Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Re: Technology Redux


First, my comment against the "we gotta do something" folks was a simple rant which was NOT directed at you or your comment on Lomborg. I apologize for not making this clear.

Yes, Lomborg raises points: both good and bad. That is the essence of the nature of commentary - it is rare that *only* the Good Points are made. This is true regardless of one’s position on any specific issue and AGW in general. If anything, it points out that Lomborg is human. It also points out the absurdity of a scientist, at one time most well-respected and revered, suddenly being demonized and outcast for failing to march in lockstep with “the consensus” (which happens all too frequently, on both sides).

Second - kudos for recognizing the folly in trying to define an IDEAL temperature. (Not that I expected *you* to fall for it.) My point was (again) directed against the "gotta do something" crowd, who demand a specific action(s) without bothering to define the parameters of what would constitute success. Again, YOU recognize this, but those theoretical "others" in the blogosphere who may read these posts may not.

Consider the proposition that "human activity might contribute to climate change". Sounds good in print - but the key word is MIGHT; not CONTRIBUTE. Far too many proponents are so focused on "doing something" they do not consider whether or not actions are legitimately warranted.

You (correctly) acknowledge a key point of the denier side for the entire AGW argument with "Humans have little control over the natural cycles of climate change." YES! There are WAY too many that fail to acknowledge this simple truth; instead, they focus on the arrogance of "assigning blame" upon the actions of mankind and further extend that arrogance with the assumption that "since we caused it, we can fix it." Hogwash. Not proven.

Then, let me state I 100% agree with your following statement, "But it is only practical to calculate the effect of the human contribution and estimate the value of reducing it." Again, BINGO! Calculate and estimate the value. I maintain that until you understand at least the majority of the entire cycle, you cannot accurately calculate the effect of human activity as a definable percentage of the issue at hand. (We just don't know enough about WHAT affects Climate Change.) Without a clear understanding of the scope of how something occurs, you cannot assign a value to changing one (suspected) agent of change. Let me make the (obvious) statement...

Cutting human-activity CO2 emissions in half will directly reduce the affect of the CO2 portion of Climate Change which is directly tied to CO2 as a GHG by the percentage of CO2 directly created by humans.

This is blindingly obvious - and I am 100% confident that every single climate scientist on either side would agree with the statement taken on its own merits, because it defines an obvious mathematical aspect. It does not, however, prove that making ANY change is warranted or will even have a discernable effect.

As for your point, I would submit that science has accumulated sufficient evidence on the human contribution to climate change that the debate should now shift from whether or not it is happening to what sorts of actions make the most sense.” I would agree if you will include “IF ANY” after the word “actions”. Do we need to know *everything* about the problem before taking action? Of course not. But we certainly cannot restrict of focus to ONE aspect and leap to the conclusion that changes in THAT area will “solve the problem” and are therefore mandatory. Yes, by all means, lets talk about WHAT should be done, by first defining the SCOPE of the problem.

OK.. OK… I’ve been beating my gums about EVIDENCE. Let me attempt to define it: Evidence is/are observations, made by people at some time and place. (Observations by remote sensing equipment must be reasonably verified by people.) Things you can see, hold, hear and record. Evidence is not just any observations, only the relevant ones matter. And the Real World trumps theory every time.

Now, by definition, Computer models are NOT evidence. Models are wonderfully sophisticated, put together by experts, and getting better all the time… But even if they could predict the climate correctly (they can’t, not with reasonable precision, say a 2% error rate), and even if they were based on solid proven theories (they aren’t), they still wouldn’t count as evidence. Models of complex systems are based on scores of assumptions and estimates piled on dozens of theories. Example: None – repeat *NONE* - of the current models forecast that temperatures would stop rising from 2001 to 2008. So there is at least one other factor that is more important than CO2 and the models don’t know what it is…

And I do so agree with Lomborg’s assertion of a TRUE market-based approach, which cap-and-trade most definitely is NOT. I don’t know how I implied market-based ideas are bad. Sorry.

Government funding of scientific research is a questionable issue, which I struggle with. On the one hand, there are historical instances where such government funding has worked relatively well, and others where it failed miserably. On the other hand, I generally disapprove of direct payments using taxpayer funds for research – I much prefer tax breaks to encourage private investment by those willing to take the risk for the potential reward. Gripping hand is, whenever government tries to manipulate human activity, no matter worthy or potentially beneficial the purpose or desirable the goal, it almost inevitably FAILS. (I have no problem with PRIVATE funding.)

I’ll close this rant with the observation that all this blather about “but there is a consensus” is less than worthless. Demanding action because everyone agrees with one position or another is bogus and has NOTHING to do with science. At one point, everyone (the consensus) agreed that the Sun rotated about the Earth. That did not make it Right or objectively relevant.

My point here is that “Science” is not a democracy, nor is it a Game “won” by scoring debating points in the absence of demonstrable facts. Natural laws and provable scientific facts do not rise into existence because a UN committee decrees it.

You are correct – and WE AGREE – that far too much time is being spent in the pursuit of “I’m Right and You Are Wrong” instead of pursuing actual research without regard for where the collected data will take us. Too many have a vested interest in massaging the data to produce a specifically desired result (either way), and THAT is the Real Problem.

I will now put down my pitchfork and take a breath, giving the baton back to you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Technology Redux


Regarding your latest post, let's begin by pruning away the most obvious misconceptions.

First, you say:

"Apparently, all that is required is the effective destruction of ONE country's economy, while the arguably "biggest offenders' do nothing..."

...which is exactly the opposite of what I was saying.

I said: "...More's the pity, because amateurs like Lomborg represent the only worthwhile opposition to unilateral "cap and trade" proposals being debated in this country today."

I then went on to quote (and agree with most of) a Lomborg piece which specifically singles out the folly of reducing carbon emissions unilaterally. I don't think I could have been more explicit about this if I had written it across the sky in letters of fire.

Second, and this is crucial, there is no such thing as the "ideal" temperature. Global concentrations of habitation and industry represent human adaptation to climate. Any substantial change can often lead to catastrophic consequences. Witness if you will the dust bowl of the 30's. This event was the result of not only some environmental factors (drought) which were beyond human control, but also some near sighted agricultural practices over which humans definitely did have control.

Today's farmers will tell you Steve, that the "ideal" temperature is that which results in the greatest harvest. But since they cannot rely on this or any other environmental variable, they take preventive measures like crop rotation, soil conservation and integrated disease management. None of these practices would have prevented the drought of the 30's. But no one can argue that they would not have drastically reduced the severity of it. Now if you accept that human activity might contribute to climate change, measures to lessen the impact of global warming by cutting back on the human contribution to it are no less a practical approach to farming than is crop rotation.

But this also holds true for any number of human enterprises which rely on a surety of environment. Humans have little control over the natural cycles of climate change. But it is only practical to calculate the effect of the human contribution and estimate the value of reducing it.

Now on any scale, from that of the individual to that of mankind altogether, it is always reasonable to demand justification for any present investment, particularly a costly one, which is claimed to yield future benefit. In the event, a healthy dose of skepticism is a useful tool. But consider that if 99 of a hundred doctors advise a man as to the urgency of undergoing a potentially life saving, yet perilous operation, is it wise for him to delay it until the single skeptical doctor agrees? Surely, the man would want to believe the skeptic, since by doing so he avoids the peril of the operation. But merely waiting on a hundred percent certainty is a poor substitute for good judgement.

I would submit that science has accumulated sufficient evidence on the human contribution to climate change that the debate should now shift from whether or not it is happening to what sorts of actions make the most sense. While I disagree that cap and trade schemes are a cynical attempt to re-distribute wealth and accumulate political power, I do agree they should be subject to a healthy dose of skepticism. What Lomborg was saying in his article was that unilateral action to reduce carbon emissions by some countries is worthless so long as other developing countries continue to offset them with increases. His argument, which makes sense, is that meaningful reductions will not occur until advances in technology provide individuals and industry with energy alternatives which are cheaper than fossil fuel. This is essentially a market based approach and I am surprised to find you of all people questioning it.

Government rightly and often funds research into technologies which may not be of present value to private industry, but pay big dividends down the road - and everyone benefits. Government funded research has been going on for over 50 years now in the field of fusion power and we are still many years away from a cost effective application. Yet, if and when we succeed it is almost impossible to overestimate the benefits to private industry and indeed all mankind. This is precisely the kind of technology Lomborg is referring to. Your turn...


Monday, April 27, 2009

Re: Technology and AGW


You have a problem with Senator Inhofe denying a problem exists... well, I have a problem with with those who insist the "solution" to said problem doesn't require simultaneous participation by all who are affected (by definition, the whole planet). Apparently, all that is required is the effective destruction of ONE country's economy, while the arguably "biggest offenders' do nothing...

There are many who examine a particular effect and discern what THEY consider to be the primary cause (which, of course, requires immediate and economically disastrous action) And, there are clearly just as many playing fast and loose with FACTS on the AGW-proponent side as there may be on the 'denier' side.

I won't argue that the climate changes... It always has, it always will... I submit we simply do not know enough with adequate certainty about WHY this change happens, and what if ANYTHING to do about it...

However, I *do* challenge the conclusion that (a) the actions of MANKIND are directly and primarily responsible, (b) we can do anything about it, and (c) that *ANY* of the proposed "solutions" has been demonstrably proven to ADDRESS THE PROBLEM.

I maintain that Cap-and-Trade has absolutely *nothing* to do with addressing ANY aspect of Climate Change. It is first -and-foremost a mechanism to re-distribute wealth on a global basis for the ultimate profit of a select few. Cap-and-Trade is a political tool - NOT a scientific one - to be expressly wielded by those who desire power over the lives and economic productivity of others. It relies upon an emotional need to "do something" by appealing to the less intelligent while placing an unaccepatble burden on the backs of those most capable of *Really* addressing the issue.

I'm unsure how to take your analogy on "growing corn instead of poppies". You seem to be implying that those who recognize what may be a problem have a duty and responsibility to provide "alternatives" to those who are CAUSING said problem in order to gain their participation. If we're going to insist of having a moral high ground, isn't there a concept of shared responsibility when "everyone" is in danger?

Does it make sense to "find a technological solution" that doesn't have the active support of everyone involved, especially when the COSTS associated with the solution are potentially so great? By what right does one insist that *some* "pay the price" for "saving the planet" while others reap the same benefits?

And - it goes without saying - that if you're going to provide a technological solution, and BEFORE you demand its immediate and world-wide implementation - you better be able to PROVE (1) it works as intended, (2) it has limited or no 'booby-traps', e.g., unintended consequences, (3) it has an reasonable price tag to be borne by those who pay the price, and (4) that those who pay for it will be somehwat guaranteed of reaping the greatest benefit.

BTW, can you find someone who will define precisely which global temperature is IDEAL, and then justify it? After all, if we're going to worry about warming (or cooling, or just 'change') shouldn't we have have a clearly defined GOAL for where things need to be?

For a solution to be found, you must first - completely and fully - define the parameters of precisely WHAT constitutes the nature of the PROBLEM. And that, quite simply, hasn't been done.

- Steve

Saturday, April 25, 2009



I'm sure I have given you the impression that I am fairly inflexible when it comes to the science behind global warming. Well, I am. But once you have been convinced as to the soundness of the science, what then? I have a major problem with policy makers like Senator Inhofe who try to prevent action to solve a problem by denying the problem even exists. To me, this gives advocates of extreme measures an enormous advantage, since most of the opposition is spending its time wearing itself out fighting a battle which has already been lost - thus rendering themselves impotent when it comes time to craft a solution.

A few years ago I read (and saved) a rather obscure article from the Washington Post by Robert Samuelson entitled "Global Warming's Real Inconvenient Truth". You might want to take a look. From the article:

"The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless."

This morning's NYT featured an op-ed by Bjorn Lomberg, "Don’t Waste Time Cutting Emissions", which offers a fairly stark and accessible criticism of the strategies currently on the table to mitigate the effects of global warming. One proviso: Bjorn Lomborg has a degree in political science and virtually no credentials as an environmental scientist. His works have been widely panned by academics since, when writing about the effects of global warming he routinely demonstrates a disregard for scientific accuracy - up to and including the actual fabrication of facts. For this reason, he is not the kind of person I would ordinarily cite as an authority in the global warming debate. ...More's the pity, because amateurs like Lomborg represent the only worthwhile opposition to unilateral "cap and trade" proposals being debated in this country today. From the Lomborg piece:

"WE are often told that tackling global warming should be the defining task of our age — that we must cut emissions immediately and drastically. But people are not buying the idea that, unless we act, the planet is doomed. Several recent polls have revealed Americans’ growing skepticism. Solving global warming has become their lowest policy priority, according to a new Pew survey.

Moreover, strategies to reduce carbon have failed. Meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, politicians from wealthy countries promised to cut emissions by 2000, but did no such thing. In Kyoto in 1997, leaders promised even stricter reductions by 2010, yet emissions have kept increasing unabated. Still, the leaders plan to meet in Copenhagen this December to agree to even more of the same — drastic reductions in emissions that no one will live up to. Another decade will be wasted...

...Kyoto-style emissions cuts can only ever be an expensive distraction from the real business of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. The fact is, carbon remains the only way for developing countries to work their way out of poverty. Coal burning provides half of the world’s electricity, and fully 80 percent of it in China and India, where laborers now enjoy a quality of life that their parents could barely imagine.

No green energy source is inexpensive enough to replace coal now. Given substantially more research, however, green energy could be cheaper than fossil fuels by mid-century. Sadly, the old-style agreement planned for Copenhagen this December will have a negligible effect on temperatures. This renders meaningless any declarations of “success” that might be made after the conference. We must challenge the orthodoxy of Kyoto and create a smarter, more realistic strategy."

Now before I go too far overboard - I should point out that in the article Lomborg makes a characteristically ham-handed claim: "Economic estimates that assign value to the long-term benefits that would come from reducing warming — things like fewer deaths from heat and less flooding — show that every dollar invested in quickly making low-carbon energy cheaper can do $16 worth of good. If the Kyoto agreement were fully obeyed through 2099, it would cut temperatures by only 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Each dollar would do only about 30 cents worth of good." And this is just plain false. Lomborg's calculations are based on a distortion of both the science and economics of the issue. Generally, his calculations are based on unrealistically low estimates of global warming's negative impacts and assign (again, unrealistically) greater values to current assets in relation to future ones.

Still, Lomborg does make a good point - which echos in the Samuelson article I cited earlier, and one with which I fear you will agree. Here, from out of the blue, is a parallel: It's all well and good to say a man should grow corn rather than poppies, but you aren't going to stop the heroin trade in Afghanistan until you provide farmers there with an economically viable alternative.

Much as I hate to admit it, the global economics of fossil fuel are stacking the deck against any program to diminish the human contribution to global warming. You can tell a man that paying triple the cost per kilowatt will make things much easier for his great grandchildren, but this probably won't do any good if the man is starving in the first place. And, if government is actually going to make any progress, it should be concern itself with finding a solution to the technology problem first.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Can NASA do anything right?

I'll kick this off by asking - should we get rid of (or at least replace) NASA?

They seem to have fallen into the abyss of bureaucracy - where the sole motivation is to protect existing turf and employ paper-pushers. The delays (not to mention the general design) of the Constellation replacement for the shuttle is an excellent example. The Onion summed up this attitude within the agency nicely: [link]:

Why not get NASA *out* of the implementation (and control) of manned space flight and let them be a contractor TO private industry, providing launch services, etc. And allow others to complete against NASA for those services. Both would be better, the budgets (and overhead / deadhead) drastically reduced, and human space flight will get moving again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The BLOG begins...

The BLOG begins!

As the BLOG name implies - we'll be posting comments and general blather from all directions. On those times we delve into the political arena, Chris will typically operate from the Left, I'll have a go from the Right. Frequently, we'll agree on the same point, and we'll always maintain our own positions, regardless (unless and until proven wrong, of course).