Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Climate change Skeptics need to look again. We have known about the CO2- climate change link for over 100 years.

The work of Climate Change denier Roy Spencer has recently been demonstrated to contain large scientific errors. (see here, here, here, here, and here, here, and here), while a recent paper by Texas A&'M professor Andrew Dessler offers a devastating critique to the skeptical claims of both Spencer and MIT Professor Richard Lindzen. Needless to say the Climate change skeptics are not folding, but their days are numbers.

Before the end of June, NOAA had announced that the United States had set an all time record for extreme climate events.

Climate scientists have been noting the emergence of patterns of extreme weather for some time and predicted more same

The extreme weather events of 2011 are continuing. Houston witnessed a once every 10,000 year weather event in August, and Dallas may tie or even break an all time record for 100 degree days this week. The Northeast is just starting to recover from yet another rain/flood event,this one brought on by remnants of tropical storm Lee. Lee dumped an enormous amout of Water on the Gulf Coast and the Southeast as it headed north, we had something like 6.5" of rain from Lee in Knoxville, and parts of East Tennessee received much more.

Before the end of June, NOAA had announced that the United States had set an all time record for extreme climate events.

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 appodectic 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 World War II with free market solutions. Nor do we attempt to deal with much smaller nature driven crises, for example floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis by turning the response over to the 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 appodectic 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. The extreme weather events of this year strongly suggest that the climate change crisis is now upon us. If Conservatives are not willing to get on board the climate change ship now, they may witness their ship go down. Tragically we may all go down with it.


Andrew Jaremko said...

Charles - once again, a great post. Thank you for the links to Barry Bickmore's Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah. His posts on Roy Spencer's Great Blunder are great reading. I love the tsunami photo as well; it's ominous and exactly appropriate.

I absolutely agree with your evaluation of ideological positions. It's ridiculous to me - squabbling over words and positions when the facts are so clear. And it's clear to me, as well, that environmental romanticism won't do the job. There is no time to waste! - but I, you, and many others are in the position defined by Pink Floyd in the lyrics to Brain Damage (Dark Side of the Moon):

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.

Some of us hear, but not enough, and people don't feel the urgency. Keep shouting Charles!

SteveK9 said...

Very nice essay and good find on the classic article. I particularly like the fact that it was written by Svante Arrhenius, and Tyndall and Fourier are referenced in the first paragraph --- I seem to recognize those names.

Ken Talton said...

"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."

There is nothing so permanent as a "temporary" a abandonment of principles. This is especially true when leftists smell power.

I support nuclear power.

I would suggest to you that the only way to replace all coal plants with nuclear reactors would be to "temporarily" abandon leftist principles of hyper regulation and environmental impact statements (excluding of course actual pollution control and geological site assessment). Of course, when the economy improves and the world doesn't end and things actually get built...well people might not enjoy wearing the straightjacket anymore.

...and as the world would then be a better place, I'm OK with that.

Given that the Roman and Medieval Warm periods were warmer than current temperatures this debate is irrelevant except to the extent that the perversion of peer review revealed by the Climate Gate whistle blower indicates the scientific community is loosing it's compass.

Mr Hope and Change has been in office nearly three years and his green policies seem to consist of shifting offshore oil production to Brazil (which doesn't affect total emissions but screws us pretty good) and dumping money into unworkable solar power companies run by campaign contributors.

The greens with a very few exceptions despise nuclear power. They are not your friend.

If you want to shift the country to nuclear then you might do better engaging the right rather than mocking them. Or you can continue to suck up to the people who scold us about carbon emissions while living in mansions and opposing nukes...(and offshore windfarms that are within their field of view).

When it comes to energy, nuclear is the only alternative.

Charles Barton said...

Ken Talton, I should point out how many Conservative and Libertarian principles were abandoned Willy-Nilly after 9/11. The United States abandoned Conservative and Libertarian principles during World War I, World War II, and the Civil War. At the end of each crisis, conditions were returned to the status quo antebellum.


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