Monthly Archives: April 2012

Burning Down the House

Steve Zwick walked back his comments about letting skeptics’s houses burn down and tries to clarify the point he was trying to make.  I have further comments in a new Forbes article here.  An excerpt:

Steve Zwick has posted an update to the post I wrote about last week and has decided the house-burning analogy was unproductive.  Fine.  I have written a lot of dumb stuff on a deadline.  In his new post, he has gone so far in the opposite direction of balance and fairness that I am not even sure what his point is any more — the only one I can tease out is that people who intentionally bring bad information to a public debate should be held accountable in some way.  Uh, OK.  If he wants to lock up the entirety of Congress he won’t get any argument out of this libertarian.

Here is the problem with Mr. Zwick’s point in actual application:  Increasingly, many people on both sides of the climate debate have decided that the folks on the other side are not people of goodwill.  They are nefarious.  They lie.  They want to destroy the Earth or the want to promote UN-led world socialism.   If you believe your opponents are well-mentioned but wrong, you say “they are grossly underestimating future climate change which could have catastrophic effects on mankind.”  You don’t talk about punishments, because we don’t punish people who take the wrong scientific position — did we throw those phlogiston proponents in jail?  How about the cold fusion guys?

However, when the debate becomes politicized, we stop believing the other side is well-intentioned.  So you get people like Joe Romm describing the people on the two sides of the debate this way:

But the difference is that those who are trying to preserve a livable climate and hence the health and well-being of our children and billions of people this century quickly denounce the few offensive over-reaches of those who claim to share our goals — but those trying to destroy a livable climate [ie skeptics], well, for them lies and hate speech are the modus operandi, so such behavior is not only tolerated, but encouraged.

This is where the argument goes downhill.   When one group believes the other side is no longer just disagreeing, but “trying to destroy a livable climate” and for whom “lies and hate speech are the modus operandi,” then honest debate is no longer possible.  If I honestly thought a group of people really, truly wanted to destroy a livable climate, I might suggest letting their houses burn down too.

A Vivid Reminder of How The Climate Debate is Broken

My Forbes column is up this week.  I really did not want to write about climate, but when Forbes conctributor Steve Zwick wrote this, I had to respond

We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies.  Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay.  Let’s let their houses burn.  Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands.  Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.

They broke the climate.  Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?

The bizarre threats and ad hominem attacks have to stop.  Real debate is necessary based on an assumption that our opponents may be wrong, but are still people of good will.  And we need to debate what really freaking matters:

Instead of screwing around in the media trying to assign blame for the recent US heat wave to CO2 and threatening to burn down the houses of those who disagree with us, we should be arguing about what matters.  And the main scientific issue that really matters is understanding climate feedback.  I won’t repeat all of the previous posts (see here and here), but this is worth repeating:

Direct warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 does not create a catastrophe, and at most, according to the IPCC, might warm the Earth another degree over the next century.  The catastrophe comes from the assumption that there are large net positive feedbacks in the climate system that multiply a small initial warming from CO2 many times.  It is this assumption that positive feedbacks dominate over negative feedbacks that creates the catastrophe.  It is telling that when prominent supporters of the catastrophic theory argue the science is settled, they always want to talk about the greenhouse gas effect (which most of us skeptics accept), NOT the positive feedback assumption.  The assumption of net positive climate feedback is not at all settled — in fact there is as much evidence the feedback is net negative as net positive — which may be why catastrophic theory supporters seldom if ever mention this aspect of the science in the media.

I said I would offer a counter-proposal to Mr. Zwick’s that skeptics bear the costs of climate change.  I am ready to step up to the cost of any future man-made climate change if Mr. Zwick is ready to write a check for the lost economic activity and increased poverty caused by his proposals.  We are at an exciting point in history where a billion people, or more, in Asia and Africa and Latin America are at the cusp of emerging from millenia of poverty.  To do so, they need to burn every fossil fuel they can get their hands on, not be forced to use rich people’s toys like wind and solar.  I am happy to trade my home for an imaginary one that Zwick thinks will be under water.  Not only is this a great way to upgrade to some oceanfront property, but I am fully confident the crazy Al Gore sea level rise predictions are a chimera, since sea levels have been rising at a fairly constant rate since the end of the little ice age..  In return, perhaps Mr. Zwick can trade his job for one in Asia that disappears when he closes the tap on fossil fuels?

I encourage you to read it all, including an appearance by the summer of the shark.