Tuesday, April 7, 2009

No argument on what we do about climate change

Another industrial burn of native forest. The South Esk catchment in Tasmania this month. Picture taken by Rob Blakers.

Last week Barkley Rosser gave a very brief description on the nature of a debate that occurred at James Madison University campus after a talk given by Pat Michaels from the Cato Institute as well as an economist from the 1970s ‘new right’ Heritage Foundation of the name David Kreutzer.

Barkley mentioned discussion about the possibility of ‘fat tails’ and, what Michaels referred to as the ‘non-trivial possibility’ of a combination of nonlinear effects [in climate change] that would lead to a sharp rise in temperature.

This discussion, as described, is what should rightfully be labeled as ‘academic’. The real debate about climate change is over. Climate change has occurred and no one, apart from business lobby groups and their funded organisations, disagrees about what should be done to address our crisis.

Whether or not global temperatures rise by 2C or 14C in the foreseeable future is quite irrelevant to our immediate challenge. We need to move to clean and renewable forms of energy and other forms of technology and practice as quickly as we possibly can.

"Not even Mills, or Chomsky in his New Mandarins essay, could have anticipated the world of the Heritage Foundation, of "Kissinger Associates," of numberless power-worshipping, power-seeking magazines and institutes interlocking across the dissemination of culture, priority, information, and opinion. But Mills did write, in 1942:

When events move very fast and possible worlds swing around them, something happens to the quality of thinking. Some men repeat formulae; some men become reporters. To time observation with thought so as to mate a decent level of abstraction with crucial happenings is a difficult problem."

The Chorus and Cassandra, Christopher Hitchens. 1985


wellbasically said...

Every ton of carbon sequestered will cost around $100 that could be used elsewhere.

There are now huge companies counting on pumping their CO2 into mine shafts at taxpayer expense because of eco-hysteria over climate change. That's the nature of coercive government! They're not going to give the money to people to buy bicycles or something.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

One matter that came up in my debate with Michaels and Kreutzer was the matter of CCS (aka "clean coal"). This is something that the Obama administration is supporting research on, and of course, there is a lot of coal in the US, with this the largest source of US electricity production, and powerful interests wishing to keep it going.

Curiously enough, both of them were very dismissive of the possibility of CCS tech, or at least at any sort of reasonable cost, Kreutzer arguing that it is the sequestration of liquefied CO2 that is the real problem. I do not know on this, although I have heard from some sources that are not as skeptical on this as they were.

Regarding Michaels, I would note that the Wikipedia article on him that is linked from the Sourcewatch encyclopedia one is much more accurate, with the Sourcewatch one containing outright inaccuracies, including his birth date (1950, not 1942) and the claim that he is no longer at the University of Virginia. He will not be as of June 30, 2009, but is still officially there until then.

He is not in the top tier of climatologists, but Holdren overdoes it. He has published in Nature and Science, and for anybody who does not know, Nature is as prestigious as it gets in any hard science, period.

He is a part of the IPCC, although one of its dissidents on the skeptic end of things. However, his official position is that the lower end of the IPCC projections is what is likely, a linear increase in global temperature. He did in the past question any warming, but does not now, although he argues with some reason that it has temporarily slowed due to La Ninas.

Regarding adaptation, their arguments seemed to have more to do with the US, sand dunes on Florida beaches. This is not so viable for the poorer countries more likely to be the hardest hit victims of warming, such as Bangladesh, or the small island countreis such as the Seychelles Islands that may cease to exist entirely.

BTW, I do think it makes a big difference if the temperature increase is 14C or 2C, although even the latter is no excuse for doing nothing.

Bruce Webb said...

Brenda that debate is not over, not in America.

Along with arguments that American Industry will simply game the system (which to me calls for better design and not just abandoning all hope) there is a very large segment of the American people that have on this topic been taught that the Earth is in fact Flat. In large part because there is a very large and very profitable media machine built up by corporate American to shill for its interests.

America under Bush was ideologically similar to Maoist China. It didn't matter if you personally agreed with the Party Line or that in matters of morality you actually followed the Party Line, you just had to repeat it and more importantly enforce violations of it by others.

For example ex-Senator Rick Santorum, perhaps the most vehement of the Family Values, anti-Gay office-holding Republicans was considered to have one of the most gay-friendly congressional offices in Washington.

The scientific debate over climate change may in practice be over, but there are plenty of pseudo-credentialed people who will publicly sign on to manifestos asserting the opposite, which then are cited by people like Rush Limbaugh to his audience of ditto-heads. For them it doesn't matter so much what pointy-headed intellectuals think as long as "Rush said---".

I don't know what things are like in Australia, but in the US there is a very deep tradition of anti-intellectualism that was reinforced in the course of the Red Scare. In this world view smart and educated and world sophisticated people are automatically suspect of being anti-American or even (the worse possible insult among these people) French.

The combination of American Exceptionalism and Anti-Intellectualism and a political and economic program built around Randian conceptions that Selfishness is Good makes for a deadly brew. God forbid you confuse these people with any facts that go against the Party Line.

It is very reminiscent of the Hitler era conception of the 'Good German', 'Good Americans' don't believe in climate change. Because Herr Goebbels-Limbaugh told them not to. Or to at least not voice their true belief in any way or place that puts the Party Line in question.

It is Orwell come to life. And BTW this particular Party Line is not exclusive to the Republicans, there are substantial numbers of Democrats who see corporate prosperity as the ultimate goal. Arguments for such things as drilling in ANWR and cutting off mountain tops to extract coal are seen as Americanism and attempts to limit profits by regulating carbon in the interest of short term human health or long term planet health are in some sectors seen as the direct opposite as in 'Why do you hate America just to save Bangladesh from being submerged by rising sea levels?'

American Corporate Profits=American Interest= Unequivocal Good. Because Bush and Rush said so. On instructions from Rove and Cheney and Norquist.

The US is (maybe) emerging from an era where people with liberal views based on best-available science were mocked for believing that policy decisions should be "reality based".

The source of the term is a quotation in an October 17, 2004, New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, quoting an unnamed aide to George W. Bush:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do
Ron Suskind: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush Which is how we ended up taking climate advice from a guy named Joe the Plumber (whose first name isn't Joe and who isn't a licensed plumber) leading a crowd in a rousing cheer of 'Drill, Baby, Drill' and 'Drill Here, Drill Now'.

The intellectual battle may be over almost everywhere. But the battle for hearts and minds on climate change rages on in the US. And no amount of reality-based argumentation will automatically carry the day.

Bruce Webb said...

Barkley not that it matters much but the Seychelles or at least the main island Mahe
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahé_Island is granitic and has a peak rising to 905m. I know because the U.S maintains a radar station on top of the mountain and I spent most of a port visit in 1979 in the open air enlisted men's club having drinks and looking out over a sheer slope to the sea (pretty spectacular). But as you can see in this view from up on the mountain the capital which includes most of the population is down in the flat area and so would probably be submerged with even relatively small increases in sea level.

I suspect you are thinking about the Maldives which are north of the Seychelles and South of India. Wiki reports that the highest spot in the 1100 island archipelago is 2.3 meters with an average elevation of 1.5%
Per Wiki the President of the Maldives proposed last November the possibility of purchasing new land in India, Sri Lanka, and Australia just in case they need to relocate.
By the way here is a pretty stunning aerial image.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Yes, Maldives, and there are some others as well, including several of the ones in the Pacific.

Brenda Rosser said...

Bruce: "God forbid you confuse these people with any facts that go against the Party Line....

And this is happening in the context of climate change having the ever-increasing potential to destroy our society, to threaten our continued survival as a species.

What we're dealing with here is not 'debate'. It's denial.

Bruce, you've described what Stanley Cohen says, is a state of simultaneous ‘knowing and not-knowing’. "In order to deny something it is necessary at some level to recognise its existence and its moral implications. The Psychology of Denial.

People choose not to realise (in their everyday lives) the implications of their behaviour. What's happening in 'climate' is not a party-political issue. But people will make it one. Neighbours will abhor the vast clearfelling of native forests here but then make repeated and easily-avoidable purchases of products made from native forest woodchips (newspapers, kitchen paper, serviettes, paper tissues etc).

If a scientist wants to maintain his/her objectivity it is strongly advisable to steer clear from funding sources that promote or come from industries that are impacted by the conclusions or observations one may make.

What does Michaels propose for mitigation and adaptation toward the super hot Australian summers we are now experiencing? Where will the vast new grain-growing regions be located? Where will the water come from?

Brenda Rosser said...

Wellbasically: "They're not going to give the money to people to buy bicycles or something....

More importantly, have you given money and time to people to help them minimise their CO2 emissions?

Barkley Rosser said...


I was tempted to bring up the Australian situation in our debate, but I know that this would have been batted aside as a strictly local event driven by all those La Ninas that have been producing slightly lower global temperatures in the last couple of years, particularly this past one. Hey, after all, more people live in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern one, or something like that, or that is what would have been said.

I agree that if someone is going to be out there mixing science and policy, they really ought to be more careful about certain appearances. Pat has always been pretty open about his funding support from coal companies and the like, declaring that he is "independent," and so if someone wants to fund him, so what? I think that this sort of cavalier attitude (a snide aside, given that the University of Virginia sports teams are known as the "Cavaliers"), has finally gotten him into trouble, along with his propensity to get all aggressive in his debates on TV and in front of Congressional committtess. He was basically forced out of his state climatologist position, which he had held since 1980, because of some of his remarks and the increasing unhappiness over his funding related to them. That is why he is now going whole hog with the Cato Institute, where he can just be himself and get whatever funding he wants.

Brenda Rosser said...

"...I was tempted to bring up the Australian situation in our debate, but I know that this would have been batted aside ....

Well, I tend to take it for granted that many statements I make will be 'batted aside'. It does sound like Michaels and Kreutzer need to be challenged more than they appear to be.

Pat Donnelly said...

The scientific debate is not over. The solar output has declined in nearly all but the visible part of its emissions. The world has been cooling since 1999. The worst greenhouse gas is water. Water vapour is common in clouds. Nowhere do we see the effect of cloud cover evaluated and for this and similar reasons, the science being quoted is dubious.
But we should live in a cleaner less polluted environment. Coal is the source of most of the background radiation that continually causes cancers....so perhaps they can clean that up while pumping CO2 underground?

Pat Donnelly said...

We know what happens when the earth cools. Check out the maunder minimum and its effects. War is the least of them.
Where do the climate scientists say that Antarctic snow comes from?
When does advertizing become programming? The intellectual shallowness is astounding!
Now that the pollies have money on offer to businesses they too will convert to the faith. Still wrong, but more popular.

Brenda Rosser said...

"..The world has been cooling since 1999. The worst greenhouse gas is water.Try telling that to Australians in the southern states who are experiencing unprecedented heat in Summer WITHOUT water vapour in the air.

Some background reading.

Bushfires: Don’t mention the c word. Clive Hamilton

Outside of the vortex

Australia’s catastrophic Summer of 2009. Brenda Rosser. Friday, February 6, 2009

I note that whilst Pat Donnelly accuses others of shallowness he/she doesn't provide any references for the assertions made in his/her text.