Lambert properly chastizes them: "Gee, that's more than a bit deceitful. They concluded that intense tropical cyclone activity is likely to increase. It's the intense cyclones that do almost all the damage..."

And that's exactly the interchange we've been going through here. I wonder if David receives the same sets of talking points that are created for the WSJ and other right-wing outlets, or if he's so far down on the feeding chain that he innocently scavenges them.

 
At 11:33 AM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I just love when anonymous idiots use fatuous statements like "gradients drive weather" to show that they have a ridiculously simple model. It's just like creationists invoking thermodynamics: they show they don't even understand the premises. Get beyond the grade-school earth science, folks."

Atleast i have something resembling a model. All you have to offer are vague quotes. What specifically are these mystical 'premises' you are talking about then? I suppose its no problem for you then to explain to us in 10 sentences (or any number of your choosing, really) the mechanism by which higher temperatures mean more and stronger hurricanes?

"Here's the quote from page 8 of the IPCC summary: "There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There are also suggestions of increased intense tropical cyclone activity in some other regions where concerns over data quality are greater.""

And like i said: statistics about handpicked regions dont mean anything, and neither does correlation imply causation.

"Page 16: "Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs.""

Where can i find those models? Your link doesnt seem to be working.

Less vague sweeping statements. More actual papers. Please.

 
At 12:09 PM, February 23, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

The IPCC report is based on a plethora of published models. If you're too lazy to find out for yourself, and instead rely on your own ignorant models that leave out real-world complexity and don't match real-world data, well then you're not worth arguing with even if you were identifiable.

INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policymakers

As for premises, I'll give you a simple example. creationists use the laws of thermodynamics to claim that evolution is impossible. But they ignore important premises of the laws of thermodynamics, such as the requirements for closed systems: earth is an open system with respect to energy.

"Warm the whole planet up by 5 degrees due to greenhouse gas effects and the change in temperature differences is insignificant." Spot the premise? "Warm the whole planet up": that's counterfactual. The planet doesn't warm up uniformly. Plausible-sounding twaddle like that is at the heart of almost all creationist, libertarian, and pseudo-scientific arguments.

 
At 1:34 PM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The IPCC report is based on a plethora of published models. If you're too lazy to find out for yourself, and instead rely on your own ignorant models that leave out real-world complexity and don't match real-world data, well then you're not worth arguing with even if you were identifiable."

Its not so much about the arguing, its that i try find out why you believe the things you do. Have you actually read anything besides that rather uninformative policy summary?

About me not being identifiable, that must really bother you, having to deal with my arguments instead of being able to resort to ad hominems. But as for your attempts at such so far: looking at your resume it doesnt seem like you are in any position to lecture me about thermodynamics.


"As for premises, I'll give you a simple example. creationists use the laws of thermodynamics to claim that evolution is impossible. But they ignore important premises of the laws of thermodynamics, such as the requirements for closed systems: earth is an open system with respect to energy."

Yeah, nice strawman you tore down there. Why dont you just try to answer my question? So far all youve got is my 'supposed' misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

""Warm the whole planet up by 5 degrees due to greenhouse gas effects and the change in temperature differences is insignificant." Spot the premise? "Warm the whole planet up": that's counterfactual. The planet doesn't warm up uniformly."

No, ofcource not, its a chaotic system. But the extra input to the system we are considering here, radiative forcing, is about as uniform as can be. There is as much* reason to believe it will decrease variance in temperature as the opposite.

*more actually. E=s*T^4 anyone?

 
At 6:10 PM, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huben. You've lost your marbles if you think that Lambert is some sort of voice of objective science.

Here you are quoting the IPCC and Deltoid.

You are not real good at picking your gurus are you?

Have you got any evidence for the likelihood of catastrophic warming?

What next?

You going to start quoting realclimate?

GMB

 
At 1:57 AM, February 24, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

For Mike:

The following propositions are either from the IPCC or from people who have authored parts of the relevant IPCC reports:

1. The upper end of the range of currently predictable sea level rise is 80 cm over the next 93 years.

2. There is no reason to expect the number of hurricanes to increase as a result of global warming, and only weak reason to expect it to decrease.

3. There is some reason to expect the strength of hurricanes to increase--with wind velocity and rainfall up by about 5% over the next 80 years.

4. Whether the increasing strength of hurricanes is due to human actions is regarded by the professionals in the field as a coin flip--perhaps slightly more likely than not.

These are from the IPCC and the various web pages whose URL's showed up, some provided by you, in the earlier discussion.

Do you disagree with any of those? Given those figures, I do not see how you can avoid the conclusion that the claim that there is a scientific consensus holding that global warming is going to produce enormous problems, including massive flooding, is anything other than a dishonest scare campaign with which you ought not to associate yourself.

 
At 8:11 AM, February 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, actually i could also name atleast onee mechanism that might strengthen hurricanes (just hurricanes, not bad weather in general) with rising global temperatures. Its interesting however that so far mr. Huben has been unable to meet that challenge.

Either way, i dont think hurricanes are really a significant problem on global scale, and a hypothetical few percent increase or decrease in them doesnt really get me exited.

"Given those figures, I do not see how you can avoid the conclusion that the claim that there is a scientific consensus holding that global warming is going to produce enormous problems, including massive flooding, is anything other than a dishonest scare campaign with which you ought not to associate yourself."

Exactly.

 
At 5:51 PM, February 24, 2007, Blogger Joseph said...

The current global warming controversy reminds me of the unemployment controversy of a generation ago. In the 1970s, the Left wing of the time frequently accused conservatives of denying that unemployment was a problem. (One common argument was that conservatives should back the welfare state on the grounds that their policies made it necessary.) The Right wing of the time would claim that anybody who wanted a job could get one. Looking at the stagflation controversy in hindsight, we can see that unemployment was indeed a problem (even if was exaggerated by Leftists) but that it was alleviated by following policies exactly opposed to those recommended by the people who claimed to be most concerned about unemployment. Similarly, if global warming is a problem, the most obvious solution is to have anti-nuclear activists tarred and feathered and then increase the use of nuclear fission.

 
At 7:26 AM, February 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't know how Huben can aviod the link David provided that gave Ladsea's reason for resigning from the IPCC report.

The real concern we all ought to share is how many out didn't resign despite knowing that they were involved in what essentially looks like a politically motivated document rather than one based on science.

It shouldn't be ignored that Al Gore received an Oscar for his performance in Inconvenient Idiot, err Truth. This from an academy known for its deep knowledge of climate science offered to a college dropout who lost a slam-dunk election.

It should be there were 80 private jets parked in airports around LA today.

 
At 7:38 PM, February 27, 2007, Anonymous Mark said...

It is very disturbing for me to see that so many of my fellow libertarians are willing to ignore the scientific consensus on this issue. I'm no scientist, but when the vast, vast majority of experts in a field all reach the same conclusion (which brings no benefit to them) my first tendency is to believe them, not to look for every opportunity to poke holes, sew doubt or make silly attacks ("Inconvenient Idiot"?). I fear that history will judge all of you - and, by association, all libertarians - harshly.

 
At 2:25 AM, February 28, 2007, Blogger Andrew said...

One way is to look at the incentives various people have to express the views they do.


While you're looking at incentives, you should consider the incentives of individual politicians to deny or downplay global climate change. A huge amount of the money they need for winning elections come from corporations whose best interest is served by taking no action on carbon emissions.

This amount is at least an order of magnitude greater than what the politician would gain from expanding the scope of government.

Other groups who benefit from doing nothing about global warming include people who don't care about the future, such as people who do not care about what happens after they die.

To offset these people in the political realm, you often need extremists in the other direction.

 
At 2:21 PM, March 01, 2007, Blogger Owen McShane said...

I always enjoy the claims that all climate skeptics are funded by oil companies or other corporates.
I founded the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.
http://www.climatescience.org.nz/
We have the princely sum of $1700 in our bank account and this has all come from members or private supporters. One of our members has been accused of being "in the pay of Exxon" because he wrote an essay for a web page which is hosted by a group which has received a donation from Exxon. On this basis every journalist is in the pay of an oil company because oil companies buy a lot of advertising.
I am also puzzled by the assumption that private researchers are automatically corrupted by their paymaster while civil servants are not.
If he who pays the piper calls the tune it surely does not matter who the piper happens to be.

 
At 10:56 AM, March 03, 2007, Anonymous Jon said...

When you take out the politics, the global warming science is fascinating. What has interested me most are the climate changes (warming) of other planets and satelites in the solar system.

As far as big energy: energy companies have much to gain in global warming politics. With a panicked public, regulations and implementation costs will increase production costs for other energy sources. The additional costs, since they will be passed on to the consumer, won't offset the additional profits. Add subsidies, and it's a win-win market for energy companies, especially if the "better" energy sources are mandated by lawmakers.

 
At 4:01 PM, March 03, 2007, Blogger mulp said...

"Governments, and people in government, seek power for obvious reasons."

Oh,really??

What are the "obvious reasons"?

The current batch of conservatives in power would certainly convince just about anyone that "conservatives" have ideas just as wacky as "liberals" and shouldn't be trusted with power. Making one desire anarchy. But that ain't gonna happen.

The idea that things work best when one acts in one's self interest, works only if the individual is acting across time and without anyone else being affected now or at any point in the future.

But in a society, some form of cooperation is required, and then decisions must be made in conjunction with the interests of everyone.

For the people alive before 1970, but dead soon after, they had no obvious self-interest in passing the clean air act, etc. But from the perspective of my own life, and from discussions of my dad's life and the changes he saw as a young adult from the 30s onward, it is clear that the clean air act was in nearly everyone's self-interest. And all the doom and gloom forecasts made failed to come to pass.

My reading of those too infrequent columns and then the TV show and book Free to Choose by some guy named Friedman ;-) certainly affected my ideas on how externalities like pollution should be handled by society, but I can see the benefits, and I know the costs were minimal, if any at all to "economic welfare" which cares nought about the negative aspects of the market on the firms or consumers who are cut out of the market by the invisible hand.

Unless the "obvious reasons" are "incorporating the externalities of time" into the decisions that people make, the reasons aren't obvious. Otherwise, the people who were old would not have supported the clean air act because they wouldn't benefit. Only their children would benefit, and I'm sure that many were like me, without children.

Pollution is one thing that seems to be free to the polluter because he isn't taking time into account. If everyone makes the same decision that he does, then he will be forced eventually to bear the cost of the pollution, either from others following his lead, or from the accumulated affects of his own pollution.

Drawing on the fat kid welfare problem you posted later, the problem with the fat kid is that he isn't taking into account the affects over time of the decisions he makes in his self-interest. Unless you are suggesting that everyone who begins a life of obesity at the age of 8 has decided that it is in his self-interest to have a life of stigma, health problems, and early death.

The reason the sea levels won't rise and flood critical areas of the US is not that the science is wrong, nor that the values of NYC is too great not to put dikes around, but because society will decide together that what happens in 50 years, and to their, often "unborn" descendants, is way too important to them that they reach a compact with everyone else in society to act in their long term self-interests rather than in their short term self-interests.

That guy Milton had some great ideas when it came to dealing with externalities like pollution, but those ideas got buried in Reagonomics which condensed Free to Choose into small government is best. And then proceeded to act in the self-interests of Reagan conservatives to make government bigger.

So, let me express my "obvious reasons" for seeking the power of expressing my ideas:

First, the challenge of solving the problems of society I see as an extension of the engineering that I have done as a career. I have done it, not for the money, but because the money made it possible for me to do it, I have done it because of the satisfaction of doing the solving of problems.

Second, as I have no children, the irony is that I hope before I die that the oceans do rise, so that I can say "I told you so."

Third, I am driven by an overall sense that I need to do what is right, and leaving the world a bit better off when I go than when I came is what is right. My fear today, with perhaps two decades more to go (not the four to match Milton), is that it won't happen because of the collect actions of my generation.

 
At 5:39 PM, March 10, 2007, Blogger The Thinker said...

Environmentalism is the new communism. It is a blunt instrument, wielded by those on the Left, to bash the capitalism of the West. The ire of the environmentalists is never aimed at the Chinese, the Russians, or the Left-wing dictators of Central and Southern America, even though, those societies have absolutely no environmental laws and, as a result, are already disporportionately polluting the planet for their anemic GDP contribution to world wealth.

Now that communism has died as a weapon to battle capitalism, the intellectual elites in the west, have now latched onto environmentalism as a political ideology disguised as a concern for mankind, just as communism was disguised that way.

Preserving the planet is a top priority. But environmentalism is not about preserving the planet. It is about transfering wealth. Just as communism was. The Kyoto accord restricts the western economic powers, while giving China and Russia carte blanche to pollute, by allowing them to sell their pollution credits and by allowing them to get away with CO2 emissions per capita that would never be allowed in the West, even under our own self-imposed laws.

As far as the science is concerned, there is no science. The facts speak for themselves. The worst storms of the 20th century have occured long ago, not recently as claimed by the Left:

Worst US storms on record:

1. 1935 labor day hurricane
2. 1974 Tornado outbreak
3. 1993 super snow storm
4. 1900 Galveston hurricane
5. 1938 New England hurricane
6. 1969 Hurriance Camille
7. 1925 Tri-state tornado
8. 1950 Appalachian storm
9. 1962 Ash Wednesday storm
10. 1971 Hurricane Agnes

Of the 10 worst storms on record, only 1 was within the last 15 years. All the rest were much further back, and in fact, the worst of the worst, was in 1935. The second worst storm on record occurred 107 years ago.

This totally destroys the link between worsening storms and any current warming due to the rich driving their hummers. The worst storm on record came long before in this century when there was no "global warming" trends.

Talk about an inconvenient truth.

Environmentalism today is nothing more than Left-wing politics disguised, once again, as concern for humanity, a la socialism, with the "capitalism" of the west as the bad guy that needs to be restrained, cut back, and put in its place. We have been here before.

 
At 12:31 AM, March 13, 2007, Blogger Brian said...

The post has given me plenty to think about, mostly disagreeing though.

Here:

http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2007/03/duke-lacrosse-controversy-and-attitudes.html

and here:

http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2007/03/responding-to-no-big-deal-denialists.html

 
At 5:14 AM, September 17, 2007, Anonymous free ps3 said...

Thanks for the nice post!

 
At 1:04 AM, November 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! Mike Huben Fails to respond! If only there were a drug that extinguishes all human emotion and destroys the ego. You'd give a dose each to Mike Huben and David Friedman and then have them start discussing global warming. Although sometimes it seems David has already taken his dose.

 
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