Friday, September 5, 2008

The Blind Men and the Elephsnt

The Blindmen and the Elephant
By John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Hindustan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind)
That each by observation
Might satisfy the mind.

The first approached the Elephant
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl:
"Bless me, it seems the Elephant
Is very like a wall".

The second, feeling of his tusk,
Cried, "Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear".

The third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Then boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake."

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong.

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen

I chose the old Asian story of the blind men and elephant is a metaphor of the energy crisis we face due are facing. It is a double chrisis of peak oil, avaliable byt expensive natural gas, and public rejection of conventional coal, and increasing anthropogenic global warming, which precludes continued reliance on fossil fuel even if it were to be available. The elephant represents the magnitude of the problem, and the the mystery of its solution. The blindmen are people, leaders and experts struggling to understand what we face and how to approach solutions to the problem. We are beset with the views of people who have limited perspectives, people who are running on ego, people who are rationally challenged, people who are to lazy to gather information and think things through, people who listen to the wrong experts, people who don't want to know, and people who are just plain mentally ill. All have joined a growing cacoughany of confused and confusing voices.

All Gore, who untill recently wasthe one eyed man in the realm of the blind, has clearly revealed to us what he does not see. "We have the technology", Gore tells us. "If we just had one week's worth of what we spend on the Iraq war we could be well on our way to solving this challenge." Would that it were so. Gore has grown intoxicated by breating the Rocky Mountain air, and has mistakenly confused a MacArthur Genius grant winner with an actually genus. When the "genius" is named Amory Lovins, the title MacArthur Genius does not actually vouch for genius.

No one has contributed more to the confusion than energy pundent/blogger Joe Romm. Romm has his prejudices, and this in no small measure keeps Romm from seeing the elephant. Romm recently proved the extent of his self imposed blindness by arguing vociferously against A paper by Roger Pielke, Jr., Tom Wigley, and Chris Green. Pielke et al argued in Nature that we were in deeper shit, that is we were going to have more emissions this century, than the IPCC assumed. They argued that the the IPCC made assumptions that were unreasonably optimistic. The further drew the implication that existing technology could not solve the problem. Pielke and his associated assumed the position which is closely associated with Joe Romm, that energy technologies would (should) be "frozen" in time. They then modeled the consequences. Pielke and his associated noted that the IPCC assumptions were already outdated becaused they failed to foresee Asian economic development. They noted "all IPCC scenarios predict decreases in energy intensity, and in most cases carbon intensity, during 2000 to 2010.) In fact, the opposite is the case. Pielke and his associated argued that most carbon control must come from greater energy efficiency or new technology. “Enormous advances in energy technology will be needed to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at acceptable levels," Pielke, Wigley, and Green concluded.

When Romm read the Pielke paper he had a conniption fit. Romm wanted to make sure that on one misunderstood the position he was taking in the argument with Pielke.
Why did Nature run Pielke’s pointless, misleading, embarrassing nonsense? Romm demanded.

Romm, without the slighest reference to rationality, maintained that Pielke et al had preached a "
delayer message developed by Frank Luntz and perfected by Bush/Lomborg/Gingrich". Of course nothing was further from the truth, but the truth has never been the name of Joe Romm's game. I alway worry about what I am getting when I find the first 8 paragraphs of an essay are given over to a relentlessly hostile characterization of an essay that is only 19 paragraphs long. And then the author of the attacking essay adds 3 more paragraphs under the sub title Pointless Piece, follow by another section subtitled Misleading Analysis inwhich the writer actually starts to get down to cases.

Of course by this time, the reader reads through Romm's hysterical rhetoric, whatever content Romm's argument contained was hopefully lost. Peilke responded to Romm's attack by noting:

"Automatic decarbonization occurs in the IPCC scenarios not because of specific policies that the report discusses, but because of assumptions that it uses within individual scenarios (specifically, assumptions of decreasing carbon and energy intensities). Whatever policies are associated with these assumptions are not discussed by the IPCC. The decarbonization of the global economy reflected by the light blue portions of the bars in the figure above are indeed accurately characterized as being “automatic” or “spontaneous.”

In its editorial discussing our paper, Nature clearly understood this. Joe Romm apparently does not. He has confused the differences between aggregate emissions across scenarios with assumptions of automatic decarbonization within scenarios.

Now that Joe has released his original letter to Nature, it is clear why they asked him to correct his error of interpretation. It is also clear why his claims that we have made an error in our analysis is incorrect".

Romm's readers were not nearly as kind:

Paul K remarked: "Still attacking those with whom you should be finding common ground. The ad hominem has widened to the Editors and Reviewers at Nature".

Peter G. stated: "Aren’t you being a little hysterical? I read Pielke et al’s short article before reading yours, and came to the conclusion that strong immediate action is needed".

JHC retorted: "See Joe, we’re going to adapt to those suicidal conditions. You know, blow your head off and then stop the bleeding once you know where it’s bleeding".

Needless to say Joe Romm had done nothing to enhwnce his reputation for sanity. If anyone doubts where Joe is comming from. a few months later Romm was to write in another debate: Manzi might try reading Pielke et al.’s “Dangerous Assumptions,” in Nature — an analysis that I don’t entirely agree with — to understand where he went wrong". Talk about your flip-flops. Pielke remarks, "Joe never posted up an apology for mistakenly trashing our paper or a correction noting that in fact, he finds the analysis sound".

What got Joe Romm so hysteria? It must be more than the possibility that he and the Genus Amory Lovins are wrong about "freezing " technology. The ugly monster which lurks deep in Romm's soul, the monster that triggers his husteria, is something called alternative nuclear. What Romm fears more than anything else, in thousands of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, churning out of factors and being set up in energy starved countries all over the world. That would be a technology that Romm intends to "freeze" out.

Thus we have a formula for blindness.

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