Bernie Saunders demonstrates why he was not fit to be President

Senator Bernie Saunders of Vermont was for a while running a close second to Hillary Clinton in the Democrat Primaries. Had his extreme left views, advanced years and the fact that he is the junior Senator from the 49th most populous State, he might have stood a chance against a former First Lady and Secretary of State. But Senator Sanders’ recent questioning of Scott Pruitt shows why he is unfit for high office. Ron Clutz has transcribed more of the dialog, by I think two statements encapsulate this.

At 0.45

As you may know, some 97% of scientists who have written articles for peer-reviewed journals have concluded that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in the US and around the world. Do you believe that climate change is caused by carbon emissions from human activity?

There is no 97% survey of scientists which conclude these things. As Ron Clutz observes the nearest to definite questions was Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change – Doran and Zimmerman 2009, where the second question was

2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

One could answer “yes” if you thought that 10% of the rise in the was due to land use changes, and the rest due to natural factors. It does not ask about fossil fuel emissions, and the question allows for belief in other factors other than human activity whether known or unknown. It does not ask

There is also the Cook et. al survey of peer-reviewed academic papers that I looked after listening to a lecture Cook gave at Bristol University in late 2014. The survey just looked to the assumption that humans cause some warming, whether explicit or implied. Like the Doran and Zimmerman survey it is just hearsay. This Sen. Sanders presents as good evidence that there is already a clear catastrophic problem caused by changes in the climate. If there is real and overwhelming evidence, why does Sen. Sanders not refer to that instead of misrepresenting bogus opinion polls?

Senator Sanders then goes even further.  At 1.50

While you are not certain, the vast majority of scientists are telling us that if we do not get our act together and transform out energy system away from fossil fuel there is a real question as to the quality of the planet that we are going to be leaving our children and our grandchildren. So you are applying for a job as Administrator at the EPH to protect our environment. Overwhelming majority of scientists say we have to act boldly and your’re telling me that there needs to be more debate on this issue and that we should not be acting boldly.

Sanders now says a majority of scientists are telling us we must change our energy systems. Aside from the fact that only a very small minority of scientists have any sort of competency in the field of climate, (and there is evidence a lot of demonstrated incompetency within the small group e.g. here), they have no expertise in the economic or moral cases for policy. For policy the interpretation of the moral imperatives and the practical possibilities should be the realm of politicians. For those who sit on specialist committees, they should at least have their own developed views on the field.

Senator Bernie Saunders has taken some very dodgy opinion polls, grossly exaggerated the findings, and then ascribed statements to the climatologists that are far removed, and way beyond, any competencies they might have. As I see it, the role of President of the United States, as a leader, is to critically interpret what they are given in order to make decisions for the nation. That is the exact opposite of what Sanders did last week.

Kevin Marshall 


Carbon emissions – social benefits from enhanced growth

Key Points

  1. Cheap fossil fuels were undoubtedly a major element in China’s very high levels of economic growth.
  2. If Canada were to unilaterally cut its emissions, the impact on global emissions would be tiny.
  3. A reduction in economic growth of 0.01% from now to 2100 would have a larger value in 2100 than the projected  monetary costs of catastrophic climate change in 2100.
  4. Developing nations with up to two-thirds of global emissions, are excluded from any obligation to constrain emissions under the Rio Declaration.
  5. Climate mitigation increases unit energy costs, creating a comparative disadvantage for policy countries.
  6. If non-policy developing countries were later to adopt mitigation policies, they would not only have higher energy costs, but would lose the comparative advantage of being a non-policy country. A few countries pursuing climate mitigation policies increases the marginal cost of other countries adopting similar policies.


Ron Clutz has yet another excellent article, this time on SBC: Social Benefits of Carbon

Ron points to the benefits of increased CO2 levels, such as from increased plant growth. But, by far the biggest benefit is the from the use of fossil fuels as an engine of economic growth. I made two comments, which are slightly amended here.

How much did fossilized carbon fuel China’s economic growth?

By far the most important point made in Ron’s article is the impact of fossil fuels on economic growth rates. Take China – the most extreme example in history, at least for major economies, According to the UNFCCC country brief produced for COP21 Paris, economic growth in China averaged 10.3% pa from 1990-2012. In the same period CO2 emissions increased by 6.1% pa. It meant GDP per capita (with 19% population growth) was 7.25 times higher in 2012 than 1990, and emissions per capita were over 3 times higher.


How much of the economic growth would have happened without the huge investment in cheap energy sources – principally coal? If economic growth would have averaged a mere 7%, GDP per capita would have 3.7 times higher in 2012 than 1990. This is why people in China are willing to suffer the terrible, acrid, pollution that engulfs many major cities.

Unilateralist Canada reducing emissions by 90%

A hypothetical example with growth impacts

Whilst unable to estimate the effects of cheap energy on China’s phenomenal growth, I would still contend that the compound effect on economic growth of cheap fossil fuels is far greater than the estimates of the projected harms of climate catastrophe. At the start of December Ron Clutz had a post Climate Costs in Context. This referred to a Manhattan Institute Report which estimated the costs of global warming could reach $15trn by 2100 – or 2.5% of global output of $600trn. Reducing economic growth by 0.03% would have the same effect on output, though people would accept a much bigger reduction in growth to avoid 2.5% costs of catastrophes.

This leads to a bigger issue, that it not discussed. Suppose an economy like Canada with 1.5% of global emissions, unilaterally imposed a policy from January 1st 2017 that was guaranteed to reduce emissions by 90% by 2100. Without the policy, global emissions would be double 2016 levels in 2100. With the policy they will be 1.9865 times higher.
Let us also assume that

(1) 2100 costs of climate change are 2.50% of GDP globally and for Canada, without Canada’s policy.
(2) 2100 costs of climate change are 2.45% of GDP globally and for Canada, with Canada’s policy.
(3) The only cost of this policy is to reduce long-term growth rates from 2.00% to 1.99%
(4) All outcomes and calculations are certain.

Even then, the the descendants in 2100 Canada would still not thank the current generation, as output would be 8% lower, to save costs of just 0.05% of GDP. If current GDP is C$1600bn, with 2% growth GDP in 2100 will be C$8443bn. At 2.5% costs of climate change will be $211bn. Reduce that to 2.45% reduces costs by just over $4.2bn. But GDP with 1.99% growth GDP will be 8% or $668bn lower.
Even if all countries reduced emissions by 90% (and thus reduced costs of climate change to effectively zero) mitigation policy would may not make sense on these “heroic” assumptions. Canada would exchange $210bn of random catastrophic costs for $668bn of certain costs. But that would be only if the costs were totally random. If costs were in part predictable, then, without the economic growth impact of climate mitigation policies, additional economic could be used to counteract the direct effects of the warming through adaptation.
But the reality is much closer to Canada acting unilaterally; there are significant policy costs; and the impact on growth is far greater. Worst of all, is the competitive impact.

The Comparative Disadvantage of Climate Mitigation


(a) Cheap energy is a key driver of economic growth

(b) A country, like Canada, with aggressive climate mitigation policies,  is competing on world markets with less developed countries with little or no mitigation policies.

(c) Climate Mitigation policies, like renewables or a carbon tax, increase unit energy costs.

(d) Some industries with globalized market, like steel, aluminium, shipbuilding or chemicals, energy costs form a significant part of the costs of production.

I would suggest that the imposition of climate mitigation policies increases the unit cost of production, creating a comparative disadvantage compared to countries with little or no mitigation policies. 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. Ably explained by Prof Donald J. Boudreaux, it is perhaps the only principle in economics that it universally true. Climate mitigation is only being pursued, in varying degrees, by a limited number of countries. Developing nations with up to two-thirds of global emissions, are excluded from any obligation to constrain emissions under the Rio Declaration. Developed countries, by imposing mitigation policies, create comparative advantages to the non-policy developing countries that they trade with. Therefore, the marginal cost of those developing countries adopting mitigation policies is greater if developed countries have already mitigation policies in place, than if all countries had adopted them together in equal measure. This implies that those economies like Russia, South Korea and China, who might be able to afford to adopt climate mitigation on the increased energy costs alone, will not do so due to competitor countries having established costly mitigation policies.

Kevin Marshall

Beliefs and Uncertainty: A Bayesian Primer

Ron Clutz’s introduction, based on a Scientific American article by John Horgan on January 4, 2016, starts to grapple with the issues involved.

The take home quote from Horgan is on the subject of false positives.

Here is my more general statement of that principle: The plausibility of your belief depends on the degree to which your belief–and only your belief–explains the evidence for it. The more alternative explanations there are for the evidence, the less plausible your belief is. That, to me, is the essence of Bayes’ theorem.

“Alternative explanations” can encompass many things. Your evidence might be erroneous, skewed by a malfunctioning instrument, faulty analysis, confirmation bias, even fraud. Your evidence might be sound but explicable by many beliefs, or hypotheses, other than yours.

In other words, there’s nothing magical about Bayes’ theorem. It boils down to the truism that your belief is only as valid as its evidence. If you have good evidence, Bayes’ theorem can yield good results. If your evidence is flimsy, Bayes’ theorem won’t be of much use. Garbage in, garbage out.
With respect to the question of whether global warming is human caused, there is basically a combination of three elements – (i) Human caused (ii) Naturally caused (iii) Random chaotic variation. There may be a number of sub-elements and an infinite number of combinations including some elements counteracting others, such as El Nino events counteracting underlying warming. Evaluation of new evidence is in the context of explanations being arrived at within a community of climatologists with strong shared beliefs that at least 100% of recent warming is due to human GHG emissions. It is that same community who also decide the measurement techniques for assessing the temperature data; the relevant time frames; and the categorization of the new data. With complex decisions the only clear decision criteria is conformity to the existing consensus conclusions. As a result, the original Bayesian estimates become virtually impervious to new perspectives or evidence that contradicts those original estimates.

Science Matters

Those who follow discussions regarding Global Warming and Climate Change have heard from time to time about the Bayes Theorem. And Bayes is quite topical in many aspects of modern society:

Bayesian statistics “are rippling through everything from physics to cancer research, ecology to psychology,” The New York Times reports. Physicists have proposed Bayesian interpretations of quantum mechanics and Bayesian defenses of string and multiverse theories. Philosophers assert that science as a whole can be viewed as a Bayesian process, and that Bayes can distinguish science from pseudoscience more precisely than falsification, the method popularized by Karl Popper.

Named after its inventor, the 18th-century Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes, Bayes’ theorem is a method for calculating the validity of beliefs (hypotheses, claims, propositions) based on the best available evidence (observations, data, information). Here’s the most dumbed-down description: Initial belief plus new evidence = new and improved belief.   (A fuller and…

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