Misguided Environmentalism – Don’t let it happen to YOU!


When ideology gets in the way of feeding people, everybody needs to start shouting “Stop the Madness”.    Try it, it’s cathartic.

Mega-philanthropist Bill Gates is no longer busy with Microsoft.  Instead, he’s one of the key people spearheading the largest and best funded effort in history to bring better health to hundreds of millions in the developing world.    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already saved over a *million people* with their international health efforts and they are on track to save tens of millions more.

Speaking at a Food Prize conference last week Gates observed that misguided environmentalism – specifically the fight to ban genetically modified foods – threatens to thwart some very innovative food programs.

I cannot agree more emphatically although I have to be less diplomatic than Gates, because it’s imperative that we stop paying so much attention to the incoherent rantings of those who oppose such innovations on the basis of their non-hunger-focused principles rather than because they have studied the science and the cost benefit relationships that often make this type of agriculture so compelling.

Too many who claim to be promoting environmentalism are busy with agendas that are often at odds with basic human needs.     The concept of  “sustainability” is invoked far too often now as an excuse to disparage business practices and promote questionable actions rather than address the real and optimized long term needs of planet earth and the human race.

Genetically Modified Food:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food

Gates on this issue: http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSN1530051720091015

The importance of the Green Revolution:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution

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.

When Climate Scientists ATTACK


After a few years following some of the technicalities of discussions about global warming I’m glad to report that there’s FINALLY a really nice guantlet thrown and accepted by the authors of two of the key blogs in the discussion, Climate Audit and RealClimate.

Generally both blogs tend to discuss many of the technical issues in a way that makes it hard (for me at least) to identify clear and specific points of contention where somebody without a degree in math could conclude “this is wrong”.

However the latest round of attacks  should lead to a richer discussion than usual regarding one of the key technical points of contention in climate – climate proxy selection and validity.   Proxies are things like tree rings, ice cores, or sediment patterns that allow a reconstruction of past climate.   If the proxies used in key studies are poorly representative of climate realities, as Climate Audit often suggests and RealClimate always denies, climate scientists have more than a little’ ‘splainin’ to do.

However the shoe’s on the other foot if  ClimateAudit’s concerns are more along the lines suggested by Real Climate’s PhD and NASA crew:

… the conflation of technical criticism with unsupported, unjustified and unverified accusations of scientific misconduct. Steve McIntyre keeps insisting that he should be treated like a professional. But how professional is it to continue to slander scientists with vague insinuations and spin made-up tales of perfidy out of the whole cloth instead of submitting his work for peer-review? He continues to take absolutely no responsibility for the ridiculous fantasies and exaggerations that his supporters broadcast, apparently being happy to bask in their acclaim rather than correct any of the misrepresentations he has engendered. If he wants to make a change, he has a clear choice; to continue to play Don Quixote for the peanut gallery or to produce something constructive that is actually worthy of publication.

Now THAT is  some hot science commentary that you can really sink your teeth into!     Who ever said climate science was technical and boring – it’s almost a contact sport…..  Gentlemen, put those Hockey Sticks UP!!


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.”

Bigfoot and the Bigfoot Hoax – why so much interest?


I don’t understand why people have so much interest in things like the latest Bigfoot hoax, or in Bigfoot stories at all.   These things are kind of fun, but unless I’m mistaken people really are curious to know if the “creature” in the pictures is bigfoot.

It’s not. There is little compelling evidence for the existence of any Bigfoot Bigfeet?  Bigfoots? anywhere on earth, and when you combine the lack of evidence with the number of people who love to perpetrate bigfoot hoaxes and the mythology of bigfoot you get … sightings!

The Georgia / Palo Alto bigfoot stuff Is so obviously a hoax I’m not clear why this has struck such a chord, but maybe we are all tired from international tensions and Olympics?  Olympic bigfoots?    Hey, Michael Phelps has Bigfoot feet, right?     It’s not even a good hoax in my opinion though these clowns are getting an unbelievable amount of internet buzz and press interest, so I guess maybe this *is* a good Bigfoot hoax?

First of all, the guys who dreamed up the hoax are *bigfoot hunters*.   Even if you are gullible enough to think there is quality evidence that a real bigfoot like creature exists, what are the chances the “body” would be found by true believers?

Oh, and if they really did find it  would they stuff it in a box in a pose that makes it hard to tell what the heck is going on?   Ummmm no, they would have good pictures and bring in a doctor to examine the creature….unless of course they were perpetrating a hoax, in which case they would do exactly as they have done.

So, if this is such nonsense why am I bothering to write about it?  Because “Bigfoot” has become a key search term and I’m curious how this blog post will rank for the term “Bigfoot” and “bigfoot hoax”.

Rat Brained Robot


This amazing project is using rat brain neurons  to control robots.    Like other projects of its kind, they are finding that the neurons almost immediately seek interconnection – in some ways they appear to be  pre-programmed (aka evolutionarily designed) to assemble into more advanced forms.

Unfortunately for misguided and shortsighted ethical reasons reasearches are not using human neurons, but as they note here that’s not a huge problem because our human brain cells have a lot in common with rats cells – or other vertebrates for that matter.

As Kevin Warwick, the project architect who one might call something of an “Dr A.I. Frankenstein”, notes:

…. rats brain cells are not a bad stand-in: much of the difference between rodent and human intelligence, speculates Warwick, could be attributed to quantity not quality.

Thanks to Glenn for the tip!

The Hockey Stick Controversy …


You are well advised to avoid the globally frustrating mistake of getting interested in the underpinnings of climate science as it relates to global warming, climate models, paleoclimate reconstructions, the IPCC, Al Gore, and the academy awards.

However if you fall into the trap of actually looking at the science you’ll be interested in an excellent lay summary of the hockey stick controversy by Bishop Hill. I wish he’d left out the perjorative stuff because I think he’s done a nice job of documenting some of the irregularities that seem to shape the modern debates among scientists, statisticians, and political forces.

Here’s a harder to read but perhaps more objective review of the Hockey Stick at Wikipedia.   This debate is important more from a political view than a scientific one as the graph is a key cornerstone for global warming activism even though it is NOT a cornerstone for the science, which to most experts clearly indicates human caused global warming is a problem.

Although warming is clear and human causes are likely, a reasoned review of the science hardly suggests catastrophe is looming.   This is the advanced debate which is only just beginning – given that we have warming caused by humans, how aggresssively should we work to stop it?   At what cost should we work to keep CO2 from rising?

I remain confused about how much problematic math and insider politics within the climate scientist community should affect our perception of global warming’s threat to the planet, but no reasonable observer can maintain that pristine science has shaped the current debate over global warming.    Spend an hour at RealClimate.org reading the defense of the film “An Inconvenient Truth” by several internationally prestigious climate scientists to see what I mean.

Ironically as the scientific debate becomes far more nuanced than it was even a few years ago, the *political debate* is effectively over.   The political/alarmist camp says that Global warming is destroying earth and we need to make drastic changes … yesterday … to avoid climate castastrophes of greater-than-biblical proportions.

Catastrophe isn’t looming, but it’s also true that we are damaging things possibly beyond repair.  That does not mean we should spend trillions trying to fix these problems while greater problems loom so large on earth, but it suggests we should do every cheap thing we can and find better ways to pull energy from our environment.