Lamar Smith and Implementing effective policy on climate change

There has been considerable ire directed at Texan Congressman Lamar Smith for his Washington Post Op-Ed entitled “Overheated rhetoric on climate change doesn’t make for good policies


Lamar begins

Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, claims that distort the facts hinder the legitimate evaluation of policy options

Lamar concludes

Instead of pursuing heavy-handed regulations that imperil U.S. jobs and send jobs (and their emissions) overseas, we should take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us. Designing an appropriate public policy response to this challenge will require that we fully assess the facts and the uncertainties surrounding this issue, and that we set aside the hyped rhetoric.

I could not agree more. Judith Curry shows that the so-called “scientific” criticism is less balanced than the politician’s initial comments.

To think critically and objectively about any complex problem, it needs to be broken down into sub-sections with relevant areas of expertise. This is no more important in climate change policy, which science demands belief and people get lost in irrelevant detail. A starting point is to divide the issue into three parts, with the relevant experts in brackets.

1. Whether there is a potential problem. (Scientists)

2. Whether that potential problem is non-trivial. (Economists interpreting the scientists work)

3. Whether there is the ability to do something positive about that problem. (Economists and public policy-makers to formulate any policy. Economist/auditors, with some input from scientists, to interpret the results.)

1. Whether there is a potential problem.

The potential problem most would accept. Increase the level of greenhouse gases and average temperatures goes increase. It actually folds into the second.

2. Whether that potential problem is non-trivial.

But the second is far more important. The starting point to see if the size of the problem, it to break any potential impacts down into the components of magnitude, likelihood, time for changes to occur and the weighting that can be given to the scientific evidence. This is discussed here. Like in many other areas, the weighting we give to expert opinion should be based on a track record. Climate science is still very much in its infancy and many of the projected signposts were either wrong (worsening storms, accelerating sea level rises) or much too extreme (temperature rises). In fact any alleged successes are either through luck or through the initial prediction being so vague that it could hardly fail to be correct. There should also be a recognition concerning any potential benefits. For instance, Scotland would benefit from being a tad warmer, and increased CO2 may help plant growth. There is also a question of the quality of the climate model projections. There seems little or attempt at quality improvement through learning from past mistakes and building on successes. Further I see plenty of claims of being on the side of peer-reviewed science, and on consensus, whilst have a huge public-relations effort but little about building on the traditions of the greatest scientists, or learning from the philosophers of science. “Climate Science” seems somewhat out of that mainstream.

3. Whether there is the ability to do something positive about that problem.

The third is where the policy-makers step in. Are they able to deliver a policy that will tackle the issues at a lower costs than the benefits? To give a medical analogy, have they sufficient qualifications and the moral duty of care, that where they inflict painful treatments, the patient (the human race and/or Mother Gaia) is better off than if they had done nothing. Given the massive policy failures so far, the answer seems highly negative. Given that much of the effort is going into shutting down and policy discussion by believers in the science and in the policy, failures seem set to continue through deliberate negligence of this issue.

To take the medical analogy further, treatment is tempered by the uniqueness of the ailment and the track record in treating that ailment. For instance hip replacements have been performed for many years and are quite frequent, so the risks and pain of treatment, along with the mortality rates are known. So an otherwise reasonably healthy person of forty whose hip joints need replacing to enable them to walk would be recommended for the operation. A frail ninety year old would not. But we have never had human-caused climate change before. Indeed, there is a huge dispute about how serious the symptoms will actually be. They have not come to fruition just yet. Furthermore the “treatment” has not been properly tested. Neither have those devising the treatment any sort of qualifications or track record in devising similar treatments. Why do I know this? Because there has never been a global initiative to use economic tools to drive through a solution to a problem whose outward characteristics (though not necessarily the causes) are a naturally-occurring phenomena, neither are involved people who have experience is getting consensus on global issues, such as nuclear non-proliferation.

Note on the Moral View

I have a strong moral view that politicians should act to make the world a better place, as the underlying desired outcome of public service. It can be on the world stage or in a local community. Climate policy means imposing costs now to avoid much higher costs later. It might be a simplistic and naïve view, but the opposite – that politicians work to make a net negative impact, or do not care what effect they have, or simply work to serve some small factional interest (and to hell with everybody else) – are views that are at least distasteful and at worst downright evil. Like a medical professional, they have a duty of care to make sure there is a reasonable expectation that net positive outcomes will happen, and to monitor that progress.

Kevin Marshall

Are Climate Change and Obesity Linked?

Judith Curry has a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) look at the links between climate change and obesity.

One of the two references is to the care2 website.

Consider the three alleged “links” between climate change and obesity that Dr Curry summarised:-

  • Rising inactivity rates because of hot temperatures
  • Drought-induced high prices on healthy foods
  • Food insecurity promotes unhealthy food choices

Rising inactivity is commonly thought to be due to less manual work, the rise of the car and evermore staring at the TV or computer. If a rise of 0.8C in temperature were a major factor then in Britain you would see (for instance) the Scots being more active than those in the South of England, or people being more active in winter than summer. In both cases the opposite is true.

Drought-induced high prices would have to show that droughts were the main cause of high prices of health foods compared to junk foods. Maybe convenience and taste have something more to do with the preference for unhealthy diets. Also you would need to show that rising food prices are connected to decreasing crop yields. Biofuels may have more with the rising food prices.

Food insecurity diminishes as per capita income rises, whilst obesity increases. That is the poorest of the world have hunger as a problem, whilst the rich countries have obesity as a growing problem. Obesity may be a problem of the poor in the developed nations, but food as a whole is not a problem.

The above article is a very extreme example of

The underdetermination thesis – the idea that any body of evidence can be explained by any number of mutually incompatible theories

Kuhn Vs.Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science – Steve Fuller 2003 Page 46.

Kevin Marshall

Climate Journalists now out of line with scientists

Judith Curry has reviewed the major climate stories of 2012. She notes

The theme of these seems to be dangerous impacts of climate change, bypassing of course the issue of attribution of these events.  Maybe the big story is that a critical mass of bad weather events happened in the U.S., so we are experiencing in the U.S. another round of what we experienced post Katrina in terms of elevating concern about global warming.

The leaked draft AR5 SPM Page 3 Lines 46-47

Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed, but the level of confidence in these changes varies widely depending on type of extreme and regions considered.

The leaked draft AR5 SPM Page 4 Lines 10-11

There is low confidence in observed large-scale trends in drought, due to lack of direct observations, dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice, and geographical inconsistencies in the trends

The leaked draft AR5 SPM Page 4 Lines 14-16

Tropical cyclone data provides low confidence that any reported long-term changes are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities. This is a revision from previous IPCC Assessments Reports…

Are the commentators going to come into line with the consensus of scientific opinion, or will it be the other way round? Maybe, like in the disaster movies, they will continue to insist to believe that the world only consists of USA.

For those who still think that extreme weather is still increasing, check out the Wattupwiththat “Extreme Weather” page. In particular take a look at Ryan Maue’s accumulated cyclone energy graph.

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