13 December 2009

Shellenberger and Nordhaus on Copenhagen

At the Breakthrough Institute blog. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus have a thoughtful essay on the meaning of Copenhagen. They cover a lot of territory and in characteristic fashion, they don't leave you guessing as to their views. Here is a short excerpt to whet your appetite:
Copenhagen, like the Waxman-Markey climate legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last June, revealed the most delusional natures of liberals, conservatives, greens and skeptics alike. Skeptics and conservatives claimed that Waxman-Markey would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. Greens claimed it would result in a low-carbon economy for the cost of a postage stamp a day. In truth, as all independent analyses show, the legislation will have little to no impact on energy prices or the economy -- for the simple reason that it will do little to reduce emissions or deploy low carbon energy technologies.

Yet, from London to Canberra to Washington, D.C., liberals and greens sell business-as-usual policies as the keys to averting ecological apocalypse. And everywhere conservatives and skeptics warn that these same policies will lead to economic ruin. The denialists' pas de deux continues, the multiple echo chambers spinning in unison.

In this environment, skeptics and greens alike make hallucinogenic statements and create bizarre media stunts. The president of the Maldives, a nation of 300,000 people, summoned the press corps to a "cabinet meeting" -- under water, in scuba gear -- based on the apparent belief that such media stunts will persuade China and India, nations of two billion people, to fundamentally alter their development paths. Youth climate activists sing "Give Peace a Chance" not because global warming is like war but because it's the best protest song they knew.
Head over and read the whole thing. There is enough in there for everyone to find something to agree with or disagree with, but regardless of your views, Shellengberger and Nordhaus will make you think.

Note: I am a Senior Fellow of The Breakthrough Institute, and proud of it.

26 comments:

  1. In their article, they refer to "trivial disputes such as warming and cooling in the medieval period -- a subject that offers no insight whatsoever into what we should do about today's global warming."

    Is this really true? I'm no expert, but I was under the impression that if the world were warmer a thousand years ago and suffered no adverse consequences -- in fact flourished -- that this would be a relevant fact to know.

    I am not sure how, or if, it impacts on the issue of "climate sensitivity" but it would be interesting to know how the moisture content of the atmosphere changed back then. Isn't that a scientific issue, at least potentially?

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  2. “Skeptics and conservatives claimed that Waxman-Markey would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy.”

    The Obama administration -- only after coming face to face with one of those nasty old FOIA requests -- revealed that their own analysis concluded that Waxman-Markey would cost the average American family $2,641.

    Must one then conclude that Shellenberger and Nordhaus consider the Obama administration to be among the “[s]keptics and conservatives”?

    Or, is it simply a fact that -- even when the Obama team crunches the numbers -- there is just not enough lipstick in the universe to pretty up this pig?

    “In truth, as all independent analyses show, the legislation will have little to no impact on energy prices or the economy”

    Considering the aforementioned analysis from the Obama team, it sounds to me like Shellenberger and Nordhaus are more interested in “truthiness” (if that) than truth.

    Oh, and by using the holocaust tinged word “denialists”, these two immediately forfeit any pretense of either objectivity of credibility and self-identify as card carrying members of the very most obscene brand of religiously intolerant extremists.

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  3. Re 1

    It is very relevant since the entire concept of AGW is based upon the "enhanced greenhouse effect". If it has been warmer than projections in the past the theory begins to fall apart.

    The entire "enhanced" issue of the scaremongering science we are witnessing is the least publicized to the general public yet the key to why the past must be made to look cooler than it was. It is not just a matter that they did not have SUV's in the 12th century thus less CO2. In order for the theory to work a tipping point must be reached to cause the "water vapor enhancement". That tipping point is not predicated on CO2 but on the global temperature itself regardless of how it is reached. If we have reached that temperature in the past both without CO2 and without causing runaway warming, then the theory is bogus-which it is.

    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 (AR4)

    "If the amount of carbon dioxide were doubled instantaneously, with everything else remaining the same, the outgoing infrared radiation would be reduced by about 4 Wm-2. In other words, the radiative forcing corresponding to a doubling of the CO2 concentration would be 4 Wm-2. To counteract this imbalance, the temperature of the surface-troposphere system would have to increase by 1.2°C (with an accuracy of ±10%), in the absence of other changes.

    In reality, due to feedback, the response of the climate system is much more complex. It is believed that the overall effect of the feedback amplifies the temperature increase to 1.5 to 4.5°C. A significant part of this uncertainty range arises from our limited knowledge of clouds and their interactions with radiation.

    The so-called water vapour feedback, caused by an increase in atmospheric water vapour due to a temperature increase, is the most important feedback responsible for the amplification of the temperature increase."

    Note two things from that report

    The IPCC says that a doubling of CO2 on it's own will only cause a 1.2 degC increase.

    and perhaps the most important sentence:"It is believed that the overall effect of the feedback amplifies the temperature increase "

    It is "BELIEVED" ? Not proven, not shown just believed, the entire gobbledygook science is based on a belief.

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  4. "over trivial disputes such as warming and cooling in the medieval period -- a subject that offers no insight whatsoever into what we should do about today's global warming."

    And you think that Palin says the most wrong things. Maybe you could enlighten us about how great this person's thinking is really? It makes me think that you could care less about science and think more about some particular goal that you want accomplished that follows the goals of the scam artists. Please enlighten us on what your goals are. Why can you just not get your goals accomplished on their own merrits?

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  5. I agree with Luke about the MWP. It may not be *the* most important issue, but if today's climate is no warmer than during the MWP, it suggests that there may be some deficiencies in the models which rely on CO2 forcing to simulate current temperature anamolies.

    If the contribution of CO2 forcing (and related feedbacks) is currently incorrectly understood, then it means that assumptions about CO2 reductions may be mistaken. In short, if CO2 has less of an effect on driving climate variations than previously thought, then CO2 reductions will presumably have less of an effect on "stabilising" the climate. This all goes directly to the efficacy and desireability of emissions reduction-type policies - particularly in relation to the question of how fast and deep CO2 emissions cuts should be.

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  6. Events like Copenhagen have just developed into propaganda exercises. They are more like organised rallies than talks.

    We have advocate-scientists demanding action on skewed science.

    We have environmentalists demanding action based on alarmist rhetoric.

    We have eco-politicians making public pledges they know they can't meet.

    We have enviro-journalists scurrying around looking for scoops but making every effort to downplay Climategate.

    We have the finality of political leaders making heart felt pleas whilst smiling collectively for the photo-shoot.

    The general public will grow to dislike such events. I don't think we will have much more like Copenhagen.

    Climate change politics on this scale has had its day.

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  7. The entire article is thought provoking--I need to re-read it and think carefully about it before I decide the extent to which I agree or disagree.

    In the comments, Ted Nordhaus adds more thought provoking thoughts on the medieval warming period that Luke Lea abouve may find helpful.

    "Thanks for weighing in. All are welcome here. But you both make precisely the same error that the greens on the other side of this debate make - namely imagining that climate science generally, and reconstructions of the temperature record more specifically, will ever be able to definitively answer the question of how much the climate has changed, the specific causes of that change among various human and natural causes, much less how much it will change in the future and what precisely the impacts of change will be in specific places. There are of course uncertainties in both the temperature record and the model projections of future impacts. Whatever the evidence of medieval warming, it most certainly has not definitively proven that today's temperatures are normal, anymore than the hockey stick has definitively proven that global temperatures today have increased to unprecedented levels over a period of a very few decades. In any case, the notion of "normal" is not really on point - an asteroid impact and bubonic plague are both "normal" nonetheless most people think that human intervention would be justified in both cases.

    The real questions facing the public and policy makers are what we are going to do in the face of huge uncertainties about the future climate, including the human role in shaping that climate. Our longstanding argument with greens has been that climate science, even were climate models much more reliable, is not going to dictate a brute force remaking of the global energy economy with low carbon energy sources that today cost much more than conventional energy. Our argument with skeptics is much the same - uncertainties in the temperature record and projections of future climate impacts are not reason to forego action to decarbonize our economies. Reasonable precautions in the face of uncertainty represent wise investments in our future and insurance against the possibility that climate impacts may be costly or even catastrophic. At issue is what constitutes reasonable precaution and these questions may be informed by climate science but not ultimately answered. But even if you don't buy any of that, there are good reasons to decarbonize independent of climate, so any discussion of emissions policies has to go well beyond issues of climate science."

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  8. This article was a mighty swing and a miss. And the comment afterward is the ultimate in moral vacuity.

    "Our argument with skeptics is much the same - uncertainties in the temperature record and projections of future climate impacts are not reason to forego action to decarbonize our economies. Reasonable precautions in the face of uncertainty represent wise investments in our future and insurance against the possibility that climate impacts may be costly or even catastrophic. At issue is what constitutes reasonable precaution and these questions may be informed by climate science but not ultimately answered. But even if you don't buy any of that, there are good reasons to decarbonize independent of climate, so any discussion of emissions policies has to go well beyond issues of climate science."

    What kind of moral blindness afflicts these people?! What kind of educated person argues that we don't have a freaking clue what we are doing, but it's still OK to infringe on people's lives, property and liberty?

    This is really, really disturbing.

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  9. This is all very well, but the fact is that huge amounts of money are being spent in global warming propaganda.

    Principally by the British government and Shell Oil sponsoring the Guardian and Independent newspapers. The desperation and utter failure of the British government to start a populist movement would have been deeply embarassing to those capable of such an emotion.

    If I remember correctly, Roger observed a few months ago that there must be some reason for carbon trading, even if it isn't the one they seem to be pushing (the reduction of Co2).

    My argument since the beginning of this is that the science is irrelevant as are the Copenhagen and Kyoto agreements. Beyond being hand maidens to carbon trading.

    As for post modernism, that is a very fashionable plaything that academics seem very proud of (having just finished a course which included it). I remember reading Italio Calvino nearly 30 years ago.

    Back in reality, the two very recent Presidents of the European Commission, the UN Secretary General, Al Gore and others have spoken of increased global governance in the context of Copenhagen. The direction is very much toward a single, not a multiple vision.

    Global finance regulations are also being formulated and a global currency has been proposed. First welcomed by Treasury Secretary Geithner, then rejected when the press heard about it.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/5050407/US-backing-for-world-currency-stuns-markets.html


    The problem for me isn't meaningless nihilism, and the creation of imaginary discourses, but a world more and more dominated by corporate bad faith and artificially created discourses. Like catastrophic global warming which the majority don't believe in.

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  10. This is one of the most thought-provoking articles on climate change I've read in a long time. As a convinced and committed waverer, whose opinion on the subject is largely a function of whatever well-written pieces of rhetoric I've read last (FYI at this writing I'm approx. 55% skeptical versus 45% warmist), might I say that the essay should be required reading for all open-minded truth-seekers on both sides of the divide -- though judging from the comments I've read on most blogs from RealClimate to WhatsUpWithWatt, truth-seekers are not in great supply these days. Very few commenters seem to 'look into their souls' and occasionally ask themselves the key question: what kind of new information would lead me to acknowledge that I might be wrong, and that the other side might be right?





    BTW why on earth are you skeptical begrudgers so upset by the authors' misdemeanour of calling the Medieval Warm Period issue a trivial matter? Just because the hockey stick is a load of bolloques doesn't mean that today's warming isn't man-made. Anyhoew, the essay's focal point is that Copenhagen is an exercise in fantasy, regardless of the truth or falsehood of the anthropogenic global warming theory as such. It's either the tragedy of the climate commons, if AGW is true, or the comedy of the climate commons, if AGW is false.

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  11. "What kind of educated person argues that we don't have a freaking clue what we are doing, but it's still OK to infringe on people's lives, property and liberty?"

    I'd say about 80+ percent of educated people argue that. Their argument is premised on "I don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm educated, so even my knowing nothing is more than less-educated people."

    It's human nature for the vast majority of people to want to tell other people what's best for everyone. That's why there isn't a libertarian (small "l") party of any political consequence in any country on the globe.

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  12. Stan

    "This is really, really disturbing."

    I agree.

    Cathal

    Re MWP. The earth thrived in that climate. There were no reports of massive worldwide floods or hurricanes. The word 'unprecedented' is very widespread in AGW propaganda. If the MWP was better known, the approval numbers would plummet even further. Particularly in the less indoctrinated and more sceptical, over 30 population.

    "what kind of new information would lead me to acknowledge that I might be wrong, and that the other side might be right?"

    Good point. I think this climategate email throws some light on that. For me, nothing less than waiting until every prediction had fallen on its face (or not in some unlikely statistical aberration). and every climategate suspect had moved on. Apologies for the bad language.


    Sent by palaeoclimatologist Ed Cook to the CRU's Keith Briffa,


    7) Publish, retire, and don't leave a forwarding address

    Without trying to prejudice this work, but also because of what I almost think I know to be the case, the results of this study will show that we can probably say a fair bit about <100 year extra-tropical NH temperature variability (at least as far as we believe the proxy estimates), but honestly know fuck-all about what the >100 year variability was like with any certainty (i.e. we know with certainty that we know fuck-all).


    http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=356&filename=1062592331.txt

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  13. I would like to know how Roger Pielke's position is essentially different than Bjorn Lomborg's?

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  14. IMHO, Copenhagen is nothing more than a very expensive circus and the performers are the world's leading hypocrites. It would be funny, except that it offers such a good way to take away money from the middle class and "spread it" to the poor AND THE RICH! See here, e.g.:

    http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=118953

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  15. -13-Luke Lea

    On Pielke vs. Lomborg

    1. Mitigation -- he is more research-only focused, whereas I am more innovation focused (a la TBI/Sarewitz). I am for a carbon tax, not sure where he is on that. I suspect we both think that cap and trade is a bad idea.

    2. Adaptation -- we probably have similar views

    3. Geoengineering -- he is for it, I am against it

    In short, he is coming around ;-) Still have to work on geoengineering though.

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  16. I found the essay interesting but much too kind. Copenhagen has always been about money, and political power, and a pleasant interlude in a lovely city. The players, like Al gore, are parasites. They hope to oversee a vast transer of wealth. It really doesn't matter from whom it is taken or to whom it is given, so long as a healthy portion is siphoned into the pockets of the overseers. It's not really news. It's always been so, but still, it's refreshing to see a scam called a scam.

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  17. re: Pielke vs. Lomborg

    What is the difference between "research and development" and "innovation"? Surely Lomborg does not favor research without development.

    As for the carbon tax (which Lomborg favors btw) would you favor the proceeds being dedicated to the finance of research and development (or innovation) including climate science, the same way the gasoline tax is dedicated to highway maintenance and construction? The public would buy that -- think how fast synthetic rubber and a lot of other technologies were developed during WWII.

    As for bioengineering, I didn't notice Lomborg saying anything about it in his one hour spiel on C-Span last week. It is a very good spiel.

    Finally, why do the climatologists hate Lomborg so?

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  18. Well, I finally got time to read the whole thing. I think it is very interesting and has a lot of truth in it. However, this great quote from the article applies to some of it:

    "Lying vs. Bullshitting. Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt argued that the liar cares about the truth, whereas the bullshitter just cares about himself."

    The authors don't seem to have much a grasp for what passes as climate science, as evidenced by:

    "... The emails didn't challenge human-caused global warming. But that didn't stop the skeptics from waving the emails around as proof that it was all a hoax. Greens dismissed the controversy and the bad behavior of prominent climate scientists, aggressively spinning the CRU hack as "swift-boating."
    The result was a phony debate. It served greens and skeptics well but did nothing to spark an honest discussion of economics and technology. Instead, climate scientists and environmental activists continued their running battle with skeptics over trivial disputes such as warming and cooling in the medieval period -- a subject that offers no insight whatsoever into what we should do about today's global warming."

    Science is all about empirical evidence for a theory. The emails have confirmed what McIntyre and friends have been showing for about 4 years: the hockey sticks cannot be supported. And these hockey sticks represent MOST of what passes as empirical evidence in climate science. There isn't much else out there that doesn't fit just as neatly into the category of "anecdote" or "happening" as into the category of "empirical evidence" (so what if the Artic ice thinned for a few years?). There are models, but they don't "prove" anything at all and are probably completely discredited by the lack of warming over the past 12-15 years.

    The authors don't seem to understand that the MWP is extremely important in assessing whether the current warming is "unprecedented" (as the "scientists" just love to utter). If it is not unprecedented, then it is very possible that mankind is not to blame, and maybe it's appropriate to do more research, before killing our economies (and yes, I thik the authors are also wrong about the economics. It will cost MUCH MORE if we try to produce a great deal of energy via "alternative energy" sources).

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  19. Can someone help? I am missing some critical connection.. watched a TV show (can't find it now, a couple of weeks ago) which I thought was about the MWP. What was interesting to me was that Britain used to be warm enough for crop based agriculture and then had to move to animal based when it grew cooler.
    There was also evidence from history of grapes growing further north etc.
    I guess I can't put these two pieces of information together.

    PS IMHO it is important; if the climate flipped to being colder and we shifted, wouldn't it be nice to know what we were doing (vis a vis agriculture, for example) when it was warmer?

    What am I missing?

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  20. Sharon: start here. If this ain't enough, then forget it :)

    http://www.co2science.org/data/mwp/mwpp.php

    The neat thing about the MWP is that you can just read the history books; you don't need proxies and other "fancy science." Eric the Red colonized Greenland and there were rich farms back then. England produced wines. ETC. The "climate scientists" say they would like to "get rid of the Medieval Warming Period," but that is a pipe dream on their part. They are now discredited revisionists, living an Alice in Wonderland life :)

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  21. To me the S&N article reads as ridiculously cynical/pessimistic with some pseudo post-modern jargon thrown in. OTOH stuff like that Copenhagen video is ridiculous too.

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  22. re: Pielke vs. Lomborg

    Well, dunno about Pielke but here's my good self versus Lomborg.

    When I hear the word Lomborg I reach for my fact-checker.

    Example: the citation from Julian Simon in the preface of Lomborg's 'The Skeptical Environmentalist' runs as follows:

    "The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards."

    First, I think anybody who takes this seriously has a credibility problem. Think entropy law.

    Secondly, and perhaps nore interestingly, Lomborg even manages to mildly distort Julian Simon's position. What Julian Simon actually wrote was (my italics):

    "With reasonable surety one can expect that the material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards."

    [-- from the opening of the last chapter of Simon's book 'Hoodwinking the Nation'.]

    Simon didn't claim to be 100% certain that the entropy law can be superceded.

    I reckon Lomborg just copy-pasted the truncated citation from the Internet, where it crops up ad nauseam.

    So not only is Lomborg a dyed-in-the-wool cornucopian -- he is also a sloppy one. That may seem like nit-picking, but when a 'seminal' work like TSE has its first nit on the first sentence of its first page, my bullshit detector begins to ring.


    More here:
    http://www.lomborg-errors.dk/

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  23. Oh dear,

    CORRECTION

    Talk about fact-checking. The Julian Simon citation is actually from page 123 of 'Hoodwinking the Nation' -- it's the first two sentences of the first paragraph of the Conclusion.

    Sorry about that,

    Carolus Obscurus

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  24. Cathal: You obviouslly don't understand entropy, :) so why don't you try to discredit some of Bjorn's actual facts (which are almost all from WHO).

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  25. Post modern and post American world- It's like the movie groundhog day. I'm 62 and have heard these words over and over in my lifetime. The one thing they get right is there are lots of phonies in the AGW game.

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  26. I guess I just have to disagree that what humans did in the MWP could have no relevance for what humans would do in a future warming period.

    Perhaps Shellenberger and Nordhaus are unaware that agricultural crops and livestock are the same basic kinds of organisms that existed at that time.. they have been bred to suit today's needs but a sheep is still a sheep and a grape is still a grape.

    Agriculture is the most fundamental of human endeavors unless we are returning to hunting and gathering to produce food.

    See this thoughtful interview with the author of The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations.
    http://www.agiweb.org/geotimes/aug08/article.html?id=geomedia.html

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