Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Superfreakonomics vs Realclimate vs THE Economist

My recent ideas on Climate Change have been challenged from two different directions. A Superfreakonomics chapter championing geo-engineering and Realclimates attack of it.

Geo-engineering as a "Fix" or even a quick-fix didn't particularly appeal to me in the past because it comes up against the same Geopolitical issues of responsibility and duty that reductions of carbon has.

However, I have had a great respect for freakonomics in teasing out facts and relationships that are counterintuitive, because they demonstrate something new, interesting and almost always useful knowledge.

What I really liked about the chapter was that Levitt & Dubner definitely showed the nuanced nature of their convictions, because they steered away from cliched views and had plenty of solid scientific foundation to their arguments.

Although western societies do not have a tradition of scientific weather-making, the RMP (of China) have that tradition. For instance in the Beijing games they used rockets to prevent storms from interrupting events. It is not much of a stretch to imagine that they will be the first to try some of these geo-engineering feats - perhaps under the guise of something else.

Levitt and Dubner, I believe use the axiom that modifying behaviour will not work. For this they are hammered.

I actually believe the near impenetrable issues with global agreements to reduce GHG's are equivalent to the near impenetrable issues of agreements to use (or agreements not to scupper unilateral efforts) to use geo-engineering.

In a big way changing behaviour is a type of Geo-engineering. Realclimate authors use the axiom that it is better to try to reverse back to a recent known state than to move quickly to a totally new regime that optimises, say average temperature.

I think the point is probably moot, as for both behavioural geo-engineering and the standard sort, way more "metering" of all relevant GHG's is a prerequisite for internalising the externality of warming, whether the overall rise in temperature or whatever is found to be insignificant or not. All engineering is reliant on absolutely rock-solid repeatable scientific foundation. "metering" as well as actual weather/climate numerically predictive science is a prerequisite for humans' incentive programs to help humanity. The science is decades away from that. Both Realclimate and superfreakonomics is in some way guessing and perhaps betting on what the future helpful programs will be.

As for which "side" I am taking in this case : I am siding somewhat with Superfreakonomics because at least it has something new to say and not as Cliched as the Realclimates riposte.

As far as the Economist is concerned, it seems to have sided with RealClimate.

9 comments:

Chris Fellows said...

Give me, always and everywhere, the person who, when confronted with a problem, says: 'there oughta be a widget' rather than 'there oughta be a law'.

As I have been saying (or implying) over at Klaus Rohde's blog, a miraculous return to pre-Industrial levels of carbon dioxide is not going to save New Orleans; it is on a bit of land that is sinking and being washed away for unrelated reasons. We need a geoenginerring solution.

Widgets are *fungible*; you can often use a widget made to solve one problem to solve some different problem you never thought of. And sadly the habit of obeying laws is also transferable- every additional piece of legislation we obey like mindless automatons sucks away more of our initiative and creativity, hastening the day when we will be replaced by genetically-engineered sentient weasels and humanity will take its well-deserved place in the dustbin of history.

Chris Fellows said...

"I actually believe the near impenetrable issues with global agreements to reduce GHG's are equivalent to the near impenetrable issues of agreements to use (or agreements not to scupper unilateral efforts) to use geo-engineering."

The difference:

(1)Any single big country can unilaterally scupper an agreement to reduce GHGs - everyone has to sign up and everyone has to comply for it to do any 'good'.

(2) Any single big country can unilaterally take geoengineering actions that will have an impact - it doesn't matter if everyone else is sitting on their hands.

I don't see how other countries can 'scupper unilateral efforts'; if the Renegade Mainland Provinces were to start a big push to build artificial coral islands in their own territorial waters using genetically-engineered super coral, can you really see them being fazed by anything the rest of the world does? Even if it was, say, Tuvalu, unilaterally implementing geoengineering efforts, there would be plenty of nations happy to help them through punitive sanctions imposed by some deep-green 'international consensus'.

Marco said...

Ostensibly, the question is this: Is there a geoengineering solution that
- helps the investing country enough to warrant the investment
- Has no "collateral" risks. ie. changes climate in a way which will either cost or enrage neighbouring (or other) countries.
- Will help rather than hinder their popularity with "the people"

Of the three Geoengineering proposals suggested the second one (smokestacks to the sky) is the most likely fit (to the RMP) if done in a partial way to these parameters. Multi-Kilometer High balloon-smokestacks would spread the acid rain/toxic fumes issue, while putting the SO2 at a height where it is more likely to do good than harm. If done in the right conditions, it might even have a global impact where other countries have little to complain about.

In some ways this may be already happening, as RMP sulphur emmissions may have outpaced CO2 emmissions, and made global fear campaigns harder to sustain due to the resulting pause in temperature increases.

Marco said...

If any of the three proposals were done as is, Unilaterally, the Global response would be something like the response to the US's unilateral action in Iraq.

Chris Fellows said...

If any of the three proposals were done as is, Unilaterally, the Global response would be something like the response to the US's unilateral action in Iraq.

i. e., A lot of nations would complain, but they wouldn't actually take any meaningful action, while lots of other nations would help.

Marco said...

My belief that geopolitical impediments to geoengineering are nearly insurmountable has been severely challenged by this chapter in the book ( and calculus as to which countries would realistically, unilaterally perform it).

It is even possible that the recent collapse in the price of carbon has been partially caused by the publishing of the book.

Everything that I had read previously about SO2 schemes made them seem much more expensive, acid rain filled and risky than they actually are.

Chris Fellows said...

A very happy 9/11 to you and yours! I cannot remember any details whatsoever of the time, but the feeling of the immense crushing load being lifted from my shoulders, that I remember.

The German Consul came and spoke at UNE on Friday, and I thought he would be talking about the fall of the wall and the last 20 years, but he talked almost entirely about the century before 9/11/89 and stopped at reunification. At the time I would have liked to see Germany split into more countries, not fewer, and I was amazed again when reminded the unseemly haste at which reunification was pushed through. Apparently Kohl didn't want Germany subjected to a constitutional convention that might drastically change its nature and make the neighbours who had grown used to the old BRD nervous, and just wanted to get the genie back in the bottle. I was slightly irritated at a claim the Consul made that the EU is responsible for giving Europe 60 years of peace - effective demilitarisation under the protective umbrella of the Hegemon didn't have anything to do with it, I guess, and what was that business in Yugoslavia, chopped liver?

Anyway, I've celebrated so far by putting all my goings on about Schopenhauer in one place. :)

Die Gedanken sind frei, we kann sie erraten? Sie fliegen vorbei, wie nächtliche Schatten. Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein jäger erschiessen. Es bleibet dabei: die Gedanken sind frei!

Jenny said...

Hey Marco,
You may want to go to this;
James Cook University’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Invites you to attend a Inaugural Lecture by Professor Peter Ridd

To be held at Southbank Convention Centre On Tuesday 24th November 2009 at 5.30pm

Is the Great Barrier Reef really in danger?

If you believe what you read in both the popular and scientific literature, the Great Barrier Reef will be gone in a few decades. In this talk it is shown that the threats posed to the reef from agricultural runoff have been greatly exaggerated, and that global warming, if it continues, may also have minimal affect on the reef. It will be argued that Australia has far greater environmental issues to solve than threats to the reef.

Light refreshments and probably hecklers and robust debate will be served. Let me know how it goes

Jenny said...

Hey Marco,
You may want to go to this;
James Cook University’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Invites you to attend a Inaugural Lecture by Professor Peter Ridd

To be held at Southbank Convention Centre On Tuesday 24th November 2009 at 5.30pm

Is the Great Barrier Reef really in danger?

If you believe what you read in both the popular and scientific literature, the Great Barrier Reef will be gone in a few decades. In this talk it is shown that the threats posed to the reef from agricultural runoff have been greatly exaggerated, and that global warming, if it continues, may also have minimal affect on the reef. It will be argued that Australia has far greater environmental issues to solve than threats to the reef.

Light refreshments and probably hecklers and robust debate will be served. Let me know how it goes