Monday, October 1, 2007

Running out the clock on climate change

Sometimes you have to ask, "why bother?" Through much of this summer, the White House has put out the word that it is shifting policies and giving attention to climate issues. That now appears to be so much hot air.

Last Friday, President Bush spoke at a conference of major greenhouse gas producing nations that was convened by the White House. Many observers were looking for the President to fill out his earlier calls for a voluntary system of reductions--maybe something along the lines of what he did with electric utilities during his last years as Governor of Texas. Hopes may have been raised when the President began by saying "Energy security and climate change are two of the great challenges of our time" and "The United States takes these challenges seriously." However, those hopes were subsequently dashed. The rest of the speech made clear that the President has no intention of making any serious efforts during his remaining time in office.

Instead, the President offered to participate in negotiations that would lead to a working set of "goals"--not programs or strategies mind you, but "goals"--by next summer. These, in turn, would lead to a global consensus on goals that could be adopted by 2009. Of course, that comes after the President leaves office and means that the tough choices will be left to his successor.

That's not leadership; it's running out the clock and passing the buck.

27 comments:

Bubba said...

In other words, doing the practical thing about climate change should be overrun by doing impractical things.

You call your blog "Applied Rationality".

When can we expect to see some in choice of the threads here?

Anonymous said...

You've made quite a leap to assume that mankind can actually influence the climate. I'd argue, with empirical evidence, that humans have very little control on climate change. That's not to say the human race couldn't be smarter, much smarter, when it comes to being good stewards of the planet because we surely could.

Al Gore will soon eclipse L. Ron Hubbard in converts.

Milo

Anonymous said...

I have seen the glaciers melted back to the 10 thousand year mark and the trees that are thousands of years old (Sequoias) and hundreds of years old (Smokey Mountains National Park) now dying from pollution. Now the ice caps and Artic glaciers are melting. I really don't think we humans can or are willing to do anything to change our ways in time to change our way of life until we are forced to. And we will be in time, so until then we just might as well save our breath. The air is polluted anyhow so no need to take anymore of it into our lungs than necessary. Besides those yelling the loudest about pollution are the ones polluting the most have you noticed? Brenda Bowers

Dave Ribar said...

Bubba:

Saying that a problem is important and that something should be done then going on to propose nothing is not rational, it's spin and propaganda. You've probably read through the speech by now. It's stunning how empty the whole thing is--a collection of platitudes, thank yous, plans for plans, and descriptions of previous efforts. Remember this is a key-note address to a conference the President called. Also remember that he put off a climate change proposal by Chancellor Merkel this summer's G8 summit by promising leadership on the issue. Yet when you look at the speech, there's no there there.

Milo,

The important thing here is that the President has said it and said that we need to address climate issues. However, as the rest of his speech shows, he has no intention of actually addressing anything. If the President agrees with your analysis, he should say so.

Brenda,

The best that we can do for the time being is to look to ourselves. Do what you can to reduce energy use (drive the speed limit, go easy on the household thermostat, unplug appliances when they are not in use) and try to convince others to do the same.

There is some good news out there. This summer the Dept. of Energy provided a preliminary report that energy-related carbon emissions in the U.S. actually declined slightly from 2005 to 2006. The numbers are good news because they come during an economic expansion (carbon emissions have gone done before during recessions and in the aftermath of 9/11 when air traffic was shut down). The DOE attributes a big part of the decrease to milder temperatures during 2005 than 2006 (warmer winter but a cooler summer).

I'm hoping to be able to blog about this report in the next couple of days.

Rachel said...

Dave, you will happy to know I am doing my part. After the article by Jeri Rowe Saturday, I decided after 40 years I know longer need the NR. So I do not have to drive 10 miles round trip to buy it.They lost home delivery years ago because thet where so liberal. So I save gas, save trees, and send less to the land field.

Dave Ribar said...

Rachel:

The leap from climate change to nooses seems longer than the 10 miles needed to pick up the paper :)

A nice thing about the internet is that there are lots of great newspaper options. If you want national news and your tastes run to the conservative side, papers like the Washington Times and Christian Science Monitor would love to have your on-line business.

Cheers.

Rachel said...

Dave, have news for you I have Fox News,you know the one that growing. You think the NR and other biased news outlets would copy Fox and give people a choice. You wanted help on gobal warming and I gave it to you, now you want to dance and it. Some how I do not see anything funny about any one getting kicked in the head.

Dave Ribar said...

Rachel:

Sorry if you feel "kicked." Some people prefer newspaper-length articles to the some material that they get on broadcast news sites. If you haven't looked at the Washington Times and the CSM, you might find them to be good in-depth outlets.

BTW, I still don't know how you link this particular post with Jeri Rowe's column.

Again, cheers.

Bubba said...

Here's a clue, Dave:

There is NO evidence that taking "action" will solve a problem that can't be solved.

There is no empirical evidence that "greenhouse gas" causes the problem.

There is no empirical evidence that any anthropogenic contributions to "greenhouse gas" have any significant impact.

To use your words, there's no "there" there that can influence "climate change goals" in that regard.

I'm still waiting for some "Applied Rationality" on this issue from you.

Dave Ribar said...

Bubba:

You are flat out wrong in stating that there is NO evidence. The interpretation of the evidence may be equivocal, but evidence for the global warming position and the need for action abounds.

We clearly disagree on this issue and aren't going to convince one another. I'm also not a climate scientist; so, there isn't going to be much (any?) direct evidence that I can add. Moreover, as a social scientist, I'm acutely aware that the law of unintended consequences apply (for this particular issue, the law applies in spades, just look at the unholy and wasteful sums spent on ethanol).

For my money, the most clear-headed assessment of current knowledge comes from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). One of the researchers that you cited on a previous blog, Richard Lindzen, contributed to some of those panels. A review of the NAS position is available here. The NAS is both non-partisan and expert. They are not always right (I've disagreed with their social measurement panels). But if they speak, any "rational" person would consider their position carefully.

The NAS has concluded that man-made climate change is occuring and that the available evidence supports taking steps to reduce greenhouse emissions. The criticisms that you have presented appear to have been considered by their panels and discounted. Maybe the evidence will shift, but we need to act with the evidence (and uncertainties) that we have. The NAS states the case well, saying "How climate will change in the future is inherently uncertain, but far from unknown. If scientific uncertainty about climate change is used to delay action, the risks and costs of adverse effects of climate change could increase significantly."

With respect to the original post, President Bush is being intellectually inconsistent and more possibly dishonest. He is saying that climate change is a serious problem, agreeing that changes are needed, but delaying any action. It is fully "rational" to point out that inconsistency. Your case is different from (and at least somewhat more honest than) President Bush's.

Rachel said...

I saving gas and trees because of a idiotic article in the NR, I thought that what you wanted, that saves gas so your Buddie Al Gore can fly around on his jet, telling us what we are doing wrong. Of course he buys jelly donuts to off set, his gas use. However it looks like he eats them all. Of course Prozac also makes you fat. I agree with Bubba, when are we going to see some Rationality?

Dave Ribar said...

Rachel:

That's great that you are doing your part.

Anonymous said...

Dave,

I respect your stance.

I remember as a young teen we were bombarded with news about the impending doom of the second ice age that was bearing down on planet earth. Many of the 'second ice age prophets' are now the global warming experts.

I question their ability to predict the future. Using history as my guide nobody knows.

My biggest problem with the current crop of man-made global warming advocates is the way they ostracize dissenters. FWIW, Al Gore's movie has so many falsehoods in it that even a simple EE like me can shoot holes through it.

I'm going to the parking lot right now and make sure the tires on my H2 are under-inflated -- trying to get my MPG under 10. (just kidding :) I run the recommended psi and get a whopping 12mpg)

Milo

Dave Ribar said...

Milo:

OK, so long as you turn down the air conditioner.

The New Ice-age stuff was a little before my time. I don't recall the same level of concern, certainly not to the same extent as the most recent NAS reports.

Anonymous said...

IMO the ability to have a dissenting crowd helped with the concern level -- it did, IIRC, make the front cover of Time.

Current society does not allow for civil dissenting opinions. I've seen some very respected weather-type-professionals kicked to the proverbial curb because they've raised doubts about the specifics of global warming as it's being portrayed in the media.

Is there any argument that the earth's warming? Nope, none at all, because it is warming (based on pretty solid statistics.) My argument is that mankind doesn't have the ability to make a statistical difference in global weather.

It wasn't that long ago that the volcano in Mexico erupted and IIRC in 3 days it put out more waste than the entire industrial revolution -- don't get me wrong,,,,,I'm not saying that's a foolproof statement,,,obvious amounts of interpolation had to be used to formulate such a statement,,,but man on earth is akin to a flea on a elephant,,,can cause some issues, discomfort, etc, but in the big picture just a nuisance.

Milo

Dave Ribar said...

Milo:

With all due respect to our country's news weeklies, making the cover of Time isn't quite that same as having several NAS panels look at the issue.

You're right that there should be civil and reasoned debate. IMHO conservative talk radio has had a lot to do with the coarsening of discourse. The anonymity of the internet also caused some to lose their manners. So both sides can take some credit.

I think that warming "deniers" do come under more suspicion--fairly or unfairly. People understand that industry has a strong incentive to muddy the waters and will pay experts to do so. People have seen this before with pollution, safety, and health issues. While there are certainly "guns for hire" on both sides, industry has much more money.

WRT to volcanoes, they do produce greenhouse gases but on a scale that is much smaller than man-made contributions. In a typical year I believe the volcanic contribution is about 1/100th the man-made contribution. Also, volcanoes put sulfur dioxide and sulfur aerosols far up into the atmosphere, where they end up being suspended for long periods of time. The aerosol output blocks sunlight, which leads to cooling. Years with big eruptions tend to have much cooler temperatures than other years (see, e.g., http://volcanology.geol.ucsb.edu/gas.htm ).

You might want to look at Table 3 of the annual report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Consistent with your conjecture, annual man-made contributions to CO2 are dwarfed by natural contributions. But there is a big caveat...man-made contributions push us past the natural absorption rate leading to net increases in CO2 in the atmosphere. About half of the man-made contribution is absorbed; about half is not. The net result is that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing by about 1.5 percent per year.

Anonymous said...

Dave,

Thanks for the detailed response -- I'll not hold you accountable for the massive grad school flashback I had to deal with while reading it.

Looks like I have some reading to do.

Milo

Bubba said...

"The NAS is both non-partisan and expert. They are not always right (I've disagreed with their social measurement panels). But if they speak, any 'rational' person would consider their position carefully."

It's been considered, but it comes up lacking.

The NAS relies on faulty information, specifically regarding ice core samples to establish a basis for there conclusion.

Here's why.

Noteworthy:

"The CO2 claim appears to be another con from our friends who fooled so many with the infamous "hockey stick" temperature graph (which purported to show a recent spike after centuries of stable temperatures).

As the authors note, the reason claims like this are accepted without question is that questions are not allowed. Nevertheless, scientists who love truth more than research grants should make sure their voices are heard."

...and this:

"The problem with the use of ice cores as a proxy for CO2 measurements is that the ice is unavoidably contaminated by liquid water. Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski of the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection (CLOR) in Warsaw, Poland, in written testimony submitted to a U.S. Senate committee in March 2004 said:

'Determinations of CO2 in polar ice cores are commonly used for estimations of the pre-industrial CO2 atmospheric levels. Perusal of these determinations convinced me that glaciological studies are not able to provide a reliable reconstruction of CO2 concentrations in the ancient atmosphere. This is because the ice cores do not fulfill the essential closed system criteria. One of them is a lack of liquid water in ice, which could dramatically change the chemical composition the air bubbles trapped between the ice crystals. This criterion, is not met, as even the coldest Antarctic ice (down to -73°C) contains liquid water. More than 20 physico-chemical processes, mostly related to the presence of liquid water, contribute to the alteration of the original chemical composition of the air inclusions in polar ice.'"

When you start with faulty evidence, you end up with incorrect conclusions.

There is no empirical evidence which establishes the premise as correct.

Dave Ribar said...

Bubba:

Neither of the posts directly addresses the NAS findings.

Your first post is a repost of someone else's blog post of a cut-and-paste editorial written by a Canadian at an organization that is "focused on dispelling the notion that Canada needs CO2 reduction plans." It is hardly a neutral source.

The second post is referenced in the first. It is testimony that was given in 2004 (hardly news) and therefore available to the NAS.

The NAS conclusions are not based on a single study or measurement; they are synthesis studies. If you read through their longer source documents carefully (see, e.g., their 2001 report), you will see that they acknowledge uncertainty both in the historical record and in projections. In one document the NAS says that the pre-industrial record is below what would be considered scientifically certain. They have evaluated this uncertainty and still concluded that action is warranted.

If you look through their agenda and their reports you will see that they are actively working to refine our understanding rather than working to achieve some pre-conceived outcome.

Dave Ribar said...

Bubba:

You probably already know this but Richard Lindzen has been a member of several NAS panels. As you've pointed out, Lindzen's specialty is feedback mechanisms. However, do you really think that he didn't vigorously comment on the other aspects of the study?

Lindzen has stated elsewhere that he disagrees with the panel's conclusions, but his views were expressed to the other members. Despite his input (which he almost certainly would have backed with studies and evidence), the panel came to the conclusions that it did.

Bubba said...

"Despite his input (which he almost certainly would have backed with studies and evidence), the panel came to the conclusions that it did.'

.....which are negated by the problems with ice core sampling, as was documented by the information provided.

Bubba said...

Meanwhile, Paul Chesser talks about how a GW activist group with an extremist agenda is causing poorly thought out policy decisions in a carefully managed campaign to produce the desired alarmist results.

Noteworthy:

" The CCS procedure is to establish each option as already approved; to change or remove one would require a mostly uninformed panelist to oppose it. Even if someone does, he or she is often a single voice crying in the wilderness, and if enough members believe strongly enough that an option is unacceptable, it is simply made less objectionable. Maryland is even more unlikely than other states to see options removed because its panel consists almost entirely of government bureaucrats.

Should you still think that the process is not stacked against taxpayers, consider who is paying for the sham. CCS is so appealing to governors because states pay almost nothing to develop their policy.

Instead CCS looks attractive by toting along funds it has raised from environmentalist foundations, all of which are squarely on the panic-stricken side of the global-warming argument."

(hat tip: Fred Gregory)

Dave Ribar said...

Bubba:

Wow! An editor with the John Locke Foundation criticizes efforts to reduce global warming in an op-ed piece? That's so, um, unsurprising.

What specifically is he criticizing? A non-profit organization that offers low-cost or free technical and implemenation advice to states developing climate change policies. The organization makes suggestions and appointed state boards make the decisions. It does this in a transparent and open process and obtains public input.

Dave Ribar said...

Bubba:

By the way, here is the actual web-site and agenda for the Maryland commission. Contrary to Chesser's assertions, it is soliciting expert input and has set up a scientific panel consisting mostly of university and government scientists. The "political appointees" to the commission itself happen to be the state Secretaries of every affected agency. As this is a policy recommending board, it seems reasonable that it should be headed by actual policy-makers.

For completeness, here is the presentation that the Center for Climate Strategies made. While it makes overly strong statements about the certainty of climate change, there is little else that is objectionable. The presentation describes a host of initiatives that are under way and then lays out a process for developing a plan.

Chesser's assertion that Maryland is "using the Center for Climate Strategies to de facto create" its "plans to address climate change" is nonsense as is his assertion that the plans won't be vetted by experts.

Bubba said...

"Wow! An editor with the John Locke Foundation criticizes efforts to reduce global warming in an op-ed piece? That's so, um, unsurprising."

In other words, you have nothing of value to refute the information provided, except for the usual lame avoidance.

That's so, um, unsurprising......

Dave Ribar said...

Bubba:

The rest of the post and the following post clearly refute Chesser's reporting.

Bubba said...

"The rest of the post and the following post clearly refute Chesser's reporting."

Sorry, but no.

Just wishful thinking on your part.