Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I'd Die on this Hill. part 1

So asks local blogger Tom Foley with respect to the recent Climategate scandal. I don't think he really cares what I say, but let me try to explain.

But, first, what's with the terminology over there? Following some obscure and changing protocol about the epithet of choice for those who question what I would call the "existential threat" view of AGW, Tom has moved from calling me a denialist to being in denial to, finally, being something that goes by the term "denializer."

I guess I'm lucky. Tom promiscuously scorns various academics, sucessful business people, best-selling authors, award winning columnists, and public officials with terms like "teabagger", "wingnut", "not very smart", "moron", "calumnist" "ignorant," "fraud," "dishonest," "lying," etc. You'd think that arrogance, if it must be expressed, should be earned, but I guess that "denializer" is not so bad.

But what does it mean? Are "denializer," "denialist" and "denier" equivalent terms? I suppose there might be some highly stylized meaning of "denializer," sort of along the lines of "fellow traveler." That would be instructive in and of itself, suggesting that the extreme view of anthroprogenic global warming is somehow akin to faith or patriotism. That brings us back to the question that he wants answered.

The label - as applied to me - is wrong. (I might even call it a lie. But I prefer to say it is an unwarranted presumption.)

I don't recall ever saying or writing that AGW does not exist. To the contrary, I don't deny the probability of AGW. In fact, I have said that, among popular commentators, people like Jim Manzi and, most recently, Steven Hayward have made the most sense on the subject. You can look here and here and here. The theory behind the idea that carbon emissions can increase temperature is sound and we have had some increase in temperatures during the brief period in which we have been measurements. It would be silly to dismiss that.

But there are all sorts of countervailing factors. There are other potential causes of warming and mechanisms by which carbon induced warming might be naturally ameliorated. Because we don't have temperature data for more than a small fraction of the planet's history (and we know there have been significant climate changes in the past), it is hard to know whether measured increases are historically unusual. One has to try to "reconstruct" temperatures that were not measured over a period of thousands of years using things that are thought to be proxies for temperature. Predictions are hard to make and the forecast of AGW as an existential threat requires us to believe that coming increases will be quite dramatic.

Because of this, climate science is particularily susceptible to research bias. This is because the factors influencing the climate are so complex that no model is likely to be a very accurate predictor. Models always have to be adjusted. Data always has to be "regularized."

Here is where the Climategate e-mails come in. The e-mails confirm (we already knew it) that climate science has become highly politicized. There is no way that one can read the e-mails and conclude that the leading lights of the "existential threat" movement are open to hearing anything that contradicts their settled view.

So what I do deny - or, I'm sorry, denialize - is the Gorean claim that the sky is on fire and we had better put the brakes on industrialized economies and freeze developing nations in their current poverty. While there may be a scientific consensus on the probability of some measure of AGW, there is no consensus on AGW as a threat to the existence of man. In fact, it is not even clear that the cost of the most likely AGW scenarios would exceed the cost of abating it. I, for one, am not ready to call for the certain human misery that the Kyoto process will bring about. There is certainly cause to take reasonable measures but the commitments (which can hardly be taken seriously) to reduce emissions to levels consistent with nineteenth century levels of economic activity, to cede substantial measures of control over economic activity to the state and extranational bodies and to make massive wealth transfers are not reasonable measures.

So that's why I think that this is a hill that one ought to be willing to die on. I'll consider some of the particulars of Climatequiddick in the next post.

11 comments:

illusory tenant said...

I'll consider some of the particulars of Climatequiddick in the next post.

Good, because you still haven't addressed this accusation of yours:

Combining two different measurements and pretending they are the same thing and mischaracterizing what data show has not been limited to tree ring data.

This is false, and it's why you've earned yourself a "denialist" badge in my estimation.

However, I think you should get beyond "popular commentators" and the Wall Street Journal editorial page and investigate the primary literature prior to your consideration of the particulars.

By the way, isn't Al Gore a "best-selling author" and Obama a "public official"? I fail to see how either status has contributed to tempering your criticisms of them.

Ann Coulter is a best-selling author and an award-winning columnist too. Does that somehow mitigate her lying about evolution?

I don't think so.

Terrence Berres said...

"...suggesting that the extreme view of anthroprogenic global warming is somehow akin to faith or patriotism."

Let's not get into Canadian stereotypes just because Next Ice Age Delayed by Global Warming, Study Says (Christine Dell'Amore, National Geographic News, September 3, 2009).

Grant said...

I, for one, am not ready to call for the certain human misery that the Kyoto process will bring about.

Yes, because unlike climate modeling, economic modeling is based on unabridged and reliable data sets and doesn't rely on subjective parametrization.

Rick Esenberg said...

It doesn't take economic modeling to know that drastic reductions in energy uses will cause misery.

I agree that one should get beyond popular sources, so keep reading.

Dad29 said...

Tom promiscuously scorns various academics, ...with terms like "teabagger", "wingnut", "not very smart", "moron", "calumnist" "ignorant," "fraud," "dishonest," "lying," etc. You'd think that arrogance, if it must be expressed, should be earned, but I guess that "denializer" is not so bad.

C'mon, Rick. You're disappointed that you are just a 'denializer.'

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