Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An Exchange with a Leading U.S. Environmental Policymaker

I sent a leading environmental policymaker the link to a site that:

1. Lists 31,000 scientists including
Berkeley's Nobel Prize winner Edward Teller and MIT's Alfred Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Richard Lindzen, who signed a petition disagreeing with the highly influential IPCC panel's report saying that massive effort should be made to cool the earth; that is, stop global warming.

2. Explains that contrary to media reporting, that IPCC report (funded by the UN) is substantively politically motivated rather than objective-science-driven.

3. Contains a refereed-journal-published review of the peer-reviewed scientific research, which concludes that significant doubt exists as to whether global warming is real, significantly manmade, and practically remediable.

email to him continued:

Can you see why I believe it is premature for the world to embark on measures that will be of unprecedented cost and painful effect on the people who can least afford it in an attempt to cool the earth when global warming may turn out to be a non-problem, and even if it becomes a problem, it won't be for a long time, at which point new technologies will have sufficiently mitigated the problem? As even the environmentalist-run U.S. Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration agrees, average global temperature has increased a total of just 1 degree since 1880(!), absolutely no increase in the last decade despite a major increase in CO2 emission, and the best projections are for global COOLING for the next decade. Even if later, there is a resumed upward trend, by then, non-fossil-fuel technology (solar, wind, nuclear, etc) will likely have advanced enough to preclude the need for such draconian restrictions on humankind. Am I being foolish?

I fully recognize that all the leaders of major governments, even George Bush, say we need to make massive efforts to stop global warming/climate change. So, not withstanding the 31,000 scientists, it's certainly possible that climate change is worth addressing. But what am I not understand that justifies the immediate massive pain that Gore and others of his ilk are calling for?


His response: "Even if it turns out that human induced climate change is modest, the benefits of aggressive reductions in oil use and improved energy efficiency are huge – and the strategies to do so are almost identical to those to reduce CO2. "

My response to him:
There should be an enormous difference in the policy implications if global warming is not a serious concern. The difference: drilling for oil and natural gas to bridge us between now and when non-fossil-fuel energy becomes cost-effective. That enables people to not suffer restrictions on their freedom of mobility that come from higher gas prices and current proposals to restrict driving, freedom to be comfortable in their homes (no restrictions on thermostats), and freedom from the increases in the cost of living that will come from cap and trade, buy-local, and other restrictions that would be particularly painful to the working class and poor.

He responded:
Drilling for more oil is good and would not be precluded by a climate policy. At worst, a small charge would be added to oil prodn costs (say, 30 cents/gallon) (via cap and trade or carbon tax) which would have zero effect on oil drilling. This is a false argument on your part.

I responded:

I don't think so. Earlier, you agreed that the science behind the global warming/climate change hypothesis is equivocal enough that that shouldn't be used to justify imposing your aforementioned painful restrictions on the public to try to cool the earth.

And you haven't countered my argument that by drilling and use of existing and ever evolving current technologies, we'll bridge the 10-15 years until technological advances enable us to become energy independent.

So why impose a cap and trade/carbon tax (which would raise the costs of many other items other than gasoline) not to mention the other sources of public pain you've supported: restricting driving with Big-Brother monitors on car odometers and thermostats?

Remember the human costs of such restrictions: For example, a working-class non-custodial parent who wanted to visit their child regularly who lived 40 miles away would find it financially painful if not infeasible to do so. Many older people who are in good health and thus could not get a physician's exemption, are uncomfortable unless the thermostat is at 74 or 75, even with a sweater on. You'd force them to feel cold in their own homes.

Please recognize that you're hurting the lives of millions of human beings every time you impose one of the proposed restrictions. There needs to be darn good science to justify that.

He responded:

We’ll never be energy independent (at least in this century). Carbon is an extrnaliity, just like pollution and energy security. The rational efficient way to internalize those costs is with a carbon tax or something similar.

I responded: It is not rational. Your scheme will hurt literally billions of people because of your perceived need to control carbon, despite the ambiguity of the science and despite the fact that in 10-15 years, before oil will have come close to running out, new technologies will have advanced enough that we won't be too dependent on foreign oil, and importantly, we will not have made billions of people suffer in the meantime.

He responded:

What about the 100+ million Bangladesh people who are about to be flooded out of their country by rising sea levels? And you are dreaming (or smoking something) if you believe there will be oil substitutes in 10-15 years (or probably even further, especially if we don’t have carbon taxes or something similar).

I responded:

We're going round and round: You granted that the science is ambiguous on whether climate change is occurring and substantially man-made. Current potential flooding in one place on earth is no evidence of man-induced climate change. It's much more likely just one example of the natural disasters that have occurred since the earth began. Indeed, a recent court case debunked the CO2/hurricane connection. Saying that one place on earth may suffer severe flooding is far from justification for making the entire world suffer to try to cool the globe, when it well may be a non-issue.

I'll ignore your latest ad hominem remark ("Are you dreaming or smoking something?") and instead focus on the substantive issue: many experts agree that a combination of oil, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels, etc will, as I wrote, make it likely that "we won't be too dependent on foreign oil'" in the next 10 to 15 years, and "importantly, we will not have made billions of people suffer in the meantime."

Dear readers, help me understand what is wrong with my analysis?

Note: I withhold the name of the aforementioned policymaker because he's a friend and I promised that his comments would not be for attribution.


Anonymous said...

If the effects of human-induced climate change are modest at best, the only reason I can see that the benefits from reductions might be huge would be independence from foreign oil. At least, for the general population. And that benefit wouldn't be felt until later, when alternative energy would be cost effective.

A lot of people and companies would likely benefit financially, too, like Al Gore already does, not to mention it would help build up a lot of political careers and legacies, whether the effects are modest or not.

Also, I don't know your friend, but he might be of the belief that big government is the way things should be done and that the restrictions are for the public's own good.

I see nothing wrong with your analysis. It's just that you and your friend disagree and will probably continue to do so.

By the way, how passionate would Mr. Gore be about this if he were not benefiting from this financially? If it were really a lifestyle choice as opposed to a business opportunity? Just asking.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I don't believe independence from foreign oil is beneficial. If it were, does it not follow we should also strive for independence from foreign shoes, cars, and computers?

Dr. Michael R. Edelstein

Marty Nemko said...

There's a difference: Our stated enemies (e.g., Iran and Venezuela) and countries with which we have a tenuous relationship (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Iraq), if they shut up for oil faucet, would bring the U.S. to its knees. The other items are either largely made in the U.S. and/or by countries not as likely to boycott us.

Anonymous said...

If independence from such things were realistic, Dr. Edelstein, I would say yes, we should strive for it. Since we Americans consume so much, I know that's not going to happen anytime soon.

If we were energy independent, at least we would not be dependent on countries that mean to do us harm. Also, if clean energy became our main source of fuel, a lot less pollutants would go into the air. (My instincts tell that this would do diddly-squat for climate change/global warming, and the supporters for all these questionable policies would have even less of a logical leg to stand on.)

But you may be right, Dr. Edelstein. If you are, then putting climate change policies into place would have absolutely no benefit whatsoever, which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

KT said...

I suppose many of us have watched or heard about " the global warming swindle"; a documentary film by British 4 channel. This film by the documentary-maker Martin Durkin presents the arguments of scientists and commentators who don't believe that CO2 produced by human activity is the main cause of climate change. It's a controversial film that was repeatedly attacked by some scientists and received by others, and the arguments it contains are an important part of the wider debate on the causes of climate change.
In a time of abusing science as a convenient tool for consensus inquisition, we obviously have not evolved much since Copernicus.

Anonymous said...

I caught a few minutes of the radio show today (1/4/09). After complaining about ad hominem attacks regarding the phrase "do your homework", you made some erroneous statements. It does not enhance your credibility to say you've done your homework then make false statements. To correct you:

Edward Teller never won a Nobel prize. Nor was he associated with Berkeley at the time of this petition.

The statement Teller signed referred to the Kyoto protocol and not the IPCC panel report. Based on statements from the web link that your posted, it is likely that Teller signed the petition prior the the IPCC panel report.

Marty Nemko said...

Sorry, anonymous but Teller DID win a Nobel. See this link to CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/10/tech/main572437.shtml.

The timing is irrelevant; the point is that a physicist of Nobelist character disagrees with the CC consensus.

It all started when a caller to the show who only knew that Al Gore had won a Nobel (for the now-politicized Nobel committee) attempted to play gotcha in asking, "Can you name a Nobelist skeptical of global warming?" Teller is as are MANY nobelists. See this link. http://motls.blogspot.com/2008/07/lindau-half-of-nobel-prize-winners-are.html.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Marty. Teller did not win a Nobel. Use primary sources! Look at the Official Nobel Site and not a secondary source. (In fact, the secondary source you cited only claimed it in the headline. There is no mention of the Nobel prize in the actual article whatsoever!) If you find such a citation, it should be able to state the year, field, and achievement of the award.

Second, I think the timing of his signing the petition is very relevant. There are many reason why someone can be opposed to the Kyoto protocols yet still believe in the evidence of human contributions to global warming. My point is that you stated that he was opposed to the IPCC report. This statement is not supported by your cited web site.

Please don't overstate the importance of the blog you cite. This was the report of a survey of 7 laureates. Yes, 3 out of 7 constitutes half, but the overall significance is not that great.

I think we can agree that the discussions of global warming needs to be based on hard facts from verifiable sources. The one person who I see is doing this the best is Steve Chu.

Marty Nemko said...

You're right re Teller. It is remarkable that reputable news sources including from CBS News in its obituary story about Teller said he was a Nobel Prize Winner toTeller did indeed win a Nobel Prize. There's certainly no question, however, that he was a most eminent physicist.

More important, when, per the article I sent you, listed 3 Nobelists who are skeptical of the Climate Change consensus and previous posts on this blog list hundreds of reputable scientists with similar reservations, should we impose the massive costs and lifestyle restrictions on millions of people?

What terrifies me is that the supposedly "open to a wide range of ideas" Obama has appointed ONLY true believers in the Climate Change consensus to cabinet-level positions in science and in the environment.