Archive for the ‘Manzi’ Category

Ideology on parade: To Mark Levin and conservatives, NRO's own climate expert is now a “Global Warming Zealot”?!

April 23rd, 2010 No comments

My goodness! Another Frumming at NRO!

So Jim Manzi, a conservative/libertarian and a reasoned critic of cap and trade – who has been retained by NRO and is on the National Review board of trustees – has, by criticizing poor climate science arguments by neocon polemicist Mark Levin, become Public Enemy No. 1!! Could the right do a better job of illustrating Julian Sanchez’s point about the right-wing circle-?

The pirana feeding is on; enjoy the show!

Says Andrew Sullivan:

April 22nd, 2010 @ 04 12
Jim Manzi Is A “Global Warming Zealot”?!
Yes, Jim Manzi, one of the most effective, data-driven critics of cap and trade is described thus on Mark Levin’s Facebook page and all Levin’s fans congratulate him for smacking down a “liberal” and an “eco-Marxist”!

So there you have it. When someone like Manzi is a left-wing zealot, then the right has simply ceased to be in any way rational. The circle has closed.

David Frum:

How wonderful to return to a free country, I thought as I stepped off the plane from Beijing at Washington Dulles. No more censorship, no more official lies, no more kowtowing to high officials who gained power by their mindless repetition of party dogma…

Then alas I opened my browser and read the dump-on-Manzi comments on NRO’s The Corner. Manzi had deviated from the One Correct Way of Mark Levin Thought, and all his former colleagues had been summoned together to Denounce and Struggle Against Him.

Not one stood up to be counted in Manzi’s defense, not even colleagues whom Manzi might have had reason to regard as close personal friends. (Take a second to notice whose bylines are missing from yesterday’s discussions.)

What makes this episode all the more remarkable is that Manzi is actually a member of NR’s board of trustees – i.e., somebody who might claim a little more scope to speak his mind. But even for trustees, there are limits, and Manzi crossed them.

It’s important to understand what exactly the limit is.

Manzi could have safely disputed Levin’s claims on global warming if he had observed a couple of conditions. First, acknowledge Liberty and Tyranny as a good and important book. Second, acknowledge Levin’s “service” (i.e., leadership) of the conservative cause. Third, isolate criticisms to one particular finite point – avoid drawing any larger conclusions – and be sure to wrap any criticisms in a blanket of compliments. Just because one particular chapter happens to be slovenly, ignorant, and hysterical should not lead you to question the intellectual merit of the book as a whole.


David Frum

Categories: climate change, Manzi Tags:

Wow; a type of climate science review we'll never see at Mises Blog; at NRO, Jim Manzi takes down "wingnuttery" by Mark Levin

April 23rd, 2010 No comments

Last week at the NYT, Ross Douthat, himself stirred by Julian Sanchez’s recent perception of a problem of “epistemic closure” (an ideologically sealed news and thought echochamber) on the Right , and threw down a gauntlet to conservative intellectuals:

“Conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.”

In response, an astonishing thing happened: Jim Manzi, a relatively informed and sophisticated commentator on climate policies at Cato (who I’ve disagreed with a number of times and whom Douthat referred to as one of the Right’s “impressive younger thinkers”), took up the challenge and – at NRO’s The Corner – in the heart of “Planet Gore” country, produced an April 21 post that pulled no punches in dismantling the climate change discussion in Mark Levin’s bestselling Liberty and Tyranny. Manzi had the effrontery to refer to Levin’s science discussion as “awful” and “wingnuttery“!

Readers beware, a liberal serving of graphic excerpts of Manzi’s piece follows (emphasis added):

“I’m not expert on many topics the book addresses, so I flipped to its treatment of a subject that I’ve spent some time studying — global warming — in order to see how it treated a controversy in which I’m at least familiar with the various viewpoints and some of the technical detail.

“It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times — not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.

“Levin argues that human-caused global warming is nothing to worry about, and merely an excuse for the Enviro-Statists (capitalization in the original) to seize more power. It reads like a bunch of pasted-together quotes and stories based on some quick Google searches by somebody who knows very little about the topic, and can’t be bothered to learn. After pages d\evoted to talking about prior global cooling fears, and some ridiculous or cynical comments by advocates for emissions restrictions (and one quote from Richard Lindzen, a very serious climate scientist who disputes the estimated magnitude of the greenhouse effect, but not its existence), he gets to the key question on page 184 (eBook edition):

‘[D]oes carbon dioxide actually affect temperature levels?’

“Levin does not attempt to answer this question by making a fundamental argument that proceeds from evidence available for common inspection through a defined line of logic to a scientific view. Instead, he argues from authority by citing experts who believe that the answer to this question is pretty much no. Who are they? An associate professor of astrophysics, a geologist, and an astronaut.

“But he says that these are just examples:

‘There are so many experts who reject the notion of man-made global warming and the historical claims about carbon dioxide they are too numerous to list here.’

“He goes on to cite a petition “rejecting the theory of human-caused global warming” sponsored by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and signed by more than 31,000 scientists. There are a few problems with this survey that Levin doesn’t mention. More than 20,000 of these “scientists” lack PhDs in any field. There was very little quality control: At least one person signed it as Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. Scientific American did the hard work of actually contacting a sample of individual signatories, and estimated that there are about 200 climate scientists who agree with the statement in the petition among the signatories. And most important by far, the text of the petition is not close to Levin’s claim of rejecting the notion of man-made global warming. In the key sentence it says that signatories do not believe that there is compelling scientific evidence that human release of greenhouse gases will cause catastrophic heating and disruption of the earth’s climate. Depending on the definition of “catastrophic,” I could agree to that. Yet I don’t reject the notion of man-made global warming.

“On one side of the scale of Levin’s argument from authority, then, we have three scientists speaking outside their areas of central expertise, plus a dodgy petition. What’s on the other side of the scale that Levin doesn’t mention to his readers?

“Among the organizations that don’t reject the notion of man-made global warming are: the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; The Royal Society; the national science academies of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand. Russia, South Africa, and Sweden; the U.S. National Research Council; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the American Chemical Society; the American Physical Society; the American Geophysical Union; and the World Meteorological Organization. That is, Levin’s argument from authority is empty.

“Of course, this roll call could be arbitrarily long and illustrious, and that does not make them right. Groupthink or corruption is always possible, and maybe the entire global scientific establishment is wrong. Does he think that these various scientists are somehow unaware that Newsweek had an article on global cooling in the 1970s? Or are they aware of the evidence in his book, but are too trapped by their assumptions to be able to incorporate this data rationally? Or does he believe that the whole thing is a con in which thousands of scientists have colluded across decades and continents to fool such gullible naifs as the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, numerous White House science advisors, Margaret Thatcher, and so on? Are the Queen of England and the Trilateral Commission in on it too?

“But what evidence does Levin present for any of this amazing incompetence or conspiracy beyond that already cited? None. He simply moves on to criticisms of proposed solutions. This is wingnuttery.

“[D]espite what intellectuals will often claim, most people (including me) don’t really want their assumptions challenged most of the time (e.g., the most intense readers of automobile ads are people who have just bought the advertised car, because they want to validate their already-made decision). I get that people often want comfort food when they read. Fair enough. But if you’re someone who read this book in order to help you form an honest opinion about global warming, then you were suckered. Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.”

Manzi’s piece brought a quick and flabbergasted reactions by NRO neocons Andy McCarthy, Kathryn Jean Lopez and Chris Horner, as noted by Julian Sanchez, Daniel Larison at American Conservative,
and others:

Said Larison:

“Jim Manzi made the mistake of taking up this challenge and applying intellectual rigor and honesty to a prominent conservative radio host’s book on a subject he understands fairly well. The inevitable circling-of-the-wagons that has followed illustrates perfectly the problem Manzi was trying to address in Levin’s work. Not only do Manzi’s colleagues automatically defend Levin’s sub-par arguments, but they regard it as horribly bad form to dare criticize those arguments with the vehemence that their poor quality would seem to merit.”

To be honest, I was surprised by Manzi’s bad form as well. That, if not his ideologically weak climate science views, ought certainly to exclude him from commenting at LvMI. On climate science, Hayek be darned: we want conservatives – nay – neocons! – on climate science.

Categories: climate change, Manzi Tags:

More on Manzi/Cato on climate

August 22nd, 2008 4 comments

A few days ago I concluded that Jim Manzi’s lead essay in Cato Unbound’s new climate issue exhibited rather weak “libertariarian sinews”.

Allow me to note a few additional remarks on Manzi`s arguments.

1.  It’s clear from Manzi’s essay that (i) he is actually quite concerned about the risks posed by anticipated climate change, even while he dismisses the “scare stories” and the “precautionary principle” and (ii) he believes that the risks warrant even greater investments by government in climate science and carbon sequestration/geo-engineering efforts. 

While I commend Manzi for addressing at close to face value the IPCC’s warnings (even while climate science does not provide a firm basis for precise temperature or climate change prognostications) and the advice offered by economists such as William Nordhaus and Martin Weitzman, it is puzzling that he does not see in climate change concerns the opportunity for a positive agenda of deregulation and tax reform that would liberate our economy and help to spur changes in capital investments.

2.  Manzi has underplayed both the possible degree of climate change under “business as usual”/non-aggressive policy scenarios and the absolute and relative magnitude of the concomitant risks and costs.

Manzi notes that the “current IPCC consensus forecast is that, under fairly reasonable assumptions for world population and economic growth, global temperatures will rise by about 3 °C by the year 2100.” Note that this implies a an AVERAGE global temperature increase of 5.4 °F, with even greater temperature increases in the US and elsewhere the further one gets away from the equator. The IPCC does not make “forecasts”, but has analyzed and released a number of projections based on various scenarios, most of which assume aggressive actions to deploy clean energy technologies.

As fellow contributor Joe Romm (undergrad and Ph.D. in physics at MIT, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he writes and maintains the Climate Progress blog, and author of “Hell and High Water: Global Warming–the Solution and the Politics–and What We Should Do” ) argues, Manzi has seriously understated the risks of much higher temperatures by 2100 that the IPCC has noted.  Joe Romm notes that, in fact, the growth of actual global carbon emissions since 2000 has exceeded the IPCC’s most extreme A1F1 scenario, and argues that 

“the latest IPCC report finds that, absent a sharp reversal of BAU trends, we are headed toward atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide far exceeding 1,000 parts per million by 2100. IPCC’s “best estimate” for temperature increase is 5.5°C (10°F), which means that over much of the inland United States, temperatures would be about 15°F higher.” (emphasis in original)

Further, even using a very optimistic projection, Manzi has also seriously understated the impact and costs that the IPCC suggests may be felt in the US. Manzi, assuming that global temperatures rise “only” by 3 °C increase by 2100, refers to an IPCC summary that states that such a temperature increase would cause total estimated economic losses in the low end of a range of 1–5 percent of global GDP (and later uses an estimate of 3% of GDP). This ignores not only the much higher costs that will be faced if warming is even greater, but also ignores:

(1) that as global GDP is expected to substantially grow, the absolute magnitude of the annual GDP loss may be very large, indeed,

(2) that measures of “economic” losses include adaptation costs as a part of GDP but do not cover non-market damages, the risk of potential extreme weather, socially contingent effects, or the potential for longer-term catastrophic events and

(3) that the greatest negative effects of climate change are expected to be felt in developing countries that have a relatively insignificant share of GDP.

3.  Manzi notes that even with the low-ball assumptions, mainstream economists like Yale’s William Nordhaus have long argued on a standard cost-benefit analysis basis that the gains from implementing an escalating carbon tax would outweigh the costs (Nordhaus has for many years been at the low end of the benefits to be gained), but even so Manzi argues that “the real world of geostrategic competition and domestic politics” one leads him to greatly discount the basis for a policy the difficulties with implementing a carbon tax or similar policy.

But it looks like Manzi has put his thumb on the scale again. Manzi asserts that in order to have an effective GHG mitigation policy, we would have to agree to, and enforce, “for hundreds of years” a “global, harmonized tax on all significant uses of carbon and other greenhouse gases in any material form” that “would run directly contrary to the narrow self-interest of most people currently alive on the planet” and that “all the side deals that would be required to get this done would create enough economic drag to more than offset the benefit.” Manzi also points to the ineffectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol, the apparent unwillingness of developing nations to agree to GHG restrictions and the penchant for politicians for loading down climate change legislation with special deals as reasons to think that a globally-coordinated climate policy is not worth while.

But while these are serious concerns, it is relatively easy to counter that:

– the Kyoto Protocol is no failure, but that the Europeans have been waiting for the US to agree to similar action rather than blindly biting any bullet unilaterally;

– it is clear that China, India, Brazil and other developing countries are seriously concerned about climate change, but their initial participation is not needed for the developed nations to commence a meaningful mitigation deal, and there are trade and other levers (including a desire for cleaner energy technologies) to eventually bring them on boar;

– Manzi later acknowledges this in his own plan for an agreement among developed nations to invest in technology that can then be shared with developing ones;and

– effective climate policy can be initiated and implemented domestically without external coordination, such as power market deregulation, allowing immediate depreciation of capital investments, and replacement of income taxes with resource taxes.

Further, it’s clear that Manzi`s assertion that climate policies “run directly contrary to the narrow self-interest of most people currently alive on the planet” is simply an unfounded and unjustifiable conclusion.

All of mankind shares the atmosphere, as an open-access but indispensable commons. We are approaching the point that the costs and risks of inaction (or rather, the costs of continuing free use without responsibility for costs/risks shifted to others) merit the costs of shifting to a system of shared rules (and other investments) with respect to its management – the efforts in which people and firms of many nations are voluntarily engaging in this regard are themselves evidence that even narrow self-interest justifies coordination with our neighbors (even as gamesmanship remains).

4.  Manzi next, rightly, considers the “inherently unquantifiable possibility that our probability distribution itself is wrong,” so that “the case for a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade emissions rationing system is really that it would be a hedge against the risk that actual damages from warming would be much, much worse than current risk-adjusted projections indicate,” with the primary purpose of such a tax or rationing system being “not to encourage conservation per se, but rather to induce the development of new technologies that can de-link economic growth from damaging accumulations of atmospheric carbon dioxide”.

Oddly, though, Manzi simply concludes, with no analysis, that any carbon pricing program would be “insanely expensive” and yet even then “would very likely not be high enough to successfully incentivize the creation of the desired technologies.” One would like to know on what basis he concludes that markets do not respond to incremental changes in prices – so that the governments of developed nations ought to directly make certain climate change technology investments (or incentivize them via prizes, etc.)

5.  It is also odd that Manzi then turns immediately from the dismissal of a gradualist pricing approach to a focus on “rapid, aggressive emissions abatement” that would only be justified if “the outer edge of the probability distribution of our predictions for global-warming impacts is enormously conservative, and disaster looms if we don’t change our ways radically and this instant,” in which case Manzi agrees that “we really should start shutting down power plants and confiscating cars tomorrow morning.”

Manzi seems to be as alarmist as many enviros, and to have even less faith in the market than they do.

Manzi then briefly addresses – and conflates with the table-pounding of Al Gore and others – the more sophisticated argument (advanced by Harvard’s Marty Weitzman) that “the risk that actual damages from warming would be much, much worse than current risk-adjusted projections indicate” is quite large. Says Manzi, “any rationale for rapid emissions abatement that confronts the facts in evidence is really a more or less sophisticated restatement of the precautionary principle: the somewhat grandiosely named idea that the downside possibilities are so bad that we should pay almost any price to avoid almost any chance of their occurrence.” 

Manzi believes that worrying too much about climate change is “to get lost in the hothouse world of single-issue advocates, and become myopic about risk,” while ignoring “lots of other unquantifiable threats of at least comparable realism and severity”. Well, I beg to disagree. While we can certainly deal with more than one risk at a time, why is it that conservatives like throwing trillions at “defense” and can focus on bird flu, but need to write off climate change? Could it have anything to do with what industries are in favor with Republicans and the White House?

Climate change differs from the other risks Manzi raises in that it is a risk that our own activities generate (not an “external” threat) – and one that we can manage by focussing on who is generating risk and asking them to bear some of the cost. Like the others, though, action is in some ways a collective choice problem, but unlike blowing trillions unilaterally on “defense”, climate change is a risk that other developed nations have shown they are willing to co-invest in heading off.

So why is continuing to be the spoiler in our national self-interest? Manzi provides the answer with a strawman:

“The loss of economic and technological development that would be required to eliminate literally all theorized climate change risk would cripple our ability to deal with virtually every other foreseeable and unforeseeable risk.”

Those who are concerned about climate change have long concluded that we are already facing ongoing climate change, with further unavoidable change in the pipeline, so simply nobody is talking about “eliminate[ing] literally all theorized climate change risk”.

6.  Finally, Manzi trots out his own proposal, after against dismissing any carbon pricing policies (and ignoring all others, like deregulation) with un-established suppositions:

“IF there is a real, though unquantifiably small, possibility of catastrophic climate change, and IF we would ideally want some technological hedges as insurance against this unlikely scenario, and IF raising the price of carbon to induce private economic actors to develop the technologies would be an enormously more expensive means of accomplishing this than would be advisable, then what, if anything, should we do about the danger?”

Apparently, Manzi has introduced these suppositions to tone down the much firmer and more extensive proposals he has made and justified elsewhere:

“There is, however, massive uncertainty (rather than mere risk) in our ability to predict the impacts of AGW, and recognizing this reality should lead us to take at least two actions: (1) improve the science to better-specify these extreme risks, and (2) hedge this uncertainty by making “insurance-type” investments today that would provide protection if an extreme AGW scenario ends up happening.”

Manzi`s proposals? To avoid the “failed game of industrial policy” by creating a climate change DARPA with a “a very high-IQ staff” to make many small (but collectively substantial) investments related to “detecting or ameliorating the effects of global warming” that “serve a public rather than a private need” (viz., that provide “no obvious potential source of profit to investors if successful”). Manzi thinks investments of the following types are merited: “improved global climate prediction capability, visionary biotechnology to capture and recycle carbon dioxide emissions, or geo-engineering projects to change the albedo of the earth’s surface or atmosphere”. Does Manzi not see that carbon pricing, if structured to allow offsets, would encourage private investments in all of these areas?

Ironically, Manzi concludes that “attempt[ing] to use the government to control the evolution of the energy sector of the economy” is not a “prudent reaction” to risk, but “the opposite: an impractical, panicky reaction unworthy of a serious government”.

Well, Jim, nice try, and thanks for your impractical, imprudent and panicky reaction.

Jim Manzi/Cato on climate: with flabby "libertariarian sinews", he advocates no panic, but domestic climate science and technology investments

August 18th, 2008 4 comments

[UPDATE:  See my follow-up post.]

Cato Unbound’s new climate issue features a lead essay by Jim Manzi, who is an MIT- and Wharton-trained statistician and CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (which uses pattern recognition and optimization models for sales and marketing).

Manzi is a newcomer to the climate commentary scene, but has made a splash in conservatives circles over the past year or so through a series of articles in the National Review and The American Scene.  Manzi’s bio at Cato states that Manzi’s position is that “global warming, while real, is a problem of limited magnitude, deserving a proportional response, not overreaction“.

Manzi’s essay at Cato is a polished rehashing of points that he has made elsewhere, tweaked shamelessly to appeal to libertarians, as in this lead-off paragraph:

“The danger of potentially catastrophic global warming is an almost paradigmatic case of decisionmaking under conditions of extreme uncertainty.  Of course, this is just another way of saying that many of the intellectual sinews of libertarianism are central to thinking through this problem.” (emphasis added)

While the essay is worth consideration, aside from this initial mention, it is painfully evident that Manzi’s “libertarian sinews” are rather flimsy; indeed, Manzi:

  •  makes no mention of basic Lockean-based libertarian principles (rights to property in one’s own person, in the fruits of one’s own labor, and in resources taken from nature when mixed with one’s own labor; and duties to abstain from harming others, from taking property of others, and to leave enough and as good for others when taking from the commons) that are relevant to environmental and public policy issues (see Rothbard; Edwin Dolan has laid an application of Lockean principles to climate change here; );

  • fails to acknowledge “environmental” problems as cases where resources are not clearly or effectively owned, either individually or on a community basis, so that some economic actors do not bear the costs or risks of their actions, which costs or risks are shifted to others against their will (see Cordato; Jon Adler makes similar points here); and

  • provides only a rudimentary discussion of public choice issues that, while noting both the difficulties of reaching a global agreement and that government policies to prepare for climate change may be both inefficient and hijacked special interests, disregards the possibilities that effective international steps can be taken by just a few countries and completely fails to consider the role that special interests have played to date in manipulating government policies and in protecting the “GHG emissions/risk-shifting is free” status quo.

Rather, Manzi:

(1) argues that the estimates for future damages that the IPPC derives from models appear rather modest,

(2) downplays the widespread agreement by economists (like Nordhaus) and others that standard cost-benefit analysis provides ample support for carbon pricing (particularly in the form of carbon taxes) now,

(3) argues that we cannot adequately gauge the “massive uncertainties” regarding the “danger of potentially catastrophic global warming” (addressing but failing to mention Weitzman),

(4) argues that the US should not adopt “insanely expensive” measures to “force massive change in the economy” via “rapid, aggressive emissions reductions”,

(5) lumps climate change in with other, external risks (like pandemics and rogues states, which risks, oddly, we actually try to manage), and

(6) and tones down his earlier pieces by presenting an artificially weakened case that,

if there is a real, though unquantifiably small, possibility of catastrophic climate change, and if we would ideally want some technological hedges as insurance against this unlikely scenario, and if raising the price of carbon to induce private economic actors to develop the technologies would be an enormously more expensive means of accomplishing this than would be advisable,” (emphasis added)

THEN the government might be justified in investing in “improved global climate prediction capability, visionary biotechnology to capture and recycle carbon dioxide emissions, or geo-engineering projects to change the albedo of the earth’s surface or atmosphere”.

Manzi concludes with a mix of a case for a surprisingly large government climate program (even if “rife with inefficiencies”) and a bashing of the worst case, while ignoring the middle ground:

“But consider that its costs would be on the order of 1/100th of the costs of imposing a large U.S. carbon tax. It could be massively inefficient and we would still be far better off in actually developing the long–lead-time technologies that we would want if faced with a currently unanticipated emergency.

Hedging against the risk to future generations of potential unanticipated impacts from global warming is a legitimate job for the U.S. government. Ideally, it would be tackled by the governments of the small number of countries with a sophisticated technology development capability acting in some kind of coordinated fashion. A massive carbon tax, a cap-and-trade rationing system, and the attempt to use the government to control the evolution of the energy sector of the economy are all billed as prudent reactions to this risk, but each is the opposite: an impractical, panicky reaction unworthy of a serious government.

I hope to address later various aspects of Manzi’s piece, but I think it is fair to conclude initially that it is not libertarian nor, ultimately, a balanced discussion, but rather a somewhat strange conservative position that we ought to worry about climate change and so the government should throw even MORE money at it, while refusing to harness markets to accomplish the research tasks Manzi wishes to fund or to ask those who are generating climate risks to internalize or shoulder any of the burden.

While this stance might please fossil fuel interests and their defenders, it’s hard to see what, exactly, in Manzi’s analysis – other than his opposition to “massive” carbon taxes – will appeal to libertarians.