Hot Air and the CO2 Problem

A few years ago I felt compelled to learn a lot more about global climate change because I kept hearing about all the pending climate caused catastrophes looming just over the horizon. Hearing this not just from poorly informed journalists and TV news looking to stir the pot to increase viewers and thus ad revenue. I was increasingly hearing these alarms from the very scientists I felt would be responsible, objective, unbiased voices on the topic.

Like Joe Friday on the ancient crime series DRAGNET, I figured NASA, USA, UK scientists would take a “Just the facts please” approach and give me the objective information I needed to make informed decisions about how much economic well-being we should sacrifice to appease the climate change god who was threatening us with rising seas, monster storms, and killer heat waves. Something just wasn’t adding up here. I know science and I know how stable large systems tend to be and I know a catastrophe when I see one, and climate just wasn’t looking catastrophic to me. A lot more research would be needed.

Enter the controversial author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg. A statistician, teacher, and environmentalist, Lomborg’s initial enthusiasm for the “Green” movement led him to skepticism as he “did the math” on a variety of environmental issues and concluded there was more than a little fuzzy math being used to support many well accepted talking points about pending environmental collapse.

Lomborg’s analyses made him both famous and infamous in science circles where, in a series of articles in Scientific American, Lomborg was attacked as if he was an enemy of reason itself – accused of using the same data “cherry picking” tactics he’d suggested often lie at the heart of many environmental concerns, but more often than not simply attacked as an enemy of good science. This struck me as odd because Lomborg was easy to read and to understand and it appeared to me he was generally starting with a common sense question and looking for the answers in the math rather than using the math to support his contentions. Ironically this approach seemed very unlike the scientists who in the same Scientific American series had been attacking Lomborg almost exclusively on personal grounds rather than by carefully addressing his many reasonable points about how alarmism appeared to be trumping reason even within the scientific community.

This in turn led me to a very interesting private exchange with the editor of Scientific American who seemed overly alarmed I’d been “taken in” by Lomborg’s misleading math. He encouraged
me to spend more time studying the issues. Armed with my reasonably robust background in the sciences (BS Botany & Psychology, MS Social Sciences) I started to review the IPCC reports, participate actively at and – the two most intelligent Climate Blogs, and more.

RealClimate is written by several of the top climate researchers in the world so it was conspicuous to me how often they seemed to be waxing very philosophically about climate catastrophes and defending even the most flagrant propaganda points in the film “An Inconvenient Truth” and in the papers by James Hansen, NASA’s top climate spokesperson and an often cited proponent of pending climate catastrophes. Comments at RealClimate are even worse – personal abuse and reckless pseudo-science are tolerated when they support the case for catastrophic warming while reasoned questions are often moderated or attacked irrationally if they challenge the prevailing groupthink. In the blogOspheric chatterbox that kind of intolerance is nothing new, but RealClimate pretends to take a higher road and be a watering hole for intelligent climate debate. Unfotunately that is only a pretense, and this realization has led me to question how much personal bias has infected climate science itself.
Preliminary conclusion: Personal biases of climate scientists affect their generalizations a lot. So much so that the studies are always at risk for opportunistic data analysis( “cherry picking” ), influences from grant money (studies that “find” warming are much more likely to get headlines / additional funding) and perhaps most importantly a bias that insulates skeptical research from funding. Skepticism lies at the heart of good science and the newfound tendency of otherwise respectable scientists to disparage global warming skeptics as “corporate shills”, “deniers”, and worse is simply dispicable and outrageous. Just the facts please, and if you don’t agree address the idea, not the person. Of course the *reason* for this approach is that the science behind global warming hysteria is much weaker than advertised – a concern I’d actually rejected until recently.

I don’t think the weakness of the human caused warming hypothesis is enough to throw the basic warming hypothesis into serious doubt, but enough to want more support for human caused warming than we’ve seen so far from heretofore unreliable and non-falsifiable computer modelling and the fact that – since 1998 – the global surface temperature trend is DOWN. This fact is discarded out of hand by climate alarmists but it is important for the very reasons you won’t see discussed at RealClimate. CO2 is going up while temperatures are going down. The models did not anticipate this and there appears to be no good explanation other than the natural variability that is (quite reasonably) invoked to explain a lot of climate fluctuations. But if nature routinely swamps out the effects of human caused CO2 then why are so many suggesting we should forego trillions in GDP to stem the CO2 tide? Why are people deluding themselves into thinking the developing world will go along with our CO2 efforts even as their people clamor for more development?

The answer is simple: They are thinking politically, hysterically, irrationally. OR they aren’t looking at the data. Usually it’s both.

Another preliminary conclusion is that Lomborg’s analyses are spot on.

There is global warming and it’s probably mostly caused by humans but the significance is exaggerated and – most importantly – it is totally unreasonable to assume we’ll be able to do enough reduction of CO2
to make enough of a difference to matter much. Far better to focus on the *existing catastrophic conditions* in much of the developing world than a massive, expensive, quixotic CO2 fight we are going to lose anyway. This is not to suggest we should do *nothing*, rather that we should seek cheap ways to mitigate CO2 while spending the big money on mitigating dead children in the developing world, noting that raising standards in poor countries leads to lower birth rates so even the most Machiavellian or population obsessed among us should support expansion of food and health aid to developing world as long as it reaches the needy.

19 thoughts on “Hot Air and the CO2 Problem

  1. What I find interesting is how NO ONE in the climate community is discussing the damage we have done as humans in restoring the ozone layer. The chemicals they put to essentially “plug” the holes actually generate 5,000 times more greenhouse gas than ozone did.

    They screwed up with the CFC ban (new products generate far more damage than the CFC’s) and they screwed the ozone problem.

    Why do we continue to have any confidence in these groups that don’t have a clue about what they are doing and they love to shoot from the hip instead of doing the necessary scientific study to properly resolve the issues?

  2. The worst group that likes to shoot from the hip is always the government agents. Mundane matters such as channelng of creekbeds are still hurting this country. Full acreage planting and war-time prices did far more to create the Dust Bowl than the weather did.

    The important thing to bear in mind is that there are no neutral experts anymore. No matter what the issue: its one stakeholder’s bought and paid for experts versus another stakeholdr’s bought and paid fo experts.

    Experts in criminal trials are now viewed as advocacy witnesses. Experts cited in Environmental Impact Statements are not neutral. The EIS is bought as a package that includes the studies, the pre-parked cars at the hearing site and the shills in the audience in their choreographed seating pattern. Grass roots group? Sure… with a corporate charter filed by the lawyer for one of the lobbyists! Scholarly journal? Don’t take that editorial board at face value, those individuals may not even exist and if they do exist it can be news to them that they sit on a journal’s editorial board.

    The Libertarians may not be right about That Government Is Best Which Does The Least, but that sure seems to be the safest approach to take. Heck, even in our Colonial period the government was giving trade goods to the Indians that inluded fine firearms that were more expensive than the settlers or the militia could afford. Later, settlers and soldiers alike were facing superior weaponry that their own taxes had paid for.

  3. The Libertarians may not be right about That Government Is Best Which Does The Least, but that sure seems to be the safest approach to take.

    … or they may be right, but your point is valid in either case. Even assuming that *sometimes* the bureaucratic solutions work it’s not a good policy on balance. I simply do NOT buy the idea that the current fiscal crisis is primarily from “too little oversight”. Speaking for myself and I’m sure millions of others, I assumed the regulatory bodies like the SEC and Congress were not so fundamentally stupid as to allow the types of abuses where Madoff scammed people while SEC had complaints on file and congress folks like MA’s Frank were assuring the world Fannie Mae was not only solvent but under attack from crazies. The Government had *thousands* of opportunties to alert us to red flags and failed. More regulation will simply shift the focus of the profiteers elsewhere, it will not prevent new abuses. In fact this point is so patently obvious it’s an outrage to hear so many shrill voices – including many of the former financially incompetent overseers like Frank – argue for more intervention.

    Government corruption is NOT THE PROBLEM but for a handful of cases. Rather it’s simply Government “business as usual” that stands in the way of the innovations and progress you can make otherwise.

    Even though I’m still supportive of Obama in most things, the lessons of the past ten years have been completely lost on this administration and we’re substituting massive Government inefficiency for what was massive private sector bungling, greed, and stupidity. There’s a third obvious way but it will require a new party founded on the basic US founding principles of free markets, very limited government, small military, and personal freedoms that exclude the idiotic culture wars now perpetrated by blathering fools like Rush Limbaugh.

    It won’t happen anytime soon.

    • Your second last paragraph about the new third party is the answer – PERIOD.

      We NEED to vote every incumbent out that is up for election in 2010. We NEED to send a clear message that are NOT sheeple.

      Don’t lose hope over the third party – if you believe the two party system is ruining our country (which it is) – then support a third party that matches your beliefs. They may not win the next election – we need to think long term and we need to take our country back specifically on the ideals that you mentioned:

      a new party founded on the basic US founding principles of free markets, very limited government, small military, and personal freedoms.

      I can’t blame Rush for building a brand like he has…that is the benefit of a free market – we will have to accept the few that are bad (the extremes on either side) to have the good. If we try to limit free speech it is a slippery slope that leads to the same mess we are in today. The bottom line: there really is very little we should trust the government to do for us.

      Let me ask you something Joe – if the government were acting responsibly and according to the ideals you stated – would a Rush ever be able to prosper in that world? – I would argue – NO WAY.

      • Glenn I agree that Limbaugh is thriving in part simply because our bureaucracy has been bloated for a long, long time. Everybody knows this but a remarkable number of people think it’s not “fashionable” to discuss Government problems when there has been so much corporate abuse. But that’s part of the whole problem – we *correctly* hold the private sector to high standards of performance and *correctly* want companies that abuse that to die. We need more of that approach in both public and private sectors, not less.

      • Isn’t it ironic how the “people” want these bad companies to fail yet the “government” wants to protect them?

        How come the upcoming health legislation has NOTHING whatsoever in it about tort reform to stop some of these ridiculous lawsuits?

        The answer to both situations: lobbyists…it is corrupting and ruining our country – paid access, rent seeking are all forms of political corruption and it will be our downfall.


  4. Comments at RealClimate are even worse – personal abuse and reckless pseudo-science are tolerated when they support the case for catastrophic warming while reasoned questions are often moderated or attacked irrationally if they challenge the prevailing groupthink.

    The ideological replaces the science, more or less. On some AGW sites, simply question one item of the AGW ideology–like, lab evidence proving that increases of CO2 result in substantially increased temps–and the regs start flinging accusations, usually of the political sort. Anyone who doubts an aspect of AGW–such as the CO2 aspects–is a “denialist”, and thus assumed to be a Fox news watcher, Bush voter, red-meat lover, NRA advocate, etc.

    Of course that’s not necessarily the case, but it does show how politicized the debate has become. AGW researchers are getting boo-coo funds to investigate various AGW problems, and so interfering with the research money might be viewed as jeopardizing a climate modeller’s livelihood (I am not saying it is all bogus–temps do seem to be rising. Hansen insists CO2 still is the major culprit).

    At the same time the Waxman-Markey bill pushes in the right direction in regards to alternative energy, and does rein in the oil and coal companies. Anyone taking on Big Oil can’t be all bad.

  5. (5) Thanks for the link LS…but the future of food investments and markets is quite scary…wait until the world bodies look the other way when the food speculators get going.

    Can you imagine price inflation for food like we have seen for oil? Of course we have hyper-inflation coming anyway.

  6. Democratic administrations do not generally bode well for the cattle or pork business. Or oil and coal. Or real estate. They are not generally favorable to the private sector as a whole, except the mega-corporations like Google or Yahoo, MSN, and Apple which can afford to donate thousands of shekels to Demo bureaucrats and thereby protect their interests, at least to some extent. Contrarians–if they got the scratch, may do quite well as the value of various stocks or commodities decreases (though crude’s still strong, it seems).

    Even Obama’s DoJ, however, has expressed an interest in filing anti-trust suits on some of the silicon valley big boys. It will be rather amusing if the DoJ (with one of clinton’s old attorneys, I believe) manage to bring Apple or Google execs to trial for anti-trust (for sitting on multiple BoDs for one), given that JobsCo has given thousands to Demos for years (as have Schmidt and Google).

  7. (6)Glenn, I think prices overall may decrease as consumption of frivolous stuff decreases. If food somehow goes up like oil did in 08, that would cause a disaster type problem. What will cause the hyperinflation you’re expecting?

  8. (7) Horatiox I would add that Democratic administrations do not generally bode well for the entire country – as evidenced by the ongoing fiasco and subsequent destruction of our country as we will all sit here and watch the change promised us. The only change we will end up is a few pennies in our pockets.

    (8) LS the cash for clunkers is a perfect example of the FDR thinking Obama is exhibiting here. Can’t they come up with something new? During the Great Depression FDR actually destroyed crops and millions of livestock in an effort to drive up prices and he let hundreds of thousands of people starve in this country. It astounds me that people just aren’t told the truth about FDR – his reign of terror as a dictator nearly destroyed our country and set the stage for everything that his happening today.

    Another perfect example: Have you ever heard of the great recession of 1921? Brought on after WWII the markets have to correct…it was one of the sharpest drops ever experienced – guess how long it lasted? 1 year…why? Because the government DID NOTHING to intervene. It let the markets do what it had to do and it was over in 12 months – yeah it sucked…but it was short-lived and we were better off from it.

    Our entire economic situation today was brought on by massive debt both by consumers and the government. So what do the geniuses in DC do…encourage consumers to take on more debt than they can handle and of course they take on the largest AMOUNT of government debt EVER to the point where our debt will be 120% of our GDP – let that sink in for a minute and that assumes that our GDP doesn’t shrink – oh yeah 70-80% of our GDP is made up consumer spending – gee I wonder where this is going to go.

    We will be 400-600% debt over our GDP and guess where China will be – 20% of their GDP will be debt – who do you think is going to be the ONLY super power on the planet? Do you think China will be as generous as the USA was?

    In regard to hyperinflation – it is inevitable with the amount of money printing happening. Our money supply is exploding and that ultimate brings hyperinflation – WE CANNOT AVOID IT. At best we will end up like Weimar Republic at worst Zimbabwe.

    It’s coming…

  9. (9) with our currency ultimately backed by the military I don’t see hyperinflation as possible, but we’ll see. Kinda off subject but thought you might find this article interesting-

  10. (10,11) The military cannot stop the bad practices of the Fed in printing of all the money. Bad things are coming…all we all have to do is be willing to open our eyes and look at the information and this history.

    Nothing we are doing now is new…it has all been tried before and it always fails…this is just a big circus and the American taxpayer is going to end up being the clowns…

    Thanks for the link…National Review frequently has good information.

  11. (7) Horatiox I would add that Democratic administrations do not generally bode well for the entire country –

    I don’t know if you could prove that. Americans who belong to various unions will do well, especially the public employee types (cops, teachers, bureaucrats). Clinton for instance was good for some Americans.

    Look at some of the usual indicators during 60s–LBJ’s Great Society did more for po’ folks than did JFK or Nixon, whether in terms of jobs, education. The middle class conservatives– and rednecks– did not approve, but those programs did enable the poor and working class. That said, aggregate data–like standard of living, etc–often may be a bit vague or meaningless.

  12. (13) The real problem is the party in power keeps playing number games with key factors so we can’t establish a base line to compare.

    They are about to do it again…all part of the smoke and mirrors so they can keep their corrupt selves in power.

    Hopefully we will actually get an audit of the Fed so we can see just how deep their crimes really are…

  13. (13) Also the unions as they were originally intended were a good idea…now they are no different than any major corporation and unfortunately they cause more damage long-term than help.

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