Saturday, April 3, 2010

Conservatives Face Existential Choices on the Environment

I have thought for some time that a run of very hot years, global temperature breakers, will be required to silence the global warming skeptics. The evidence for global climate change must be both very powerful and quite evident, before global warming skeptics, will fold their tents and slip quietly into the night, but that day is coming and is coming soon. In the debate over climate change the skeptics have nor established that the over all theory that climate change is upon us is wrong. Indeed I do not believe that they have shown that a preponderance of evidence contradicts the climate change theory. They have certainly have failed to shown that climate change is not happening with apodectic certaintyIt is clear that some conservative critics of climate change theory are not climate change skeptics. Doug Craig has recently pointed out the rather more subtle thrust of the right wing "American Enterprise Institute" ideological line on climate change. In 2002 an AEI essay stated,
That the environment should be a source of extreme ideological fractiousness and bitter partisan division is a mystery from a common-sense point of view. When the environment rose to the top of the public policy agenda in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was widely regarded as a consensus issue around which long-term bipartisan action would ensue. No public constituency favors polluted air, fouled rivers, and wasted habitat. The conservative governor of California, Ronald Reagan, joined the environmental bandwagon on the first Earth Day in 1970 and declared "the absolute necessity of waging all-out war against the debauching of the environment." Barry Goldwater was a member of the Sierra Club.
There is of course the rather simplistic identification of climate change with Environmentalism. In fact the Environmentalists are Johnny come lately to the climate change game. As I have several times pointed out, supposed environmental stalwarts, such as Ralph Nader, and Amory Lovins supported the use of fossil fuels as a remedy against the use of carbon mitigating nuclear power. Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund continue to favor the use of natural gas over the superior carbon mitigating qualities of nuclear power.

Many nuclear power advocates, are as concerned as the environmental community about climate change, but unlike the environmental community, they entertain strong doubts that renewable energy strategies will mitigate carbon driven climate change without high costs for the future quality of life, and a diminished possibility for the development of under industrialized countries.

The 2002 AEI essay rightly distinguished between romantic and practical environmentalism. Advocates of nuclear power would for the most part fall on the practical rather than the romantic side of that divide. The Essay states,
Romantic environmentalism is a strong and uncompromising environmentalism that holds that environmental values should always or almost always trump other values, especially those associated with economic development and growth. The movement has strong roots in American intellectual and political history and many accomplishments to its credit (without John Muir the Yosemite Valley might today be known as the San Francisco Reservoir). And romantic environmentalism has many adherents today. Some are philosophically authentic--people who are strongly attached to the natural world and believe that civilization grows distant from nature at its mortal peril. Others adopt the uncompromising posture for strategic reasons because they see that the forces of development and growth are powerful and require a strong counterattack just to be held to a draw.
The essay wrongly attributes concerns about the catastrophic consequences of climate change, with Romantic Environmentalism. In fact many practical environmentalists are concerned about potential catastrophic consequences of climate change, And thus the case assignment between categories between practical and romantic which leads the AEI essayist into his ideological trap. The essay categorizes the existential dilemma which Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) posses with Romantic Environmentalism. Yet practical Environmentalism also acknowledges the dilemma as well. The difference between the practical and the romantic views, is that the practical view offers nuclear power as the course away from disaster, and toward greater human prosperity. While romantic environmentalists tend to either engage in Pollyannaish rhapsodies on the future of renewable energy, coupled with bumper sticker like attacks on nuclear power, or to lapse into pessimistic neo-Malthusian discourse, proclaiming that the human race is headed toward a mass dienoff, if not extinction. The rejection of nuclear power is coupled with a romantic attachment to a petit-bourgeois model of society, with at the very least the means of local electrical production owned by lower middle class investors in small local distributive power projects. The AEI fails to note the extent to which its calls for local control of environmental issues is mirrored by some romantic environmentalists. The very environmentalism localism, which the AEI advocates, is increasingly being used by the romantic environmentalists as a tool to fight nuclear power.

Other Conservatives are less sophisticated than the AEI, and fall deep into an epistemological trap, in which they claim appodictic certainty for their skeptical views. These right-wingers, in effect painted themselves into an ideological corner. If their rejection of the climate change theory proves wrong, they stand in danger of being irretrievably tarnished with a monumental intellectual error. Conservatives should know better, but they are so trapped in a partisan world view, that seemingly demands a highly risky opposition to practical society and world wide carbon mitigation efforts. Libertarian John Jacobs, offers an example of the conservative problem,
I’m a libertarian and don’t believe in any of the climate change, earth is warming due to man nonsense. BUT…even if it was true, the absolute best way to attack it is through the free markets.
Well maybe but if you deny that a problem exists, you are hardly going to work through the relationship between free markets and world wide carbon mitigation needs. Ryan Avent,has pointed out the problem for Libertarians,
a serious problem for libertarians. Climate science has followed a path very similar to many other sciences over the past few decades. An interesting hypothesis touched off a great deal of research which led to a growing consensus on the validity of the hypothesis — that in fact, it was consistent with the available data. But scientific progress in other fields didn’t, by and large, generate some rather significant policy implications (the minimalist one of which, for climate change, is that something should be done, even if that something is simply preparing for the effects of warming). And so libertarian think tanks haven’t devoted themselves to trying to undermine the science in those fields, while libertarians have gone to war against the field of climate science. They made this choice not because they dislike the process of scientific inquiry, but because they dislike the policy implications of a specific scientific conclusion.

That is to say, confronted by a problem demanding solutions inimical to libertarian beliefs, libertarians were faced with the choice of reneging on their beliefs or turning their back on science. Tellingly, they chose the latter. One might think that’s a rather drastic decision, given the role scientific endeavors have played in delivering the material prosperity so dear to the hearts of the libertarian world, and one would be right.

A belief system that cannot grapple with the fundamental reality of a situation is, quite simply, not a belief system worth having.
The problem faced by the Libertarians involves more than the simple choice to accept or reject climate change. If the Libertarians acknowledge that society faces a climate related crisis, is it an emergency. Free market solutions are often seen as inappropriate to society wide emergency situations. We do not seek to fight wars with free market solutions. Nor do we attempt to deal with much smaller nature driven crises, for example floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes tsunamis by turning the response over to free markets. Crisis responses may require a mobilization of social resources that extends well beyond the business as usual model of libertarians. In fact major social emergencies such as fighting wars, is often seen as an exception to Libertarian principles. Indeed some rigid Libertarians are pacifists or at least limited pacifists. However, the objection that war involves both the corrosive use of violence and the dist ruction of property, would not seem appropriate in the case of a global climate change emergency.

Global Climate change is likely to impose on society a prolonged emergency, that may require that the free market "business as usual model" may fail and should be abandoned for at least the short run. A quick review of the Irish potato famine should be enough to illustrate the magnitude of the folly of attempting to solve a major social crisis through recourse to libertarian principles. The British government, led by Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel attempted to solve the crisis created by the failure of the Irish potato crop without "stifling private enterprise." While the British government did make some small food purchases in the United States, the Peel government placed primary responsibility for response to the crisis in the hands of the local authorities in Ireland. Those authorities could only draw on the resources of a shattered land, and their efforts were doomed to failure. Before the crisis was over one million people died, and another million had fled to the United States. Libertarianism offered limited and often inadequate solutions for major social crises.

Lest the conservative forget, the Irish potato famine was a man made crisis, created by the political economy of Ireland, the dependence on mono culture potato farming, and the importation of the potato disease on board one or more merchant ships sailing from South America. The potato famine proves that human beings, aided by free market economies are perfectly capable of afflicting society damaging ecological disasters on themselves., disasters that free markets cannot be relied on for mitigation.

Conservatives including libertarians have not shown with apodectic certainty that we do not face a major crisis due to AGW. Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that Libertarian principles are not helpful when societies face major crises, and the reliance on them for mitigation may cause further harm.

The dilemma for Conservatives as well as libertarians is simple, the survival of a society in which meaningful Conservatism and Libertarianism are possible, may only be possible through the temporary abandonment of Conservative and Libertarian principles.


DocForesight said...

Hmm, I thought debating climate change was off-limits on this blog. That not being the case, I wonder how many more errors in the UN IPCC AR4 report it will take before you question its apodicticity?

Considering that none of the climate models predicted the lack of warming over the last 10 years (since 1995, according to Phil Jones), perhaps it would be more appropriate to assign the debate an assertoric proposition?

In case you haven't read this, it encapsulates 'skeptics' well:

Lastly, when it comes to nuclear power promotion and stable, reliable, affordable, on-demand sources of near-zero emission electricity, conservatives and Libertarians are more likely to be your cheerleaders than statists and liberals.

Really lastly, I think your use of the photo depicting a tsunami approaching a coastal metropolitan area is below your stature. Or am I wrong?

carl said...

Nice post, Charles. I like the discussion of the potato famine. Jared Diamond's book Collapse is full of such tales. The Norse in Greenland, for instance, insisted on herding cattle when hunting seals would have been more appropriate. Apparently, they had some sort of irrational hangup about using the most appropriate technology, and wound up starving to death.

Charles Barton said...

Doc, I am still not debating climate change, but what I am doing is questions Conservatives and Libertarians who believe that AGW has been disproved with logical certainty. Such a degree of certainty is almost impossible, and Conservatives run a risk of being proven wrong. If so, they have gone out on a considerable limb, are guilty of obstructing mitigation efforts, and run a considerable risk of being discredited, and destroyed as political movements as a result. I am arguing that Conservatives need to hedge their bets on climate change, or run the risk of disappearing from history,

DocForesight said...

Charles, would you agree that AGW has NOT been proved with logical certainty? And that the lack of such certainty posses a risk to the pro-AGW position of being proven wrong?

As to 'obstructing mitigation efforts', the anti-nukes should be the target of your ire, not Conservatives, as 'Cons' are far more likely to support nuclear power plant development with its attendant mitigation effects.

Conservatives, by and large, are not prone to alarmism. Virtually all alarmism warnings of the past - population bomb; peak-oil by 2000; mass starvation by 1990; etc - have been promoted by the political Left and proven false or at least not materialized.

Cons 'hedge their bets' by supporting sound economic and energy policy while following JFK's appeal to "assure the survival and success of liberty".

Charles Barton said...

Doc, nothing in life is certain, but the skeptics have way over played their hand. It is simply not credible that the AGW hypothesis is a fraud or a hoax as the skeptics keep insisting. This is the sort of rhetoric that is likely to damage the conservative movement, after 2 or 3 a few hot years.

Doc, your use of the term "alarmist" is another example of the sort of language that may get conservatives in deep trouble. Winston Churchill was virtually the only British politician who warned of the danger posed by hitler during the 1930's people called Churchill an alarmist too. But Churchill proved to be 100% right and his critics wrong. You have to remember that I was introduced to AGW theory 40 years ago, and so far perdiction after prediction which I heard then, has come to past. People like Jerry Olsen, Alvin Weinberg, and my father would have been called alarmist then, but so far they have proven to be on target.

LarryD said...

Even the Germans are becoming skeptics on AGW, so I think this line of argumentation is past its use-by date. CRU and IPPC have been caught lying, and now, fairly or not, climate science is discredited. Time to start over, this time with rigorous transparency and un-throttled debate. The burden of proof isn't on the skeptics anymore.

The statists have bought into the Club of Rome position, (American) conservatives and libertarians are either pro-growth or at least non-hostile to it. Growth needs energy, and nuclear is only a little more expensive than coal and considerably less polluting. If we can get the costs down below coal, then nuclear will beat coal, over time. The cheaper nuclear gets, the faster coal becomes obsolete.

If Polywell or Dense Plasma Focus pan out, then it's a whole new ball game.

DocForesight said...

Charles, I use "alarmism" as a counter-point to the smear "denier" affixed to those who question AGW theory, not the established fact that climate 'changes' routinely and always will.

Please review the Quadrant link I provided earlier. The author has far stronger credentials than mine - being merely an optometrist.

No doubt Weinberg, Olsen and your father were very intelligent (and you, too) but they didn't have full undisputed knowledge of all things related to climate. No one does, even today, despite powerful computers and instrumentation.

What prediction(s) you heard 40 years ago have come to pass? I mentioned a few that have utterly failed to materialize, despite the best efforts by some to deny the empowering of destitute countries with electrical power sources.

LarryD said...

Tea Party focused on economy, jobs:
"The Tea Party is a movement defined by its preference for fiscal restraint and low taxes. Presented with two competing proposals to create jobs, over four out of five Tea Party members say tax cuts for small business will create more jobs than increased government spending on infrastructure. When the options were expanded, tax cuts still were chosen as the top job creator, but are closely followed by "expanding development of all energy resources."" (Emphasis mine)

Soylent said...

... Continued:

The first thing you notice if you actually read the e-mail is that the implication made by the deniers that this is some kind of conspiracy to keep these doubts secrets is patently dishonest.

"Trenberth, K. E., 2009: An imperative for climate change planning:
tracking Earth's global energy. /Current Opinion in Environmental
Sustainability/, *1*, 19-27, doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2009.06.001. [PDF]
(A PDF of the published version can be obtained from the author.)" -Trenberth, the next paragraph down in the same e-mail.

He even gives you a link to a paper he has published detailing his doubts, in public!

If you read the e-mails preceeding and following Trenberth's you'll see that there is not much agreement with this point of view, e.g.

"At the risk of overload, here are some notes of mine on the recent
lack of warming. I look at this in two ways. The first is to look at
the difference between the observed and expected anthropogenic trend
relative to the pdf for unforced variability. The second is to remove
ENSO, volcanoes and TSI variations from the observed data.

Both methods show that what we are seeing is not unusual. The second
method leaves a significant warming over the past decade." - Tom Wigley

"Hi all. Any of you want to explain decadal natural variability and signal to noise and
sampling errors to this new "IPCC Lead Author" from the BBC? As we enter an El Nino
year and as soon, as the sunspots get over their temporary--presumed--vacation worth a
few tenths of a Watt per meter squared reduced forcing, there will likely be another
dramatic upward spike like 1992-2000. I heard someone--Mike Schlesinger maybe??--was
willing to bet alot of money on it happening in next 5 years?? Meanwhile the past 10
years of global mean temperature trend stasis still saw what, 9 of the warmest in
reconstructed 1000 year record and Greenland and the sea ice of the North in big
retreat?? Some of you observational folks probably do need to straighten this out as my
student suggests below. Such "fun", Cheers, Steve" - Stephen H. Schneider

And then there's the investigation of Phil Jones and the CRU by the science and technology comittee exhonorating them of wrong doing:

"Time to start over, this time with rigorous transparency and un-throttled debate." - LarryD

Rewarding rank dishonesty and scientific illiteracy is the worst possible policy I could imagine.

"The statists have bought into the Club of Rome position, (American) conservatives and libertarians are either pro-growth or at least non-hostile to it."

Your current path of deceit and wishful thinking might be successful in the short term, but in the long term this course of behaviour represents an existential risk to your political viewpoint.

It enables the statists to say that you were delusional, nearly all of you. Just screaming "NO!" like petulant children long after you lost the scientific debate. That you had no plan of action other than systematic, baseless dirt-flinging to forestall any action.

The only defense you'll be able to offer is a tiny fig-leaf that you happened to supported nuclear energy for unrelated reasons. For the average conservative; the support for nuclear is just because the liberals hated it.

You are no friend of libertarianism.

Soylent said...

"Even the Germans are becoming skeptics on AGW, so I think this line of argumentation is past its use-by date." - LarryD

You're entitled to your own opinion but not your own objective reality. Reality is not susceptible to wishful thinking or voting.

In 10 or 20 years when the deniers have the same level of credibility with the public as creationsts, flat-earthers and the smoking-doesn't-cause-cancer people it will be politically useful to point to the fact that you stuck to your guns all those years ago rather than going for cheap votes.

"CRU and IPPC have been caught lying, and now, fairly or not, climate science is discredited."

The mistakes in the IPCC report are minor and inconsequential to the case for AGW.

CRU has not been "caught lying". Denier scum stole some e-mails, misrepresented the context and meaning of the content to fabricate a scandal. This will eventually be a PR loss for the deniers; there's no sane reason to give a millimeter on this issue.

Let's look at the supposedly scandalous remarks the deniers have pointed to shall we?

"We both know the probable flaws in Mike's recon, particularly as it relates to the tropical stuff"

Two sentences down in the same e-mail you find what the deniers have conveniently left out:

"The only way to deal with this issue is to show in a detailed study that his estimates are clearly deficient in multi-centennial power. Something that you actually did in your Perspectives piece, even if it was not clearly stated because of editorial cuts."

No evidence of secretly held doubts or any other nonsense here; only evidence of the rank dishonesty of the deniers.

"I've just completed Mike's nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years( I.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

In science trick generally means "a clever thing to do" not a misdirection or fraud as is the usage in 'magic trick'.

The decline refered to is the decline in temperatures in tree-ring data since the 1950's. Tree ring data diverges from the direct instrumental record in this period and is therefor KNOWN to be wrong. The reason why it diverges is probably global dimming. The argument is over whether this known erroneous data should be used or whether it should be adjusted for over the period where it is known to be erroneous.

Deniers clearly have no scruples about knowingly using bad data as long as the results point the right way, but real scientists aren't as quick to indulge in wishful thinking.

Deniers: "We can't account for the lack of warming at the momemnt and it is a travesty that we can't." - Kevin Trenberth

What Trenberth is talking about is the cooling in 2008-2009 as a result of a particularly strong la niƱa year. He argues that the warming effect of CO2 should overcome these temporary blips.

The first thing you notice if you actually read the e-mail is that the implication made by the deniers that this is some kind of conspiracy to keep these doubts secrets is patently dishonest.

"Trenberth, K. E., 2009: An imperative for climate change planning:
tracking Earth's global energy. /Current Opinion in Environmental
Sustainability/, *1*, 19-27, doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2009.06.001. [PDF]
(A PDF of the published version can be obtained from the author.)" -Trenberth, the next paragraph down in the same e-mail.

He even gives you a link to a paper he has published detailing his doubts, in public!

continued in next post...

Konstantin said...

For another analysis of what caused the Irish potato famine see the following article on the blog:

What Caused the Irish Potato Famine?

Don't lump conservatives and libertarians in the same category. What are called libertarians today used to be called liberals in the 1800's among them being Thomas Jefferson.

About the solution to global warming, I think that the free market would choose the most reliable efficient energy dense technology which is 4th gen nuclear. Even if there were no global warming threat, I think the free market would still choose 4th gen nuclear over other energy solutions.

It's not the free market that's impeding mitigating global warming but rather it's big government that's the problem.

Imagine the delay big government can cause when politicians are influenced/bribed by special interests into spending the people's money on what we know are inefficient unreliable energy systems like wind and solar over nuclear; money that's taken by taxes when when the free market would would likely invest it in nuclear which works in reality not the mythical fantasies of T. Boone Pickens. For example, you mentioned Bill Gates on the Huffington Post and his investment in the traveling wave reactor.

Charles Barton said...

Konstantin, I do distinguish between conservatives and Libertarians. However, both little government libertarians, and free market little government conservatives have a lot in common. My contention is that societies do not turn the management of existential crises over to free markets. No libertarian that I know of has advocated turning the management of a war over to private enterprises. Irish society and the Irish economy were highly disfunctional in the 19th century, but it was the failure of the British government to step in to prevent mass starvation that lead to the great humanitarian crisis. That failure was justified on free free markets grounds. Private charity efforts were attempted and failed given the massive extent of the crisis. The functioning of the Irish poor laws failed because Irish economy had collapsed, because the labor economy had collapsed. Under those circumstances it is doubtful that private local charities would have done better.

There are many situations in which a business as usual, free market approach works, but libertarians are rigid to the point of dogmatism in arguing that in every situation a free market solution will always work better. I tend to view von Mises and von Hayek as economists, who were capable of making mistakes, and who if they sometimes provided valuable insights, sometimes took those insights too far. The claim that free markets can always perform better than governments, can be refuted by case studies, which demonstrate that governments sometimes perform well, while free markets perform badly .

Libertarians who are not willing to recognize the limitations of their ideas fall into a form of ideological fundamentalism, that rests not on the evidence of experience, but on the metaphysical certainty of a priori arguments which are deemed to produce untestable conclusions.

I do think that libertarians have something to offer, but when they turn their argue a priori that they are right in every case, they enter the realm of dogma, and leave the contingent world behind.


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