Is Climate Science on trial again?


The climate debate is entering a new state of confusion that will at least bring some of the fascinating technical issues into the popular press.     The first time this happened was during the congressional hearings featuring the “Hockey Stick” debates where critics suggested that some key math and research supporting “unprecedented global warming” was seriously flawed.   Although leading statisticians agreed with the critics the situation is probably best characterized as a stalemate with both sides claiming vindication and little change in the way others have addressed the issues at hand.

The technical issues sound obscure but they impact every man, woman, and child on earth in almost incalculable ways because many nations are preparing to forego a lot of GDP in the interests of climate mitigation, and this has substantial economic consequences.

I do believe in warming and believe it’s human caused.  However  I  don’t think we can afford to do all that much about it and also don’t think the consequences are nearly as severe as advertised.    Therefore I’m not reasonably called a “climate skeptic” .

Many bright people are skeptics however and everyone should resent that they are called “climate denialists”, a bizarre term used to conjure up images of  the ignorance and malice of  holocaust denial.

I am concerned that climate science, especially with respect to mathematical modelling and long term temperature reconstructions, has been compromised by egos and cognitive biases.    I don’t think climate science has been compromised enough to reasonably suggest that human caused warming is “unlikely”, but it’s been compromised enough to suggest climate alarmists, rather than the unfairly branded “denialists”, are the ones often standing on thin ice.

Here’s a comment I tried to post at RealClimate.org but it appears to have been rejected:

It’s unfortunate to see so many insults and tired talking points rather than *key issues* such as:

Is Yamal robust?

Why does proxy selection in papers like Yamal, Kaufman seem to include more proxies with stronger GW signals than a randomized proxy selection process?

Why isn’t there a randomized proxy selection process or at least a well structured one as was suggested (but appears not implemented) in the Kaufman Arctic lakes study?

Why does it take so long to properly archive data and why is there a single shred of resistance to totally transparent archiving of source code and data?

To what degree is observed global warming the product of human activity?

To what degree is the modern warming trend unprecedented?

Role of the Medieval Warming Period and why is there so much disagreement about temps at that time? (another proxy selection issue!) Simply asserting that these questions “have been answered many times” isn’t only wrong and insulting, it’s counterproductive if you sincerely want to challenge the growing mainstream view that climate science has been compromised by cognitive biases and ego. I’m staying open to your insistence that the science has not been compromised at all and McKintyre is just a slinging mathematical mud, but posts like this don’t provide much support for that idea.

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 RealClimate.org and ClimateAudit.org – 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.

Challenging Climate Change? You WILL be BURNED at the STAKE! (after we purchase $14 in carbon credits, available online from www ….)


Although I’m very critical of alarmism in Climate Change community it’s important to understand I agree about the following:

There is a Global Warming trend.
The bad consequences of the warming will far outweigh the good ones.
Humans are very likely  to have contributed to the warming , mostly via  CO2 pollution.
We should work to develop  CO2 reduction approaches.

[I just believe that alarmism and catastrophe claims are running rampant and I don’t think there is any likely scenario that will reduce CO2 enough to make much of a difference.    Non controversial studies indicate that much of the warming we are likely to see is now “baked in” to the system.   I think engineering changes are more likely to work than attempts to change the  behavior of people and governments that have historically done very little along the lines needed]

Now for my rant against the unconscionable attack on dissenters from the Climate alarmism “party line”:

As a fan of Paul Krugman’s usually bright and insightful economic analyses at the New York Times I was more than alarmed to read his recent post there where he suggested those who voted agains the cap and trade bill in congress were “betraying the planet” Krugman suggests in the article:

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

Treason against the planet?   Given that treason against a mere government is often punishable by the death penalty, Krugman is very close to suggesting that the penalty for climate dissent should be …. death.     To invoke “treason” against those who are presenting concerns about either the science or the alarmism running rampant now in Climate circles is both unacceptable and it is dispicable.   Shame on Krugman and shame on a climate alarmism community that increasingly uses scare tactics, threats, and censorship to promote their climate change agendas.

My first reaction was to excuse Krugman’s obvious ignorance of the many legitimate challenges to alarmist climate  conclusions.  He appears to rely on a recent Copenhagen Climate report that clearly plays more on the politics of climate rather than the recent data points which are anything but alarming.     For example Global ice remains very stable over the past decades.    You’ve read about Arctic sea ice which in fact is lower (though probably no new records this year), but conspicuously the Antarctic – where the ice is increasing – is left off of the alarmist ice analyses.     Surface temperatures?   After 1998’s very hot temperatures we’ve seen moderation.   Caveat:  A pending El Nino current and pending new sunspot cycle are suggested as reasons to worry that we’ll soon see more record hot years and I think these are legitimate points.   Sea Level Rise?   It’s pretty consistently rising, about as much as this  symbol:    |          Per year.      Yes this matters over a long time frame but I think the folks in Florida don’t have to move quite yet.      Hurricanes?    You haven’t heard much in the news about them because …. there haven’t been many.   Despite some silly hype, Katrina the Hurricane had little if anything to do with Global Warming (a good source is Chris Landsea, one of a handful of the world’s most knowlegeable Hurricane researchers and a former IPCC author who appears to have become fed up with the politics.)    More importantly without the levey breaks Katrina would not have been all that significant and that’s mostly a human engineering issue, not a climate one.     What about those big killer Australian fires?   Isn’t that clearly caused by Global Warming?    Well, it may have contributed to their severity but since they were lit by arsonists it seems absurd to say the climate caused them.    Lastly, the models on which most dire predictions depend represent some of the most complex and non- falsifiable hypotheses in the history of science.  The basics are simple and very likely  (CO2 increases will increase temperatures), but the record of these climate model as predictive agents is  very poor.    So poor that model predictions in my view should be considered “informed speculation” more than “science”.     This last point is critical.   We despartely need to focus on finding climate models that predict climate correct ly, not focus on bashing dissenters who note the obvious failures of the current models.

Journalists (and apparently even some Nobel Economists like Krugman) can be excused for relying too heavily on a climate science community that has been seriously compromised by alarmism,  ego problems that came from adversarial “anti science” policies under GW Bush, grant opportunism, an often incestuous peer review process, and far too many cases of statistical shenanigans.    However that by no means excuses the ongoing climate witch hunt that is seeking to burn down dissenters rather than address their many legitimate concerns about how to move into our uncertain future.

Climate alarmists may be right that we are in for catastrophic changes that will ruin the planet.   The data suggests otherwise.   It also suggests it will be nearly impossible to significantly change the climate outcome regardless of how we act now (e.g. if CO2 emmissions stop completely today the models still project lots of warming).

However whatever the viewpoint I won’t stand by while an intellectual mob works to burn dissenters at the stake.     Reason must guide our actions here – not alarmism, emotion, and vengeance.

National Debt? What National Debt?


If you’ve been watching the national news much lately you’ll wonder what ever happened to all the concern about the national debt and the massive budget deficits planned for the next decade.   On the up side however you will be quite an expert in addressing issues relating to repairs to the late Michael Jackson’s nose.  But I digress….

Hey, maybe we solved the debt and deficit spending problems?   Oh.  No.  We.  Didn’t.    We owe 11.5 Trillion and it’s rising faster than an inconveniently untrue  misinterpretation of a globally warmed sea level on a Florida shoreline.   Although it’s true that most economists from most sides felt a stimulus was important, and in fact it appears that has stemmed the tide of a financial death spiral, I think most would agree that as the recovery starts to take shape we need to look long and hard at how much we spend.   The *key cut* is obvious and it is the defense budget, but the legions of fake conservatives (often aka “Loyal Republicans”) who carp about a few million wasted here or there refuse to tackle the defense budget, blinded by an absolutely incomprehensible lack of understanding of basic global strategics which have shown throughout history that seeking massive military superiority has little or no justification.   From the Ming Dynasty’s Great Wall of China to the Viet Nam to Iraq,  “defense” become “offense” and results in massive spending with hugely negative ROI and often just exaggerated the unstable conditions you sought to avoid  (e.g. Afghanistan, Middle East).

Incredibly, the concern about the debt has flipped to paying an extraordinary amount of attention to fixing the problems we don’t have anymore.     Obama was explaining to a crowd yesterday all the things the government is doing now to prevent the financial troubles *we do not have anymore*.     Overvalued real estate?    That ship sailed and sunk.    We are probably near the bottom now, things seem to be picking up a bit, so lets move on.   Financial system?   It’s not in great shape but the catastrophe appears to have been averted.

Yes we need oversight but not a huge bureaucratic encumbrances many Democrats are calling for now- ironically many like Barney Frank who are squarely at fault in this crisis for the crappiest era of congressional oversight in the history of the country.    The system failed to address the risk factors properly for reasons that are slowly becoming clearer – a combination of corporate greed and incentives run amock, defective ideas about how huge economies work, terrible government mismanagement of the regulatory systems, and I think by far and MOST IMPORTANTLY people using their homes as piggy banks, raiding their paper equity from stocks and Real Estate to live at inappropriately high standards, work less, retire too early, buy boats, speculate in MORE stocks and real estate, etc, etc.

We all made this bed  and now we are sleeping in it.   YES, even those of us who did NOT mismanage our finances were involved unless they lived alone on an island and didn’t do any investing, borrowing, or buying during the bubble.

The economy has been reset at a lower, more appropriate levels given all the prevailing circumstances.   Welcome to how economies *really work* and why the risky investments of the bubble were … risky.     But those aren’t the investments people are making now that will put them at risk.    New crops of scams are brewing as we speak and more importantly the debt on our backs is weighing down the future prospects *for our children*.   The massive debt is unconscionable yet we are fretting over things that will have relatively trivial impacts compared to that debt.    The country is acting a lot like the most irresponsible among us during the bubble who simply borrowed and borrowed and spent and spent and now are so far underwater in debt they have *no prospect* of paying things back.

Here’s a site with great debt detail:  http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/pd.htm

Oh, and if you want to get in your two cents and make a $.02 contribution to reduce our national debt there’s a place for that too, it is called “Dept G” in West Virginia.

The cool thing would be that if your $.02  reduced the 11,500,000,000,000.00 to 11,499,999,999,999.98   you would have changed a whole lot of numbers for a buck.     Printing costs alone would more than wash it away though, and you’d have kept the spiral going.   But that’s OK becuase that is how we roll now here in America – we spend like there is no tomorrow.   And then we spend the money that was supposed to be for tomorrow.   And when the spending gets out of hand we …. spend much, much more.

The Illusion of Relevance


I’m not a big fan of the human intellect.      In fact I think one of the most obvious points in science – too rarely addressed – is how inadequately evolution has prepared us for the challenges of modern technological times.     A simple example is the fact many of us eat too much, and die early from diseases that we’d rarely get if we maintained a healthy lifestyle of modest calorie intake and modest exercise.

Every year *billions* of life years are lost simply due to minor deviations from our evolutionary designed healthy lifestyle recipe.   This is not to suggest that recipe of modest calorie intake + modest exercise is a health panacea, but those two factors dwarf most others in the developed world.    Poor countries, on the other hand, suffer more from *too few” calories and vices like smoking, war, and poor health standards.      In fact it is in this arena where humanity could have a stunning impact on raising the standard of living for about a billion people with a modest investments in health, water, and infrastructure.

Yet a combination of dictatorial regimes, inept bureaucracies, human ignorance among the victims, and widespread indifference from the affluent countries condemns an extraordinary number of people to a lifetime of relatively poor health and poverty.

What does this have to do with the illusion of relevance?     I think one aspect of our intellectual inadequacy is that we often assign importance to the wrong things.      Why is the death of Michael Jackson so much more interesting to so many than the deaths of some 125,000 children that have happened since Jackson’s untimely demise?   Every week sees hundreds of thousands die – often painfully and miserably – from diseases like malaria, rotoviruses, and malnutrition that are all easily preventable at relatively low cost.     This is NOT to suggest the people dying do not have responsibilities here – they do and I think a key component of bringing higher global health standards is to treat parents in the third world more harshly when they ignore the needs of their children in favor of their own bad habits and bad decisions.   Political correctness prevents using some marketing tactics that might prove effective in combating the profound, pervasive ignorance that often creates irrational aversion to great programs like vaccinations, health, condoms, schooling for girls, and other standard western rights that are currently beyond the grasp of so many in the developing world.

The tragic circumstances of the third world are not generally our *fault* as suggested by the naive who fail to see that it is the *lack of US participation*, not the presence of it, that has condemned so many poor economies to failure.

Still, solving these problems remains a large part of our *responsibility* as global citizens.    Partly due to the moral imperatives that are a product of the worldview most of us share but I think more importantly simply because we *can* solve these problems if we can extract ourselves from the foolish concerns that plague so many otherwise intelligent people.

More importantly, solving these problems requires us to dispense with the illusion of relevance about so many topics that have so little meaning to the collective humanity.     Britney Spears news vs Clean water for a billion people news.

You decide.

ClimateProgress.org bans most reasoned dissent?


As a long time blogger I’m going to start calling out other blogs for an outrageous practice that is becoming very common and very frustrating to any clear thinker:  banning comments simply because they don’t line up with a particular blog’s point of view and biases.     Blog authors have a lot of control and it’s increasingly abused in the name of groupthink.    At the WordPress conference I was alarmed to hear a prominent blogger say something along the lines of “it’s my house and I can kick out whoever I want to”.    Blogs already suffer from inhibiting good two way communication and it pains me to see bloggers make the problem worse by wasting their time censoring comments.   I comment far less now than I used to at blogs like RealClimate.org because I know that even a calm and reasoned comment may be deleted by the heavy handed and irrational moderation practiced there.    This form of censorship distorts the conversation, often misleading the gullible into thinking there is concensus where there is none.

There are many obvious gray areas in terms of censorship but I’m seeing an increasing number of blogs cross the lines of reasoned discourse in the interest of lining up support for their positions.   Interestingly this is becoming something of standard operating procedure in much of the climate alarmism blog community, where ClimateProgress stands out conspicuously as an alarmist voice for the poorly informed who want to stay that way.

My hypothesis is that this irrationality and censorship stems  from several new factors:  Ego-driven science of the last few decades, unreasonable attacks on scientists that were common in the Bush “anti science” administration, overspecialization in the sciences that creates narrow bands of expertise that have little relevance to larger context issues like Climate Change, grade inflation (there are a remarkable number of scientists who now write and discuss things as irrationally as a TV pundit – acting more as advocates than purveyors of information.

A spectacular example of this is Joe Romm’s ClimateProgress.org , a targeted and uninformed collection of misleading  posts about Climate Science.   Most are simply attack dog pieces on reasoned voices who do no share Romm’s irrationally alarmist views about Climate change.     Although I’m a fan of Tom Friedman his implied endorsement of this blog forces me to reconsider Friedman’s coherency.

Now, we are living in the blogosphere so ranting irrationally has a lot of entertainment value, but Romm’s has the audacity to simply ban or moderate those who don’t agree with him.

I feel a combination of anger and pity for people who choose to limit the conversation to strengthen their own (usually weak) positions, but when this is done in the name of “science” it *REALLY* pisses me off, and I’ll be bringing this up regularly as the intersection of advocacy and science continues to metasticize in the blogOsphere.

OK, I admit the comment below, posted over at ClimateProgress.org  is kind of snarky but he should at the very least post it in the interest of dialog since he’s attacking *both* Pielke’s, who any reasonable person would agree are well qualified climate scientists who suffer enormous abuse at the hands of their intellectual inferiors for simply pointing out the obvious about climate alarmism.

Ad Hominem BS as usual – do you EVER address any reasoned scientific critiques here? Both Pielke’s represent voices of reason in the rising sea of alarmism that represents the greatest exaggeration of risk in the history of humans on earth.

The main point for those of us who accept global warming and accept the anthropogenic nature of that warming but don’t preach catastrophe is that 1) related natural factors are very significant and poorly understood and affecting things as is obvious from the last few years of cooling 2) the models suck to the extent they don’t predict things well and are generally presented as unfalsifiable 3) the changes are gradual and small, presenting us with engineering issues, not existential ones.

These three points are *totally obvious to informed people* yet they don’t line up the groupthinkers.

PS – shame on you for deleting this comment!

Or this one at RealClimate.   I used to participate there often but noticed that if I addressed people who attacked me in the same snarky vein I’d sometimes be moderated.    This form of targeted censorship has no place in the blogs where free spirited discussion should rule the day.

Commenter Chris wrote: <i>In the interest of civility, I think we should await Pielke’s response before heaping abuse on him</i>

My reply: (I predict this will be deleted by the RealClimate censors):  Sure, but you obviously don’t belong here at RealClimate, where no reasoned objection goes unchallenged by blustering nonsense. Only here does “less change” become “more change”. The whole problem for clear thinkers is that the models are predicting things that are not happening. Predicted warming is not materializing as expected, and the *very recent* data suggests even more strongly that the idea we are poised on the brink of (Hansen’s term here) “Climate Catastrophe” is simply nonsense. I don’t even think you guys are *sincere* anymore. Egos and alarmism now trump the data on virtually every public front, though ironically the non-politically polluted studies remain of good quality.


Swine Flu Pandemic deaths in USA: 1 Other USA Flu Deaths: 36,000


Update:  The 2009/2010  H1N1 Swine Flu season is more severe than last year when I wrote this post, though the statistics haven’t shaken out yet.  My current take is that while initial concerns may have been overblown we are *now* facing a fairly serious health risk and I’d encourage  folks to take the vaccine when it’s available in your area.     I’m actually optimistic that the *total deaths from flu* will go down this year as people are taking far greater precautions than usual.

——————

You’ve got to hand it to the hype machine on this one for exaggerating the chances that the Swine Flu is going to get ya.    I certainly understand why the CDC would be concerned that a new virus will spread and become dangerous, but the near-panic we’ve seen over the past week is simply not warranted by a reasonable interpretation of the data.   I’m hardly a flu expert but it appears that the contagion, far from exploding, has been kept almost completely in check with only a handful of cases outside of the likely area of origin in Mexico and no rapid spread even in Mexico.    It’s possible all the fear and masks have kept things in check but more likely this just isn’t that deadly a virus.

For example if we had followed all the precautions many are  following *right now* by wearing masks, avoiding mass public activities, and obsessive hand washing the number of *regular* flu deaths would likely have been on the order of many thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, less than they were in the 2009 Flu season (which roughly corresponds to “winter” and takes on average about 36,000 lives each year in the USA alone based on the CDC data cited below.

I’m seeing some parallels with the hysterical responses to minor weather events which are often foolishly attributed to climate crisis when in fact they are simply minor changes in the weather.  At least in the case of this flu there is an objectively identifiable new flu strain – H1N1,  that *theoretically* could create massive trouble along the lines of the 1918 flu pandemic.   That flu pandemic killed more people than any event with the possible exception of WWII depending on death toll estimates which generally fall between 50 million and 100 million for the flu.     The “better documented” WWII death toll was about 73 million worldwide.   Obviously this means that flu pandemics are of critical importance, but it’s also important to recognize that millions die every year from very easily preventable diseases like malaria and rotoviruses to which we have historically paid far too little attention.

In the USA WWII took about 400,000 lives while the 1918 Pandemic took about 500,000

So with 1 US death so far, and that I think from a victim sent to Texas from Mexico, we are looking at a death toll 1/500,000th as large as in 1918.   Not sure that calls for the response we’ve seen so far.

Clearly the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic is nothing to sneeze at but I think it’s also clear that the 24 hour news and even the CDC – perhaps practicing for a real threat – have hyped this event out of proportion to the real threat.    If that’s because the threat really, really cannot be known I supposed it’s fine, but if it’s because this type of thing keeps people focused in ways that are profitable to TV News or grant and funding producing for CDC I hope we take a close look at all this when it’s over.    Although epidemiologists are probably going to say “better safe than sorry” with Pandemic alerts it’s also true  that overhyped events can lead to a lax future response from a public that becomes too used to “crying wolf” when the threat is actually quite low.

The world currently faces several catastrophic health, poverty, and human rights crises in the developing world and will face more global crises in the coming decades – we don’t need more fake ones.

CDC on Flu Deaths

Prescription Report on Tamiflu, an antiviral treatment for Swine Flu.   NO, you probably don’t need this drug!

CNN on flu hysteria as the “real problem”.   Hey, talk about a two for one story here!    Hype the flu news and then hype the hype about the flu news.    However in this case I’m not sure TV News is to blame as the CDC and government folks have been quick to talk about “inevitable” pandemic and other statements that have led to much of the trouble.    In fact I think we’re seeing the same challenge of bureaucratic interpretations here we see with global warming alarmism.  There are often political and social penalties for bureaucrats who fail to identify major problems.   There are *huge* rewards if you manage to convince grant and government funders that minor problems are major problems.   Yet we don’t tend to punish folks for “exaggerating risks” which is part of the reason … we have a lot of exaggeration of catastrophic risk in our society and too little attention to “mundane” but real risks like  normal flu deaths, gun deaths, and highways deaths which account for well over 100,000 dead each year.     Add heart disease and cancer to the list – they are also largely preventable grim reapers – and you find we are under quiet attack 24/7 by deathly dangers that make the 9/11 toll look completely trivial by comparison.

Think about this – if  we *knew* that a terror group was going to kill 100,000 Americans next year with an assault of viruses, guns, and car bombs there would be a near panic with calls for martial law or on the other end of the spectrum perhaps an armed revolution.      But since these risks are less dramatic we don’t fret enough about them, while worrying far too much about swine flu and the terrorists who only rarely materialize and appear to rarely if ever pose a truly catastrophic risk.      I would caveat this last point saying there are certainly terror groups out there that would consider catastrophic action and we certainly should seek to get them, but we always need to monitor the costs in terms of lives and money and compare this to alternatives.

Sowing Alarmism? You will reap skepticism.


Over at my favorite global warming watering hole “RealClimate” where several distinguished (and some controversial) climate science dudes reside, there is a lot of hand wringing and whining about why the media does such a poor job reporting on climate change, most notably the recent spate of articles suggesting that it is pretty darn cold this winter.

RealClimate correctly notes that a cold winter or cold spell or cold day tells us virtually nothing about long term climatic trends, and they correctly point out that global warming is a long term and clearly established phenomenon.

However why was RealClimate so conspicuously quiet during the nonsensical stories suggesting that the European heat wave, Katrina, and various “hot days” were a sign of  impending globally-warmed-up-catastrophe looming within decades?

Even hinting over at RealClimate that climate hysteria may be out of control leads to a rash of criticism, comment moderation, and other intellectual intimidation and threats from a crowd who for the most part are very happy to see things exaggerated wildly and irrationally if that exaggeration supports their overall objective – massive intervention to reduce CO2 emissions.

Perhaps there is a lesson here?  Most climate Scientists failed to correct the thousands of overblown “heat waves and hurricanes!” stories and the naively alarming tone and half truths in the film “An Inconvenient Truth”.    I’m not sympathetic now that the shoe is on the other foot and the media is exaggerating cooling trends and bringing on the small handful of climate experts who are genuinely skeptical about global warming.

The scientific truth is far more nuanced and less alarmist than journalists like to suggest, since the object of journalism is not as much “truth” as it is  “readership”.

Journalism and many in science failed us during the hyperbole surrounding “An Inconvenient Truth” and too few scientists stepped in to correct the errors and explain how unlikely we are to have anything approaching a catastrophic climate disaster.

Now that the earth appears to be experiencing a cooling trend journalists are  suspicious and starting to ignore the mostly irrefutable evidence that GW is here to stay.

Stop whining RealClimateers,

You are reaping  skepticism because you helped to sow alarmism.

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Don’t agree with me? Read this article from one of the world’s most influential climate researchers and then make your case.

Guest Essay: Bjorn Lomborg on Climate Change Budgeting.


Reprinted with permission, copyright Bjorn Lomborg

A New Dawn

The benefits of climate-change policies are limited and costly. Instead, the president-elect needs to coolly evaluate competing priorities, says Bjørn Lomborg.

By BJøRN LOMBORG

Most generations face large and daunting challenges. But few generations have the promise of leadership that could address them rationally. Fortunately, President-elect Obama is uniquely positioned to achieve such a feat and help the world solve some of its most entrenched issues.

He will be swamped with suggestions as to what to do first — perhaps none more impassioned than those who advocate dealing with man-made climate change. He will be told that it is the biggest threat facing humanity and that its solution is the mission of our generation. In many quarters, global warming is now positioned as a kind of uber-issue: a challenge of such enormity that it trumps all others.

Science and economics say otherwise. The United Nations science consensus expects temperature increases of 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, leading to (for example) sea-level increases of between one-half and two feet. Yet such a rise is entirely manageable and not dissimilar to the sea-level rise of about one foot we dealt with over the past 150 years. And while warming will mean about 400,000 more heat-related deaths globally, it will also have positive effects, such as 1.8 million fewer cold-related deaths, according to the only peer-reviewed global estimate, published in Ecological Economics — something that is rarely reported.

Most economic models show that the total damage by the end of the century will be about 3% of global GDP — not trivial but certainly not the end of the world. Remember that the U.N. expects that by the end of the century the average person in the world will be some 1,400% richer.

And yet, macro policy-making such as the Kyoto Protocol has been supported by an ill-founded perception of impending doom. The framers of Kyoto will ask that the global economy spend $180 billion per year for each year of the coming century mitigating CO2 emissions, with an eventual reduction of global temperature of an almost immeasurable 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. It is perhaps time to ask if this can really be our first priority and generational mission.

This would not matter if we had infinite resources, and if we’d already solved all or most other problems.

But we don’t, and we haven’t. Especially in the current economic climate, we have to prioritize what we do — we have to coolly look at the costs and benefits of policies.

If we don’t do this, we in the developed world will preside over a moral tragedy: We will waste an extraordinary sum of money doing relatively little good, while millions of people suffer and die from problems which we could easily have consigned to history.

Take hunger. Impassioned pleas for climate action are based on the fact that agricultural production might decrease because of global warming, especially in the developing world. But again, we need context. Integrated models show that even with the most pessimistic assumptions, global warming would see a reduction in global agricultural production by the end of the century of 1.4%. Since agricultural output is expected to more than double over the same period, this means that climate change will cause the world’s food production to double not in 2080 but in 2081.

Global warming will probably in isolation cause the number of malnourished to increase by 28 million by the end of the century. Yet the much more important point is that the world hosts more than 900 million malnourished right now; though we will add at least three billion more people to humanity before the end of the century, the total number of malnourished in 2100 will probably drop to about 100 million. And in a much richer world, such remaining hunger is entirely a consequence of a lack of political will.

Crucially, focusing on tackling hunger through climate change policy is amazingly inefficient. Implementing Kyoto at $180 billion annually, we would avoid two million hungry by the end of the century. Yet spending just $10 billion annually, the U.N. estimates we could save 229 million people from hunger today.

Whatever is spent on climate policies saving one person from hunger in 100 years could instead save 5,000 people today.

This same point is true, whether we look at flooding, heat waves, hurricanes, diseases or water shortages. Carbon cuts are an ineffective response. Direct policies — such as addressing hunger directly — do a lot more.

Some say we just need to go much farther in cutting carbon. But more of a poor solution doesn’t make it better. Even if we could completely stop climate change through carbon cuts (an utterly unrealistic proposal), 97% of the hunger problem would remain, because only 3% of it will be caused by global warming.

More generally, since climate change mainly exacerbates many of the world’s existing problems, reducing emissions will only do marginal good. If global warming is the proverbial straw that will break the camel’s back, spending huge sums on removing the straw is a poor strategy compared to reducing the camel’s excess base load at much lower cost.

Mr. Obama has promised both an ambitious climate strategy investing $150 billion in new technologies and a doubling of foreign assistance to $50 billion. With a teetering U.S. economy, he has indicated that he may have to scale back the $150 billion investment. The Vice President-elect has clearly said that the doubling of aid might have to be postponed.

Now more than ever, there needs to be trade-offs between competing priorities. His foreign aid should focus on areas like direct malnutrition policies, immunization and agricultural research and development.

These would be some of the best investments possible. Why? This year a team of the world’s top economists, including five Nobel Laureates, identified the very best investments in improving the world in a process called the Copenhagen Consensus. They found that if Mr. Obama’s increased foreign development spending was focused on these areas, it could achieve 15 to 25 times more good than the cost.

We should also deal with climate change, but in a smarter way.

Kyoto shows what not to do. In 1997, politicians made lofty promises, which were to be fulfilled in the future. Well, the future has arrived and most countries did not want to pay enough — not just the United States, but the European Union, Japan and Canada.

Making even grander pledges at the next negotiation in Copenhagen in 2009 will likely just waste another decade. Mr. Obama’s undertaking to spend $150 billion over the next decade on clean technology could make a huge difference.

In climate change, the Copenhagen Consensus experts found that research and development of low-carbon energy technologies could do 11 times more good than the cost, whereas simple CO2 cuts produce a disappointing 90-cent return on the dollar.

Amazing good could come from using Mr. Obama’s $150 billion primarily to invest in creating new technologies, rather than simply subsidizing existing ones.

Investing in existing inefficient technology (like current-day solar panels) costs a lot for little benefit. Germany, the leading consumer of solar panels, will end up spending $156 billion by 2035, yet only delay global warming by one hour by the end of the century.

If Mr. Obama invested instead in low-carbon research and development, the dollars would go far (researchers are relatively cheap), and the result — maybe by 2040 — will be better solar panels that are cheaper than fossil fuels. Complex Kyoto-style political negotiations would become unnecessary because everyone, including China and India, will want to switch. The change will come because in large part Mr. Obama’s $150 billion will have made the technologies cheaper. Following Mr. Obama’s lead, countries should agree to spend 0.05% of their GDP on energy R&D — increasing the global R&D ten-fold, yet costing 10 times less than Kyoto. This could realistically and cost-effectively fix global warming in the medium term.

Harnessing the immense intellectual and scientific capital of the great nation of the United States to help solve the problems of the world in a rationally and morally defensible way is our true generational mission.

It will require true leadership, and the courage to fly in the face of much popular opinion — traits Mr.Obama has already exhibited in great measure.

Change is definitely needed. Focusing on investment in malnutrition and disease could do immense good at low cost, brandishing a world where healthier and stronger humans can take charge of their own lives and deal better with the many challenges of the future.

Global warming also needs strong leadership. Avoiding the lost decades and misused resources of a Kyoto approach would be paramount, and a focus on 0.05% of GDP R&D would fix long-term global warming at much lower cost and with much higher probability of success. This, truly, would be change we could believe in.

Copenhagen Business School professor Bjørn Lomborg is the organizer of the Copenhagen Consensus and author of “Cool It.”

Why are we failing?


Can you have too much concern over safety and security?    Yes, and we do in this country.   Far too much though I don’t expect things to change any time soon.    Our irrational perceptions of risk are damaging our economy more severely than most people understand, mostly thanks to the two massive wasteful spending categories national defense/military and social services.    Ironically each party has its sacred cows for spending and despite the nonsensical bluster from both McCain and Obama we’ll see huge ongoing budget deficits regardless of who is elected.

Humans are designed to act in short term, which is why we should not trust ourselves to do effective long term planning.   This is one of the reasons the founders advocated a small and flexible government and economic structure with high levels of personal accountability.

On a more specific note along these lines Tim O’Reilly notes in a post called Why are we failing at math and science?

Because it isn’t fun any more. When you put safety on the highest altar, what do you give up? When fear of lawsuits — not to mention fear of technology — drives product design, marketing, and public policy, you eliminate science at its roots, in the natural experimentation of kids who want to know how the world works.

Tim’s point is narrower than my general contention that we must learn to accept much greater levels of *certain types of risk* in our daily lives to avoid the ongoing reckless spending.   However the general rule he’s talking about applies to almost all aspects of our lives – from our indefensible military budget of 550 billion (not including the ongoing wars) to obscenely expensive CO2 mitigation schemes.    When people perceive risk irrationally as they tend to do with respect to terrorism and global warming, they accept irrational resource allocations.

I’m actually only suggesting we increase the risk in our lives by a fairly small amount.  Contrary to what people perceive, the riskiest things in our lives are generally cheap fixes.    Auto accidents, for example, are mostly caused by drunk driving, and more seat belt use would save thousands of lives and avert tens of thousands of injuries every year at a tiny fraction of the cost of, say, saving lives with high tech medical interventions.

The military is where most of the waste is but the calculations are complicated by the fact that a “zero military” option would certainly lead to the overthrow of the US by hostile powers.   Clearly the US needs to have a powerful defensive capability, though the notion that this requires spending of over a trillion every two years is beyond the pale and no rational person can be both a fiscal conservative and a big spender on military.    In a similar vein liberal spending advocates absurdly suggest that massive spending on education and social services somehow “primes” the economy to greater heights of prosperity.

Solutions?     Reallocate taxation and spending along rational lines which means massive reductions in spending in most sectors which can fuel increases where spending will do the most good (inner city health care has a huge ROI compared to research hospital neonatal wards).   Third world health ROI dwarfs that in first world.  Why are those guys worth so much less than you or I?