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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Conservatives need to think more clearly about climate change 


The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is today issuing its "synthesis report," a summary of the three other voluminous reports on climate change and potential remedies therefore that it has already pumped out this year. Many American conservatives, including me, are going to react reflexively, if for no other reason than we regard "United Nations" and "Nobel prize-winning" as just about the two most credibility-destroying adjectives in existence. Combine that with the astonishingly ham-handed and high-handed behavior of the most visible activists and politicians -- the Hollywood elites and Al Gore -- and stories about global climate change arrive at the door of most American conservatives on life support.

Nevertheless, we have to pay attention for two reasons. First and foremost, the supporters of action to confront climate change may well be correct, perhaps not in whole or to the full extent of their rhetoric, but sufficiently for us to have legitimate concern for the planet's biological systems -- some of which are quite fragile -- and hundreds of millions of humans who are vulnerable to rapid change. Second, whether conservatives like it or not, there is now sufficient belief in the underlying scientific case that massive legislation is coming. We have to understand the science in order to argue for reforms that both mitigate the problem and preserve all the things we conservatives enjoy about the modern mass consumer economy. You know, cars, jet travel, huge houses, robust international trade, and manly economic growth. That stuff.

The key is to separate the increasingly convincing scientific arguments substantiating the fact of anthropogenic climate change from the remedies for that change, which can take many forms and will shape the world in which we live for generations to come. In theory it should be easy to do so -- after all, one can never derive what "ought" from what "is." The fact of anthropogenic climate change does not tell us what we ought to do about it. Unfortunately, politicians, activists, lawyers, journalists, and other advocates specialize in claiming, falsely, that "what ought" follows inexorably from "what is," no matter how intellectually dishonest those claims may be. My advice to conservatives, therefore, is that we stop arguing about whether human activity causes global climate change and start getting in front of solutions that will accelerate the creation of wealth over the long term. I hope to write more on this subject in the future.

I expect that many of you will react to my first point -- that the people who claim human activity is rapidly changing the climate may be correct. Fine, but before you go all "Medieval warming period" on me in the comments, read this short post at Real Climate and click through to this summary of leading "skeptic" arguments and the responses thereto. It obviously does not end the debate, but it is a useful place to start on the substantive arguments.


27 Comments:

By Anonymous quotecritter, at Sat Nov 17, 10:44:00 AM:

Based on the pre release messages that have been in the papers and commentary already on record in the blogs you are far more optimistic that any of this will take place on it's merits.

History shows that is almost non existent so far on this issue and with the perception that the "final solution" has been brought down from on high, it will be even less likely that quality debate will result.

A sampling on any scale of the positions already out there demonstrate that with clarity.  

By Blogger SR, at Sat Nov 17, 10:51:00 AM:

Warming and increasing CO2 output seems inevitable, especially that generated from emerging economies. Continuing to run cars on petroleum does not seem inevitable, so that solutions in wealthy countries, and especially the US should be pitched and targeted directly in getting us off the strategically unfavorable oil habit.
Lomborg's approach is also compelling if we really want to help poorer populations deal with the effects of warming.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 17, 10:53:00 AM:

I can't get past the overwhelming political nature of the whole process. The actual science is somewhat suggestive, but weak. The governmental responses are increasingly hysterical and draconian. I think we have far more to fear from the RESPONSE to Global Warming, thna Global Warming itelf.  

By Blogger Ray, at Sat Nov 17, 12:44:00 PM:

Irrespective of the truth of global warming (and I say this as a curmudgeonly old-school type who questions any "science" that can't make testable predictions on any sort of useful timescale), there is now so much fanaticism bundled up in the subject that we must find a graceful way to let the hot air out of the balloon.

A nice, pre-emptive "solution" that doesn't cause too much damage, and may serve other policy objectives, wouldn't be amiss. My personal favorites would be a gas tax and deletion of red tape surrounding nuclear, both for the purpose of weakening the grip of certain countries on America's energy supply.

What's more, even if you don't believe it, the cynical would suggest that once our emission profile is down, it would be easier to beat up on other countries for the same. That'd help our alliances a good bit. We could reassemble all the NATO countries as a sort of international "holier-than-thou" club against the countries they oppressed less than 100 years ago. At any rate, it should make the Europhiles happier.

Gosh. That last paragraph may be the most cynical thing I've written in a while.  

By Anonymous MarineCorpsVet, at Sat Nov 17, 12:50:00 PM:

The other thing that is dead-on-arrival with me is people that, for some reason, have given up the field to the crazies. Especially is it DOA in the face of websites such as; http://www.icecap.us/ which is chock full of unassailable material on globull smarming and which is run by the chief meteorologist for the early days of the Weather Channel and has the imprimatur of the founder of that same Weather Channel. A shame that it has become a political outlet rather than a pure weather channel as before.  

By Anonymous Joe B., at Sat Nov 17, 02:25:00 PM:

I honestly think that no politician ANYWHERE believes the manmade climate-change pap. As well, most scientists know the manmade climate-change thing is a load of hooey; ALL objective scientists know that human induced climate change is, unambiguously, nonsense. No nominally intelligent person could sanely posit that manmade climate change is possible, based solely on ANY evidence objectively obtained and studied to this point in time.

This can only mean that there is some other impetus behind the climate change "debate"; I contend that it's strictly geopolitical reality which is driving the issue forward. No, I'm not some weirdo conspiratorialist (is that a word?), but I firmly believe politicians have discovered that, to get their way and do the things which REALLY need to get done --get off fossil fuels, get on to nuclear energy-- it's far, far easier to play off of peoples' silly fears... maybe a better way to put it is play off fatuous voters' fears, by reinforcing this clearly idiotic concept which was jogged out there by some dizzy socialists with agendas of their own.

Consider this; "Nuclear energy, BAD!" The socialists still believe it. But, hold on... the evidence clearly shows the icecaps are melting because of our reliance on fossil fuels! Say, did you know that 1 pound of uranium could fuel 1,000,000 SUVs for the next 300,000 years, with ZERO carbon emissions?! (er, something like that)

For now, the politicians have discovered they have common cause with the "greens" and the socialists, despite the fact the politicians' reasons for this alliance couldn't be more divergent from BOTH those left leaning groups.  

By Anonymous Joe B., at Sat Nov 17, 02:39:00 PM:

I think Michael Crichton adds a lot to the climate change, ahem... debate.

http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=7819184350661384634.

"Fear, Complexity, and Environmental Management in the 21ST Century" (Ay Google Video, in case the link doesn't work)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 17, 02:49:00 PM:

Dear TigerHawk:

Before proceeding any further, advocates in the West of costly government climate change policies must address the problem of "the tragedy of the commons."

For the most part, government leaders in the rapidly growing developing world (here I include China) are putting climate change at the very bottom of their list of priorities. Getting their populations out of poverty, maintaining internal order, and dealing with regional security threats top their lists. To these leaders, maximum economic growth is the most attractive solution to these problems.

Unlike the wealthy West, the developing world feels no guilt about economic growth and is not going to impose additional economic costs on itself because of climate change.

Until there is some radical cultural change in the developing world, regulation and tax policies in the West that attempt to reduce the growth of carbon dioxide emissions will do nothing to help the global climate change problem. What these policies will do is hasten the relative economic, political, and strategic decline of the West, not likely a positive trend for global stability.

I discussed this issue at TCS Daily here.

What is the solution to the "tragedy of the commons" as it relates to climate change?  

By Anonymous Bird of Paradise, at Sat Nov 17, 03:02:00 PM:

Global warming and climate change are a hoax and a lie its being used by the radical enviromentalists to reduce our nation to a misrble third world existence all undrer the control of the UN and other sinister groups its the strat of the NEW WORLD ORDER we must oppose their plans and reject this global warming poppycock bull kaka and AL GORE should be forced to return his undeserved NOBEL PEACE PRIZE and OSCAR  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 17, 03:19:00 PM:

I fully expect China to go along with these industry-stifling reforms. Every other 3rd-world country too.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 17, 03:43:00 PM:

AGW is not relevant to me, but I can accept it is for many. I believe our impact is neglible.

However, what I do care about is pollution. I would suggest to those on the right that we need to change the conversation. Focusing on things like clean and effective use of water supplies, smog reduction, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

Focusing on these issues would make many on both sides happy and it would give us a cleaner environment in which to live.

What's bad about all those things?  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Sat Nov 17, 06:46:00 PM:

"The key is to separate the increasingly convincing scientific arguments substantiating the fact of anthropogenic climate change from the remedies for that change, which can take many forms and will shape the world in which we live for generations to come."

Well said. I quite agree. So if we accept that separation, what do you see as the appropriate next steps? Is one of them to determine whether a response to anthopogenic factors in climate change is a) possible and b) worth doing? Or if it is true that a regulatory response is in the future, what are strong, effective remedies that conservatives could support, as an alternative to fighting any regulation proposed by others, that is.  

By Blogger jj mollo, at Sat Nov 17, 08:40:00 PM:

I am not a conservative, and I do indeed believe that Global Warming is a serious problem, but I would like to point out that conservatives are generally much more sensible on this issue than most leftish environmentalists. For one thing, a vast increase in the use of nuclear power is, IMO, our best hope at changing the GW direction. Whether or not you believe in AGW, you could benefit from this viewpoint by building a scientific/economic/engineering consensus in favor of nuclear power. Call the Left on their hypocricy.

President Bush has already done more than anyone on the Left, or at least he has tried to, by his initiative in converting India to nuclear power. The growing population and economy of India threaten to outstrip our puny CO2 contribution within a decade. I believe the PRC is already there. Bush has also, BTW, definitively stated that he believes AGW is real and needs to be addressed.

Conservatives also tend to accept that market signals are the best way to communicate the necessary cost/production realignments that will take us toward any goal. Liberals have trouble with that kind of thinking. Conservatives who do not believe in AGW can still find common ground with sensible liberals by pushing for energy independence, which has strong national security implications. The way to send the effective market signal is with a carbon tax. This was John Anderson's idea in 1980. I wish people had listened to him. It might have changed the history of the Middle East as well as climate change.  

By Anonymous Tory, at Sat Nov 17, 11:06:00 PM:

Whatever it is that we individually believe about anthropogenic climate change, it might be worth considering that we need not agree on the problem in order to agree on the solution. It could be that some of us want to break our oil addiction for national security reasons, some for environmental reasons, some for health reasons, or whatever else. While we may disagree about why something should be done, we can still agree that it should be done. My understanding of the supreme court decision which led to the "right to privacy" is that it was a solution of exactly this form, where wildly different judicial philosophies happened to come to exactly the same conclusion.  

By Anonymous Joe B., at Sat Nov 17, 11:46:00 PM:

Westhawk (2:49PM)

I read your linked article. Spot on!

I recommend others readers click Westhawk's link.  

By Anonymous Bird of Paradise, at Sun Nov 18, 01:10:00 AM:

Just wait the liberals AL GORE and the doofuses from GREENPEACE will blame that storm that hit BANGLADESH on GLOBAL WARMING the same way that idiot GORE tried to blame global warming for HURRICANE KATRINA  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 18, 01:58:00 AM:

You say: "increasingly convincing scientific arguments substantiating the fact of anthropogenic climate change" -- would you care to summarize these or provide links? Speaking as a physicisy with over 20 years experience in this matter I am aware of no such arguments. Increasingly the data, as meaningful data sets are assembled and expanded, point in exactly the opposite direction.

Owen Johnson  

By Anonymous Tim K, at Sun Nov 18, 05:43:00 AM:

"I am not a conservative, and I do indeed believe that Global Warming is a serious problem, but I would like to point out that conservatives are generally much more sensible on this issue than most leftish environmentalists"

I get to blogs via memeorandum.
When it comes to "most conservatives" you would be referring to those who without fail label the issue as an elaborate conspiracy among those with Phds to swindle the common public for whatever kooky reason they dreamed up this week.

They are more sensible on this issue than nobody at all. And like you've demonstrated, intellectual dishonesty is their primary contribution to date.  

By Blogger davod, at Sun Nov 18, 07:46:00 AM:

Ray:

"What's more, even if you don't believe it, the cynical would suggest that once our emission profile is down, it would be easier to beat up on other countries for the same."

Our emissions profile has been going down, and without the trillions required to enact the Kyoto treaty.

Everyone else is bending over backwards to look as if they are doing something. It is only countries which have either a pro Nuclear policy, a climate advantage, or a natural energy resource which does not emit one of the nominated pollutant which are able to compete.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Nov 18, 08:06:00 AM:

Owen Johnson -

Even in the blogosphere, every post does not have to "provide links" to support every point made. But if it is links you want, links you will get. I would start with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's web site, where you will find their many long reports and the studies cited therein. I admit that I have only read the "synthesis" report for policymakers, since much of the rest of it is tough for people with poor math and science skills. As a physicist, however, you should find them very accessible. Also, I suggest you become a regular reader of Real Climate, a link to which can be found on my blogroll under "specialty blogs". Finally, read Bjorn Lomborg's book Cool It. Lomborg is a well-known "skeptic" in the sense that he argues against the catastrophe scenarios, but he nevertheless concedes that human activity has ahd a serious impact on the environment. You can buy Lomborg's book by clicking on the ad on the sidebar.  

By Blogger Rick Moran, at Sun Nov 18, 01:13:00 PM:

TH:

Excellent analysis. I am equally sick of being branded a fool by both sides because I grant the possibility of global warming but remain a skeptic about much of the evidence from both sides.  

By Anonymous inel, at Sun Nov 18, 04:32:00 PM:

Dear TigerHawk,

Good post and response to Owen Johnson. Here's the direct link to the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the AR4 Synthesis Report. The document is only 23 pages long: that makes it just about the right length for each and every policymaker to study.

All four SPMs (the one for the Synthesis Report and the three other SPMs produced this year by Working Groups I, II and III) should certainly be straightforward for any physicist, such as Owen Johnson, to understand. Even though climate change is a complex topic, there are sections of these SPMs that can be understood by high school students, especially if they have a good grounding in math(s) and science.  

By Blogger davod, at Sun Nov 18, 05:22:00 PM:

The SPM is a propaganda document issued to staunch the increasing number of defections from the ranks of its scientific experts.

There is mounting evidence (it has always been there) that man-made global warming is not a major concern.

As an example I give you Centuries of Yellow River Climate

Work completed by the Chinese on the climate in the Yellow River region shows that "The Yellow River region will undoubtedly experience floods and droughts in the future, and when they occur, they will immediately be blamed on global warming (and possibly black carbon and land use). Of course, if we look at the facts, we discover that droughts and floods are a natural part of the climate of the Yellow River area, and we see no evidence of any increase in drought or flood severity or frequency in the past century".

For those of you who do not like reading the full blog just look at the graphs.  

By Blogger davod, at Sun Nov 18, 05:24:00 PM:

PS:

I should also say that the worst thing we need here is the win-win negotiation, let split the baby approach. Much of the man-made global warming science is not real science and needs to be condemned at the highest levels.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Nov 18, 05:57:00 PM:

Much of the man-made global warming science is not real science and needs to be condemned at the highest levels.

Not really. Much of the political rhetoric and popular press coverage is indefensible, but the actual science is pretty powerful. Otherwise, I repeat my earlier comment -- read the IPCC synthesis (or the underlying documents if you are a scientist), real Real Climate on a regular basis, and read Bjorn Lomborg's book. You do not have to believe Al Gore or like the United Nations to believe that the evidence in favor of AGW is stronger than the evidence against it. Nor do you have to believe that reductions in CO2 emissions are the best means for dealing with it. But it is increasingly hard to deny material human influence on the climate.  

By Anonymous Joe B., at Sun Nov 18, 09:37:00 PM:

Rather than Real Climate, I would suggest Climate Audit, or perhaps Junk Science. I'm sticking with Davod, Owen Johnson, Westhawk, and some 19,000 scientists who signed that petition as regards AGW... pardon me, "climate change".  

By Blogger jj mollo, at Mon Nov 19, 01:16:00 AM:

When it comes to "most conservatives" you would be referring to those who without fail label the issue as an elaborate conspiracy among those with Phds to swindle the common public for whatever kooky reason they dreamed up this week.

They are more sensible on this issue than nobody at all. And like you've demonstrated, intellectual dishonesty is their primary contribution to date.


Certainly not all conservatives are polite and sensible, but in my experience they are less likely to holler conspiracy than liberals. They are more likely to understand the nature of markets and the consequences of financial decisions as well as the finacial consequences of decisions in general. They have faith in the ability of America to solve its problems. They have respect for engineers. And they generally have a good deal of common sense.

The problem many of them have with AGW is that it does violate the norms of common sense. How can it be, they say, that puny humans can have such a big effect? They have little faith in scientists because they see so many scientists saying foolish things. And they have little faith in liberals because they see so many liberals claiming superior knowledge without support and resorting to ad hominem arguments with little provocation.  

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