Well-seasoned perspective

I can’t deny that currently I’m pretty bored by those “middle ground” guys who purportedly want to reconcile the two “sides” of the climate debate, yet who really have little more in mind than seizing a new ground to stand on for themselves.

In my opinion, Chris Colose summarizes the state of play quite nicely (h/t Tamino). The middle ground buddies have two interrelated problems: One of substance, and one of style. The superficial result of these problems is boredom, so I tend to avoid their blogs. Yet the deeper problem appears to be one of hubris: The claim to have found a solution to a global problem through designing “robust” approaches, while at the same time suffering from an incapacity to even run a robust online discussion.

Just to give you a few examples. It’s a problem of substance, for example, when Roger Pielke Jr. conducts studies on normalizing natural disaster losses over time by correcting for increase in wealth, while neglecting increasing resilience against flood events by, say, building dams, introducing flood control measures, or build our houses safer (with the relationship between wealth and mitigation measures not so easy to assess). Following from this, it’s poor style to repeatedly claim:

Note that work that I have been involved in on floods assumes that damage increases proportionally to increases in population and wealth (…).

While one of the studies dealing with this issue (even discussed by Pielke Jr. here) clearly states:

One of the problems with normalizing damage from natural disasters, independently of the method chosen, is our inability to take into account defensive mitigating measures (…).

And (emphasis mine):

What the results tell us is that, based on historical data, there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters. More cannot be inferred from the data. In particular, one cannot infer from our analysis that there have not been more frequent and/or more intensive weather-related natural disasters.

Of course I know that Pielke throws this stuff in to make people look bad who claim global warming has already led to an increase in weather-related disaster losses. Yet it’s not looking good either if you only tell half the story.

Likewise, it’s poor substance to organise a meeting in Lisbon aiming at a reconciliation between the climate “sides” while painstakingly avoiding the real controversy, i.e. politics, and horrible style to invite Gavin Schmidt to that very meeting, but when he decides not to come inventing things he didn’t say in order to make him look bad.

In addition to that, it’s a problem of substance not knowing what’s in ones own paper, and terrible style to claim (h/t Stoat):

When I make a public statement about what a scientist does or does not know, I make a point of actually reading what that scientist has to say on the subject, rather than what other people say about that scientist on blogs.

But you know what’s the worst of it all? That implicitly or explicitly, these guys claim to have found the philosopher’s stone by aiming for what they call “robust” climate science (Curry) or climate policy (Pielke), yet they fail miserably at even running a robust climate discussion with their peers.

I mean, honestly? Somebody who manages to get such a disastrous media and blogosphere response like the Lisbon meeting did should have any deeper knowledge about what sort of science and would be “robust”? Don’t be ridiculous.

Leaving the annoyed tone aside, I do think that Pielke’s “iron law” of climate policy has a lot of merit (which is why I read him regularly, and when I want to do some intellectual workout, I go tease him). Yet the real trick is not to nail it in everyones head, but to build on it and actually develop measures that achieve the ultimate goal of climate policy (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) while not pissing everyone off. And also to be creative. A $5 carbon tax won’t get us anywhere, a 0.1% financial transaction tax actually might. Given, of course, it’s used to boost low carbon energy sources, not throwing it at banks too stupid to bank but “too big to fail”.

And now for something completely different.

Writes Roger Pielke, Jr.:

But anyone who thinks that action on greenhouse gases provides a meaningful lever to influence food prices (…) has lost all perspective.

Oh, good, so those darn biofuels don’t do so much harm after all. I’m glad this mystery is solved once and for all.

This entry was posted in Biofuel, climate science, Mitigating climate change, Science policy, skepticism, Social construction. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Well-seasoned perspective

  1. Eli Rabett says:

    Well yes and no. In 2008 probably yes. This year probably not (see Tamino).

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