Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lest You Think I've Forgotten About Climate Change...

I have not:
We evil climate deniers often enjoy comparing the current uproar over the weather with Stalin’s misuse of science by Trofim Lysenko.  But I think the devotion to extreme climate, or whatever today’s catch phrase may be, is far more in the realm of magic and metaphysics than real physics — Lysenko was, after all, a genuine agronomist — and is much more akin to the story of Sabbatai Zevi, the 17th century Sephardic rabbi many Jews believed was  the long-awaited Messiah but who ended up ridiculing his supporters and converting to Islam.

Climate armageddon is a messianic cult based almost entirely on religion and faith and very little on science.  And, like the Sabbatean movement where many adherents remained devoted to Zevi no matter what he did or how he behaved,  it’s still thriving, somewhat, despite the many blows that it has taken lately — no warming in the last fifteen years, Antarctic ice cap bigger than ever, more polar bears than ever, all kinds of leaks of fraudulent figures and fudged graphs, etc., etc.   The list, available at by scrolling backwards, is almost comical in its extent.   It’s amusing to read the myriad theories for why the ice cap is bigger, motivated, for the most part, by panic on the part of the scientists involved that they might have their stipends cut.
I like the way Simon writes.  And I'll point out he's a former way-out-leftie :-)


allen (in Michigan) said...

Nice reminder of the collapse of the Copenhagen Summit that Obama, not long into his presidency, dropped everything to rush to in a failed attempt to save.

The reason? The one given in the anecdote about the ambassador from Micronesia; the less-developed countries were sniffing around for a fat pay day, hoping to hold their signatures hostage against the delivery of a pile of money.

That was when I knew the extremist environmentalist movement had peaked because the less-developed nations got nothing. When lefties can no longer buy allegiance with other people's money the issue's past its peak. The remaining question is how long it is before the entire edifice of environmental extremism starts to come apart.

maxutils said...

What we should remember is ... it doesn't really matter whether or not climate change is real. We as a country, can do little to affect it by ourselves. BUT that doesn't mean we shouldn't try -- it just means we shouldn't do really expensive inefficient things. actually like not being able to see the air I'm breathing, and being able to swim in things that aren't swimming pools, and eating food that won't kill me ... but I also recognize that it's relatively inexpensive to clean up most of the pollution and that at some point, it becomes incredibly expensive to get the last little bits. We should stop trying before that point.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Actually max it's pretty damned important whether anthropogenic global warming is real. If it isn't then resources, however minor, thrown at it are wasted and at the level of a nation the size and wealth of the U.S. "minor" could easily mean in the realm of tens of billions of dollars of wasted effort.

That precautionary principle-based policy isn't without its own dangers. Technological and economic progress is accelerated when resources are wisely used and retarded when resources are thrown away on unproven fears. Developments that might have been available this year are delayed or, in some cases never reach commercialization because wealth has been dissipated on what might be.

With regard to your belief that "we shouldn't do really expensive inefficient things", that's axiomatic but also implies a value judgment on the results of doing those really expensive inefficient things.

I bicycle's more efficient then a gasoline-powered vehicle but if the gasoline-powered vehicle's an ambulance energy efficiency becomes a secondary consideration at best. To preclude the complaint that that's an extreme example, where do you draw the line? If ambulances are acceptable are fire trucks? Trucks hauling food? School buses?

The implication of your belief is that those of superior morality should do the deciding and while history provides lots of lessons of the disaster that follows those who see themselves as morally superior seem utterly unimpressed. That is the mystery that needs illumination; with a uniform record of failure why are those who are certain of their moral superiority blind to that record?

maxutils said...

allen, not really my point ... as the economist in me screams, you do things exactly until the point where the cost and benefit are equal ... because to go beyond takes you into the land of net societal losses ... where is that point? I don't know. Because societal benefit is hard to measure ... but that's why we vote. I'm not proclaiming to be a supreme moral authority -- our voters are that, and that may not be a good thing. But I do know that the same steps we take to avoid climate change ALSO make for a cleaner environment. I'm extremely moderate on this issue because I have no idea. Given the choice all vote for the one that will make my life better. I tend towards not believing that we can affect climate change, but I also believe that no one can really know. Have we stopped evolving? Dunno. Darwin says we shouldn't have, but people look pretty much the same to me as they always have ...

allen (in Michigan) said...

Sorry max but the precautionary principle admits of no possibility of error so cost/benefit analysis doesn't apply. Since there's no possibility of error the supreme moral authority's been revealed - the proponents of the precautionary principal.

And you don't know if the same steps we could take to avoid anthropogenic global warming would make for a cleaner environment nor do you know whether the degree of cleanliness achieved would be worth the cost.

The first because for all the gasbaggery about scientific consensus and every other attempt to skirt the requirements of the scientific method the science isn't done. We simply don't have a sufficiently comprehensive picture of the workings of the climate to determine to what degree humans influence the climate or even if what we do has more then a local and transitory impact.

You can believe whatever you want but try to remain aware that your beliefs, and everyone else's beliefs, are immaterial to the workings of the climate. The climate just doesn't care. When we do have a sufficiently thorough understanding of the workings of the climate we can form rational policy but until then we're flipping coins with humanity's future as the bet.

maxutils said...

allen ... I think you completely missed my point ...because you both attacked it an supported it. I never validated any scientist's findings and I agree that they can't know... the trend we're on may be bad or good ... so your flipping coins theory -- I'm with you. My position is ... if you can make the world cleaner, efficiently, that's a good thing. Or even if yo can just make where I live and where I want to go to cleaner. I honestly don't care about the science, because everything is cyclical, and the data doesn't go back far enough for me to believe anything ... so-- what would you suggest other than cost / benefit analysis?

allen (in Michigan) said...

Letting the free market, and its necessary adjunct a working court system, take its course.

Much of what's touted as environmental cleanup, due to the good offices of various regulatory agencies, has a lot more to do with the exercise of the free market then of regulation.

Steel-making's a massively cleaner undertaking due to the operation of the free market.

Regulators weren't needed to get rid of open hearth furnaces. When they came to the end of their economic life, due to technological obsolescence, they were scrapped.

Were it not for steel tariffs, engineered by the intersection of interests of the United Steel Workers and the steel industry, the modernization of the steel industry would have started not long after WWII. Political forces made that upgrade, and the concomitant labor and pollution reductions, unnecessary until well into the 1950s. By then the Japanese, and later the Koreans, jumped on the new technology and left the American steel industry in the dust.

An orderly market's supported and enabled by a functioning court system to ensure that the responsibility for damages is assessed and the damaged parties compensated.

In part the court systems has been subverted to the ends of those who draw a living from courts but with an active public keeping an eye on the courts, via the legislature, the inefficiencies and delays which afflict the court system can be brought to heel. But a problem that grows with the increasing size of government is sovereign immunity in all its many forms. That could use a good, hard look and some appropriate adjustment.

maxutils said...

allen ... the free market doesn't work here. Because, a free market assumes that the business assumes all of the costs of production in calculating its price. That steel can be produced exactly the same whether the firm cleans up or not -- the difference is, if they don't have to worry about pollution (and in a true free market, they don't) they can do it for much less -- so, they will. But it's a false lower price, because you get a dirtier environment. If that's okay with you ... well, then go for it. But the industry is not going to change itself. That's why government needs to set standards for those of us who don't want that to happen, and don't mind paying more for it not to. There IS definitely a limit to how much more I would pay ... and for some there is no limit, and for some, there should be no restrictions on pollution ... and it all kind of balances out. I do believe the free market is ideal for both consumer and business... but it relies on assumptions which don't exist anywhere in the real world. The key is to recognize that, and mitigate policy to help it.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Sorry max but the free market you posit isn't the real free market. It's necessary fiction to justify the regulatory state but free markets can't work without respect for property rights and the mechanism by which that respect is enforced is a functional and credible court system.

Those "externalities" to which you're referring certainly exist but without some equitable mechanism for assigning responsibility, and cost, business people are ethically bound to treat the environment as a commons and the universal, probably visceral, reaction to a commons is to get while the getting is good.

Having identified some parts of the environment as a commons the solutions devolve to a very few. Three to be exact - privatization and a commons cop.

The disastrous results of the policing of a commons is well established but privatizing the atmosphere is problematical.

The third course of action is to do nothing which, in view of the mad hysterics on the part of the extremist environmental lobby, seems like a pretty good idea. Certainly the history of the regulatory state doesn't inspire those without the proper ideological slant to much confidence.

maxutils said...

allen ... You're right. There is no free market as assumed, just as there is no vacuum in physics ... we take the perfect model, and adapt it.

The problem is ... if you rely on the legal system to right societal wrongs, like excessive pollution ... even if it works, you've already done the damage. IF...and I stress IF... you can legitimately predict the damage, wouldn't it be better to legislate against it in the first place? That way, you save both the damage AND legal costs.

and ... I agree totally on your views of privatization ... once you pay for something, you take care of it. My point is ... you can't privatize air or water. Probably other things ... but since those are the most important, I'll leave it at that.