Monday, August 24, 2009

My latest Environmental turn-around

My current global warming/climate change opinion can be summed up as the opposite of what I had summed up previously as my opinion, although in truth there is no facts previously accepted that I no longer hold true nor visa versa.

To sum up: Previously I believed this: Anthropogenic Global Warming is a fact but we shouldn't do anything about it.

Now - I believe that Global Warming is a scientific assertion with little predictive value. However, it has high *proscriptive* value ie. there is value of various kinds in acting against Green House Gases.

The issue to me is that the value of science to predict is that you can adjust what you do to optimise for that prediction. If you know a cyclone is heading your way, you can batten down the hatches - the three to ten day forecasts of cyclones is very valuable. The prediction that my house might be threatened by a storm surge in ten years time is valueless both in a future discounting sense, and in a probability sense.

The idea that there is proscriptive "value" in what climate scientists say comes from the fact that there is benefit in being able to say, "all other things being equal, it is unequivocally better to reduce ghg's!"
This is the same proscriptive value as economists saying "We should reduce trade barriers" among the many correctly proscriptive things experts say in their fields without being able to valuably predict the future (eg. what stocks will go up.)
We do not know how many generations it will take to see the benefits of doing so. It is entirely possible that the next several generations will suffer more by attempting, or even succeeding in a large way to reduce ghg's. It is not a thing that can be predicted. Nor can things that actually make a significant difference - costs associated with actual extreme wheather events. We will be lucky to even have right the most basic easiest question of the next 40 years - will global average temperatures go up steadily, go down steadily, go up and down like a yo-yo or what? Most bets are that it will go up but with several peaks and troughs on the way to confuse things and correctly make a mockery of experts' authority on the matter.

40 comments:

Chris Fellows said...

"all other things being equal, it is unequivocally better to reduce ghg's!"

What are these 'all other things' of which you speak? I am prepared to mount (at the drop of a hat) a spirited argument to the effect that Greenhouse Gases promote biodiversity, human health, and economic development, and hence might well be worth pumping into the atmosphere on altruistic grounds... all other things being equal. ;)

Chris Fellows said...

Extreme weather event every hundred years = South Townsville remains inhabited, lots of people die each time there is a once-in-a-century storm surge.

Extreme weather event every ten years = South Townsville is a periodically inundated nature reserve, attracting big-spending eco-tourists

Marco said...

"All other things" is really a catch-all - meaning that even if reduction is proscribed and politicians accept the authority of the scientific consensus, it is still politically satisfactory to argue that we cannot afford reductions, because the economy appears to depend on emmissions.

Chris Fellows said...

Perhaps I expressed myself badly. Why do you now think we can say, setting economics aside (!), that it is *unequivocally better* to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Marco said...

It is an argument based completely on authority of a consensus that uses scientific methods to come to their proscription.

For instance, it is the same argument regarding economists and lowering tariffs, doctors and immunisation, etc.

It is not in the nature of the thing that it can be proven better because the entities are using scientific methods, therefore my only argument left is to give analogies of other situations where I wish people would accept the authority of economists, etc. a bit more than they do.

Chris Fellows said...

Alas! Thus even the brightest minds among us are blinded by spin... there is no consensus, merely the reiteration of the statement 'there is a consensus', like the chanting of the partisans of Diana of Ephesus; and the 'consensus' cannot be said to have been arrived at by the methods of the historical sciences, except by a cruel re-definition of 'scientific method'.

Chris Fellows said...

"I wish people would accept the authority of economists, etc. a bit more than they do."

I ought to say I disagree with you here, as well. I wish people would think about things for themselves logically, and accept the statements of economists etc. if they are consistent with observed reality and make logical sense. I have no desire for people to accept the authority of anyone to any greater extent than (the disasterous degree) they already do.

Marco said...

Alas! Thus even the brightest minds among us are blinded by spin... there is no consensus

Here again I have to clarify what *I* mean by authoritative concensus. At this point it is the IPCC (as opposed by even the analysis of it by places such as RealClimate). The statements, explanations and conclusions that I have read are balanced to the point they almost say nothing at all for certain. The generation of targets from such an uncertain science with lack of predictive qualities for almost all of the things that matter, is entirely from a precautionary perspective ie. that the only thing we know for sure is that the planet knows how to look after itself at recently known GHG levels. The reports from the IPCC leave out completely as not their remit as to the comparative priority targets are compared to all the other things we have to worry about. That is obviously the remit of politicians, which rely on votes, which tend to fall on individual self-interest, which in most cases amounts to giving reductions good lip-service but no guarantees.

There doesn't appear to be much spin in what the IPCC comes up with, and no proof that climate change is good or bad, just an axiom of the status quo being the safest state, and that as far as the environment goes, ghg's are the thing that most likely risks us moving away from the status quo.

Marco said...

As to your other point, there are good reasons to accept the authority of others, and a limit to how much people thinking for themselves can come up with the "right" answer. In tribal societies there were good reasons to trust the proscriptions of their local witch-doctor, as there is now to trust medical doctors and not to trust witch-doctors.

The average person should be able to verify that an expert is qualified, and know the limits of that qualification, but accept their authority within the limits of that qualification.

I find that instead, the average person has bias against certain experts and not others, uses only rudimentary kinds of logic to decide whether something makes sense, and is liable to change their mind based on singular events, experience or change in context.

Chris Fellows said...

"there are good reasons to accept the authority of others, and a limit to how much people thinking for themselves can come up with the "right" answer."

What are these good reasons to accept the authority of others? And why should there be a limit to people thnking for themselves? Surely it is better to build on the rudimentary logic and science ('based on experience') people use to make decisions, rather than encouraging regression into primitive modes of thought!

Marco said...

Our natural instincts to (in a large number of contexts) accept the authority of others is what stops the human race from descending into complete chaos. I have seen what passes for logic in an average individual, and it generally involves modes of thought copied from other individuals who are equally clueless.
I encourage anyone who requests my authoratative opinion for what it is worth to also think it through for themselves. Most people are smart enough but naive about scientific method and logic. It appears the education system is powerless to help. Most of the "damage" is done before kids reach school. My main hope from what I see is that many of the clueless at least know who is most likely to be right with most voteable issues.

Chris Fellows said...

However, our natural tendency to accept the authority of others is what makes all man-made disasters possible. And surely the premise of Game Theory is that humans pursue their own best interests in the absence of a Fuehrer telling them what to do- hence Rousseau's social contract and Smith's invisible hand, and a marked absence of complete chaos?

Marco said...

I don't really think it is one or the other. People thinking independently or from their own interest still observe authority selectively. In all societies, including animal societies, there is scope to challenge authority as well. In the dog world there are challenges to be leader of the pack. Once that is decided, however, all dogs are subservient to the pack leader until the next challenge opportunity.

In the human world we often check the credentials of police before accepting their authority. We check nutritionists credentials on occasions before accepting their advice. And we often audit elections before accepting the leadership of the country. Even in Iran, this is relevant. People are less likely to be law-abiding if their is a question of legitimacy of the leadership.

Where there is a lack of certainty, I think it is right to accept the imperatives of those considered legitimate to the task. This is voluntary for an individual in most cases, and should not impinge on general freedoms. eg. to not take the advice of doctors, lawyers, whatever...

Chris Fellows said...

Yes, yes, that's all fine... but you've said you'd like *more* submission to authority, not maintenance of the status quo... pedantic minds demand some kind of back-of-envelope cost-benefit analysis of this!

Marco said...

Well, you've thrown me a little - but in the context of debating policy say...

"Certified impartial economists agree that we should reduce tariffs"

"Why should we listen to Economists. They can't even predict which way the Dow Jones is going to go in the next week, let alone a year"

"Who should decide on economic policy then?"

"Doctors! We trust doctors"

I have this kind of debate go this way all too often. I think debates would get to the right answer much quicker if (in the case of slight naivety in the subject) we should be able to check credentials to advise on a topic, then submit to the authority of that credential.

Maybe you have a counter (benefit) of the argument going in this direction?

Chris Fellows said...

In the context of debating policy, arguing from authority is a bad way to do it. Remember when I was trying to argue with Klaus?

Example Argument #2:

A. "Certified impartial economists agree that we should reduce tariffs"

B. "But, certified impartial economists* agree that we shouldn't"
[*: i.e., economists that 'B' sees as impartial, whereas A's economists are neo-conservative automaton drones.]

A. "..."


Much better example argument #3:

A: "Wally* says that we should reduce tariffs, and here is his logical argument. {Insert logical argument} Can you find fault with with his assumptions or reasoning?"
[*: Note there is no need to say that Wally is a renowned professor who won the economic equivalent of the Brownlow medal last year.]

B: "No... but I hate him anyways, just like I hate Bjorn Lomberg. Curse your manipulative patriarchal use of logical reasoning, you neo-conservative automaton drone!"

A. "..."

Okay, so example #3 didn't work out much better. Hmm.

I think this 'respect authority' argument is similar to the argument in favour of tariffs, btw. Everyone can see the immediate benefit to them if the authority of *their* pet interest group is respected, but cannot see the overall corrosive effect on innovation and civil liberties of a culture of respect for authorities.

Marco said...

Yeah, maybe....

thinking....


thinking....

give me a few days :-)

Marco said...

I guess it's not the Quantity of how often people should accept authority rather than think for themselves, but the sophistication with which we do so. I see the seeds of this happening through pure survival of the fittest via the abuse of our natural instincts to follow authority, via scams. Scam survivors learn to make basic checks on whose authority they are following, without resorting to checking everything absolutely themselves from scratch. Thus we get an ideal argument path wasting the least amount of time on arguments where experts have already done the work for us, while retaining enough independent checks that are worth making such that we are not being taken for a ride nor missing important new insights.

With long term proscriptions, therefore, the checks and balances involve checking the normal doomsday motivations for self interest, which exist especially in the funding of further research. Thus, like the millenium bug proscriptions; they have to be seen in the context of precautionary rather than desparate, while taking care not to reward the doomsdayers with extra funding the scarier their forecasts are.

Chris Fellows said...

I guess I have veered a little bit from the path here- I am still unclear about exactly what you mean by 'proscriptive' value and why you think we should act against Greenhouse Gases.

If a hypothesis is not predictive, it is not a scientific hypothesis. 'Little predictive value' means 'most if A then B statements made using this hypothesis are erroneous'. It does not mean 'can't tell what the weather will be like in the Bay of Biscay on August 26th, 2011.' The only way I can see a 'scientific assertion with little predictive value' having value of any kind is if it plays an important role in maintaining the self-consistency of a worldview or browbeating (immorally) the great unwashed into doing things you cannot convince them to do otherwise.

Marco said...

If a hypothesis is not predictive, it is not a scientific hypothesis. 'Little predictive value' means 'most if A then B statements made using this hypothesis are erroneous'.

By value, basically, I mean that using knowledge garnered from that prediction, I can use it to my advantage, to say make money or save money. My "Little value" I associate with the predictions is based on (especially using future discounting in a standard way) the fact that with the sort of timescales being talked about, even if you were the only person in the world who knew the predictions or had complete manual control of emissions, you couldn't make money out of that knowledge, nor control.

Chris Fellows said...

Ah, we are just using totally different languages.

'predictive value' (Chris) means 'ability to correctly predict the result of an experiment or observation before it is made.'

It is the core thing you want in a scientific hypothesis. Any theory that does not have 'predictive value' (Chris) will not have a capacity to make money for anyone through making predictions ['predictive value' (Marco)?] - though it may have a capacity to make money through stopping people from doing perfectly harmless things they would otherwise do [proscriptive value' (Marco)?].

Though I would question whether this 'proscriptive value' could ever add *real* economic value if it is based on a model that does not reflect reality...

Marco said...

'predictive value' (Chris) means 'ability to correctly predict the result of an experiment or observation before it is made.'

There are many sub-hypotheses that climate scientists make that have 'predictive value' (Chris). It is just that, like economics, it is the nature of the beast that the sort of things we care about are things that can make or save us money, which "moves the goalposts", as it were, as the future unfolds.

Chris Fellows said...

But, you didn't starttalking about 'sub hypotheses with predictive value' made by climate scientists... you said:

"I believe that Global Warming is a scientific assertion with little predictive value. However, it has high *proscriptive* value ie. there is value of various kinds in acting against Green House Gases."

I still don't know what you mean. Do you mean we can make money out of it? I have always agreed and endorsed the 'throw buckets of money at us scientists' option, despite its ethical vacuity.

Marco said...

Yes. That is just one of the kinds of value. Rewarding the climate scientists who use "best practices" as we understand them by supporting their unprovable and undisprovable targets, improves the standing and welfare of all scientists - in the "throw buckets of money at them" way.

There is also value for other academics with other specialties such as economics who say, "Fine - we'll listen to your targets, but you have to trust our (collective, consensus, scientific..) proscriptions on how to economically achieve them... among other things"

By the way I believe the game theory game "reduce emissions" played globally is a zero sum game - ie. there is no net gain or loss. The winners are balanced out by the losers.

However, the game theory game "trust credentialled scientists more", or "throw more money at credentialled scientists" is not a zero sum game (IMHO)

Chris Fellows said...

Nup, the 'reduce emissions' game is a negative sum game.

And I don't think the 'you trust our dodgy science and we'll trust yours' outcome is probable, ethical, or likely to lead to 'good' policy decisions.

Marco said...

Well. There you have it. That is the point(s) on which we disagree. What makes a science dodgy?

Darwinian Evolution as a hypothesis does not have predictive value (Marco) and I am not sure what any historical science valuably predicts (Chris). Enlighten me. What makes the current Economic and Climate sciences dodgy and various conclusions on evolution science non-dodgy?

And as far as the zero-sum game thing goes - Elaborate on what the "net costs" to the world as a whole are for a "reduce emissions" game?

Chris Fellows said...

I am beginning to fear those weird pod-people who temporarily replaced winstoninabox have replaced Marco as well :(

"Darwinian Evolution as a hypothesis does not have predictive value (Marco) and I am not sure what any historical science valuably predicts (Chris)."

Darwinian evolution can certainly be exploited to make money. You can observe, for instance, selection pressures that are tending to make Crimson Gugfish smaller, so you can invest before your competitors in longline technology to exploit the stocks of Cyan Gigfish living deeper in the ocean.

All historical sciences have excellent predictive value in that once you can identify an individual as part of a class you can make all sorts of predictions about it that are very likely to be true. Geology allows you to say that an intrusion of a particular sort of rock is likely to be associated with particular minerals of economic value, before you carry out the closer observations to verify that they are there; biology allows you to observe the imprint made by one foot of an animal and infer (for instance) that it gives milk, bears live young, and has marketable fur; astronomy allows you to predict the distribution of heavy elements in a galaxy from a first rough estimate of its age, before the detailed spectroscopic analysis that would verify this. Coming across an undiscovered island at a particular latitude, you can sail around it to find out how big it is and then apply the correlations of the historical sciences to make an excellent estimate of how many species of beetle live there. etc.

Elaborate on what the "net costs" to the world as a whole are for a "reduce emissions" game?

Economics 101

Axiom: Economic growth is good.

Observation: Economic growth is strongly correlated with greenhouse gas emissions.

Axiom: Economic agents (people) are basically lazy and will always try to do things in the lowest-cost way.

Hypothesis: Economic growth is strongly correlated with greenhouse gas emissions because the lowest-cost ways to achieve economic growth involve generating lots of greenhouse gases.

Conclusion: Any mechanism designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must force people to do things in a more expensive way and hence reduce economic growth. The players of the game collectively lose compared to the non-players of the game.

You can only say emissions reduction is a 'zero sum' game if this economic loss is balanced out by some positive number: that is, if you accept that Anthropogenic Global Warming is a fact (probable) and that it will have a net negative impact on the World Economy (improbable) and that emissions reduction schemes can do anything significant to reduce it (risible).

Marco said...

Any mechanism designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must force people to do things in a more expensive way and hence reduce economic growth

That does not necessarily follow. When you do something that costs more, that money goes *to* someone else. To demonstrate a non-zero sum game needs some dodgy-science econometric models to show that in practice, overall activity decreases. Moving in the way that developed countries are, tend to, if anything, allow more Carbon intensive resources to be used in developing countries, at a lower price than they would otherwise. Moving to a lower carbon intensity need not be growthless, at any rate. The high variability in carbon intensity between countries tends to back this up, with the caution that no country has *quickly* moved from a high carbon intensity to a low.

I would add there is a lot of *creative destruction* that happens when humans attempt to change things in a big way too.

Darwinian evolution can certainly be exploited to make money. You can observe, for instance, selection pressures that are tending to make Crimson Gugfish smaller, so you can invest before your competitors in longline technology to exploit the stocks of Cyan Gigfish living deeper in the ocean.

You could say the same things about knowing the "forcings" in the climate (or El Nino predictions). Theoretically it ought to be useful. In practice, other heuristic methods are more reliable.

Marco said...

Also, I didn't mean to question historical sciences usefulness in predicting things related to history (interpolating), but predicting things related to the future (extrapolating), like you are requiring for climate science predictions. eg. What species are going to evolve into what in ten years time?

Climate science is also a related historical science - eg to geological features and species of the past, with useful predictive qualities scientifically equal to your examples perhaps.

Chris Fellows said...

To demonstrate a non-zero sum game needs some dodgy-science econometric models to show that in practice, overall activity decreases.

Does not. If you are forcing people to allocate their effort in a sub-optimal way, you are pushing economic growth down. Thus far, empirical evidence- not modelling- shows that these kind of wacky shenanigans invariably shift effort from the productive economy to the bullshit economy and impose significant regulatory costs on the productive economy.

Moving in the way that developed countries are, tend to, if anything, allow more Carbon intensive resources to be used in developing countries, at a lower price than they would otherwise.

The hell they do. I demand a logical argument demonstrating this, or at least a link to an Economist article purporting to give a logical argument.

Moving to a lower carbon intensity need not be growthless, at any rate.

Yes, and economic growth can take place under conditions of 100% hookworm infestation with nightly mass shootings of 'class enemies' and intermittent rocket strikes from the rebels in the mountains. These are not however ideal conditions for growth.

Climate science is also a related historical science - eg to geological features and species of the past, with useful predictive qualities scientifically equal to your examples perhaps.

Anecdotally, the people whose bread and butter this sort of activity is - the effect of past climates on geological features etc. - have provided most of our nation's high-profile scientist skeptics of the claims of the modelling-besotted 'climate scientists'- think Bob Carter and Ian Plimer.

Marco said...

Thus far, empirical evidence- not modelling- shows that these kind of wacky shenanigans invariably shift effort from the productive economy to the bullshit economy and impose significant regulatory costs on the productive economy.

I am not sure quite what evidence you are talking about but the thing that has been made clear to me which is the main thrust of my change of heart, that it is not the act of deciding to reduce emissions that causes the results that you are talking about but
a) What approach is used to enable reductions.
b) How one prioritises economic growth over reductions.
c) What time is given to reduce carbon intensity of the economy.

Thus the chief determinant of whether it is zero-sum positive or negative is the market/trade friendliness of the reforms.

Thus, if countries are forced to allow free trade in carbon credits - It will encourage trade in general; If a carbon tax is imposed, pressure will be taken off other taxes.

You may be talking about the stupid things Governments are imposing on their citizens to achieve reductions? Subsidies, tariffs, industry specific regulations come to mind. These can be damaging as you say, but mainly because they even hurt the one overall thing they purport to do - efficiently moving to a lower carbon economy.

It seems to me that most countries mimick the efficiency/inefficiency of what they do to other parts of their economy - thus my assertion that it is a zero sum game.

Anecdotally, the people whose bread and butter this sort of activity is - the effect of past climates on geological features etc. - have provided most of our nation's high-profile scientist skeptics of the claims of the modelling-besotted 'climate scientists'- think Bob Carter and Ian Plimer.

Point taken. Most young climate scientists are constantly using geoclimate science as a folly-filled extrapolation to the future, rather than integrating their findings into the other historical sciences traditional usefulness.

However, variants of these climate models are being run at shorter timescales, and it is still these same young climatologists that can (Marco) valuably predict southern oscillation indices a few months in advance and are working hard on other indices with useful medium term climate predictions.

Climate science of this kind will also be useful in the far future when we are trying to Terraform Mars (READ GREEN MARS!)

The hell they do. I demand a logical argument demonstrating this, or at least a link to an Economist article purporting to give a logical argument.

I do have one - I'll get to it later :)

Chris Fellows said...

Trying one more time to illustrate the ineluctable negative-sum nature of the 'reduce emissions' game.

Let us say there is political pressure to control the invisible unicorn plague. As is well known, invisible unicorns travel from place to place by hiding in blog comments: therefore we must get rid of computers.

Now whether or not these invisible unicorns exist, our civilisation *may* be better off without computers, but diverting any energy into getting rid of them now, when they are so necessary to our economy, *must* be counterproductive. If it made market sense to get rid of them, it would already be happening. It does not matter how efficient and transparent the international trade in 'computer credits' is.

This international trade in 'computer credits' will require people to go around tallying up how many computers there are, as well as various lawyers and administrators and enforcers to interpret and implement the computer credit trading rules, impose a regulatory cost on everyone who has to justify the existence of their computer- even if they are given free computer credits, and attract speculators in computer credits. All this will divert resources from the real economy into the 'bullshit economy'.

Carbon dioxide emissions are of course, more necessary to our economy and more complicated to keep track of than computers, so it is not a very good analogy.

Marco said...

As is well known, invisible unicorns travel from place to place by hiding in blog comments:

Boy! Are we irresponsible.

To re-iterate. I understand your argument, but I believe it to be fallacious whether for computers or carbon. I know I am the odd one out in the part of the continuum that doesn't believe there is any net benefit to the environment in reducing carbon emissions.

It is the nature and freedoms to trade that is the determinant of the bulshittissness of an economy, not an inherent trait of that which is being traded. The market sorts that sort of thing out if is allowed to. If the "premium" for computer credits becomes too high because we are too aggressively trying to reduce our dependence on them too quickly - we have democracy as a check for that sort of thing before it gets anywhere near "bullshit" levels (eg. tarriffs/quotas on agriculturals into Europe) However, people have pride in achieving goals, whether they be pointless sporting goals or building better houses, so the overall competition between countries to see who can wean themselves off computers will at least be inspiring and won't have the pointless bullshittiness associated with say kicking a ball around.

Chris Fellows said...

It is the nature and freedoms to trade that is the determinant of the bulshittissness of an economy, not an inherent trait of that which is being traded.

I disagree. There is of course a simply tremendous amount of resources going into the bullshit economy already, so you could mount a plausible argument that the carbon-trading tomfoolery is just a drop in the ocean, but there is still a difference between the parts of the economy that actually produce goods or services that people want and the parts that are parasitic on them- the parts that *actively stop* people from being productive by putting regulations, tarrifs, costs associated with fear of litigation, carbon taxes, etc., in their way.

Overall competition between countries to see who can wean themselves off computers will at least be inspiring and won't have the pointless bullshittiness associated with say kicking a ball around.

Well, they may all be inspired, but they will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to those countries who are smart enough not to have a bar of their pointless activities. So- and this is still my chief fear in this whole business- they will try to bully the non-players into playing their stupid game. See if they don't. Such is the nature of the species, Homo sapiens mustela....

Marco said...

carbon-trading tomfoolery

Some of your criticisms of Carbon trading may apply to water trading. Since I have taken an active interest in (water trading), I have noted that almost all the things I like about it have nothing to do with the benefits of reducing (rationing) water usage.

Chris Fellows said...

Some of your criticisms of Carbon trading may apply to water trading.

Very true! But I don't see much benefit from most water trading schemes either- just remove the unnatural pricing structures that subsidise some users, privatise the commodity and nationalise the infrastructure, and watch the benefits flow...

Chris Fellows said...

I've got a hold of Green Mars from the library... will read it and take notes.

Chris Fellows said...

First impressions are here and here.

Chris Fellows said...

Bored now... been here about fifty times and it hasn't changed a bit- where you been for the past three weeks?

Marco said...

three weeks have flown by. Have had school holidays etc.