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Nobel Laureates Speak Out

Filed under: — stefan @ 21 May 2011

On Wednesday, 17 Nobel laureates who gathered in Stockholm have published a remarkable memorandum, asking for “fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change”. The Stockholm Memorandum concludes that we have entered a new geological era: the Anthropocene, where humanity has become the main driver of global change. The document states:

Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. […]
We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.
We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial.

Mario Molina
Mario Molina (Nobel prize in chemistry 1995) signs the Stockholm Memorandum

The memorandum results from a 3-day symposium (attended also by the king of Sweden) on the intertwined problems of poverty, development, ecosystem deterioration and the climate crisis. In the memorandum, the Nobel laureates call for immediate emergency measures as well as long-term structural solutions, and they give specific recommendations in eight key priority areas. For example in climate policy, they recommend to:

Keep global warming below 2ºC, implying a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015 and recognise that even a warming of 2ºC carries a very high risk of serious impacts and the need for major adaptation efforts.

The memorandum was handed over to the members of the UN high-level panel on global sustainability, who traveled to Stockholm in order to discuss it with the Nobel laureates and experts at the symposium.

p.s. As a little reminder of the ongoing work of the merchants of doubt, a small band of five or six “climate sceptic” protesters were gathered outside the symposium, some of whom flown in from Berlin. Their pamphlet identified them as part of the longstanding anti-climate-science campaign of US billionaire Lyndon Larouche and claimed that climate change is “a hoax” and an “insane theory”, the global temperature measurements are “mere lies”, the Nobel laureates meeting “a conspiracy” and the Stockholm Memorandum a “Fascist Manifesto”. I approached one of the protesters who carried a banner “against Green fascism” and asked him whether he seriously believes what his pamphlet says, namely that our meeting is a “symposium for global genocide”. He nodded emphatically and replied: “Yes, of course!”

157 Responses to “Nobel Laureates Speak Out”

  1. 1
    Magnus W says:

    At this site you can listen to what a few of them have to say. The site is in Swedish but most of the interviews is in English.

    Just click on the gray area with a speaker and a name.

  2. 2
    EoR says:

    the Stockholm Memorandum a “Fascist Manifesto”

    What! I thought we were supporting the Great Global Warming Scam® to get a communist world government!

    I really wish the reptilian overlords running this Greatest Scientific Fraud in History ® would get their act together…

  3. 3
    John Mason says:

    That spells it out pretty plain and simple.

    Mankind is at a T-junction in the road ahead. In the one direction, rational judgment based on science. In the other, emotive kneejerk responses based on a political worldview. The one way leads to the future. The other is the road to hell.

    Cheers – John

  4. 4
    Adam R. says:

    It is difficult to see how this memorandum will change anything in the USA. Al Gore and Barack Obama won Nobels, so as far as the American right is concerned, a message from 17 other winners is just a note from the enemy camp.

    It’s enough to make you tear your hair. Things have reached a point here where the most ominous warnings of eminent scientists have literally no impact on Congress or, apparently, even the President, who is busily working to get new oil wells drilled as fast as possible.

    There is a lot of introspection and finger pointing going on lately over the failure of scientists to get the climate message across. For me, it is hard to see how science ever stood a chance in a public opinion war against well financed propagandists to whom truth, integrity and accountability are of no concern.

  5. 5
    JK says:

    The concept of the Anthropocene is interesting and valid. The rest strikes me as banal, poorly specified or wrong.

    To take one example:

    ‘Unequal distribution of the benefits of economic development are at the root of poverty. Despite efforts to address poverty, more than a third of the world’s population still live on less than $2 per day.’

    It seems to me that unequal distribution is only part of the problem. In fact, I would describe the ‘root’ of the problem as lack of sufficient production of wealth. True, more production will not solve poverty without the correct distribution. But I would argue that lack of sufficient wealth in the world is closer to the root.

    Of course others might disagree, and I won’t call you a fascist if you want to argue. But is it sensible to cast anyone who raises questions about this as a ‘merchant of doubt’? Is it sensible to put to people the following choice: accept that the problem of poverty is one of redistribution or else reject climate science?

    I have enough scientific background to understand that the physical basis of climate science is basically sound, but many of the skeptics I know have come to their position not through study of science but because they feel they have been presented with such a choice. Posts like this one make that seem fair enough.

    To take another example:

    ‘Current food production systems are often unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful, and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources, financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today.’

    This seems to me unclear, and probably wrong. Looking at the long term global trend people are better fed than ever. The argument that the factors mentioned are leading to a turning point seems very dubious. The worst concentration of hunger in recent decades has been in Congo, due to war which has little or nothing directly to do with the factors mentioned. Is there good evidence that dwindling phosphorous, or even oil, ‘is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today’?

    The UN world food programme states that ‘Iodine deficiency is the greatest single cause of mental retardation and brain damage, affecting 1.9 billion people worldwide.’ Iodised salt is a straight forward innovation that can drastically reduce malnutrition. Yet here the problem is that naturally available salt – is this what is meant by an ecosystem service or natural capital? – is not good enough. It requires anthropic impact to produce better salt. The barriers to doing so seem to me social and economic, nothing to do with climate or peak oil.

    Maybe I was just put off at the way that a document proclaiming equality and reason promoted itself using an endorsement from the King of Sweden. But then the last symposium in the series was held at St James’ Palace. Perhaps we could get a Realclimate review of Prince Charles’ book Harmony? I’m sure it would start an interesting discussion on helping solve malnutrition using Golden Rice (according to the UN WFP ‘iron deficiency is the most prevalent form of malnutrition worldwide’) or making biofuels using genetically engineered algae.

    ‘Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years.’ I do not agree. ‘Safe’ is not a scientifically defined term. It is cultural and moral. I have tried to explain above a couple of examples of why I think these questions are not yet ‘clear’. Everyone is entitled to their political and moral views. Unlike many climate skeptics I have no problem with scientists participating in public debate. We need more public intellectuals. But crude scientism, presenting political conclusions as proven by science is a big problem.

    So far as I can see it is also a the main source of popular climate skepticism – far bigger than LaRouche.

  6. 6
    wili says:

    The Pentagon now seems to be acknowledging and strategizing around GW.

    This should help to counter the lie that it is a “liberal hoax.” At what point does someone become prosecutable for spreading lies that put peoples lives in danger, not to mention entire ecosystems?

    I applaud this group of scholars, but such bodies really have to start calling for specific measures, however drastic they may seem to the unaware. Measures like an immediate moratorium on tar sands oil production and a rapid reduction in coal mining globally. As J. Hansen points out, if we burn all the coal and unconventional oil, we are toast. And if we mine it, we will burn it.

    We have to stop UN-sequestering massive quantities of safely sequestered carbon before considering any high-tech carbon sequestration programs.

  7. 7
    David Stern says:

    Lyndon LaRouche is a billionaire?

  8. 8
    JiminMpls says:

    This will undoubtedly become the new meme for the fossilist conspirators:

    “First they called it global warming, but when they found out the climate was actually cooling, they changed to climate change. Then when they realized that the climate wasn’t changing, they started calling it environmental change.”

  9. 9
    Susan Anderson says:

    “scientific illiterati” turned up in this week’s New Yorker article about meat production.

    Good phrase.

    We were tackled by the LaRouche people at a huge conference at MIT with all the new Obama people (was it 2009?). I could weep when I think back to the optimism that this huge movement embodied at the time. Obama doesn’t seem to be worried about Sasha and Malia, and he should be. (Heck, he’s young enough to be worried about himself the way things are going.)

  10. 10
    Snapple says:

    Is there a list of the participants and their affiliations? I always like to read what the individual experts say.

    The Vatican also promoted the term Anthropocene in their recent report. Nobel-winner Paul Crutzen coined that term, and he was one of the leaders of the recent Vatican workshop.

  11. 11
    Snapple says:

    Both the Pentagon and the CIA are studying climate change. This is not new.

  12. 12
    Snapple says:

    Some arrogant person who claimed that he works for the Pentagon called our Catholic high school and tried to boss us. He told us that he didn’t want our students to be taught about climate change in science. He said he worked for the Pentagon to make himself seem like an authority. I don’t know if this was a trick or just some ignorant busybody.

    The Pentagon says there is climate change, but the denialists are always trying to confuse and intimidate people by seeming to have official experts.

    Science is the search for truth, and our Catholic school is on-board with that. The Vatican also is teaching us about climate change.

    These denialists falsely appropriate the authority of scientific organizations, religion, the Pentagon, and the CIA to make it appear that these respected institutions do not accept climate change.

  13. 13
    Die Zauberflotist says:

    I am ashamed of the recent shunning of Al Gore by the activists in the global climate disruption community. He fits, as much or more, the passion and achievement of the 17 NLs who were in Stockholm. Need I mention that he has also won the most coveted American prize, the Oscar. We distance ourselves from this man at our peril. He has done more to motivate the skulls-full-of-mush youth of this country toward fighting for reductions of CO2 than 5 Mario Molinas (and toss in 3 Nadine Gordimers).

    If we continue to give Mr. Gore the cold shoulder, we risk a warmer planet.

  14. 14
    ccpo says:

    There comes a time when voices such as those of JK above become so out of touch with fact and reason and so obviously more propaganda than legitimate conversation that they simply cannot be give even the slightest sense of legitimacy. There are numerous examples.

    We don’t take seriously anyone who thinks the Earth is flat, who thinks dinosaurs lived 5k years ago, anyone who thinks witches should be burned at the stake, anyone who believes straw can be spun into gold, etc.

    To continue to give voice to opinions that have no scientific backing whatsoever is a danger to us all. A few years ago, most of you thought that a hyperbolic statement. Persons such as myself, for whatever reason able to parse the information and make rather accurate guesses about the future, have continued to warn that the climate was shifting faster than most assumed and that action was critical – and that continuing to allow the false equivalence, and in many cases knowingly and intentionally false statements, of the denialist industry was severely impacting our ability to survive. It wasn’t hyperbole then, and isn’t now.

    I recognize many of the foot soldiers in climate denial are simply deluded, brainwashed, overcome by their ideology, etc., but we also know the people leading this are largely liars. However, even if we assume they are not, we still cannot continue to treat them as equals in a debate in which their arguments have no standing.

    I believe Annie Leonard was correct when she said in a talk at Bioneers that it is time to simply move on without these people. We need to walk past them like you would an End Times prophesier or obviously well-fed person begging you for a quarter because he’s starving. These aren’t legitimate conversations to be having and neither is any conversation denying the impact of GHGs or supporting the continued use of fossil fuels.

    We have no legitimate reason to allow such conversations to continue to dominate policy discussions and prevent legitimate action in the face of a legitimate emergency.

    I continue to believe it will require a full frontal assault on both climate changes and on denial to address these issues in anything like a timely manner. Peak by 2015? We will be darned lucky if that is soon enough, yet we are so far from such a peak as to be on Mars trying to blow out birthday candles at a birthday party on Earth.

    We have no choice but to call denial by it’s name, take legal action against it when and where appropriate (such as the lawsuits already filed) and to simply stop allowing the conversation to be hijacked. Denial has no legitimacy. We must stop giving it any. We know neither straw nor lead can’t be turned into gold.

  15. 15
    Susan Anderson says:

    snapple, this may not completely respond to your query but perhaps at the site you can find more:

  16. 16
    Susan Anderson says:

    snapple, this may not completely respond to your query but perhaps at the site you can find more:

    DotEarth played the controversy a bit, like usual but there was more balance in the comments than usual. Perhaps I should stomp off in dudgeon (and recollect my obvious need for humility) more often.

  17. 17
    ccpo says:

    To take another example:

    ‘Current food production systems are often unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful, and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources, financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today.’

    This seems to me unclear, and probably wrong.

    So the new denialist meme emerges: climate is changing but, 1. Gosh, do you really have to call us deniers? That is so hurtful!; 2. None of the changes you talk about are really climate changes and certainly aren’t dangerous and; 3. you certainly aren’t being very scientific!

    And then you end with the very unscientific “unclear” and “probably wrong” about comments that are exceptionally clear and completely accurate. Perfect propaganda. Congratulations, JK. But let us address your comments more directly.

    Current food production systems are often unsustainable

    Actually, they were understating the issue here. The vast majority of commercial food production, and virtually all industrial food production, is unsustainable. If you remove the fossil fuel-derived fertilizers and herbicides from those fields they would be producing little more than dirt in a very few years because the soil dead, burned out by years of mono-cropping and use of chemicals. The biota carbon in that soil is virtually non-existent. Since fossil fuels are unsustainable, such production is, QED.

    There is nothing unclear or even remotely wrong about this.

    inefficient and wasteful

    Food is moved very long distances. It requires ten calories of energy to produce one of food, in large part due to the energy required for transport. Our use and distribution of food in the USA, e.g., lead to 1/3 of all food going to waste.

    There is nothing unclear or even remotely wrong about this.

    and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources

    Both absolutely and unequivocally true. Being finite resources that are not restored on human time scales and that are being depleted at a very rapid rate, Fossil Fuels are, in fact, dwindling. Light crude oil production peaked some years ago and all oil production has been on a plateau for six years despite record high prices.

    Phosphorus, because it is not retained in our soils (which is excruciatingly easy to do), runs off into our water system and pollutes it. We are estimated to run out by the end of this century, at which time “modern” farming will cease to produce much more than dirt.

    There is nothing unclear or even remotely wrong about this.

    financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today

    I would quibble with the financial “speculation” as speculation is a zero sum game, but investment in food as a commodity rather than being treated as a staple and base need of society is indeed helping cause record high prices.

    A recent paper estimated a 3% loss in global production due to higher temperatures and, in case you hadn’t noticed, some nations have even limited exports of food due to (un)natural disasters.

    There is nothing unclear or even remotely wrong about this.

    ‘Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years.’ I do not agree. ‘Safe’ is not a scientifically defined term. It is cultural and moral.

    Ah! Well! You disagree! That settles it, then! Blindingly good science! Glad to see you’re not using cultural and moral phrases like, “I disagree” to make your points and are supporting your disagreement with reams of scientific data.

    There is no ambiguity. The changes already are massive. The increasing frequency of damaging weather events is unequivocal, e.g., as are the changes in the timing of the seasons, the warming of the oceans and air, the melting of ice globally. If you disagree, what are we to think of your powers of observation, familiarity with science and, frankly, your veracity? You offer no evidence, only “cultural” and “moral” opinions.

    You don’t raise a single legitimate point, and in fact use the old propaganda technique of providing examples that have nothing to do with the point you are critiquing. You highlight a comment about hunger then go off on a tangent about iodine and mental deficiencies as proof there is no impact on hunger. Brilliant! Unethical, though.

    To paraphrase an old phrase found in a church somewhere long ago, I dream of a day when I will hear a child say, “RC, must we put up with denial?”

  18. 18
    Snapple says:

    Thanks for the list. Several of those scientists were also at the Pontifical Academy workshop. Werner Arber, who was at the meeting in Sweden, is the head of the Pontifical Academy.

    The Pope just called the NASA space station and talked to Congreswoman Gabby Gifford’s husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly. The Pope asked a question and the astronauts talked about how people fight for energy, the delicate atmosphere, and solar power.

    It was on Fox News:

    “I know that Mark Kelly’s wife was a victim of an attack and I hope her health continues to improve,” [the Pope] said. “When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here and about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?”

    “Thank you the kind words, your holiness, and thank you for mentioning my wife Gabby,” Kelly replied. “It’s a very good question. We fly over most of the world and you don’t see borders. But at the same time, we realize that people fight with each other and there’s a lot of violence in this world and it is really an unfortunate thing.”

    “On Earth, often people fight for energy. In space, we use solar power and we have fuel cells on the space shuttle, but on the space station, it’s the science and technology that we put in to the space station to develop a solar power capability [that] gives us pretty much unlimited amount of energy. And if those technologies could be adapted more on Earth, we could possibly reduce some of that violence,” Kelly said.

    The Pope also asked the astronauts if they saw “signs of phenomena” that we need to be more attentive to protecting the Earth’s environment.

    “On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been is, but on the other hand, we can really, clearly see how fragile it is,” replied Ron Garan, a NASA astronaut serving as a flight engineer on the space station. [Amazing space photos by astronaut Ron Garan]

    “The atmosphere for instance,” he continued. “The atmosphere when viewed from space is paper thin, and to think that this paper thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and all that protects us is really a sobering thought.”

  19. 19
    Snapple says:

    I guess some people should have considered the Pope before they attacked great scientists like Dr. Michael Mann!

    The Pope’s discussion with the NASA astronauts is reported on Vatican Radio. The Pope asked questions, but he let the astronauts answer. He closed with these words:

    “Final greeting:
    Dear astronauts,
    I thank you warmly for this wonderful opportunity to meet and dialogue with you. You have helped me and many other people to reflect together on important issues that regard the future of humanity. I wish you the very best for your work and for the success of your great mission at the service of science, international collaboration, authentic progress, and for peace in the world. I will continue to follow you in my thoughts and prayers and I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing…”

    The Pope supports what the scientists and NASA are doing to learn about how to protect our planet, and students in Catholic school learn about climate change from these same scientists who are in our science books.

  20. 20

    I hate to be nasty, but it’s not only about time, but it’s too little (although not too late, I hope).

    A problem, I think, with modern society is that the intelligentsia fail to lead. We hear far more about and from Hollywood stars and starlets and singers (and woefully ill-equipped politicians) than we do from the greatest minds the human race has alive today. I refuse to believe that the bulk of those minds are not capable of untangling the rampant falsehoods that buttress denialism, or recognizing the gravity of the problem, and as such I have a problem with them living in silence at such a critical juncture in modern civilization.

    So kudos to those who have, and shame on those who haven’t. I’d like to see the Stockholm Memorandum become a living document, to which more and more names (great names) are added daily, making it the reality-versus-fantasy opposite document of the bizzaro-world’s Oregon Petition.

  21. 21
    Ron R. says:

    Here’s what Peter Raven, former president of AAAS said in the Forward of the AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:

    Where do we stand in our efforts to achieve a sustainable world? Clearly, the past half century has been a traumatic one, as the collective impact of human numbers, affluence (consumption per individual) and our choices of technology continue to exploit rapidly an increasing proportion of the world’s resources at an unsustainable rate…. during a remarkably short period of time, we have lost a quarter of the world’s topsoil and a fifth of its agricultural land, altered the composition of the atmosphere profoundly, and destroyed a major proportion of our forests and other natural habitats without replacing them. Worst of all, we have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss of species, up several hundred times beyond its historical levels, and are threatened with the loss of a majority of all species by the end of the 21st century.

    As George Schaller, the noted conservationist, has put it, “We cannot afford another century like this one” (i.e., the 20th century).

    The Stockholm statement also reminds me of the World Scientist’s Warning to Humanity.

    My fear is that like so many warnings before this will be a blip on the radar screen then drop off like all the others. And of course the merchants of doubt (Liars for Hire) will, as usual, do all they can to trivialize, pick this apart and debate, debate, debate the fine points. It’s all about delay.


    “Doubt is our product,” a cigarette executive once observed, “since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

  22. 22
    JK says:

    What I find most interesting about ccpo’s response to my comment is this:

    ‘Ah! Well! You disagree! That settles it, then! Blindingly good science! Glad to see you’re not using cultural and moral phrases like, “I disagree” to make your points and are supporting your disagreement with reams of scientific data.’

    Leaving aside my specific examples, my point was that these questions cannot be settled with by scientific data alone, however many reams it comes in.

    Can science, alone, objectively, with no input from moral, cultural or political values settle what is ‘dangerous’? We sometimes take risks in order to gain something valuable. That depends on how much we value the thing we are gaining and how much we fear the risk. I don’t think these evaluations should be make without moral phrases. (In fact I think there is a problem here with the pretense that definitions such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘rational’ in economics have pretended that they are value free.)

    I think that we should aim to keep greenhouse gases from going over double preindustrial levels. (If that makes me a ‘denialist’ I really don’t care. If you want to argue with someone who said ‘Gosh, do you really have to call us deniers? That is so hurtful!’ I’m afraid I’ll have to look elsewhere.)

    I believe that China, India and Africa need space to develop, and that means burning some coal. I believe that in the West rolling out renewables much more quickly is too expensive, that coercive behaviour modification by government is immoral and that cheap transport is worth preserving. We can decarbonise, but I think the trade offs of trying to get much below 560ppm are presently too high.

    I won’t say I have no factual disagreements with ccpo. For example, I don’t think that if the US ‘wasted’ less food then world hunger would automatically improve much if at all. I don’t think that localising food production will bring efficiency improvements.

    But will say I think our primary disagreements are moral. Is it possible to live a good life in poverty, without consumption? How much should we value cheap transport? Is it worth risking unlikely climate surprises (e.g. the collapse of the gulf stream) to gain other goods? What is the moral relationship between present and future generations?

    These questions can no more be answered by science alone than can questions such as whether the risk of nuclear power is worth the benefits. I believe nuclear is. Science informs that opinion – in terms of understanding risks of cancer, the risks of other forms of energy generation and what can be done with the energy generated. But to make a decision about nuclear energy involves how much we dread cancer, what we think of waste left to future generations, and what positive good we believe we can do with energy and many other things, such as the threat of a terrorist attack on a nuclear power station.

    You say these conversations have no legitimacy – because everything has been settled by science. That is your right. You want to take legal action against people who raise questions. That is a step too far. I will repeat, attitudes like that have done more to create climate skeptics than Lyndon Larouche ever did.

  23. 23
    Snapple says:

    Here is the NASA audio and video of the astronauts’ audience with the Pope.

  24. 24
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Snapple says:
    21 May 2011 at 10:35 AM


    Science is the search for truth, and our Catholic school is on-board with that

    So when is your Catholic school going to tell you that there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of God?

    Yes, science is the search for truth but if you add the condition “As long as it is compatible with the Bible and it keeps God in the picture”, then you are not searching for any truth.

    The reason I am saying this is not because I want to start another internet “there’s no God” – “Yes, there is” war, the reason is that it is very very relevant to the question why we aren’t and are not ever going to do anything about climate change and the whole of our sustainability crisis of which climate change is only one component. And it’s very relevant because on a fundamental level, facing the crisis, understanding its root causes and doing something about it involves a complete doing away with most of the cultural, religious baggage that we have inherited and fundamentally rethinking what it means to be a human and what our place in the universe is. Religion, its dogmatic insistence that the world is there for us because we were made in God’s image, and its corrupting influence on people’s rational thinking ability, is one of the greatest impediments to this ever happening.

    Evidence for how fundamental this issue is is the fact that really nobody ever dares to come out and state it openly – most people never think about it, the few that do are too scared to say it.

  25. 25
    Stephen Missal says:

    Re: ccpo (16);

    Bravo! I was going to try a point by point rebuttal of JK’s tomfoolery, but you did a much better job!

    JK’s writing reminds me of some art critiques I used to read in professional art journals…they sounded so impressive, complex…nuanced, like reading some doctoral thesis or a legal judgement rife with arcane language or sidebars aplenty….only to look at the actual art and realize it was c**p. Whoever is writing behind the initials ‘JK’ should take up art criticism. There they would be harmless, blinking through their tortoise shell glasses and raising an arched eyebrow while they sipped a martini. In this venue (climate) their sophistry does harm, real harm, to me and mine.

    There is plenty of data available to render all of JK’s: ‘oh piffle to your hysteria’ comments moot. As someone else said above, perhaps it is time to move beyond these folk and play hardball.

  26. 26
    Thomas says:

    Is the pope even concerned about the lack of proof of god? True believers tell me it is about faith. How could it be faith, if there was proof? I don’t think a lot of religious people have a problem with that (accepting faith without proof).

  27. 27
    Adam R. says:

    @JK: I think the trade offs of trying to get much below 560ppm are presently too high.

    By this you infer that you have a good idea of the results of allowing CO2 to exceed 560ppm, and you are content they will not be too serious to bear.

    Wonderfully prescient of you, I must say. I am relieved by your assurance that anoxic oceans or massive clathrate releases cannot happen at 560ppm, and are therefore nothing to worry about. Whew! I can go back to reading the Wall Street Journal with an easy mind.

  28. 28
    JK says:

    @Adam R.: I never said that disasters cannot happen at 560ppm. I said at present I think the trade offs of risks vs. benefits are such that 560ppm is a reasonable target.

    If there were new evidence that a catastrophe was not just likely, but much more probable at 560ppm I would revise my target. But basing decisions on what is possible rather than what is probable is not wise (cf the WSJ and others’ justification for war against Iraq on the grounds that no one can show Saddam certainly did not have WMD).

    I would also be happy with a lower target if there was a bigger than expected break through in, say, cheap solar.

  29. 29

    50 experts gathered and published a memorandum. 17 of these are Nobel Laureates.

    Reading the report would get the larger impression that the 50 were interested in improving the world in various ways. Emphasis was given to making the world socially equitable, creating better governance, and implementing this with a ‘contract between science and society’. Key problems revolved around the lack of sustainability of present world activities.

    The introductory words call on innovation as the path to solutions, but the endorsed ‘innovations’ show there is little competence in the group to make such judgments.

    However, there seemed to be some solid scientific representation.

    Perhaps ‘science’ needs to note its limitations when it comes to innovation. We then might see the broader objectives addressed more effectively.

  30. 30
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Thomas says:
    21 May 2011 at 3:18 PM
    Is the pope even concerned about the lack of proof of god? True believers tell me it is about faith. How could it be faith, if there was proof? I don’t think a lot of religious people have a problem with that (accepting faith without proof).

    Yes, that’s all correct, religious see faith as a virtue and rarely even think about whether there is proof for God or not. The current Pope is supposed to be a very sophisticated theologian so he should have asked himself this question very often and thought about it hard, but that doesn’t really matter for the general argument.

    What I was aiming at in the previous post is that the Pope and the Church may proclaim that we need to protect the planet as much and as loudly as they want. It does not matter at all, because:

    1. We should not be protecting the planet because the planet needs protection, we should be “protecting the planet” to save ourselves
    2. Any meaningful response to the situation involves a drastic scaling down of the the human enterprise (in terms of both population and per capita consumption) because we are in very serious ecological overshoot at this point (and climate change is only one component of it)
    3. The Church will absolutely never be in favor of that because it goes directly against the core doctrine of humans being made in the image of God and the rest of nature being subordinated to them.
    4. The Church talking about “protecting the planet” is a manifestation of that same self-destructive attitude. Take particular notice of the transitivity of the statement “humans protecting the planet”. In that view humans are separate and above nature, not a subordinate part of it that depends on the health of the planet’s ecosystems for their own survival.

    The Vatican is not helping even when it may seems so on the surface.

  31. 31
    JK says:

    As for a detailed response to the food stuff, I’m not sure if it’s worth pursuing point by point, but here goes on a few of the things raised:

    ‘Current food production systems are often unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful, and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources, financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today.’

    ccpo defended the proposition that ‘Current food production systems are often unsustainable’ on the grounds that ‘Since fossil fuels are unsustainable, such production is, QED.’

    Well I find the term ‘sustainable’ unclear, and it is not one I find particularly useful. By your definition any use of fossil fuels is unstainable. Has fossil fuel use always been unsustainable? Does that mean that we should never have started using oil or coal? Or did it become unsustainable at a particular point?

    I also find unclear is which of the factors is ‘already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today’?

    ccpo says phosphorous is ‘estimated to run out by the end of this century’. Does that mean that phosphorous scarcity ‘already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today’?

    As for the paper showing a ‘3% loss in global production’ does this refer to the Science paper showing losses since 1980 in wheat and corn but not rice or soy? Sorry to ask, but ccpo wasn’t … clear.

    What I find even less clear is that given we have the technology and land to grow food for all – even in the present climate which is a little warmer than in 1980 – why we hold the small increase in temperature since then responsible for ‘widespread hunger and malnutrition today’?

    Food per capita including wheat and corn has increased since 1980. That is due to the socio-economic development that has taken place. Could we say that the failure to mobilise the human and investment resources sufficiently since 1980 is responsible for ‘widespread hunger and malnutrition today’?

    I claim that if there had been no wars in Africa and economic growth had been faster with associated reduction in disease then ‘widespread hunger and malnutrition today’ would be lower than if climate had been fixed at its 1980 level but development otherwise remained relatively poor. In fact, with 30 years of peace and development I believe Africa could abolish hunger.

    I claim that climate change has not been the major barrier to development in Africa from 1980 to today, and therefore is not ‘widespread hunger and malnutrition today’.

    I am sorry if all this comes across as professional art criticism. I genuninely think that careful, logical methodological discussions are too often missing. I accept there may be senses in which we can say climate ’causes’ social problems but we need to be far more careful in throwing around this sort of attribution.

  32. 32
    CJ says:

    This thread and the seed for it succinctly summarize the dilemma of our age. The planet and mankind is at a crossroad with man crippled by his greatest achievement, his evolutionary toolkit. The tools that have allowed us to dominate our environment and survive outside of it will most likely ensure our ultimate failure. Our incredible mental abilities have developed to serve our emotions.

    We may appear rational and logical, but, that is only upon reflection. Our primary response to virtually everything is emotional. Reason is employed to defend and protect our feelings, we use it to explain what we know. Frequently the smarter a person is, the harder it is to persuade them to change their mind. When challenged or questioned their intellect is immediately engaged in their defense, as in a fight for survival. Inserting emotional attacks, such as ridicule or name calling, in an argument only stiffens their self defense.

    Much of the resistance that must be overcome is derived from people defending their life. Often it is impossible to separate lifestyle or beliefs from ones identity. The crisis at hand requires us to abandon the hopes and dreams of generations with ideas that are not yet fully formed and are due to apocalyptic fears that only occur on geological time scales.

    Perhaps this is the human dilemma re-imagined.

  33. 33
    Ben S says:

    Well I find the term ‘sustainable’ unclear

    “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged”

    Being disingenuous is a poor mode for advancing an argument. Also, it would be more persuasive if you included some sort of citations for your claims.

  34. 34
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re JK – Technically, I think some of your points are good. But some negative reaction to them is understandable because it seems a bit aloof and unnecessary. I would expect that the scientists involved in making recommendations of policy and statements of danger and safety are quite aware that they are not using or motivated by scientific knowledge alone. I would guess they might not specify the moral calculus because they assume they are going by values that most others share.

    With food – if what ccpo says is true about the EROEI of food being something like 0.1, well, that sounds inefficient, but, with the partial exception of livestock being fed crops grown on land also suitable for crops that could feed people (partial because meat and dairy and eggs are nutritionally and gustatorally different from grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts (PS coffee and chocolate would be beans, right? so they are good sources of protein? :)), it’s not necessarily terrible – because food is a completely different kind of energy whose value is different than the energy used in, for example, transport. However, if that is unsustainable, then we have to change it or it will change for us. But if our energy sources were different, or if we changed our diets (ie less animal products), we might not need to change the EROEI of our food (where EI is non-food and non-feed, thus taking plants fed to animals out of the EROEI equation).

    I have heard that we do have enough food to go around and hunger is generally caused by distributional problems (but that may have changed since I’ve heard it?). However, if it is because food prices are too high for some to afford it (as opposed to war), that does imply that either it is poverty or it is something in the supply of food or some combination.

    I remember hearing that Rush Limbaugh said (some time ago) that we could take all the starving people in Ethiopa and feed them here (in the U.S.). Well maybe we could have, but did we?

    On the other hand, the needs of the future are shaped in part by population, and high food prices now could actually make sustainability easier by reducing future population. But one would hope that occurs simply by choosing to have fewer children, which sadly doesn’t seem to be a choice that a number of people make or consider (reasons may vary from negative sum games (competition to have a larger portion of the next generation as benefactors for your retirement), to competition for social status, to male macho attitudes (‘look at how fertile I am! He-yaw!’), to religious stuff and tradition, to lack of education and poverty itself, and maybe other things).

    Of course no system can be perfect all the time and there will be waste. If biofuel technology develops in the ‘right’ way (where the defininition of ‘right’ is given by the context provided by the following statements, and not intended to be inherently a moral judgement), then even some of the waste that does occur can be treated not as waste but resource (failed/damaged/spoiled crops or necessity to switch from food/feed crops to non-food/feed crops due to weather, crops with some contamination rendering them unsuitable for food/feed but still suitable for other purposes if handled correctly, and then there’s things like banana peels, used coffee grounds, the crumbs that stick to muffin-tin liners (if paper, through those in too, along with napkins, tissues, toilet paper, sewage, sawdust, grass clipplings and other yard waste (but don’t take too much away from the yard because it’s also fertilizer – for that matter, some food residues will make compost – PS compost gives off heat so maybe composting could be done in winter in greenhouses with piping carrying heat inside – where practical, otherwise do something else)), etc.), peanut shells, and of course, the stuff you accidentally left out or burned or left in the refrigerator too long or dropped on the floor, etc.)

    But here, JK, is one place where you really go off the rails: I believe that China, India and Africa need space to develop, and that means burning some coal. I believe that in the West rolling out renewables much more quickly is too expensive, that coercive behaviour modification by government is immoral and that cheap transport is worth preserving. We can decarbonise, but I think the trade offs of trying to get much below 560ppm are presently too high.

    1. Why does development have to mean burning some coal? Okay, maybe they need to burn ‘some coal’ because of remaining issues with trasmission/storage and lack of nuclear, etc, but what if we had the proper climate-pollutant regulations in place and it turned out that coal’s competitive advantage was limited to a rather small and dwindling market size? (PS lack of grid in some places actually makes solar an attractive option right now).

    2. Too expensive? Consider the expense of not doing it? Yes, value-laden judgements, but that’s what makes it important!

    3. Immoral coercion? JEEZ! Where do you draw the line? Do I have the right to toss dog doodoo in my neighbors yard? What if somebody wants to wave a loaded gun around and shoot at random? Pollution’s effects can be a lot less immediate and it’s easier to cause it without being aware of what you’re doing, but it can still do harm and, in so doing, infringe on other’s rights. Plus, if you’re concerned about wealth, yes, there is very good logic that market economies should (at least when externalities are corrected with government actions/policies) tend to optimize total wealth, but there are weaknesses and sometimes some types of public policies and plans and actions may have greater benifit than cost. Of course you have a right to your opinions but I have a right to say they’re a bit nuts.

  35. 35
    Adam R. says:

    JK: But basing decisions on what is possible rather than what is probable is not wise.

    By that argument, the insurance industry collapses.

    Accepting a risk that would mean the end of civilization (a by no means negligible risk given what we know of the effect of sudden, large CO2 excursions on paleoclimate) is something that seems “wise” to you?

    You seem to be a garden variety delayer: “Let’s wait until we’re sure we’re screwed before we decide to do something.” The problem is, if we delay, we will be irretrievably screwed long before we are sure of it.

  36. 36
    Adam R. says:

    @CJ: Much of the resistance that must be overcome is derived from people defending their life. Often it is impossible to separate lifestyle or beliefs from ones identity. The crisis at hand requires us to abandon the hopes and dreams of generations with ideas that are not yet fully formed and are due to apocalyptic fears that only occur until now only occurred on geological time scales.


  37. 37
    Ron R. says:

    Snapple says at 11:55 AM

    Some nice quotes, thanks. Here are more. Well worth a read. Think of all the science it took for us to finally be able to utter these profound realizations.

    Maybe we should send deniers into space and see if that perhaps changes their money based tunnel vision at all. I highly doubt it though.

    I agree with others re: the Pope (although I’m agnostic not atheist). On the other hand we need any help we can get.

    No matter our individual hopes and dreams, loves and hates, successes and failures we should all, every one of us on this planet be environmentalists/conservationists. Anything thing else pathos.

  38. 38
    john parsons says:

    JK–you talk about risk reward–think for a moment about the risk–it is potentially the greatest risk ever taken by humanity by many orders of magnitude–now what is the reward that you are balancing that against? jp

  39. 39
    Eli Rabett says:

    The magic flute had it right. Those of us who understand climate change have abandoned Al Gore when we should have supported him.

    There is a group of people, ranging from Darryl Inhofe and his troll Marc Morano, to Roger Pielke Jr. who saw that Gore was effective and therefore vilified him. We have seen this tactic before with Nicholas Stern, and with Joe Romm, where any small mote was blown up into a huge controversy and we too easily folded in face of the onslaught.

    It is become increasingly clear that there is no hiding and the opponents of necessary action on climate change have to be met head on and we have to stop abandoning our allies.

  40. 40
    Thomas says:

    Georgi @29.

    I think we have the same opinion about religion -that it is an unneccesary and dangerour delusion. But it is a delusion I don’t expect to see abnadoned (except by a few) during my lifetime. I see this pope as a potential ally. And with several hundred million catholics, (plus many other non-catholic Christians who are interesting in his proclamations), he could be a critical and powerful ally. You rare ally (or make peace with) someone with whom you are in 100 percent agreement with, but with someone with whom you share an important goal with. So we should embrace and support him in this effort.

    And yes agree, about your other points. Those are going to be a really hard sell. I don’t think many humans are ready to give up the idea of expnentially improving quality (and quantity) of life just yet.

  41. 41
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re my last comment re JK:

    I want to elaborate on:

    Plus, if you’re concerned about wealth, yes, there is very good logic that market economies should (at least when externalities are corrected with government actions/policies) tend to optimize total wealth, but there are weaknesses and sometimes some types of public policies and plans and actions may have greater benifit than cost.

    First, a market works by price signals communicating information about value and cost. (A market (like anything else) is a (the most accurate possible) computer model of itself. It is an equation solver. It is a learning algorithm.) Costs are incurred to get benifits. The value of a good or service is communicated in demand for it (note that, setting aside inequalities** in initial conditions and luck along the way, a person may work harder to get more income (or get into a position of negotiating power) if s/he wants (values) something s/he wants to buy more (setting aside limited or quantized options for working harder or increasing income or obtaining power**). The good or service goes to where it is most demanded and thus of greatest value, because of the profit motive of the supplier. Demand shifts among similar goods/services toward the cheapest supplier, so that the least costs are incurred in producing that good/service (note that a worker/manager may accept less monetary income/profit if s/he simply enjoys his/her job, and thus would be getting benifit out of the work in addition to whatever comes through money). Note that people who want to earn income demand jobs which are supplied by employers (the same person in the case of self-employment), and laborers supply labor to an employer. Demand and supply all-the-way around. Now the learning part: if demand and consumed quantity shifts from goods/services from one chain of supply to another, such as due to a change in the price signal, perhaps from a pollution tax, or any other change (natural, legal, cultural, technological, whatever), then 1. the price asked by the first chain of supply could go down as suppliers try to cut losses (setting aside mass market advantage), while the price of the second could up as greater demand allows a greater profit margin. 2. the effect of 1. tends to counteract the change in quantities consumed. 3. the greater profit in the second chain and reduced profit in the first drives greater investment (education and job-training, technology R&D, others) in the second and reduced investment in the first. 4. the effect of 3 increases the supply of the second chain and reduces the supply of the first, doing the opposite of 1 and 2. Note that 3 and 4 can happen just in anticipation of 1 and 2 and/or whatever the root cause is (investment in clean energy would go up now if it was thought that a cap-and-trade bill would be passed next year, or if a law passed now would only start taxing CO2eq emissions 2 years from now). Thus, more of what more people want more, and/or more of what is less-taxed or more-subsidized, and/or more of what can be made more of for the same or less cost, is produced. More net wealth (ideally it is optimized, within the limits of the market’s ‘computing’ errors). Consumers and producers profit by giving/losing less for more.

    At least ideally.

    A cost for an economic action which is not paid for by the actor or, via the chains of supply and demand, the benificiaries of that action (perhaps tending to be in proportion to benifit) (PS it’s not generally a bad thing when additional costs in production are at least in part passed along to the consumer – that’s generally how it’s supposed to work), is realized by the public (now or at a later timer). Such externalities tend to reduce market efficiency and thus tend to reduce total wealth; they are also generally unfair (not that the market is fair – it certainly IS NOT fair, but there is a level of fairness to it which is degraded by externalities and would be lost going to a communist system, which is ironic since fairness is supposed to be part of the appeal of a communist system – for more irony, a case from Communist China comes to mind…).

    Externalities may often be thought of as tragedies of the commons (although some externalities can be positive – still would be a potential cause of market innefficiency, though). There are a few ways to solve externalities:

    1. Privatize. In some cases this could make perfect sense, but in some other cases this can be innefficient or costly itself (see below) or too impractical (depending on available technology).

    2. A lawsuit. For particular non-systematic events this may make sense. For systematic events this might still make sense on a class-action level. For externalities distributed over a long time, it may be tricky; the future needs a representative in the present to go to court, etc…

    3a. public planning/mandates/organization. Makes sense for eyesores. Your property value is protected going into the future if, for the forseable future, a law is in place preventing your neighbors from doing _____. If the law is in place then the neighbors can’t move in and then complain about the law because they chose to move there – unless there is something nonsensical about the law (or it’s enforcement) itself.

    3b. public management/tax/cap – makes sense for systematic externalities. Where their are nonlinearities or complex relationships that determine the optimum trajectory of things, then some level of top-down plannning may be used (see 3a.) – if the market response to a pollution tax is somewhat predictable than a tax may be used even if the cost is nonlinearly proportional to the amount of pollution; otherwise there could be (auctionable) caps – this would be a form of planning, see 3a. This can also makes sense where there is too much uncertainty for the courts to handle – ie there is still legal justification rooted in protection of rights because doing something that could cause some level of harm can be irresponsible and negligent, but it the attribution of harm done is imprecise, then we have to go with a best estimate of externality value (but I guess that’s what would happen in the courts, too. The bigger issue may be systematic externality vs isolated individual cases). Note that revenue from taxes/auctioned caps would ideally go to the injured parties – in some cases we may only know that some people have been injured but not specifically who, and so the revenue would go into a pool that pays for all such injuries or would simply be distributed based on probabilities (eg domestically, climate change damages related to natural disasters would go into FEMA – ideally much of the rest would be paid for by taxes assessed the same way insurance prices are assessed (to avoid creating too much of an externality), for those things not otherwise insured (PS you’d want to pay out in such a way as to encourage, not discourage, adaptive measures – for example, pay for the reduction in property value caused by climate change to make moving easier or so that some changes would be made to restore property value; don’t subsidize continuing to do things the same way when it no longer works.)

    3c. public ownership – implied by 3b, actually.

    As I mentioned corrections to externalities earlier in the original (italicized) statement, the public policies/plans/actions(and ownership) refered to later go beyond that, or in the first example below, actually go directly against it.

    (to be continued)…

  42. 42
    Patrick 027 says:

    … (pardon the length; I didn’t know it would get this long but now that I’ve typed it it seems wasteful not to post):

    1. “Fair Use”: limits to the protection of intellectual property rights.
    It makes sense to protect intellectual property so that intellectual work can be rewarded according to it’s value to the market, thus encouraging such work the appropriate amount. However, it stifles the human mind to live in a world where all unpaid/unlicensed use of other’s ideas is tresspassing. Consider that it is legal to tape a song on the radio or download a CD onto a computer. It is legal to photocopy a few pages in a book. You can quote something – of course, you’re supposed to acknowledge it as a quotation and, in formal work, give a reference (informally if you don’t remember where you heard it you can still say it and note you heard it somewhere; of course in casual conversations you have to be forgiven for forgeting that it wasn’t your idea sometimes…). So long as you don’t do it on too large a scale and/or try to sell it (without permission or royalties). Arguably this limitation to intellectual property rights is a great public good and improves overall well-being – a positive externality which possibly improves market efficiency.

    2. negative sum games. need I say more.

    3. negotiating/buying power and nonlinearities in the market (perhaps a rationale for progressive taxation?

    (PS not really part of this topic, but the most sensible taxation scheme may be unconstitutional. Government services – roads, etc, – provide economic benifit and so it makes sense to pay taxes, ideally in proportion to the service provided (for roads, perhaps a tire tax would make more sense than a gas tax, although as long as we don’t have a CO2 tax, I’m okay with keeping a gas tax). One thing the government does is protect property, and this occurs on the federal level as well. So a national property tax really makes sense, in addition to other taxes.or by a tire tax, in proportion to the durability of the tire relative to the wear-and-tear the car will do to the road over the tire lifetime )

    – of course, setting inequalities in luck and initial conditions aside, people may work to earn power. In doing so, they may gain the experience and wisdom to use that power to make things bette. A large powerful entity may function like government in helping to organize various economic actions to improve overall performance and wealth (see below – public planning/organization). However, power may be used outside a range of expertise, or simply abused. Is the effort to win power proportional to the benifit, or is there a nonlinearity, and would such a nonlinearity decrease market efficiency? I’m not sure; I think it’s interesting to consider.

    On related points: are coal miners and some soldiers paid less so that they don’t have the resources to invest in themselves so as to have other options – ie are they and their children to some extent trapped and thus cheap labor? Can a company create a source of cheap labor? Are Walmart employees paid a small enough amount that they are more likely to buy cheap such as at Walmart? (The anti-Henry Ford’s pay workers enough so that they can buy your goods/services).

    It’s funny that some pro-free market people oppose unions. Are unions government actions? Of course a union could be too-powerful (not likely lately, though).

    Does poverty of some reduce the wealth of others (to make a point about the value of fairness, would total wealth tend to increase if it were distributed more evenly. Well in one sense, for the case of decreasing returns, yes – a millionaire’s $1000 may be worth more to a person with less – although there is also increasing returns – a person may need a minimum amount of money to do something…). PS aside from breeding of diseases and absence of markets for goods or supply of skilled labor, there is the effect on health care costs from innefficient care of the uninsured, but that’s almost a whole seperate topic tying other aspects of economics and government and morals and customs together.

    (Of course, there’s also that one’s wellbeing may increase with awareness of other’s wellbeing).

    4a. bubbles (maybe this goes under negative sum games). What if people start investing in things not for the inherent value of those things but because of the value of things as investment options (which exists because people are investing in those things) (to be fair, though, the inherent value of a thing, even to the person who has it, may still depend on other things and thus not really be inherent). In other words, what happens when you start using tulips, or houses, as stocks or bonds. And what happens when one day, somebody decides that doesn’t make sense.

    It might be argued that on average, we benifit from policies that tend to moderate boom-bust cycles and increase predictability/transparency (a different issue, actually) because it is easier (greater benifit, less cost) to adapt (psychologically and economically) to a predictable and/or constant or slowly-changing state (or when one has more information).

    4b. People are not completely rational. Of course this cuts both ways – voters are people, government officials are people. But the systems of government and the private sector might control or release the consequences of that irrationality in different ways, so there might be some things the government can still do well (see 5a). Of course, if you have an actual policy or public action proposal, it shouldn’t be argued against just based on the tendency for people to be irrational – people should actually consider the proposal, because it might turn out to be rational. Or maybe the more rational people, or people who happen to have rational moments when at work in goverment, might win out and make it rational. Deliberation should allow for rational choices to tend to win – if only we had an enlightenned (and not apathetic) electorate (a 2/3 majority would do) (as well as transparency in government).

    5. Public planning – the value of something generally depends on where it is placed in the system. You likely reduce the value of your vitamin C if you take a week’s worth and have it all in one day. You reduce the value of your French toast and your pizza if you try to have them in the same meal or especially as one item (unless that’s your thing – beauty in the eye of the beholder, of course) – if you know there is a future meal you might not chose your most favorite meal this time around, because you like your second favorite, too. Etc. On a larger scale the PPC (production possibilities curve, a plot of the different combinations of amounts of things that could be produced) could have concavities (when plotted on a value-proportional graph) that can trap the economy in a maxima that is not ‘global’ (analogous to fitness landscapes in genetic or phenotypic space and evolution trapped on lower hills in the fitness landscape – of course the fitness landscape may also evolve over time, and the economy doesn’t have a fitness, it has a profit). Of course the instantaneous PPC may evolve; a PPC could be defined for different time scales. If the cost of crossing a valley in the PPC is too great, even knowing a higher PPC value maximum exists may not drive the necessary investment – in this case that maximum doesn’t actually exist because it’s not a possibility. However, a larger entity might be able to bridge the valley; an entity with greater time perspective may find peaks in the longer-time scale PPC; it may be able to wait longer for long-term investments to pay off.

    5a. drive on the right side of the road. Letting people decide which side of the road to drive on – even if they know they should drive on the same side that others drive – may not achieve the same safety. Of course, this is a rather obvious case because there is not much downside (at least if starting with a clean slate) to one choice or the other – there isn’t much possibility of government innefficiency here.

    5b. zoning, etc, urban planning (tending to be more local scale, although consider planning which parts of the desert to use for solar power while trying to protect species and ecosystems, and where HVDC lines might be built).

    5c. nonlinear externalities, other?

    5d. the future: if it was thought that civilization would collapse tomorrow, people might not bother to invest in tomorrow, thereby bringing about the collapse of civilization (or at least some problems) (perhaps a higher discount rate or lower discount rate may be self-justifying to some extent). Optimizing over time requires knowing what will happen. This can’t, and shouldn’t, be done to precision at all levels (as that would be totalitarian), but for some things there perhaps should be some future planning. More distant planning may require larger scales; the uncertainty at the individual level may make larger entities better at such planning. Should ownership of the future be distributed as in a democratic process or a plutocratic one? Perhaps leaning more towards the former with increasing time scale (at some point, individuals die, and at some other point, their great great grandchildren don’t know much about them)?

    5e. related to the future but different – mass market advantage and learning curves. Government R&D. The later can lay foundations for future growth that companies generally, to some extent, couldn’t afford to try to forsee and effect at present. The former refers to possible concavities in the PPC (increasing returns); where the public interest is at stake (clean energy and CO2eq efficiency) , it may make sense to boost a fledgling industry (solar of various types, wind, perhaps new nuclear (?) (provided it has potential) as a sort of investment in future economic performance; subsidies should be reduced/ended either when a new industry fails to live up to it’s promise (subject to considering external events whose effects may not last, like a temporary shortage of parts), or when it is no longer needed.

    5f. Economic activities might fall into habitual ruts which are hard to come out of when adapting to new laws or conditions – if this is only because of slow learning or a tendency to wait until others make changes that would help enable the changes (if the path ahead is unclear only because people can’t decide), then some government actions could help smooth the way.

    6 – public ownership/management may increase value or reduce costs

    6a – roads – depending on toll technology, private ownership of roads at various levels (highway vs residential) can be inefficient; public ownership can be of benifit.

    6b – public space – it may stifle the human psyche to always be on or using something owned by someone.

    6c – public parks, wilderness, nature – nature has aesthetic (even beyond that which may be paid for by medicinal plant researchers, book writers and film producers, and park fees) and scientific value which would be lost if something were not natural (because then it wouldn’t be natural). Would you enjoy the sunset as much if it was owned by somebody (and how would the toll be taken? Also how would you pay for watching a flock of geese, and what would that do to the experience?). What if you only knew it was owned, even if the service were offered for free? It would be disconcerting. Now what if somebody owns and manages – controls – nature? It’s not natural anymore.

    Of course, preserving nature has costs, and so we don’t preserve all of it. We preserve samples – some functioning ecosystems, some scenery and landscapes, some samples of things from nature. There is also a weird aspect to the value of nature – we are of nature, and so everything we do to nature is technically natural – global warming is in this perspective natural (a delayed biological feedback from something) (but it would also be natural to mitigate global warming!). Also, on long time scales, fully preserving nature would mean allowing natural change to occur, from the next ice age (perhaps 20,000 to 100,000 years from now, depending) to an asteroid impact. Perhaps we should see ourselves on such long time scales as more a part of nature. But for the time being, we can value wilderness and rock formations, etc, as they are.

    7. Even if all the right policies were in place, we can’t change the past, and on an individual level, luck plays a role*. In the interest of morality, perhaps there should be some public safety nets. The trick is to avoid or mitigate encouraging or growing the need.

    *One thing I’ve found out, second-hand, about the business world is that sometimes when testing to see if someone is management material, they pose philosophical questions. One question may be about luck, and from what I heard and as best I recall, the ‘correct’ answer is we make our own luck. A kind interpretation of that is that we can try to be prepared for when an opportunity comes, so that we may take advantage of it. But only half of that is luck, and it’s the part we didn’t do! A logical person is not management material. Actually, though, a logical person can learn what the ‘right’ answers are and pass the test next time around. Basically like a secret handshake. Which I just gave away – sorry guys!

    But in addition to all of that, just to be clear, freedom has value, as does having a legal (as well as social) margin of error. I didn’t fail to recognize that. I basically like markets. I would generally be for regulating them efficiently and effectively, not for dumping them (except that I like public schools and then there’s the whole healt care issue and on that I’m not sure exactly what is best, although I know not to trust what at least one political party says about it).

  43. 43
    danny bloom says:

    A very important step. Now, 5 years since I began my Polar Cities PR campaign, are any of you here now more understanding of what I am trying to do?
    Link with NYTimes item:

  44. 44
    Patrick 027 says:

    PS re JK – to be clear, by trying to summarize how an ideal free market works to achieve efficiency, I wasn’t trying to imply that you don’t know that. I was recently offended when someone seemed to be lecturing me on stuff I already know, so I just wanted to be clear about this.

  45. 45
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 30 JK – I haven’t checked out yet the actual statement by the Nobel laureates, so I’m not sure about they’re specific claims. But just to point out, for what it’s worth:

    the changes so far are small relative to what may be in store

    there have recently been droughts and floods at a rate and scale such that, not individually at 100 %, but as a whole, some fraction of it might be attributable to climate change; and this (along with oil prices, I’d guess) has played a role in food prices, which has (maybe along with, at least initially, Wikileaks? – not sure) played a role in recent civil unrest and revolution (so far with perhaps potentially positive results in the long term (setting aside the pain of revolution itself, quite intense in one country in particular right now), ironically, though we’ll have to see how it all turns out.

  46. 46
    Edward Greisch says:

    On ethics, morality and science, here is a repeat of something I wrote several years ago some time after having advised The Brights to focus their ethics search on sociobiology:

    “In the 1960s, I saw a science fiction book entitled “Ethical Equations.” SciFi becomes real. We don’t have it down to mathematics yet, but we are getting there.

    Reference: Sam Harris’ latest book “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”

    “The Science of Good & Evil” by Michael Shermer

    The entire new science called Sociobiology. The origin of the universe, Earth, life, humans and moral instincts are now solidly in the jurisdiction of Science, but religionists still dispute the change of jurisdiction.

    Moral and ethical instincts: See Sociobiology or ScioBio. The Library of Congress had more than 340 books, etc on the subject of Sociobiology. Books include:

    “The genetics of altruism” by Scott A. Boorman, Paul R. Levitt.
    “Genes, mind and culture” by Edward O. Wilson

    The Library of Congress

    The Brights project on ethics and morality without god.

    Yes, ethics and morality are now solidly within the jurisdiction of science. That means that ethics and morality are no longer in the jurisdictions of religion and philosophy. Ethical Engineering will soon be a mathematical branch of engineering with ethical equations.”

  47. 47
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 29 Georgi Marinov
    “The Vatican is not helping even when it may seems so on the surface.”
    I don’t know – a Vatican behind some portion of sensible climate policy is better than a Vatican which doesn’t support any sensible climate policy.

    Regarding humans above nature: There are different interpretations of that (Dominion). James Inhofe goes one way. I don’t remember which way Catholicism goes – quite possibly different directions(?) I had thought one way to read it is that God entrusted humans with care for creation; it’s not permission to destroy it without consequences. Still it implies humans are in charge. But consider the word which appears in the first paragraph of the blog post: Anthropocene. We are, in a sense, the drivers of the planet. (No, we can’t change the physics of the car’s engine or take potholes out of the road, but we ended up in the driver’s seat so we better sober up quick.) And humans do seem to have an inteligence and inteligence-directed power previously unmatched in geologic history (cyanobacteria were of course very powerful but unlike us, they never had the ability to give pause to what they were doing to the planet by putting out all that oxygen pollution. … Of course, they might not have been able to do it without the methanogens… (search “Biogenic Methane and the Irreverable Oxidation of the Earth” might not be the exact title but it’s close – idea being, as best I recall, that the oxygen could have reacted with organic C (and H) and organic matter burial might/was not be sufficient(?) to provide all the free O2 necessary (note there was also ferrous Fe to oxidize before O2 could actually accumulate in the atmosphere and oceans) – but CH4 build up (possible with sufficient lack of atmospheric O2) would have boosted H escape to space, so that some portion of the O2 freed from water had no H to combine with).)

    Also, perhaps this is the wrong impression but I used to think that a lot of Catholics didn’t really care so much about (or maybe cared and disagreed with) what the hierarchy thinks – especially when it comes to the wacky stuff. Pertains to the prospects for family planning. (PS I once met a priest who said he though women should be allowed to become priests. (I was Catholic growing up; kinda’ agnostic now.))

  48. 48
    Patrick 027 says:

    … also, it may help so that you can see, hey, even the Vatican supports this, what’s up with you?

  49. 49
    Stephen Missal says:

    JK…FYI: there are too many people on earth. They are: a) going to suffer, and b) have to learn to live with less. Complaints about immoral this and whatever that…please. Quibbling about getting below ‘pre-industrial’ co2 levels, etc etc….who are you?
    In general, physics and the harshness of reality will sweep over your handwaving like a tsunami. We are way past the hair-splitting stage.

  50. 50
    Edward Greisch says:

    The Stockholm Memorandum is all very nice, and that is the problem. It sounds like a call to action, but it is too vague, and we have been down that road before. What the Green Revolution got us was more people. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in the opposite direction lies the road to hell, paved by the denialists.

    Immoral coercion is being accomplished with money. That much we understand. So far, we lack the political genius required to do anything about it. This week I found out that I can’t circulate a petition to get into a primary election for Congress until September, but in Illinois there is no fee for filing such a petition. I can join my county political “Central Committee” for $10. Start small. This is a hint.