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A bit of philosophy

Filed under: — eric @ 16 May 2007

Eric Steig and Gavin Schmidt

The two of us participated last week in an interesting meeting at the University of Washington on Ethics and Climate Change. Other scientists in attendance included Dennis Hartmann, who gave an overview of the current state of the science, and sometime RealClimate contributor Cecilia Bitz. Organized by Associate Professor of Philosophy Stephen Gardiner, the conference was dedicated to the particular ethical and moral issues raised by the spectre of anthropogenic climate change. Since we aren’t philosophers by training, and since it would probably stray too far from RealClimate’s focus on science, we won’t comment in great detail. However, we thought it worth making our readers aware that there is a very interesting and growing literature on the subject. Based on their remarks at the conference, we heartily recommend checking out the papers and commentaries written by the various philosphers, scientists, and political theorists who attended. You can get abstracts of their talks on the conference web page. Below, we simply wish to note several issues raised at the conference that we found particularly interesting.

Stephen Gardiner presented an articulate argument on the moral ramifications of geoengineering (in particular the proposal by Paul Crutzen to add sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere to increase the planetary albedo) about we have expressed some doubts previously, chiefly on scientific grounds). Among the cogent statements made by Gardiner was that while one may argue that research on geoengineering acts as a kind of insurance policy,

… there are many such policies; and there is a real concern that the narrow one of “Geoengineering Research Only” gains prominence among them only because it is the one that seems most congenial to us, the present generation.

If you are interesting in reading more, you can get the entire text of Stephen’s paper, here.

Another very interesting talk was that by Jeff Kiehl, a climate modeler at NCAR, who raised a series of ethical issues regarding how climate models are constructed and the ethical decisions that climate modelers face in conveying model results to the public. This talk prompted a lively discussion about the role of peer review, with the conclusion that the system probably works pretty well. It is imperfect, but it does act as a reasonable first filter to catch most egregious misuses of science.

Steve Schneider and one of us (Gavin) discussed the roles of public scientists and of scientists reaching out to the public and some of the pitfalls to be avoided there (see Steve’s site or this post for the kind of thing we were talking about).

Henry Shue, an Oxford philosopher well known for his work on such issues as the moral implications of torture and pre-emptive war, made the argument that the moral implications of not dealing with climate change should be thought of not only in terms of harm, but in terms of potential harm. Unfortunately for those of us that would like to keep burning fossil fuels at our current rate, Shue argues that uncertainty — the possibility that harm caused to future generations from anthropogenic climate change will be relatively small — does not get us out of our moral obligation to change our behavior. That is, one need only recognize that business as usual will increase the risk of significant harm – a point that almost nobody debates – for it to be clear that business as usual may be unethical.

Paul Baer, whose influential book “Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming” (with co-author Tom Athanasiou) discussed ethical issues in how one should allocate global warming permits across the world, discussed some interesting new twists to their work. The principal objection to the idea that everyone has the right to emit an equal portion of GHGs, is that today’s mean value is below that of China’s per capita emissions, and thus a straightforward cap and trade at that level is politically impossible. The new twist in his work relates to the need to balance the current emission problem with the right of poor countries to develop that “should not be impeded by the requirement to reduce GHG emissions, and that the presumably steep burden of mitigation costs must be shared on the basis of responsibility and capacity”. This of course, shifts more of the burden onto the developed countries who have already benefited from their use of fossil fuels. It will be interesting to see how that is received at the climate negotiations.

Finally, there was one idea that was raised that we take issue with, and which we think worth commenting on because it comes up frequently. For lack of a better name, we’ll call it the Easterbrook Fallacy, after Gregg Easterbrook, the author of the book A Moment on the Earth: The coming age of environmental optimism. In that book, Easterbrook makes the repeated claim that environmentalists are off the mark in their warnings to society, because things are actually getting better. For example, he notes that the Clean Air Act has substantially improved air quality in the United States, and somehow turns this into an argument that we needn’t be concerned about clean air. He completely ignores the obvious fact the Clean Air Act exists only due to such concerns being expressed by scientists and other that Easterbrook dismisses as “pessimists”.* In a similar vein, one of the commentators at the conference made the argument that it was an open question whether we had any moral obligation towards future generations for our impact on the climate, since that impact could in principle be averted (for example through carbon dioxide removal via ocean iron fertilization). This is equivalent to saying that we will not have to address the issue of climate change if we address it, an argument that has no bearing whatsoever on whether we have a moral obligation. We were a bit surprised to hear it from a philosopher since it is a tautology (usually anathema to philosophers).

*Note that Easterbrook now says that the science is in and he takes “global warming” seriously. That doesn’t change the logical fallacy in his earlier arguments.

261 Responses to “A bit of philosophy”

  1. 201

    re #144 (Onar Aam)

    Suppose we grant for the sake of argument that the total range of uncertainty (of some quantity) is a factor of 100. Does it follow that the quantity is possibly overestimated by a factor of 100? Perhaps, but surely it follows no more and no less than it follows that there is an equivalent possibility that the quantity is being underestimated by a factor of 100.

    Why are people constantly harping on the risk of overestimating climate change when the risk of underestimating it has vastly greater consequences?

    Rational policy under uncertainty should be risk-weighted, which implies that the less faith one has in the consensus position, the more vigorous an emissions policy one should support. It is very peculiar and striking to observe how common a position like Aam’s is despite the fact that it is incoherent.

    Those people who doubt the consensus in a rational way (e.g., Broecker, Lovelock) advocate for a very vigorous policy. We don’t know how bad it can be, so we really ought to give considerable weight to it being very very bad. The asymmetry arises because we know how good it can be. Climate change can at best amount to a (relatively) very small net gain, if it is modest and slow enough. At worst it can quite conceivably be a threat to civilization.

    Most people stressing the uncertainty, though, seem to me to deliberately strive to confuse the policy process, or to echo others who do so. It is discouraging how effective this tactic continues to be, given that it is based on a completely irrational argument. The only remotely sensible way to argue for small or no policy response is not to argue for large uncertainty. A rational argument for policy inaction requires arguing that the consensus position is certainly wrong and oversensitive. A rational, conservative response to uncertainty would be to take more effort to avoid the risk.

  2. 202
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    RE 175: China keeps building coal plants because it’s the easiest and quickest solution to meet an immediate, imperious need.

    It does not mean that there isn’t immense potential in all the other possibilities. The roaring 40’s and howling 50’s are begging to blow through turbines on large floating barges that could generate plenty of hydrogen. Small amounts of the energy produced can be used by on-board propulsion systems to keep the barge within its latitude range, slowly circling along with the prevailing winds. With computers and GPS, all this can be automatized or remotely controlled, except for maintenance, which could be performed by crews coming with the vessels of the harvesting fleet. This is just one possibility. How much can you reduce the consumption of one building using already available efficiency methods, solar and urban adapted wind systems like the Gual Statoeolienne (can be seen with a quick Google search)? How much power can be generated by large scale solar plants in deserts of the American Southwest, Arabia, the Sahara, the Gobi, the Namib? How much can we get worldwide from geothermal if all the potential is exploited?

    The standard argument against these ideas is “too expensive.” That holds only as long as the full cost of the other “cheaper” possibilities are hidden. Chinese authorities still considers them hidden, as hidden as most of their landmass is hidden from satellites by the “Brown Cloud.” Anything can be hidden to those who don’t want to see it.

    As Ray pointed earlier, all this is a matter of people, including Chinese people, realizing how serious a problem we’re all facing. During WW2, all resources were devoted to the war effort and that did not prevent the following 30 years from seeing tremendous improvements in living conditions.

    Because GW happens slowly and is not really spectacular, people do not realize that the same kind of effort is necessary now. If they did, it would still be difficult to tackle the problem, but at least it would be done.

  3. 203
    ray ladbury says:

    So, BJC, I’ll bet you’re a real hoot to go out to dinner with. What do you do, eat dinner and then argue for 2 hours about who pays the check. Look, we’ve eaten the frigging dinner. Somebody is going to pay the frigging check. Now we can try to divide it up in a way that most people think is fair–where everybody pitches in according to what they consumed, or we can keep arguing. But the check will be paid–if not by us by future generations. Now personally, I have no dog in this fight–no progeny. I’d sure like to think of human civilization continuing after I’m gone, but I won’t know one way or the other, so let’s just pay the check

  4. 204
    Elizabeth says:

    to bjc – “If the nasty capitalists are preventing the emergence of an economically viable alternative energy industry – how come such an industry is struggling to emerge in a dynamic economy like China? ”

    We – as individuals and as society – do what we’ve always done. We do what we know works – even if it doesn’t work very well; even if we know there are better options. Change is hard for individuals. Change is especially hard for bureaucracies and nigh on impossible for society.

    Why should China be more visionary than the U. S.? There are lots of reasons besides climate change why their course of action is not in China’s long term (or even short term) best interest. But they’ve got coal, so they’re burning it because that’s what you do with coal and because it appears to work for them in the short term.

    Changing the whole basis of a worldwide economy (i.e., from cheap fossil fuels to something else)isn’t going to be easy – even though the technology is available to get us at least part way to where we need to be. But, while it’s hard for societies to alter course, once they decide to do so, change can be rapid.

    I heard a speaker once state that we are faced with a similar dilemma that faced our nation in the mid-19th century – to change from a slave based economy to one without slavery. I’m no historian, so I can’t weigh in on the validity of this analogy. And I hesitate to pass it on because it is so value laden. But I do so because there are some fascinating parallels – including the value laden part. We look back now and wonder how anyone could have ever thought slavery was a good idea – either from an economic or humanitarian perspective. We also recognize that in making this shift, some segments of society had more to lose than others, but that to maintain the status quo would have been devastating to another segment of society.

  5. 205
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Re #170: Ivan de Villiers >Is there any estimate of how much green house gas (CO2, nitrous oxide etc) that human activity has dumped in to the atmosphere from 1907 and how thick this layer ,if spread over the whole atmosphere at standard pressure would be.

    For just CO2, the 100ppm increase would very roughly make a layer 1 foot thick (.0001×10,000 feet).

  6. 206
    Rod B says:

    Hank, the initial post wasn’t talking about maintaining one’s rental property; it was talking of making a big investment in massive insulation, etc. to reduce energy use. Your post describes nobility, maybe correctly. But I wasn’t out to save or destroy the world/values/human race/neighborhood. I was simply explaining the US Tax code!

  7. 207
    Steve Reynolds says:

    ray ladbury> …if the climate becomes completely unpredictable year to year as it has during past epochs, would agricutlture be possible?

    I am interested in reading the source for that past climate info. Link?

  8. 208
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Fergus> What sort of thing might an ‘unintended economic consequence’ of mitigation be? I presume you are thinking in terms of global recession…

    That is one concern, but primarily the more certain and likely more harmful effects of very expensive non-GHG energy on people in developing nations unable to afford it.

    The booming economies of China and India are making great progress bringing people out of miserable poverty. I want to see that continue, not end.

    Note that severe effects from AGW are not likely to occur until these people can afford to adapt and advanced research gives us reasonably cheap non-GHG energy.

  9. 209
    catman306 says:

    The greenest heating fuel I’ve found is the wood burning of off sized, non-reusable pallets and crates that are destined for the land fill. It is, however, labor intensive, with strangely, a steep learning curve, not for everyone.

    The keys to solving our energy and climate woes are many and varied, they are not going to be a one-sized-fits-all proposition. What works in one place probably isn’t right somewhere else.

  10. 210
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Dave Blair, if you’re still reading this, I just saw your comment #164. You are essentially agreeing with me. Let me restate: on land, the abundance of life is a factor of the availability of liquid water. Most of pure climatology stuff is beyond me, but I know a little about biology. Note the importance of the words: availability (not mere presence)and liquid.

    If you looked at the question, you should know that Greenland is a desert (i.e. very dry), and most of its precipitation is non liquid. Sub-freezing temperatures also affect the availability of liquid water.

    You talk about Vegas. AFAIK, there is no water there. The water comes from the Rockies, whose decreased snowmelt, combined with increased consumption, accounts for a 50 ft bathtub ring on Meade and Powell. There is signficant concern in Vegas as to how long they can keep up their consumption. Arizona cities have the same concerns.

    A few thoughts about longer growing seasons:
    That concept applies only to temperate regions. Will it compensate for tropical and subtropical areas going Sahara-like (talk about a barren area)?
    Longer growing season sounds like a good thing, but is useless if there is no water to go with. All these little dams you mention (I have seen a lot of them flying over Texas) mainly retain rain water. Significant changes in rain regimes can easily make them useless.
    If you want to grow more to take advantage of the longer growing season, you also need more water, for certain cultures, at least twice more.

    As for your statement that humans are adding life to the Earth, it’s just your opinion. Everybody has one. From all I have witnessed, I am highly skeptical of the fact that humans are creating more biomass than they are destroying. Furthermore, all the “life” maintained by humans is for their own exclusive use and is not in thermodynamic balance, unlike natural life.

  11. 211
    Robin Johnson says:



    I suspect strongly you know better and are just yanking chains. But things are not so simple.

    Plants require what? Sunlight, water, CO2, nitrogen (either fixed as nitrates or the ability to manufacture said nitrates from ambient nitrogen), iron, phosphorus and some other trace elements. Depending on adaptation of species they require certain temperature ranges, special germination conditions, etc. Depending on leaf and stem structure, plants can tolerate freezing and heating. Some can’t do either, some can do one or the other and some can do both. Try to grow lettuce in the summer in Georgia – you get nothing it dies. Duh. Try growing any number of tropical plants in Alberta. They can’t survive the winter. Duh.

    The key point (I think mentioned earlier) is WATER and soil. Las Vegas is green only because heat tolerant plants are grown with TONS of water from reservoirs of Colorado river water – which are being depleted rather rapidly actually. Oops. Anyway, with enough water, you can keep the plants cool – because the excess heat evaporates the water keeping the ground cool and of course providing the necessary water to the plants. Without the water, the heat tolerant plants other than stuff like cacti die from the heat and drying of the soil (which are closely related). So UNLESS, global warming produces more rainfall (so far the models say not enough to balance the additional evaporation)- many areas are going to become drier and plants are going to die from the heat and lack of water.

    So, yes, Crabgrass loves warmth, doesn’t have high nutrient or water demands. Looks like crap and can’t take the cold. Kentucky bluegrass dies quickly and pitifully even with a lot of water in 90 degree heat. Looks really nice and very cold tolerant.

    More warmth, means more plants? Nice analogy if the amount of extra warmth is not too much. Humans require iron. Too much, you die. Too little, you die. Humans require salt. Too much, you die. Too little, you die. Humans require dihydrogen monoxide. Too much, you die. Too little, you die. Etc. Etc. Same for plants. Too much water, plant dies. Too little, plant dies. Too much sunlight, plant dies. Too little, plant dies. Etc. Etc.

    PS Death Valley – even if watered wouldn’t grow anything – too much salt.

  12. 212
    Hank Roberts says:

    > condescending

    You asked, sir. I offered answers that are standard business practice.

    If you don’t know this from your own experience you can inquire of any reputable CPA or tax advisor who knows how to handle rental property matters.

    I haven’t asked if you’re speaking from experience as a landlord. Care to tell us if you have any personal experience with what you are claiming?

    Don’t get caught up in the argument that created the phrase “royalist libertarian” — yes, there are some forms of political theory under which, supposedly, it’s impossible to own and improve property and rent it, or farm it, or otherwise take care of it. It’s stuff that never made much sense to me.

    I know — in practice — most people do take care of property and improve it. I don’t have to love the property system or the tax system or the banking system or whatever else society’s done, I just get to live in it.

    Since I often see chances to improve little things — like adding insulation, or putting topsoil back on damaged land — I try doing it. It works. Then the CPAs and tax people find ways to interpret doing good as financially smart, and keep me financially solvent. Funny, but it works.

    Try it. You really can make little differences in the world — doing things that your theory may tell you will impoverish you — like taking care of property, improving the lot of tenants, preserving a farm — and your tax preparer can find ways to use to actually make you — as well as others — better off.

    Really. Theory can be paralyzing. Practice may actually succeed.

  13. 213
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re Energy use of China #196 BJC

    You state that China uses “3 billion MW” of electricity (= 3 PW = 3e15 W). I think you don’t have the right order of magnitude here. WORLD energy use is 15 TW = 15.000.000 MW, world electricity use 2.400.000 MW.

    China consumes 2 kW/head = ca 2.500.000 MW (1/6 of the world demand at present), and Chinese electric capacity is 300 GW = 300.000 MW.

  14. 214
    nicolas L. says:

    Re: 190, 192, 193, 194, 199

    Thank you for your answers,

    I’d like to make a little comment. Recognizing the catastrophe Chernobyl has been and still is for millions of people in Europe (specially in Belarus and Ukraine) doesn’t mean considering nuclear energy as a dead end. I hear a lot of nuclear proponents systematically diminishing the scale and effects of Chernobyl, if not denying them. But denying a fact doesn’t make it disappear, people here at RC know that more than anyone. If nuclear proponents were explaining the consequences of Chernobyl clearly, explaining what happened, why it happened, and what are the effects of it, then they would gain much more confidence from the audience. Instead of that, European populations have been more and more suspicious and resistant vis-a-vis Nuclear power during the 2 last decades, due to this lack of communication and the quasi systematic underestimation of the impacts of Chernobyl.
    I’m not a very big fan of nuclear myself, but still I recognize that in a context of AGW and of a phase out of use of CO2 based energy, nuclear based energy will be a necessary tool. Chernobyl catastrophe was mainly due to an old model reactor, which was used for hazardous experimental purpose and managed by a non-qualified team (and specially a reduced team the night of the catastrophe), and the risks of the same kind of catastrophe happening again are almost zero. But it happened once and it shouldn’t be erased from history for convenience.
    I personally use this 2006 European report as my main source of information about Chernobyl:
    It’s a critical analysis of the WHO/IAEA published in 2005, mainly based on the same data.

    Ok, I will stop this big digression here, sorry for not being that much in the philosophy subject :). Keep up the good work here at RC

  15. 215
    Craig Allen says:

    Social philosophy?:

    Two conceptual models are important tools to the Social Change sector of the Environmental Management Community in Australia. I’m not sure if they rate as philosophies, but they are worth pondering.

    One is the Seven doors model, which I have used in efforts to conserve wetlands in urban and rural landscapes.

    The other is the conservatism – innovation bell curve.

    In the bell curve concept:

    1) You define your challenge.
    (I’ll use climate change to illustrate the concept. It’s a good example of a challenge that in one way or another will affect everybody. And I’ll accept the IPCC definition of the problem, it’s cause, it’s implications, and the importance to do something about it.)

    2) You consider all the attitudes that people have to the challenge.

    3) You rank everyone on a continuum from
    …A) Outright disbelief and hostility to the idea of accepting and mitigating the problem, through to
    …B) conviction that the problem must be dealt with immediately, along with an intent to take part in immediate action to mitigate it.

    4) Now imagine the following:

    A) Draw a bell curve shape where the horizontal axis represents the range of the possible rankings.
    (A bell curve looks like a cross section through a hill with a big bulge in the center and thinning to nothing at the edges. There is a picture of one here.)

    B) The bulge at the center represents the bulk of the community, the thin wedge to the left represents the extreme denialist-antagonists and the thin edge to the right represents the extreme action-mitigationists.

    C) Now divide the bell-curve into seven vertical slices.

    These slices are the following community sectors in relation to response to climate change:

    i) The proactive innovators (a small segment at the right of the curve)
    – These people are convinced there is a serious problem and are making an active effort to find and implement solutions, and to convince everyone else that they should do the same.

    ii) The motivated progressives (A segment that consists of about 5 to 20% of the right of the bell curve.)
    – They are convinced and want to get on with solutions.
    – They are eagerly waiting for the the proactive innovators develop solutions and get them to work, whereupon they will be quick to take them up and prove that they can work.

    iii) The early majority (The segment takes up the remainder of the right side of the bell curve to the center of the hump.)
    – They are relatively quick to become convinced of, and concerned about, the problem.
    – But are somewhat reluctant to make the effort to go out and implement the solutions until a sizable number of other people demonstrate that the solutions work and are definitely worth the costs and effort.

    iv) The late majority (Most of the left half of the curve)
    – They are slow to be convinced that the problem is real, or that the proposed solutions are worth the cost and effort.
    – However, once the early majority have come on board with mitigation, this group will go with the flow, even if somewhat reluctantly, because being conservative, they like being with the majority.

    v) The extreme recalcitrants. (Over on the extreme left wedge)
    – They won’t change come hell or high water.
    – Once everyone else has moved on the issue, these people end up being isolated. (These are the people who end up being reported by their neighbors for unconscionable behavior.)

    The neat thing about thinking of it this way, is that it lets you realise that you don’t have to convince everyone and get them acting all at once. Work it from right to left. It’s a snow-ball effect. A cascade of change and action runs through the population. We can see this in progress with the climate change challenge. And over on the right side of that bell-curve there is a growing momentum of people pushing for change, and that with any luck this will bring around a profound change far more quickly than we fear. Hopefully the change it will be soon enough and effective enough to save us from the worst of this.

    Also, you can plot countries in the same way – some are vanguard mitigationists, others are die-hard recalcitrants, most are somewhere in between and steadily moving in the more prudent direction.

    Based on the people you know, and what the media is reporting, what proportion of your community is likely to be in each of those sectors? What proportion of the politicians are in each sector? Where I live, I don’t think that we are far from the point where the early majority of both the public and our leaders start to become involved in an effective manner.

  16. 216
    Onar Aam says:

    Re 172:


    I don’t think EPA vs Mass was a test. From the little I know about the case it was not argued very well, missing out on important avenues that undercuts climate science. If the people were represented by the top lawyers presenting the case in full strength there is no chance of victory for the prosecution.

    “Your uncertainties are interesting; they are all about the future.”

    No, they are not. Only the first point (future technology) is really uncertainty inherently future oriented. All the rest relates to uncertainties in the CURRENT state of the sciences. Let me give you an example. In 1979 a NAS panel on climate change estimated the climate sensitivity to be 1.5-4.5 C, based on a simple computer model that could run on your laptop today. Today 30 years later that sensitivity has essentially not changed. What does this mean? It means that climate science has learnt nothing in the last 30 years to reduce uncertainty. Why? Because even the best possible computer model in the world is not going to change the fact that we do not understand water vapor and clouds, the two main features of the atmosphere. In fact, all these climate models obscure the fact that they are trying to squeeze information out of noise. Where there is no data there is no data, and no amount of climate modeling is going to change that.

    “On the future emission of CO2; already, CO2-equivalent WMGHG levels are very close to 450ppm.”

    That may be, but methane has leveled off and CO2 is not growing as fast as it “should” according to carbon cycle models. Most of the carbon appears to be going into the ocean (Sabine 2004) which seriously questions our current understanding of the oceans’ ability to absorb CO2.

    “There is absolutely no chance of emissions of these stopping overnight.”

    Well, they could stop very fast. If for instance the scandalous de facto ban of nuclear energy was lifted emissions could drop radically very fast.

    “if BAU, then levels, then warming; the logic is straightforward.”

    The logic is flawed. It could easily be argued that if BAU, then CO2 will fall faster.

    “As things stand, the evidence is increasingly that the sinks are not adjusting fast enough, and are more likely to reduce in efficiency than increase, therefore, any uncertainty is likely to strengthen the case for action, not weaken it.”

    What do you mean “not changing fast enough”? Never heard of the missing carbon sink? For 30 years scientists were perplexed why the sinks kept growing and why they still do. Now we know why. The oceans have an enormous capacity to absorb CO2 and continues to do so at an increasing rate.

    “Future climate change resulting from CO2 changes is quite well-constrained if you want to think of temperature (sensitivity is ~3C).”

    Most empirical calculations of climate sensitivity places it in the vicinity of 0.3 to 0.6 C. Long term sensitivity appears to be around 0,5-1,5 C. There is only one single piece of empirical evidence in favor of a high sensitivity (3 C) and that is the ice ages. This however is called into question by the newly discovered fact that the Milankovitch theory is partly false and that instead the ice ages are driven by variations in the sun itself. This dramatically reduces climate sensitivity.

    “Other changes are harder to predict, which is one of the reasons to worry.”

    Here we go again with the presumption of guilt.

    “Future damage is dependent on how you measure damage.”

    Agreed. Today, for some reason the IPCC insists on ONLY measuring the consequences of fossil fuels relating to climate. This excludes 95-99% of the effect of fossil fuels: to create wealth, eliminate poverty, disease, hunger, death and damages due to climate disasters. Obviously you’re going to increase the chance of finding damage if you remove out all the direct positive effects of fossil fuels.

    “I have seen no peer-reviewed paper of any description which suggests that the global consequence of a warming of 2C or more will be beneficial; perhaps you can provide a reference to one.”

    I have seen a lot of litterature that shows that fossil fuels save lives and create wealth and progress. I highly recommend “Capitalism: Treatise on Economics” by George Reisman. (

    “If you don’t accept this, then of course the response is unfair. If you do accept this, then the question is to what extent you are willing to allow your individual desires to be superceded by a greater humanitarian need.”

    To me it’s the other way around. How willing are you to combat man made climate change with poverty and death?

    “Your final comment is simply an insult to climate scientists. Rather than assume that they produce what politicians want them to, you need to recognise that they are producing what the scientific analysis shows them.”

    On this blog I cannot go into the specifics about that comment, but let me just say that there is another place where this is greatly substantiated by diligent people who audit climate science. But since you are concerned with insults, perhaps you would like to comment on the people who try to discredit the skeptic scientists with where they receive their funding (some of which is the fossil fuel industry). Do you consider this insulting and behavior that has no place in a scientific debate?

    “If you don’t trust the science, then any discussion of consequences or costs is effectively meaningless, as you will not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world.”

    Oh, I trust the science, I just don’t trust the science of the promoters of AGW. And from what you state you obviously don’t trust the science either. You don’t trust some of the top scientists in the world who questions the AGW hypothesis. Does this mean that you do not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world?

    I find it interesting that you don’t even acknowledge the fact that there is a heated scientific debate and that the uncertainties are huge depending on who’s right.

  17. 217
    pete best says:


    Maybe real climate will be interested in this article written by a European Energy specialist who has covered James Hansens recent work on peak fossil fuels and climate change. It would appear that the IPCC is in error regarding available energy reserves:

  18. 218

    [[ One would be hard presed to come up with a worse scenario–at least and still remain firmly rooted on the real axis. ]]

    I always liked the “Apollo Syndrome” idea — core melts down through the bottom of the plant, hits the water table, and a steam explosion sends it flying. It probably can’t happen, but if it did, it would likely be worse than Chernobyl.

  19. 219

    [[The booming economies of China and India are making great progress bringing people out of miserable poverty. I want to see that continue, not end.]]

    Well, all we AGW types want to see it end, since we’re all complete racists and haters of the poor.

    [[Note that severe effects from AGW are not likely to occur until these people can afford to adapt and advanced research gives us reasonably cheap non-GHG energy. ]]

    Severe effects are already occurring (ask the Australians), and we can have cheap non-GHG energy now if we make the decision as a society to switch over to it.

  20. 220
    Fergus Brown says:

    #208, 216: Steve Reynolds; Your reply raises more issues than can comfortably be dealt with briefly. This is a very short (not intended to be rude) response: I suspect you are underestimating China’s capacity both to develop and pay for alternative energy sources if it so chooses; here, it probably boils down to economics rather than capability. India is an interesting case study. it looks as if there are a great many small-scale non-GHG projects which are developing to provide local energy needs all around the sub-continent. This is a different way to approach the problem of energy supply, and seems to have valuable lessons for us, too; rather than depend on a massive grid/network/ industry to supply all (at a profit), instead have many and various localised sources providing for collective use and benefit.

    Onar: whew, you’ve really made an effort! I’ll do my best to respond to you, on the assumption that these are your thoughts and not simply borrowed from someone else.

    On EPA vs Mass. You can’t have it both ways; you wanted the case tried in court; it was; the sceptics lost. Now you say it wasn’t a good example. How can I win?

    All of your comments about uncertainty used the word ‘future’ in them. Would it not be reasonable then to assume that this was what you were talking about?

    If the 1979 report said 1.5-4.5C, and the IPCC AR4 says 1.5-4.5C, and most of the other reports in between say 1.5-4.5C, what can we infer? That the NAS 1979 report was about right; the later research and development has supported the conclusions they came to then. Assuming from this that there has been no development in climate science does not even merit discussion.

    There has been more recent material published since Sabine (2004) ( a paper I don’t know). I’m not sure where you get the ‘CO2 is not growing as fast as it should’ from: the levels of atmospheric CO2 continue to rise. By 2040 we’ll have 450ppm of CO2 and 500+ppm equivalent, even with mitigation. Not enough is being absorbed; it’s still getting into the atmosphere. You are simply incorrect that the oceans can be relied on to continue absorbing all the necessary excess CO2 indefinitely.

    On cutting emissions. Even building several hundred nuclear power plants would take ten-fifteen years at least, and still would need other energy sources. The cost of building these is huge; they only work when a coherent long-term policy supports their adoption, and where subsidy is provided to defer the costs of construction away from the costs on the energy produced for a long enough time. This doesn’t mean I am ‘anti-nuclear’; I suspect this will be an important part of the solution to CC; but it’s not as straightforward as you make it out to be.

    On climate sensitivity: your numbers refer to what? Whatever their reference or source, there are a range of reasons why you will find most scientists disagreeing with the implicit assumptions you make about this.

    Briefly, on the comment about the ‘presumption of guilt’: you are persisting in referring to this as if the ‘trial’ is still under way. It’s over. We know what dunnit.

    I’ll not comment on the IPCC’s WGIII: let’s just say that we might not disagree on some of this.

    I’ll not argue with you that wealth generation is beneficial. Of course it is, in all sorts of ways. Historically, fossil fuels have played their part in this. But this does not mean that wealth and benefit depend on fossil fuels; they do not. There are many ways to generate similar benefits without recourse to oil or coal. The problem we have at the moment relates to scale and energy production needs, but we’re in danger of going round in circles on this.

    On your ‘diligent auditors’; you don’t have to be coy about websites which deal with sceptical responses to climate science; they are all well known on RC. On discrediting skeptics; sometimes, as has been said before, the source of someone’s income may inform otherwise neutral readers about an individual’s motives for reaching certain conclusions, but you are right that these are largely an irrelevance; bad science is bad science whoever does it. Who pays the piper has relevance in political discussions, if not climate ones. On RC, you’ll find most of the critiques deal with the science.

    You suugest I don’t trust the science of some of the top scientists in the world who question AGW; please be more specific. I have a great deal of respect for individuals such as Hans von Storch and Roger Pielke Sr., for example. Steve McIntyre is a nice bloke, even if his website is populated by baboons and he’s not really a climate scientist, is he? Svensmark is doping some interesting work on GCRs; at the stage it is at, it doesn’t really challenge the AGW hypothesis. Neither, actually do any of the respected people I have mentioned. They have issues with certain things. I would argue, then that I do accept evidence; I don’t accept false witness or bad science; and that cuts both ways.

    You are absolutely right that I do not acknowledge that there is a huge scientific debate, because there isn’t. not at least, about AGW. When I publish my paper (hopefully), soon, you will understand why I feel I have some authority for saying this.

    You challenges have been interesting and important; I hope our debate has helped you consider you opinions in a different light. I apologise to those regulars on RC, for whom this might be an irrelevance and therefore dull.


  21. 221
    biffvernon says:

    Here’s an important article about the implications of â��Peak Oilâ�� for atmospheric CO2 and climate:

  22. 222
    tamino says:

    Re: #216 (Onar Aam)

    Oh, I trust the science, I just don’t trust the science of the promoters of AGW. And from what you state you obviously don’t trust the science either. You don’t trust some of the top scientists in the world who questions the AGW hypothesis. Does this mean that you do not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world?

    I find it interesting that you don’t even acknowledge the fact that there is a heated scientific debate and that the uncertainties are huge depending on who’s right

    Substitute “evolution” for “AGW,” and you’ll know my opinion of your opinion.

  23. 223
    Hank Roberts says:

    Onar, you’ve got to give cites —- deal with facts — even when they undercut what you want to believe.
    Philiosophy is nice for general global belief statements. But say where the facts come from for your beliefs.

    This for example, you’d said it above, it fits what you want to cling to, I’m sure you want to believe it:

    >The oceans have an enormous capacity to absorb CO2 and continues to do so at an increasing rate.

    Nice idea, very attractive. But like all beliefs, when there’s a bottom line that has to add up, you can look this one up —and should. The accounting system may have changed since last year, or the science may have come in from the field work and done the math and published. You have to read the _current_ science. Your ‘audit’ site friends are focused on the early work done decades ago, as though science had ‘founders’ —- but old work is gone. Look forward, look at contemporary science.

    Check your ideas. Like that one, just for example:

  24. 224
    bjc says:

    You are absolutely correct – the source said 2.55 billion MW and probably meant MWh. I double checked and found a more official source.

    “By the end of 2004, China’s capacity was 442 million kw, or 51 million kw more than 2003.

    An NDRC forecast estimates capacity to increase to nearly 800 million kilowatts in 2010, when supply and demand will be basically balanced, and the proportion of clean energy, such as nuclear power and hydropower, will account for 35 percent of the country’s generated electricity. ”

    Even with this huge correction, the point remains that alternative sources of power generation in China contibute but a minute fraction to the overall generating capacity.

    I understand the complexities of orchestrating major capital investment initiatives in rapidly developing economies. However, in a few short years China has developed a viable space program. The capital investment requirements and technology requirements are significantly lower than required to jump start or underwrite an alternative power generation industry. The fundamental point is that generating reliable power from alternative energy sources is far far more complex and uncertain than building a nuclear power plant or a self sustaining energy efficient home. China’s slow adoption of such sources reflects these complexities and unknowns.

    At the same time, for the spirited entrepreneur, IMHO the time is right to make a killing and help save the planet at the same time. The China example suggests that nobody should rely on the government to do this.

  25. 225
    bjc says:

    That you chose to be in some way altruistic is great: You choose to pay.

    I am very familiar with the dynamics of real estate ownership. My point was more along the lines of how public policy ultimately gets set. For example, we can give meaningful tax breaks to landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties but this will require some underwriting by other tax payers. Now you can give tax breaks to homeowners wishing to add alternative technologies to their homes — but again somebody else ends up paying and we get a tax system that is open to increased opportunities for avoidance, etc. Ultimately there are the questions of “Who pays” and “Who chooses”.
    As for my personal situation – I like you take care of and invest in what I have. Like you, I choose and I pay.

  26. 226
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    #216 Trust the science? (Onar Aam)

    [I find it interesting that you don’t even acknowledge the fact that there is a heated scientific debate and that the uncertainties are huge depending on who’s right.]

    There is no “heated debate” at all about the basics (present GW is real and manmade; temperature is going up by 2 C or so in this century; climate change is generally bad and we’d better do something about it; the sooner we start the less costly it will be).

    If you deny these facts (yes, facts!) in the face of all the evidence, debate is useless.

  27. 227
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 207 Steve, A couple of articles:
    Alley, R. B., J. Marotzke, W. D. Nordhaus, J. T. Overpeck, D. M. Peteet, R. A. Pielke Jr., R. T. Pierrehumbert, P. B. Rhines, T. F. Stocker, L. D. Talley, and J. M. Wallace, 2003: Abrupt climate change. Science 299, 2005-2020

    Crowley, T. J., 2002: Cycles, cycles everywhere. Science, 295, 1473-1474.

    The fact of the matter is that the past 10000 years have shown very mild variability by paleoclimatic standards–and it also happens to be the only era in which we’ve had agriculture.

  28. 228
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 216, Onar, you said:

    [Oh, I trust the science, I just don’t trust the science of the promoters of AGW. And from what you state you obviously don’t trust the science either. You don’t trust some of the top scientists in the world who questions the AGW hypothesis]

    This is my image of your statement:

    ….you are driving down the breakdown lane of the Long Island Expressway, at rush hour, and travelling against the traffic flow. All those cars speeding past you are scientists, corporate CEOs, elected leaders of nations, the US national intelligence community, editorial writers, petroleum producers, agricultural research scientists, religious leaders, fishermen, bird watchers and about 86 percent of Americans all of whom trust that the science is pointing towards a warming world and the consequences of that.

    Then there is you and the contrarians.

    Hold on to your beliefs, if you must.

    Just stay in your lane and out of their way.

  29. 229
    Smokeysmom says:

    It seems to me that if both the scientific and general news media report that the current warming period is accelerating more rapidly than was predicted and/or modeled by CLIMATE scientists and researchers, and ditto arctic (incl. Greenland) and antarctic ice is melting more rapidly than was predicted and/or modelded by those same dedicated people, then it is futile to argue the point any longer or to make specious remarks about it and throw in a math formula or two (just to let us know you can do it). Crude oil is the starting point of many products, such as plastics and synthetic fabrics, not just automotive products and heating/cooking products. If the oil and gas industry publications, which have varying opinions by knowledgeable geologists, can forecast a limited supply, then your arguments are moot and Roger Daltry’s comment is more perspicacious than you realize.
    This planet is all we’ve got. We have remodeled and re-engineered it to suit our needs and tastes — go look at a city dump and argue with me. The human population is currently too high for the planet’s resources to continue to support us as we currently live, and we are setting ourselvse up for our own extinction.
    We are all eating at the same table, but no one has paid any attention when the waiter says the kitchen is about out of ham and eggs. Instead, you’re all arguing about how to serve them and who will pay for them. Not once, in any of the arguments or comments preceding this article, or any others on this website, has even one of you conceded that we have no control over this climate change other than to stop using fossil fuels to reduce the carbon bank in the air and water. The southern Atlantic ocean is so acidified that plankton are unable to form calcium shells.
    There are regular bouts of cooling in warming periods, and regular bouts of warming in cold periods — look at those time and temperature charts occasionally. This particular warming period has so far lasted 18,000 years, including the bobbles of cold during the Younger Dryas and 1816, the “year without a summer” which succeeded the eruption of Tambora in 1815. The shortest warming period (including glitches of cold) in the last 600,000 years was the Aftonian. That lasted 30,000 years. The longest warming period was the Waalian, which lasted 70,000. We are, so far, only 18,000 years into this one and no one is asking the most important question: HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HUMANS HAVE LEFT?

  30. 230
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Re #216:

    To me it’s the other way around. How willing are you to combat man made climate change with poverty and death?

    That’s a false dichotomy.

    Yes, it’s true that cheap and abundant power results in the creation of wealth, improved standards of living, life savings, reduction of disease, and a wealth of other positive benefits.

    It’s not true that shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy cannot create the same benefits. Indeed, with all the energy that’s available from renewable sources — far, far greater than what’s current installed from non-renewable sources — and with the economies of scale that have yet to be realized, renewable energy promises more of the good things and fewer of the bad things.

    Dependence on fossil energy is a form of addiction, and continued belief that only fossil energy can meet our needs a form of denial.

    Utility scale renewable energy production is being built TODAY. If built in a decentralized manner, it offers to make electricity available in parts of the world where electricity is not presently available. With no need for fuel, there is no need for fuel delivery and the infrastructure that requires.

  31. 231
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Well, Onar, thank you for providing comic relief. You keep alluding to all these “top scientists” who question anthropogenic causation of climate change. So where are they? Who are they? What have they published recently on the subject of climate?
    {crickets chirping}
    Onar, do you even know any scientists? Have you ever talked to any of the people who do climat science? First off, do you really think that any of them would pass up the chance for fame and glory that they would gain if they were able to show that all of their colleagues were wrong and only they were right? Do you really think that any of them couldn’t walk off into a hedge fund office and ask for a job and pull down about 10 times what they are making now? Do you really think these guys would sell their integrity–not to mention risking their careers–for the paltry amount they receive in grants?
    So, Onar, what’s in it for all these evil scientists who are colluding in this vast conspiracy? What exactly do they get out of it? And if there are so many “top scientists,” who oppose the consensus, then why the hell aren’t they publishing their findings? Even Richard Lindzen concedes we are changing the climate–he just contends that some magical negative feedback mechanism will save us.
    The truth, Onar, is that there are mountains of evidence supporting anthropogenic causation, and butkis refuting it. Now, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you lack a science background and so cannot interpret this evidence, but the scientific community does not share your ignorance. That is why the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Physics and just about every other responsible scientific body has adopted a resolution expressing concern over climate change.

    Or maybe you can direct me to some peer-reviewed scientific journal where your putative “heated scientific debate” is taking place.

    {Crickets chirping}

    Didn’t think so.

  32. 232
    Hank Roberts says:


    No. Wrong word, important misunderstanding.

    Choosing to save enough seed for the next harvest isn’t “altruism”
    Choosing not to dump waste downstream isn’t “altruism”

    Don’t fall for the notion that money is the way to understand how the world works.
    “Who pays” follows long after “what keeps us alive that we’ve been getting for free and how do we not break it.”

    Don’t dismiss any consideration beyond short term profit by calling it altruism.

    There are no altruists in ecosystems.

  33. 233
    bjc says:

    Onar there are many reasonable and intelligent observers (certainly not “baboons” as someone so gratuitiously remarked) who see the case of catastrophic AGW as “not proven”. Given the cost of the public policies to address catastrophic AGW it behooves all of us to make sure the “facts” are indeed “facts”. There are a lot of stakeholders in this debate – both pro and con and the need for healthy skepticism remains essential.

  34. 234
    Rod B says:

    John, are you sure all the speeders aren’t, like the lemmings heading for the cliff, going hellbent for leather to the world’s biggest pothole — in the LIE??

  35. 235
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re: #211

    “PS Death Valley – even if watered wouldn’t grow anything – too much salt.”

    You should see the photos my wife brought back from DV of the flowers blooming a couple of years back after a heavy rainfall.

    Better yet:

    Kidding aside, the salt issue is part of the problem Australians are facing (along with drought, relatively nutrient-poor soil and so forth). In Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” he puts forth the figure of 200 lbs of salt belowground for every square yard. As a result, too much rain or irrigation water will wash the salt into the water table, causing more problems for an increasingly water-starved continent.

    Why bring this up? One of the popular straw man arguments you hear coming from the denialist camp is that even if global warming changes things, we’ll just move our agricultural industries to different locations. But what this straw man ignores – purposely, of course – is that a “wetter, hotter” climate does not necessarily translate into better growing seasons (assuming there would be the necessary stability in seasonal weather patterns to match what we’ve seen through history). Australia provides ample evidence of why.

    #75, 103. Thank you for those posts. I think they are in many ways two of the more realistic assessments of what we’re facing, and I feel that until the world as a whole learns to understand the sentiments expressed within them and the loss they communicate that we’re never going address this thing in a timely or adequate fashion.

  36. 236
    nicolas L. says:

    Hello all, Iâ??d like to share with you an info published this morning in “Le Monde” (for those who donâ??t know about it, itâ??s the equivalent of the New York Times in France).

    Sorry for the rough translation:
    “According to an American study (M. Chris Field, director of the department of world ecology at Carnegie Institution, is credited for it) the growth rate of releases of CO2 from 2000 to 2004 (3,1%) has tripled compared to the nineties (1,1%), surpassing the worst case scenarios built by IPCC. This acceleration of releases is mostly due to Fast Growing economies like China and India”

    As anyone heard about this study and those quite frightening results here? Ok, Maybe this is not a good comment for this topic, but Iâ??d be glad if some people can confirm or infirm this.

    Thanks a lot

  37. 237
    Paul M says:

    Actually, humans are on the right track scientifically, we took a wrong turn when we took the atom theory and went with it. We went down the wrong road and for a long, long time. Its all about light. We should be navigating the universe right about now, instead, all we can do is quabble over this internet. One of these days we will work things out. Here’s a suggestion for the average non-scientific person, even though it sounds new age. Take what you see, which is actually reflected light, and match it up with your thoughts (what you believe that light is capable of) and be ready for a small paradigm change. Light has many properties we don’t even know about yet, and the human brain is amenable to these. if you like the atom, go with the atom. But remember, This may be a wrong road, light may actually be the answer to this all. Just my opinion.

  38. 238
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    For all the it’s-too-expensive argumenters out there. Check today’s online NYT article about Ray Anderson. He decreased GHG emissions (by weight) 60%, got water use down to 1/3 of what it was and reduced energy use by 45% if I remember right. Meanwhile, sales are up 49% and he saved money from day 1 of going toward a more sustainable route. It is feasible and it does make economic sense.

  39. 239
    James says:

    Re 211: [Las Vegas is green only because heat tolerant plants are grown with TONS of water from reservoirs of Colorado river water…]

    Actually there’s another reason: you can hire people to come around and dye your brown grass green. And the nice blue water features owe a lot to dye, too :-)

  40. 240
    Dave Blair says:

    #211 Robin Johnson, or #210 Philippe Chantreau,

    Thank you for your replies

    Please explain if global warming is creating more droughts and is bad for plants then why is food production still increasing – for example, rice production has increased 3 times since 1960?

  41. 241
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re: 237

    Your comment reminds me (not that I’m suggesting this is your intent; I’m just using your comments as a springboard here) of another popular straw man argument: that no matter what happens, we’ll find a way to cope, the example of the claim that the future will see better agricultural practices and advances in the science behind agriculture coming readily to mind.

    What these science prognosticators tend to ignore is that there are no such “guarantees”.

    If you doubt this even for a moment, I recommend you review the history of atomic energy, in particular the area of harnessing Fusion to power the world’s energy needs. The solution always seemed to be “around the corner.”

    Seventy or so years later, no results yet. Instead we’re discussing what to do with all this radioactive material left lying about from the fission reactors we’ve been using.

    Or, as they say in the financial industry, past results are NOT an indicator of future performance.

  42. 242
    Rod B says:

    Ray, et al: just my periodic monkey-in-the-wrench logic assessment: Peer review publishing is a good and reasonably fair process for getting (mostly) credible scientific works out there. But it isn’t ultimate, no where near perfect, and certainly not the iconic ritual figure you’re (all) making it. It does a pretty decent job overall, but is splattered with numerous shenanigans, possibly starting with Newton’s stifling of Leibniz’ work on calculus. When the “herd of independent minds” form a consensus that acts like a mob, it often gets very difficult for any contrarian to get anything published, let alone become some ‘overnight hero with popular support and riches’ (where did that come from??!!??) It’s a good process but ain’t the absolute end-all. The more your ritual tries to make it so just detracts (probably unfairly…) from your own credibility — except, of course, from other members of the religion.

    [Are college textbooks peer reviewed?]

  43. 243
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    #236 Alarming study, CO2 growth 3% yearly

    According to my newspaper, this study is to be published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” next Monday. I couldn’t find the study on the web yet.

  44. 244
    Leonard Evens says:

    Re 233 and “not proven”

    You make the usual mistake of climate skeptics. You think of making changes in emissions of greenhouse gases as perturbing a status quo. You ignore the fact that the physical status quo of the Earth’s atmosphere is being perturbed by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Physically, the status quo would be to stop emitting greenhosue gases entirely, study the situation and then see what is appropriate.

  45. 245
    Jim Eager says:

    You really have to wonder about non-scientist skeptics who come here to argue about the science of climate change with actual climate scientists.

    Talk about deer in the headlights. :)

  46. 246
    Robin Johnson says:

    Re #235: LOL I hadn’t seen that. Nature is amazing. In my defense, the article does note that, of course, the flats are all salt…

    Re #238: ROFL I had forgotten about lawn dyes.

    Take Care

  47. 247
    bjc says:

    With an atitude like that you want me to trust climate scientists like you? Talk about hubris. This thread originated with questions of ethics and science and seemed to be an open forum. Is there a particular assertion by a non-scientist with which you take issue?

  48. 248
    Rod B says:

    236: Was that a PEER REVIEWED STUDY???? If not it’ll never get past Ray, Hank, et al.

    btw, are Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences peer reviewed in the strict definition???

  49. 249
    Robert Madison says:

    “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. That seems to be the overwhelming “ethical” stance of the global warming doom and gloom crowd. However, there are many of us who fear the rise of eco-religious socialism far more than global warming. We’ve already seen many times the economic, human, and environmental harm done by totalitarian governments who decide what is right for the masses. We prefer free people and free markets and feel that an ounce of prevention at stopping the out-of-control global warming doom and gloom is worth a pound of cure later when we are locked in a totalitarian, world socialist government.

    Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they are unethical.

  50. 250