Tuesday, January 01, 2008

the end of the world is not coming soon

Big Media has been trumpeting a litany of impending eco-catastrophes since the mid 80s

I've read parts of Lomborg's book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, a few years ago and he persuaded me to be skeptical about impending eco-catastrophe. Lomborg's work was inspired by Julian Simon (see The Doomslayer)

Recently, the IPCC and Al Gore were jointly awarded a Nobel Prize for their work on Global Warming. The peer reviewed work of scientists ought to be taken seriously. I was persuaded by data expert Peter Norvig (The Global Climate Change Consensus) that human activities are contributing to global warming

However, I still like Lomborg's stance. In a recent article (Perspective on Climate Change 23pp) he makes four basic points:
1. Global warming is real and man-made. This point has been made in many places, but perhaps most strongly and convincingly by the IPCC (2007a).

2. Statements about the strong, ominous and immediate consequences of global warming are often wildly exaggerated, as I will show below.

3. We need a stronger focus on smart solutions rather than excessive if well-intentioned efforts.

4. We need – as this hearing asks for – to put global warming in perspective. Climate change is not the only issue on the global agenda, and actually one of the issues where we can do the least good first.
This article contains some substantial criticism of Al Gores movie, An Inconvenient Truth, that:
  • it looks at heat deaths but ignores cold deaths
  • grossly exaggerates sea level rises
  • exaggerates the effects of global warming on hurricanes
  • exaggerates the impact of global warming on malaria
The continual exaggeration from the media about global warming and eco-catastrophe is the main problem here.

Lomborg presents a cost-benefit analysis that demonstrates we would be far better off spending dollars on such issues as HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, malaria and water technology. Policies such as Kyoto and carbon tax to combat global warming are both extremely costly and relatively ineffective. When the calculations are made in the absence of media induced hype it is more cost effective to adapt to the moderate levels of human induced global warming than to try to prevent it.

other references

Bright Future: Abundance and Progress in the 21st Century- a book by David McMullen (web site)

Progress and its Sustainability by John McCarthy
" ... we argue that the whole world can reach and maintain American standards of living with a population of even 15 billion. We also argue that maintaining material progress is the highest priority and the best way to ensure that population eventually stabilizes at a sustainable level with a standard of living above the present American level and continues to improve thereafter."

6 comments:

Tony Forster said...

http://archive.wri.org/newsroom/mediakits_contents.cfm?MediaKitID=1

MEDIA KIT: Debunking pseudo-scholarship: Things a journalist should know about The Skeptical Environmentalist

WRI is urging journalists to exercise caution in reporting on or reviewing the new book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The book, which has been heavily publicized, makes extraordinary claims — that environmental quality is improving around the world, and that the environmental community is not telling the truth for its own cynical reasons. Those claims deserve scrutiny by careful and knowledgeable journalists.

Lomborg paints a caricature of the environmental agenda based on sometimes mistaken views widely held 30 years ago, but to which no serious environmental institution today subscribes. In making the case for a more rational and scientific debate on environmental issues, Lomborg commits the same sins for which he attacks environmentalists. He exaggerates, makes sweeping generalizations, presents false choices, is highly selective in his use of data and quotations and, frequently, is simply wrong.

Bill Kerr said...

hi tony,

Have you read Lomborg's book? (I mean parts of it, esp part 1).

I think much of the controversy about it can alternatively be explained by quite deeply culturally embedded beliefs of ideological environmentalism ( Article about the smear campaign against Lomborg)

What is quite clear is that considerable pressure was brought to bear not to publish and not to fairly discuss his book even by journals such as Scientific American ( wikipedia section )

I'm not aware of any substantial knock out blow to Lomborg's book even though many have tried. My current belief is that the main problem is that he is treading on some sensitive and deeply held social beliefs. I see the main question as sorting out where the cherished beliefs end and scientific objectivity begins.

Tony Forster said...

No I have not read Lomborg's book but I have met him.

The strength in the global warming argument is that computer models have predicted global warming for quite some time. The early models jumped around quite a bit but the later projections have converged, in fact, the uncertainty of the predictions is now more in the economic modelling and projections of greenhouse gas emissions than the atmospheric modelling.

The weakness in the argument is that you need a supercomputer to run the models and we cannot test the models at home. Then it is confusing if we are told that there are two groups of scientists with opposing views.

The pro global warming scientists have the supercomputers and say that the sceptics have no credibility. How are we to chose?

The best guide is to look at who these groups are, what their interests are and who is funding them.

Anonymous said...

Lomborg has been debunked in various publications in the USA (ie. Skeptics magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer magazine). There were a lot of reviews in Amazon.com that poked many gaps in his book as well.

Have you even read Tim Flannery's book, "The Weather Makers"?

Bill Kerr said...

hi tony,

I don't know how accurate the computer models are. That would apply even if I could run them at home, ie. what assumptions are built in, what they are good at predicting, what they are not so good at predicting

Dilbert makes some sense to me (Global Warming - Part 3 :
"Predicting the past doesn’t impress me much. There are no surprises in the past, so you can get the inputs right. Getting the inputs right seems like the hardest part.

I’m also not too surprised that some models have predicted the near future. The earth is clearly getting warmer. If a dozen climatologists build a dozen climate models, some of them are going to get the temperature about right, especially in the near term. I’d be interested in how many models got it right about the past but wrong about the near future. Without that context, I can’t form an opinion."

Freeman Dyson is skeptical (Heretical Thoughts ) of the models but also raises a further point --> that we could use genetic engineering to put more biomass into plant roots, that human intervention could be used to increase CO2 uptake from the atmosphere:

"... the problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a problem of land management, not a problem of meteorology. No computer model of atmosphere and ocean can hope to predict the way we shall manage our land"

Even if the models are correct there are other alternatives

Tony Forster said...

Bill writes:
"I don't know how accurate the computer models are. That would apply even if I could run them at home, ie. what assumptions are built in, what they are good at predicting, what they are not so good at predicting"

if you could run the model, you could test the sensitivity to assumptions: how sensitive is it to cloud albedo, how is plant growth under increased co2 modelled,how is soil carbon modelled etc. Then you would be in a position to critically analyse the model

"If a dozen climatologists build a dozen climate models, some of them are going to get the temperature about right, especially in the near term"

Mainstream atmospheric physics research has been predicting the temperature rise for a number of years, well before any temperature rise was evident. Its not like we dusted off a convenient theory after the rise became evident.

"we could use genetic engineering to put more biomass into plant roots, that human intervention could be used to increase CO2 uptake from the atmosphere"

Good point but till we know we will be able to put the co2 back in the ground lets be a bit cautious putting it in the air