• Better climate through free markets

    Mark Steyn is being awfully sweet and driving some traffic to this teutonic outpost of the dextrosphere, but I fear that he is misunderstanding one point, particularly this:

    The Prussian comes to a subtly different conclusion, suggesting that, if the cause doesn’t want to go down the drain, it should send Michael E Mann down there on an express ticket

    I just want to stress that ‘the cause’ for me is the business of scientific accuracy, and understanding.  While I remain concerned about AGW, for reasons to be explained in this post, I have no truck with the green agenda, and I think that it is powerfully destructive to any serious effort to fix this problem, for reasons also to be explained in this post.

    Indeed, I happily offer Mr Steyn an opportunity for a debate when he has a moment about the science of human caused climate change (I am indebted for his pointing me to the following assessment of the climategate fiasco, by the UK institute of physics.  Be sure to read it all).

    Why I think that AGW is real

    To state the counter case at its strongest, would it surprise anyone to learn that:

    –  The “importance of solar variability as a factor in climate change over the last few decades may have been underestimated”?

    – One of the biggest climatic changes in Earth’s history had zip to do with carbon dioxide levels?

    – That the tendency of tree rings to fail to track recent temperature changes is so well established, it even has an official name, ‘the divergence problem’?

    However, all of the above are facts well attested to in the scientific literature; indeed, the reference about the problems with tree ring proxy data is authored by Michael Mann (I typically don’t link the guy, but this was too ironic).  Further, isn’t it the case that the IPCC’s projections span such a great range that it makes falsification very difficult, if not impossible?

    -So, doesn’t that mean you don’t believe in global warming?

    The first thing whenever I get this question is: “What do you mean by global warming?”  If you mean the apocalyptic ‘day after tomorrow’ fantasies advanced by people like Al Gore, then the answer is “no”, and I have the scientific consensus with me on that.  If the answer is “do I believe that human activity increases global temperatures worldwide?” then my response is yes.

    The first reason is simply my knowledge of the scientific process.  Scientists as a group are people whom it is hard to get to attend the same lab meeting.  The idea of any sort of global, toe-the-line conspiracy is ludicrous.  Even if we discard what Steyn calls Mann’s “tree ring circus”, we are left with a number of proxy studies using ocean sediments, pollen, ice cores etc.  All of them show a suspicious up-tick in temperatures in the twentieth century.

    Let me grant that looking into this, I did not see anything as dramatic as what Mann’s been putting forward, but you still see the uptick.  As it has been described, it’s a field-hockey, not an ice-hockey stick.

    (Digression: one piece of evidence that I can add to this is that Michael Mann is definitely a megalomaniac.  If you look at his list of publications, there are a whole lot of first-author ones and very few last author ones.  This stinks to high heaven, because a professor should have many of the latter, and not so much of the former, because he is supposed to be supporting his students, helping them get established.  I’ve dealt with such people before, sadly, and my advice to any up-and-coming climatologists is: Do not, if you value your career, accept work under someone like Mann.  He’ll milk you dry and leave you with little to advance in the world.)

    There is also the matter of simple logic.  We know that carbon dioxide traps heat; the idea that we could add thirty one gigatonnes to the atmosphere every year with no effect is silly.  And to answer my comment about the IPCC’s ranges, what they show is a number of projections along the lines of ‘if emissions are so-and-so we’ll see this kind of an increase’.  So they are falsifiable.

    Skeptics/denialists are simply setting the bar too high and keep crashing into it. This is why I get annoyed with my fellows on the right who persist in this silliness – by trying to assert that billions of tons of carbon have no effect on global climate, they hand an unbeatable weapon to their opponents.   Steyn may well, probably will, win his suit and his countersuit against Mann, but the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who are not of that mold will still be their and their work will still be there.  The green movement, a significant chunk of which can be described as fascistic, is being allowed to stamp the mint-mark of science on its plans, and it is being allowed to do this by the default of its opponents.

    – Does this mean something needs to be done?

    Yes.  There is this persistent evasion of the difference between climate and temperature; indeed I had a commentator ask me how a 10C increase in temperature would be a bad thing.  As I have previously pointed out, the last time that happened it killed 90% of life on earth.  Increase temperatures by that much, and Europe has a climate like that of central Africa.  Mass extinction would be completely inevitable.

    Fortunately no one seriously thinks that’s on the cards (the mass extinction mentioned was the worst in our planet’s four billion year history, and it involved a large meteorite striking one side of earth and a continent’s worth of lava exploding on the other).

    [Digression the second: this evasion is by no means all on one side.  As SSC points out, the people who keep telling us that an unusually cold winter is doesn’t mean AGW isn’t happening always leap to tell us a scorching summer is proof that it is].

    This doesn’t mean there won’t be troubles; as temperatures increase, we should see malaria and other tropical diseases begin to march northwards.  There will be more cases of heat-stroke and death among the elderly (though far fewer cold-deaths), and similar things.  In the poorest parts of the world, droughts will likely be on the up.  Stuff like that.  And if we go beyond a certain point, things could become very bad indeed.

    Let me note that this is all stuff we should think about even if we could show the process was 100% natural.  No one thinks that human activity can send a meteor tumbling towards earth, but among people who study this kind of thing, building some sort of defence against a meteor impact is considered a matter of some urgency.

    But even if we could show that our activities were not increasing global temperature, we should still be thinking in terms of getting ourselves carbon neutral

    Why?  Two words:  ocean acidification.  This isn’t even debatable: more CO2 in the air means more in the oceans, means things get nasty for sealife.

    So you support the whole hyper-regulation, global governance championed by Al Gore then?

    This is what everyone gets wrong, and this is why we have skeptics/denialists.  The syllogism presented is “Climate science is right, therefore Al Gore”.  Since the conclusion is self-evidently insane, people conclude the premise is wrong.

     I’ve done a long post on why we need free markets to deal with climate change.  I don’t want to rehash those points, but just to show how the governmental approach is actively destructive to dealing with the problem.  Steyn links to a WSJ article that describes a US lefty billionaire sinking $100 million to oppose republican candidates, based on climate change politics.

    What a waste.  $100 million is a lot of money.  It could have funded a hundred good research groups in energy and engineering, or given out four hundred scholarships at the best universities with a rider that people taking them had to work in this field for five years.  It could have supported carbon capture, or any number of other initiatives.  Instead it was sluiced down the rathole of US politics.  He could hardly have made less of an impact if he’d piled it up and set it on fire.

    The big government approach to climate change in a nutshell
    The big government approach to climate change in a nutshell


    For those who still think that mandatory emissions reductions will somehow work, that an international order that couldn’t stop savages on horseback from committing genocide will enforce emissions restrictions on China and India, let me make it simple: it’s much too late for that.  If carbon emissions were to stop right now, the carbon we have already released would still be in play until  at least 2150.  As the aforementioned article says:

    Anyone genuinely concerned about the climate future might do better to get an engineering or finance degree.

    That is correct.  Our species is capable of great things, when it has the freedom to do so.


    Category: APGW

    Article by: The Prussian

    • Spence

      As you may have gathered from my last post here, I am a tad sceptical (with a “c” since I am from the UK!) about AGW – which does put me at odds with some of your views here.

      Unfortunately explaining why is difficult in a blog – and here is the danger. Pretty much any discussion of climate on the internet brings a wide range of people, all of whom try to resolve every aspect of climate science in three paragraphs, and that just fails miserably. It’s a complex subject with complex issues.

      So, I’m going to try not to do that and instead link to an explanation that I consider to be more convincing than the consensus line on AGW:


      In essence, until you fully understand natural variability and sensitivity to initial conditions, extracting causality may be impossible. This is best explained in one of my favourite peer-reviewed commentaries on the subject:


      From the conclusions:

      But could this warming be due to natural dynamics? Given what we know about the complexity, long-term persistence, and non-linearity of the climate system, it seems the answer might be yes. Finally, that reported trends are real yet insignificant indicates a worrisome possibility: natural climatic excursions may be much larger than we imagine.

      This suggests that adaptation, rather than mitigation, would be the most sensible approach. That said – my personal view is also that free markets would be the best way to achieve that. So even though we may disagree on details of science, I suspect we agree on the policy response. Which is nice as it means we can follow the same policy and then wait to see who was right about the science :-)

      • ThePrussian

        Glad to hear we agree on the policy. :-) But, just to return to the science question, is it your contention then that human release of greenhouse gasses has no effect on the climate? Because unless you are willing to defend that proposition – welcome to the 97%!

        I’m not trying to be particularly difficult, it’s just that it’s harder to make the sane policy arguments when you’re not square with the science. Bjorn Lomborg has had an immense impact because he treats the science seriously and with respect.

        If you take away just one thing from this post is the question, “What do you mean by global warming?” You’d be surprised how much less apocalyptic the scenarios presented by, y’know, actual science are.

        • Spence

          Ugh. Did try to respond but my browser ate my comment. I’ll try again, and remember to copy before posting this time!

          But, just to return to the science question, is it your contention then that human release of greenhouse gasses has no effect on the climate?

          No, I do not think I made that claim, neither do any of the sites I linked to make that particular claim (that I am aware of). And indeed in the earlier Steyn vs. Mann thread I noted man influences climate (although that influence is wider than just greenhouse gases).

          Note the links I gave were written by scientists who are actively involved in the climate debate through the peer-reviewed literature.

          The issues raised by the sites I linked to are not trivial to follow although anyone capable of degree level science or mathematics should be able to understand, but like any difficult scientific problem that understanding takes time and research. It relates to the problems of determining causality and making predictions in a complex system sensitive to initial conditions and governed by fractionally integrated internal variability. This is an interesting scientific challenge, and absolutely fundamental to climate science (yet largely overlooked by climate scientists).

          The issues raised do not make for good sound bites so are typically not discussed among the ideologues and polemicists of the climate debate. That has its advantages and disadvantages.

          • ThePrussian

            Ah, I should have said – I’ve got a great deal I’m dealing with atm and didn’t have time to go through, so I was hammering out a little consensus here. Sorry about that. I just wanted to point out that that is the basis of the 97% agreement statistic we keep hearing.

            • Spence

              The 97% argument thing really isn’t new, and it isn’t particularly scientific either. The website I linked to above was written around the middle of 2009, and has a section on “the scientific consensus” where it talks about a 97% figure.


              For those familiar with the climate debate, yes that is before the Nuccitelli and Cook paper; the 97% consensus card has been pulled before, N&C was just the most recent incarnation of it (and far from the best).

              The 97% figure referenced in the web site above was from a survey of climate scientists by Doran and Zimmerman (unlike N&C, it was actually a consensus of scientists rather than papers). Just like the more recent versions, the threshold for the test was incredibly low; it merely asked “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”. As noted in the website (at the link above), this question is not posed in a way which is scientifically answerable. It leaves the respondee giving an unscientific answer, and yes the vast majority of sceptics would also say yes, as it is probably the closest of the two options available.

              Incidentally, that page also addresses the “conspiracy” issue. Very few sceptics believe there is a conspiracy. But the scientific process (which in its raw form is pure and objective) is different to scientists (who are human, fallable and prone to bias). As humans, scientists are very prone to groupthink and there are plenty of examples from scientific history, ranging from bloodletting to eugenics to the belief that stress causes stomach ulcers.

              But as soon as someone tells me I should believe something because of consensus it rings alarm bells. If someone asked me how do we know relativity is right, I would never dream of answering “because there was a consensus among scientists”. It would never occur to me to do so. I would explain the experiments, such as placing an atomic clock on the ground and flying another in an aircraft around the world, and how on return we could compare the time of the clocks, and how Newtonian physics predicts the clocks would still tell the same time and Relativity tells us not only that they would report different times, but also by how much. I could describe gravitational lensing around the sun, which is only predicted under Relativistic assumptions and not classical mechanics. It would never dawn on me to say “this is right because there is a consensus”, because that is not how science works.

              (edited to fix typo)

    • kraut2

      “Steyn links to a WSJ article that describes a US lefty billionaire sinking $100 million to oppose republican candidates, based on climate change politics.”

      This is piddling compared to the billions? sunk into anti climate change debate by conservative billionaires opposed to any action.
      I don’t care about political trends anymore – I was a marxist leninist in my youth and learned that ideology just clutters things up. I give a shit about right vs. left – for me what counts: does it work? Does it solve the problem? Does it create the greatest benefit for the greatest amount of citizens?

      I find the left vs. right utterly destructive, especially when billionaires with interest in the energy industry finance propaganda denying climate change. How is this not equally or more destructive than your example? Because that does create a climate where there is no problem being perceived by the citizenry, thus no attempt being made to deal with the problem, through the market or otherwise.
      I maintain that direct involvement and financing – except to support start up loans – is not as important (or can actually be detrimental) than creating regulations that build a framework and goals to what needs to be achieved.
      Insufficient regulation in the Alberta oilsands and much delayed research has now led to the situation that metals, hydrocarbons etc. seep into the watertable, threatening the water supply of citizens living and working in that area. Had a regulatory framework based on research been established right at or before the oilsands were put into production – we might not have created a now irreversible situation were the ponds slowly release toxins into the groundwater table.

      • ThePrussian

        There’s plenty of billionaires who want to do something about global warming. But ask yourself this: would the denialist billionaires be investing that kind of cash if there were not these economy-strangling political measures on the table? Wouldn’t it be nice to direct that sort of charitable endeavour to the technological challenges that this issue poses?

        • kraut2

          “these economy-strangling political measures on the table”

          Do you refer to carbon tax proposals?

          Here some info on who gets hurt by those (as expected): http://phys.org/news/2014-03-carbon-burden-heaviest-poor.html#nwlt

          or do you object to EPA carbon emission standards?

          Do you really think that anything would change if government would not enforce standards and establish regulations? Those standards after all do not only pertain to environmental change, they cover areas as work and road safety, including road construction standards (we have seen in various bridge collapses when those standards are bypassed) vehicle safety standards, factory emission standards from particulate matter to gaseous compounds.
          Those regulations were implemented because industry did not want to implement measures that would raise the cost of any products, and would have happily lived without standards.

          Building codes, electrical codes, gas codes et. were all initiated by local or national governments, even if many are now upgraded and administered by non governmental agencies.
          Once those codes were established, those codes and regulations can be used by the smart entrepreneur as a sales point, and that is what happens today. Those less smart and more concerned with short term profits will of course and rightly so eliminated from the industrial pool.

          Further: do you think that would count as an unwarranted infringement on free capitalism:

          What do you think are unreasonable and too restrictive regulations?

          I do not think those questions are off topic, they are all related to what should and can be regulated and restricted and what might be left to the play of the market.

      • Peter

        We really can’t expect Stephen Harper do anything concrete about the oil sands. He sold his soul to the oil oligarchs, long ago. Sustainable environmental protection would mean cutting into profits and that won’t do. After all, that’s where he’ll spend his retirement; sitting on the boards of Alberta oil companies. Whether the heir apparent, boy junior, will do better is questionable since we don’t now where he stands on nearly any issue except Ukraine and weed. As a lifelong Liberal I am in a quandary. But, like you say, permanent damage has been done.

    • There might be a solution to CO2 ocean acidification. Perhaps vulnerable areas could be targeted with this new process for making jet fuel from sea water:



      I got these links from a comment by Peter Lang at Judith Curry’s Climate ect blog: