Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why I'd die on this hill, part 4


Before I plunge into grading more papers discussing the potential recognition of sharia law in the United States and exploring what the concept of conscience in Judaism might tell us about conscience exemptions to otherwise applicable law, I need to warm up.

So let's review the bidding. My point on Climategate has been two fold. The first is that certain aspects of climate science are what Jim Manzi calls "grey area" science. Paleoclimatalogy is one of these. You can't run controlled experiments to test hypotheses. When it comes to temperature (which is what we are trying to reconstruct and model), we have direct data for only a fraction of the period in which we are interested.

We do have proxy data which are more or less closely correlated with temperature - thinks like tree rings, air bubbles trapped in ice cores, sediment deposits - but these things are also correlated with a variety of other confounding variables including, possibly, temperature itself (i.e., the relationship between these things and temperature may change as temperature changes and because we have little direct temperature data, this further confounds things.)

In short, reconstructing temperature over the past 2000 years is a bit like the tale of the blind monks examining an elephant. They must describe a very big thing with very little information.

Now, certainly climate scientists working in this area - or at least, I assume, most of them - do their best. But the process is inherently speculative and fraught with uncertainty. There is ample opportunity for research and confirmation bias.

What the Climategate e-mails document is the presence of that bias and attempts to put on a public face claiming more certainty and fewer complications than paleoclimatology can, in fact, deliver. The attempt to hide the decline in the Biffra tree reconstruction is on example of that.

And there is no doubt that they tried to hide it in documents that would be used by policy makers. Nothing that my local interlocutors Tom Foley and Seth Zlotocha have said contradicts that.

But they have gone a step further and said that it really doesn't matter. The "decline" was explained away in the scientific literature and so it is irrelevant. There are other reconstructions that either do not use or are less dependent on the tree ring data.

To say that the decline has been explained away because some studies "point to" anthropogenic causes is a bit too facile. It is possible that the "decline" is a result of anthropogenic causes which may or may not be related to carbon emissions or related phenomena. But,as this recent review of the literature concludes, it is still uncertain.

But, beyond that, any divergence shows that the relationship is not robust from external influences and since we don't have detailed data about the climate and atmosphere (and, in fact, fewer sources of data) from 1000 years ago, it is is hard to know that the relationship we observe for 100+ years (because that it the period for which we must calibrate the data)also characterized the preceding 1900.

This is where Seth and Tom would say that the other proxies come in. If they all move the same way in relationship to each other, then perhaps we can infer that they all move the same way in relationship to temperature. In other words, if the six blind monks all say the same thing about the elephant, we have a different fable.

But can we say that? Again, this is where the Climategate emails are instructive. In this case, our scientist monks (and it really is a very small group of interconnected people who do this work) were not "blind" in the sense that they seem to have been very concerned with homogenizing their work and actively hostile to outsiders who asked questions. Folks like Keith Biffra who seems to have wanted to acknowledge the limited nature of claims that could be made with confidence (he seems to have believed that it is quite possible that temperatures were as warm 1000 years ago as they are today, although this recent paper takes a more somewhat more aggressive view) got tremendous pushback from people like Michael Mann who were strongly committed to the idea of a hockey stick and the claim that 1998 was the warmest in 1300 years.

In the past three years, it has been my privilege to participate in academic discourse. I work in rather contentious areas of public law. In my experience, one does not threaten to beat up persons that one disagrees with. One does not boycott journals who publish work that one does not like. One does not discuss hiding or destroying data. One does not fight, tooth and nail, like Mann did, to withhold data from critics. One does not talk about presenting a "tidy picture" when the picture is, in fact, not that tidy.

But Tom and Seth would ask who cares if Michael Mann is a jerk as long as he is right? But it is not clear that, on the most important point, he is. Mann, of course, is the author of the hockey stick which he has repeatedly undertaken to illustrate using multiple proxies (not just the tree rings). In 2003, two AGW skeptics published a paper - in a peer reviewed journal - that essentially argued that the "hockey stick" was the result of improper statistical techniques. Mann took great umbrage, arguing that the critics, McIntyre and McKittrick, were the ones who had got it wrong.

Two investigations followed. A congressional report requested by AGW skeptic Congressmen Joe Burton was largely a statistical review of the hockey stick reconstruction lead by a professor of statistic named Edward Wegman. That report concluded:

It is important to note the isolation of the paleoclimate community; even though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community. Additionally, we judge that the sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent. Moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that this community can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.
Overall, our committee believes that Dr. Mann’s assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade of the millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium cannot be supported by his analysis.'
Our committee believes that the assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade in a millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year in a millennium cannot be supported by the MBH98/99 analysis. As mentioned earlier in our background section, tree ring proxies are typically calibrated to remove low frequency variations. The cycle of Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age that was widely recognized in 1990 has disappeared from the MBH98/99 analyses, thus making possible the hottest decade/hottest year claim. However, the methodology of MBH98/99 suppresses this low frequency information. The paucity of data in the more remote past makes the hottest-in-a-millennium claims essentially unverifiable. (Emphasis added.)



Another review was conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. It's report is often claimed to have validated Mann and the hockey stick but that seems to be an overstatement. This is what the NAS report concluded as summarized in a press release accompanying the report:

There is sufficient evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other "proxies" of past surface temperatures to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years, according to a new report from the National Research Council. Less confidence can be placed in proxy-based reconstructions of surface temperatures for A.D. 900 to 1600, said the committee that wrote the report, although the available proxy evidence does indicate that many locations were warmer during the past 25 years than during any other 25-year period since 900. Very little confidence can be placed in statements about average global surface temperatures prior to A.D. 900 because the proxy data for that time frame are sparse, the committee added.


In the report itself, the NAS committee claimed that it was "plausible" that temperatures are the highest in the last 1000 years. But that's not saying much. Everyone seems to agree (well, not Mann, but many others) that there was a Medieval Warm Period (MWP), a Little Ice Age (LIA) and warming over the past 400 years coming out of the LIA. If it was as warm during the MWP as it is today, it calls into question the idea that we have unique anthropogenic warming. It doesn't mean that AGW does not exist, but throws a wrench into the idea that we have unique warming that can only be explained by anthropogenic causes.

To be sure, I can't see that it disproves the hypothesis of AGW. We could have a nonanthropogenic cause of the MWP (must have - unless there were a lot of smokestacks or urban heat islands in the lost civilization of Atlantis)and an anthropogenic cause of current warming out of the LIA. The latter may be less likely to reach equilibrium.

But recognizing the limited nature of these climate reconstructions ought to give us some perspective. It should remind us that the climate can change rather significantly for natural reasons. On a highly complex question, it would seem to lower our confidence in - at least - the more alarmist views of AGW.

Now, of course, all of this is accompanied by more complexity and inside baseball than I can relate here or that I can - to be honest - fully understand no matter how many "primary resources" I read. There are, apparently, issues surrounding the extent of local variations. Some folks want to say that the reconstructions are supported by observable phenomena (like the artic ice shelf) while others want to say that there is anectodal evidence that supports a strong MWP. There have been additional reconstructions. But we have to try to understand the scientific debate as best we can. My point, up to now, is that what paleoclimatology can tell us seems to be limited and uncertain. That uncertainty is exacerbated by the evident biases of some of the key researchers.

So I think we have to move on. Now I can read about the ethics of embryonic stem cell records and justifications for same sex marriage. More to come after I get tired of that.

32 comments:

Seth said...

For new readers interested in more on the paleoclimatology debate, see the discussion here. Nothing new was presented in this post, I don't see the reason for re-hashing to same responses (though, for those looking to see the full versions of what Tom and I say -- rather than Rick's summaries here -- please check it out).

On a highly complex question, it would seem to lower our confidence in - at least - the more alarmist views of AGW.

This is probably the heart of the problem, Rick.

1) As I mentioned before, AGW doesn't rely on paleoclimatology for evidence of its existence or importance. For those who don't care to follow the link, the climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf explains (almost 5 years ago and before this email 'controversy,' no less):

The main reason for concern about anthropogenic climate change is not that we can already see it (although we can). The main reason is twofold.
(1) Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly in the atmosphere due to human activity. This is a measured fact not even disputed by staunch “climate skeptics”.
(2) Any increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will change the radiation balance of the Earth and increase surface temperatures. This is basic and undisputed physics that has been known for over a hundred years.


2) Please explain how the US negotiations in Copenhagen, and the resulting accord, reflect alarmism.

Seth said...

A couple of quick additions on the paleoclimatology debate. For more on the Wegman hearing, see here. For more on the NAS report, see here. Each are particularly instructive for those who are wondering about Rick's point about those studies bringing into question the hockey stick reconstruction as a whole, as opposed to just Mann's contribution to it (hint: they don't).

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

I'll post more on this later. I would just note that your comments here are simply the assertion that I am wrong and that some unexplained authority elsewhere proves it. I've read the commentary at Real Climate; my conclusions are based on the "primary documents" (which is what you all keep telling me to do.)

My point is not that the temperature has not increased. It is only that it seems impossible to say that it is warmer today than it was in the MWP. That has certain implications for the debate, but it doesn't resolve it.

It also is not resolved by repeating the physics of greenhouse gases. That describes a circumstance in which all other influences are held constant and ignores countervailing impacts. It doesn't tell us how significant the problem is and what we can do about it. It's an important starting point, but that's what it is.

As far as how I would characterize the Copenhagen process, it pretty much fell apart, no? Obama has, from time to time, endorsed emission reductions which, without some technological miracle (which he assumes), would be economically devastating. He believes that government can create and manage a carbon trading system. (One of my principal problems with Obama is the extent to which he seems to believe problems can be solved and managed by the imposition of expertise from above.)

illusory tenant said...

If the Briffa (not Biffra) et al 1998b data set casts doubt on all other proxy data sets, then how can you have such great confidence in your MWP and LIA indicators?

(Both were local, as opposed to global phenomena, if I'm not mistaken. The debate isn't over anthropogenic European warming, after all.)

As for Wegman:

"The impact of the MM critique, after being scrutinized by the NAS, the Wegman panel, and a number of meticulous individual research groups, is essentially nil with regard to the conclusions of MBH and the 2001 IPCC assessment."

Testimony of Jay Gulledge.

Seth's unanswered entreaty in the previous thread gets to the very heart of the matter:

"Explain why a hypothesis w/ no research backing it up is somehow trumps a hypothesis w/ cited research, even if the conclusions of that research aren't themselves conclusive."

And, McIntyre in a nutshell:

"The problem with treating tree ring chronologies as nothing more than received time series downloaded from the internet to be manipulated in various ways is that the context of the original investigators can be lost. Moreover, there are several subdisciplines within dendrochronology that collect tree ring data for different reasons, and in their fieldwork emphasize different site or individual tree characteristics during sampling."

Yamal Emulation II: Divergence.

In other contexts, Prof. Esenberg would refer to McIntyre's activities as "ankle biting," but for some reason in the present context, they're entirely compelling.

illusory tenant said...

By the way, I happened to catch about 30 seconds of Sunday Incite! yesterday. Charlie Sykes asked Patrick McIlheran for his "biggest blunder of 2009" and McIlheran said, 'Writing e-mails that completely undermine the case for global warming,' or words to that effect.

Sykes leaned forward enthusiastically and cried, "Tricks! To hide the decline!"

Unfortunately nobody was present to point out McIlheran's own blunder, that he doesn't even know what was meant by "the decline."

Seth said...

I would just note that your comments here are simply the assertion that I am wrong and that some unexplained authority elsewhere proves it.

No, Rick. I provided a link to my own comments and analysis. I don't see the need to rehash them here since you don't provide anything new in this post.

The closest you come to providing something new is citing two reports, and I provided links to refute the way you use them.

But, if links aren't enough, you want my analysis, here it is.

The IPCC TAR Summary for Policymakers that used the hockey stick graph explained the long stick part of the graph this way: "New analyses of proxy data for the Northern Hemisphere indicate that the increase in temperature in the 20th century is LIKELY to have been the largest of any century during the past 1,000 years" (emphasis mine).

If you look at the footnote tied to "likely," it defines it as "66-90% chance."

The Wegman report DIDN'T assess the question of whether that claim or the hockey stick reconstruction as a whole is accurate, as my link in the comment above explains.

The NAS Report DID assess that claim and the hockey stick reconstruction as a whole, finding high confidence in the post-1600 portion of the graph and "plausible" the pre-1600 portion, defining plausible as 66% likelihood, which falls into the same range (albeit the bottom) as the IPCC TAR.

It also is not resolved by repeating the physics of greenhouse gases. That describes a circumstance in which all other influences are held constant and ignores countervailing impacts. It doesn't tell us how significant the problem is and what we can do about it. It's an important starting point, but that's what it is.

I didn't intend for it to be the ending point, only an explanation for how paleoclimatology isn't required for the science of AGW.

As Rahmstorf continues:

But how strong is this warming effect? That is the only fundamental doubt about anthropogenic climate change that can still be legitimately debated. We climatologists describe this in terms of the climate sensitivity, the warming that results in equilibrium from a doubling of CO2. The IPCC gives the uncertainty range as 1.5-4.5 ºC. Only if this is wrong, and the true value is lower, can we escape the fact that unabated emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to the warming projected by the IPCC.

Chances for that are not good. A new large uncertainty analysis that appeared this week in Nature shows that it is very difficult to get a climate sensitivity below 2 ºC in a climate model, no matter how one changes the parameters. And climate history, with its Ice Ages and other large changes, also speaks strongly against low climate sensitivity.


Here's a link to the Nature study Rahmstorf cites.

I am interested in knowing more about how your "countervailing impacts" either weren't considered by or outweigh the uncertainty studies, like this one in Nature, completed by climatologists.

Bottom line, the strength of the warming effect is critical -- that's the ending point. Climatologists have laid out the benchmark of limiting climate increases to 2 degrees Celsius per year, which would require 25-40% cuts in emissions.

More...

Seth said...

Which leads us to...

As far as how I would characterize the Copenhagen process, it pretty much fell apart, no?

No, actually. In fact, the accord struck represents a significant shift from the provisions of Kyoto in which a pre-set cut in emissions was determined up front and then responsibility for those cuts were divided among developed nations. It was that latter provision -- responsibility all on developed nations -- that prevented the US Congress from ratifying the Kyoto treaty.

The Copenhagen accord rests on a different system in which nations bring to the table pledges of emissions cuts -- the US was 17% of '05 levels, the EU was 20% of '90 levels, etc. -- and points toward the use of accountability measures such as independent emissions checks to verify progress. Perhaps most important, though, is that the accord moves China and other larger developing nations (India, Brazil, and South Africa being the others) from behind their protected status of "developing" under Kyoto, bringing them into the fray when it comes to responsibility for cuts. This will be critical for gaining US congressional approval for any eventual binding treating and, ultimately, the success of that treaty (w/o cuts from China, there's no way -- economically or scientifically -- all of the other countries combined could any significant headway on cuts).

This was a tentative development, but an important one. The talks were falling apart toward the end of last week, but Obama was able to strike this accord (something the smaller developing nations who China essentially ditched were afraid would happen) that both kept the ball in the air for a binding treaty next year AND for that binding treaty to exemplify something the US can support and something that is a more realistic blueprint for global cooperation on emissions cuts (rather than using "developing" as a get out of jail free card).

Obama has, from time to time, endorsed emission reductions which, without some technological miracle (which he assumes), would be economically devastating.

Please explain how the 17% emissions cuts from '05 levels by 2020 proposed by Obama and included in the Waxman/Markey bill that passed in the summer would be "economically devastating," particularly when coming within the global system explained above (that is, Copenhagen-based rather than Kyoto-based).

illusory tenant said...

Beneath the torrent of verbiage copied and pasted from denialist blogs, Prof. Esenberg's core concern appears to be that scientists -- as he put it -- "combin[ed] two different measurements and pretend[ed] they are the same thing and mischaracteriz[ed] what data show."

And, he claims, the said "pretending" and "mischaracterizations" were presented to policymakers, which is what seems to irk Prof. Esenberg in particular.

His purported evidence is two charts, one on the cover of a World Meteorological Organization brochure (the specific object of Phil Jones's "hide the decline" e-mail message) and another from the IPCC Third Assessment Report, Chapter 2.

But the research underlying what the charts portray is entirely defensible (as is, by extension, the decision to leave off Briffa's data set between 1960 and 1980), is widely and extensively discussed in the primary literature, and, most importantly, has been successfully reproduced by other researchers using entirely separate data even in the wake of McKitrick and McIntyre's objections.

So I'm not sure where this leaves Prof. Esenberg. On a hill, certainly, and at least on life support, evidently.

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth
Seth

I am aware of the 2:1 comment but I think it was at a press conference and not included in the report. That type of estimate - clients ask lawyers to do it all the time - strikes me as a SWAG. I think this is particularly true of the higher IPCC numbers - the notion that one could have a 90% confidence level in reconstruction of global temperatures over such a long period of time strikes me as not "plausible."

In any event, none of the likely or plausible scenarios establish that the temperatures today are hotter than in the MWP. And that does threaten to turn the hockey stick that looks something more like a boomerang.

That's a nice attempt to describe kicking the can down the road as a significant development. If the agreement leads to significant emission reductions, it will because of commitments that have not yet been made.

A 17% reduction in emissions could have quite an impact. Imagine if you were asked to reduce your energy usage by 17%. Then think of that it would be like to make that number work ten years from now after you have moved to a bigger home and you and wife have had a couple of kids.

But maybe a 17% reduction would not be devastating. I think it more than plausible than an 80% reduction by 2050 (called for both by Obama and Waxman-Markey would be.

Tom

Presenting two different measures as one is not defensible. I have no idea why you want to waste so much time and energy claiming that it is. Since we have now established that you are happily practicing law, I think we both know what you'd do with an expert who tried that. I think I've explained why I think that the e-mails are significant and why I am not moved to turn out the lights by paleoclimatology - and learned a lot in the process. I certainly have tried to deal with more than simply the claims of the "denialist" blogs as I hope you pay attention to more than the "warmist" blogs.


I'll probably blog more on this later. For now, Merry Christmas.

illusory tenant said...

Merry Christmas to you too.

By the way, I forgot earlier to congratulate you on that brilliant rhetorical device, whereby you momentarily descend from the rarified, brain-busting metaphysical contemplations of "natural law" and the like to entertain the mugs with a few prosaic thoughts on "tree rings."

Presenting two different measures as one is not defensible.

But, Rick, far more than two different measures were presented as one. That's what they've always done. And this was not news to policymakers either.

Pursuant to which, I'll ask you once more, since you didn't answer, preferring instead to once again allude to your considerable experience defending against the alleged liabilities of dock-leveler manufacturers:*

If the divergence noted in Briffa's very specific series of proxy measurements undermines proxy measurements in general, then from whence in the world comes your pronouncements on the "medieval warming period," the evidence of which is derived entirely from proxy data?

The foregoing, incidentally, is but one of several questions posed by myself and Seth which you haven't engaged.

* Ask me about the time I drove an electric forklift onto the back of a single-axle flatbed truck.

illusory tenant said...

I should add: And a very Merry Christmas to all the Sharkian lurkers and their friends and family, from your friendly neighborhood devoutly militant secular humanist.

I'll light a candle for you all at Midnight Mass on Thursday night.

Seth said...

I am aware of the 2:1 comment but I think it was at a press conference and not included in the report. That type of estimate - clients ask lawyers to do it all the time - strikes me as a SWAG. I think this is particularly true of the higher IPCC numbers - the notion that one could have a 90% confidence level in reconstruction of global temperatures over such a long period of time strikes me as not "plausible."

The only one presenting a wild ass guess in this comment, Rick, is you. Really, where are Seth and Amy when you need them?

That's a nice attempt to describe kicking the can down the road as a significant development.

That's a nice attempt to dismiss my detailed explanation of the significance and citations with a casual metaphor.

A 17% reduction in emissions could have quite an impact. Imagine if you were asked to reduce your energy usage by 17%. Then think of that it would be like to make that number work ten years from now after you have moved to a bigger home and you and wife have had a couple of kids.

A cut in fossil fuel emissions isn't the same as requiring an equivalent cut in energy usage. In fact, energy usage will go up. Slowing the growth in energy usage is important, but the bigger key is changing the energy source from fossil fuels to renewable energies (including wind, solar, biomass, MSW, hydro/geothermal, and nuclear) .

Here's a summary of two economic reports on the impact of the Waxman/Markey bill (CBO and EPA), including such things as impact on the deficit (reduces it by $24.4 billion by 2019), average household costs (about $16 per month by 2020), gas prices ($0.13 in 2015, $0.25 in 2030, and $0.69 in 2050), and electricity costs (unchanged by 2020, increase 13% by 2030).

The EPA report is especially useful in mapping out the how question as it relates to slowing the growth in energy demand and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels.

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

I don't know why you would expect the economic projections that Congress commissions to paper over the difficulties with what it wants to do to have any connection with reality. They never do.

In addition - as with your emphasis on the 17% reduction by 2020 - you ignore the fact that the real reductions are backloaded. The economic impacts of Waxman-Markey can hardly be expected to occur before its more onerous goals come into play. Your burden, Seth, is to think that we can commit - today - to reducing emissions by 83% (which is what the bill calls for) in fourty years without significant economic impact.

And there are other studies. Heritage, for example, predicts the following impacts by 2035 - when you will have to be paying for me to play shuffleboard before taking in the Early Bird special:

•Reduce aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) by $7.4 trillion,
•Destroy 844,000 jobs on average, with peak years seeing unemployment rise by over 1,900,000 jobs,
•Raise electricity rates 90 percent after adjusting for inflation,
•Raise inflation-adjusted gasoline prices by 74 percent,
•Raise residential natural gas prices by 55 percent,
•Raise an average family's annual energy bill by $1,500, and
•Increase inflation-adjusted federal debt by 29 percent, or $33,400 additional federal debt per person, again after adjusting for inflation.I have no problem with the concept of developing alternative sources of energy but think it is unlikely - and would be relatively ahistorical - if they were to be developed by command.

The ACCF/NAM study is equally dire.

I know that you'll want to dismiss Heritage and ACCR/NAM as "biased"
but they are no more or less subject to biases than the CBO and EPA.


Until these technologies are in hand, a commitment to dramatic emission reductions is a commitment to reduce economic activity.

There is absolutely nothing in your description of the Copenhagen denouement which is inconsistent with the description of kicking a can down the road. Maybe someday the Chinese and Indians will agree to something and actually do it. But the notion that they have been manuevered into doing something that they do not wish to do is wishful thinking. Whether they are "developing" or not, they are not going to forego full entry into modernity.

It may well be that technology will permit the substantial cleansing and replacement of fossil fuel. But it is highly unlikely to happen because someone passed a bill mandating that it be so.

Rick Esenberg said...

Tom

My experience with the cross examination of experts largely concerned social science experts in various types of discrimination and related cases. I can only ever remember crossing one expert in a product liability case involving dock equipment although I did have some interesting deponents in IP cases involving dock equipment including an English professor at Marquette whose scholarship including the examination of the etiology and uses of F***.

As for tree rings and natural law, what can I say? As your good friend Charlie Sykes recognizes, I am a Renaissance Man.

The MWP is known by proxy measures and contemporary reports. But my point is not that proxy measures are no good, it's that they are just that - proxies with an incredibly complicated relationship with what they are intended to serve as a proxy for.

And, of course, the problems that I discussed in part 4 are not just with Briffa's tree rings, but also with the more aggressive claims made for multi-proxy reconstructions.

Obviously, the dock you drove off of (if that's what you did) did not have a Safe-T-Lip leveler by Rite Hite.

illusory tenant said...

The MWP is known by proxy measures and contemporary reports.

Contemporary reports being a species of proxy measures themselves. And, as I said, the MWP is a local phenomenon, yet here you are extending it to a global perspective, which is precisely the manner of reasoning you're decrying where you don't care for the conclusions.

What's up with that? You're not just being recreationally "querulous" by any chance, are you?

Obviously, the dock you drove off of (if that's what you did) did not have a Safe-T-Lip leveler by Rite Hite.

It did (although not a Rite-Hite one) and the lip was at that point laying on the back of the truck bed. In my distant youth I was unaware that battery-operated forklifts are considerably heavier than those powered by propane.

No litigation ensued, IIRC.

Seth said...

I know that you'll want to dismiss Heritage and ACCR/NAM as "biased" but they are no more or less subject to biases than the CBO and EPA.

Not a chance, Rick. For argument's sake, I'll grant you the potential for political biases in the EPA report since that agency is overseen by an appointee of the president (though I'd still question on the level of the politically-driven Heritage foundation or manufacturing lobbyists). But the CBO is not the same as Congress, as you imply at the start of your comment (the commissioning of a CBO report by Congress, that is, isn't the same as the commissioning of a report by the National Association of Manufacturers), and its reports aren't even close to "more or less" the same as Heritage or a trade group when it comes to political biases.

Bottom line, the CBO exists as an independent agency aimed at impartially providing fiscal analysis on congressional measures, just like the LFB in Wisconsin. Heritage exists to push conservative ideas; that doesn't mean it should be ignored, but it's not on the same playing field as the CBO when it comes to biases. NAM exists to serve the interests of its members, not inform them; again, that doesn't mean it should be ignored, but it's not on the same playing field as the CBO when it comes to biases.

Your burden, Seth, is to think that we can commit - today - to reducing emissions by 83% (which is what the bill calls for) in fourty years without significant economic impact.

No, my "burden" is to think that we can put ourselves on a path today to reducing emissions by 83% in forty years without any significant negative economic impact. No economic analysis can realistically predict out for 40 years, which is why the CBO limits itself to 10 years. 83% after 40 years is a goal, and that's being written into the legislation to put us on a path to achieve it. It's important, but the only true binding measures in the legislation take place in the upcoming decade; to be sure, long-term legislation can, and often does, get amended over time to adjust to new economic realities. That's not saying this legislation is unrealistic or will need to drastically change or even much at all, but that any legislation that has an economic impact beyond 10-15 years is almost certainly going to require an eye toward potential revisions along the way, and it certainly doesn't mean that it shouldn't become law because the long-term economic ramifications can't be known beyond a doubt (or come without conflicting reports prompted by the opposition) upon passage.

More....

Seth said...

There is absolutely nothing in your description of the Copenhagen denouement which is inconsistent with the description of kicking a can down the road.

Yes, there is -- not when it comes to an actual paper agreement, perhaps, but the finished product is hardly all there is to diplomacy. Had Obama not struck an accord with the Chinese and other larger developing nations to move away from Kyoto, that still would be the prevailing dynamic. That doesn't necessarily mean China is going to do anything different (see below), but it does mean -- as I explained -- that it gives the rest of the world (including the US Congress) a sign that it's willing to join them in doing something about climate change collectively. If the Kyoto dynamic prevailed heading out of Copenhagen, the process of working on a future treaty to replace Kyoto would've been pushed back further and it would've almost certainly sunk chances of the US passing a bill in the Senate in 2010 to match Waxman/Markey, effectively pushing back any hope in the US of starting to work on climate change even further (making the climb to the stated goals even steeper).

But the notion that they have been manuevered into doing something that they do not wish to do is wishful thinking.

I never said they did something they didn't want to do. You see, the Chinese government actually believes in the science of climate change and the negative impacts doing nothing can have -- anti-growth alarmist hippies that they are.

Rick Esenberg said...

Tom

It most certainly did not have a Safe-T-Lip because that is a patented product that makes it impossible to drive a fork lift off a dock. (It creates a barrier when the leveler is in the stored position.) There is none other - at least none other that works in the same way and as well - than by Rite Hite. Unfortunately, not every one buys one or I would have left with a much larger stash.

The MWP may have been localized or it may not have been. It's kind of hard to know given the relative paucity of data. You keep missing my point which is not that the MWP was as warm as today. Rather, it is that there is really no way to know. Boomerang or hockey stick? Based on what I've read, it seems that either is possible.

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

I want to post more on this when I have more time but keep in mind that it was not only Heritage and ACCF, but Brookings that estimated a far more significant economic impact. I guess that's not surprising since the CBO did not even try to estimate the impact on GDP.

I am a bit older than you and one of the consistent themes of American politics has been promises of mainstream liberals that we can save the world on the cheap. Until alternate sources of energy can be found, carbon reductions cost money.

Of course, smaller carbon reductions cost less money and that's why one can say that - maybe - 17% reduction by 2020 won't count as "devastating." But it also won't do a thing to change the climate.

For that, you need the bigger numbers that you now seem to be saying that Waxman-Markey doesn't "really" commit us to.

On that point, we may some common ground. I think that most of these commitments to emissions reductons aren't serious. That's why Kyoto failed and Copenhagen was a waste of time.

I think that Bjorn Lomberg has it right. Focusing on commitments to reduce emissions without the means to do so is a dead end.

Rick Esenberg said...

As for Obama's triumph at Copenhagen, recall that there was a time when Obama wanted to continue Kyoto and he certainly went into Copenhagen wanting an agreement.

One of the reasons that he couldn't get it is because he knows he can't promise very much. There is little or no chance that anything like Waxman-Markey is going to pass. He wasn't about to be embarassed like Clinton was.

But I fail to see what he really accomplished other than saving some face. The Chinese have agreed to nothing. Whether they can hide behind the framework of being a "developing" nation does not matter (do you really think they won't get any of the global warming slush fund?)until they actually agree to something.

Certainly the environmentalist community sees no progress. I count that as a good thing, but they seem to regard Obama as having sold out.

Seth said...

it was not only Heritage and ACCF, but Brookings that estimated a far more significant economic impact

I know a Heritage blog post tried to take cover in the Brookings report, but if you follow the link to it from the post, you'll see in the opening slide that the Brookings report isn't based on any particular legislation. In other words, it isn't a full review of Waxman-Markey. One of the scenarios it maps out is "loosely tied to Waxman-Markey" in terms of emissions cuts, but without assessing all of the other components of the bill (offsets, renewable energy investments, fuel-efficient consumer rebates, worker transition, etc.), it can hardly stand as a complete economic assessment of it.

But, that said, I don't think the Brookings report demonstrated "a far more significant economic impact" than the CBO. The employment numbers show an initial 0.4% decline from the "do nothing" approach after 5 years, or so, but then an increase to 0.2% below "do nothing" by 2025 and moving forward from there. GDP is tracked to continue a steady increase under the scenario, increasing only slightly less (1% in 2020, 1.5% in 2030) than "do nothing." But, again, you can hardly rely on those even modest numbers since, as it points on the first bullet point of the first slide: "Not an analysis of particular bills." For instance, it’s difficult to complete a full assessment on employment without considering renewable investments and worker transition funding.

And incompleteness that's actual something the Brookings report and the Heritage report have in common (though the Brookings report was forthright about it). As the Pew Center explains, "the Heritage Foundation recently issued a memo claiming that the Waxman-Markey bill would cost households $4,300 annually. But this analysis fails to consider many of the key provisions of the bill including its extensive use of offsets to reduce overall costs and its use of the value of emission allowances to reduce costs to consumers."

I guess that's not surprising since the CBO did not even try to estimate the impact on GDP.

Except that it did. I know, I know. The WSJ editorial page said they didn't in June, so it still must be true. Except it's not, and it did.

Here's that assessment: "the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concludes that the cap-and- trade provisions of H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACESA), if implemented, would reduce gross domestic product (GDP) below what it would otherwise have been—by roughly 1⁄4 percent to 3⁄4 percent in 2020 and by between 1 percent and 31⁄2 percent in 2050. By way of comparison, CBO projects that real (inflation-adjusted) GDP will be roughly two and a half times as large in 2050 as it is today, so those changes would be comparatively modest."

More...

Seth said...

But it also won't do a thing to change the climate.

Not true. It would involve a reduction of emissions by 17%, including the jump starting of a series of initiatives like a renewable electricity standard, smart grid investments, renewable technologies, fuel-efficient consumer incentives, etc., to put the country in a position to reach the higher cuts called for in the bill and by climatologists. Doing nothing for the next decade is only going to make the climb steeper, and it only really makes sense if you don't think there's any value in addressing climate change at all. That's the only dead end here.

recall that there was a time when Obama wanted to continue Kyoto

Nope. Here's the Obama campaign's position paper on energy. Note, in particular, the section titled, "Create New Forum of Largest Greenhouse Gas Emitters," which explicitly points to the importance of developing "a post-Kyoto framework."

There is little or no chance that anything like Waxman-Markey is going to pass.

That's what conservatives said about health care reform.

Certainly the environmentalist community sees no progress.

Except the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, the American Council on Renewable Energy, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Wildlife Federation, the We Can Lead coalition...

Anyway, hoping you and your family have a Merry Christmas.

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

I had not seen the Wall Street Journal editorial, but it is absolutely true. The paper could not have commenting in June on a CBO report that was issued in September. They were, in fact, commenting on this one which is the source of the $175/household figure that you referred to and to which I was responding. That report absolutely did not estimate impacts on GDP.

As for the September report, I am not going to comment on it without taking the time to understand it. There is a lot more to it than what you quoted. From a quick glance, you may well be correct that it does not differ much from Brookings but Brookings (which evaluated a number of different approaches including a discussion draft of Waxman-Markey) estimated a reduction in consumption with a present value of between 1.3 and 2 trillion dollars for the Waxman-Markey based alternative. I would call that a rather significant - even devastating - cost. Perhaps the benefits would outweigh it, but that seems debateable and that's what I'll get to next.

And, of course, Brookings estimates a far lower reduction in emissions than Waxman-Markey actually calls for. And none of this takes into account the impact for economies that are unlikely to be able to afford the alternative energy sources and scrubbing technologies that all of these estimates assume.

As far as what happened at Copenhagen, I stand by statement that there is an awful lot of consternation in the environmentalist community. I don't think you can fairly deny that. I will concede that it probably makes sense to move away from negotiating with people who have no emissions to reduce, but that does not result in any actual agreement nor is it clear that it makes an actual agreement more probable.

At the end of day, I think that we disagree - as we often do - on the relative value of state managed solutions. But I'll get to that later. Merry Christmas for now.

Seth said...

Not much time today, so just a few quick points...

a reduction in consumption with a present value of between 1.3 and 2 trillion dollars for the Waxman-Markey based alternative. I would call that a rather significant - even devastating - cost. Perhaps the benefits would outweigh it, but that seems debateable and that's what I'll get to next.

Large consumption figures, yes, but it's important to note they represent proportionately a 0.3-0.5% decrease. And your last line is key; again, the Brookings report didn't evaluate Waxman-Markey, it only looked at a scenario the mirrored the emissions cuts called for in the bill, explicitly stating it wasn't a cost-benefit analysis, it only considered mitigation costs and emissions reductions, and it ignored entirely offsets and any other additional public investments.

And, of course, Brookings estimates a far lower reduction in emissions than Waxman-Markey actually calls for.

No, actually. The Brookings report scenario looked at cuts at 20% in 2020 and 40% in 2030, while Waxman-Markey has them at 17% in 2020 and 42% in 2030.

As far as what happened at Copenhagen, I stand by statement that there is an awful lot of consternation in the environmentalist community.

That wasn't your initial statement. Your initial statement was that the environmental community sees no progress with the Copenhagen accord -- as a means for justifying your own claim of the same -- and that's clearly not the case.

I don't think you can fairly deny that.

Consternation in segments of the environmentalist community, certainly -- I never even suggested that. The "environmental community" is big and diverse. The same is true with proponents of health care reform -- there are those on the far left of the issue who think Obama is a sell-out. But the more serious, respected environmental groups I cited understand and appreciate the diplomatic process along with the economic cost-benefit analysis that needs to go into any solution.

the relative value of state managed solutions. But I'll get to that later.

I hope that your future comments include more than just theoretical abstractions along with actual alternative solutions that address the climate change issue -- in particular, how to generate investment in renewable capacities, which is central to emissions cuts, without significant public involvement and leadership.

Seth said...

Just want to make one more clarifying point on this:

I think that we disagree - as we often do - on the relative value of state managed solutions.

Perhaps part of the issue is that you're viewing this as a debate over state managed solutions, while I'm viewing this is a debate over how to effectively and responsibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I could care less whether the solution is state managed or not, just as I could care less whether the solution to our health care crisis involved a public option. I know there's some on the left who do care about the public/private nature of the means, but that's not me, and I don't think that's the president, as he's made clear in the health care debate.

But, at the same time, while government-led solution isn't the goal, it's my belief (and I think the president's) that it isn't something that should be bypassed as a means simply because of ideological predispositions. So, if there's an alternative solution that is as effective and responsible that isn't government-driven, then fine, let's hear it.

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