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Bridging the divides

Filed under: — gavin @ 2 August 2008

We often discuss the issues that arise in doing interdisciplinary work in climate science, and Liz Moyer and I have a commentary on that just out in Nature Reports Climate Change. Normally I don’t mention these kinds of pieces on the blog, but in this case the editors commissioned a nice cartoon (from Mark Roberts) illustrating our point. I liked the cartoon a lot, and so it deserves as wide an audience as possible.

A bit of context is probably useful. The three main protagonists are representative of the somewhat different foci of paleo-climatologists, climate modellers and economists. Very broadly speaking, paleo-climate science is built around the analysis of single location time series (often from holes that are drilled). Climate modellers spend a lot of time trying to see what is coming up in all its complexity, while economists tend to eschew complexity and look for insight in highly idealised situations. But in order to increase the credibility of models, they have to do well at simulating past climates and what might happen in the future is certainly informed by what has happened in the past. And in order to better understand the impacts of climate change and various proposed policies, economists will need to embrace the complexity of human-climate interactions while modellers need to better understand what aspects of climate really do make a difference. None of these things will happen if we continue to all look in different directions, and more problematically, fail to support and reward those scientists who want to bridge the divides. Sea monsters notwithstanding.

270 Responses to “Bridging the divides”

  1. 101
    CL says:

    Good man, Hank ! I’m a friend to anyone who cares about trees and forests. However, I can only speak of UK woodlands from direct experience. I know very little about the US forests where fires are part of the natural sequence.

    Yes, the point about stewardship is mostly of academic interest, especially re Earth systems. I suppose ‘stewardship’, even if it doesn’t work, is an advance on all-out ruthless destruction.

    In reality, people are almost incapable of leaving anything be. (Oliver Rackham somewhere said that ‘benign neglect’ is the best forest management system). But the eco fashion is to love trees, so volunteers are eager to ‘help’ (= weekend recreational gardening), so to be pragmatic, the best (least harmful) policy is to reinstate the ancient coppice systems that let the forests flourish since neolithic times. And explain that maybe three quarters of species depend upon dead rotting timber, so leave it there. Regular cutting of small areas to provide useful wood products is actually ecologically beneficial. In effect, it just mimics the natural sequence when large old trees die and fall to make a clearing. School kids love learning all that stuff.

    I could well be wrong, but as far as I know, the indigenous peoples of N. America didn’t develop any equivalent management technique. However, some Amazonian and C. American peoples do, or did, practice ‘forest gardening’ in addition to hunting and gathering.

    I have searched for examples where food production human systems actually enhance and enrich biodiversity, rather than destroying and replacing what was originally there. Such are not easy to find. The best i know of, was eastern side of the Baltic, where patchwork hay meadows and woodlands was very close to a wild natural system, but had many additional species which depended upon the human management, which provided the people with everything they needed. That system seems to have been sustainable since the glaciers retreated, and is only now terminally threatened.

    I once pondered the idea, that if I were a Christian (I’m not) who believed in the obligation of stewardship on behalf of the deity, how would I conduct my daily affairs ? I guess that the Amish (of whom I know little) got it about right. If everyone had settled for an Amish lifestyle, we’d possibly not got into this present mess.

    ( Whoops, I didn’t mean to inadvertently re-introduce a contentious subject. I’m really talking about sustainable eco-friendly lifestyles, not religion per se )

  2. 102
    tidal says:

    Lloyd Romeo says: “climate change needs to adapt to economics, not the other way around.”

    omfg… “Listen up you GHG’s! Stop absorbing infrared radiation! And stop accumulating in the atmosphere and oceans! This is economics talking! We were discovered way back at the dawn of the age of steam, so we therefore naturally rule! That goes for you too, thermodynamics! Adapt to economics or else!”

    By the way, the original post was about “bridging the divides” and building and sharing of cross-disciplinary expertise, fwiw…

  3. 103
    CL says:

    Someone ought to educate those guys at the Pentagon who are plotting their imperial ambitions. They seem to think that the main reasons that the Roman Empire collapsed were plague and Christianity. IMO, the reasons were primarily ecological. They fail to mention that North Africa was the Roman breadbasket, and they plundered the fertility until it was exhausted, which, along with climate change, was a major factor in their decline. I didn’t find one mention of climate change.

  4. 104
    Hank Roberts says:

    Relevant in many ways, recommended:

    A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests Since World War Two
    By Paul W. Hirt
    Published by U of Nebraska Press, 1996
    ISBN 080327288X, 9780803272880
    420 pages

  5. 105
    CL says:

    BTW, when I wrote that stewardship won’t work, re ecology, I didn’t intend to imply ‘do nothing’. If there is a rare or threatened species, I’m all in favour of doing everything possible to try and preserve it.
    (I also made an error, I think, in the age of Earth in earlier post. One nought too many. I get confused by the difference between US and UK billions )

  6. 106
    CL says:

    If any readers have not already concluded that I am just a cranky old tree hugger, then they are welcome to confirm their worst fears.

    ( an ancient website that never got completed, nor paid for, yet somehow survives in inaccessible limbo on a server somewhere )

  7. 107
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #101 [CL] “If everyone had settled for an Amish lifestyle, we’d possibly not got into this present mess.”

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. I can’t find general figures, but Amish married women in those communities i’ve found figures for average over 6 children each.

  8. 108
    Raven says:

    #99 – Gavin

    As far as I can tell we only have deep ocean o2 data which may tell us something about temperature changes but nothing about the absolute magnitude. To me this implies that any hypotheses which make assumptions about the surface temperatures in the past cannot be supported by data because there is none. I just want to know whether this is a reasonable position to take.

    [Response: Not really. If you know how warm it is now and someone estimates the temperature change, then you can estimate the absolute temperature then. But there is lots of data, not none – some is based on deep ocean isotopes, some on surface ocean plankton, some on terrestrial vegetation etc. It can be tricky to get a coherent picture, but there is no doubt that the Eocene was considerably warmer than today, for instance. – gavin]

  9. 109
    CL says:

    Yes, Nick Gotts, indeed, I tried to cover myself by being vague, because all i really know is that they rejected the path of cars and telephones. I ought to google and educate myself before getting into embarrassing pronouncements. Who knows what other, different, problems might have arisen if everyone followed the Amish example ? what’s their position on coal ?

    It does seem kind of unfair that we find ourselves alive on this planet and yet nobody tells us how to live in ways that don’t lead to destruction of the only place where we can actually live. Some will argue that we were told, in some revelatory sense, but there are so very many interpretations that we end up with a big muddle.

    The origins of the Industrial Revolution, at Ironbridge in Shropshire, began with the Quaker, Abraham Darby, using coal instead of charcoal to smelt iron. No doubt, it seemed like an excellent idea at the time. I’m theoretically in favour of going back to a pre-industrial economy, but when I consider life without anaesthetics, and and the grief of young women losing babies, and no internet, I’m a bit stuck for adequate responses…but if we screw up on our policies re AGW, over the next few years, I guess we go back to a pre-industrial state whether we like it or not…
    and I’m speaking as one of the privileged elite. I imagine the way it would roll out would be that the present day hellish places, plenty of examples, just grow and become more widespread, whilst some oases might hold up present standards for decades…I’m pessimistic.

  10. 110
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Amish lifestyle

    Yep. There’s an old anecdote (I think I read it in CoEvolution Quarterly when Kevin Kelly was editing) about the Amish farmer who, asked whether he wouldn’t do better with a bigger farm, says he’s only smart enough to farm 40 acres.

    Around that time, the subdivision by inheritance of those small family farms into ever-smaller chunks had pushed the later generation farmers into taking down their longstnading fences that had been there protecting the streams, letting their cows graze in the flood plains to free up flat land for plowing.

    That was causing a big pulse of pollution into Chesapeake Bay.

    I concluded a lot of us aren’t likely smart enough to farm much more OR less than 40 acres. Still think so.

  11. 111
    P_adic says:

    Re: 100 “The guy seems to need to be reminded that economics has been studied and examined much more and for much longer than climate change. Hence it makes more sense to me that climate change needs to adapt to economics, not the other way around.”

    Using the same logic, astrology has been “studied and examined” for longer than economics, so maybe economics should adapt to astrology. Not that I think these two “sciences” that mainly deal with irrational animals are that different, though economics uses some clever mathematics which give it some more credibility (a good marketing strategy).

  12. 112
    David W says:

    For ‘communicating climate’, I would suggest a short history of climate science. It’s an old science, and history is something all people can relate to…..even people from skeptia.
    If you were to sell climate science to the masses…thats the way I would go, with history.

  13. 113
    CL says:

    Good story, Hank. Thanks. Made me laugh.

    I have 25 acres. Not quite large enough to qualify as a farm. I let it do what it wants, pretty much, ( partly because I have no choice because I’m an old man with poor health, partly as a philosophical experiment ).

    I could *easily* feed myself and more, even on a Welsh mountain, with very little effort. I have rheas, geese, guinea fowl, bantams, wild ducks, wild pigeons, wild rabbits, all of which mostly take care of themselves. I lose some to falcons and foxes, but they mostly breed faster than they get taken, once I’d got a dog to keep the foxes away. For someone interested in the origins of farming, and the transition from mesolithic to neolithic systems, I’ve learned lots of fascinating stuff.

    I’ve just been reading up on the Amish. Strikes me that the problem isn’t that we can’t provide for our basic needs in sustainable ways. Nature is abundant. The problem is that most of us don’t want to. We crave more. And more.

    I think it’s illustrated in a very ancient story from the Epic of Gilgamesh, going right back to the very first cities. There’s a guy called Enkidu, who lives as a pastoralist and gets seduced from wild nature toward the corruption and temptations of ‘sophisticated’ life of the city. Very much the dilemma the Amish have.

  14. 114
    David B. Benson says:

    David W (112) — It’s been written: “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:

    Review of above:

    [Captcha thinks: in Princeton]

  15. 115
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Lloyd Romeo, Thank you for that–it’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day–especially:

    “Really economics is the study of the entirety of human interactions.”
    –Wow, doesn’t your wife get offended when you try to pay her money?

    “they should spell idealized correctly”
    British variant of idealize–Merriam Webster

    “The guy seems to need to be reminded that economics has been studied and examined much more and for much longer than climate change. Hence it makes more sense to me that climate change needs to adapt to economics, not the other way around.”
    –Priceless, but what about those of us in the reality-based community?

  16. 116

    #96 CL

    All very good considerations.

    Thank you for the reference, I was unaware of Dr. Leakey’s son (Richard) and his work. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing one of his fathers last lectures prior to his passing in 1972. I was only 9 years old at the time. My mother was kind enough to take me where my mind wandered and bring me to his lecture to satiate my curiosity.

    I agree to a degree that it is difficult to predict with precision certain things, but biodiversity over time seems to be quite resilient. I think we agree that the specifics of the reconstitution is less predictable that the general reconstitution of the bio-systems, eco-systems. That degree must also have context though.

    With regard to sub-system human, we are dealing with shorter time scales though. I hope I have the perspective of your considerations correct?

    Getting away from biodiversity and going back to climate: Climate predictions are a good example of decent predictions. Scientists in the 1800’s had already predicted warming with increased Co2.

    Example: Many things predicted on climate have become manifest. Just because it was not widely accepted due to awareness factors and the influences behind those factors, does not preclude the capability of prediction entirely. Yet, there are certainly many examples of predictions being incorrect as well. But those things also should be placed in context.

    Example: The 70’s predictions about global cooling. That was incorrect. But incorrect by whom? Scientists had recently confirmed the Milankovitch cycles with the deep ocean sediment cores, so there was precedence for understanding the potential of the climate system to return to an ice age. Some scientists made a report to the NAS about it and said sure, the climate system looks like it has gone into ice ages in the past and therefore it is likely it will go into another in the future, and it looks like the system is due another ice age (geologically soon). But they also said we have to look at this more because there are some other things that need to be understood.

    So the media went into a frenzy and of course took it out of context. Lot’s of articles were generated but none, or few, were in context or even relevant based on the remaining questions and the context of the research that sparked the frenzy.

    The biosphere II were an experiment that have helped us understand the diversity problem you mention. They just could not get enough diversity in the system maybe? maybe because it was to small a system? Or they did not have enough bugs or microbes? i don’t know, I did not study the summary reports though that might be interesting to look at. I hear it is still funded though and I think it is a good experiment.

    All in all I think we are in agreement that the complexity is such that we don’t know what we have done at this point, pertaining to altering the system in the future. But certain things we do know we have done.

    Contextually, we are going to get a lot of species extinction from this event.

    On stewardship, I don’t know where the best example might be. But i have to say I love the way the Swiss handle things. When I walk from our place in Allschwil across the border to France, I go though the forest and I admire the manner of stewardship. Or any other forest area in Switzerland for that matter.

    #101 CL

    I could argue to some extent that if we had not left the gold standard, we might not have messed it up this bad also, but I recognize I am still oversimplifying. There are probably more than a few good ideas we could have fostered had we been more prescient.

    Leaving the gold standard and betting on continued economic growth in a closed living system without checks and balances is kinda like popping the cork off all the champagne bottles (worldwide resources), having a big party for a 150 years (using up all the resources and not coping with the toxicity levels) and then the hangover (dealing with the various messes we made).

  17. 117
    Hank Roberts says:

    Biosphere II, as I recall the story being told in the last days while they were sealed up and miserable, figured out that they’d rushed closing the box, and to save time, instead of bringing in and laying down a proper soil sequence (mineral soil, thin layer of topsoil, layer of duff) they filled it with topsoil. Most of which promptly died. I recall reading that online on the Well long ago, though I don’t know if it’s anywhere citable.

  18. 118
    David W says:

    I dont doubt its been written. Climate science (like chemistry) is difficult to digest for most people (especially old school engineers). So if you were in a government department that wanted raise awareness about ‘climate change’, what would you put in the newspaper? Act now! or the children will suffer!, or a nice piece of history?
    The review is a good example.

  19. 119

    #117 Thanks Hank, I bet science learned a few things from that lesson.

  20. 120
    Jess says:

    Rod B–

    sorry for double-posting, by the way.

    Like I said, I was looking at economic freedom from the perspective of the worker. Corporations are rather different. And to your contention that no worker has ever agreed to dangerous, even fatal work, well, I say look at the US mining industry, which has one of the worst safety records of any developed country. (In fact, US labor history is more violent than that of England, Germany or any other OECD country in Europe and even some outside of it).

    But aside from the violence, many, many workers here have taken jobs they knew might kill them in short order because they needed the money and nothing else was on offer. My father worked in a relatively clean and safe factory and he was one of the few drill-press men to have all his fingers. If any of those guys could have had a job that paid as much and kept their fingers they would have.

    That’s why I say there is a serious problem with how economists tally up. We have a huge chunk of the population that is essentially involuntarily working. An
    interesting question is how to change that.

    That’s a longer-term project, however. In the shorter term we have to rethink much of our relation to capital and then also realize that growth is not infinite. Like I said, many technologies only shift the problem, not solve it, and if advertising had no effect nobody would use it. We drive inefficient cars in the US because we were told it was essential to being a man, (I joke that the smaller a man’s unit the bigger SUV he drives). If efficiency were touted as a virtue the way accelerating power was, the kind of cars we drive would be very different.

    Remember Lester Light Bulb? That went a long way to getting people to conserve, and it was too bad that the whole ad campaign was stopped in 1980.

  21. 121

    #58 CL en addendum to rivet popping

    I did not really finish that thought… My perspective is that we are popping rivets and societally (largely) unaware that we are going to start losing chunks of wing.

    Soon awareness will kick in on a relevant scale and we will start working feverishly on how to put some rivets back in before we loose too much wing.

    In this (BAU) case, the risk of a catastrophic fatal crash for the human sub-system may, or may not be imminent as we examine the factors involved. But as time passes such imminence of ever increasing catastrophic impact increases exponentially based on lack of societal awareness and the inertia of the affect we have imposed on the system.

    The question remains, how long it will take to achieve critical mass on awareness and will it be in time to avoid a crash and burn scenario (BAU)?

    If economists really do remain largely ignorant or naive to the realities of the total global economy (beyond the monetary economy) they may prove to be one of the last nails, in a string of nails, in the coffin for the human sub-system. I remain hopeful they will soon become sufficiently aware.

  22. 122
    Hank Roberts says:

    Raven, or someone posting under the same name (I can’t be sure who’s who, of course) has explained that it’s necessary to dispute the science for political purposes.

  23. 123
    Craig Allen says:

    Lloyd Romeo:

    Given that you argue that the climate should adapt to the superior nature of economics; could you send some economists down here to Australia to save our Murray-Darling river system. Clearly the climate scientists and ecologists are not up to the task.

    Our Minister for Water and Climate Change has just declared that it is irreversibly dieing from the ass up and that we should all give up on it. But I’m sure that some clever economists should be able to break the drought, or at least prove that it isn’t real thereby releasing a flood of life saving water.

    * Last rites for stricken Murray River lakes.
    * No upstream water to save Murray’s lakes
    * Govt says the Murray’s Lower Lakes can’t be saved

  24. 124
    pete best says:

    I seee that the Guardian have jumped at a release from a certain Professor Bob Watson.

    Sounds likes it a scare story. Here is his profile, worked at NASA and at the White House where he aligned policy to the science! Yikes.

    Now 4C is not out of the question as the revised charney limit of 3 to 6C fro a 550 ppmv of C02 but I thought that 4C would mean WAIS And Greenland disappearing and hence a 15 meter sea level rise coupled to EAIS suffering somewhat to.

    Are climate scientists/scientists who stick there neck out on these things being sincere or just trying to get a name for themselves?

  25. 125
    pete best says:

    Summer Arctic Sea Ice seems now to be disintegrating before our very eyes evne though we had a very cold winter. Could someone explain to me what the climate models tell us of this summer sea ice melt and its recent dramatic demise do the models capture this hapenning at some point in the future (I did hear that the models were 50 years late).

    when I speak or debate with people who are not in climate change they always mention that they models used are usless and poor and do no model reality. Is there a definitive answer to computer climate models are what they really mean for modelling the recent past and the future with any degree of accuracy?

  26. 126
    Ricki says:

    What I would like to see is a web site that lists the latest predictions for climate change by 2020, 2030, 2050, etc. This could be updated when ever new research was published or new data available.

    It would have to cover global temperature (eg, 15.5 deg C) average sea level rise (+0.25m). It would have to go by the projected fossil intensive scenario, taking account of the latest emissions rates, economic growth outlook, population increase, and level of agreement between nations.

    This could act as a sort of barometer of the world’s future. For example, if the USA and China came to an agreement with the EU to materially cut emissions, the projections would come down.

    Has this has already been done by someone?

  27. 127

    Jess writes:

    This is one reason corporations hate minimum wages

    Economists do, too, since in real life minimum wages hurt far more poor people than they help.

    This is an example of an issue where the general public and scientists have almost opposite views. 90% of Americans in general favor the minimum wage. 90% of economists think it’s a bad idea. And unless the generalized American studies economics, it’s next to impossible to explain why it’s a bad idea. The person favoring the minimum wage just believes, because of the name of the policy, that it’s a real minimum, and that if you favor cutting or abolishing it, you must be in favor of poor people having even more income taken away from them. They are heavily predisposed not to listen to arguments against the policy, because they are heavily predisposed not to trust anyone who argues against the policy. The fact that they might be objectively wrong never enters their heads.

  28. 128
    counters says:

    Pete, you asked “Is there a definitive answer to computer climate models are what they really mean for modelling the recent past and the future with any degree of accuracy?”

    For what it’s worth, I’ve found that the majority of the time, it’s a waste of time arguing with people who are going to insist that the models aren’t accurate. Often times, they’ll make the absurd argument that NWP models can’t predict the weather 7 days in advance, so obviously climate models or GCM’s can’t predict the climate 70 years from now. They’re simply ignorant that the models are fundamentally different.

    I’ve found that if you want to press the argument, you can assert the important, fundamental differences between weather and climate modeling. They simply attack different phenomena; a weather model is attempting to rectify atmospheric phenomena in high temporal and spatial resolution, and is trying to predict the formation and progress of short-term weather events. On the other hand, a climate model is keeping tabs on the heat within the entire system and how it is changing over time. It looks at the big picture, such as the interactions between the ocean, land, and atmosphere, and evolves the long-term trends.

    It’s also helpful to stress that models are statistical. They don’t state definitively how it’s going to be; they state the likely situation with an intrinsic error and uncertainty. This is an extremely important nuance that many outright denialists fail to grasp.

  29. 129
    Hank Roberts says:

    Pete Best asked if someone could tell him about what computer models say about the summer sea ice melt.

    Answer: yes.
    Quite a few examples:

    The search box thingy at the top of the page is also very helpful, if you’re interested in what people _here_ have answered.

  30. 130

    #100 Lloyd Romeo

    Your claim is naive and ignorant of the pragmatic reality and complexity of the scope of economy. It is also arrogant. Modern monetary economics is not as old as climate and climate has been studied longer than economics in that sense.

    Climate has been studied for millennia. All trade and survival depended on understanding climate. So to various degrees in various cultures it has been studied for a longer time. In fairness though one can look at economy in the same way and see how general economic transactions have been observed, though not critically until:

    Mercantilism only started around the 16-18th centuries, while classical economics kicked in around 1776, Laissez-faire in the 19th century, Austrian in 1871 with the foundations from Carl Menger; then neoclassical 1871-1877 and the father of the credit crunch Keynesean (1921-1936)

    Hence it makes more sense to me that climate change needs to adapt to economics, not the other way around.

    On what reasonable basis? Can you at least frame your point, or make this case? I’d like to see that.

    Are you a fan of the Austrian School?

    “Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders, no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle.” Ludwig von Mises

    There is more to the global economy than money or even gold. Economy is the actual interaction between humans and systems, and systems and systems; not the suggested interaction.

    3 a: the arrangement or mode of operation of something : organization b: a system especially of interaction and exchange

    Your statement lacks contextual relevance and ignores reality.

  31. 131
    CL says:

    John Reisman, 116.

    Thanks for the thoughts, John. Yes, Richard Leakey seems as remarkable as his parents. One tough, resilient, clever man. I read that he lost both legs in a plane crash and six weeks later was back at work as if it was merely a minor inconvenience.

    Let me say, I’m no great expert on anything, just someone who has been interested and involved in wildlife conservation and ecology.
    Which means I’ve given a lot of thought to notions like ‘stewardship’. Leakey had the responsibility for wildlife conservation in Kenya, so he needed to understand how the dynamics work.

    Most of the regular readers here will know that common simple crude conceptions of how CO2 figures in the climate turn out to be naive, because if you look at the fine detail of the heat transfers, you’re into complexities, molecular behaviour and quantum physics, thermodynamics, etc.

    Seems to me, the picture is not so different when we look at the world’s biological systems. It seems like common sense that to preserve a natural resource, like a forest of wildlife refuge, then ‘stewardship’ is the way to go. We are the wise guardians, delegated by the Creator, to care for His Creation, so to speak.

    Trouble is, when you dig into the detail, the ecology gets as tricky as the quantum physics. There used to be the idea of ‘the balance of nature’, where a community of organisms reached harmony and stability, and responded to external perturbations. Turns out it is far more complicated and weirder than that.

    Just like weather and climate, ecosystems can be modelled on computers and the models compared with real examples. So, you set up a pristine environment and then introduce species one at a time , soil, plants, herbivores, predators, etc, and run the model and see what happens.
    You’d expect that, after a bit of adjustment, some peak or climax state of stability would be reached. And that would be what aforementioned stewards would attempt to protect and maintain.

    Trouble is, it doesn’t work out that way. It’s way more complex and strange. You’d think that the individual species were the vital components of the system. Seems not so. There are internal factors at work, not just external perturbations, and the stability of the total system, e.g. resistance to invasive newcomers, has something to do with the inter-relationships of the established species. The order we observe seems to emerge from the internal dynamics of the system itself, and is not imposed by external circumstances.

    Leakey and Lewin quote Jim Drake (Purdue Uni.) “The persistent communities I make in my computer model clearly work very well. I’ll therefore take one of these communities and try to rebuild it from scratch, using only the dozen or so species that make up the community.”

    Okay ? That’s just the sort of thing that common sense stewardship would say we ought to do, if, say, we wanted to restore a dustbowl to it’s original undamaged state. It’s almost like some of the crude medical experiments of a century or two ago. ‘This guy’s lost a leg, let’s sew on a replacement from this cadaver’. Seems superficially reasonable, but doesn’t work in practice, because of lack of knowledge.

    What Drake found was that he could not do it. Once he took the community apart, he couldn’t put it back together again, no matter in what order he added the species.

    It seems that for an ecosystem to reach a persistent state, Z, it first has to pass through states A to Y. You can’t just get a list of the species which once inhabited the terrain, let them loose, and thus restore your ecosystem.

    Simple, it is not.

    So, how, if we want to play the steward, do we go about it ?

    There’s so much loose, fuzzy talk about ‘adapting’ to climate change. In practice, we scarcely have a clue as to how best to proceed with regard to preserving natural biological systems. Forests and wildlife will want to migrate, to follow the thermoclines and precipitation to which they have become adapted over the last few thousand years. But much conservation work is based upon a static model, preserving things just as they are, keeping out invasive species, etc. A forest can’t just jump to a better piece of the geography. Not to mention obstacles like agricultural land, cities, and species trapped on high ground where neither higher nor lower is an option.

  32. 132
    tamino says:

    Re: #127 (BPL)

    I’m one of those who is extremely *skeptical* of claims that minimum wage hurts the poor. I’m also highly suspicious of arguments from economists, who I suspect are biased in favor of supporting the wishes of corporations for ideological rather than scientific reasons.

    But I try to keep an open mind, so I’ll bite: why?

  33. 133
    Rod B says:

    Jess (120), you make it sound as if the capitalists have total freedom to offer up any job and that they pick the hazardous ones because they’re mean and simply want to exercise power over others. I maintain coal companies offer dangerous mining jobs mostly because that’s the nature of the business they are in. It probably never crossed their mind for a nanosecond that if they paid people to review books it would be safer for them so that’s what they should do. Society wants bunches of stuff. Different stuff. People can look for other jobs if they want, but if there isn’t 50 million book reviewers jobs out there, it’s not because of evil capitalists. It’s because society has no demand for anything approaching it.

    Making stuff can be pretty benign or carry some personal risk. Do you think a free private enterprise system ought to be reined in because it comes up (actually responding to demand for) with coal miners, iron miners, steel makers, farmers, policemen, firemen, pro football players, boxers, deep sea fisherman. heavy machine operators, oil drillers, etc., etc., etc? Hell, how about paper pushing office workers who take their lives in hand every time they drive the 20 miles to work?

    If you contend that none-the-less some corporations, entrepreneurs, capitalists take advantage of specific circumstances, like where the coal mining company happens to be the only employer of note for 50 miles, and doesn’t improve the safety of the job or acts like a monopoly employer (which he is) to squeeze and in essence maintain dominion over the populace ala Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons”, I fully agree. This situation should be mitigated as much as possible, and I think there has been tremendous progress over the past 75 years or so. (btw, because the unions and government made it so, not because the entrepreneurs got religion.)

    I do appreciate and agree with most of and the gist of your post. But still simply contend the inherent problems of free private enterprise and capitalism should and can be fixed by “tweaking”, not by tossing out the window. Which gets us back on topic. The non-evil, natural, and inherent nature of free private enterprise does not match up well with the large-scale long-term things required to mitigate global warming. (Similar but worse than constructing highways, e.g.) To the extent one wants such mitigation they should tweak (maybe sometimes a really big “tweak”) the current system with government regulations, incentives, etc. Those that, for whatever reason (they really think it’s appropriate and/or just have an anti-capitalist hair up their butt), think mitigation would be achieved the quickest by starting over will find just the opposite, and destroy the economy in the process.

  34. 134
    Rod B says:

    Hank (122), That’s not what Raven said in your linked reference. He simply said the science and political/policy debates ought to be separate. He’s probably wrong about this (too?), but I’m just keeping the wheels on the road.

  35. 135

    And then there are folks who just need basic education in climate science, nevermind the socio-cultural ramifications. Here is a link my nephew in India just sent me, and my reply to him:

    Hi Vijay,

    Just skimmed it. They are correct, if they are saying that we are now at a warm plateau period of a natural cycle. The question is, will we be cooling back down into another ice age over the next many thousands of years, or will we trigger the temps to even go higher into a rare hysteresis type of warming that could last 100,000 years or more and kill off 75% or more of life on earth, including most (if not all) of us humans. That has happened several times in the past, and it looks like by our high and increasing GHG emissions we are triggering such an event now.

    The denialists need to get a complete education in climate science — a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.


  36. 136

    #131 CL

    I’m no expert either, but I feel that I am in good company :) One of the beautiful aspects of general systems I suppose is that expertise is impossible.

    Points all well taken.

    Two thoughts from my perspective:

    1. System resiliency on a time scale is reduced by continued interference with the natural systems, hence,

    2. Likely best primary course of action stewardship is to reduce the mechanisms that are disturbing the system as rapidly as possible before the timer runs out on critical sub-systems that will extend the resiliency beyond the capacity of such critical sub-systems to recover in reasonable time to maintain survivability of systems we would like to protect, such as the human-sub-system.

    The economy argument is likely the last line of defense between action and relevant policy making. People are still woefully behind in understanding this global warming event due to the noise level of the disinformation campaign. I am somewhat resigned to believe that we are going to have to play whack-a-mole for awhile longer.

    Lastly, simple it is not, especially as one travels upward and downward macro to micro and vice versa, but I am of the opinion that solutions are simple, we just have to increase the awareness level to the point that it is assimilated and behavior will begin to change by virtue of that awareness on a societal level (world brain). In other cases, behavior will change by necessity.

  37. 137

    #133 tamino

    The basic premise is that in a free market system everything works its way out through market forces. The problem is that it is idealistic to assume greed will not foment robber barons.

    In order for a free market to exist it requires objective value and honesty. This is where the Austrian school comes into conflict with human reality. While Menger and Mises were correct in identifying many critical aspects of the human system that does not remove the problem of greed v. the virtue of earning ones way. This I think was best illustrated in Atlas Shrugged by Rand. I assert that most read this incorrectly and place greed as the motivator rather than the pleasure of honest productivity as the higher virtue.

    So the missing components are honesty, integrity, objective value. This is the only area where the Austrian school, or objectivism, seems to be weak in premise (I believe that larger scope of the premise is sound but with to narrow a scope of consideration). It idealistically assumes that once objective value is achieved, and government gets its fingers out of the cookie jar, that everything works out.

    My assumption is that, this, without some semblance of reasonable regulation i.e.

    The system tends toward tribalism of various sorts and degrees of laziness due to power capacity achieved, i.e. the robber barons. Of course objectivists and the Austrian School counter this by dismissal of the premise (from what I have seen).

    Example: It has been contended that the minimum wage should be removed. That would mean that workers would be paid for the value of their contribution and those that pay them would recognize that value and willingly pay appropriately. It makes good general sense prima facia but history has shown us that things don’t really work that way.

    Mostly, the value of employee contribution is not valued well. And business barons will always seek the cheapest labor and some will rise to have more responsibility and favor, and increased wages. If people were valued appropriately for their contributions that would work out quite well of course.

    But say for example you invent a really cool widget for your baron and it saves the company 3 million dollars! How much of that money do you get for your invention? As has been proven over and over, most new inventions are stolen by the baron or claimed as his right by virtue of a piece of paper you signed because you needed the job, that says work-for-hire.

    This is why innovation is dying in our country and why all the John Galt’s (character) are hiding their talent. While the James Taggart’s (character) are working with the looters and moochers to legislate themselves better deals through corruptible governance.

    Point being, Rand did a fantastic job, most people misunderstand (imo) what she was saying and the story itself presents fantastic ideals that we should all aspire too but I doubt society will embrace. Simply because we always seem to run into value problems.

    Laziness and greed foster things like Buckley v. Valeo and government corruption in hand with corporatism fosters oligarchical and plutocratic tendencies.

  38. 138
    Bernie says:

    Raising the minimum wage is a bad thing for those receiving it because (a) it raises the general price level thereby wiping out a portion of the gains; (b) it pushes employers to reduce costs and most likely actual jobs or hours to maintain their margins; (c) it also raises the general price level because wage differentials between minimum wage workers and others need to be maintained further reducing temporary gains of those receiving the minimum wage increase.
    Under certain circumstances (e.g., where there is significant slack production, a high labor component in the final product and minimal imports ) increasing minimum wage can increase effective demand and help reduce unemployment.
    Those pushing increasing minimum wages are likely never to have run a small business employing individuals whose discretionary effort has little impact on the revenue of the business, e.g., a retail store. There owners see the impact quickly and their response is to reduce hours.

  39. 139
    CL says:

    Re No. 136

    Nice of you to say that, John :-) In line with the topic of this thread, I think one of the problems is that it in modern education it takes so long, and with so much hard work, to get high level expertise. People have to special-ise, knowing more and more about less and less. That’s inevitable, but I think it’s also important that some people step back and see the whole picture of the jigsaw as it seems to be emerging. Like the contrast between a spotlight and a floodlight. That’s when things start to look really alarming to me, because the news from so many diverse fields all seems to be that things are moving in the wrong direction. Calls for more offshore drilling, that food production must be doubled, more houses built, more industry for jobs, etc, etc, all mean taking more away from the dwindling remnants of wild nature. I dread to think what the consequences of Himalayan and other glaciers vanishing will be, for the river systems they feed.

    I’m not good at maths, and although I have done a course on basic statistics, I can’t judge whether someone has bent the numbers, so I rely upon the integrity of the guys here to say what’s what. I took comfort from Richard Feynman’s superb lecture videos, where he appeared so inept at elementary arithmetic, making remarks like ‘It takes my students three years to crunch through all the maths to get this result, but that doesn’t matter, all you need to do is understand this simple idea..” and he makes it comprehensible in two minutes. Climate science needs some guys like that, so that the rest of us can catch on and grasp what’s really happening, in language we can easily understand…

  40. 140
    Mark says:

    Rod B #133

    They do.

    The call it “outsourcing”.

    They call it FTA to get it and Grey Imports if you try.

  41. 141
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, a more recent quote from the same thread:

    “… Any attempt to impose large amounts of short term pain will inevitably face strong opposition because people will stop believing in AGW as soon as it is no longer in their interest to do so….”

    Shortest-term definition of “interest” ever.

  42. 142
    Timothy Chase says:

    tamino wrote in 132:

    Re: #127 (BPL)

    I’m one of those who is extremely *skeptical* of claims that minimum wage hurts the poor. I’m also highly suspicious of arguments from economists, who I suspect are biased in favor of supporting the wishes of corporations for ideological rather than scientific reasons.

    Well, a large part of it comes down to the marginal productivity theory of prices and wages — with diminishing returns for each input. (Mathematically, assuming continuous inputs, the productivity should be proportional to the product of the factors where each factor is raised to a power where the sum of the powers is equal to one — but we won’t worry about that since you can give a quick treatment of the marginal problem strictly by means of verbal logic.)


    Looking at an individual business where they have to pay the prevailing wage for a certain type of labor (we will assume for the moment that all of the workers who provide that labor are equally good at what they do), if you have a set of tasks which have to be performed where some tasks are more important than others, you will arrange them in descending order of importance, and as you hire employees, you will assign them tasks in decreasing order of importance so that the most important tasks (those which raise your level of productivity and consequently your rate of profit the most) get done first. But at some point, the most important task which has yet to be assigned will require the hiring of an employee where you would have to pay him more than the return from his employment. Consequently, his employment would result in decreasing your profit — and at that point you will quit hiring employees to perform tasks. Now if you leglislate a higher wage, this will necessarily mean that for some businesses at least, that is, those who employ labor that is currently being payed minimum wage, where that labor is already of marginal or near marginal productivity, those businesses are likely to lay people off until they reach the point were they are making some additional profit from the last person in their employ — the marginal employee.

    But where does the prevailing wage for a certain type of labor come from in the free market? Normally there will be numerous industries and businesses in each industry that have use for that kind of labor. And if there is an industry which sees the demand for its product increase it will have need for more of that kind of labor. To obtain more it will raise the wage (price) that it is willing to pay for that kind of labor, drawing workers away from other industries and businesses. Other businesses will have no choice but to follow suit and raise the wage that they are willing to pay for that kind of labor — or continue to lose employees to businesses that are willing to pay more for that kind of labor so long as there are businesses that are will to pay more.


    But all of that is rather abstract.

    Not all labor is perfectly substitutable even when it is the same kind of labor. Some people bring more qualifications, skill, and experience to their jobs — and others less. Given the current level of minimum wages, some teenagers simply do not have the skills to do what is needed. Or perhaps they have yet to learn how to apply themselves, how to be punctual, etc.. Consequently unemployment among teenagers (particularly in the less well-off minority groups) tends to be much higher than that of the general population. Raising the minimum wage will rob those who are worse off but who might otherwise find work of the opportunity to acquire the skills and experience necessary to command a higher wage in the future. And it will most severely affect those who are just starting out, particularly if they belong to disadvantaged groups.


    Captcha fortune cookier: Minister Lazarus

  43. 143
    Rod B says:

    John P (137), I’ve been in a discourse on another thread where I contend throwing out capitalist tycoons is far from the best way to effect desirable economic things. Regulations, incentives, accounting rules do the trick. But you raise an interesting point. That is the bare bones fact that many managers of business really do not put much value on their employees, their strong assertions (ever know a company that hasn’t said that their employees are their most important asset?) to the contrary not withstanding. This is a very intractable problem to regulate and fix.

  44. 144

    #141 Hank Roberts

    Wow! That’s a great argument. Solves everything! We have reverted to 3 year old games of hiding under the pillow claiming the parent is not in the room. Reminds me of that great bumber sticker.

    “Maybe if we ignore the environment, it will just go away.”

    The problem is challenging and it will have a cost, so let’s not do it; even though it will bring human society many benefits, say like, being alive, productive, creative… Wow!

    I remain, technology & ingenuity got us into this and technology & ingenuity can get us out, but not if people start burying their heads in the sand.

    I’m gone to the high sierra for the next few days. I look forward to seeing where the discussion goes.

  45. 145
    tamino says:

    Those pushing increasing minimum wages are likely never to have run a small business employing individuals whose discretionary effort has little impact on the revenue of the business, e.g., a retail store.

    This is the kind of argument that makes me distrust economists.

    Life may indeed be hard for the business owner, but I have zero sympathy for their whining about it; it’s a helluva lot harder for the worker. Those opposing increasing minimum wage have likely never had to feed their kids with only a minimum-wage job.

  46. 146
    Timothy Chase says:

    Bernie wrote in 138:

    Those pushing increasing minimum wages are likely never to have run a small business employing individuals whose discretionary effort has little impact on the revenue of the business, e.g., a retail store.

    tamino responded in 145:

    Life may indeed be hard for the business owner, but I have zero sympathy for their whining about it; it’s a helluva lot harder for the worker. Those opposing increasing minimum wage have likely never had to feed their kids with only a minimum-wage job.

    Marcus said:

    I used to think that life was unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse, if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

    (from Babylon 5, “A Late Delivery From Avalon”)


    Unfortunately need doesn’t pay the bills — either for a household or for small business. Not terribly fair, but such is life, or so I would argue.

    Now I don’t know what it is like to run a small business, at least not any more than I know what it is like to be pregnant, or for that matter provide food for my kids — as I haven’t any kids. I have cats, though, as well as a wife. I also have a master’s degree. And I have worked minimum wage jobs with all the above — behind the counter top at McDonald’s, folding rags at a factory, and doing gods know what else — trying to keep from losing whatever roof we had over our head month after month.

    But none of that changes the laws of physics or economics. The needs of America’s poor won’t change the fact that businesses that businesses that operate at a deficit long enough will eventually go out of business any more than the needs of India’s poor will change the spectral emissivity of carbon dioxide.

    So rather than looking at things in terms of who happens to be most needy or who happens to be most deserving, it might be best if we try and figure out how the world works — and why it works that way. Personally, I think bringing together people who are interested in climatology and ecology and those who are interested in economy is bound to involve some tensions — but it could bring a few insights — if we can learn how to communicate with one-another and are able to see how the different disciplines justify their conclusions.


    captcha fortune cookie: THE fusion

  47. 147
    John Donohue says:

    This is a question for the economists. When the British assessment of total cost of AGW came out, and several other times when predictions of economic harm have been published, I tried to ask this question and never got a good answer:

    ‘Your summary is that AGW is going to cost the world X-Billions of dollars. [Noted: this does not account for human suffering]. This is a huge sum. Could you please provide the “plus/minus”? In other words, bad as the net result might be, it must have been REALLY bad when only negative costs were computed. Then, apparently, the benefits of AGW were computed, but I guess they totaled far less than the negatives, because the final figure is scary and huge. But….just out of curiosity….could you provide us with the actual plus/minus”?

    I never got an answer.

    When the economists working on the cost of AGW run their models, are they fairly and dispassionately factoring in the enormous benefits of a warming world, as well as listing and summing the negatives?

    {I would ask that totalizing negative scenarios such as runaway Venus effect be left out of the answer; i will stipulate that that is totally bad. Just for the current middle consensus of what will happen over this century.}

    Thank you
    John Donohue
    Pasadena, CA

  48. 148
    Rod B says:

    Hank (141) I’m not sure I get your point, but I never said or implied that imposing regulations, new cost accounting rules, and even incentives generates no pain. You are correct that too much short-term pain could generate to much pushback. It’s just a matter of striking the right balance and possibly doing part later.

    Timothy C (142) I tend to agree with you analysis. The difficulty is that most business managers, even in small enterprises, but especially in large corporations, do not have the capability, inclination, or even the responsibility even if they had the first two, to apply such finite econometrics. You show me a Division manager who can precisely rank every employee by their measured productivity worth to the enterprise and I’ll show you, as Deming would say, a guy making up numbers. Doubly, a hiring manager could in no way do this. So they make their best guess as to worth to production and then add all kinds of other stuff into the hiring equation. Hiring, firing, and managing is related to the econometrics you discuss, but it is very loose and decoupled. However, the smaller the enterprise, the less what I said is applicable. Oddly though you will never find a small enterprises doing the square of factors multiplied together divided by a marginal productivity. ;-)

    tamino (145), in general you make a decent point, but you will be hard-pressed to objectively show that workers, the preponderance of the time, have a tougher time than business owners. You are correct in your implication that there is no way a guy can support a family on the minimum wage; I don’t think that is its foundation or purpose. (At least I hope not. If it is, than our legislators are even dumber than I think — and that is really dumb!)

  49. 149

    Re: #54–

    It’s a bit like radiative balance isn’t it? (Though the current trends are inverse–as the temps rise, certain biological populations fall.)

    That is, those efficient extractive methodologies Hank mentions–factory fishing/whaling, mechanized (or “mechanised”, for the non-American contingent) et al.–are analagous to “reverse GHGs”–they lead to greater outputs from the relevant system, and therefore for a lower (population) equilibrium point. Of course, in too many cases already, the new equilibrium point has turned out to be zero.

  50. 150

    tamino writes:

    I’m one of those who is extremely *skeptical* of claims that minimum wage hurts the poor. I’m also highly suspicious of arguments from economists, who I suspect are biased in favor of supporting the wishes of corporations for ideological rather than scientific reasons.

    But I try to keep an open mind, so I’ll bite: why?

    Because if you raise the price of a good or service above its equilibrium level, you get a surplus which is not bought. In the case of the minimum wage, the service is labor. Raise the price above the equilibrium level, and you will have labor services going unbought — i.e., people out of work.

    If you chart the teenage unemployment level against the minimum wage, you can see how one goes up when the other does. I’ve run the regressions myself, and the connection is pretty clear. And Sergeant’s partial-F test for Granger causality seems to indicate that the causality runs from the wage to the unemployment.

    The real minimum wage is always zero — the wage you get if you’re unemployed.

    The objective of helping lower-income workers is a good one. But the minimum wage doesn’t actually help. It strikes me as a way for politicians to look like they’re helping the poor without actually having to spend any money. I’d favor a negative income tax or something of the sort to raise the incomes of the lower wage earners, or even a guaranteed job. The treatment of the poor in this country (and many others) is a sin and a scandal and something we ought to be actively doing something about. I just think the particular policy of the minimum wage doesn’t help.