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September 21, 2006

David Whitehouse on Royal Society Efforts to Censor


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | The Honest Broker

David Whitehouse is a former online science editor for the BBC. He has sent a letter to Benny Peiser, a prominent climate provocateur from the University of Liverpool who oversees the CCNet mailing list. Benny included Dr. Whitehouse’s correspondence on the Royal Society’s letter to ExxonMobil (PDF) in his compilation yesterday (Guardian story here). There is also apparently a second letter from the Royal Society to journalists, asking them to ignore people with perspectives outside the IPCC consensus.

Let me say in no uncertain terms that in my opinion the actions by the Royal Society are inconsistent with the open and free exchange of ideas, as well as the democratic notion of free speech. Here in the U.S. we have recently won a battle to allow scientists employed by government to speak freely even if their views are inconvenient to the current Administration. Such lessons should work in all directions. The Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open debate. This is not, to put it delicately, the most effective use of scientific authority in political debates. Climate scientists and advocates confident of their positions should welcome any and all challengers, and smack them down with the power of their arguments, not the weight of their influence or authority. A strategy based on stifling debate is sure to backfire, not just on the climate issue, but for the scientific enterprise as a whole.

Here is Dr. Whitehouse’s letter, which I endorse 100%:

Dear Benny,

I wonder if I am not alone in finding something rather ugly and unscientific about the letter the Royal Society has sent to EssoUK (part of Exxon). It is reproduced in today's Guardian newspaper.

It demands EssoUK stop giving money to groups and organisations who do not believe that human activities are totally responsible for global warming. It also asks EssoUK to provide details of all the groups it funds so that the Royal Society can track them down and vet them, "so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public," the letter says.

My disquiet about this is nothing to do with the status of the debate about anthropogenic global warming but about the nature of the debate and the role of the Royal Society in it and the sending of such a hectoring and bullying letter demanding adherence to the scientific consensus.

Theories come and go. Some become fact, others do not. As scientists our ultimate loyalty is not to theory but to reason and to open enquiry even when some think it ill judged. We should value that above all and I am surprised the Royal Society is acting this way. Einstein once said, "Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

However the Royal Society sees its role in debates about science, is it appropriate that it should be using its authority to judge and censor in this way?

Yours sincerely,

Dr David Whitehouse

Posted on September 21, 2006 12:08 AM

Comments

I find your outrage over this issue about as compelling as Larry Flynt being a champion of the First Amendment.

I would never condone persecuting an individual for voicing a sincere belief, but asking an organization to stop funding deliberate disemination of falsehoods is many leaps away from that crime.

Aren't there better causes to take up than defending Exxon's right to propagandize the world for personal profit?

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 02:35 AM


Roger, I followed the link to the second letter, which is only an antagonistic article by a journalist who received the letter.

That article has this quoted passage:

"We are appealing to all parts of the UK media to be vigilant against attempts to present a distorted view of the scientific evidence about climate change and its potential effects on people and their environments around the world."

I must confess I am quite at a loss as to how in the world this would up as your words:

"ignore people with perspectives outside the IPCC consensus"

I hope you had a good reason, perhaps another portion of the letter that I haven't seen supports this?

Otherwise I am not sure how I can avoid the conclusion that you wish to misrepresent what really was written for some personal motivations that I can only speculate about.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 02:50 AM


Dr. Pielke:

"Climate scientists and advocates confident of their positions should welcome any and all challengers, and smack them down with the power of their arguments, not the weight of their influence or authority. A strategy based on stifling debate is sure to backfire, not just on the climate issue, but for the scientific enterprise as a whole."

While I can find much to admire and agree with in both of these statements even though the conclusions may not be justified, I find extremely puzzling and would like to take issue with both (i) your statement that "The Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open debate" and (ii) your 100% endorsement of Dr. Whitehouse's characterization of the Royal Society’s letter to ExxonMobil.

First, Dr. Whitehouse does not fairly summarize the Royal Society's letter, which in large part simply takes issue, in a factual manner, with recent public positions taken by Exxon. The parts of the letter which Dr. Whitehouse finds objectionable consist of (i) a reminder by the author that he received assurances from the addressee that Exxon would cease its funding of organizations which the Roal Society says misrepresent the science of climate change, (ii) requests that Exxon notify the author when Exxon will fulfill its pledge and that Exxon specify the organizations that would no longer receive funding, and (iii) a request that Exxon identify, in the same manner that it identifies the organizations in the US that it funds, the organizations in the UK and Europe that Exxon funds, so that the author can determine if these organizations also misrepresent the science of climate change.

From an English perspective perhaps there is a certain edginess to these points, but from an American view I am afraid I have difficulty in seeing them as either "hectoring" or "bullying" as Dr. Whitehouse would have it. But irregardless of one's characterization of the tone, the Royal Society letter simply does NOT (i) "demand[] that EssoUK stop giving money to groups and organisations who do not believe that human activities are totally responsible for global warming"; (ii) "demand[] adherence to the scientific consensus" or (iii) "us[e] its authority to judge and censor".

Second, your conclusions that the Royal Society letter is "inconsistent with the open and free exchange of ideas, as well as the democratic notion of free speech" is not merely over-blown, but funadmentally misconceives what free speech is about. While it is a legitimate question whether the Royal Society should be seeking information from Exxon as to whether Exxon persists in funding climate change skeptics (as opposed to funding climate change scientific inquiry) in Europe and the UK, the Royal Society is not a governmental insitution and has no authority over Exxon. Its letter does not purport to censor Exxon but simply seeks information, which information the Royal Society in any case has no power to require Exxon to provide.

The information that is available as to Exxon funding of skeptics in the US is a result of legal disclosure requirement pertaining both to Exxon and its funding recipients; apparently similar information is not available in the UK and Europe. Perhaps there is another watchdog group that is more appropriate than the Royal Society, but until legal changes are made apparently there is no other way to obtain the information as to how Exxon intentionally manipulates the climate change debate short of asking Exxon for it - and making the request public, so that public opnion may influence Exxon as well.

Third, it seems that you have missed the main point to be made, which it that by playing a "truth in advertizing" role, the Royal Society is of course providing a valuable public role by asking Exxon to act entirely in a forthright, above-the-board manner.

To the extent the Royal Society anticipated this letter would be made public, it has also provided a service by shedding light on the ways in which Exxon chooses NOT to openly engage in debate over the science of climate change - which of course it has every right to do - but chooses instead to manipulate the debate through the hidden use of "skeptics" of doubtful provenance who are in the business of creating public confusion on the behest of corporate patrons.

Why does Exxon act this way? Simply because it feels that it has something to gain from clouding the debate, and that the money it spends on having supposedly independent proxies acting for it has been effective in contributing to the Exxon bottom line - which bottom line of course improves to the extent that Exxon can get away with passing off to the rest of society and future generation that costs of using the global atmospheric commons as a dumping ground for the GHG by-products of fossil fuels. So far, Exxon and fossil fuel use generally have gotten a free ride on misusing the commons, through implicit subsidies that have incentivized further misuse.

In other words, the Royal Society letter, far from negatively influencing the climate change debate, is helping to shed light on some of the darker areas of it. While Exxon has every right to act to maximize its own economic interests, it is quite useful for the rest of the participants in the debate to know whether other contributers to the debate are independent or in fact acting as spokemen for Exxon (or others), so we can better weigh the information such debaters provide.

Surely you would not disagree on this point?

Finally, of course, Exxon is an enormous and enormously power company, and is quite capable of speaking for itself if it wishes to do so. They hardly need you, Dr. Whitehouse or others to act as their proxies. While noting the delicious ironies here, when the Davids all rally around Goliath, I am forced to wonder why you choose to do so, especially when the position you implicitly support would have the effect of adding more smoke and less light to the debate.

Thanks!

Posted by: Tom Dreves at September 21, 2006 03:08 AM


There was a discussion on Radio 4 this morning - appprox 8.45 - between Bob Ward of the Royal Society and Dr Whitehouse. Bob Ward certainly referred to the reports of the IPCC as what constituted what scientists knew about climate change. The discussion should be available on the BBC Radio 4 website for the next week.

Posted by: mikep at September 21, 2006 05:37 AM


The complaints from Dr Whitehouse miss the point. Exxon is not really engaged in a scientific debate, but rather a political debate. Scientific debates can go on for long periods and eventually reach a conclusion in which the theory is found to be either right or wrong. They are, in the end, decided upon the facts - rather than upon share of voice.

Political debates have a finite life and frequently have no factual right or wrong. Often, the 'winner' of the debate is the side with the biggest megaphone. Plus you can get a long way by the use of FUD. So is the Royal Society trying to stifle scientific debate - as is alleged - or trying to stop a particular interest group with a loud megaphone using incorrect science to spread FUD in order to win a political debate?

Posted by: Tom Rees [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 06:08 AM


Coby-

We've gone down this path before, you and I. Your continued insults are here not welcome. If you do not like what you read, then please visit other websites that are less disturbing to your views.

If you would like to engage, which we strongly encourgae, please do so substantively, and leave the personal stuff out, OK?

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 06:58 AM


Correction: David Whitehouse is no longer with the BBC. I have corrected the original post to reflect this. Thanks. RP

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 07:08 AM


Tom Rees-

Thanks much for your comments. You hit the nail on the head when you ask this question:

"So is the Royal Society trying to stifle scientific debate - as is alleged - or trying to stop a particular interest group with a loud megaphone using incorrect science to spread FUD in order to win a political debate?"

This is precisely my concern. I wrote in the original post: "The Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open debate. This is not, to put it delicately, the most effective use of scientific authority in political debates."

The question for me is whether it makes good snse for a science academy, especially one as esteemed as the Royal Society, to engage in such a political debate which you accurately characterize as follows:

"Political debates have a finite life and frequently have no factual right or wrong."

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 07:13 AM


Tom Dreves-

Thanks for your comments.

You write, "the Royal Society is not a governmental insitution and has no authority over Exxon." I agree.

There are apparently two letters. The one to Exxon is not about censoring. The one to reporters reported in the Telegraph telling reporters what to report seems to be to be asking them to censor political debate (i.e., not science, but politics).

You write, " Perhaps there is another watchdog group that is more appropriate than the Royal Society . . ." Indeed, this is my point.

The Royal Society is many things, but in my view (which is likely irrelevant, not being a member and not being British!;-) it is not well-serving its mission by taking on the role of corporate-political watchdog.

As far as the influence of "skeptics" I would be happy to review the data on this, presented on this site many times. In short, their influence on the public understanding of climate science has been nil. Public views on climate science in the US and elsewhere make the IPCC reports seem tame by comparison. Further, I am sure that Exxon's support for "skeptics" is far less than Exxon's support for Stanford's research on climate technology research. I recognize that for many people mentioning of the word "Exxon" is like putting a red flag before a bull. But lets also stick to what we know about skeptics and their actual influence.

I have absolutely no problem with groups like Greenpeace, Exxon shareholders, House of Lords special committees, other NGOs, etc. serving as corporate watchdogs. This is a good and healthy activity in our governmental and economic systems. But I do raise (what I think are) fair questions about whether we want a national academy of science serving in this role.

At the interface of science and politics there are a division of responsibilities. Do we want scientific institutions taking the form of advocacy groups? I don't think so.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 07:29 AM


Hi Roger you say: "The question for me is whether it makes good snse for a science academy, especially one as esteemed as the Royal Society, to engage in such a political debate".

It depends on what the remit of the Royal Society is. Its role is not purely scientific, but also to engage in Policy discussions ( http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=1280 ). They don't pretend to be policy neutral.

The letter could be framed as an appeal to Exxon to stop muddying the waters of political discussion. So there is a question of whether the letter is legitimate (probably, since the Royal Society seeks to influence policy) and also whether it was smart (probably not).

Posted by: Tom Rees [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 07:53 AM


Tom Rees (sorry to be so formal, but want to keep our Toms straight!)-

Thanks. You write, "It depends on what the remit of the Royal Society is."

I agree. This is the issue that I'd like to discuss, not just of the RS, but science academies in general. I have discussed this issue before:

http://www.ostina.org/content/view/365/158/

or in PDF:
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-1764-2005.34.pdf

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 07:59 AM


This is well worth reading.

Transcription of BBC Radio 4 program courtesy of Benny Peiser:

BBC Today Programme, 21 September 2006 (8:20)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/

BBC Today Programme, Sarah Montague

Is it the job of Britain's foremost scientific academy, The Royal Society, to hector private companies about how they spend their money? There has been criticism of the Royal Society for asking the oil company Exxon Mobile to stop giving money to groups it argues misrepresent the science of climate change.

Dr David Whitehouse is a scientist and an author. Bob Ward is from the Royal Society. He wrote the letter to Exxon Mobile. Both join me now.

Dr Whitehouse. Why do you object to the Royal Society, to Bob Ward writing to Exxon Mobile?

David Whitehouse: My problem is not with the science, my problem is not with human-induced global warming. My problem is with the nature of science and the scientific debate, about different views. Different views, contrary positions, are essential to the progress of science. They are what keep arguments strong, the defence of arguments is what keeps them robust and healthy. And if somebody comes out with bad science, somebody comes out with misrepresentation, you tackle bad science with good science. It does not matter, it is irrelevant, whether these people are right or wrong, whether it's god science or bad science. What troubles me is that the Royal Society is demanding another organisation to stop funding groups that have views different from the scientific consensus. Their views, the value of their views, will be determined by argument and not by doing a tussle around their funding, to get their money turned off because you disagree with what they're saying.

BBC: Bob Ward. Can you respond to that.

Bob Ward: I can. Let me first correct the impression that being given. I did not demand that Exxon stops funding these groups. I made an observation in a meeting I had in July that they were making statements that misrepresented the science and that they were funding groups that were similarly misrepresenting the science. They then offered themselves to stop funding these groups. But let me make a distinction here.

BBC: Can we just follow this through. You then wrote to them saying...

Bob Ward: What happened is, after I'd explained why the Royal Society felt that the statements Exxon Mobile had made in a report in February, when I explained to them that they were wrong in our opinion, they then send me a report in the summer, a new report, which repeated all of the statements which I complained about in the first place.

BBC: And the letter which the Guardian got hold of yesterday was you saying to them: 'I would be grateful if you could let me know when Exxon Mobile plans to carry out this pledge.' Which is why I used the word 'hectoring,' it's a form of hectoring.

Bob Ward: Well, I like the idea that the Royal Society should be accused of bullying the world's largest multinational oil company. All we're doing is saying to them: it is very clear what the scientific community says about climate change. Anybody can find out by going to the website of the IPCC (www.ippc.ch) . And they can see what the scientific community thinks about climate change. And then they can compare for themselves the stsatements that are being made by Exxon Mobile and by these lobby groups - who are not groups of scientists. These are lobby groups, they are not scientists. Exxon Mobile are not offering scientific evidence.

BBC: Let me bring in Dr Whitehouse. Isn't that what the Royal Society should be doing, ensuring that the right information is out there?

David Whitehouse: The Royal Society should be arguing about science, it shouldn't be delving in such politics. It is clear from this letter that the Royal Society did have concerns about the support that Exxon was giving to groups which they disagree with. They can have concerns about that but their argument should not be with the funding, or the background. It's a question of free speech. Scientists in America won the right to criticise the Bush Government when they did not agree with them about global warming. The contrary should apply here.

BBC: Bob Ward. Have you stepped over a line here?

Bob Ward: We haven't. Let me be clear. We're not trying to shut scientists up. What we're trying to do is say to the lobby groups and to the companies that they should present properly what the scientific community is saying. Now, let me just tell you. One of the organisations that is getting funding from Exxon Mobile is the so-called Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. This is a statement on their website: "There is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in temperature was caused by the rise in carbon dioxide." Now, can David Whitehouse tell me which peer-reviewed scientific papers that statement is bade on?

David Whitehouse: My point is not an argument about the science. The science is irrelevant in this context. You can go to your own website and read scientists talk about the uncertainties of global warming. The question is not whether these people are right or wrong. It's a question about their right to speak. When scientists and scientific organisations like yourself want to serve the cause of public policy, they do so best by following the ethics of science and not public relations and spin.

BBC: Let me just come in here. Dr Whitehouse. Isn't it the case that on this argument people would say the price is too high. And you don't have a level playing field if you have millions being pumped into bad science.

David Whitehouse: First of all. Does is matter that it is bad science? The science, whether it is bad or god, comes out in scientific argument. My problem is with distorting the playing field. Science is about free speech, science is about the exchange of information and argument. It's not about trying to find out who get money paid to somebody else because you disagree with him. We tell young scientists, the most important thing, we tell them, is to question authority. Why should I believe this because you say so?

BBC: We have very little time left. I want a final thought from you, Bob Ward. Is the Royal Society going to continue that sort of approach to prevent funding of organisations that they don't like what they're saying?

Bob Ward: The Royal Society's motto is "Nullis in Verba" - which means "where is your evidence?" (sic) If organisations make statements that are clearly at odds with what the scientific community says the evidence shows, yes, then we will challenge it. Because it does not serve the public for them to be mislead about what the scientific evidence says.

Copyright 2006, BBC

Transcription by BJP

EDITOR'S NOTE: Well, I'm not a classistics. But to my knowledge the Royal Society's motto is generally translated as "on the words of no one," meaning: take no theory in trust ... which is in essence the ethics of scientific scrutiny and debate David Whitehouse has been arguing for. BJP

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 08:12 AM


A bit more background from our archives for those interested in the role of science academies in political debates:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/science_policy_general/000447what_role_for_nation.html

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 08:44 AM


Roger,

I have to admit that I'm having a hard time understanding exactly what it is that the RS had done wrong here.

"if organisations make statements that are clearly at odds with what the scientific community says the evidence shows, yes, then we will challenge it. Because it does not serve the public for them to be mislead about what the scientific evidence says."

Now I don't have time to read the links you provided (busy reading others :)), but it seems to me given your previous comment, that you are not taking issue with the letters per se, but rather with the RS's policy of taking on an active, public role in trying to ensure that science is accurately represented in public forums. I'm puzzled because I thought that this something that you have been advocating for a long time.

Let me put it another way. If an organization is funding other groups that are overtly lying to the public about the state of knowledge on a scientific issue, then who's responsibility is it to counter them? If not a scientific body like the RS then who?

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 08:59 AM


Sorry, Roger, but I am at a complete loss as to what you found insulting or why you would charaterize my parcipitation on Prometheus as continuously so.

As for why I read your fine blog, well, if I only read things I already agreed with 100% then I would not be learning anything, and I learn alot reading here. I find your request that I take my disagreements home with me disappointing and ironic giving the subject of this thread.

If it is important for you that I understand what I did that caused your public scolding, perhaps email is the answer. In the meantime, I believe I have made very substantive points, in fact points echoed by other posters, perhaps you can answer them.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 09:53 AM


I have no problem with the RS rebutting what they perceive to be bad science. In fact, I would see that as one of their oblibations. However, trying to prevent dissenting views from seeing the light of day is way off base (and unscientific), no matter who is presenting the views. They should encourage criticism! And if the science of AGW is correct, they should be able to show why the criticism is incorrect.

If they want to convince me (a skeptic leaning fence sitter) that they are correct, the best thing they can do is encourage quality criticism of the current science, then logically and clearly disprove the criticism.

Trying to censor dissenting views only pushes me (and others, I suspect) in the wrong direction they want me to go.

Posted by: BobKC [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:38 AM


Coby-

Here is what I object to from your post:

"I find your outrage over this issue about as compelling as Larry Flynt being a champion of the First Amendment."

"I am not sure how I can avoid the conclusion that you wish to misrepresent what really was written for some personal motivations that I can only speculate about."

A few good rules that have served us well. No name calling. No invoking of other's "hidden" personal motivations. Do bring disagreements, but leave the other stuff out.

Lets agree to discuss and debate based on what we write here, and leave the comparisons to unsavory figures and speculation on personal traits for other venues.

These are rules for everyone here. Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:38 AM


Roger:

I appreciate your response, but surely you realize that the point you make in your response - that you think scientific institutions should not act as advocacy groups - is a far cry from your initial position that claims that the Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open debate and is thereby acting in a manner inconsistent with the open and free exchange of ideas. Clearly the Royal Society`s letter to Exxon, which is the letter that Dr. Whitehouse addresses in a letter you endorsed, is not an act of censorship. Furthermore, though this was not addressed is your post, unless a newspaper involved is government-owned, asking a newspaper to carefully consider whether they publish views inconsistent with the IPCC is not an act of censorship - which by definition can only be committed by the government. The Royal Society has asked for nothing except that newspapers act responsibly (though what is "responsible" may be in the eye of the beholder).

I presume you would similarly object if any US or Canadian science academy took the Wall Street Journal editorial page to account for any of its blatantly political and contra-science positions, but that is your prerogative. Let`s just be clear that the debate is over the role of a science academy, and not over "censorship".

It is not my position to comment on what the duties of the Royal Academy should be, but let me note again that I think it clear that by requesting Exxon to speak openly about its sceintific and policy views on climate change, rather than hiding behind proxies, the Royal Academy is providing a service to the debate that seems to be lacking in the UK and Europe. Exxon should be called to task for trying to muddle the debate, and I`m glad the Royal Academy is trying to do it.

Again, the Academy`s effort is about improving the quality of the information that the public and its representatives need to make informed decisions. While you might think someone else should be doing this, it is an entirely valuable and praiseworthy task, and certainly does not squelch Exxon in any way.

Regards,

Tom

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: Tom Dreves at September 21, 2006 10:39 AM


Neil Collins of the Telegraph writes, "Yet a closer examination of the scientific case shows that what are now considered by the doomsayers to be firm forecasts of temperature rises are actually 'scenarios' of what might happen on different assumptions."

Ruh roh!

After nearly *5 years,* a journalist has finally noticed that..."Gee, the Emperor has no clothes!"

Interestingly, I was just writing (again) on this very subject, on the Scientific (or "Scientific") American blog. Here's a cut/paste (Ben is Ben Hocking, another commenter, and John Rennie is the Editor in Chief of Scientific...or "Scientific" American):

Hi Ben,

You write, "I'm curious - how can you have an MS in Environmental Engineering and be so hostile to AGW theories? (In your last few posts, you did come off as hostile - at least that's the way I interpreted it.)"

The short answer to your question is that I'm not hostile to AGW theories. If you read my global warming website, and the environmental postings on my blog, you'll see I think:

1) The world has unquestionably warmed since 1880.
2) It's likely that GHG emissions (and black carbon!) have caused at least some of the warming.
3) The year 2100 will almost certainly be warmer than the year 1990.

What I'm hostile to is pseudoscience masquerading as real science. When the IPCC Third Assessment Report says,

"Scenarios are images of the future or alternative futures. They are neither predictions nor forecasts."

...that renders them unfalsifiable. If I say, "It may rain tomorrow," that's not a statement of science. (On the other hand, if I say, "There's a 90 percent chance of rain tomorrow," that is a statement of science.)

By the way, I'm not the only one who says the IPCC Third Assessment Report "projections" aren't scientific. Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University has also made that point several times:

"The IPCC's 2001 Third Assessment Report uses 40 scenarios which show decarbonization and carbonization going in all different directions with no probabilities attached. Failing to provide probabilities is unscientific and reveals the political bias of the results, said Ausubel."

Jesse Ausubel also said, "What I would do is try to make people put money where their mouth is. The IPCC doesn't even put probabilities on its results."

http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=7

Jesse Ausubel is an 11-year member of the National Academy of Sciences, and 5-year Program Manager for the National Academy of Engineering. He is the originator of the term, "decarbonization." (I guess that's what John Rennie calls "credentials.")

And even James Hansen has admitted that the IPCC scenarios that resulted in the highest temperature "projections" were simply invented to scare the public:

"Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate...scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions."

In fact, did you know that the IPCC Third Assessment Report scenarios that resulted in the highest temperature projections were added AFTER peer review?

http://www.reason.org/ebrief105.shtml

Has Scientific American ever informed its readers that the IPCC TAR "estimate" (to quote Scientific American in April 2001) of warming of "1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius" based on extreme and completely unrealistic "scenarios" that were added AFTER peer review? Why not?

THAT'S what I'm "hostile" to...when people like the IPCC pass pseudoscience off as real science...and when "scientific" publications don't inform the public of such violations of scientific integrity, due to obvious bias.

Mark
September 18, 2006 @ 21:55

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:48 AM


Oops. I definitely should have corrected the typo in the cut/paste. Here's how it should read:

Has Scientific American ever informed its readers that the IPCC TAR "estimate" (to quote Scientific American in April 2001) of warming of "1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius" is based on extreme and completely unrealistic "scenarios" that were added AFTER peer review? Why not?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:52 AM


Marlowe-

Thanks. I do encourage you to read the various links etc., which might help clarify the discussion.

You ask: "If an organization is funding other groups that are overtly lying to the public about the state of knowledge on a scientific issue, then who's responsibility is it to counter them? If not a scientific body like the RS then who?"

It all depends upon what you mean by "counter them". let me provide several answers:

1. The RS could counter them by presenting its views on climate science, which they have on their WWW site.

2. The Royal Society could explicitly single out organizations that it believes have misrepresented science, such as Bob Ward did with the Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change in the BBC interview transcribed above.

3. But as we have often argued, efforts like #1 and #2 above have the effect of scientizing political debates -- i.e., turning debates about science into proxy political wars, which in the end does more to politicize science in pathological ways. More effective strategies would be to openly engage in discussion of policy options, either as an advocate of a preferred action, or as an honest broker of a wide range of options.

4. The RS has gone beyond these strategies to insert itself as some sort of financial auditor of Exxon-Mobil's advocacy expenditures. I do not find this to be an appropriate or effective role for a national science academy.

5. There are plenty of other interest groups out there taking a hard look at Exxon-Mobil's activities, and appropriately so. These efforts have had an effect it is safe to say.

6. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if it were not for those nasty skeptics out there the climate problem would be solved or otherwise action would be further along. I don't think thre is any evidence whatsoever to support this assertion.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:56 AM


This comment to the SciAm blog is also relevant. It was made after John Rennie told another commenter:

"You only think that Scientific American has abandoned skepticism on global warming."

I replied:

Did Scientific American ever *have* skepticism on global warming?

In April 2001, Scientific American reported:

"In fact, in February the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raised the estimate of the world's temperature rise between 1990 and 2100 from 1.0 to 3.5 degrees Celsius to 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C.-Philip Yam"

1) Has Scientific American ever told its readers about this comment, buried in the fine print: "Scenarios are images of the future or alternative futures. They are neither predictions nor forecasts."?

2) Has Scientific American ever told its readers that the the scenarios that caused the highest temperature "estimates" (which were neither "forecasts" nor "predictions") came from simply inventing out of whole cloth ridiculously high emissions that *no one* who knows anything about that matter think have even a remote chance of coming to pass?

3) Did Scientific American tell its readers that those highest scenarios were added AFTER peer review?

4) Did Scientific American ever question the IPCC's assertion that all scenarios are "equally valid?" For example, has Scientific American ever questioned how the A1F1 scenario can possibly be "equally valid" with the B1 scenario?

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/figts-17.htm

5) Has Scientific American ever questioned how scenarios that lead to such wide ranging temperature increases as "1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius" (and do not even contain any sort of probability that the actual warming will even be WITHIN that range!) can possibly be of any use for policy making? Does Scientific American truly think there are no policy implications whether the expected warming is less than 1.4 degrees Celsius, or more than 5.8 degrees Celsius?

Mark (frankly skeptical about Scientific American's brand of skepticism)
September 18, 2006 @ 22:53

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:56 AM


Tom Devres-

Thanks. I do indeed think that "the Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open debate." And to be clear I mean political debate.

You write, "I presume you would similarly object if any US or Canadian science academy took the Wall Street Journal editorial page to account for any of its blatantly political and contra-science positions, but that is your prerogative." Yes. And I'd similarly object in the RS (or its US equivalent) took the the Independent to task for its often over-the-top coverage of climate change. The RS is seeking to advance political positions under the cover of science.

As you say, and I agree, "what is "responsible" may be in the eye of the beholder."

You write, "Let`s just be clear that the debate is over the role of a science academy, and not over "censorship"." Fair enough.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 11:10 AM


Roger,

Let me start by saying that I pretty much agree with everything Tom Dreves says in his latest post. Here are some additional thoughts on your reply.

It appears that you agree that the RS has the 'right', i.e. a legitimate interest in involving itself in the debate, by virtue of your replies #1 and #2; since they are tactics or methods it can use to further its objectives (i.e., the accurate representation of science in public debate). Whether or not the RS believes it is more is more effective to use its website, single out groups on an individual basis, or move further upstream in the chain (i.e. to Exxon), IMO is entirely up to them, but I suspect that they would choose all three approaches, rather than rely on one alone.

On the vices of scientizing political debates, I don’t see why this is a bad thing necessarily (or avoidable whenever the stakes are high), and even if it is, then I would simply say that it wasn’t the RS that started it, but they do have a legitimate interest in making sure that the science that is used in the political debate is not misrepresented.

#4. RS as financial auditor. As I see it, the decision to go straight to Exxon rather than fight each its proxies individually is one that they have every right to make. If that is a more efficient/effective strategy then so be it. I’m not clear on why you think this is inappropriate. If Exxon is funding these organizations then it is to some degree accountable for their actions, right? As Tom Devres suggests “by requesting Exxon to speak openly about its sceintific and policy views on climate change, rather than hiding behind proxies, the Royal Academy is providing a service to the debate”.

#5. There are plenty of other interest groups out there taking a hard look at Exxon-Mobil's activities, and appropriately so. These efforts have had an effect it is safe to say.”
I agree with everything you say, but so what? Just because there are other groups ‘taking a hard look at Exxon’ doesn’t preclude RS from doing so as well does it?

On #6 I’m a little bit more agnostic. On the one hand I agree that public opinion seems relatively immune to the septics FUD tactics – at least to the extent that they believe that AGW is a problem. However, I don’t think that means that the septics have had no effect at all -- for the very simple reason that if this was true then it begs the question as to why the Exxons of the world are spending so much money funding these activities. I suspect that the FUD tactics are affecting how seriously the public views the threat and how much they are willing to do to take action (I’d welcome some public opinion research that you have on this topic).

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 12:04 PM


While Roger and I have resolved this and other things via email, I still think I should clarify for other readers:

"I find your outrage over this issue about as compelling as Larry Flynt being a champion of the First Amendment."

- I did not intend for Roger to be Larry Flynt in this analogy, that is ExxonMobile.

Otherwise, Tom Dreves has made all the points I thought important, and better than I would have done, so consider this a "me too" post :)

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 12:30 PM


Marlowe-

Thanks. The RS of coure has the "right" to do whatever it wants. In my view the RS risks their long-term legitimacy and authority when engaging in NGO-style politics.

I have no doubt that many people will accept whatever advocacy help they can get whether from the RS or wherever.

However, at the same time I do think that it is important that we ask what effects such advocacy might have on the RS specificially and the scientific enterprise more generally. In my view the negative effects of such overt advocacy on the scientific enterprise outweigh whatever short-term political gains might be achieved by the RS on this particular issue. The world is full of issue advocates. There are precious few places of honest brokering of policy alternatives. National science academies should be one such place.

On the vices of scientizing debates -- read Jasanoff, Sarewitz, Weingart etc. -- don't take my word for it.

On public opinion/climate change see these posts:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000054a_myth_about_public_.html

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/science_policy_general/000524paul_krugman_think_.html

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 02:42 PM


Mr Ward said: "It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can't have people trying to undermine it."

Lessee...the short version of this would be:

"Let's debate, so we can all decide to take the action that the RS has already determined (even before release of the IPCC AR4) is necessary."

:-)

P.S. "And let there be no debate about that!"

:-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 04:00 PM


In reading this excellent conversation, a few stray thoughts strike me.

Regarding Marlowe Johnson's observation, "If Exxon is funding these organizations then it is to some degree accountable for their actions, right?," I note with mostly amusement that a majority of the funding for the Royal Society comes from the British government. Shall we then conclude that the British government is to some degree responsible for an effort to influence how a U.S. corporation donates to U.S.-based policy organizations that do the bulk of their work on U.S. domestic policies? Perhaps. Perhaps Americans will not find this troublesome, Britain being the Mother County and all.

I wonder if the same cross-Atlantic open-mindedness would prevail if U.S. government-funded institution were to pressure a major British philanthropist to stop funding something like, oh, perhaps criticizing the war in Iraq. A very important issue, that. Not being infallible, surely some domestic war critics have once or twice said something with which the U.S. government might properly disagree. Strike off their heads! Er, funds!

I note also that the Royal Society receives donations from ExxonMobil itself. The phrase "conflict of interest" comes to mind. If I were a recipient of a donor's largess, might I not like it if said donor became disenchanted with the other recipients of contributions? It might increase one's own portion of the pie, would it not? Worth a try, anyway.

I laughed aloud at the part of the Royal Society's letter complaining that some recipients of ExxonMobil largesse allegedly overstate the degree of uncertainty in climate science. If a thing as complicated as the factors determining the climate of the Earth is not known for sure, the potential uncertainties are very great indeed. Further, if we knew enough to quantify them, we would probably know enough to predict the weather next Tuesday.

Dr. Pielke, you are correct. The Royal Society risks being seen as a political/policy group. Perhaps it does not mind. Perhaps it sees it as truth in labeling.

Posted by: thinking1776 at September 21, 2006 04:10 PM


“The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can't have people trying to undermine it”

It's the vagueness of the language that's a bit disturbing. What do they mean by “action”, “mislead” and “undermine”?

“Action” to continue scientific research in crucial but uncertain areas, or to push “action” towards certain political agenda? It’s not clear, and this creates some worry.

With respect to “undermine” and “mislead” If the RS intends to prevent those who they feel are blatantly misrepresenting or cherry-picking the science for political ends, then OK – it’s their choice. But will the RS be equally vigilant with such groups/individuals on all sides of the debate?

Or does the RS mean to discourage the media from presenting the views of *any* scientists that presents research findings that might question some of the material presented by the IPCC?

You want to hope the intentions of the RS are good. But such vague language leaves much to be concerned about.

Posted by: Nick Schneider at September 21, 2006 04:50 PM


I think the Royal Society did the right thing. Exxon Mobil is not engaged in a scientific discussion by supporting organizations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Their support is pure politics dressed up as science. Exxon Mobil wanted to influence the public not debate scientists. The Royal Society has a responsibility to state it's beliefs when science and politics intersect as they often do in climate change. Telling the media that the positions Exxon Mobil is espousing are not worthy of being reported is smack in the middle of that intersection. Is it really any different than the government telling the media and through them the rest of us that we shouldn't believe tobacco companies who minimized concerns over smoking? I don't think so.

What I find offensive is a something like this: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20060919105731-66383.pdf

This is censorship. A political appointee in a government agency is preventing a government scientist from being used as a source for a news organization because that scientist doesn't toe the political line of the current administration.

Posted by: Patrick Kennedy at September 21, 2006 04:58 PM


Since when is corporate PR and think tank lobby propaganda an element in the free and open scientific debate? Certainly a thinking person can distinguish between an honest and lively scientific debate, and propaganda based on distortions and misrepresentations of the science. To condemn the propaganda is a legitimate exercise of good judgment.

Posted by: Michael Seward at September 21, 2006 05:43 PM


The supposed 'climate remediations' formed from within 'greenhouse supposition' can't have any beneficial effect, there isn't possible a 'greenhouse based' warming effect (with implementation of the 'greenhouse theory'), and so supposed 'greenhouse remediations' can only then be seen as potentially DETRIMENTAL to the NATURAL persistence of 'Natural events' & NATURAL alterations as observed in their still irregular but otherwise reasonable & 'GENTLE' Natural style.
It is easily understood why there is not general public support for 'greenhouse platforming', they simply do not accept the rhetorical presentation of nonsense by a small group of bullies (word as per this 'thread'). Perhaps those who attempt to 'ratify bulling' should understand the general public attitude to such practices in ALL arenas of life, including the ACADEMIC ARENA & should consider altering their 'position' on censorship especially, to be more accommodating of SCIENCE and less concerned in support of the 'talking greenhouse façade', perhaps?

It is that the censorship styling 'greenhouse discussion' attempts to avoid notice of SCIENCE, and focus instead of OPINION from just a 'few' presented as 'expert' and the noticed as being that supposed 'consensus' which in REALITY does not exist at all. These 'few' simply have no answer to SCIENCE and, unable to overcome such with OPINION, bully to produce censorship along with background vilification (tainted comments regarding 'corporate propaganda is obvious vilification 'in the attempt'), so notice please as EXAMPLE only to the attitude of those seemingly siding with censorship:-
http://starboard.flowtheory.net/blog/?q=node/204#comment-1533 -(+)

Is this the attitude included in 'greenhouse education'? Should it be considered that 'support' for 'greenhouse opinion' is indoctrinated within the education system? Certainly behavior is indicative of such. As to the Public, their general attitude seems expressed in the comment next, 'made to me' whilst attempting discussion in another place:-
-----
Heh
by Bob Friday September 15, 2006 at 11:34 PM

Social fascists are running this site.
Don't give them facts they just want money
-----
- It is 'the PUBLIC' are what this persistent censorship is 'rejecting', along with SCIENCE & is NOT at all an action of a 'discussion moderation' or SCIENCE at all, it is clearly seen as CENSORSHIP to support 'lobby platforming' and is being attempted on ALL levels it seems. Is it ANY wonder WHY the 'public' do not 'respond' then to MOVIES and 'Novels' platforming 'climate doom & woe'?...
- This is the function of the 'greenhouse platform', Politics to attempt to overplay the 'WHO is speaking' and underplay what is said being said, and belittle those who raise issues in SCIENCE the 'greenhouse platform' wants to have ignored (see link '+' above)....
-It is that 'dissension' is the just fiction, bullying the 'solution' and that is being seen when issues raised conflict with the 'greenhouse platformers' (political) ambitions. But then the 'greenhouse platform' has always been POLITICAL after the attempt to enter within SCIENCE saw the 'greenhouse theory' fail (for three times presented, three times failed).

The rise in median surface temperature is well seen, it is related to rematerialing of the surface by and within the production of Human habitat. This is so easily observed that the only method that the 'greenhouse science platform' can produce to counter this issue is to produce censorship and vilification of those whom point to this situation. It is clearly observed in the slides within those few outlines at link (**) below.
The current 'warm climate period' is only ONE of many within the last ~3 Million year 'Primary Trough' period tween the 60 or so 'Glacial Events' there in contained, and it could well be the last of this present 'Period' without any need to allude to 'humanistic alterations' with the processes involved well beyond 'human tinkering' still (& fortunately). All Humanity has done is move where the Rain might fall, but it will still be falling...just elsewhere than 'now', see link '**' below. This is commonly known information.

The public are not convinced of the 'doom and woe' propaganda as it is commonly known to be complete nonsense, & most certainly NOT science, and no number of politicians, actors or musicians will make any Movie to the 'general betterment' of 'greenhouse opinion' to the public. Production of style internet discussion groups will NOT assist in 'public conversions'. There is little relevancy of 'how much' CO2 is present with regard to CLIMATE, Temperature is NOT even a valid indicator of 'Climate involved' processes, and measure of Temperature is not even showing ANY valid, RELIABLE & persistent link to measure of CO2. Hence the effort to discuss 'paleo-periods', or fabricated 'future scenarios', rather than NOW. This is noticed by the public also, and NOW is what is relevant in 'Politics'.

Your's,
Peter K. Anderson a.k.a. Hartlod(tm)
From the PC of Peter K Anderson
E-Mail: Hartlod@bigpond.com
(*)- http://hartlod.blogspot.com/
(**)- http://hartlodsgallery.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Hartlod [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 06:31 PM


Roger,

Thanks for your efforts against politicizing science. Though I was initially not very skeptical, the more I see attempts (such as that by the RS) to censor the debate, the more skeptical I become of anything from the IPCC.

Posted by: Steve Gaalema at September 21, 2006 08:54 PM


Dr. Pielke:

I have reviewed with interest the exchanges on this thread and confess I have a difficult time understanding just exactly what your position is as to (i) the letter from the RS to Exxon, (ii) Dr. Whitehouse’s reaction, and (iii) what you see as the preferred manner in which the RS should deal with issues relating to the misrepresentation of climate science by interested corporations through the anonymous use of “for-hire” pundits. I appreciate your further clarification.

1. You stated that you endorse Dr. Whitehouse’s letter 100%, but as others have indicated, the pertinent parts of the RS letter consist of requests for information and not demands. Do you still agree with Dr. Whitehead that the RS letter is “hectoring and bullying [and] demanding adherence to the scientific consensus”, and is “using its authority to judge and censor”? If not, perhaps you can clarify what parts of Dr. Whitehead’s letter you agree with, and which, if any, you do not endorse.

2. You have stated that you think that by its letter to Exxon, "the Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open [political] debate," but you have also noted that “other interest groups out there taking a hard look at Exxon-Mobil's activities, and appropriately so”.

If it is appropriate to seek to clarify when corporations that have a vested interest in the status quo (of incomplete and ineffective GHG regulation) are seeking to block policy changes through the paid use of undisclosed pundits, and to provide more information to the political debate on the behavior and motivations of participants in that debate, in what way can you conclude that the RS is seeking to LIMIT political debate?

3. You assert that “the RS is seeking to advance political positions under the cover of science” but nowhere can I see in the letters at issue or this thread what “political” positions you or others consider the RS to be trying to advance. Can you clarify why you consider the RS’s actions to be directed at political positions, rather than at clarifying the climate change science? In what “overt advocacy” is the RS engaging and how does it negatively affect the scientific enterprise?

4. You state that “[t]here are precious few places of honest brokering of policy alternatives. National science academies should be one such place.” I am not sure I share your premise; since national science academies are preeminently scientific organizations without particular policy expertise, they do not seem well-positioned to “broker” policy alternatives, but perhaps you share my view that they should be providing scientific advice as to the nature of problems and in vetting the scientific aspects of policy proposals made by others.

In any case, can you help me to better understand how you think it is that an “honest broker” (or a science academy, in general) undermines its position when it acts to promote a more forthright and honest discussion of climate science (which of course would be the effect of identifying pundits who are funded by Exxon)?

5. If it is a “trap” and unsupportable to think that skeptics have had the effect of delaying action to solving the climate problem, then how can you at the same time state that the “appropriate” efforts to take “a hard look” at Exxon’s activities “have had an effect”? Obviously these positions are inconsistent – if Exxon and others have not delayed action, then their own expenditures have themselves been wasted, and efforts to clarify their use of pundits meaningless.

Rather, it seems clear that it is your own initial statement that is counterintuitive and unsupportable. While there are other factors at work (especially interactions among various countries to get the best climate change deal and to minimize free-riding and cheating), very clearly important monied interests that are have been enjoying the free and unfettered use of the global atmospheric commons. The benefits of such use have been significant enough that they have spent rather freely to maintain the flow of such benefits – just look at campaign contributions to Joe Barton and other Republicans. The funding of pundits as been a part of this, and it seems to me that the cost-benefit calculations of those spending (and watchdog groups that invest in disclosing such investments), coupled with the fact that meaningful policy action has not occurred, speak very loudly and clearly against your speculations that skeptics have not been able to delay action to solving the climate problem.

But even if you are correct - and that skeptics have had no success in delaying policy action - can you confirm whether you agree that it is useful when discussing policy to identify those who benefit from the status quo and who the interests of various parties would be affected by different policy options?

Thank you,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:23 PM


It is the 'fence of censorship' that the 'greenhouse platform' attempts to raise that is at issue. There is not any actual validity in the use of a descriptive like 'corporate pundit for hire' or 'denialist &/or sceptic', with these terms used by the 'greenhouse Platformer' to vilify those presenting those points otherwise wanted to remain 'unnoticed'. It is ALSO the Political play of the 'greenhouse Platformer' made obvious with these terms, NOT any deficiency in the points made by those so targeted for vilification. The 'greenhouse platform' efforts to discuss 'paleo-periods' & fabricated 'future scenarios' (from behind a 'censorship fence') rather than 'Now' with this 'attitude' well noticed by the public. 'NOW' is however what IS relevant in 'Politics' and the 'greenhouse platform' is only playing 'scientists' in the Political Arena... 'Advocates' in 'white coats' are still only Advocates & not 'Scientists'...

It is that the general public would hold greater 'climate knowledge' that the 'few' being platformed as 'experts' far too often, as there are isn't such a 'climate' as these 'few experts' would opinion on with the materials within the Environment NOT presenting properties & behaviours consistent with these 'experts' opinion ON 'Climate'. The public are not convinced by the 'doom and woe' propaganda either, as it is commonly seen for what it is, lobby propaganda & no number of politicians, actors or musicians will make any Movie to the 'general betterment' of 'greenhouse opinion' or 'climate doom as reality' to the public.

This current 'warming climate period' is only ONE of many within the last ~3 Million year 'Primary Trough' period tween the 60 or so 'Glacial Age-like Events' there in contained, and it could well be the last of this present 'Period' without any need to allude to 'humanistic greenhouse alterations' with the processes involved well beyond 'human tinkering' still & fortunately so. All Humanity has done is move where the Rain might fall, but it will still be falling...just elsewhere than 'now', see link '**' below. It is as such not UNNATURAL to see Ice melting.

The 'greenhouse platform' efforts to 'discuss from behind a censorship fence', this is WHAT the 'RS' ploy is about being not 'so to validate' what 'is mentioned' but only effort to control WHO should 'speak'. The 'greenhouse focus' seems anywhere except 'Now' also, with this 'attitude' well noticed by the public. With 'NOW' being what IS relevant in 'Politics' and the 'greenhouse platform' only playing 'scientists' in the Political Arena it is little wonder that people mention that, as example, the UK Public remains sceptical of climate danger. It is that the 'greenhouse few' attempt to hide from notice the 'IS' of 'NOW', but successfully it seems only from themselves. There has not been seen as such 'action', this is commonly mentioned in discussion with 'Kyoto targets' not even being noticed it seems, so 'policy action' is to date near non existent thus one would ask "What 'success' then is being 'un-negated' even by supposed 'denialists"? The answer would appear to be NONE... Politics IS about NOW it seems, you see.

Should it not also be seen as to WHO benefits from persistent platforming of 'greenhouse opinion', all those BOOK and MOVIE deals, whilst the ENVIRONMENT continues on un-interested in 'greenhouse supposition' and whilst Humanity continues to build itself into the situation of 'suffering' under a period of 'perfect storm' productions 'Tokyo Tom'? Seems being a 'greenhouse expert' is very lucrative...

Your's,
Peter K. Anderson a.k.a. Hartlod(tm)
E-Mail: Hartlod@bigpond.com
(*)- http://hartlod.blogspot.com/
(**)- http://hartlodsgallery.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Hartlod [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 12:19 AM


The RS were happy enough when the consensus on stomach ulcers was broken by just 2 scientists:

October 2005

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4304290.stm

Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society, said: "Their results led to the recognition that gastric disorders are infectious diseases, and overturned the previous view that they were physiological illnesses."

Lord May wrote to newspapers asking them not to publish articles that were sceptical about global warming, before he retired.

Posted by: Paul Biggs [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 04:44 AM


A few thoughts:

1. Exxon's savvy seems to have done a great job at deflecting public attention away from their $ and onto the RS.

2. While I think the RS does have a purpose to discredit scientific fraud, they are doing an amazingly poor job at saying so, if indeed that is their purpose.

3. As a result of 1 and 2, I think that the RS's actions are being percieved as being more reproachable than what they probably intended.

If a big Palladium miner stared spending millions of bucks on astro-turf roots publicity touting the benefits of cold fusion, then the RS would be perfectly right in calling them on it. Similarly, if Exxon spends money on similar qualitatively convincing but quantitatively wrong arguements against the existance or severity of global warming, the RS has a duty to out them.

But the political and scientific facents of the global warming issue are so hard to seperate that it looks like in this case, the RS aimed for bad science but got caught in a political snare.

Posted by: Lab Lemming at September 22, 2006 04:55 AM


Sorry, it was the VP, Sir david Wallace who wrote to the press in May 2005:

I've had a letter from Sir David Wallace, CBE, FRS. In his capacity as treasurer and vice-president of the Royal Society, he writes: "We are appealing to all parts of the UK media to be vigilant against attempts to present a distorted view of the scientific evidence about climate change and its potential effects on people and their environments around the world. I hope that we can count on your support."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/05/16/do1602.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2005/05/16/ixopinion.html

Posted by: Paul Biggs [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 05:53 AM


Responses to Tokyo Tom

Some great questions here. My replies follow.

-----------------
1. You stated that you endorse Dr. Whitehouse’s letter 100%, but as others have indicated, the pertinent parts of the RS letter consist of requests for information and not demands. Do you still agree with Dr. Whitehead that the RS letter is “hectoring and bullying [and] demanding adherence to the scientific consensus”, and is “using its authority to judge and censor”? If not, perhaps you can clarify what parts of Dr. Whitehead’s letter you agree with, and which, if any, you do not endorse.
-------------------------

I don’t think I’ve ever used the terms “hectoring and bullying” but I agree with the spirit of Dr. henson’s views, especially when he writes, “However the Royal Society sees its role in debates about science, is it appropriate that it should be using its authority to judge and censor in this way?” This question perfectly captures my concerns and is the message that I endorse 100% from the letter. Thanks for the chance to clarify.

-------------------
2. You have stated that you think that by its letter to Exxon, "the Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open [political] debate," but you have also noted that “other interest groups out there taking a hard look at Exxon-Mobil's activities, and appropriately so”.

If it is appropriate to seek to clarify when corporations that have a vested interest in the status quo (of incomplete and ineffective GHG regulation) are seeking to block policy changes through the paid use of undisclosed pundits, and to provide more information to the political debate on the behavior and motivations of participants in that debate, in what way can you conclude that the RS is seeking to LIMIT political debate?
-----------------------

RS is trying to change how Exxon funds interest groups. They are trying to limit the flow of resources to certain interest groups. This is indeed trying to limit political debate. Whatever the remit of the RS, I do not think that it ought to include passing judgment on what interests in society are acceptable recipients of funding. There are many, many groups that stretch and misrepresent science, including many notable environmental groups. I do not think that science academies should be engaging in their funding based on how they interpret their use of science.

---------------------
3. You assert that “the RS is seeking to advance political positions under the cover of science” but nowhere can I see in the letters at issue or this thread what “political” positions you or others consider the RS to be trying to advance. Can you clarify why you consider the RS’s actions to be directed at political positions, rather than at clarifying the climate change science? In what “overt advocacy” is the RS engaging and how does it negatively affect the scientific enterprise?
---------------------

“Politics” is about bargaining, negotiation, and compromise. “Science” is about the systematic pursuit of knowledge. The RS actions focused on Exxon funding are about the former, using the authority of the scientific community to adjudicate who should be able to speak on issues of climate politics. And lets be clear, the organizations that Exxon is funding at the focus of the RS letter are political entities, not research organizations. On how advocacy hurts the community, see:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2002: Policy, politics and perspective. Nature 416:368.
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/2002.05.pdf

An my new book, the Honest broker, will discuss all of this in depth.

-----------------------------
4. You state that “[t]here are precious few places of honest brokering of policy alternatives. National science academies should be one such place.” I am not sure I share your premise; since national science academies are preeminently scientific organizations without particular policy expertise, they do not seem well-positioned to “broker” policy alternatives, but perhaps you share my view that they should be providing scientific advice as to the nature of problems and in vetting the scientific aspects of policy proposals made by others.
--------------------------

Two replies.

1. Science and politics can only be cleanly separated in the most trivial of circumstances. There are no purely scientific elements of issues like climate change.

2. Science academies are often called upon to weigh in on important policy issues. If it is indeed that case that they have little policy expertise, then this says something quite revealing about asking these organizations to offer policy guidance. I do not think that science academies have any shortage of available policy research expertise in the academic community on which they draw their expertise.

----------------------
In any case, can you help me to better understand how you think it is that an “honest broker” (or a science academy, in general) undermines its position when it acts to promote a more forthright and honest discussion of climate science (which of course would be the effect of identifying pundits who are funded by Exxon)?
----------------------

I encourage you to read the following paper, which suggests the same question that you have in its title.

Sarewitz, D., 2004. How Science makes environmental controversies worse, Environmental Science & Policy, 7:385-403.
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/publications/special/sarewitz_how_science_makes_environmental_controversies_worse.pdf

-------------------------
5. If it is a “trap” and unsupportable to think that skeptics have had the effect of delaying action to solving the climate problem, then how can you at the same time state that the “appropriate” efforts to take “a hard look” at Exxon’s activities “have had an effect”? Obviously these positions are inconsistent – if Exxon and others have not delayed action, then their own expenditures have themselves been wasted, and efforts to clarify their use of pundits meaningless.
-----------------------

Great question. Skeptics on climate science have had little effect on public opinion, emissions reductions, or adaptation. So if influencing these are the goals of Exxon’s past funding of interest groups, I’d maintain that such money has been mostly wasted. When I say that interest groups have had an “effect” this is with respect to Exxon’s funding, which hs changed in recent years away from these organizations. Anyone who thinks that changing Exxon’s funding patterns will affect public opinion, emissions reductions, or adaptation is in store for a disappointment. For many, a battle with Exxon over funding is a proxy war from climate policy.

-----------------------
. . . SNIP . . .

But even if you are correct - and that skeptics have had no success in delaying policy action - can you confirm whether you agree that it is useful when discussing policy to identify those who benefit from the status quo and who the interests of various parties would be affected by different policy options?
-------------------------

Absolutely.

One of the lessons of successful political movements, with only a few exceptions, is that you progress not by overturning the status quo but by presenting new options that allow for an evolutionary divergence to some new political consensus. The lesson of ozone depletion is that corporate interests we refocused on goals of environmentalists when substitutes for CFCs were invented. Progress on climate policy will be made not when one side “wins” (whatever that means) but when someone comes up with heretofore unavailable options that redefine the political dynamics.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 07:17 AM


Peter Hartlod-

Please do not continue submitting duplicate and lengthy posts that are off topic. The first we allowed, but now we will delete them.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 08:32 AM


Well after reading the comments of Tom Dreves and Tokyo Tom, I can safely say that I've learned a lot from this discussion -- primarily that others are much more eloquent than I am and can clearly express arguments that would take me days to write out.

On this point, Roger, I think that you should also consider you're own writing on this blog. I immensely enjoy reading your posts and the ensuing discussions and certainly appreciate the effort that you put into it. Having said that, I do find that more often than not, I have a hard time trying to understand exactly what it is that you are trying to say and what arguments you are trying to make. In fairness, I'm not sure if the reason that I find your writing somewhat impenetrable is simply because I'm not as familiar as some with the S&TS literature that seems to underpin many of your arguments.

But if that's the case, then I also have to ask who your primary audience is in all of this. Because if it's primarily non-specialists, then I would suggest you change your approach somewhat. Here are two suggestions:

1. Shorter isn't necessarily better. Many of the arguments that you make seem to require an appreciation of subtle points. Take the time and put these in your posts up front (instead of making us drag them out of you :)) since many of your readers don't come to these issues with the same kind of background knowledge/perspective as you.

2. Avoiding argumentation by linkification (or deluge). This is a personal pet peeve of mine. While I enjoy reading blogs, I don't necessarily have the time to sift through endless papers to find the one point that is relevant to the discussion. I can understand that you don't want to have to constantly repeat yourself. As a compromise, let me suggest that you simply cut-and-paste relevant parts of articles that help support your argument. Sure it takes a little bit more time, but it also helps advance the discussion by avoiding the "is this what you mean" back and forth posts.


Those are my suggestions, for what its worth.

cheers,

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 09:39 AM


Marlowe-

Thanks much for the constructive feedback. A few replies:

1. As your 2 suggestions show there is a trade-off between conciseness and comprehensiveness. We're learning about how to achieve this mix. One function of the comments is to help achieve greater clarity that may not be present in the original post. With some luck some of that will sink in my brain for the future application;-)

2. Guilty as charged. By I have come to more fully appreciate that policy research is not unlike any other area of specialized knowledge -- it often requires appreication for the details and the specifics, much like chemistry, physics, sociology, philosophy or any otehr area of study. I provide links to more fully developed peer-revewed articles for those who want such details. For others, I realize that such knowledge may not be desired.

With some luck, all of this will be made clear in my forthcoming book (ahem;-)

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 09:52 AM


In all of this, there is just one reference to the offending information that the RS is rallying against. Defenders of the RS are assuming that the information in question is undoubtedly false by any reasonable measure of scientific certainty, and that this alone justifies the actions of the RS.

The one example given is in the transcript from the BBC radio broadcast, citing the co2science.org website stating: "There is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in temperature was caused by the rise in carbon dioxide." Has this statement been proven wrong? Is there no doubt that this statement is in fact and without question ‘disinformation’, or is it possible that this view might be reasonably held by a well-informed scientist?

Since this statement is not in context, it is difficult to discern what is meant by ‘the rise in temperature’. Are they referring to the entire change in average global temperature over the last 120 years? If so, then the statement is absolutely correct, for legitimate, well-meaning scientists have identified other factors that appear to be responsible for about three quarters of the observed warming, leaving only about 25% (or about 0.15 degrees C) for CO2. So there is no compelling reason to believe that CO2 is responsible for all of the warming (the IPCC doesn’t even make that claim), and that the statement from the website may, in fact, be fairly accurate!

My point is that all of the above contributors defending the recent actions of the Royal Society do so with the assumption that the RS’s current interpretation of AGW science is absolutely correct and anyone who disagrees with them is absolutely wrong! The assumption is that the ‘disinformation’ will be harmful to society and that it is the responsibility of the RS to protect society from harmful verbiage. But the lone example we are given, does not support these assumptions!

Assume, for the moment, that CO2 is NOT the primary driver of global climate change. Then any ‘actions’ suggested or supported by the Royal Society may be far more harmful to society than the CO2 emissions themselves! While not in the majority, there are many in the scientific community that believe this to be the reality. Should they come together and write the media, asking them not to print the ‘harmful disinformation’ coming from the Royal Society? Would not you RS/AGW supporters view this as an attempt at censorship? Without a doubt, for that is exactly what it would be!

Do scientists wish to influence society by providing scientific information or suppressing information they disagree with? Do the ends justify the means?

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 11:30 AM


Dr. Pielke:

Thanks for your response. Allow me to make a few observations to your numbered paragraphs:

1. You clearly disagree with the RS letter, but I fail to see how you can give Dr. Whitehouse`s letter to BP your 100% endorsement unless you agree with his view that the RS letter to Exxon amounts to the RS “using its authority to judge and censor”. I`m sorry, but I fail to see how asking Exxon for information is in any way either judging or censorious. Browbeating, perhaps, but given Exxon`s size and the lack of any authority of RS over it, hardly bullying.

2. You say that “Whatever the remit of the RS, I do not think that it ought to include passing judgment on what interests in society are acceptable recipients of funding.” I agree that the RS should not be telling Exxon whom it should fund, but surely you can see that the actions of the RS do not rise to that level? While the RS would clearly like to see all SCIENTFIC comment by Exxon above the board and identified – so that the source of such comment can be better weighed - the RS is being careful simply to request information, and is not at all seeking to limit POLITICAL debate by Exxon. RS simply wants to better understand when Exxon is choosing to AVOID political debate by seeking to cloud the scientific debate through the use of unidentified proxies.

I`m puzzled that you do not find this effort to clarify the debate be separating out the separate strands of it to be either important or an appropriate concern of the RS. I guess I fail to fully understand your concerns, but in any case I do not see a foundation for your conclusion that RS is trying limit political debate.

3. & 4.  You say that assert that “the RS is seeking to advance political positions under the cover of science” and is engaging in “overt advocacy” that negatively affects the scientific enterprise. You further clarify that “`Politics` is about bargaining, negotiation, and compromise. “Science” is about the systematic pursuit of knowledge. The RS actions focused on Exxon funding are about the former, using the authority of the scientific community to adjudicate who should be able to speak on issues of climate politics.

I have reviewed the two papers you referenced and it seems to me that your position is entirely contradictory to the positions taken there. In general, you`d like to see the limits of science recognized and not to allow decision-makers and advocates to stymie political decision-making by engaging in “scientized debate” that “suppress[es] the open discussion of value preferences.” Well, isn`t that EXACTLY the expressed concern of the RS? It seems to me that what the RS is trying to do is to clarify that Exxon’s so-called scientific positions, and the political organizations that Exxon funds, are essentially political, and not scientific. In this the RS can fairly argue that it is simply policing the scientific discussion by trying to draw a sharper distinction between what is political and what is scientific. Is this not what you and Dr. Sarewitz profess to desire as well? It seems to me to be quite within the legitimate interests of the RS, if not one of its core interests, to seek to keep what is political from muddying what is scientific.

Allow me also to refer to the two papers you cited. Dr. Sarewitz states that

“Even if science brings … a controversy into focus (for example, by documenting a rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases), the controversy itself exists only because conflict over values and interests also exists. Bringing the value disputes concealed by—and embodied in—science into the foreground of political process is likely to be a crucial factor in turning such controversies into successful democratic action … Moreover, the social value of science itself is likely to increase if scientific resources relevant to a particular controversy are allocated after these value disputes have been brought out into the open, their implications for society explored, and suitable goals identified.”

Sarewitz further suggests that “progress in addressing environmental controversies will need to come primarily from advances in political process, rather than scientific research,” and that “such advances will require the formal or informal imposition of a sort of “quiet period” for scientific debate … [d]uring [which] … those who make scientific assertions in fora of public deliberation would have to accompany those claims with a statement of value preferences and private interests relevant to the dispute.”

Sarewitz notes that “The technical debate—and the implicit promise that “more research” will tell us what to do—vitiates the will to act. Not only does the value dispute remain unresolved, but the underlying problem remains unaddressed. The point is not that stripping away the overlay of scientific debate must force politicians to take action. But if they choose not to act they can no longer claim that they are waiting for the results of the next round of research—they must instead explain their allegiance to inaction in terms of their own values and interests, and accountability now lies with them, not with science or scientists. To the extent that our democratic political fora are incapable of enforcing that accountability, the solution must lie in political reform, not more and better scientific information.

Your own paper states that "In the third corner is the advocate, looking for scientific data to provide a compelling justification for his political, societal, environmental or business goal. … Science brings with it an air of impartiality and being ‘above the fray’ but, ironically, its use in such advocacy actually undermines impartiality. … Political advocates will always selectively use and misuse scientific data to support their agendas.” You further note that, “to guard against the politicization of science, the independent scientific community must take responsibility for assessing the significance of scientific results for policy."

Would you agree that it is EXXON, not the RS, which is trying to achieve political objectives through politicized science, precisely to vitiate the will to act, while dodging an open discussion of policies and values? If so, what`s really driving your strong disapprobation of the RS, with nary a peep about Exxon`s disengenousness? And isn`t the RS doing the right thing in clarifying the differences between scientific disputes and value disputes?

BTW, I fail to see how either paper answers my question of how you think it is that an “honest broker” (or a science academy, in general) undermines its position when it acts to promote a more forthright and honest discussion of climate science (which would be the effect of identifying pundits who are funded by Exxon).

5. You state that “Skeptics on climate science have had little effect on public opinion, emissions reductions, or adaptation. So if influencing these are the goals of Exxon’s past funding of interest groups, I’d maintain that such money has been mostly wasted. … Anyone who thinks that changing Exxon’s funding patterns will affect public opinion, emissions reductions, or adaptation is in store for a disappointment.”
Allow me to split a few important hairs. Exxon benefits from POLICY inaction, and, while paying attention (and adapting) to its own business environment, is basically neutral to the voluntary emission reductions and adaptation efforts by others. Thus, the question is not so much whether the efforts by Exxon (and other fossil fuels companies and industry groups) have had any effect on emission reductions, adaptations or even public opinion per se, but whether they have managed to stymie policies changes. I fail to see how an honest answer to this question can be anything but yes.

Exxon and others quite clearly benefit from the status quo policy logjam by getting a free ride in using the global atmospheric commons as a dumping ground, a la Garrett Hardin, and passing the costs off onto the all of us generally. They invested quite carefully, deliberately and extensively in political campaigns and PR misinformation campaigns for this purpose, and they found willing takers in the Bush administration and Republican party, spearheaded by Exxon and Frank Luntz, who took joy in using a mockery of climate change and fear of “enviros” as a political club. (That a number of conservative pundits have been complicit by ignoring the obvious property rights failure at the core of global warming will be to their own lasting discredit.)

One might note that this pattern of behavior bears some resemblance to the Bush administration`s war on terror, which is another huge giveaway to special interests that looks like it will run for any number of years.

Please note that I consider Exxon`s rent-seeking behavior to be perfectly rational. That does not make it any less of a giveaway from the national treasury and our collective heritage. Although I am happy to hear rumbles for policy changes, I fear that instead of rational policies aimed at resolving institional failures regarding climate change, the administration and Congress are going to foist on us another set of hugely expensive pork-barrel projects to benefit special interests. This is ever the way of government, especially when there is no effective opposition.

Sincerely,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 02:35 PM


TT-

Thanks for the thoughtful follow up. Limited time at the moment will not allow a more comprehensive reply, but let me quickly address one point that you have made:

"Would you agree that it is EXXON, not the RS, which is trying to achieve political objectives through politicized science, precisely to vitiate the will to act, while dodging an open discussion of policies and values? If so, what`s really driving your strong disapprobation of the RS, with nary a peep about Exxon`s disengenousness? And isn`t the RS doing the right thing in clarifying the differences between scientific disputes and value disputes?"

Of course Exxon is trying to achieve its politicl goals using the authority of science. Just about all etablished interests try to have the "science" on their side.

My concern is that the RS is doing the exact same thing. I believe strongly that in a healthy democracy there must be a division of responsibility among experts. Some should actively engage in political combat seeking to advance their particular interests. Such advocacy has an important role in democratic systems.

Some people believe that such advocacy (called "interest group pluralism") is all there is in a democracy, and that "if you are not with us, then you are against us." I have been convinced that there is another role that is needed beyond advocacy, which I have called the "honest broker of policy alternatives." On some issues all of the options being debated are bad ones. Climate change is a perfect example. We battle over Kyoto, hockey sticks, and Exxon's funding because there have yet to be viable options intrioduced into political debate. (Compare my earlier comments on how technology changed the political dynamics of the ozone debate.) This notion of democracy is more along the lines of that proposed by political scientist EE Schattschneider. Such honest brokers of policy alternatives are hard to come by -- they aren't individuals but institutions, with high standing and political legitimacy to speak for common interests -- i.e., not Exxon or otehr special interests.

So I fully understand it when people read me suggesting that the RS should adopt a honets broke role concluding that I must be somehow in support of Exxon, as you have suggested. Such people simply see the role of the epxert in democracy in different terms than I do. A recognition that there are different roles for the expert (or at least that people see different roles), beyond simply taking sides, is the key to understanding why it is that I focus my attention on institutions like the RS.

To understnad my perspective, it is necessary to recognize that I do not see Exxon and the RS as equivalent institutions. By its actions the RS has presented itself as somehow equivalent (as reflected some of the comments here). Were that to occur, that would be a shame because we need the unique attributes of the RS (and institutions like it for the long term).

I have no worries that plenty attention is being devoted to Exxon's advocacy. I am worried that in the excitement of the political fray very few are interested in much less concerned about the long-term sustainability of the unique aspects of institutions like the RS.

I hope this adds some useful context, apologies for the typos (and taking Marlowe's advice to say more with no reading assignments;-). More later as time allows ... Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 02:58 PM


Jim Clarke raises good points. I find it impossible to judge the statement allegedly made by Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change "There is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in temperature was caused by the rise in carbon dioxide" without knowing the context.

I do think it worth noting that if one goes to the website, http://www.co2science.org, one sees reference after reference to peer-reviewed studies.

Posted by: Thinking1776 [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 05:21 PM


Jim Says, "'There is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in temperature was caused by the rise in carbon dioxide.' Has this statement been proven wrong?"

This is an example of policy and science getting wound together so tightly that they are hard to separate.

Can you give a scientifically or statistically meaningful definition of "compelling"? If not, then the statement is unverifiable, and therefore unscientific.

As for co2science.org, that site filters CO2 related publications and only links those which show possible benefit (or reduced harm). Thus, it is not very useful for determining the net effects of increased CO2. The obvious analogy is trying to balance one's credit card statement after crossing out all expenditures.

The problem for scientific organizations is that deliberate disinformation is a terminal offense in science. As such, no means is too harsh in the identification and persecution of it. However, in policy, disinformation is at worst a misdemeanor. So when retaliation against support for bad science is seen in a political light, adn not a scientific one, it seems to be an overreaction.

Posted by: Lab Lemming at September 22, 2006 10:09 PM


"As for co2science.org, that site filters CO2 related publications and only links those which show possible benefit (or reduced harm). Thus, it is not very useful for determining the net effects of increased CO2."

Can you point me to the chapter(s) in the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) dedicated to the benefits of CO2 and global warming?

If not, do you agree that the IPCC TAR is also "not very useful for determining the net effects of increased CO2"?

"The problem for scientific organizations is that deliberate disinformation is a terminal offense in science."

What about the IPCC deliberately trying to pass off their "projections" in their TAR as scientific? Or do you think that something that "projections" that are unfalsifiable can still be scientific?

Posted by: Mark Bahner at September 23, 2006 07:24 AM


Lab,

Thank you for your response. You are absolutely correct when you point out that the word ‘compelling’ is not statistically meaningful and, therefore, unverifiable and unscientific. This is similar to the word ‘discernable’ as in “discernable human influence”, and the concept of ‘future scenarios’. Neither has been quantified, yet they are said to be so ‘compelling’ that we all must sacrifice or face impending doom!

If you want to use semantics to dismiss a ‘compelling’ argument from co2.science, then the same rule must apply to the IPCC, which would make AGW a non-issue. Otherwise, we have to accept the idea of ‘compelling’ as a legitimate concept in the discussion of science.

Similarly, the faults you find with the co2science website are also found in the IPCC reports.

You wrote: “…that site filters CO2 related publications and only links those which show possible benefit (or reduced harm). Thus, it is not very useful for determining the net effects of increased CO2.” I would certainly agree that the Idso’s search the literature for peer reviewed science that indicates potential benefits from increasing CO2. They also search the literature for indications that CO2 is not the main driver of climate change and that natural climate variability is much larger than the IPCC indicates. The volume of referenced papers indicates that they have been quite successful!

Likewise, the IPCC has filtered the climate change publications for those papers that support the assumption that CO2 is the main driver of climate change, that natural climate change is small and that increasing CO2 is, by definition, harmful! The fact that most of the information on the co2.science website is either ignored or given scant coverage in the IPCC publications is evidence of this. Another example is the whole ‘hockey stick’ fiasco, where a relatively isolated and seriously flawed study was picked as the icon of natural climate variability and placed on the front page of secular publications around the world!

The difference between the two is that the Idso’s are running a ‘response’ website. They are not claiming to present the full summation of climate change science and should not be faulted for there focus. They are simply responding to the IPCC’s one-sided presentations of the science. The IPCC, on the other hand, does claim to be the summation of the existing scientific evidence of human induced climate change and should be criticized for its failure to weigh the evidence equally!

Returning to my original point and the focus of this thread…The Royal Society’s actions are based on the assumption that their ‘science’ is correct beyond any reasonable doubt. While they can not prove this, they have ‘faith’ that it is so. There actions are not those of a group claiming scientific authority, but of a group claiming moral authority! This notion that they have a moral responsibility to censor and intimidate opposing voices, can only come from faith, not science.

Science may refute an argument if it can, but it holds no power to suppress it!

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2006 08:47 AM


Dr. Pielke:

I appreciate your response, but find it unsatisfying and misdirected, as well as unsupported in the present case by the language of the actual RS letter.

Despite the awareness you show (in both your response and in the essays you linked to and which I quoted in part above) that the reason climate change policy has been deliberately stymied because the science has been intentionally politicized by fossil fuel providers and users, including but not limited to Exxon, the National Association of Manufacturers, and by their spokesmen in Congress and the Administration, who have chosen to avoid a direct discussion of policies and values and of their respective interests, you choose to focus on the scientific bodies (RS and the IPCC), even though those bodies do not formulate or determine policy, and can do nothing to move the debate forward as long as politicians remain unwilling to act - except to continue to try to summarize and clarify the science, which I think would include clarifying when interested parties and politicians are deliberately spreading inaccuracies or overstating uncertainties, whether directly or through proxies.

In this, it seems to me that (as I and others above have argued) the case Dr. Whitehouse presents against the RS as acting to “censor” Exxon and which you endorse holds little water given the RS letter itself, and rather beside the point. The scientific agencies can`t force the politicians to act, and if they remain silent when they note that the science is being politicized, they can hardly help to move the debate forward in political fora, and arguably simply enable the further politicization of science.

Thus I find it very puzzling that you seem to argue that the scientific bodies should simply sit idly by when their work is misused, for the sake of being “honest brokers” over the long-run. (BTW, did you take a similar position in response to the reaction by the scientific community to the abusive subpoenas that Joe Barton issued earlier?) It seems instead that you are setting the scientists up to be chumps, and to reward those who are not interested in honest brokers but prefer to achieve their policy objectives quietly in the dark via the misuse of science rather than through an open political discussion.

I acknowledge of course that, as long as scientists work in areas that have important policy implications and such scientists have strong views about their work, the scientists themselves will always be susceptible to accusations by interested third parties that the scientists are also “politicizing” science. However, I think that pointing out when others act anonymously through proxies is a factual matter and thus entirely appropriate. Moreover, trying to flush debates out of science and into political fora is ultimately the only way to openly resolve the relevant policy dispute, even though those benefiting from the status quo may not at all appreciate having light shed on their tactics (as light may demonstrate that certain parties already have their hands in the cookie jar).

It seems the me that those who are really interested in breaking the climate change policy log-jam would be working to propose and analyze the costs and benefits of various possible policy positions (starting with the status quo), on top of trying to clarify:

- the science, the rates of increases in GHG emissions and accumulations, including outreach to citizens, interested parties, politician and scientists who are interested but not directly engaged,
- the legal and economic underpinnings of the problem (viz., “tragedy of the commons” or malfunctioning market due to pricing mechanism for GHG emissions, due to lack of private property rights or other effective regulatory mechanisms nationally and internationally),
- the actual and expected environmental consequences and, last but not least,
- the interests of various parties.

In addition, it would be helpful for such “honest brokers” to work to steer the problem from the science to political fora by shedding light on instances where interest groups act covertly to politicize science. You might think that someone beside RS should be doing this job, but it is honest work and essential to having open political discussion, as your own cited papers recognize. Who else should be doing this, and how (in the UK)? I fail to see how ignoring Exxon and condemning the RS, while failing to make concrete suggestions and how to move the parties to open political fora, are particularly constructive.

Some may think that the debate over the RS letter may damage the RS, but they have my gratitude, and I am sure that Exxon is not pleased with this open controversy. I understand the economic logic of their position, but Exxon and their customers (pretty much all of us in other words) have been getting a free ride on the use of fossil fuels while shifting the significant costs of GHG dumping on to the world`s ecological and economic systems generally and to future generations. We need to change our ruinous behavior - not by destroying our economic system but by fixing a malfunctioning pricing mechanism - and to start adapting to the changes that cannot be forestalled. And we need to get China, India and others on board (for which we have our continued open markets as tremendous leverage).

Respectfully,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 23, 2006 12:37 PM


TT-

Thanks for these additional comments. A few reactions:

1. You assert that "the reason climate change policy has been deliberately stymied". Again, while various groups are battling over climate policy, often through science, I maintain that the lack of greater action on climate policy has little to do with the scientized debate. Consider that the EU-15 is likely to miss their Kyoto targets by a wide mark, and this has nothing to do with Exxon or skeptics, etc.

2. You write, "The scientific agencies can`t force the politicians to act . . ." In my view nor should they. Consider intelligence agencies like the CIA. It is not their job to force or otherwise compel politicians to act with miltary action. Decision making is best served when there is a clear distinction between advisors, advocates, and decision makers.

3. My views on the Barton inquiry are found here:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000480on_the_hockey_stick.html

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2006 12:50 PM


Dr. Pielke:

1. I thought it was obvious that my reference to climate change policy being deliberately stymied, to which you apparently agree in part, referred chiefly to the US. Yes, other factors are also at work internationally, but I mentioned them previously and Al Gore has described them in his recent speech - we`re dealing with a global tragedy of the commons. As long as the US remains out of the game, we are a spoiler and a free rider on the efforts of others. We accordingly dillute the incentives that the Europeans have to comply with their Kyoto commitments (why should they subsidize us, or accept costs that undermine their relative economic position when we won`t), and we encourage growing emitters like China, India, Brazil, S Korea and others not to undertake any GHG reduction obligations.

And why is the US out of the game? To deliberately thumb our noses at our allies, and subsidize China and India as rivals through allow them also to damage the global environment freely?

Perhaps, but I suppose the main reason why we didn`t join Kyoto (and haven`t tried to drag China and India in) is because the interests that benefit from inaction (fossil fuel providers and large-scale users) are more politically powerful than the diffuse general interest in controlling climate change and those special interests that would benefit from regulating GHGs.

How have those more powerful interested parties chosen to act? By openly arguing the correctness of their position publicly, or rather through politicizing the science (to maximize uncertainty, downplay hazards, overstate costs etc.), paid punditry and large campaign contributions to Republicans (who coordinated PR campaigns highlighting uncertainty and bashing Dems and enviros as extremists)?

Or am I missing an important piece of the big picture?

2. I haven`t suggested that the scientific agencies should try to force the politicians to act. I have suggested that they have a stake in trying to minimize the politicization of science and that shedding light on when interested parties like Exxon act anonymously to politicize science is an efficacious way to do that and to encourage open political discourse.

If you wish to preserve the distinctions between advisors, advocates, and decision makers then I am not sure how you can disagree. Perhaps someone else should do this task, but you haven`t made the case that the scientific agencies should avoid it.

But whatever it is, such actions, and the actions of RS in its letter to Exxon, are not political and certainly not censorious. Not sure if I should keep harping on this point, but you`ve failed to refer to in in response to my recent posts. Does that mean you no longer 100% support Dr. Whitehouse`s characterization of the RS letter, including his claim that it represent censorship by the RS?

Sincerely,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 23, 2006 02:26 PM


One wonders how many of those who voice strong opinions either way regarding AGW have ever read any of the IPCC assessments in their entirety. Or any of the huge number of scientific publications on this topic freely available on the internet.

The excuse "I'm not a client scientist!" would be a lame one. Few of the journalists or other pundits who are shaping our views on this issue appear to have any background in science of any kind, or have actually read what the climate scientists are really saying.

We the People or We The Sheeple?

Posted by: Manny Goldstein at September 23, 2006 03:48 PM


TT,

Climate sceptics had little or nothing to do with the non-ratification of the Kyoto Treaty. The sceptic 'industry' was only getting started then. The Idso's, for example, first published on co2science.org on 15 September 1998 while the Kyoto protocol was opened for signatures in December 1997.

The reason that no US president has even submitted Kyoto for ratification has nothing to do with science. It is because it is fatally flawed politically and economically. Late in the negotion process, the US Senate voted 95-0 that the treaty as written was unacceptable. Senate votes on similar items since have been primarily along party lines apparently with the intent to embarrass President Bush, not actually passing something that would have an effect.

While this had something to do with China and India not having to control their CO2 emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, the primary reason was that the EU negotiators had designed the treaty to put the US at a serious economic disadvantage to the EU. In other words, the Kyoto treaty was mercantilist in intent and could have no discernable effect on climate whatever the influence of GHG's. When our negotiating team (led by Vice President Gore) failed to adress this, the Treaty was dead as far as the US was concerned. Nothing has changed since then.

Posted by: DeWitt Payne at September 23, 2006 08:12 PM


TT,

The politicalization of science is something that takes place on both sides of the issue. For example, I stopped contributing to many environmental groups around 1990, because they constantly presented the worst case scenarios of AGW as being the most likely! This was and is a misuse of the science, yet there is no call for the RS to intimidate private companies who contribute to these environmental groups, nor has the RS felt compelled to ask the media to no longer get quotes from said groups when reporting on climate change issues.

If this was an issue of the misuse of science, one would expect that all players guilty of the ‘crime’ would be targeted equally. Since that is not the case, we can conclude that the RS is not defending science per se, but promoting an agenda by intimidation and the attempted suppression of opposing viewpoints.

While there is nothing illegal in this behavior, it diminishes the scientific authority of the Royal Society. The RS becomes just another advocacy group, like Greenpeace or the Competitive Enterprise Institute. For those who still value the ‘truth’ of science, that is a said thing to watch!

Posted by: Jim Clarke [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2006 09:19 PM


Jim,
Discernable, if it means detectable, is quantifiable. In microanalysis, the limit of detection is generally agreed to be 3 standard errors above background. Obviously climate, with its non-constant background, is a bit more complicated, but it should not be too hard to set a statistical test and the compare to that.

Still, this particular choice is somewhat arbitrary. We use 3x std er just to be consistent with electron microprobe. And it seems like a lot of the fuss over this hockey stick is people from different disciplines with different statistical habits bickering about which sort of stats to use. I'm not a good enough statistician to comment any further, although I do wish they could find a way of explaining all these differences to us labrats in a way we can understand.

As for sites like co2science or junkscience, I've wasted a few weeks worth of lunch breaks (no journal access from home) digging into some of their claims, and the few that I've dug into seem to be based on intentionally deceptive arguments that prey on the general public's lack of basic scientific knowledge or numeracy. The temperature record of the week is a good example of this.

Posted by: Lab Lemming at September 23, 2006 10:00 PM


toKYOTOm states:

"As long as the US remains out of the game, we are a spoiler and a free rider on the efforts of others"

Well, er, ahem...
You obviously are not aware of who are actually the ones out of the game. As much of an impotent solution as Kyoto is, the signatories are having a much harder time than the U.S. concerning what they consider the "future"

Interesting that after all the dogma has settled that between 2000 and 2005, "Bush's US" emissions went up by 123 Mio t, EU 15 emissions went up by 141 Mio t. percentage wise the increase in the US is 2.1, in the EU15, it is 4.2.

http://www.wupperinst.org/download/JIKO-Info_2006-4e.pdf

I think you are confused.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2006 11:34 PM


Jim:

Thanks for your note. Let`s back up for a minute. Do you disagree with my summary of the economic and institutional underpinnings of the climate change problem, as a “tragedy of the coomons” stemming from the fact the producers and users of fossil fuels don`t have to pay for their use of the global atmosphere as a GHG dumping ground or any of the associated global heating costs, that are spread out worldwide and to future generations? What present benefits do environmental groups get from this, except as the consumers who face a malfunctioning pricing system, the same as you and me? Do they profit from the stalemate and invest heavily in it? They might oversimplify the problem and hype the problem it, but are they seeking to use public resources for their private gain, the way fossil fuel producers and users clearly benefit, or do they have other private gains that they are seeking? Do they have powerful sympathizers in the Administration and Congress that they fund heavily? In other words, does any misuse of the science by environmental groups approach the same levels or pose the same threats to the public purse as the fossil fuel rent-seekers?

To the extent that environmental groups and others calling for GHG regulation (including many leading corporations - take a look at the Pew climate site and the Senate Energy Committee`s April conference) have the science wrong then of course they should be corrected, but if you are suggesting that this phenomenon is anywhere near as significant as the distortions caused by the fossil fuel industry/users, then I`m not buying it. Where are websites where Exxon and others call these cynical exploiters of the scientific ”consensus” to task?

“While there is nothing illegal in this behavior, it diminishes the scientific authority of the Royal Society.” Thanks for the concession; as to how this affects the RS reputation, perhaps. But I completely disagree with you that “we can conclude that the RS is not defending science per se, but promoting an agenda by intimidation and the attempted suppression of opposing viewpoints.” The RS has sent Exxon asking for information about Exxon`s use of undeclared paid pundits – as opposed to open scientific or political disagreement, and I am sure that Exxon, over which the RS has no authority, feels neither intimidated or suppressed.

Respectfully,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 07:08 AM


Jim:

Thanks for your note. Let`s back up for a minute. Do you disagree with my summary of the economic and institutional underpinnings of the climate change problem, as a “tragedy of the coomons” stemming from the fact the producers and users of fossil fuels don`t have to pay for their use of the global atmosphere as a GHG dumping ground or any of the associated global heating costs, that are spread out worldwide and to future generations? What present benefits do environmental groups get from this, except as the consumers who face a malfunctioning pricing system, the same as you and me? Do they profit from the stalemate and invest heavily in it? They might oversimplify the problem and hype the problem it, but are they seeking to use public resources for their private gain, the way fossil fuel producers and users clearly benefit, or do they have other private gains that they are seeking? Do they have powerful sympathizers in the Administration and Congress that they fund heavily? In other words, does any misuse of the science by environmental groups approach the same levels or pose the same threats to the public purse as the fossil fuel rent-seekers?

To the extent that environmental groups and others calling for GHG regulation (including many leading corporations - take a look at the Pew climate site and the Senate Energy Committee`s April conference) have the science wrong then of course they should be corrected, but if you are suggesting that this phenomenon is anywhere near as significant as the distortions caused by the fossil fuel industry/users, then I`m not buying it. Where are websites where Exxon and others call these cynical exploiters of the scientific ”consensus” to task?

“While there is nothing illegal in this behavior, it diminishes the scientific authority of the Royal Society.” Thanks for the concession; as to how this affects the RS reputation, perhaps. But I completely disagree with you that “we can conclude that the RS is not defending science per se, but promoting an agenda by intimidation and the attempted suppression of opposing viewpoints.” The RS has sent Exxon asking for information about Exxon`s use of undeclared paid pundits – as opposed to open scientific or political disagreement, and I am sure that Exxon, over which the RS has no authority, feels neither intimidated or suppressed.

Respectfully,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 07:08 AM


Opps; note sure how I double-posted. Sorry.

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 07:15 AM


Steve:

Thank you as well.

To repeat my point, tell me again what incentives that (i) the Europeans/Japanese have to meet GHG targets and (ii) China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Australia etc. have to reduce their CO2 emissions, while the US is thumbing its nose at the first group and telling the second group that while global warming might be happening, we think that voluntary efforts (viz., those based on existing pricing signals that do not account for GHG emissions) and subsidies (the Asia Pacific Partnership) are enough?

I`m all ears, but it seems rather clear than no one has any incentives to really undertake and perform meaningful commitments relating to our shared atmosphere unless the US is also on board.

For the same reason, I think it was clearly a mistake of Gore/Clinton not to insist that China etc also undertake Kyoto reduction obligations. We have trade benefits and sanctions to use for leverage; the omission has been very costly and has been an implicit subsidy to China that has boosted their economy while locking in many new power plants using dirty/old generating capacity.

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 07:27 AM


TokyoTom asks, "To repeat my point, tell me again what incentives that (i) the Europeans/Japanese have to meet GHG targets and (ii) China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Australia etc. have to reduce their CO2 emissions,..."

Well, the Europeans, Japanese, and South Korea all have no signficant sources of oil or coal. (Counting the North Sea as "not significant.") So they all spend a significant amount importing energy into their countries.

China has a lot of coal, and India has a decent amount, but coal is very polluting in its extraction and use. This is particularly so when coal is used in residential applications, as is still common in China (and India, to a lesser extent).

ALL those countries would benefit from developing an essentially limitless supply of low-polluting energy, e.g., fusion.

Vince Page, a GE technology officer presenting at a fusion conference in 2005, estimated these times to achieve breakeve, costs to achieve breakeven, and these probabilities for success in commercial development, if breakeven is demonstrated, for various non-tokamak fusion technologies. See page 7:

http://www.physicsessays.com/doc/s2005/page_fusion051.pdf#search=%22Vince%20Page%20desirable%20fusion%22

1) Koloc Spherical Plasma, 10 years, $25 million,
80%.

2) Field Reversed Configuration, 8 years, $75 million, 60%.

3) Plasma Focus, 6 years, $18 million, 80%.

The estimated cost to achieve breakeven for all these COMBINED is absolutely trivial. And the estimates for probability of success in going commercial are incredibly high.

The Europeans, Japanese, South Koreans, China, India...they should all be devoting literally over ten thousand person-year each year to research in these technologies. As should the U.S. (A decent figure for research in the U.S. would be $150,000 per person-year of research. For 10,000 people, that would be $1.5 billion per year.)

Instead, there probably aren't even 2000 people in the whole world working on these technologies. I doubt there are even 200 working on them in the U.S.

THAT'S what incentives the Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Europeans, South Koreans, and others have to reduce their CO2 emissions. Complete energy independence and dramatically reduced energy importation costs.

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 09:46 AM


Oh, and one more thing:

It is likely that these fusion technologies, if fully developed, would produce a new era in space exploration, with capabilities beyond what chemical rockets could ever achieve.

Also, such systems could easily power large ships, and potentially even airplanes. So the country that first developed them would have the lead in not just one world changing technology (essentially infinite low-polluting electrical generation), but potentially *several* world-changing technologies.

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 09:55 AM


TT-

Thanks for your additional comments of September 23, 2006 02:26 PM. A few responses:

1. On Kyoto and US non-participation. There are understandable reasons why the US has not participated, see, e.g.,

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000192population_greenhou.html

I have written that I think that the US should have participated and that Bush's pulling out was a mistake, from his own political interests if nothing else:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000090a_lesson_in_internat.html

2. I responded earlier to your question about what I meant by saying I agreed with Dr. Henderson's letter. I agree with the spirit of Dr. Henderson’s views, especially when he writes, “However the Royal Society sees its role in debates about science, is it appropriate that it should be using its authority to judge and censor in this way?” This question perfectly captures my concerns and is the message that I endorse 100% from the letter.

3. I do think that at some level we are talking past each other due to jargon/language. In particular, this exchange suggests to me that it may be worth me writing up a post describing what I mean by the term "politicization of science" as clearly people mean a wide range of things with this phrase.

Thanks!!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 01:06 PM


Mark -

Those numbers concerning fusion breakeven seem ludicrous to me. We've been working on controlled fusion for 50 years, and for 50 years "breakeven" has been 20 years away.

I'm not sure how someone can project breakeven costs and schedules without even understanding what it takes. I say that because obviously since we haven't been able to do it yet *nobody* knows what it takes.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 03:05 PM


P.S. I meant "we" as "Homo sapiens."

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 05:57 PM


Steve,

You write, "Those numbers concerning fusion breakeven seem ludicrous to me."

Well, what do you know about Koloc Spherical Plasma, Field Reversed Configuration, and Plasma Focus fusion? Perhaps the numbers seem ludicrous because you don't know anything about the technologies?

Do you understand the fundamental differences between these technologies and standard (tokamak) fusion?

"We've been working on controlled fusion for 50 years, and for 50 years 'breakeven' has been 20 years away."

Some responses:

1) By most estimates, the ITER (tokamak) reactor will be completed in approximately 10 years:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER

Therefore, breakeven with a tokamak reactor is now estimated at about 10 years away.

2) If you think there has been no significant progress in nuclear fusion, you're wrong. Here is a graph of progress in the fusion "triple point":

http://www.efda.org/fusion_energy/fusion_research_today.htm

It has increased by approximately a factor of 1000 in 30 years.

3) In early thought about heavier-than-air flight, much of the thinking was centered towards flapping wings, because that's what birds do. That turned out not to be the best method for achieving heavier-than-air flight...fixed-wing aircraft turned out to be better.

Similarly, the tokamak reactor attempts to hold the very hot plasma needed for fusion through use of an external magnetic field. I think history may show that the tokamak concept wasn't the best choice. For example, the Plasma Focus reactor uses "plasmoids" that generate their own magnetic field to contain the plasma. This may be a better idea:

http://focusfusion.org/log/index.php

"I'm not sure how someone can project breakeven costs and schedules without even understanding what it takes. I say that because obviously since we haven't been able to do it yet *nobody* knows what it takes."

You think the Wright Brothers didn't have any idea what it took to build an airplane in the late 1800s...simply because they didn't actually fly at Kittyhawk until 1903?

http://www.nasm.si.edu/Wrightbrothers/who/1895/production.cfm

http://www.nasm.si.edu/Wrightbrothers/who/1895/production.cfm

Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 06:12 PM


I'm with you on Tokamak, but I don't think it took the Wright brothers 60 years after they had the concept either, and the concept of heavier than air flight (as many animals already do) is not quite the same as a sustainable fusion reaction. Quite the sunburned herring there...

I'm not saying we're not closer than we were 50 years ago, but the mere fact it's estimated at a cost of only a few tens of millions of dollars and it hasn't happened yet means there's something missing besides just money.

It's like climate prediction - the biggest problem is that we don't know what we don't know.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2006 10:00 PM


Steve Hemphill:

Technology doesn’t evolve linearly, so your Wright-brothers-used-60-years remark is useless. Also, this nonlinearity is exactly why the ICPP 100-year predictions are, at best, jokes.

Posted by: Michael Hansen at September 25, 2006 08:34 AM


Dr. Pielke:

Your last comment suggested that we are talking past each other; I share the sense of lack of resolution. My feeling is that I keep asking specific question which you answer incompletely and often by throwing in a link as some kind of short-hand. I then read your link, and explain that it seems to say something else. I am left with the sense that you prefer not to be pinned down or to clarify.

1. For example, you now say you endorse the spirit of the "message" of Dr. Henderson (Whitehouse?), but do not acknowledge whether or not you still agree with Dr. Whitehouse`s clear mischaracterization of the RS letter - which is an inquiry, and is not literally censorious or demanding.

2. While you think that it is fair to try to clarify Exxon`s use of paid proxies to muddy the scientific waters and you wish to avoid the politicization of science and turn the debate into political fora, you have not clarified how you think what the RS actions are inconsistent with that objective, or will lead to futher politicization. I recognize that it is still a direct challenge to Exxon and involves some political capital of the RS, but you have not explained why you think the RS should simply stay silent and how that would help accelerate a political resolution.

3. Though I set out what I consider to be the major legal and economic factors behind the failures of climate policy to date (tragedy of the commons phenomenon and blockage of action to secure ongoing "free" use of the global commons), instead of giving me your views on these points you simply give me a few other links that do not discuss these factors.

I have tried to be both clear and persistent, but neither seem to have paid off.

Regretfully,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 25, 2006 12:44 PM


Mark:

Thanks for pointing out that there are a wealth of technologies that could help us with climate issues. I do not at all think that we are helpless in dealing with various aspects of the problem. My chief point is that as long as the market prices the cost of GHG dumping at $0 - which it does because the atmosphere is an unowned "common" resource - direct and indirect fossil fuel users do not face the true costs of their choices, and have no particular market incentives to move to new technologies, so incentives by others to invest in them are delayed. Rather than addressing the resource ownership/pricing problem, the government half-heartedly offers a welter of inconsistent and unreliable subsidies that provide pork without really moving the market.

Sincerely,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 25, 2006 12:52 PM


TT-

Thanks for following up. I am happy to try again.

1. I don't think that Dr. Whitehouse was using the term to be mean literally censorious, but rather to mean "limit debate". If he meant the former as you have suggested then I would disagree with his usage. I don't however think he is mischarcaterizing the RS letter. We can agree to disagree on this point.

2. I apologize for giving you papers to read, but my short answers have not been clear enough. Apologies. I will refrain from pointing you to another of my papers, but I have disucssed this issue in depth in my research. I do not think that the RS should stay silent on matters of policy. If you want to follow up, have a look at my paper titled "When scientists politicize science". There is a peer-reviewed version and a popular version on the site.

3. I have written extensively on climate policy issues, in particular with my colleague Dan Sarewitz. Have a look if you are interested. My short answers have not been satisfactory, so I'll point you there. Sorry about that!

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 03:58 PM


Michael H -

Sorry, I forgot the winky. My point was that one cannot compare a product of the Wright brothers' bicycle shop with sustained fusion.

As far as nonlinear gains in technology, the other part of that is that we don't know we've reached a jump until we get there, so to predict a timeline based on an unknown number of said jumps is not very realistic I'm afraid.

Posted by: Steve Hemphill [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 06:47 PM


"My chief point is that as long as the market prices the cost of GHG dumping at $0 - which it does because the atmosphere is an unowned "common" resource - direct and indirect fossil fuel users do not face the true costs of their choices, and have no particular market incentives to move to new technologies, so incentives by others to invest in them are delayed."

What do you think are the "true costs" of their choices? What sort of net damage do you think CO2 emissions are doing? That is, what is the approximate annual net cost (minus the benefits of CO2)?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 07:40 PM


Mark,

As an engineer I can appreciate that you are accustomed to (and prefer) dealing with certainty. However, as you well know there are numerous factors that make estimating the costs of climate change challenging at best (i.e., uncertainty about impacts on a regional scale, climate sensitivity, emission projections, discount rate, etc.).

Given these uncertainties, which you know full well about I'm sure, I find it extremely disingenuous on your part to try a score points by asking TT for estimate on what the costs are and I don't think it does anything to advance the discussion. His point is that there are costs and that fossil fuel companies benefit by not having to include them in the sale price. The fact that there is uncertainty about the magnitude of these costs is irrelevant to his argument.

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 09:22 AM


Marlowe,

You write, "As an engineer I can appreciate that you are accustomed to (and prefer) dealing with certainty."

No, as a matter of fact I am much more accustomed to dealing with uncertainty than certainty. To give an example, I recently was estimating leakage of ozone precursors from residential natural gas meters in an ozone non-attainment area in CA. Further, I had about 12 hours to do it. Through reading various Internet sources, and going through various ways of calculating an answer, I came up with 3 or 4 possibilities. That's sort of typical of what I do.

As for what I "prefer"...if everything were known, I'd be out of a job. But what I *do* like to do is to bracket the possible answers as narrowly as I can.

"Given these uncertainties, which you know full well about I'm sure, I find it extremely disingenuous on your part to try a score points by asking TT for estimate on what the costs are and I don't think it does anything to advance the discussion."

I don't try to "score points," Marlowe. Environmental analyses are what I do for a living, so it's not a game to me. Asking TT what he thinks the net cost is does something to advance the discussion. For example, let's say he says he thinks the net cost is...$50 trillion per year. Well, after I finish cleaning the Pepsi from my keyboard, I'd want to discuss how he arrived at such a high number. And if he explained how he got to that high a number, and I agreed with it, I'd probably agree with him that a tax was appropriate.

Conversely, let's say he said that the cost was actually negative...that CO2 emissions actually benefit the world. Well, then I'd point out that the appropriate "tax" would presumably be a tax credit.

"His point is that there are costs and that fossil fuel companies benefit by not having to include them in the sale price."

If that is indeed his point--that the fossil fuel companies are benefitting--then I probably don't agree. If Exxon sells gasoline at a price of $2.50 a gallon at present, and an additional tax of, say $0.25 per gallon is added on, I don't see how Exxon was really benefitting from the gasoline price being lower at the pump by $0.25 (i.e., without the tax). I don't see where Exxon makes higher profit, or even substantially higher revenue, from gasoline with a pump price that's lower by $0.25.

Do you really think people in general would drive substantially less if gas was higher in price by $0.25 per gallon? For example, gasoline here in Durham has dropped by about $0.70 a gallon in the last couple of months. I didn't drive any less when it was $0.70 a gallon more expensive.

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 10:36 AM


Mark,

I stand by my point that a discussion about the magnitude of costs is irrelevant to TT's point.

Judging from your comments, it appears that you aren't very familiar with economic concepts such as externalities, supply and demand, and elasticity. I'm not going to debate the magnitude of the potential impacts of climate change with you. The fact that there is even a risk of negative impacts associated with CO2 emissions (I accept that you and I have diferent opinions on the magnitude of that risk) means that there is an externality involved (i.e., fossil fuel suppliers don't include a climate change risk premium in their production costs).

To understand why fossil fuel companies are benefitting you only need to look at basic supply and demand theory, which basically says that as the price of X goes up, demand decreases by Y; elatsticity refers to the rate at which demand changes relative to price.

Your example about gasoline prices simply demonstrates that the demand for gasoline is relatively inelastic over short time periods (this makes sense because most people don't have much discretion about how much gas they use (e.g., transit isn't an option, can't buy a more efficient vehicle every year, etc.). However, over longer time periods sustained higher prices will lead to a drop in demand (see for example the decrease in SUV sales in N.America and how much more prominent fuel efficiency characteristics are in car ads).

Now for arguments sake lets assume that the risk premium (i.e. carbon permit) doubled the production cost for a gallon of gasoline. Do you not agree that this would result in less demand? Does it not also follow then that if there is less demand for a product that the seller is worse off?

Since you mentioned something about smog precursors I take it you're also familiar with acid rain and the SO2 trading system in the U.S. This system was designed precisely because the gov recognized that SO2 pollution was imposing a cost on society. By imposing a cap and trade system, the gov forced the power companies to internalize all of the costs of production (i.e. damage to forests/lakes/buildings). Now whether or not all of the money spent on permits over the years is equivalent to avoided damages is an interesting question, but one that is exceedingly difficult to answer with any degree of certainty :). Or to put it another way, such an exercise would involve making a lot of assumptions which carry a lot of uncertainty with them.

As a policymaker-type I appreciate that it is useful to have information about what the potential costs of climate change might be if we do nothing. But along with most people, I accept that this information is extremely provisional in nature and fraught with uncertainties. This isn't really surprising given the complexities involved and the problems associated with forecasting anyting that far into the future. Because of this, I don't think that putting a dollar value range on the potential costs to society in 2050 or 2100 or 2500 is very meaningful except as a means of providing a notional understanding of the potential magnititude of the problem.

From a policy perspective knowing the costs of an environmental problem are most useful when a command and control type approach is used (e.g. a carbon tax) since the tax can then be set at a level designed to offset the estimated costs...

Now I know that you want to talk about SRES methodology and methane concentrations and will in all probability try and steer the discussion in that direction. Let me say that I agree with you in principle that governments and institutions should make every reasonable effort to use sound methodologies and correct them when they are shown to be in error (e.g. by Castles and Henderson). However, I don't think it's particularly useful to keep harping on the issue...

Apologies for the long, rambling post Roger.

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at September 26, 2006 12:22 PM


Mark, raising prices would lower demand, and thus lower the revenues of the fossil fuel providers. Significant users would need to price their products higher, which would dampen demand for their products and accordingly their revenues. Revenues would be even more strongly affected if competitors did not face similar costs, which is why coordinated internation aaction is needed. You can see that cheaters and free riders vitiate whatever policies that may be established in indivudual countries.

What is the magnitude of the costs? Difficult to estimate, but conceptually the wrong question. The right question is what would the price of market transactions be in a common property resource if the resource is privatized or managed (or if the user has the obligation to pay for externalities in the form of damages resulting to others)? If we take a fishery that is collapsing due to the overfishing that results from lack of property rights, and establish transferable property rights in the fishery, fish will priced at levels that reflect demand and supply, with the supply curve reflecting not only costs of catching, but costs of managing the resource) - just as for other private resources. Failure to limit access to a resource means there will be no incentives to conserve it.

Because of the difficulties establishing true markets in the air, the process must be truncated by setting some type of cap under which emission rights can be allocated. The private transactions can bring total emissions below the capped level if there were sufficient demand.

There is always some inelasticity to demand, but the point is that if prices are not subsidized the higher prices will shift the market in a multitude of ways - consumer behavior and purchases, and the investments of manufacturers. By allowing markets to sensibly price GHG emissions, we could eliminate the justification for subsidies for all kinds of energy - the pricing system alone would create incentive for new technologies.

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 26, 2006 12:45 PM


Roger,

My post seems to have been blocked by your filter so i'm splitting it in two. Apologies if this isn't how you'd like me to proceed in the future....

Mark,

I stand by my point that a discussion about the magnitude of costs is irrelevant to TT's point.

Judging from your comments, it appears that you aren't very familiar with economic concepts such as externalities, supply and demand, and elasticity. I'm not going to debate the magnitude of the potential impacts of climate change with you. The fact that there is even a risk of negative impacts associated with CO2 emissions (I accept that you and I have diferent opinions on the magnitude of that risk) means that there is an externality involved (i.e., fossil fuel suppliers don't include a climate change risk premium in their production costs).

To understand why fossil fuel companies are benefitting you only need to look at basic supply and demand theory, which basically says that as the price of X goes up, demand decreases by Y; elatsticity refers to the rate at which demand changes relative to price.

Your example about gasoline prices simply demonstrates that the demand for gasoline is relatively inelastic over short time periods (this makes sense because most people don't have much discretion about how much gas they use (e.g., transit isn't an option, can't buy a more efficient vehicle every year, etc.). However, over longer time periods sustained higher prices will lead to a drop in demand (see for example the decrease in SUV sales in N.America and how much more prominent fuel efficiency characteristics are in car ads).

Now for arguments sake lets assume that the risk premium (i.e. carbon permit) doubled the production cost for a gallon of gasoline. Do you not agree that this would result in less demand? Does it not also follow then that if there is less demand for a product that the seller is worse off?

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 01:52 PM


Mark,

Since you mentioned something about smog precursors I take it you're also familiar with acid rain and the SO2 trading system in the U.S. This system was designed precisely because the gov recognized that SO2 pollution was imposing a cost on society. By imposing a cap and trade system, the gov forced the power companies to internalize all of the costs of production (i.e. damage to forests/lakes/buildings). Now whether or not all of the money spent on permits over the years is equivalent to avoided damages is an interesting question, but one that is exceedingly difficult to answer with any degree of certainty :). Or to put it another way, such an exercise would involve making a lot of assumptions which carry a lot of uncertainty with them.

As a policymaker-type I appreciate that it is useful to have information about what the potential costs of climate change might be if we do nothing. But along with most people, I accept that this information is extremely provisional in nature and fraught with uncertainties. This isn't really surprising given the complexities involved and the problems associated with forecasting anyting that far into the future. Because of this, I don't think that putting a dollar value range on the potential costs to society in 2050 or 2100 or 2500 is very meaningful except as a means of providing a notional understanding of the potential magnititude of the problem.

From a policy perspective knowing the costs of an environmental problem are most useful when a command and control type approach is used (e.g. a carbon tax) since the tax can then be set at a level designed to offset the estimated costs...

Now I know that you want to talk about SRES methodology and methane concentrations and will in all probability try and steer the discussion in that direction. Let me say that I agree with you in principle that governments and institutions should make every reasonable effort to use sound methodologies and correct them when they are shown to be in error (e.g. by Castles and Henderson). However, I don't think it's particularly useful to keep harping on the issue...

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 01:54 PM


"Judging from your comments, it appears that you aren't very familiar with economic concepts such as externalities, supply and demand, and elasticity."

http://filebox.vt.edu/faculty/aaup/14-spring99.pdf#search=%22Handsome%20Al%20Mandelstamm%22

You judgment is more than a little off. I had two courses in Principles of Economics, where Dr. "Handsome Al" Mandlestamm taught me about supply and demand:

"On that first day, I went to the "Principles of
Economics" class in Burruss Hall with over 500 other students, not knowing what to expect. I met my professor, who was also new to Virginia Tech, Dr. Al Mandelstamm. Even today, when I look at the
"Principles of Economics" volume on my library shelf, I can still hear Dr. Mandelstamm talk of the principles of supply and demand in terms of gefilte fish balls in the magical land of Michischlecht."

"…From Dr. Mandelstamm's example, I learned to
be a better professional speaker and lecturer by
using analogy and example. His use of examples to
teach the abstract principles always seemed to me to provide a clear memory of the example, as well as the point of theory he was teaching."

I could tell you Dr. Mandelstamm's explanation for technological unemployment, but this is a family blog. ;-)

After that, a junior/senior courses in Money and Banking and Contemporary Economic Issues (where I learned why Keynesianism is dead ;-)).

It's precisely because I *do* know about externalities, supply and demand, and elasticity that I ask TT the questions I do.

"However, over longer time periods sustained higher prices will lead to a drop in demand (see for example the decrease in SUV sales in N.America and how much more prominent fuel efficiency characteristics are in car ads)."

Yes, and have you attempted to work out some actual numbers, rather than speaking in quantitative generalities?

"Now for arguments sake lets assume that the risk premium (i.e. carbon permit) doubled the production cost for a gallon of gasoline."

A tax on gasoline does nothing to the production cost. It increases the cost to consumers, not to producers. If you're talking about doubling the price of gasoline with a carbon tax (from $2.50 to $5.00) you're so separated from reality that there's really nothing further to discuss. You MIGHT be able to get $0.10 a year for a few years through Congress. But $0.05 a year would be more likely.

"Do you not agree that this would result in less demand?"

Yes, doubling the price of gasoline would cut the demand. Or even increasing it by 50% would cut the demand a bit. But that's like calculating what the demand for corn would be like if pigs could fly. If pigs could fly, they'd definitely need more food. But pigs can't fly.

You MIGHT be able to convince Congress to raise gasoline taxes enough to boost the price by 10%. Or perhaps even 20%...though I doubt it. That would not affect demand by very much.

"Does it not also follow then that if there is less demand for a product that the seller is worse off?"

No, businesses are worse off by lowered profits, not lowered revenues. And in any case, the revenue would NOT go down by much, because no *realistic* gasoline tax is going to have any significant effect on gasoline demand. (By "significant," I mean enough to lower atmospheric CO2 concentration by even 0.5 ppm over the next decade or so.)

Several people with actual advanced degrees in economics have already made this point. As Robert Samuelson has observed ("Global Warming's Real Inconvenient Truth") global warming requires an engineering solution...a new energy technology. The sooner the majority of people see that, the sooner we'll actually make some progress. (If that's even what most people care about.)

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 07:23 PM


Mark:

Your turn to answer my questions:

Is the atmosphere an unowned, open access common resource?

While wealth is created by private economic transactions, if an unregulated good is used as part of the economic process, is some public wealth also destroyed?

Do market prices the cost of release of GHGs dumping at $0?

Does the absence of a market signal tend to encourage economic behavior that has destructive aspects, because actors have no incentive to rationalize their use of the resource or to take into account damages that may result to others from such activity? Is this similar to a subsidy of current consumption taken from future generations, extracted by means of impoverishing "unowned" common resources?

Are there true costs to using the global commons in this way? In looking at this, please consider the conclusion that there is a discernible climate change and a discernable human fingerprint on it, that temps have only risen one degree, but climate sensitivity appears to be about 5+ F in the event of a doubling. Besides considering the costs imposed by climate change through its ecological effects, direct damage to human assets and activities and possible benefits, please also consider the costs of adapting infrastructure to the changes. Consider both costs already felt and those that can be anticipated and discounted.

In the absence of a pricing mechanism (via private ownership of emission permits, taxation or other device) that values the use of the atmosphere as a GHG dump, what market incentives do fossil fuel providers or consumers have to move to new technologies that economize on GHG emissions?

Presumably you have no problem with puerly private transactions between economic actors involving resources and products owned by them; neither do I, so long as I can also sue for any damages they might cause me. But the externalities associated with certain behaviors has led to regulation, including establishing private property rights in the case of SO2 emissions. What is so conceptually different about establishing similar transferrable property rights in GHJG emissions?

Regards.

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 27, 2006 03:39 AM


Mark,

I don't see anything in your post that contradicts anything I have said and I'm not sure what your econ101 professor has to do with anything.

As I already mentioned, demand for gasoline is relatively inelastic, so on that point we both agree. If you're interested in the subject, here is a good place to start http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm11.htm

I also agree that a carbon permit system has the same effect on prices as a tax -- it raises them. But I'm having a hard time understanding why you don't see the connection between lower revenues and reduced profits. Unless a company somehow finds a way of reducing its production costs (i.e., increases its margin), the latter is generally proportional to the former, isn't it?

Perhaps gasoline isn't the best illustrative example. Fair enough. The effects on coal-fired power generation might have been better, but the general point is still the same. I understand that as an engineer you prefer "actual" calculations, but in my line of work we tend to settle for illustrative examples and leave the number crunching to others...

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2006 07:53 AM


Marlowe,

You write, "I understand that as an engineer you prefer 'actual' calculations, but in my line of work we tend to settle for illustrative examples and leave the number crunching to others..."

I’ll address the first part of your statement later, but I’m curious: Just what *is* your line of work?

Obviously, it includes childish name-calling and casting aspersions on those who make statements you don't like (even if those statements are in fact the truth), e.g.:

“I suspect I'm not interpreting what you're saying properly because it sounds like you're advancing a common septic argument often put forward on this site by M. Bahner; namely that the u.s. shouldn't adopt Kyoto like targets because it wouldn't have an appreciable impact on global atmospheric concentrations in 2500...”

(By the way, Marlowe, it also wouldn’t have any appreciable import on global atmospheric concentrations in any year between now and 2500...as you probably already know.)

And your work also apparently includes assuming others don’t know as much about an issue as you do, if you think they disagree with you, e.g.:

“Judging from your comments, it appears that you aren't very familiar with economic concepts such as externalities, supply and demand, and elasticity.”

Finally, your job also allows you to ignore actual numbers, when they don’t support your argument, e.g.

“…but in my line of work we tend to settle for illustrative examples and leave the number crunching to others..."

So let me guess: Are you a staff member to a Canadian MP?

But getting back to actual numbers. Let’s assume that Al Gore is elected in 2008, along with substantial Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. (Highly unlikely, but possible I guess.)

Let's further assume they pass a $0.50 per gallon gasoline tax. What would be the costs over the next decade, and the amount of CO2 reduction in the atmosphere?

The U.S. uses about 130 billion gallons per year of gasoline. The current price is (conveniently) about $2.50 per gallon, so a $0.50 increase would be an increase of about 20 percent. The long-term elasticity is about -0.60...so a 20 percent increase in costs will cause a long-term decrease in usage of about 12%.

Let's call the annual tax cost over the decade = 130 billion gallons x $0.50/gallon x 0.88 (after the 12 percent reduction) = $57 billion.

Gasoline weighs about 6 lb/gallon, so the total annual reduction in gasoline usage is about 47 million tons. Over a decade, that's 470 million tons.

There are about 2.1 GtC (maybe that's tonnes rather than English tons?...whatever!) per ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, so a reduction of 470 million tons creates a reduction in CO2 in the atmosphere at the end of the decade of about 0.22 ppm.

The grandchildren will be thrilled, I'm sure!

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2006 07:16 PM


Hi Tom,

I've put my extended responses to your many questions on my blog:

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2006/09/some_questions_.html

The short answer to your questions is that I just don't think taxing fuels is the answer to the global warming problem. Rather, the real answer is as Robert Samuelson suggests ("The Real Inconvenient Truth About Global Warming"). The real solution is to develop non-CO2 emitting technologies that are actually less expensive than existing technologies. That can probably be done far, far less expensively than taxing fuels, and hoping that the price signals will encourage non-CO2 emitting technologies.

Best wishes,
Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner at September 27, 2006 07:54 PM


Mark, thanks for your note, and more extensive response elsewhere. Let me make a few simple points here:

1. I haven't proposed fuel taxes. It is too difficult for governments to figure out what the tax levels should be and too easy for the government to change the levels (and incentives from different groups to change the levels), thus creating uncertainty that would undermine desired effects on investment. On top of that, I don't think our governments need more revenues and I don't trust the uses to which new revuenes would be put.

2. I propose creating markets and letting private decisions determine the prices and uses of GHG permits. As property rights, it would be difficult for the government to violate these rights - although the government or others could retire rights by purchasing them on the market if they wished. There would necessarily be limited initial government involvement in deciding how many permits would be issued, and who would get them.

3. I agree that the real solution is to develop non-CO2 emitting technologies that are actually less expensive than existing technologies. But as to the rest of this, you talk as a technocrat rather than an economist. As to the economics, Samuelson should certainly know better, and probably you too. How do we get new technologies? I sure hope that neither you nor Samuelson is suggesting that we need a load of government investments or subsidies.

New technologies are not something that just happen on their own, naturally, but because they create wealth for investors by solving problems. Investments in technology are made in response to the incentives people currently face, as reflected in market prices. Everything's dandy - when there are no externalities.

The pricing system doesn't work, and appropriate investments are not made, when the resource involved is not privately owned but rather open-access and unmanaged.

What do we see in the case of fisheries, for example? No one owns the fish and cannot stop others from fishing, so no one has incentives to refrain from fishing or to invest in improving the productivity of the resource. Rather, we see a destructive race to catch fish, with incentives only to increase the effectiveness by which one can seize resources before others can. The solution has proven to be to regulate the fishery by providing enforceable and transferrable property rights to the fishermen. Once that happens, then incentives switch, and the fishermen now have incentives to invest in technologies that improve both the productivity of the resource and the most cost-effective (not necessarily the most rapid) take.

The problems relating to the atmospheric commons are related; air or water pollution is more similar. When property rights or laws can be enforced to make a polluter responsible for the pollution, the polluter (and others) have incentives to invest in technologies that will enable more efficient (less polluting) production. But if the manufacturer faces no cost for polluting, only the myriad persons downstream have any incentive to invest in antipollution technology (which they would then need to pay the polluter to use, if they can figure out who he is).

Thus, the best way to encourage investments in "non-CO2 emitting technologies", sequestration and enhanced efficiency is PRECISELY in creating pricing signals.

You indicate on your blog that there are some incentives to reduce fuel consumption and to take advantage of the value of methane, but I am sure you recognize that these incentives have nothing to do with and not reflect the costs of GHG dumping, which the market currently prices at $0.

Here's a little more on property rights approaches to environmental problems:

www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv23n1/adler.pdf

Regards,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 28, 2006 02:47 AM


Hi Mark,

Apologies for the snark about your understanding of economics. I generally like to keep these kinds of discussions civil and snarks don't really help. So let’s agree to be nice OK?

Now I do take issue with the argument that the U.S. shouldn't join Kyoto or adopt any particular policy simply because it doesn't have an appreciable effect on GLOBAL atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in say 20, 50, or 100 years. (if you haven't been saying this then apologies for attributing it to you).

My dislike of this approach is that it frames the climate change problem in such a way as to make any individual action seem insignificant and therefore not worth pursuing. If other nations used the same logic, then nobody would have any incentive to do anything since their relative emissions are much smaller than the U.S. In other words, it reinforces the do-nothing approach and based on my understanding of the science and the risks involved, I do not think that this is an appropriate course of action.

FWIW I also dislike the way that Roger talks about accumulated carbon in 2050, for the same reasons. Most people that I know that work on climate change issues talk in terms of $/tonne or megatonnes reduced on an annual basis. Yes, it’s important and useful to know what we think the atmospheric concentrations of GHGs will be at some point in the future. But at the end of the day, IMO policies options aren’t judged using this metric, so it doesn’t really do much to advance the discussion. IMO, policy options in the climate change arena are judged on the basis of a host of other factors (e.g., $/tonne, impact on energy security, potential for R&D spinoff/multiplier effects, regulatory implementation factors, political feasibility, etc.)

One last thought. I agree with you that significant investment in R&D for non-polluting energy sources (e.g. fusion) is a critical component of a sensible climate change strategy. However, in the context of the current thread I think that you’re putting the cart before the horse. The first step is to create market conditions that encourage R&D into clean energy. By placing a dollar value on the CO2 emitted, an incentive is created for emitters to invest in alternatives. In other words, you’re helping stimulate private research $$ on R&D rather than relying on gov $$ alone. IMO government’s role is to complement these activities not lead them necessarily.

As to the rest of your post, I’ll simply say that I agree with the points made by TT.

Cheers,

Marlowe

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 28, 2006 09:08 AM


TT,

A minor quibble -- Government involvement in any trading system is bound to be much greater than under a simple tax system (e.g. establishing emission baselines, allocating permits, developing audit protocols, etc.)

I think most would agree that the SO2 trading system in the U.S. has been a success from an economic efficiency perspective (i.e. actual costs have turned out to be much lower than predicted), but CO2 is different beast (far more sources) and I think it's a legitimate question as to whether or not the transaction costs of setting up a similar system would wipe out the efficiency gains compared to a tax...

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 28, 2006 09:21 AM


Marlowe-

Thanks for your continued contributions. One quick response, you write:

"Yes, it’s important and useful to know what we think the atmospheric concentrations of GHGs will be at some point in the future. But at the end of the day, IMO policies options aren’t judged using this metric, so it doesn’t really do much to advance the discussion."

Under the Framework Convention the level of concentrations has been established as the ultimate metric of policy success. The factors you describe are subsidiary metrics associated with the means employed to achieve the ultimate goal. Be careful about substituting a focus on means for ends.

It is perfectly reasonable to quibble with the FCCC goals (I have, often), but once one accepts the FCCC as a policy instrument, it does advance unambious goals.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 28, 2006 09:56 AM


Roger,

I think the problem here is that we're talking about policy in different contexts. In my world policy options refer to means, in yours they seem to refer to ends. Also, you're talking policy at the international scale, whereas I'm talking about it at the national/sub-national scale.

"The factors you describe are subsidiary metrics associated with the means employed to achieve the ultimate goal. Be careful about substituting a focus on means for ends."

The factors I describe are associated with policy options, which are also means, to achieve one or many different ends -- mitigating climate change is typically only one of several ends.

And I let me half-seriously suggest that you too should be careful about substituting a focus on ends for means :). In other words, don't get to caught up trying to measure "exactly" what constitutes dangerous interference at the expense of taking action. To do so would be analagous to two people arguing about how long it will take for the kitchen fire to burn their house down instead of reaching for the fire extinguisher...

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 28, 2006 12:11 PM


Hi Marlowe,

You write, “Apologies for the snark about your understanding of economics.”

Your apology for that remark is certainly accepted, but your remark to Roger that, “…it sounds like you're advancing a common septic argument often put forward on this site by M. Bahner…” was orders of magnitude more offensive to me than the snark about economics.

I don’t know how much you know about the nuts and bolts of air pollution control, but one job is “stack testing.” That basically involves actually going onto a smokestack or air pollution control device and measuring the emissions. I’ve done that (though thankfully only for a while). It is a phenomenally taxing job, with 10, 12, 14, 16, and even 18 hour days spent in temperatures that range from over 100 deg F to below freezing. Also frequently loud noise and significant pollution (noxious gases and particulate). So I don’t appreciate anyone implying that I care less about the environment—especially regarding air pollution!—than I do.

You continue, “Now I do take issue with the argument that the U.S. shouldn't join Kyoto or adopt any particular policy simply because it doesn't have an appreciable effect on GLOBAL atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in say 20, 50, or 100 years. (if you haven't been saying this then apologies for attributing it to you).”

I have been saying that, and will continue to say it, because it’s the truth. However, I don’t mind at all that you “take issue” with it…that you disagree with me. What is extremely offensive to me is that you would think that your position somehow makes you a better person. You go out and spend a couple years doing stack testing (or particularly testing at the inlet of control devices, which is frequently even worse). Until you’ve done that, don’t even question my commitment to the environment.

“My dislike of this approach is that it frames the climate change problem in such a way as to make any individual action seem insignificant and therefore not worth pursuing.”

I don’t agree that the approach is “framing.” For example, I just did the calculation for how much CO2 atmospheric concentrations would be decreased in ten years, if the U.S. implemented a $0.50 per gallon tax on gasoline. The result was a 0.22 ppm. It’s not “framing” to say that. It’s a fact. Similarly, if the U.S. government had ratified the Kyoto Treaty, and then met its commitments under that treaty, it would produce some reduction in CO2 concentration in 2012, 2020, 2040, or whatever. Those numbers can be easily calculated, and can NOT be legitimately refuted; those numbers are what they are. Rather than railing at the simple facts, why not accept them, and go forth FROM them?

“If other nations used the same logic, then nobody would have any incentive to do anything since their relative emissions are much smaller than the U.S.”

Yes, that’s true. Why not accept it as true? No one has any incentive to reduce their emissions of CO2. Why not accept that fact, and move on? Why not instead go from the facts that:

1) China, India, the U.S., Britain, Japan, amd others all have the incentive to reduce their use of coal, because it causes so much pollution in its extraction and use.

2) All countries outside of the major producers of oil (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Iraq, etc.) all have the incentive to cut their use of oil, because oil is expensive, and much of the oil is produced by countries that are undemocratic and unstable.

"In other words, it reinforces the do-nothing approach and based on my understanding of the science and the risks involved, I do not think that this is an appropriate course of action."

What do you think will happen if the "do-nothing approach" is used? What do you think will be the warming in this century?

"Yes, it’s important and useful to know what we think the atmospheric concentrations of GHGs will be at some point in the future. But at the end of the day, IMO policies options aren’t judged using this metric, so it doesn’t really do much to advance the discussion."

Why shouldn't policy options be discussed in terms of how they'll change carbon dioxide concentrations from the "do-nothing approach"? Is the whole point to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations from what would happen under the "do-nothing approach"?

"One last thought. I agree with you that significant investment in R&D for non-polluting energy sources (e.g. fusion) is a critical component of a sensible climate change strategy. However, in the context of the current thread I think that you’re putting the cart before the horse. The first step is to create market conditions that encourage R&D into clean energy."

Why? When the U.S. government decide to put men on the moon, did it "create market conditions that encouraged R&D"? How about when it decided to build an interstate road system? Or to build the Panama Canal?

"In other words, you’re helping stimulate private research $$ on R&D rather than relying on gov $$ alone."

Wouldn't that decision be based in part on how much it would cost? Suppose the cost was under, say, $20 billion? Would you still say that gov $$ alone should not be relied upon?

Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 29, 2006 07:44 PM


Hi Tom,

You write, "1. I haven't proposed fuel taxes. It is too difficult for governments to figure out what the tax levels should be and too easy for the government to change the levels..."

OK. I apologize for thinking you were advocating taxes.

"2. I propose creating markets and letting private decisions determine the prices and uses of GHG permits. As property rights, it would be difficult for the government to violate these rights - although the government or others could retire rights by purchasing them on the market if they wished. There would necessarily be limited initial government involvement in deciding how many permits would be issued, and who would get them."

a) So you only advocate that the U.S. government set up these markets? Or do think you all the governments in the world (or the ones in which the vast majority of emissions occur) will agree to something?

b) If it's just the U.S. government, doesn't it seem like there will be limited reduction in worldwide emissions, since the U.S. only emits 25-30% of world emissions...and the percentage will likely decline as the century progresses?

c) Do you agree that the number of permits issued will be absolutely critical to this whole concept? For example, suppose the number of permits is exactly for what the emissions would be anyway...wouldn't that result in the permits being worthless? Conversely, suppose the permits issued were extremely limited...they'd be very expensive, right? Why would the U.S. government want to burden its citizens with expensive permits for emitting something that presently doesn't cause any appreciable harm? (Or do you do think CO2 emissions are currently causing significant harm?)

d) Would you limit the permits to CO2? CO2 and methane? All GHGs? What about black carbon?

e) Who would get the permits...every individual in the United States? For example, much of my personal CO2 emissions come from driving my car. In your system, would I be issued the permit? Or the gas stations...or petroleum companies?

f) You say that there would be "limited initial government involvement in deciding how many permits would be issued, and who would get them". To me this sounds very much like "there would be limited initial U.S. involvement in helping to set up a democracy in Iraq." Further, how can the government involvement be limited to "initial" action...who is enforcing the permits, making sure people don't cheat?

g) How in the world does the government decide who deserves how many permits?

"3. I agree that the real solution is to develop non-CO2 emitting technologies that are actually less expensive than existing technologies. But as to the rest of this, you talk as a technocrat rather than an economist."

Actually, I talk as an engineer, who thinks that developing non-CO2 emitting technologies isn't such a big deal. At least, I don't think it's such a big deal for non-tokamak fusion and photovoltaics. Those are both technologies that people would gladly use, if only those technologies were available for equal or less money than the competing technologies (e.g. coal, natural gas, and nuclear).

"As to the economics, Samuelson should certainly know better, and probably you too."

I don't understand. What do you mean? What "economics" should he and I understand?

"I sure hope that neither you nor Samuelson is suggesting that we need a load of government investments or subsidies."

I'm not suggesting a "load" of investments or subsidies. I am suggesting technology prizes, probably totally less than $20 billion. (Is that a "load"? If your answer is "yes," what do you think it's going to cost for the government to set up and enforce your permit system?)

Regarding the Cato Institute paper you referenced...that paper seems to simply be arguing against Pigovian taxes. It doesn't seem to be arguing for setting up the system you propose for greenhouse gas (and black carbon?) emissions. Do you know of anything the Cato Institute has written that's supported your specific suggestion (i.e. to address global warming)?

Best wishes,

Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 29, 2006 08:53 PM


Mark:

Let me comment first on this exchange between you and Marlowe:

Marlowe: "One last thought. I agree with you that significant investment in R&D for non-polluting energy sources (e.g. fusion) is a critical component of a sensible climate change strategy. However, in the context of the current thread I think that you’re putting the cart before the horse. The first step is to create market conditions that encourage R&D into clean energy."

Mark: "Why? When the U.S. government decide to put men on the moon, did it "create market conditions that encouraged R&D"? How about when it decided to build an interstate road system? Or to build the Panama Canal?"

Marlowe: "In other words, you’re helping stimulate private research $$ on R&D rather than relying on gov $$ alone."

In principle, I`m with Marlowe. AGW is a problem because emitters have no incentive to reduce their emissions, and no one else has any incentives to change their behavior either, so there are no incentives to invest that refelct the climate change costs imposed. At least theoretically, I`d like to see private incentives adjusted through assigning property rights than top have the government making all of the investment decsions.

After all, the government didn`t create the problem and the government in not uniquely situated to make all of the appropriate decisions. I`d much rather leave them to the market.

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at September 30, 2006 11:42 PM


GHG emission permits. Great questions. I don`t have time for a treatise, but here are my quick thoughts. First, we have the California SO2 program as a model.

a) & b): The US wouldn`t set up any market, which would be created by transactions among those who want to buy or sell permits. The US government would establish permits here, just as the EU has distributed permits and allows for transactions between participants in different countries. Linkages between systems would be very helpful for making sure that low cost emissions are reduced first and permits are allocated to highest valued uses. This is not so difficult. The tough nut is getting China and India to join, but both carrots (like the subsidies Bush and Japan are already throwing at them) and stick in the form of trade sanctions are available.

c) & g) The number of permits is not so critical, as the government could always decide to lower the number by purchasing them. I think that emission levels today would be a natural cap (and note that for the government to raise the cap would directly lower the value of existing permits and would be a “taking” that it would have to compensate existing holders for). By referring to “present harm” you are correct to indicate the intergenerational aspect of the problem, which we have inherited from prior emitters, even while we continue to burden future generations. As for costs, current emissions will also impose future costs that should be considered. Given the damages and ecological changes we`ve seen simply from the warming already evidenced, I certainly do not want to see an equilibrium reached at a level of doubling. Ignoring shifted costs is a recipe for disaster. The emissions level to be permitted would have to be agreed internationally.

d) The initial system doesn`t need to be perfect – it is sufficient if it cover the chief GHGs that the US emits. Less significant sources are unlikely to be stimulated by shifts from fossil fuel use and can be covered later.

e) & g) Permits could be rolled out either at the narrow upstream level (producers) or midstream (industrial users). Offset could be allowed for verifiable sequestration elsewhere. Regardless of which level introduced, pricing and investment effects would be felt economy-wide.

f) Mark, who protects my property? I do, directly and through many organizations that the market develops to provide them. Same thing with privately-owned emissions permits. There are private incentives to monitor and verify, as cheaters drive down the value of investments that all have made. Initial permit holders themselves would want to set up these systems. Our stock exchanges and rating agencies are all privately developed institutions.

I share your suspicion about government; Iraq is clearly a program to hand out billions to favored interests and to keep Republicans in power. Can`t you see that climate change regulation is being deliberately blocked for the same reasons? Fossil fuel producers and major users are paying for blockage because it allows them to keep using the atmosphere freely while dumping the costs onto everyone. But since the damage caused by GHGs wasn`t really clear until about 15 years ago, when producers and major users first started investing seriously in blockage, so up until then they could fairly claim to have “homesteaded” a property right to emissions levels at that time. As a practical matter, I`d be happy to distribute the permits without charge.

3. I`m happy to hear you think developing non-CO2 emitting technologies isn't such a big deal. $20 billion is not much and is probably way to low, and cannot represent the levels of investment eventually needed to replace existing stocks of GHG-emitting equipment. For this reason my focus is on incentivizing private investment.

As for economics, my point is that the core of the problem is the mismatch between private incentive and socially-borne costs. Even if the government were to accelerate development of new technologies through subsidies, it would not change the imbalance in incentives (without further subsidies). We should be looking at measures to bring incentives back into line (even as we try to minimize the footprint of government).

My point about Samuelson is that he totally ignores the fact that the market is NOT working to address climate change issues because there are no costs associated with GHG emissions per se and thus private parties have no incentives to do change behaviors or make useful innovations/investments.

To date, Cato is for doing nothing on climate change. However, Adler has acknowledged that climate change and the conclusion of that paper certainly supports my suggested direction:

“Establish[ing] property rights in environmental resources can certainly be difficult. For starters, there are tremendous legal and cultural barriers to the extension of market institutions in many areas. The technical requirements of property rights definition and enforcement are also substantial. It is one thing to create rights of instream water flows, as is done in many states; it is another to contemplate property rights of air or the deep seas. Yet, are these obstacles any more insurmountable than those Roodman asks governments to undertake? Unlikely. The question is, where are our energies to be focused: tinkering with politically managed environmental command and control, or building and enhancing the market’s institutional capacity to address environmental problems?”

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 1, 2006 01:02 AM


Hi TT,

I only have time to address your first set of comments. (I've got some some real work I need to do.)

You write, "In principle, I`m with Marlowe. AGW is a problem because emitters have no incentive to reduce their emissions, and no one else has any incentives to change their behavior either, so there are no incentives to invest that reflect the climate change costs imposed."

I don't agree. AGW is a "problem" because the IPCC has lied to create a problem where none actually exists. The "projection" of "1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius" warming, without government intervention, is a lie. (Anyone who says otherwise is uninformed and/or dishonest.) If a technically defensible range was instead given (e.g. 0 to 2.5 deg C, with a 50% probability less than 1.5 deg C), the “problem” would essentially disappear. (Except perhaps for those who are committed, for various reasons of faith, to attempting to maintain “constant climate.”)

You continue, “At least theoretically, I`d like to see private incentives adjusted through assigning property rights than top have the government making all of the investment decisions.”

That reminds me of the great Homer Simpson line. Homer (wisely) said: “’In theory.’ Well, communism works, ‘In theory.’”

You seem to think that you are “assigning” (not "protecting?") property rights through your system. But the “property” rights you’re actually attempting to protect is the “right” of future generations to have greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations below some level you deem appropriate. But that should have been in the “Bill of No Rights” (first generated by a libertarian, as I recall):

http://www.friesian.com/ross/ca40/noright.htm

Future generations do NOT have the right to be born into a world with GHG concentrations below whatever level you think is appropriate. And even if they did, that “right” would probably be of very little value to them, since the levels of GHG concentrations will almost certainly be below a level that will cause significant harm. (By “significant harm,” I mean harm such that their wealth and health will not be substantially better than ours.)

In fact, in order to "assign" this "right" of future generations to have lower GHG concentrations, you're taking away the right of everyone alive today (or at least those people living in the countries with governments enforcing reductions) to emit as many GHGs as they think they need to, to make their lives better.

You conclude, "After all, the government didn`t create the problem..."

Once again, I don't agree. The government has created the problem. The problem is that the IPCC is lying. The government is funding them. Even if it's only through bad oversight, it IS a problem created by the government. The government should demand that the IPCC "projections" be abandoned, and scientifically valid *predictions* should replace them.

If the IPCC is not capable of making scientifically valid *predictions,* the government should hire someone who can. In fact, my predictions are already available at no charge (they could use some very minor revisions, but they're already far better than the IPCC's pseudoscience):

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2006/04/complete_set_of.html

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 2, 2006 08:08 PM


Mark,
“I don’t know how much you know about the nuts and bolts of air pollution control… I don’t appreciate anyone implying that I care less about the environment—especially regarding air pollution!—than I do.”

In fact I know fair bit about air pollution control and would be happy to discuss the merits of continuous emission monitoring systems, AERMOD, SCREEN 3, etc. on some other relevant thread. To be clear, it is not my intention to question your character, your motives, or your commitment to the environment. What I am questioning are the merits of your arguments, which IMO is the whole point of blogs like this. Let’s thrash it out and see if we can all learn something eh?

“I don’t agree that the approach is “framing.” For example, I just did the calculation for how much CO2 atmospheric concentrations would be decreased in ten years, if the U.S. implemented a $0.50 per gallon tax on gasoline. The result was a 0.22 ppm. It’s not “framing” to say that. It’s a fact.”

Whenever information is communicated it is framed. Facts are always presented in a certain way and in a certain context. You seem to think that I’m implying that framing itself is a bad thing. It’s not. But it is unavoidable. To understand what I mean, it’s easiest to think about how risk is communicated.

a) I could say that eating red meat increases your risk of heart disease by 100%; or
b) I could say it doubles your risk of heart disease, or
c) I could say that increases the probability from 1:1,000,000 to 2:1,000,000 (these are hypothetical).

Do you agree that b) is more likely to motivate action than c)?

“1) China, India, the U.S., Britain, Japan, amd others all have the incentive to reduce their use of coal, because it causes so much pollution in its extraction and use.”

But at the end of the day coal is still the cheapest source of electric power generation, even when you factor in the costs of SCRs, ESPs, scrubbers, and other pollution control devices. So, no, I don’t agree that there is a significant incentive for these countries to shut down their coal-fired plants, absent any GHG incentive.

“2) All countries outside of the major producers of oil (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Iraq, etc.) all have the incentive to cut their use of oil, because oil is expensive, and much of the oil is produced by countries that are undemocratic and unstable.”

Yes this is true. Reducing oil imports will improve a country’s balance of payments situation. But judging from the U.S. experience, there hasn’t been any appreciable drop in demand for oil, so this factor hasn’t been sufficient to motivate significant action by the federal government.
I’m not suggesting that either of these considerations – clean air benefits or improved energy security – don’t factor in to the analysis. I would argue that both are important co-benefits/drivers of any sensible GHG reduction policy, and the latter in particular makes me hopeful that some meaningful policy measures will eventually make its way through the U.S. political system (e.g. higher CAFÉ standards).

“When the U.S. government decide to put men on the moon, did it "create market conditions that encouraged R&D"? How about when it decided to build an interstate road system? Or to build the Panama Canal?”

None of these examples involve market externalities which benefit private firms and expose the public to an unknown risk in the future, so I don’t think they are really relevant.

“Wouldn't that decision be based in part on how much it would cost? Suppose the cost was under, say, $20 billion? Would you still say that gov $$ alone should not be relied upon?”

Now you’ve said before that you think that technology prizes are the way to go. I haven’t done a lot of thinking on this, but it seems to me that if the cost was as little as you seem to think then surely the royalties from patents would be sufficient to motivate any large multi-national energy company to invest in the R&D. IMO it makes more sense to put a dollar value on GHG emissions than offer a technology prize (although in reality the two aren’t mutually exclusive options) because:

1. The collective R&D budgets of private firms are much greater than the $$ value that a government could reasonably be expected to offer as a prize.
2. The potential revenue from royalties associated with a new clean technology would probably be greater than the value of a technology prize.
3. By putting a $$ value on GHG emissions you create a much greater incentive for private firms to invest in non-GHG emitting technologies.

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 3, 2006 01:50 PM


Marlowe,

You write, "To be clear, it is not my intention to question your character, your motives, or your commitment to the environment."

Well, then it should never be necessary for you to write things like, "...it sounds like you're advancing a common septic argument often put forward on this site by M. Bahner..."

It should only be necessary to write, "...it sounds like you're advancing a common argument often put forward on this site by M. Bahner..."

You continue, "Whenever information is communicated it is framed. Facts are always presented in a certain way and in a certain context. You seem to think that I’m implying that framing itself is a bad thing. It’s not. But it is unavoidable. To understand what I mean, it’s easiest to think about how risk is communicated."

Then you give three examples, and ask whether item "b" would be more likely to prompt action than item "c." I agree that it would, but I don't agree that one needs to present any one of your presentations exclusively. One could write,

"Eating red meat increases your risk of heart attack by 100%, doubling your risk, from 1 in a million to 2 in a million."

I wrote that I did a calculation for how much CO2 atmospheric concentrations would be decreased in ten years, if the U.S. implemented a $0.50 per gallon tax on gasoline, the result was 0.22 ppm. If you think that is an improper "framing" of the calculation, why don't you provide a "framing" that is acceptable to you? If you can't provide a "framing" that is acceptable to you, it seems to me that you simply don't want the fact to be known, rather than that you object to the "framing."

"But at the end of the day coal is still the cheapest source of electric power generation,..."

You say that as though it's an unchanging and unchangeable fact. But it's NOT an unchanging fact. I don't know the exact numbers, but I'd guess that, in the period from 1985 to 2000 in the U.S. fully 80% of the new electrical generation was fired by natural gas, and less than 20% was fired by coal.

That was so because *in that period* natural gas-fired electrical installations were actually least expensive, because natural gas involves so much less capital cost (not to mention less permitting hassle), and because natural gas prices were closer to coal prices (although still more expensive).

Similarly, I currently have natural gas service to heat my house, and electricity (from a utility whose fuel sources 35% nuclear, 39% coal, 12% gas, 14% hydro) to power my appliances. But if I could get a fuel cell for under maybe $3000 to provide the electricity for my house, it would probably be cost effective to generate my own electricity with the fuel cell, and use the fuel cell waste heat to heat my home.

So it's simply not accurate to "frame" the situation in such a manner to pretend that coal always has been and always will be the cheapest way to generate electricity...in the U.S. or anywhere else.

I asked, “When the U.S. government decide to put men on the moon, did it "create market conditions that encouraged R&D"? How about when it decided to build an interstate road system? Or to build the Panama Canal?”

You respond, "None of these examples involve market externalities which benefit private firms and expose the public to an unknown risk in the future, so I don’t think they are really relevant."

Actually, the moon effort was driven by the fear that the Soviets would gain control of space, so it actually WAS driven by a fear of "exposing the public to an unknown risk in the future." And why doesn't the fact that there are market externalities (of completely unknown magnitude, by the way) actually argue FOR government action, rather than against it?

I wrote, “Wouldn't that decision be based in part on how much it would cost? Suppose the cost was under, say, $20 billion? Would you still say that gov $$ alone should not be relied upon?”

"Now you’ve said before that you think that technology prizes are the way to go. I haven’t done a lot of thinking on this, but it seems to me that if the cost was as little as you seem to think then surely the royalties from patents would be sufficient to motivate any large multi-national energy company to invest in the R&D."

Well, the way I look at it is this way: 1) Would General Electric invest in non-tokamak fusion? Probably not, since it could completely destroy their lucrative gas turbine and steam turbine businesses. 2) Any oil company or coal company? Fahgedaboutit. 3) Car company? Probably not, since the payoff would be very far in the future. (And it may never be possible to power cars with fusion anyway...it may simply be electricity from fusion to power cars.)

I have proposed total technology prizes for non-tokamak fusion of about $4 billion. Let's say the private research and development costs (including personnel and equipment) to collect those prizes was $2 billion. Would private companies invest that kind of money on something that might not ever be commercial? It seems unlikely...ESPECIALLY if success resulted in a cannabalizing of existing business (e.g. the oil and coal companies, or electric utilities).

"1. The collective R&D budgets of private firms are much greater than the $$ value that a government could reasonably be expected to offer as a prize."

No way. The prizes I'm suggesting total a bit more than $4 BILLION. That's a huge amount of money. (At least to private industry. Not to the U.S. federal government.)

"2. The potential revenue from royalties associated with a new clean technology would probably be greater than the value of a technology prize."

Again, there are a lot of development costs, and any company that can afford such development costs would probably be cannabilizing existing businesses.

"3. By putting a $$ value on GHG emissions you create a much greater incentive for private firms to invest in non-GHG emitting technologies."

At what cost? What is the present EU CO2 trading system costing, and what is the amount of investment in non-GHG emitting technologies that's resulting?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 3, 2006 07:18 PM


Mark, thanks for the Bill of No Rights; I have strong libertarian leanings, so I agree with that. Unfortunately, I fail to see its relevance here. I make no explict or implicit claims as to the rights of future generations.

I'm a little puzzled that you decline to discuss how property rights faiilures and the concomitant lack of pricing signals are at the core of the climate change problem, even in principle. There are currently no property rights in the air, right? And no incentives per se to reduce GHG emissions, right? And no incentives, for the purpose of reducing such emissions to modify one's consumption behavior or to invest in new technologies, right?

Instead you present your own strong view that the various projections presented by the IPCC are wrong, so we need not worry about climate change. Well, even if you and I disagree about that, we ought still to be able to discuss, at least conceptually, the economics and institutional failures that underlie the problem (even though you may consider the problem to be insignificant). I believe that there are quite substantial costs from the forcing that is already built in, and that it is worth a substantial investment to prevent further rises in GHG concentration. http://www.columbia.edu/%7Ejeh1/threattalk_complete_05Sept2006.pdf.

BTW, I do think it is entirely appropriate, indeed, necessary, to discuss whether the benefits of any use of government policy will be swamped by the costs. I do not concede a prior that they do, but I recognize that there are alternative policy instruments that might be more efficient thna GHG emission permits. This of course is being considered by the Administration and Congress, both of which for now prefer to combine denial with pork barrel approaches.

As to the IPCC, I hope you will recognize the following. First, they are NOT a "government". Second, they are certainly not the US government, which has ignored them over the past six years. We should of course be doing our own projections, threat assessments and cost-benefit analyses, etc. Third, the US government DOES have its own scientists doing precisely these things, and it has mechanisms in place to make sure the news doesn't get out too much. Fourth, fossil fuel producers and major users of course can do their own projections - where are all the ones who disagree with the IPCC? Exxon itself has explicitly acknowledged that, even with uncertainties, GHGs pose a significant threat that warrant government action now.

As to what actions may be appropriate, I find it ironic that the very same government you think should do nothing to regulate the manner in which private economic activity imposes costs on the rest of society should seek to remedy the problem by investing in technological solutions. Should it then give the technologies away free? Even if the technologies are free, what incntives will investors have to use them, if there is no cost associated with GHG emissions?

I think it is clearly strongly preferable that we leave investments up to private investors. We simply need to help create the market that then call forth the investments.

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 4, 2006 12:54 AM


Mark,

You ask what I consider to be an acceptable frame. As I noted much earlier in the thread, it makes more sense to frame GHG reductions from automobiles in terms of tonnes or megatonnes, or $/tonne than ppm. Now if the initiatives are global in scope (i.e., impact of Kyoto as a whole) then a ppm metric might be more appropriate. For initiatives that are national or sub-national in scale this doesn’t make sense. To me it’s obvious, but I’ll agree to disagree if you don’t see it that way.

“I'd guess that, in the period from 1985 to 2000 in the U.S. fully 80% of the new electrical generation was fired by natural gas, and less than 20% was fired by coal.

Mark I’m pretty sure that coal will always be cheaper than natural gas for baseload generation for the simple reason that there is much more of it around and there are far more value-added uses for natural gas (which leads to higher demand and higher prices).

It’s interesting that you chose the 1985-2000 time “frame” – sorry couldn’t resist :). During that period natural gas was extremely cheap and you are correct that most new generation was natural gas not coal-fired. However, since then the price of natural gas has sky-rocketed compared to coal; from 1993 to 2004 the price of coal decreased by a cent and a half to $1.36/ million BTU. In that same timeframe the price of natural gas increased from $2.56/million BTU to $5.96/million BTU. In other words, fuel costs for NG plants are about four times higher compared to coal.

Don’t take my word for it though. Here’s what the EIA has to say http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/trend_3.pdf

“Coal-fired capacity is generally more economical to operate than natural-gas-fired capacity, because coal prices are considerably lower than natural gas prices. As a result, new natural-gas-fired plants are built to ensure reliability and operate for comparatively few hours when electricity demand is high.

With natural gas prices rising in the reference case, coal-fired plants make up most of the capacity additions through 2030. Coal-fired power plants (including utilities, independent power producers, and end-use CHP) continue to supply most of the Nation’s electricity through 2030. Coal-fired plants accounted for 50 percent of all electricity generation in 2004, and their share increases to 57 percent in 2030.

Because of comparatively high fuel prices, naturalgas- fired plants are not used as intensively as coalfired plants. Natural-gas-fired plants provided 18 percent of total supply in 2004, and their share declines slightly to 17 percent in 2030. Natural-gas-fired generation increases initially as the recent wave of newer, more efficient plants come online, but it declines toward the end of the forecast period as natural gas prices continue to rise.”

“I have proposed total technology prizes for non-tokamak fusion of about $4 billion...Would private companies invest that kind of money on something that might not ever be commercial? It seems unlikely...ESPECIALLY if success resulted in a cannabalizing of existing business (e.g. the oil and coal companies, or electric utilities)."

Private firms will always seek to maximize profits. Your point about the inherent reluctance of oil and car companies to invest significant funds in R&D is well taken but there are plenty of other large corporations out there with incentive and financial resources (e.g. DuPont). But that is really beside the point.

The issue here is what policy approach creates the most effective incentive to spur innovation. Both options involve large sums of money. The potential market that would be created by capping GHG emissions is enormous and likely much closer to $1 trillion over several decades, so a $4 billion prize seems paltry by comparison to the royalties a company could stand to collect. If anything your arguments support the creation of a GHG market...

Posted by: Marlowe Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 4, 2006 03:14 PM


Hi Tom,

Oh my. I can see I'm not going to be able to keep up with you AND Marlowe. Here are my responses to some of your remarks...even though they aren't the latest remarks.

1) "Linkages between systems would be very helpful for making sure that low cost emissions are reduced first and permits are allocated to highest valued uses. This is not so difficult."

Ho, ho, ho! That's a joke, right? Look how difficult the Kyoto Protocol was to negotiate! And its reductions in emissions are miniscule! What makes you think reductions 20+ times greater, involving many POOR countries, is going to be "not so difficult?"

2) "The tough nut is getting China and India to join, but both carrots (like the subsidies Bush and Japan are already throwing at them) and stick in the form of trade sanctions are available."

"...stick in the form of trade sanctions...?" I don't understand the morality of that at all. The people of China and India are dirt poor! How in the world is it moral to punish them with trade sanctions? Who are they hurting? For whose benefit would you impose trade sanctions?

"I think that emission levels today would be a natural cap (and note that for the government to raise the cap would directly lower the value of existing permits and would be a “taking” that it would have to compensate existing holders for)."

The whole idea of "takings" is that the government is compensating people when the government takes something that those people own. But in this instance, the very thing that the people "own" is something THE GOVERNMENT gave them! The GOVERNMENT gave them the permits in the first place. It's not like they earned them through hard work.

"Given the damages and ecological changes we`ve seen simply from the warming already evidenced,..."

What are the damages? Can you name the top five damages you think have occurred from the warming already evidenced? (And what percentage of the warming already evidenced do you attribute to GHG emissions?)

3) "The emissions level to be permitted would have to be agreed internationally."

Heh, heh, heh! Yeah, right! China and India and every other developing country will say, "We should get to emit whatever we want, and you rich countries should adjust your emissions to get to the agreed level." What will you say to that? Trade sanctions?

4) "e) & g) Permits could be rolled out either at the narrow upstream level (producers) or midstream (industrial users). Offset could be allowed for verifiable sequestration elsewhere."

Let's look at two examples: gasoline and electricity. Where would you issue the permits? For gasoline, would you issue the permits to the petroleum companies? If so, what would you tell Archer Daniels Midland, or whomever makes ethanol (or biodiesel)? Would they not got any permits because they don't make petroleum? Or would they get permits for being "good guys" for ALREADY producing fuels that don't emit GHGs?

If you gave permits to electric utilities, what would you do with the utilities that produce most of their electricity with nuclear or hydropower? Would they get permits, or not?

5) "f) Mark, who protects my property? I do, directly and through many organizations that the market develops to provide them."

Tom, I guess we're not living in the same country. Here in Durham, NC, the government protects my property. If my house is burglarized, I call the police. If someone swindles me, I also call the police. Now, I MAY also hope to get some or all of my money back through insurance. But without the government, the insurance companies would face essentially infinite claims (since no one would be punished for stealing things) so they'd have to charge essentially infinite premiums.

6) "As a practical matter, I`d be happy to distribute the permits without charge."

Yeah, I'd agree to be King for a Day, too. Let me know how you'd address all the issues with issuing permits for ethanol producers and nuclear/hydropower electricity generators.

7) "I`m happy to hear you think developing non-CO2 emitting technologies isn't such a big deal. $20 billion is not much and is probably way to low, and cannot represent the levels of investment eventually needed to replace existing stocks of GHG-emitting equipment."

I don't think you understand what I'm proposing. Let's take non-tokamak fusion. Here are the technology rewards I think the government should offer:

a) Five prizes of $10 million each for generating 10 fusion watts for 1 hour, within a factor of 10 of breakeven.

b) Five prizes of $50 million each for generating 100 fusion watts for 1 day, within a factor of 3 of breakeven.

c) Three prizes of $100 million each for generating 1000 fusion watts for 1 week, within a factor of 2 of breakeven.

d) Three prizes of $200 million each for generating 10,000 fusion watts for one month, above breakeven.

e) Three prizes of $1 billion each for generating 1 megaWatt by fusion, for one year, at at least 10 percent greater than breakeven.

IF all the awards were made, the total cost would be $4.2 billion. I'm not proposing that the government any further awards, and I'm not proposing any investments in research of any kind. (For example, I would immediately stop U.S. funder of the ITER...the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor...so the savings from that alone would make up for the technology prizes, even if all the prizes were awarded.

8) "My point about Samuelson is that he totally ignores the fact that the market is NOT working to address climate change issues..."

Here's someone who disagrees (as do I):

http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=7

Best wishes,
Mark

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 4, 2006 06:58 PM


Mark:

For detailed information on what GHG permit schemes would look like, I recommend you take a look at the extensive resources presented at the April 2006 conference by Pete Domenici's Senate's Energy & Natural Resources Committee:

http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Conferences.Detail&Event_id=4&Month=4&Year=2006
http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_senate_hearings&docid=f:28095.pdf

In principle, the permits should be established at the level most easily administered, and the markets and pricing signals created as a result will do the rest in terms of rolling out the program to the rest of the economy. I think that upstream production and imports are the easiest level. Alternative energy sources that have no GHG emissions (biofuels, hydro, nuclear & solar) would have no direct costs, other than indirect costs reflected in fossil fuels used and in products using fossil fuels. Markets would be created for upstream and midstream GHG sequestration since these projects would offset emissions, thus providing an alternative to emission rights.

Trade carrot and sticks are perfectly appropriate tools. If these countries want access to our maters then they should be willing to agree to certain GHG emission restrictions.

Yes, we are decarbonizing, but only because there is a price to using fossil fuels - which price does not reflect the social/ecological costs of climate change or of adapting to such changes. Samuelson does not acknowledge this, nor you. Economists generally acknowledge that pricing is the chief factor driving consumption and investment decisions, and I would hope that even engineers could understand this point.

As to the role of government, I have two observations. First, I am neutral to how emission permits would be distributed; the main goal is that they are distributed, so that pricing signals can start to work. Permits could either be auctioned or distributed free; there are good arguments to be made on both sides. Second, a good libertarian will never acknowledge the legitimacy of a government role in protecting private property - but I am not a good libertarian. Of course the government would need to be involved in monitoring emissions and certifying sequestration, but theoretically the whole permitting system could be established through a corporation, which could use litigation and private other tools (such as revocation of permits) against violators. There is no theoretical need to keep the government directly involved.

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 4, 2006 11:53 PM


Tom,

You write, "Trade carrot and sticks are perfectly appropriate tools. If these countries want access to our markets then they should be willing to agree to certain GHG emission restrictions."

I don't understand. Why should we punish them (and ourselves!) with GHG emission restrictions? Who are they hurting? And to what extent?

Previously, you made the comment, about the climate change problem, "Well, even if you and I disagree about that, we ought still to be able to discuss, at least conceptually, the economics and institutional failures that underlie the problem (even though you may consider the problem to be insignificant)."

Yes, let's also discuss the economics and institutional failures that result in light pollution. When I was a kid growing up, I could always see many stars, and even the Milky Way pretty clearly. Now I can't see many stars or the Milky Way at all. (Of course, now I'm living in a medium-sized city, and growing up I was in a small town.)

So I think we should also discuss setting up a permitting system to allow trading in the right to operate lights outdoors. First, we could issue enough permits to freeze the level of light emissions, and then over a period of a few decades, we could cut allowable light emissions by 80 percent. After the initial permits were issued (a small matter), we'd of course let the market decide who got to emit how much light.

Sound good?

;-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2006 07:28 PM


Hi Marlowe,

You write, “The potential market that would be created by capping GHG emissions is enormous and likely much closer to $1 trillion over several decades, so a $4 billion prize seems paltry by comparison to the royalties a company could stand to collect. If anything your arguments support the creation of a GHG market...”

My arguments "support the creation of a GHG market..."?!

It appears we have different goals. My goal is to develop a low-polluting, inexpensive, and inexhaustible energy source for the LEAST possible cost to society.

If my “paltry” prizes totaling $4 billion result in the development of an energy source to the point where the world will use it *willingly* to replace coal, nuclear fission, oil, and natural gas, why should the world attempt to go with your emissions trading system that is politically completely impractical (in that you will almost certainly never get worldwide agreement on what the “fair” GHG emissions are from each country), and will cost (by your own admission!) “closer to $1 trillion over several decades?”

If you want to use up vast sums of money, why don't you simply put $50 billion in a pile each year for the next several decades, and burn it for heat? (Note: Per standard GHG accounting, that emits no GHGs.)

;-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 8, 2006 06:54 AM


Mark, the reason why we're having this discussion is because it's become clear that mankind is influencing the climate in ways that are expensive to use, but we've developed no ways to manipulate the controls except to push them in one direction - hotter. China and India have to be part of the solution to this, as well as the US and Europe. Without coordinated action, actions by individual countries are not merely insufficient but come at a cost to their relative competitiveness.

Your tongue-in-cheek comments about light pollution show you are getting the hang of things. Now just turn your understanding to the problem at hand (we do need to priorize, after all).

Here is something more to show you where I am coming from in terms of the need for clear property rights to resolve disputes over open-access resources. It includes ammunition you can use against me: Terry L. Anderson & J. Bishop Grewell, Property Rights Solutions for the Global Commons: Bottom-Up or Top-Down?

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 09:18 PM


Mark, the link was stripped.

Here it is: www.law.duke.edu/journals/delpf/articles/delpf10p73.htm.

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 09:20 PM


Hi Tom,

You write, “…the reason why we're having this discussion is because it's become clear that mankind is influencing the climate in ways that are expensive to use…”

No, Tom, that’s the reason *you’re* having this discussion. The reason I’m having this discussion is that it is *not* clear to me that “mankind is influencing climate in ways that are expensive”. Not only do I not see the “expensive,” I think it’s likely that influence of anthropogenic GHG emissions on global climate has been, so far, slightly *positive* on net. (Though I think the actual numbers are so small, they’re almost completely lost in the “noise.”)

“…but we've developed no ways to manipulate the controls except to push them in one direction - hotter.”

No, Tom, that’s simply wrong. Jesse Ausubel's research shows definitively that mankind has been “decarbonizing” for centuries, without a single government mandate (including GHG emission trading systems).

In fact, look just at the last few decades. Here are CO2 emissions each decade from 1950 onward (per the Worldwatch Institute “Vital Signs” series). The format is year, emissions (GtC), % change over previous decade:

1960, 2.535 GtC, 57%

1970, 3.997 GtC, 58%

1980, 5.155 GtC, 29%

1990, 5.931 GtC, 15%

2000, 6.299 GtC, 6%

Notice how the percentage increase were huge from 1950 to 1960 (57%) and from 1960 to 1970 (58%), but declined dramatically, to only 6% from 1990 to 2000.

You’re also neglecting the fact that atmospheric methane concentrations appear to have *already* peaked, and actually appear to be headed downward.

Finally, and perhaps even most importantly, you’re neglecting the fact that worldwide fossil fuel black carbon emissions (e.g. soot emissions from diesels, soot emissions from coke ovens) appear to have already peaked, and will likely be headed down very steeply in the next 10-20 years (as European/U.S. technology for control of diesel particulates and coke ovens are established worldwide).

So it is simply wrong to say that there are not currently any ways that humans are pushing the climate cooler.

You continue, “China and India have to be part of the solution to this, as well as the US and Europe. Without coordinated action, actions by individual countries are not merely insufficient but come at a cost to their relative competitiveness.”

I do not agree with that statement, either. For example, if the U.S. develops non-tokamak fusion power to the point where it will be taken to commercialization, then Europe, India, China, Japan, and the whole rest of the world will use it, because it will be *better* than existing energy sources (coal, oil, nuclear fission). There will be no need to force them to limit their emissions (and I question the morality of that).

“Your tongue-in-cheek comments about light pollution show you are getting the hang of things.”

It isn’t a matter of “getting the hang of things,” Tom. Problems related to the environment—especially air pollution--are what I do for a living. And until the Secretary of State of North Carolina dissolved the Libertarian Party of North Carolina and forcibly changed my voter registration to “Independent,” I was a registered Libertarian. So I'm almost certainly as familiar with emission trading and libertarian concepts as you are. In fact, it is because of my familiarity with both those things that I don't think your plan makes sense. I think you are either naively or disingenuously minimizing the difficulties in setting up and maintaining your concept. And I don't think it's at all libertarian; I think it's even more than a little authoritarian. (The fact that you casually brush aside the questionable morality of trade sanctions certainly doesn't support the notion that your concept is libertarian!)

"Here is something more to show you where I am coming from in terms of the need for clear property rights to resolve disputes over open-access resources."

Once again, I don't see much similarity at all with the examples of disputes over open-access resources mentioned in that article (e.g., water, open sea fish) and human emissions of GHGs.

Here are some questions of mine you have not yet answered, and for which I definitely need good answers in order to be convinced of the reasonableness of your concept:

1) What do you think are the top 5 damages to date resulting from emissions of GHGs (and even better, do you have some estimate of their approximate worth)?

2) How much of the warming from 1880 to 2005 do you think was caused by GHG emissions (i.e., *not* solar, and *not* black carbon, and *not* albedo changes)?

3) You have said you'd set the permit levels for free. I want you to actually give me an estimate of what you would do, if you were King of the World. Here is a figure showing world GHG emissions (GtC) by region. If you were King of the World, what permitted levels would you give for each of the 9 regions in the graph, for the year 2010?

http://www.manicore.com/anglais/documentation_a/greenhouse/evolution.html

If you can't convince me that GHG emissions are causing signficant economic damage (or even more important, significant numbers of deaths), and you can't tell me how much of the warming since 1880 has been caused by GHGs, and you can't tell me what permits you would give for the year 2010 if you were King of the World, then I don't see why I, or anyone else, should support your concept.

Best wishes,
Mark

P.S. And even all that doesn't address why I think my plan is far less expensive, and far more likely to succeed, than your concept. :-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 07:33 PM


Mark, thanks for your extensive note. I will try to respond in part, even as I admit my own limitations.

I see that even you grudgingly acknowledge a human impact on climate. My own view is that this should not be startling, as it’s been clear that we’ve been altering our environment, both deliberately and inadvertently, on a large scale for millennia now. I think that we should be developing mechanisms to deal with some of the willy-nilly effects, especially those involving open access resources where lack of private or community property rights mean that individual incentives remain to exploit the resource without regard to consequences other than the direct costs experienced by the resource user. Emissions of GHGs are simply one of these problems, all of which concern me.

Libertarian economic theory makes it clear that the answers lie in taking advantage of changes in technology to provide for clear and enforceable property rights, so that conflicts over resource usage can be resolved via private transactions (and enforced in the courts). Maybe it is an unwarranted idealism on my part, but I think that there is a positive role to be played by government in addressing such issues, even where the solution may be imperfect.

The debate over climate change – and the name-calling, social pressure and political deadlock involved – is a classic struggle over resources that are unowned. There are a myriad possible technological adjustments that could help to resolve the problem, but the fact that GHG emissions remain free will dampen investments into and application of such technologies.

You say "it is simply wrong to say that there are not currently any ways that humans are pushing the climate cooler."

I agree that in some ways we’re beginning to take our foot off the pedal, but as long as a net forcing is underway we are still pushing the climate just in one direction, and the absolute size of annual CO2 emissions is still growing. So we are still accelerating, even though there are other natural factors at work.

We will see what happens to both methane and soot, but CO2 emissions and concentrations continue to rise, especially in China and India (things have jumped again after 2000, no?). But I think that you have to admit that we don’t have brake yet of any kind – other than global dimming from particulates and sulfates (so perhaps we shouldn’t be cleaning those up so quickly?). In addition, even if we ceased all GHG emissions tomorrow, we’d still be expecting a 1 degree F temp increase on top of what we’ve already experienced.

You disagree with my statement that "Without coordinated action, actions by individual countries are not merely insufficient but come at a cost to their relative competitiveness.” and point to fusion research.

You're missing my key point, which is that if GHG emissions are free, those nation that agree to impose costs on themselves while others don't are shooting themselves in the foot competitively. This is why Kyoto was negotiated to kick in only after a certain number of major GHG emitters joined in, why it seemed to be dead letter when the US bailed, and why our decision irked everyone else.

While bashing my "authoritarianism" in arguing for a GHG emission permits scheme, have you failed to notice that you sound like you’re hooked on government pork yourself, by pushing government subsidies of technology to solve problems created by lack of clear property rights. That’s remarkably pragmatic, and certainly not libertarian.

Instead of asking the government to open up the spigots, why not focus directly on the source of the problem, by creating property rights that will then, because GHG emissions will be priced, have the effect of calling forth the investments that are needed? Why should the government be trying to choose winners and losers by subsidizing certain technologies but not others?

If the government is going to be involved at all, it should be helping to establish market-based solutions that will make it costly to emit GHGs and lucrative to capture them. Then businesses, the venture capital community and the world's entrepreneurs will have market incentives to try all kinds of things to solve the problem, and the market can decide what is the cheapest approach. Without market incentives, no one has a profit motive (save that already inherent in the price of fossil fuels) that will drive the world's engineering community to work on the problem. It might very well be that the easiest gains are on the sequestration side, which would allow offsetting amounts of GHG emissions.

As to the "questionable morality of trade sanctions", without China and India involved they would be free riders that would undermine the incentives of developed countries to reduce emissions and viate any reductions achieved. Trade sanctions are simply one possible way to get China and India to play along. Another way would be to get them to agree to an emissions permitting scheme by pay them to forego their current rights. It’s only a matter of bargaining – and threatening to limit access to our markets if they are unwilling to cooperate seems perfectly fair.

I do share some sympathies with you generally, as the developing world has done little to contribute to AGW to date but is expected to bear the brunt of the climate change costs, even while their comparative poverty hamstrings their ability to adapt. I believe that any serious effort to deal with climate change should include serious measures to increase the wealth of lesser developed countries, by focusing on improvements in the rule of law and the clarity of property rights.

Many so-called "skeptics" allege their concern about how putting a market value on GHG emissions will endanger the development of these countries, but they seem to be completely silent on the need for the West to seriously work to improve the institutional and physical infrastructure in such countries, even while they also skate past the fact that we are exporting damages to them. One is forced to conclude that those who advance this type of argument are doing so only to block change for the benefit of their own personal financial and/or political interests, and with very little real sincerity or concern for the poor in lesser developed countries.

You posit three questions for which you require answers before you would appoint me king of the world; let me confess that these are excellent questions that fall outside my expertise.

I think that there are serious damages already being experienced in the US and around the world, with more already built in and even more on the way as the forcing gets bigger. I concede my inability to persuade you on the size of the problem; you will have to persuade yourself.

Some of the damages being felt to day are apparent in the increase in the rapid warming in the Arctic, unusual rain events, and ecosystem changes as seasons shift. For example, Japan's seasons have been very irregular, there have been record downpours over the past few years (with great flood damages and loss of life), ski seasons have greatly suffered, etc. But rather than try to give you any kind of litany, I would just note that if clear property rights relating to GHG emissions existed and could be enforced, any “damages” would be compensable and thus GHG emitters would have incentives to reduce their emissions.

Here are some sites on the difficult issues of determining/calculating damages:
http://www.cbo.gov/showdoc.cfm?index=6061
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/49/37117487.pdf
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/20060926/economists-climate-global-warming.htm
http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/overview.htm

Here’s a link to someone who seems better suited than me to discussing with you the scale of climate change: http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/2/3/0394/97545#more

As to how GHG permits could be distributed, establishment of GHG pricing mechanisms globally is a political discussion between nations, and your link shows that the parties that would need to be initially involved would be quite limited. We are basically looking at the Annex I Kyoto Protocol nations and adding in the US, Australia, China and India. If each country establishes a GHG emissions permitting and trading system, this would allow least-cost realization of emissions reductions/sequestration programs.

Domestic allocation is also political; there are good arguments that either permits should be auctioned (on the basis that the government is selling rights that belong to citizens) or distributed free of charge to existing users (on the basis that such users have not violated anyone’s property rights and have “homesteaded” their claims. Clearly fossil fuel producers and users have incentives to block any change from the open-access system, and some have been actively investing in blocking policy. I can understand those who believe that social pressure is one way to move these firms; another is to simply minimize the costs to them of moving by giving them the rights that they would need.

You suggest that your proposed fusion award plan "is far less expensive, and far more likely to succeed, than your concept"; perhaps, but I would hope that we could come to a shared understanding as to how the absence of clear or enforceable property rights lies at the source of the AGW problem (as well as other environmental problems). I understand quite well that government is itself frequently in the way of long-term solutions to resource conflicts (by rewarding rent-seeking), but I fail to see how this problem will solve itself.

Regards,

Tom

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 11, 2006 04:12 AM




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