Hunh

From the Financial Times:

The timetable to reach a global deal to tackle climate change lay in tatters on Wednesday after the United Nations waived the first deadline of the process laid out at last month’s fractious Copenhagen summit….

The next scheduled meeting is not until late May, in Germany, with another in late November, in Mexico but many officials say more will be needed.

India, China, Brazil and South Africa, which meet this weekend, are likely to insist on deep cuts from developed nations but offer few concessions of their own.

I think I said something like this last month.

Even a blind pig and a stopped watch and all that…

Copenhagen

“What a wad of flavor…”

The point of the Copenhagen talks is to craft an agreement between nations that will allow government to inhibit industrial growth, while not harming their international competitveness. It has nothing–nothing–to do with environmental mitigation and everything to do with international gamesmanship. If the point were to reduce our “carbon footprint” or redice emissions, then each country could enact its own regulations and move forward. But knowing that whatever curbs they enact will simply cause industry (and jobs, and wealth) to flee to countries that haven’t enacted the crippling regulation, everyone is in Copenhagen (“You can see it in my smile”) to make sure that the penalties are imposed everywhere.

And, if possible, to make sure that the penalties are worse in other countries.

The point of the whole thing is–in the grand tradition of European Diplomacy–to screw your neighbor.  Everyone knows this.

Which is why whatever comes out of Copenhagen will be useless, fruitless, pointless, and counter-productive. Even by its own standards.

Whatever countries actually end up getting the shaft, will simply renounce the promise and forego the agreement. Which, I’m pretty sure, will mean that everyone else gets to opt-out too.

We simply shouldn’t waste time, money, or resources on such farces.

Bjorn Lomborg in the WSJ.

Climate and Bias

I’ve been swimming in Climate talk for the past few days. Spurred, obviously by the East anglia data leak. Unfortunately, I don’t feel as if I know anything with any greater certainty. However, the whole subject reminds me of economic arguments.

The debate between “Alarmists” and “Deniers” strikes me as awfully similar to the debate between Keynsians and Austrians… each side is so completely enmeshed in a particular methodological approach that the debate rages endlessly. Each side claims methodological superiority, each side claims to have the data on its side, each side claims to make more accurate predictions, and each side claims to be more interested in truth and less blinded by ideology. For the layperson, the argument that sounds the more persuasive is the argument that better corresponds with an existing structure of knowledge.

So where does that leave me? It leaves me in a muddle.

Where should that leave me? I have no idea.

When I think about economic and policy debates (and I have some small experience arguing for economic theories and policy prescriptions that are seriously outside mainstream thought!) I remind myself that my certainty about a particular issue (say, single-payer health coverage) depends in large part on the interrelation of a relatively large amount of information culled from related but essentially disparate disciplines: economics, philosophy, political science, and psychology. My position on a particular issue (anyone’s position, really) depends on a complex lattice work of accumulated knowledge and interpretation, effectively communicating all the intracies of that lattice work is extremely difficult. And is often extraordinarily frustrating!

So in that sense, I have a strong empathy for the Alarmists. They’ve taken an extraordinarily large body of research from related but disparate disciplines and are attempting to synthesize that knowledge in the form of a useful prediction.

“Average global temperatures will rise over the next several decades and that will cause climatic changes that will pose enormous problems for humanity.”

To me, that sounds awfully similar to,

“Increased federal deficits will rise over the next several decades and that will cause economic hardhsips that will pose enormous problems for humaity.”

Which sounds awfully similar to,

“Average global temperatures may rise slowly over the next several decades but the impact will be slight and the costs are best born by our much wealthy descendants.”

Which sounds awfully similar to,

“Increased federal deficits may rise over the next several decades but the impact will be slight and the cost is best born by our much wealthier descendants.”

So which is true? Well, I think the second is demonstrably, obviously, unfailingly true. The last is absurd on its face and utterly wrong. The other two? I don’t know. I tend to agree with Bjorn Lomborg and discount the veracity of the first. But I take that position largely because of all the arguments I’ve read, the inconsistencies and assumptions in Lomborg’s arguments (and all climate predictions depend on inconsistent data and huge, wallowing assumptions) trouble me least becuase those assumptions mirror my lattice-work of existing knowledge and the inconsistencies seem similar to other inconsistencies I’ve been able to reconcile in other areas.

It’s tempting to say that I agree with Lomborg because he confrims my existing bias. But if my existing bias is true (and surely, it is!) then that confirmation is a valid reason to give his arguments greater credence! Of course, if my biases are wrong…

Which is all to say that analyzing complex propositions is extremely difficult. The climate debate highlights the importance of rigorous attention to detail in the evaluation of any new idea. Every new proposition should be checked against an existing set of knowledge–and the parts that don’t match should be ruthlessly discarded. Whether that means discarding the new proposition or, as is often the case, dissasembling the lattice work and rebuilding the scaffolding to accomodate the new idea.

It’s a tough job and prone to error, but it’s the only way to get anything right.

And in the end, it’s why when I see people withold data and strive to align their predictions with their own financial interests (as was clearly the case at East Anglia), I tend to distrust their conclusions. They’ve given me cause to beleive that they aren’t as committed to evaluting their own set of conceptions as I am and so I trust them less.

Which is not to say that I trust all climate scientists less. I just have more work to do evaluating their claims and their counterclaims. And I think, if the East Anglia data leak shows anything, it shows that climate scientists need to do more of that as well.

Bjorn Lomborg

Bjørn Lomborg has a great commentary up at Project Syndicate (great name) on the Waxman-Markey bill.  I’ve been a fan of Lomborg‘s for some time (and had the pleasure to see him speak some time back), but it’s his last sentence that really resonates, “Wanting to shut down the discussion is simply treason against reason.”

You can get his books here. They’re worth reading. Lomborg is a left-liberal Danish scientist who set out to debunk the claims made by Julian Simon. When he found he couldn’t, he had the courage to admit as much and then took the time to re-examine environmental issues from a rational perspective. The result was The Skeptical Environmentalist, a book that incited enormous outrage. Lomborg was villified and even formally accused of scientific dishonesty. (Cleared of all charges.)

Lomborg’s arguments (heresy!) are relatively simple. In essenece, he’s argued that since we have limited funds and limited means, we should focus our energies where they could do the most good. Not surprisingly, his recommendations (clean drinking water) aren’t sexy or politically fashionable (apostate!). But if you’re interested in a scientific approach to environmental problems, check him out. (For the record, Lomborg is a staunch believer in anthropocentric climate change.)

For more, visit lomborg.com.

From the commentary,

Gore and Hansen want a moratorium on coal-fired power plants, but neglect the fact that the hundreds of new power plants that will be opened in China and India in the coming years could lift a billion people out of poverty. Negating this outcome through a moratorium is clearly no unmitigated good.

Likewise, reasonable people can differ on their interpretation of the Waxman-Markey bill. Even if we set aside its masses of pork-barrel spending, and analyses that show it may allow more emissions in the US for the first decades, there are more fundamental problems with this legislation.

At a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars annually, it will have virtually no impact on climate change. If all of the bill’s many provisions were entirely fulfilled, economic models show that it would reduce the temperature by the end of the century by 0.11°C (0.2°F) – reducing warming by less than 4%.

Even if every Kyoto-obligated country passed its own, duplicate Waxman-Markey bills – which is implausible and would incur significantly higher costs – the global reduction would amount to just 0.22°C (0.35°F) by the end of this century. The reduction in global temperature would not be measurable in a hundred years, yet the cost would be significant and payable now.

Is it really treason against the planet to express some skepticism about whether this is the right way forward? Is it treason to question throwing huge sums of money at a policy that will do virtually no good in a hundred years? Is it unreasonable to point out that the inevitable creation of trade barriers that will ensue from Waxman-Markey could eventually cost the world ten times more than the damage climate change could ever have wrought?

Today’s focus on ineffective and costly climate policies shows poor judgment. But I would never want to shut down discussion about these issues – whether it is with Gore, Hansen, or Krugman. Everybody involved in this discussion should spend more time building and acknowledging good arguments, and less time telling others what they cannot say. Wanting to shut down the discussion is simply treason against reason.

Global Not-So-Much-Different

“The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 and every year since 2001.”

That quote says it all. I won’t rehash all of the more standard criticisms of Global Warming, but I will say a couple of things.

First, as Glenn Reynolds often says, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who keep telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.” If they were serious about reducing carbon emissions, they wouldn’t hold conferences in Bali. They’d hold them at the Times Square Marriott like everyone else.

Second, as Michael Crichton points out, science isn’t science unless it’s falsifiable. Science is the process of proposing a hypothesis, making predictions, and then testing those predictions. If Global Warming is science then there should be predictions that can be tested. But it seems that Global Warming predicts anything and everything. That’s the hallmark of faith, not science. Tell me that it’s good science because it hasn’t been disproved, not because it can‘t be disproved.