Category Archives: Uncategorized

Phoenix Misses Record Low. Kindof. Sortof.

This morning, Phoenix hit 51F, just missing the record of 49F last set in 1965.  But as I mentioned in my previous post on the record high we hit (just four days ago!), the growth of the Phoenix urban heat island in the last 4 decades has a lot to do with how these records are set and not set. 

The Phoenix urban heat island has been measured many times, including by my son in a recent science project.  In that project we measured an urban warming of 8-10F around midnight vs. the outlying areas of the city.  We have not measured the daytime heat island effect, but others have, such that it is not hard to imagine that the record high set four days ago would not have been a record when the city was smaller.  Today, we can similarly argue that we could have easily had a record low last night, since we only missed by 2 degrees, had it not been for the heat island effect.  While 2 vs. 8-10 degrees seems compelling, we also had a lot of wind last night that tends to break up the urban heat island effect, so we can never be sure.

Victory of Ignorance

Well, I guess we all expected it, but it is no less galling to see polar bears listed by the US Government as a threatened species.  This despite rising polar bear populations and no evidence that a smaller Arctic ice cap will have a negative effect on the bears.   This is, even by admission of its supporters, mainly intended as an open license to sue any one or group over anything that has any element of economic growth.  Freeway projects in Arizona, power plants in Florida, desperately needed new refineries in Texas, oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and even a new shopping mall in California can now be held up in court as a danger to polar bears.

Here are a few reactions.  From my Princeton classmate Henry Payne:

Once again, my profession — journalism — failed its fundamental duty to report the facts Wednesday as the Interior Department bowed to political pressure from green groups to declare polar bears an threatened species due to global warming. This, despite the fact that bear populations have increased from 5,000–10,000 in the early 1970s to between 20,000 and 25,000 today (during the very period their habitat was allegedly shrinking). This is in part due to concentrated efforts to impose harvesting controls that have allowed this once-overhunted species to recover.

 

Indeed, Dr. Mitchell Taylor, a bear biologist with the Canadian government, wrote in 2006: “There is no need to panic. Of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present.”

 

This data is readily available in the public record, and yet a review of reports from America’s two leading print sources found nary a mention. The Associated Press completely ignored the bear population data and any critics of the decision. As for The New York Times, reporter Felicity Barringer also ignored the data, but at least alluded to it by quoting M. Reed Hopper of the Pacific Legal Foundation (which is suing the Department of the Interior over the decision) at the very end of her article as saying: “Never before has a thriving species been listed nor should it be.”

From the Wall Street Journal:

Polar bears are not the fragile, vulnerable creatures of liberal iconography. They have thrived in the Arctic for thousands of years, both through periods when their sea-ice habitat was smaller, and larger, than it is now. They will continue to adapt – and the Endangered Species Act can’t make the slightest difference.

Such realities haven’t prevented green showboaters from claiming victory after the Bush Administration designated the polar bear as a "threatened" species yesterday. And it is a kind of victory, though the ruling itself is mostly symbolic – at least for now. However, this is really the triumph of bad legislation over the democratic process.

From the SPPI via Q&O:

Although two polar bear subpopulations (Western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea) no longer appear to be viable due to reduction in sea ice habitat, polar bears as a species do not appear to be threatened by extinction in the foreseeable future from either a demographic or an ecological perspective.

[...]

Current and historical polar bear subpopulation performance demonstrates that viable polar bear subpopulations have persisted and generally increased throughout the current period of climate warming …

The popular notion that polar bears are declining or already expatriated worldwide has been initiated and perpetuated by environmental organizations and individuals who apparently believe that current subpopulation numbers and trends are an insufficient basis for an appropriate status determination. … Anecdotal information, although useful and interesting, is not equivalent to scientific information based on valid statistical analysis of sample data.

From TJIC:

Let’s just all ignore the Canadian government study that showed that polar bear population is up over the last two decades.

Let’s also ignore the fact that arctic sea ice grew faster in 2008 than ever before : 58,000 square miles of sea ice per day, for 10 days straight.

“Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future – in this case 45 years,” Kempthorne said at a news conference in Washington.

So if short term, potentially random variations are taken as a trend, and if we extend that trend out half a century, then polar bears are “likely” to become endangered … and therefore they are declared endangered now

From Marc Sheppard:

Now consider this — taken but a miniscule regulatory step further, a family motoring about in an SUV in Texas could be cited not only for polluting under the Clean Air Act, but as their “pollution” has been regulated as a global warming contributor, they could be further fined under the Endangered Species Act for harming the protected polar bear.
Did I mention that penalties for such ESA transgressions can be a maximum fine of up to $50,000 or imprisonment for one year, or both — per violation?

The Benefits of Warming

Keith Sherwood and Craig Idso of CO2 Science, as published at ICECAP:

In the introduction to their illuminating paper, the authors (Zhang, etal 2007) say they previously studied “a long span of Chinese history and found that the number of war outbreaks and population collapses in China is significantly correlated with Northern Hemisphere temperature variations and that all of the periods of nationwide unrest, population collapse, and drastic change occurred in the cold phases of this period.” In their current study, they write that they “extend the earlier study to the global and continental levels between AD 1400 and AD 1900.” This they do by using high-resolution paleoclimate data to explore “at a macroscale” the effects of climate change on the outbreak of war and population decline in the pre-industrial era as discerned by analyses of historical socioeconomic and demographic data.

In describing their findings, the five scientists say their newest analyses, like their earlier ones, show that “cooling impeded agricultural production, which brought about a series of serious social problems, including price inflation, then successively war outbreak, famine, and population decline.” And they suggest, as they put it, that “worldwide and synchronistic war-peace, population, and price cycles in recent centuries have been driven mainly by long-term climate change,” wherein warm periods were supportive of good times and cooling led to bad times, some of which (in our opinion) could arguably be described as a descent into hell.

Frequent readers of this site will know that I have often pointed out how researchers who publish results that refute the catastrophist storyline often feel obliged to tag on to their paper a pro forma statement of support for the catastrophist position, even if nothing in their results support such a conclusion.  My sense is that this is similar to Copernicus singing the praises of the Catholic Church to try to forestall their wrath over his science.  Sherwood and Idso find something similar in Zhang:

Interestingly, after having presented an essentially ironclad case for their finding that warmer periods throughout human history have almost always been more conducive to good times than bad times throughout the majority of the Northern Hemisphere, Zhang et al. conclude their paper by suggesting just the opposite, i.e., that bad times would likely follow any future global warming that might occur, throwing all of their findings to the wind and listing as their reason for doing so the usual litany of unduly-catastrophic consequences that climate alarmists insist will follow any temperature increase that might occur, while stating that “the current high global average temperature (which has never been experienced in the last two millennia) is continuing to rise at an accelerated speed.”

If Journalists Could Do The Numbers, They Wouldn’t Have Been Journalism Majors

From Dominic Lawson via Tom Nelson:

One thing is clear; the British public does need educating about this: even one of The Independent’s most intelligent commentators wrote here last week that "The mini-windmill on David Cameron’s new house is an economical way for an individual household to generate electricity, even contribute to the national grid". Well, that’s if you consider it economical to spend thousands of pounds on a roof-top turbine that produces – even according to its supporters – no more than 1 megawatt hour per year, worth £40 unsubsidised on the wholesale electricity market. As a contribution to reducing CO2 emissions it’s about as cost-effective and meaningful as cycling to the House of Commons while having your chauffeur-driven car follow you with your briefcase, suit and black lace-up shoes.

Ash and Ice

A number of scientists have suggested that melting ice in the Arctic and rising Arctic temperatures may have as much to do with ash deposits (mainly from man-made combustion) than from other causes.  In particular, plants in China are not well-designed to capture the combustion by-products as well as we do here in the US.  Mike Smith has an interesting set of photos of the quite rapid melting effect ash can have on snow pack. 

There is actually good news here.  The problem with CO2 abatement (vs. abatement of about any other pollutant you can think of) is that CO2 is fundamental to the combustion process.  We can eliminate most of the SO2 or ash pollution from coal burning, but not the CO2.  As I posted just yesterday, I would love to see an effort to clean up the Chinese coal plants — this ash issue is just another reason.  Unfortunately, global warming alarmists are working against this goal.  First, they focus attentino on getting China to get rid of coal plants altogether, a non-starter.  But second, warming alarmists don’t want the Chinese to clean up their coal plants, because they fear that this would make it politically easier for them to keep them running.

Progressives Hate the Poor

I try to focus more on the issues with science and climate observation here, but I thought some of my readers my be interested in this post from CoyoteBlog.

Yeah, I know they seem to care so much, but nearly every policy they actively advocate turns out to be a disaster for the poor.  Here is a great example:

In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn from the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to other countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in need. The Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its distribution, and stopped another shipment on its way to the country. “Simply because my people are hungry,” President Levy Mwanawasa later said, “is no justification to give them poison.”

The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn produced—and consumed—comes from seeds that have been engineered to resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified. Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans, destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared where it is most needed.

This is simply awful, and is driven by progressive politics in Europe that abhor GM food, despite reams of scientific evidence and years of experience that it has no demonstrable health effect.  (It is particularly ironic that GM corn should be the target, since corn as we know it is a man-made genetically modified food, albeit by the slow process of cross-breeding.  The very existence of corn is one of the great triumphs of pre-Columbian agriculture.)

A key element of progressive politics is to apply western middle class perspectives to Third World problems.  In this case, Europeans who are wealthy and well-fed have time and capacity to worry about problems at the margin, such as "might GM corn somehow have a negative health effect on one in a million people?"  I believe this concern is absurd even at the margin in western society, but it becomes criminally insane when applied to countries beset with abject poverty and starvation.  So we would rather let a million people starve than have one person face some hypothetical health risk?

This same approach can be seen in a myriad of other instances.  For example, progressive wish to prevent Nike from building factories in the Third World that hire locals for fifty cents a day.  Again, the middle class western perspective:  I would never take a job that paid $5 a day for ten hours of labor, so they should not either.  But this is in countries where more than half of the population makes less than $1 a day performing subsistence farming for perhaps 12-14 hours a day, and even then risk starvation when the crop fails.  The Nike factory represents incredible salvation for many.  Do we all hope they will do even better economically in the future?  Sure, but you can’t step from unskilled subsistence farming for a dollar a day to middle manager at GE all in one step.

And then there is climate.  The climate change hysteria, and the associated calls for reductions 80% or higher in CO2 output, is the greatest threat to the world’s poor that has existed since the bubonic plague.  And yes, I mean the hysteria, not climate change itself.  Because if the world gets warmer because of man’s CO2  (an iffy proposition), the poor might or might not be worse off.  After all, it was during warm periods of the past that the poor thrived, such as the population boom in Europe during the Medieval warm period.  But if the world’s governments agree to shut down fossil fuel production and reduce the size of economies, over a billion people who are set to emerge from poverty over the next few decades will instead be doomed to remain poor.  Progressive environmentalists are not even subtle about what they want — they are seeking a poorer, lower-tech worldThey are selling poverty.

Brendan O’Neil writes in this vein:

In these various scandalous schemes, we can glimpse the iron fist that lurks within environmentalism’s green velvet glove. ‘Cutting back carbon emissions’ is the goal to which virtually every Western politician, celebrity and youthful activist has committed himself. Yet for the poorest people around the world, ‘reducing carbon output’ means saying no to machinery and instead getting your family to do hard physical labour, or it involves collecting cow dung and burning it in an eco-stove in order to keep yourself warm…. Carbon-offsetting companies have encouraged Kenyans to use dung-powered generators and Indians to replace kerosene lamps with solar-powered lamps, while carbon-offsetting tree-planting projects in Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda have reportedly disrupted local communities’ water supplies, led to the eviction of thousands of villagers from their land, and cheated local people of their promised income for the upkeep of these Western conscience-salving trees….

Carbon offsetting is not some cowboy activity, or an aberration, or a distraction from ‘true environmentalist goals’ – rather it expresses the very essence of environmentalism. In its project of transforming vast swathes of the developing world into guilt-massaging zones for comfortable Westerners, where trees are planted or farmers’ work is made tougher and more time-consuming in order to offset the activities of Americans and Europeans, carbon offsetting perfectly captures both the narcissistic and anti-development underpinnings of the politics of environmentalism. Where traditional imperialism conquered poor nations in order to exploit their labour and resources, today’s global environmentalist consensus is increasingly using the Third World as a place in which to work out the West’s moral hang-ups….

Carbon-offsetting also shines a light on the dangerously anti-development sentiment in environmentalism….

In the near term, countries are already using global warming as an excuse for protectionism, and in particular are cutting off imports from poorer countries that are trying to make some economic progress:

There is little that angers me more than disingenuous attempts to employ ‘global warming’ as an argument against trade, especially against trade from the developing world. More often than not, blatant self-interest – that is, old-fashioned protectionism by another name –  is being masked beneath self-righteous, middle-class gobbledygook.               

               

Such a case is brilliantly exposed today by Dominic Lawson writing in The Independent [‘Food miles are just a form of protectionism. Middle-class neurosis is being exploited to protect an archaic form of agriculture’ (April 1)]:

               

“Was Prince Charles’ chum Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, expecting the Kenyan High Commissioner to fall to his knees in gratitude? It rather sounded like it yesterday morning, when the two of them met in a BBC radio studio.

               

They were there to discuss the Soil Association’s proposals to discriminate against the ‘organic food’ which is air freighted into this country, mostly from East Africa. ‘One option was to ban it altogether,’ declared Mr Holden, but instead he and his colleagues had decided that such food would only be banned if it was ‘not produced ethically’ – whatever that means….

“On the whole it is a ‘lifestyle choice’ limited to middle-class mothers in the South-east of England who are neurotic enough to believe the insinuations of the Soil Association that little Henry and Caroline are more likely to get cancer if mummy doesn’t buy organic (at twice the price).    
Now another largely middle-class neurosis – we are all doomed unless everybody stops flying! – is being exploited to protect an archaic form of agriculture which could never feed this country, still less the world. It is, at best, an exercise in self-delusion. At worst, it is a way of using food as the instrument of a deliberate policy of racial discrimination.”

Maxed Out Mamma has more on the global warming excuse for protectionism:

I am genuinely concerned that environmental concerns are being used as a proxy for protectionist economic legislation and may have severe consequences. I would like to discuss this article from a Canadian source about carbon taxation:

Imposing carbon tariffs on emerging economies with low manufacturing costs and high greenhouse gas emissions could drive some manufacturers back to Western countries, according to two economists.

Jeff Rubin, chief strategist and economist at CIBC World Markets, thinks such tariffs could emerge quickly. Countries in Europe are already becoming publicly intolerant of emissions elsewhere and the next president of the United States is expected to institute a cap on greenhouse gas emissions alongside the trading of carbon credits.

…Europe is in an extremely protectionist mood, and I believe one of the reasons for the non-scientifically based focus on carbon is that it serves as a justification for tariffs. If the next president does institute carbon tariffs, the result will have a real impact on world trade.

I believe that many politicians are being deeply dishonest about their "environmental" concerns. I also believe that instituting a carbon tariff will cause Asian growth to slow remarkably and further destabilize the world economy. The rise in food prices is very dangerous because it has an impact on the ability of emerging market countries to support consumption increases necessary to rebalance trade. If you add to the situation by doing something like this, you could recreate the conditions which caused the Great Depression.

Unit Conversion Problem

From the Galvin Institute, as quoted by Lynne Kiesling, power market analyst extraodinaire:

Power plants generate as much pollution as they do electricity

How does one do this unit conversion?  This is one of those happy little statements everyone lets slide or nods their head at sagely that in fact turn out to be completely assinine.

My Answer to Andrew Revkin

Andrew Revkin asks:

"A question for climate skeptics: I presume you agree there’s at least a chance you could be wrong, just as you assert those pointing to a clearcut climate apocalypse have little basis for their claims. On that front, I’d be curious to know what you’d propose as a backup plan if the climate’s sensitivity to CO2 turns out to be higher than you think?"

We are not talking about one potential disaster but two:  Potential Disaster #1 is some sort of climate apocalypse from CO2-caused warming.  Potential Disaster #2 is an economic apocalypse via contracting economies and drastically reduced energy consumption that result from aggresive CO2 abatement programs.

In all but the most dire climate forecasts, the economic disaster from aggressive CO2 abatement is at least as large in terms of its contribution to human misery as any hypothesized climate disaster from not abating CO2. 

This statement might be open to debate, but here is one that is not:  No matter which disaster is worse, what we know for sure is that the economic disaster is orders of magnitude more likely than the climate disaster.  Because if there is a 0-5-10% chance of a apocalyptic climate disaster from inaction on CO2, there is a near 100% chance that efforts that truly abate CO2 (current recommendations are to reduce it in 30 years by 80-100%) will result in an economic disaster which will cause untold human misery — particularly if alarmists refuse to accept nuclear as a viable abatement option.  We may actually not experience the disaster so much in the US — after all, as a nation we are quite rich.  But the disaster in terms of lost opportunity for the billions of people who for the first time in millenia have the chance to escape grinding starvation-level poverty will be absolute. 

This is what climate alarmists and their lapdogs in the press always fail to explain — in order to avoid a hypothesized climate disaster we have to set ourselves up for almost certain economic disaster.  And the only way that this might not happen is if some new technology, like solar energy panels that are two orders of magnitude cheaper, comes along to bail us out of this tradeoff.  But if that occurs, there is still little need for drastic action, since the market would adopt such a technology in seconds with or without a climate disaster looming.

I’m Glad Global Warming Catastrophists Have Science on their Side, Or Else I Might Suspect This Was Ridiculous

A Reuters story a couple of weeks ago said "Carbon Dioxide pollution kills hundreds a Year."  Wow.  To give one a sense of scale, cold weather kills about 700 people a year in the US alone.  So let me see, we want to hamstring the world’s economy and keep hundreds of millions of people in poverty to save fewer people than those who are killed in turn by cold weather? 

But the silliness does not end here.  This is what the story says:

The deaths were due to lung and heart ailments linked to ozone and polluting particles in the air, which are spurred by carbon dioxide that comes from human activities, according to the study’s author, Mark Jacobson of Stanford University.

As the planet warms due to carbon dioxide emissions, the annual death rate is forecast to climb, with premature deaths in the United States from human-generated carbon dioxide expected to hit 1,000 a year when the global temperature has risen by 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C).

By the way, don’t expect a better explanation of the mechanism of death further in the story, because it is not there, nor should you expect any counter-vailing opinions in this patented Adcocay-press-release-masquerading-as-a-Reuters-story.  Here is a big hint for everyone, though:  Ozone and some particulate pollution can cause health problems.  However, they have nothing to do with CO2 and global warming except that they are coincidently both created by burning fossil fuels.  Warmer weather can increase ground ozone levels, but it is absurd to say that this is any kind of substantial mechanism, and nowhere do we see any evidence of how ozone related health problems may scale with temperature.  But we can be suspicious because the author is saying deaths go from 700 at 0.8 degrees C increase (which he says is the current level) to 1000 at 1.0 degrees C.  So there are 300 more annual deaths just from 0.2C rise?  If so, why, when temperatures rise 20C or more in the Phoenix summer, then, aren’t people dropping like flies?

This is just another great example of how incentives work.  Funding for academic studies is always hard.  A professor who wants to study ozone effect on heath may not get funding.  But there is much more available if he pitches it as global warming effect on health, focusing on ozone. 

Global Warming Solutions

Via Tom Nelson, comes this helpful list of proposals offered to date to help reverse global warming.  Note that these were presented by their authors as serious proposals.  A couple of examples:

1. Get rid of humans.

Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson insists we "reduce human populations to fewer than one billion".

2. Put a carbon tax on babies.

Prof Barry Walters, of the University of Western Australia, says families with more than, say, two children should be charged a carbon tax on their little gas emitters.

3. Cull babies.

Toni Vernelli, of green group PETA, says she killed her unborn child because of its potential emissions: "It would have been immoral to give birth to a child that I felt strongly would only be a burden to the world."

4. Sterilise us all.

Dr John Reid, a former Swinburne University academic, gave a lecture on ABC radio recommending we "put something in the water, a virus that would be specific to the human reproductive system, and would make a substantial proportion of the population infertile".

5. Ban second children.

Says Melbourne University population guru Prof Short: "We need to develop a one-child family policy because we are the global warmers."

Read them all.

A New Political Gambit

It used to be that the Presidential trick was to set goals, such as "balancing the budget" targeted at a date several years after he has left office.  Now, political candidates are going to the next step:  Setting goals targeted at a date several years after they will be safely dead:

…[Clinton's] plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming…Hillary would increase fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030…

By the way, 80 percent below 1990 levels is what? The bottom of the great depression?

Reponse to Greg Craven’s “How the World Ends” Video

Apparently, a video by Greg Craven called "How the World Ends" has been getting a lot of attention, supposedly because it prevents an irrefutable argument for immediatley taking drastic action to fight global warming (presumably by handing the world economy over to the UN).  A newspaper asked me for my reponse, and I thought I would share it here as well:

Mr. Craven’s risk management argument is not a new one, though certainly he is a clever filmmaker.  Mr. Craven argues that the potential outcomes of global warming are so bad that, even if we are uncertain and the risk is small, it is still worth it for the world to take aggressive action to abate CO2 today.  He uses a number of examples, including car insurance.  He argues that one buys car insurance without actually knowing if he is going to crash his car, or how much such a crash might cost.  If I had to summarize my response to Mr. Craven, I would retort "Yes, but you wouldn’t pay $35,000 for car insurance if you only had a $30,000 car?"  Costs matter a lot, as does the magnitude of risk.  They can’t just be shuffled off to the side.

Mr. Craven’s video is a clever kind of sleight of hand, built to disguise the fact that it rests on three very shaky points:

  • At the 5:24 mark, he pins the entire argument that global warming costs and probabilities outweigh the costs of CO2 abatement on statements by the NAS and NAAS.  In the beginning of the video, he says that he will make an argument that does not rely on wading into the scientific debate.  But that is in fact wrong — his whole argument falls apart if one does not choose to rely on these two scientific bodies as authorities, or even if one does not agree with Mr. Craven’s reading of these authorities (which I can attest is ambiguous from having actually read the NAS report).  The NAS study has been portrayed by climate catastrophists as saying many things it did not actually say.  It did say that man was probably warming the climate some (which folks like myself do not deny).  The report did not say, as Mr. Craven claims, that immediate action was less costly than allowing global warming to happen.  It is easy to get the impression Mr. Craven has of the NAS report from reading media summaries of that report, but impossible to have that view had he actually read the report himself.  This is fairly typical of climate journalism (sorry) but the media reports and press releases almost never match the real content of the science.  This is a well-documented problem with the UN IPCC, where the political appointees crafted the summary first, and then sent it around to scientists and asked them to make sure their sections of the science matched the politician’s summary.
  • Mr. Craven’s argument for prioritizing global warming above every other policy issue relies on global warming being, literally, the end of civilization: Climate Armageddon.  He argues for this view at the 8:21 mark by positing that climate has a tipping point, beyond which it goes unstable and bad stuff accelerates.  Tipping points, and in fact most catastrophic climate forecasts, are based on assumptions that the climate is dominated by positive feedback, assumptions for which there is no scientific proof!  Yes, CO2 can warm the world, and most scientists agree that it will warm the world about a degree C for a doubling in CO2 concentrations.  Even catastrophic forecasts begin with this assumption, but then get to 4, 5, 6 degree warming forecasts by assuming there are positive feedbacks that amplify the temperature change.  But the climate system is one that has remained stable, within fairly narrow bounds, for millions of years.  This despite enormous perturbations such as meteors and volcanoes and changes in the sun.  Had the climate been dominated by positive feedback, or even feedback that is greater than one (which leads to tipping points) then the climate would have run away long ago.  Most natural processes are not dominated by positive feedback and most certainly don’t have such tipping points.  Scientists always assume a natural process is dominated by negative feedback until proven otherwise, except, I guess, in climate.  The tipping point argument is an invention of late by climate scientists trying to justify catastrophic warming forecasts that greatly exceed the warming in the historical data.  When one looks at warming over the last century, it is hard to get a forecast much higher than about a degree for warming over the next century.  What if I told you that the relationship between CO2 and temperature is a diminishing curve, such that each additional unit of CO2 has less effect on temperature than the last.  Would you believe me?  Probably not, but it is a scientific fact, even among climate scientists.  Take from it what you will that some climate scientists posit an accelerating effect from a decelerating relationship.

This is another bit of sleight of hand that goes on among climate catastrophists.  They always retort that the science is really strong and complete.  Yes, but for what proposition?  I would agree that the science is good for a first proposition that the world is warming some, and that a part of that is due to CO2, and that we will see some more man-made warming in the next century, on  the order of about a degree C (if the sun doesn’t do anything radical).  But the science is at best equivocal, and more accurately nearly non-existent, for the second proposition that the climate is dominated by positive feedbacks and will run away once it reaches some tipping point.  The weight of scientific opinion is against this latter proposition.  But catastrophists try to hide this tipping point proposition, for which there is no evidence, under the umbrella of support for the first proposition.  And the media (sorry again) lets them get away with it.  By the way, the science really gets sloppy and weak if we get to the arena of projected outcomes, such as sea levels and hurricanes.  For example, most scientific forecasts believe the sea level rise over the next century from even four degrees of warming would be about 15 inches, not the 20 feet Al Gore keeps quoting.  Further, every story about global warming likes to talk about droughts, but if the world is warming, megatons more water will be evaporated into the atmosphere.  Rain on average has to increase, not decrease, in a warming world.

  • Mr. Craven discusses the cost of abating CO2 and fighting global warming in the film at minute, uh, minute….  Oh, wait, he never mentions it.  He does a whole video on costs and risks and prioritization of our efforts without every worrying about this key element.  It would be like sitting though a 10 minute presentation on car insurance talking about potential things that could damage your car and the risks of each and then asking you to buy the insurance without once telling you how much the insurance costs.

I have made climate videos too (both more fact-based but less dynamic than Mr. Craven’s), and I can take you through the calculation that Mr. Craven omits.  The world economy is now about $60 trillion.  If, over the next 100 years, it grows at 3% real, then in 2108 it will be $1,153 trillion in size.  OK, now lets assume that fighting global warming knocks 1 percentage point off world economic growth, for  a new growth of 2% real.  Then, in 2108 our world economy would only be $435 trillion in size.  In other words, reducing world economic growth over the next century reduces the size of the world economy in 2108 by $718 trillion per year.  So, is the cost of global warming greater than $718 trillion per year?  Further, if we begin such an abatement program as was desired by many environmental leaders in Bali, then these abatement costs in terms of lost growth and poverty will be certain.  In our decision-making model, we must pencil them in at 100%.  And how about warming?  If we assume the really harsh results are, say, 20% certainty, then their costs must be five times higher than these abatement costs to justify action. Does anyone really expect that the cost of warming will be 5 x $718 trillion = $3.6 quadrillion per year?

Surely you are thinking I did something wrong in this analysis.  How can it be so much?  Surely I must be estimating that wrong.  Well, yes I am.  I am probably underestimating the cost.  The strong global warming catastrophists are arguing that CO2 output needs to be reduced to 10-30% less than it was in 1990 (update:  Hillary Clinton proposes 80% less than 1990).  Given current technologies, this likely will mean negative economic growth over the next decades.  The advocates for such action even admit this.  There is no way we can meet these targets and let China and India develop.  This means that a billion plus people who are on the verge of stepping out of poverty for the first time ever will have to be told, sorry, you must stay poor.   We’re talking about more disease, more death,  more vulnerability to natural disasters and everything else poverty brings.  The recent Bangladesh cyclone is a great example.  Thousands died in that storm, mainly because they were vulnerable due to their poverty.  Horrendous hurricanes have hit the US in recent decades and we have not had thousands die.  The reason is wealth.  Wealth matters.  We think of wealth as a Wall Street guy buying a new Ferrari, but when we talk about the world, wealth is the ability to build a strong enough house and have good enough emergency systems and transportation to not die in a hurricane.   It is why a very good argument can be made that even if man-made global warming causes a few more hurricanes, it may well be better to be wealthier and ready to deal with them than be poorer and more vulnerable to fewer storms. 

Catastrophists try to lull us with cute little messages about recycling and carpooling that make the solution seem so easy.  But this is just more sleight of hand, to distract us from the fact that all of us will be made poorer by abatement efforts.  If you told folks in the US that their economy would be like India (as did the Stern report), I don’t think the video would have had many takers.  Which is not to say we should never prepare for anything, but that costs matter.  Nothing we have done to date in environmental improvements even comes orders of magnitude within the realm of the CO2 abatement targets being discussed.  Why is CO2 different?  To date, we have always gone ofter contaminants.  Lead in gasoline was bad so we removed it and found different additives.  Sulfur in fuel might cause acid rain, so we took it out. Effluent is polluting rivers so it needs to be disposed of more carefully.  But CO2 is fundamental to combustion of anything but a few elements (like hydrogen).  We can’t keep our economy, which runs on fossil fuels, chugging along by refining the fuel a bit more.  We have to shut down combustion altogether to get rid of CO2.

Finally, it is always interesting to me how the many children of the 1960’s, who used to argue for personal liberties and who now make up so much of the global warming movement, put so little value on the loss of freedoms.  One additional large cost to CO2 abatement will be the loss of freedoms we experience, from the small (reduced choice in cars) to the problematic (limits on airplane flights) to the real hardships (limits on children).  Any crash effort to reduce CO2 emissions will entail substantial erosions in individual freedoms which, if they don’t have costs to climate catastrophists, certainly have a cost to me.  [update]  From here

{Mayer} Hillman, senior fellow emeritus at the Policy Studies Institute, says carbon rationing is the only way to ensure that the world avoids the worst effects of climate change. And he says that the problems caused by burning fossil fuels are so serious that governments might have to implement rationing against the will of the people.

“When the chips are down I think democracy is a less important goal than is the protection of the planet from the death of life, the end of life on it,” he says. “This has got to be imposed on people whether they like it or not.” [update]

Postscript: About a century ago, many leading scientists thought there were intelligent, civilization-building creatures on Mars.  Percival Lowell, who had far more prominence as a scientist than any of today’s climate scientists, was sure of it.  Clearly, some thought that these beings posed risks to our civilization.  H.G. Wells and, even decades later, Orson Wells played on these fears.  What if we had initiated a huge program to build defense systems against such a threat.  Sure, the threat was unknown, but could we really wait until we are sure? What if those preparations had cost a full percentage of our economic growth rate, leaving us with only a third of the income we might have had.  Everyone would have only a third of the income they do today, and many of the conveniences and medicines and facilities we take for granted today would likely not exist, or only exist as reach people’s toys.  And would we have been safer from any Martians, given we would have been building defenses with 1900-era rather than more modern technologies?

Update:  fixed Mr. Craven’s name in the post title

Solving Global Warming Through Squalor

Cross-posted from Coyote Blog:

I really want to thank Michael Tobis at environmentalist hang-out Grist.   For years people have accused me of over-reading  the intentions of climate catastrophists, so I am thankful that Tobis has finally stated what climate catastrophists are after (emphasis in the original, but it is the exact phrase I would have highlighted as well)

Is infinite growth of some meaningful   quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think   so, but economists habitually make this   claim without bothering to defend it with anything but, "I’m, an   economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it’s   worked until now".

Such ideas were good approximations in the past. Once the finite   nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations. You know, the gods of Easter Island smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn’t. The presumption of growth is so pervasive that great swaths of economic theory simply fail to make any sense if a negative growth rate occurs. What, for instance, does a negative discount rate portend? …

The   whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft   landing is down; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just   to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology   but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita   impact but can target it.

Decline isn’t bad news in an airplane. Decline is about reaching your destination. Perhaps there is some level of economic activity beyond which life gets worse? Perhaps in some countries we have already passed that point? Could the time where we’d all be better off with a gradual decline have arrived? How much attention should we pay to the folks who say we should keep climbing, that there’s no way we can run out of fuel, that we’ll think of something?

So there it is, in the third paragraph, with no danger of misinterpretation.  These folks want economic decline.  That’s a fancy way of saying "We want you poorer."

I could spend weeks writing about the fallacies and anti-human philosophy embedded in these four paragraphs, but here are just a few reactions.

The Zero Sum Fallacy

Every generation has people, like Mr. Tobis, who scream that we are all living in a petri dish and this is the generation we run out of Agar.  Of course they are always wrong.  Why? 

Well, first, the prime driver of economic growth is not resources but the human mind.  And the world of ideas has no capacity limits.   This is an  issue that Julian Simon wrote about so clearly.   Tobis is trying to apply physical models to wealth creation, and they just don’t apply.  (and by the way, ask the passengers of TWA flight 800 if decline isn’t bad news in an airplane).

Further, if we talk about the world of resources, we currently use a trivial fraction of the world’s resources.  By a conservative estimate, we have employed at most (including the soil we till for agriculture, extracted minerals, etc) less than 0.0001% of the earth’s mass.  In terms of energy, all energy (except nuclear) comes ultimately from the sun  (fossil fuels, hydropower reservoirs, etc are just convenient storage repositories of the sun’s energy).  We currently use an infinitesimal percentage of the sun’s energy. I wrote much more on the zero-sum wealth fallacy here.  And here is my ancestor blogger in Coyote Broadsheet making the same fallacy as Mr. Tobis back in the 19th century, writing on the Peak Whale Theory.

Wealth Benefits the Environment

Just like actual 20th century data tends to undermine catastrophic climate forecasts, experience over the last century tends to contradict the notion that growth is devastating to the environment. 

We can find the best example right here in the environmental Satan called the USA.  The US has cleaner air and water today than in any time in decades.  Because of technology and growth, we can produce more food on less land than ever — in fact the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has shrunk for years, allowing forests to steadily expand in the US for over eighty years (that is, until the environmentalists got the government to subsidize ethanol).   No one in Brazil would be burning huge tracts of the Amazon if they enjoyed the agricultural productivity we do in the US.  Sure, we have done some things that turn out to be environmentally bad (e.g. lead in gasoline) but our wealth has allowed us to fairly painlessly fix these mistakes, even if the fixes have not come as fast as environmentalists have desired. 

I will confess that the Chinese seem hell bent on messing up their air and water as much as possible, but, just like the United States, it will be the wealthy middle and upper class of China that will finally demand that things get cleaned up, and it will be their wealth, not their poverty, that allows them to do so.   Similarly, I don’t think CO2 reduction will do much of anything to improve our climate, but if we find it necessary, it will be through application of wealth, not squalor, that we overcome the problems. 

Here is a simple test:  Which countries of the world have the worst environmental problems?  Its is the poorest countries, not the wealthiest.

Growth / Climate Tradeoffs

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that man-made global warming increases severed storm frequency by 20%, or by 3 or 4 extra hurricanes a year (why this probably is not happening).  Even a point or two knocked off worldwide economic growth means hundreds of trillions of dollars in lost annual GDP a century from now (2% growth yields a world economy of $450 trillion in a century.  3% growth yields a world economy $1,150 trillion in a hundred years.)  So, using these figures, would the world be better off with the current level of hurricanes, or would it be better off with four more hurricanes but $700 trillion a year more to deal with them.  Hmmm.  Remember, life lost in a hurricane correlates much higher with poverty in the area the hurricane hit rather than with storm strength, as demonstrated by recent cyclones in Asia.  This general line of reasoning is usually described as warmer and richer vs. cooler and poorer

I cannot speak for Mr. Tobis, but many environmentalists find this kind of reasoning offensive.  They believe that it is a sin for man to modify the earth at all, and that changing the climate in any way is wrong, even if man is not hurt substantially by this change.  Of course, in climate, we have only been observing climate for 30-100 years, while climate goes through decadal, millennial, and even million-year cycles.  So it is a bit hard to tell exactly what is natural for Gaia and what is not, but that does stop environmentalists from declaring that they know what is unnatural.  I grew up in the deep South, and their position sounds exactly like a good fiery Baptist minister preaching on the sins of humanity. 

More from Jerry Taylor, who got Tobis started on his rant in the first place.

Postscript:  Here is an interesting chicken or the egg problem:  Do you think Mr. Tobias learned about man-made global warming first, and then came to the conclusion that growth is bad?  Or did Mr. Tobias previously believe that man needed to be fewer and poorer, and become enthusiastic about global warming theory as a clever packaging for ideas most of the world’s population would reject?  The answer to this question is a window on why 1)  the socialists and anti-globalization folks have been so quiet lately (the have all jumped onto global warming); 2)  no one in the global warming movement wants to debate the science any longer  (because the point is not the science but the license to smack down the world economy)  and 3)  why so much of the Bali conference seems to be about wealth transfers than environmentalism.

The Maoist Solution to Global Warming

A while back I commented on a local newspaper article that analized the habits of a few families and suggested some nice little things the family could do to go green.  I observed that none of these proposed actions would do anything to abate CO2 in any meaningful way, and argued that the hidden agenda of such articles was to make the discussed aggresive CO2 reduction targets seem easy and painless to reach. 

In that article, they parise a couple of families for their efforts.  I observed that these families had between three and four kids, and that the people running the global warming movement would not be satisfied with their reusing of water bottles.  They would demand that similar families in the future give up their kids.  I wrote:

  • Everything you buy requires fossil fuels to produce, so you may only have half as much.  That means food for you and your kids too. 
  • In the next generation, no one is going to be having five and four kids.  Certainly those green Europeans would never do something as damaging as having four or five kids.  If you had aborted a few of the little darlings, just think how much CO2 you would have avoided?
  • The article says all your kids play sports.  OK, pick half of your kids, and tell them they don’t get to play sports any more.  Gotta cut that driving in half.  The good news is the other half of the kids can still play.
  • Those vacations you took last summer, to escape the heat in Arizona, well cut them in half as well.  That little play area in the mall makes a nice alternative to seeing Yellowstone, and all those tourists are just environmentally damaging Yellowstone anyway.

But cutting through my snark, the actual Maoist proposals for limiting children to save global warming are definitely out there (via Tom Nelson)

A WEST Australian medical expert wants families to pay a $5000-plus "baby levy" at birth and an annual carbon tax of up to $800 a child.

Writing in today’s Medical Journal of Australia, Associate Professor Barry Walters said every couple with more than two children should be taxed to pay for enough trees to offset the carbon emissions generated over each child’s lifetime.

Professor Walters, clinical associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia and the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth, called for condoms and "greenhouse-friendly" services such as sterilisation procedures to earn carbon credits.

And he implied the Federal Government should ditch the $4133 baby bonus and consider population controls like those in China and India.

Professor Walters said the average annual carbon dioxide emission by an Australian individual was about 17 metric tons, including energy use.

"Every newborn baby in Australia represents a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions for an average of 80 years, not simply by breathing but by the profligate consumption of resources typical of our society," he wrote.

So you thought that the socialists, the anti-growth / anti-technology folks, and the anti-globalization rioters all have gone silent over the last few years?  WRONG!  They have all joined the global warming movement — in fact, in many cases, they are driving the movement.  They have found that the global warming packaging can help them resell their failed ideas.  That is why no one in the global warming catastrophist movement wants to talk about the science.  Because its not about the science.  It is about the ends that they desire, and they have discovered that the global warming panic is the best possible vehicle for reaching those ends.

Heading Back to the 19th Century

For all of you who trust environmentalists when they declare that the science of catastrophic man-made global warming is "settled,"  it might be time to start digging into the facts a little deeper.  Because these folks are aiming to send you back to the 19th century:

The Conservatives will also suggest – most controversially of all – rationing individuals to as little as a single short-haul flight each year; any further journeys would attract progressively higher taxes, a leaked document entitled Greener Skies suggests.

via Tom Nelson

Cooler, but with a Worse Environment

As a follow-up to my post on the problems with a cooler but poorer world, let’s look at a likely scenario of a cooler world with a worse environment.

Al Gore is a huge supporter of biofuels, and particularly corn-based ethanol, as a "solution" to global warming.  In fact, Al Gore claims that in addition to inventing the Internet, he "saved" corn-based ethanol (from a pro-ethanol site):

Vice-President Al Gore
Third Annual Farm Journal Conference, December 1, 1998
http://clinton3.nara.gov/WH/EOP/OVP/speeches/farmj.html

"I was also proud to stand up for the ethanol tax exemption when it was under attack in the Congress — at one point, supplying a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to save it. The more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely-used product, the better-off our farmers and our environment will be."

It is good to know that when the economic and environmental toll from our disastrous subsidization of corn ethanol is finally tallied, we will know where to send the bill.  HT: Tom Nelson

And it fact, Al Gore’s ethanol support is putting him in opposition to… leading environmentalists.

Environmentalists are warning against expanding the production of biofuels, noting the proposed solution to global warming is actually causing more harm than it is designed to alleviate. Experts report biodiesel production, in particular, is causing the destruction of virgin rainforests and their rich biodiversity, as well as a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents of biofuels read like a Who’s Who of environmental activist groups. The Worldwatch Institute, World Conservation Union, and the global charity Oxfam warn that by directing food staples to the production of transport fuels, biofuels policy is leading to the starvation and further impoverishment of the world’s poor.

On November 15, Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior unfurled a large banner reading "Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate" and blockaded a tanker attempting to leave Indonesia with a cargo full of palm oil. Greenpeace, which warns of an imminent "climate bomb" due to the destruction of rich forests and peat bogs that currently serve as a massive carbon sink, reports groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and Flora and Fauna International have joined them in calling for an end to the conversion of forests to croplands for the production of biofuels

"The rush to address speculative global warming concerns is once again proving the law of unintended consequences," said James M. Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute. "Biofuels mandates and subsidies are causing the destruction of forests and the development of previously pristine lands in a counterproductive attempt to improve the environment.

"Some of the world’s most effective carbon sinks are being destroyed and long-stored carbon is now being released into the atmosphere in massive quantities, merely to make wealthy Westerners feel like they are ‘doing something’ to address global warming. The reality is, they are making things worse," Taylor noted.

Why Cooler but Poorer is the Wrong Choice

A lot of folks are sitting around in Bali this week trying to figure out how they can sell the rest of us on a cooler but poorer world.  Cooler but poorer is the name I and others put on a world that may be a few tenths of a degree cooler from less CO2, but certainly will be trillions of dollars poorer through expensive government mandates and restrictions on economic growth.

The fact is that small changes in economic growth rates have a much, much greater effect on human well-being than small changes in temperatures:  (HT to Tom Nelson, who is trying to make himself the Glen Reynolds of global warming skepticism.)

Their report suggests that a central plank in the global warming argument – that it will result in a big increase in deaths from weather-related disasters – is undermined by the facts. It shows deaths in such disasters peaked in the 1920s and have been declining ever since.

Average annual deaths from weather-related events in the period 1990-2006 – considered by scientists to be when global warming has been most intense – were down by 87% on the 1900-89 average. The mortality rate from catastrophes, measured in deaths per million people, dropped by 93%.

The report by the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change, a grouping of 41 mainly free-market bodies, comes on the eve of an international meeting on climate change in Bali.

Indur Goklany, a US-based expert on weather-related catastrophes, charted global deaths through the 20th century from “extreme” weather events.

Compared with the peak rate of deaths from weather-related events in the 1920s of nearly 500,000 a year, the death toll during the period 2000-06 averaged 19,900. “The United Nations has got the issues and their relative importance backward,” Goklany said.

The number of deaths had fallen sharply because of better warning systems, improved flood defences and other measures. Poor countries remained most vulnerable.

Back to the 1800s

For those who do not accept my interpretation that the IPCC wants America to solve global warming by reverting our economy to look just like India’s, check out this article from Reuters (ht: Reference Frame)

French towns worried about fuel prices, pollution and striking transport workers need look no further than the horse.

Horses are a possible alternative for vehicles such as school buses and refuse trucks, say groups eager to pick up on global concerns about eco-friendly transport.

"It’s all about sustainable development and bringing some humanity back to today’s monotonous, machine-driven jobs," Stephane de Veyrac, from the French National Stud Organisation, said at this week’s annual conference of French mayors.

De Veyrac’s group says it is the first in France to offer consulting on a wide range of horse-powered vehicles that could also haul bottles and aid street sweeping.

"It is a serious alternative — horses are already in use in over 70 towns as replacements for gasoline- and diesel-powered service vehicles," said de Veyrac, pointing to the ‘Hippoville’ prototype parked in the exhibition hall….

Studies about cost and overall carbon footprint are still underway but supporters say the animals beat cars and trucks on a number of criteria, especially for transport work requiring frequent stops over short distances, like emptying trash bins.

Here is a related thought from the Anti-Planner (empahsis added):

Many planning advocates take it for granted that sprawl and auto driving are inherently unsustainable. McShane shows just how this attitude can go when he describes Halle Neustadt, which some Swedish urban planners once described as “the most sustainable city in the world.”

McShane here refers to some field work done by the Antiplanner. To make a long story short, what made Halle Neustadt “sustainable” was poverty, and as soon its residents gained some wealth, many of them moved out and most of the rest bought automobiles, turning the cities many greenspaces into parking lots.

And, oh by the way, the urban planning ideas don’t even work:

Owen then turns to climate change, which he describes as the last gasp of smart growth. Smart growth, he notes, “has always been a policy in search of a justification, a solution in search of a problem.” Now, in climate change, smart-growth advocates hope they have found such a problem.

One difficulty, McShane notes, is that there is no guarantee that smart growth is really more greenhouse-friendly than ordinary sprawl. Depending on load factors, Diesel trains can emit more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than autos, and concrete-and-steel high-rise condos can emit more CO2 than wood homes.