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Op-ed by nuclear physicist on climate change: questions for "skeptics"

August 5th, 2008 4 comments

John P. Holdren, an MIT and Stanford-trained nuclear physicist who is professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and director of Harvard’s Woods Hole Research Center, former President and Chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and consultant for the past 35 years at the Magnetic Fusion Energy Division of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [yes, this is an appeal to authority] had a short but interesting op-ed in the August 4 Boston Globe.

I think he’s trying to be sensitive, but Holdren may come off a bit arrogant; he’s certainly insensitive to those who are concerned that government may bungle any climate “solution”.  Given his technical knowledge and experience, I hope readers will understand where he’s coming from and encourage them to read the whole thing – which really isn’t too long.

But since I have you here, allow me to quote liberally:

skeptics about [climate change] tend to move, over time, through three stages. First, they tell you you’re wrong and they can prove it. (In this case, “Climate isn’t changing in unusual ways or, if it is, human activities are not the cause.”)

Then they tell you you’re right but it doesn’t matter. (“OK, it’s changing and humans are playing a role, but it won’t do much harm.”) Finally, they tell you it matters but it’s too late to do anything about it. (“Yes, climate disruption is going to do some real damage, but it’s too late, too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we’ll just have to hunker down and suffer.”) …

The few with credentials in climate-change science have nearly all shifted in the past few years from the first category to the second, however, and jumps from the second to the third are becoming more frequent.

Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.

First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities. (The argument that variations in the sun’s output might be responsible fails a number of elementary scientific tests.)

Second, having not succeeded in finding an alternative, they haven’t even tried to do what would be logically necessary if they had one, which is to explain how it can be that everything modern science tells us about the interactions of greenhouse gases with energy flow in the atmosphere is wrong.

Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by the denier fringe should ask themselves how it is possible, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that:

  • The leaderships of the national academies of sciences of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, China, and India, among others, are on record saying that global climate change is real, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early, concerted action.
  • This is also the overwhelming majority view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every first-rank university in the world.
  • All three of holders of the one Nobel prize in science that has been awarded for studies of the atmosphere (the 1995 chemistry prize to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina, for figuring out what was happening to stratospheric ozone) are leaders in the climate-change scientific mainstream.  …
  • US polls indicate that most of the amateur skeptics are Republicans. These Republican skeptics should wonder how presidential candidate John McCain could have been taken in. He has castigated the Bush administration for wasting eight years in inaction on climate change, and the policies he says he would implement as president include early and deep cuts in US greenhouse-gas emissions. …

    The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous. It has delayed – and continues to delay – the development of the political consensus that will be needed if society is to embrace remedies commensurate with the challenge. The science of climate change is telling us that we need to get going. Those who still think this is all a mistake or a hoax need to think again.

    (emphasis added)

    Holdren is focussed on arguments regarding science, and so fails to address questions as to the efficacy of proposed solutions involving government action, which questions are of course important.

    Although Austrian and libertarian observers may have very useful things to add to the policy discussion, it seems fair to say that, except for a few such as Jonathan Adler, Gene Callahan, Edwin Dolan, Sheldon Richman and Bruce Yandle, many have preferred not to discuss policy but to focus either on climate science or on the motives of those self-deluded religious, fascist creeps who think that there may be a problem.

    While concerns about science and motives are perfectly legitimate, let me add a few points that Austrian “skeptics” ought to consider:

    – Austrians tend to view “environmental” problems not as harms to a disembodied “environment”, but as real problems involving conflicts in individual/firm plan formation that arise because of a lack or clear or enforceable property rights in particular resources or large information, transaction or enforcement costs that make contracting difficult

    Are there clear or enforceable property rights with respect to emissions of GHGs, or the atmosphere or climate more generally?

    Is private contracting a practical way for individuals and firms with differing preferences as to climate or GHG emissions to meaningfully express such preferences?

    – What lessons does history teach us about the exploitation of open-access resources that are not protected by accepted rules among the relevant community of users?  If there are problems with such resources, how have such problems been addressed in the past, with what degree of efficacy?

    LuboŇ° Motl 3: This lover of freedom and hater of irrationality can`t stand discourse and fantasizes about elimination

    July 9th, 2008 No comments

    I`m disappointed that my attempts at discourse with Lubos Motl have blown up.  Lubos, a Czech physicist/climate science blogger who responded to my post on Bret Stephens` exegesis in the WSJ of the psychology of the cult-like “belief” by the rest of the world in the “nonfalsifiable hypothesis” of human-influenced climate change, disengaged, while of course dissing me..

    Some of the fruits of my attempt were noted in my previous post, where Lubos felt it appropriate to repay my efforts by calling me a “freedom-hating” “hypercommunist” “Nazi” who “should be put in jail or executed before it`s too late”.

    I`vehad several conversations with Lubos before, and so I actually tried to continue our email discussion by objecting that his language was hardly constructive and that we share common areas of concern:

    With your clear and rational vision, it doesn’t matter that I also worry about the wisdom of letting governments get their hands on more revenues and resources to bureaucratically mismanage.  Nope, because I have the view that unowned resources (such as ocean fisheries: http://www.reason.com/news/show/34998.html; http://www.reason.com/news/show/36839.html;http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/07/08/kept-afloat-on-a-tide-of-money/) are often ruinously exploited and am aware that severe pollution is often a problem where victims have no access to courts to protect their rights, or where there is no regulation or industry is too powerful (or owned by the state), then I must be a hypercommunist and Nazi and should be promptly jailed or executed for the good of mankind.

    But this proved to be the last straw for Lubos, for the reason that – because my response included a link to liberal George Monbiot (who happens to have an excellent article decrying how state subsidies to fishermen are helping to strip out ocean fisheries ) – my mind must be polluted .  I`ll spare readers the language that Lubos used, but he insisted that not only he was he not interested in reading “Moonbot” whom he despises (despite the fact that they agree on this partiicular issue), but disdained the fact that I could bother to read (all right, I can`t resist – “eat sh*t” was Lubos` phrasing) those with whom he disagrees, and that was the end of our “discussion”.

    While everyone is entitled to determine with whom and on what terms they will converse, I find the contrast between those who profess to love freeom and reason and their own distemper while they call everyone else an irrational man-hater is both startling and dismaying. 

    After Lubos hung up on me, I paid a brief visit to his blog (having been alerted by a commenter), and what did I see?  His July 9 post he notes that he feels compelled to call for the “euthanasia” or urgent “quarantine” of reporters and others who have recently written on climate change!

    Says Motl:

    I am normally against euthanasia but it simply seems to me that there is no other help for the people who are writing most of the stuff above. It’s literally pandemics. The society should urgently put these people into quarantine, hoping that it is not too late

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2008/07/global-warming-slogans-of-day.html

    In response, I left the following comment on his blog: http://www.webcitation.org/5ZE4C94rU

    Lubos, all of your talk of euthanasia and quarantine are enough to warm the cockles of a good Nazi’s heart! You are far ahead of Jim Hansen, who only spoke of “trials” for what he sees as deception by fossil fuel execs.

    But let me play along with your light-hearted fun and games, even as it makes it difficult to criticize Hansen: how, exactly, should we identify all of the “freedom-hating” “hypercommunist” “Nazis” who should be “jailed or executed” as you have noted elsewhere?

    This Tom, after all, is not a Jerry. But since I disagree with YOU (and your hatred), I suppose that means I must also [hate] MANKIND, and deserve death, with you as prosecutor, judge and jury?

    TT

    But, not surprisingly, this champion of reason would have no discourse about it, so he removed my commentwww.webcitation.org/5ZEK18b9X

    Why is it that those who call most loudly for reason have so little ability or willingness to use it themselves?  And why do those who purport to love freedom and reason feel compelled to call for the elimination of those who disagree with them?

    Is self-awareness so painful and self-control and discourse so difficult?

    LuboŇ° Motl 4: His considered plan to eliminate enviros: they should be treated like N*zis, so it may be necessary to kill millions (less if we get started soon!)

    July 7th, 2008 4 comments

    As noted on the prior thread, in a recent blog post, scientist Lubos Motl concluded that there “literally pandemics” of people writing stuff on global warming, and that is “simply … no other help for the people who are writing most of the stuff” but “euthanasia” and “urgently put[ting] these people into quarantine, hoping that it is not too late”.  He then deleted and declined to answer the comment that I made on his blog that asked him to clarify the difference between himself and the N*zis.

    However, I note that in response to a comment from a commenter named “Sign me up!”, Lubos was willing to spell out his proposal as follows; my comments are indented:

    http://www.webcitation.org/5ZGBY5Wdn

    []  Euthanasia? Urgent quarantine? What`s with the elimationist fantasies here, Lubos?

    Is this a reasonable way to engage with anybody, much less so many leaders, industrialists, scientists, reporters etc.?

    Sorry, wrong questions. Obviously EVERYBODY who writes or worries about possible climate change is EVIL. How can we help innoculate our fragile democracies from their filth? Do we get to kill enviro-Nazi hypercommies, and their supporters everywhere? Can you give us better instructions on how we identify them?

    LM: If your question is meant seriously, then let me say that I have defined the group that should be given the treatment much more accurately than you seem to suggest. Read my text again and listen carefully.

    [TT:  Lubos`s post refers to “the people who are writing most of the stuff” that he has linked to in the post; they are mainly reporters.]

    Otherwise, now quite seriously, I don’t propose any vaccination or anything that goes beyond the very basic standards of freedom of democracy. I only demand the basic principles that are written in our constitutions etc. to be respected.

    The right to exhale or otherwise emit carbon dioxidebasic processes inevitably associated both with life and modern civilization – and the right to think that climate alarmists are irrational cranks are surely basic human rights and indeed, if someone wants these rights to be eliminated, i.e. to prevent people from essential processes for their civilized life or from their freedom of opinion, I want him to be treated analogously to the Nazis because he is analogous to the Nazis. Indeed, I view such people as a threat to our basic freedoms, prosperity, and, indeed, life itself.

    [TT:  These are gross strawmen.  Obviously, NO ONE is arguing that people don`t have the right to breathe; OF COURSE if there were such people we would all have legitimate right to self defense.  Nor is anyone arguing that skeptics have no right to express their opinions.  But where, anywhere, have nations created explicit rights to “legal persons” to emit unlimited levels of carbons or any thing else?  Lubos may feel that there are “natural” or God-given rights to take actions that negatively affect others, but it`s hardly the basis of our jurisprudence (even as it underlies our political economies), and there plenty of laws, regulations and court cases that restrict economic freedom in cases where it imposes costs on others.  Yes, presently a good portion of our generating capacity and virtually all transportation is provided based on fossil fuels, but it is not “an essential process for civilized life” that this continue indefinitely.  In fact, we have been gradually decarbonizing for year based simply on existing market incentives, and it is conceivable that someday or energuy infrastructure will be based mainly on nuclear and hydrogen.

    Are people who care about the damages and risks posed by our current energy infrastructure all Nazis?  Anybody who`s bothered to keep his ears opens knows that the major religions keep making promulgations of a nature that Lubos considers sufficient to euthanize or lock up the clergy.]

    Now, imagine that the plans of some of these extreme anti-greenhouse people became more realistic and there would be a risk that they return us to the Middle Ages, both from the viewpoint of GDP as well as the viewpoint of freedom of ideas.

    [TT:  Besides paying close attention to what Lubos thinks about the “freedom of ideas”, it`s quite easy to find (1) NON-“extreme anti-greenhouse people” who have concerns about the risks posed by our current exploitation of our shared but unmanaged commons and (2) Nobel prize-winning economists and other prominent economists who think that pricing carbon/GHGs/etc. is affordable without sacrificing growth and makes sense now on a cost-benefit/risk analysis.]

    Yes, I think that tough steps agaisnt them would become necessary, whether or not these steps would be organized by sane governments or locally. How many of these green people would have to be eliminated for the civilization to be saved? I don’t know. In the case of Nazism, it was pretty much necessary to kill millions of Germans – defeat them in a war – to stop their majority’s favorite ideology that was also flagrantly incompatible with the civilized world’s standards. The rest simply surrendered. This qualitative template would surely hold in any qualitatively similar confrontation – the only difference could be a quantitative one.

    If steps against Nazi Germany had been made earlier, the casualites could have been smaller. I really don’t know whether this carbon control madness will fade away soon or, if it will not, how far it will get. The further it will escalate, the tougher steps will be needed to solve it. But unless it fades away soon, I am afraid that the permanent arrest or execution of one Al Gore would probably not be the sufficient solution to solve the crisis because already today, the situation is demonstrably much more serious than having one lunatic dreaming about his global control over the world’s carbon from his Tennessee home.

    Climate science resources

    April 14th, 2008 1 comment

    Here are rather exhaustive lists of the skeptics’ arguments on science grounds, along with brief analyses and links to underlying publications: 

    Further  resources are here, for those interested:

    Introductory:

    NCAR: Weather and climate basics
    Pew Center: Global Warming basics
    Wikipedia: Global Warming
    NASA: Global Warming update

    NOAA, National Climatic Data Center Global Warming, Frequently Asked Questions: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.htmlThe Royal Society, climate change controversies: a simple guide, http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?id=6229http://www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/gw/globalwarmingfaq.htm

    The Royal Society, Facts and fictions about climate change, http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?id=4761Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Information sheets, http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/info/

     Tom Rees, “Global Warming: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions”, 

     History: Spencer Weart’s excellent “Discovery of Global Warming” (American Institute of Physics)

    Oxford University: The basics of climate prediction

    The IPCC’s AR4 Frequently Asked Questions (pdf).

     

    Those with some knowledge:

    RealClimate: Start with their “Start here” page, http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/start-here/

    RealClimate’s index: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/index/

    The IPCC reports themselves (AR4 2007, TAR 2001).

    NOAA/NCDC: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html; and “A Paleo Perspective on Global Warming”, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/globalwarming/home.html

    EPA, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/index.html

     

    The 2001 US National Assessment, http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/overview.htm;

    http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/01Climate.pdf

    National Center for Atmospheric Research, http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/ 

     

    R. T. Pierrehumbert, Principles of Planetary Climate, http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~rtp1/ClimateBook/ClimateVol1.pdf (treatise) 

    Stephen Schneider, An Overview of the Climate Change Problem http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Climate/ClimateFrameset.html

    Roger Pielke Sr., http://cires.colorado.edu/science/groups/pielke/ and http://climatesci.org/ 

     

    “THE PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE”, http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/

     

    http://www.climateaudit.org/

    Categories: AGW, climate, science, skeptic Tags:

    Get yer top climate skeptic arguments here!

    April 11th, 2008 No comments

    Here are rather exhaustive lists of the skeptics’ arguments on science grounds – coupled with brief analyses of the arguments and links to underlying publications:

    I encourage all those who prefer not to argue about climate “policy” from an Austrian perspective (you know, the complicated stuff about doing harm to others, clear and enforceable property rights, homesteading, preferences, praexology, market transactions, information and transaction costs, the common law, the availability of judicial mechanisms, statism and rent-seeking) but would rather, as a first line of defense at least, to use the science as a basis for doing political batlle against the enviro-fascists, to visit the above sites to bone up and to expand their personal repertoire of arguments.  Visit the belly of the Beast, and review and prepare yourself for the tricky and deceptive counter-arguments by the enviro-propagandists!

     

    For the intrepid only, here are further climate “resources”:

    Introductory:

    NCAR: Weather and climate basics
    Pew Center: Global Warming basics
    Wikipedia: Global Warming
    NASA: Global Warming update

    NOAA, National Climatic Data Center Global Warming, Frequently Asked Questions: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html

    The Woods Hole Research Center, “The Warming of the Earth: A beginner’s guide to understanding the issue of global warming”, http://whrc.org/resources/online_publications/warming_earth/index.htm

    National Academy of Sciences, Science Museum, climate change exhibits, http://www.koshlandscience.org/exhibitgcc/index.jsp

    National Academy of Sciences, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, National Academy Press, 2001 http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10139

     

    John P. Holdren, Director, The Woods Hole Research Center, Professor of Environmental Policy, Harvard University, President, American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Meeting the Climate-Change Challenge”, http://whrc.org/resources/PPT/JPH_MBL_11-03-06_Clim-Chg-Challenge.ppt

    The Royal Society, “Climate Change Controversies: a simple guide,”

    http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?id=6229

    The Royal Society, Facts and fictions about climate change, http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?id=4761

    Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Information sheets, http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/info/

    History: Spencer Weart’s excellent “Discovery of Global Warming” (American Institute of Physics)

    The IPCC’s AR4 Frequently Asked Questions (pdf).

    Oxford University: The basics of climate prediction

    Tom Rees, “Global Warming: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions”, http://www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/gw/paleo/paleoclimate.htm

     

    Those with some knowledge:

    The IPCC reports themselves (AR4 2007, TAR 2001). 

    The Arctic Council, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment 2005, http://www.acia.uaf.edu

    NOAA/NCDC: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html; and “A Paleo Perspective on Global Warming”, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/globalwarming/home.html

    EPA, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/index.html

     

    The 2001 US National Assessment, http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/overview.htm;

    http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/01Climate.pdf

    National Center for Atmospheric Research, http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/ 

     

    “THE PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE”, http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/

     

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science has a page full of resources and links here:  http://www.aaas.org/news/press_room/climate_change/

     

    By climate scientists:

    RealClimate: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/start-here/

    RealClimate’s index: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/index/

    R. T. Pierrehumbert, Principles of Planetary Climate, http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~rtp1/ClimateBook/ClimateVol1.pdf (treatise) 

    Stephen Schneider, An Overview of the Climate Change Problem http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Climate/ClimateFrameset.html

    Roger Pielke Sr., http://cires.colorado.edu/science/groups/pielke/ and http://climatesci.org/ 

     

    http://www.climateaudit.org/

    Categories: AGW, climate change, science, skeptic Tags: