Wednesday, October 24, 2007

best short article on climate change

climate change debate in public forums is full of silly crap, so it was a pleasure to read slate's save the earth in six hard questions -what al gore doesn't understand about climate change by steven e. landsburg.

it focuses in the real points at issue clearly and simply, without dumbing down, and in the process explains the skepticism felt by large number of people, including by myself, about the whole thing.

while the following are not the questions mentioned in the article, they are related; is climate change real? if so, do we humans contribute to it? if it is real, what are the exact effects? if we know that, do these effects matter? even if they matter, should we care? i am skeptical about the reliability and purported objectivity of the answers provided by climate change "evangelists" for each of these questions in spite of all their nobel prizes and films.

here is a link to stern review report on the economics of climate change referred at the end of that article.


Anonymous said...

It all comes down to risk.Why should we risk it?
Be prepared for all eventualities, I say.

Theena said...

Hardly a definitive article. Here are some points that I thought were vague or plain stating the obvious.

"1. How much does human activity affect the climate? This is actually a whole menu of questions: What can we expect given the current level of carbon emissions? What if we cut those emissions by half? By two-thirds? And so on. These are questions for physical scientists, not economists or politicians."

Scientists - including Stephen Hawkins - have been saying for years that the current level of carbon emissions are at unacceptable levels.

If it's just Al Gore and a bunch of podium lovin, tree hugging politicos with agendas who are making these claims, then I'd be skeptical. But when a guy of Hawkins' stature rings alarm bells, then it's time to get our act straight.

N said...

bit of a nonsensical article "These are questions for physical scientists, not economists or politicians" not true does not exist in a vacuum..u need economists to count costs and politicians to formulate policy...

Java Jones said...

In my view your "silly crap" description could very well suit this article as well.

aadhavan said...

if this is the best short article you've read on climate change, you might want to brush up on your reading.

sittingnut said...

thanks to everyone for the comments :-)

anon 10/24/2007 6:31 am
problem is that we perceive risk subjectively. what you consider risky, may not be what i consider risky.
for instance if your aim is to avoid risk in financial matters you will not do any investing but buy government bonds as the least risky investment according to economic theory, others will take more risk to get better rewards .
another problem is that unlike with government bonds and other investments, we cannot put clear numbers on climate charge risks. so that subjectivity is compounded.

it is not a definitive article and that is the point. we cannot be definitive when we come to climate change. there are too many subjective assumptions.
not all scientists agree with stephen hawkings ( you mean "hawkings" the theoretical physicist. right ? ) so we cannot make generalized statements like "scientists say" this or that about climate change.
btw never get overawed by reputations. see what happened with regard to james watson recently and remember what happened to einstein in later years. even great scientists can be wrong especially when they express personal opinions.

yes you are right "science does not exist in a vacuum..u need economists to count costs and politicians to formulate policy." but the author of that article did not say "These are questions for physical scientists, not economists or politicians." about the whole of climate change questions but with regard to a specific set of questions coming under "1. How much does human activity affect the climate? ...". (i don't know whether you neglected to read the rest of the article but the author refers other questions to others )
and those questions raised under no 1 have to be first answered objectively by scientists for "economists to count costs and politicians to formulate policy"( unless you want them to make uninformed decisions)

java jones:
since you do not say why you consider this article to be silly crap your objection is mere personal opinion.

it is in fact this lack of objectivity ( which btw is one of the points made in the article ) that makes the whole of climate change debate as conducted in public forums full of silly crap.:-)

well if you can point to a better short article on the subject pl do.

(otherwise i may suspect that your comment was motivated by the fact that you are still smarting from previous encounters with me ) lol

btw how is your "cousin" who uses your computer at same time as you doing? is he gone (due to medications perhaps)? :-)

N said...

I did read the whole article, which was just a series of pointless questions, not sure what the point of the whole article is...with regard to answering definitely, there is no such thing. Science is not definitive, there are margins of error, experiments/data that takes decades to carry out/collect. Seems a bit silly to expect to hold back until all the information is in when that will take a 100 years or so...

I'm not a climate change evangelist, and I like evidence for my beliefs but for climate change all you have to do is look at the Artic circle and the retreat of the glaciers for evidence. Also if someone is messing around with my life support system I'm going to be pretty risk averse to taht.

if you want something more comprehensive you might want to read the new Geo-4 report. I really don't see the point of quoting a 'non-definitive' article.

sittingnut said...

one quotes a "non definitive article" to point out that the question so far has no definite answers. as the article says, depending on the assumptions the answers will vary substantially.

it is not silly to hold back action until one get some sort of certainty. yes we may never get 100% agreement in science but we get over 90 % agreement in most cases . here we don't get that. it wont matter if the costs are small but they are huge when you compound it for 100+ years ( do the calculation for a 1% of gdp annual cost and see )

as you recognize there is beliefs than evidence here. you have a right ( and may be even right) to believe what you do. but other will and can believe something else without definitive data

if the arctic ice is receding( and i take it you are right ) why ? may be it is natural. may be not ? and what will be the effects. will some gain while others lose ? may be there are more resources to be exploited in arctic and antarctic. we want numbers to carry out acost benefit analysis. should we care ? are you certain we will die ? or do we only have to adapt (if at all ) ? what will cost less - adaption( as things happen) or (blind) prevention?

some many things are unclear. that is the point

niran said...

just google it up and do your own reading. surely... ever heard of the ipcc snutty?? look it up, might help.

you do diplay a fine sense of imagination. i'll smart when your insults get a little wittier and. till then, you're a bit of a bore really and a wee bit tiresome.

aadhavan said...

that was me, aadhavan

Theena said...


" there are too many subjective assumptions."

One such assumption being the glaring evidence provided by the Arctic circle?

"so we cannot make generalized statements like "scientists say" this or that about climate change."

I suggest that you read this ( along with the cited articles and studies and then get back to me (you can’t really trust Wikipedia these days, can you?). Scientists with any sort of credibility have been getting increasingly vocal about the effects of climate change.

Thank you for highlighting my spelling error. How silly of me.

"btw never get overawed by reputations. see what happened with regard to james watson recently and remember what happened to einstein in later years. even great scientists can be wrong especially when they express personal opinions."

I am not overawed. Maybe it's just me, but when the smartest man on the planet says something is amiss I tend to listen and take him seriously. And I'll take his scholarly opinion more seriously than I do an article by some smartarse who states the bleeding obvious or the painfully ignorant.

As for Watson, he is a bit misguided with his racist leanings that have no scientific basis. Climate change does have scientific basis.

Deane AKA ~CC~ said...

The issue is this, one there is a huge gap between what this so-called scientific consensus is, and what's been reported by climate change sensationalists.

Just compare the joint academics statement (can be viewed by following the wikipedia link) with any popular material on climate change.

i've read sometime ago a wonderful speech by Patrick Moor a co-founder of greenpeace. the full speech can be read here, i'll post the part where he speaks about climate change, which i think is relevant to this discussion.

"Global climate change is another area where extreme statements are made, in this case on both sides of the debate, when there is little in science to defend them. Some things are quite certain. Carbon dioxide levels are rising and our consumption of fossil fuels and deforestation in the tropics are probably the main causes. There is a lot of evidence that the earth's climate is warming: the glaciers in Alaska are retreating and great egrets are visiting northern Lake Huron. But here the consensus ends.

Climate change is a wonderful example to demonstrate the limitations of science. There are two fundamental characteristics of climate change that make it very difficult to use the empirical (scientific) method to predict the future. First there are simply too many uncontrollable variables -- the empirical method works best when you can control all the variables except the one you are studying. Second, and even more significant, is the fact that we have only one planet to observe. If we had 50 planet Earths and increased the carbon dioxide levels on 25 of them, leaving the other 25 alone, we might be able to determine a statistical difference between the two samples. With only one Earth, we are reduced to complex computer models of questionable value, and a lot of guesswork.

Climate change is not about scientific certainty; it is about the evaluation and management of risk. I think it is fair to say that climate change poses a real risk, however small or large. When faced with the risk the logical thing to do is to buy and insurance policy. Unfortunately we have no actuarial science on which to base the size of the insurance premium; this is where the guesswork comes in. Is it worth reducing fossil fuel consumption by 60 percent to avoid global warming? Should we add the risk of massive nuclear energy construction to offset carbon dioxide emissions? What does "worth doing away" really mean? Is it possible that global warming might have more positive effects than negative ones?"

See Indur Goklany's work on adaptive risk management for CC and his criticism of the much heralded stern report.

Java Jones said...

"personal opinion"? Sure! Isn't everything someone's personal opinion?