Monday, December 7, 2009

Climate Change, globally political, or politically global?

Or as I once asked, “does the marketing drive the science or the science drive the marketing?”

Since Chief beat me to the punch, I strong recommend reading his thread first.

Climate change is always a hot topic, and more so today than ever. Every scientist has a position on it, including myself. This thread, then, is presented because I had this discussion with a few people, scientists, who are not affiliated with any University group, or independent group advocating, promoting “Let’s do something!” really, it was a discussion amongst a few scientist from various backgrounds.

Without a doubt things are changing in our environment. One just has to go to Alaska to see the once great glaciers all but disappearing. In fact, one of the greatest concerns is called “rebound” earthquakes. This is happening in Alaska due to the disappearance of tons of glacial ice per square inch off of Alaskan soil which is causing the earth, mantle, to
“rebound” from all the weight coming off from it.

However, there are other factors to take into account that indicates empirical change in our world and that would be the receding glaciers in Antarctica where entire shelves of ice are calving and separating from the continent only to float northwards in the currents and melt.

Also, there are other indicators that things are on the move…earthquakes in deep places. Everyone knows about the tsunami that scrubbed clean lots of islands and mainland resorts in the Pacific, but what a lot of people don’t know is that that earthquake was so powerful it actually shifted the axis of the planet…not by a whole lot…but significantly enough that it was noticed.

Which brings me to this point: We live on a dynamic planet.
Living on a dynamic planet means that things are going to change.

Oh yes, they will.
What doesn’t change are peoples attitudes, and for the rejoinder I would like to say that we should take care of our planet regardless of
whether or not our production of greenhouse gases is affecting the temperature of the planet.

One of the more interesting aspects of human influence on the planet can be found in England…eight-to-ten inches below the surface. There, you will find the ash layer…soot really, that is a left over from the birth of the industrial age. Apparently, the ash is from all the coal that was burned to fuel the engines of progress…and even though the descriptions from that time of gray foreboding skies, choking smog, and black lung that affected non-miners the island still has green hills.
And really, that is where I’m coming from.
Life adapts, continues and moves on with us…or…without us.

So what, then, is our motivation for keeping the planet we live on healthy, and nice?
Well, because someone has to be the fucking parent in a world full of shitty diaper wearing children. I wouldn’t let my son run around in shitty diapers, and I suspect none of you would, either

And besides, who wants to lay down in their own garbage?

So, really, the truth of the matter is yes, things are a changing on our planet, and more than likely if we curbed our desire to soil our own beds we probably wouldn’t have so many environmental problems…but there is the issue of the human condition and that, in my opinion, is what the Climatologist were trying to change. Albeit, inelegantly, and deceptively, which in the end did more harm than if they had just been forthright and let he science speak for itself.

In short, yes, there is significant evidence that points to change, and yes, there are a lot of people who have vested interests in advocating for and against doing something.

The real question you have to ask yourself is what are you going to do about it?


  1. Sheera and Chief, thank you both for starting up this conversation. There are many issues here worth discussing.

    I don't disagree with anything said by either post, I especially like Chief's analogy of "taking the foot off the accelerator." I might steal that one.

    What I don't understand is the US government's argument/sales pitch they are making to the US people and the rest of the world. Al Gore's award winning documentary, as flashy as it was, only resonates with those who will accept empirical evidence at face value and are willing to believe that the future is a scary place. And it seems to me, that is the best pitch the US Govt has used. But what about what Tom Friedman suggests, why don't we seriously discuss green house gases, or more specifically, the carbon based fuels that release them, as a national security threat?

    Why didn't Bush (or Obama) institute a "Patriot" tax on gasoline when we all know that oil products were fueling/paying for terrorist attacks on the West? Why aren't we selling the reduction of carbon based fuels as a way to "stick it to the foreign oil man" with the added benefit of reducing the carbon increase in the atmosphere.

    I don't disagree with much regarding climate change (or global climate weirding as Freidman calls it), it is obviously happening to some degree. But why have we stuck with what is obviously an unconvincing argument? An argument that can possibly be weakened by the evidence of bad science practices. IMO, the press is making it worse by NOT covering the story, but it almost makes the mainstream media seem implicit in silencing the critics.

    I am sure the obvious answer to why we don't see much happening in the US is "big business", but what else do you got? Friedman makes a strong argument against this by suggesting that you simply incentivize these big businesses to move towards a "green technology" industry. If you think about it, imagine the profits from selling green power producing technologies to China and India as they are desperately trying to industrialize billions of people. If we don't do it, someone else will.

    And what would be a better argument to convince people of the need for change? We don't know where the green house gas tipping point is for Earth turing into Venus, but what do we need to do for the US population (and the rest of the world) to reach a tipping point where people will demand change?

  2. Sheera and Chief, thanks for starting this thread. I just attempted to post a comment that for some reason didn't make it. Apparently this website is trying to silence me too!

    Ok, so long story short:

    1. The US govt's sales pitch, although Al Gore's movie was flashy, is ultimately ineffective and unconvincing to the masses that we need to take desperate actions that would inconvenience our daily lives or take some of our hard earned pay check.

    2. Why doesn't the US Govt us a strategy that Tom Friedman suggests that we declare carbon based fuels as the enemy of the State, or as I like to call it, The Global War on Carbon! (GWOC). Carbon based fuels fund terrorism and they are polluting our planet, which is what the terrorists want. They want to destroy us and they aren't afraid to take the planet with them.
    I really believe that if after 9/11 Bush has asked for a "Patriot Tax" on gasoline, that people would have paid it and the effect would have been raising money for the war, and lowering gasoline (carbon based fuels) demand in the US.

    3. What would be a better argument, how do we get the US people motivated enough to demand change?

    4. What is the US govt doing to incentivize industry to move towards "Green Technology?" It seems to me, that there is a huge market in China, India and the US for any company that can come up with a way to produce green power. The profits would be outrageous because the demand would be astronomical.

  3. That was weird. Ok, read which ever one you want. Cheers.

  4. bg: One problem with this entire issue is that the level of understanding of geology and climatology on the general level is below the Warner Brothers cartoon stage. Let me give you an example.

    Based on flora reconstruction from, among other places, Oregon, we are fairly sure that the beginning of the Eocene epoch (about 55 million years ago or mya to 33 mya) the global climate much warmer than ours today, with temperate forests to the poles. The time corresponded to something called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) which is fairly well documented in the Wiki entry, which I can't get fucking Blogger to paste but just google the term above.

    The PETM saw a 6 degree rise in about 20,000 years. It had a major effect on both deep-sea foraminifera (which got hammered, losing up to 50% of the existing species) and the mammals (which flourished - this period coincided with the most expansive radiation of mammals between the KT extinction and the grassland explosion in the Miocene).

    The deal is, the temperature rise over the past 200 years is just about the same gradient as the PETM.


    We think that one or more significant global events triggered the PETM, the most favored hypothesis being the release of CO2 from marine methane deposits or clathrates. This may have also involved Milankovic orbital cycle maxima (sometimes called "orbital forcing").

    We've seen no evidence for this sort of planetary or oceanic activity over the past 200 years. So if we are seeing a global temperature gradient on the scale of the PETM, the driving force would seem likely to be anthropogenic.

    Obviously life on Earth survived the PETM, and life on Earth could likely survive our current global warming. The problem is that there are three real possibilities:

    1. The greenhouse effect reaches a tipping point, causing large-scale temperature increases, a loss of liquid planetary water and a Venusian-like runaway greenhouse.

    2. A mild temperature rise, like the PETM, that eventually kicks in systems (probably multiple systems) that absorb CO2 and/or increase albedo and bring the temperature back down, or

    3. The temp spike MAY actually kick in a series of feedback machanisms that DROP the CO2 level to the point where a "Snowball" or "Slushball" Earth becomes possible...

    The point is this: we don't really understand the PETM, why it started or why it ended. We do know that global temperature changes have had immense impacts to life here. So...

    Why would we want to make our own climate change WITHOUT really understanding what it's doing and how?

    To deny that humans CAN have an effect on climate is, in effect, to discourage research on possible human effects on climate. So the starting point is to be willing to argue the point in good faith.

    But - e-mails or no aside - most of the "global warming skeptics" has been both crude and incorrect. The climatologists at EAC were quite correct in sneering at it; it's pretty bad science. It's one thing to pick at holes in theories; that's part of science. But the next part is to provide a theory to explain these discrepancies, and most of the climate deniers fail there. They want to invalidate the entire theory because it can't explain some of the anomalies.

    So here we are, after a page of discussion, having analyzed one small facet of past climate change. Can you see how frustrating this is to try and explain at the comic-book level of public policy?

  5. Sheerah: Nicely done. Just a couple of nitpicky comments:

    1. If you read the Age article carefully, they say the Earth "wobbled" on it's axis. The axial tilt, precession, etc. were not permanently affected.

    2. As I pointed out in my post below, the East Anglia scientists did not commit any criminal or even scientific wrong. They snarked the deniers shitty science and plotted ways to come up with "tricks" to make them look plainly foolish. But in the end the papers were presented.

    I'm not entirely sold myself - there are a lot of variables here and anyone will tell you that scientific analysis of a multivariate problem ranges from difficult to insane. But common sense seems to suggest that the best approach is to start from "Let's assume that something is going on and work backwards from there" rather than "Let's not do fuck-all and hope that there's not a nasty surprise at the end"

  6. I hope the Copenhagen summit fails.
    Right now the US Senate is not in any mood to raise the price of carbon and ship much of the money to the industrializing nations (so that they don't have burn coal while they continue their industrialization).

    Thus, any possible deal that Obama might make would no doubt be way too small to have an effect (other than preventing more radical action happening later).

    Better a spectacular failure today and a real deal two years from now.

  7. Ael: Make no mistake - two years from now the R's will have regained seats in the House and Senate and there will be no "real deal". The R's and their corporate masters will prevent anything substantive until the Chesapeake laps at their summer house doors. All we can hope for is that the deniers are right and there are self-correcting processes that will knock down the temp.

    But as for Copenhagen, don't worry, it will fail. The developed nations will not give the third world anything that will significantly reduce the First's economic advantage, while the Third won't be willing to accept slower growth if it means reducing emissions.

    We're happily willing to sacrifice anyone's pleasure, profit, and power except out own.

  8. Chief:
    I fear you are correct.

    A couple of weeks ago, the CBC had a climate scientist on the radio. He had returned earlier from a trip to the arctic in a Canadian icebreaker. He was there to measure the "multi-year ice" in the arctic ice pack.

    The plan was to steam up to the ice pack, go in as deep as they icebreaker would get them, get off and take measurements, etc. He went to bed the night before the satellite pictures told him that they would get to the thick ice pack.

    He woke up the next morning and noticed that the icebreaker was moving at 14 knots! This was practically cruising speed. What the satellite pictures had told him was multi-year ice was actually thoroughly rotten (like a lake thawing in the spring). They travelled more than 100km north looking for solid thick ice and didn't find any. They then turned right and went another 200 km east to a choke point between two Canadian arctic islands. All the time, they were travelling through what the satellite pictures told them was multi-year ice.

    I live (relatively) near the Columbia icefield.
    There used to be a big glacier near the road, now all there is is signs denoting the year that the toe of the glacier was last there.

    Today, one has to walk a long way to get to the ice.

  9. I've noticed that global warming (and cooling) predictions seem to happen a lot faster than expected.

    A very casual observation of predictions vs. observations indicates that the event seems to occur in about 1/3rd the time predicted (if somebody reputable predicts than an event will occur in 15 years based on their observations, it usually occurs in 5 years). It appears that the Chief is dead-on accurate when he says that we don't understand fully what we're playing with and the consequences thereof.

    Another aspect of this discussion is the reactions people have to the discovery that we don't know enough to accurately predict where this is all going:
    1. Some people (most here in the Milpub) say we should alter our behavior while continuing to study the environment. This seems to be the only rational course to me but I seem to be in the minority.

    2. Others, such as Fabius Maximus, argue that since we don't fully understand the problem we should continue to study the environment but not change our behavior. I find this attitude a bit bizarre but FM says that we shouldn't spend tremendous money and political willpower until we are SURE that we are causing a problem and that changing our behavior will fix it.

    On the surface this sounds reasonable but given how LONG it took to prove that tobacco caused lung cancer (and some people still dispute that theory) and how quickly the environment seems to be changing, I'd say this is predictably not a viable option.

    3. Many others argue that since climatologist's predictions aren't very accurate yet, we should ignore the whole issue and continue full speed ahead. The loudest voices for this course all seem to work for major companies that will be impacted by limiting CO2 so they aren't exactly objective about the issue.

  10. Pluto: The thing I find irritating about FM's attitude (which mirrors much of the position of the pithecanthropicene Right) is that there are some very simple solutions that DON'T require expending a lot of money or altering our behavior.

    Specifically, most people who study energy agree that reducing our emissions by altering the WAY we do things will produce an faster and more efficient drop in industrial gas release than changing the things themselves. Conserving energy brings a more immediate result than reducing energy.

    So upgrading energy efficiency (insulation, passive solar, construction materials) requirements for new buildings, offering tax breaks for energy efficient construction, providing (and mandating) the provision of insulation upgrade kits for homes.

    Aggressively organzing carpools, analyzing and adjusting bus routes to maximize ridership, congextion pricing, tolls and parking fees to discourage driving.

    Ending the moronic tax break for trucks and SUVs and transferring the credits to hybrid and energy efficisnt vehicles. In fact, if you REALLY want to talk reducing emissions, we need to adjust the tax deduction for dependent children! A major credit for one, a lesser one for two, and increasing penalties for each kid past two!

    Fabius seems to assume like many of the people in the audience for Beck and Limbaugh that the choice is between a First World lifestyle and living in a damn yurt. It's irritating in an otherwise smart guy like FM.

  11. Raising the price of carbon seems to be the best way to deal with efficiency. Accompany that with awareness campaigns about how much people are *spending* on energy will cause a lot of people to minimize their footprint (cause it saves them money, not for any "greater" purpose).

    The real trick will be to convince the Chinese and Indians to not burn as much coal as we do.

    If they adopt anything close to our (current) lifestyle then an SUV or two here won't make any difference at all.

    This inevitably leads to forcing the industrialized world to make *drastic* cuts and paying the rest of the world huge sums of money to *not* burn their coal. (And China has large amounts of coal).

  12. Nice thread Sheer-

    Here in Europe, there is no "debate" as to the connection between global warming and human activity, let alone that global warming is happening. . .

    Let me attempt to summarize what the European perspective is, without judging it's general effectiveness, and with the understanding that this is simply my view, the view of an American living in Europe:

    The EU is doing more against global warming than any other political body.

    Europeans accept that climate change is happening and that human activity is - at the least - a major cause of it. Global warming will present us with serious problems in the near-term.

    Global warming is only one of a series of interlocking environmental challenges we face.

    The EU puts a happy face on it, but most people who have a well-formed view believe that the changes are going to be radical, systemic, and wrenching. We will have to essentially re-think how we comprehend not only "progress", but "modern society". This leads to a good bit of pessimism.

    The US - especially under George W. Bush - has been seen as obstructionist and a negative influence in formulating concerted action. This is viewed as the result of corrupt political influence in US policy making. The view in general here in Europe, as reflected in my contacts, is that the US is part of the problem, not part of the solution. High hopes were placed in Obama, but actual changes in US policy are still waiting to be seen.

  13. "The real trick will be to convince the Chinese and Indians to not burn as much coal as we do."

    If our strategy is to simply ask these countries not to do it, it won't happen. If our strategy is to pay these countries not to do it, it won't happen. We will get the Chinese or Hindu version of "Piss off!" We have to give them an alternative that will meet their demands. It astounds me that after decades of working this problem, no one has the better solution than carbon based fuels yet.

    I know that there is a lot of money from private investors going this direction, the profit potential is enormous. Does anyone have any idea how much money the US Govt has given to research these technologies? It would be interesting to compare to how much money we've dumped into defense programs (which are money pits)and other causes compared to a potentially profitable venture like green technology.

    As stated earlier, I wish someone would propose a tax on gasoline and use that money towards the goals stated above. Someone just needs to grow a set of balls and make it happen, despite the polls or upcoming elections. Brazil pulled it after the 70's oil crisis, and now they are energy independent using ethanol.

  14. Might I add a fellow "Yank living in the EU" voice of agreement to that of Seydlitz.

    Here's an editorial published identically and verbatim in 50 major newspapers in 40 countries. Not only does it state commitment to doing something, it pretty much damns the years of GWB:

    Real progress toward one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of US domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

    But responsibility for one's actions is not the "American Ideal", unfortunately. I would offer an analogy that, while not as generally serious, points to American attitudes toward responsibility. I am very active in the largest international, English language forum of Vespa riders on the web - some 15,000 members of which well over 1,000 are quite active. I often post well crafted studies of fatal PTW (Powered Two Wheeler) fatal mishaps from all over the world. In the main, rider behaviors are the cause of 70% or more of these mishaps. Speeding is one of those behaviors. Yet, when a thread has the dangers of speeding mentioned, and the charts, graphs and studies are presented, the vast majority of US members simply change the subject to how it's so great to wear full protective gear all the time. Non-US members will directly discuss causative factors of mishaps and discuss that changes in rider behavior is key to fewer mishaps, while the majority of Yanks will either conduct a parallel discussion of armored jackets, gloves, pants and helmets, or argue that speed limits are arbitrary and set by "feel good politicians". Even when it is pointed out that valid studies classify "speeding" as exceeding these "arbitrary" limits, and thus even exceeding such limits are proven to cause fatal mishaps, few if any Yanks will admit to the dangers of speeding. They just promote protective gear even more, even though all gear other than helmets provide little of any protection against impact and crushing forces. You could mask a posting member's location and predict whether or not he is a Yank or not with 90% accuracy by simply looking at whether or not they poo-poo speed and or other rider behaviors that are proven to be fatal mishap causes.

    For some reason, there is a truly amazing refusal by Americans in general to take responsibility for their actions. Further, somehow our culture seems to think that any and all human violations are not violations until the violator has actually been caught. In the eyes of those committing offenses, and to a certain degree the entire population, it's not the violations that are wrong, it being caught that's wrong. Thus, we see those who don't feel that the potential for human impact on the environment should not be addressed until we are truly "caught" - - by a collapsing ecosystem.

    All kinds of NIMBY is the American way of life.


  15. Anybody notice that in the years between ~1995 and 2007, the EPA mileage estimates were no longer prominently displayed on the new car sticker? They were buried in the fine print. That auto commercials never bothered to mention feul mileage?

    It took the oil prices of '07 to bring that back.

    The thing that really bugs me about energy conservation is that even though it saves people money, they won't do it anyway! As Chief noted there are a lot of low cost and simple things we can do to reduce emissions. Most of them are simply improved efficiency and conservation.

    I think that efficiency improvements and cost savings from them are the only way to convince China and India to conserve. Better now as they start their industrial emergence than 10 years from now when they're entrenched in inefficiency.

  16. The thing is, without serious jack, the Chinese and Indians HAVE to burn coal to push their lifestyles anything close to ours. It's what they have, andthey want what we want.

    Part of the thing is that our lifestyle - the big house in the 'burbs, the Hummer, the "stuff" - is what these folks want. So long as we keep acting like there's no cost to having it, there's no reason for them to settle for anything less.

    But as Al points out, how are you going to convince Joe and Mary Lunchpail American to carpool, live in a tiny, energy efficient house, have 2 kids and ride a Vespa if the bulk of the benefit comes from convincing Ravi and Shri Chapatti and Tang and Mei-ling Ricebowl to do the same?

    Nope - we're gonna do the Sumerian thing and the Anasazi thing. We're gonna ride that fossil fuel horse until it dies, get off, look around, gulp and whisper "This sure is a big fuckin' desert, ain't it..."\

    Lucky buzzards - or cockroaches. They'll get to pick the bones.

  17. The written test for the Greek driver license has several questions that directly relate to ensuring the best possible fuel economy from a car. Tire inflation, tune ups, keeping air filters clean, etc. And they are included in the total that you have to get right to pass the test. The reason is to raise issue awareness. Do any of the US states do this?

  18. Al: None that I know of. Mind you, Oregon's test specifies that placing "rags and boards" under you tires are the best way to get out of a snowbank. No wonder we are such crap drivers in the white stuff.

  19. I'm not particularly in fear of climate change. The only really bad scenario is a change of the Gulf and North Atlantic currents; the Atlantic Ocean currents that raise Europe's temperatures above North Canadian levels. The El Nino inconsistencies are disturbing.

    Fighting climate change is kind of redundant anyway because it's mostly the same as saving hydrocarbon resources and using forest areas in a sustainable way. Both is advisable anyway.

  20. Chief-

    Of course, solar hot water heaters have been common for all socio-economic levels here for a couple of decades as well. But Europe has been doing energy saving for a long time in general. It's not just the "tree huggers" that do it, either. Of course, most neighborhoods in the US would not want those unsightly tanks and panels on their roof in the US.

  21. Sven: Again, as a geologist, I'm familiar with the concept of climate change. The Earth has seen a lot of it over the past 4.5 billion years or so and will again.

    What I'm in fear of is fucking around with the climate IN EXCESS of what the Earth does and not understanding what were doing or how. I feel the same way about GM organisms, remaking classic movies and having sex with people you pick up in bars. Some things are risky prima facie and should be approached like Dick Cheney with a loaded shotgun. Climate change is one of those things.

    And in case you've not noticed, it's many of the same people denying anthropogenic climate impacts whose attitude towards hydrocarbon resources is "drill, baby, drill" and whose attitude towards forest areas is "cut, baby, cut".

    Al: Actually, here in PDX we have a subsidy program for moving people off teh grid, either through solar or wind. But you're right about the NIMBYs - lots of people fight over the wind turbines and solar panels blocking their view, etc.

  22. In re: the while hoked-up "controversy" about the supposedly suppressed denialist science, Ezra Klein has a good summary of why this is utter nonsense.

  23. The thing to keep in mind here is that industrial society - in effect, about 70-80% of the societies on Earth at present, their social, political and economic arrangements, their location and population - developed during the present interglacial. Look at the social fallouts of even small climate changes such as the medieval warm, or the Little Ice Age.

    And we're talking here about potential changes on teh scale of the PETM. This isn't just "hotter summers and warmer winters". This is serious stuff, especially in the changes it will mean for the water budget over about, oh, 100% of the Earth.

    There are a hell of a lot of places that are closer than they realize to fighting over access to drinking or irrigation water or both.

    You like that? Just wait until your glaciers melt or your snowpack doesn't form...

  24. Chief, you make a convincing case that we are all pooched.

    As an esteemed armchair general, what advice do you have for the military establishment?

    What impacts will intense global warming have on our security? Is anyone taking obvious precautions? (like building a fence on the USA/Mexico border).


    Maybe the military planners have already been thinking about this.

  25. Ael, they are way ahead of you. To tie this thread to the previous, what do you think COIN is all about? Better yet, let's not use COIN, let's use the real catch phrase that you may not here much outside of military circles, "Irregular Warfare" or IW (note the Joint Pub from 2007).

    "Weak or failing states suffering from stagnant economies, corrupt
    political institutions, environmental issues, poor public health or epidemic
    diseases, or those that are caught up in multinational competition for their
    natural resources too often become hotbeds for conflict. This conflict in turn
    provides a nurturing environment, protection, and cover for insurgents and
    transnational terrorists. The competition for the contested populations within
    these weak or failing states will be one of the key objectives of IW."

    This is what the military is anticipating for their mission in the 2014-2026 timeframe. Note "environmental issues" and "competition for natural resources" being listed as primary causes of instability, and we all know what instability means. Bad guys who want to do us harm (or take the stuff that we need to feel good).

    This is what the military is planning on the future looking like, unstable regions of the world (those places we care about, and many places we don't) where the US military will be called to protect US interests as result of non traditional (Irregular) conflicts.

    How is that for tying climate change, national security and the previous COIN thread all into one neat ball?

  26. Ael, bg: Well, I'm just an old cannoncocker, but I'd say that if someone made me magic chief of the Army staff for a day, I'd:

    1. Immediately take all the "FCS" and the ballistic missile defense budget and declare a "Post-ICE Manhattan Project" to develop a post-petroleum vehicle propulsion system. This is the real weak link in all this supposedly "COIN" planning. You'd think we'd have learned from the mines along the MSR from KKMC or along the Khyber Pass. Our huge petrol logistical tail is a massive weakness, especially in the less-paved portions of the world.

    2. Begin the development of resiliant networking between the Army, federal disaster preparedness organizations, climatologists, water resource specialists, state and local governments to deal with resource-related social breakdowns.

    3. Organize "State Defense Forces" that incorporate the STARCs, state governments, utility companies, medical providers, police and a new organization that would recruit people whose job it is to do what the state Guard used to do: do internal defense in the states and disaster relief.

    4. Work with State to put some serious muscle in our diplomatic bag. We've put too much reliance on the Big Stick for too long.

    bg: The problem with this whole concept is that the only really legitimate places that this notion can be implemented are Canada and Mexico. The other "weak or failing states" don't have natural resources that are any business of the United States. To act as if they were is to act as if these states were colonies or possessions of the U.S., and we've seen how well that works.

    So Israel and Jordan fighting over the water in the valley of the Jordan River is the problem of...Jordan and Israel. We have nothing to gain getting involved in this fight and everything to lose.

    U.S. interests would be better served by making an early transition to a post-petroleum economy, as well as finding substitutes for other critical shortage resources such as minerals. Our oceans, navy and airforce make it nearly impossible for the "bad guys" to do us any serious harm, existential harm. They will compete with us for overseas natural resources, true, but so will peaceful competitors. To design our warfighting strategy around tussing with tribesmen over copper mines is to spend our declining years fighting the war of the flea...against the fleas. And as they say about wrestling a pig; you just get dirty and the pig likes it.

  27. Hmm, I'm not so sure that the oceans are as good a protection as you might like.

    Think 50 years down the road. Some starving nation might decide that a nuclear winter isn't such a bad idea. Especially if you can get rid of the biggest contributers of green house gasses at the same time.

  28. Ael: Nonsense.

    We, the Russians and the Chinese are the only patent-holders on "nuclear winter". The rest of the nuclear nations are either allies or have so few usable weapons that they would, indeed, cause a great tragedy - although not nearly the level of tragedy that we will see when one of the major strands of the San Andreas Fault transiting the LA Basin lets go - and would, in return, become a glass-encrusted wasteland for the remainder of Earth history.

    What IS this fucking obsession with some sort of ooga-booga scary brown invasion?

    Bush and his cronies feasted on it, as if in one moment 19 guys with boxcutters and tableware completely invalidated 200 years of Western Hemispheric history. We've been making bone-stupid foreign policy decisions around it since the Fall of the Soviet Union.

    I'm going to come up with some sort of "Let's Talk" post about this. We are in less danger, we have fewer existential threats - in the military sense - than any, ANY time in our nation's history. And yet, any time someone suggests this about 60% of the public wets the collective bed.


    No, Ecuador isn't going to throw a nuke at us. Indonesia won't release a biotoxin, and in the unlikely event that Hamas gets its hands on a submarine I'll bet even money that someone will try and go outside for a smoke while its at periscope depth.

    Our primary existential threats are to ourselves: we are rapidly burning through the available resources that power our industrial society without any real systematic attempt to determine how fast and how much remains. Our human capital is becoming debased, the truce that held our political and social fabric together in ways unheard of before 1945 is fraying. Our rich are becoming richer and less patriotic, our poor poorer and more desperate. One quarter of our children need government help to eat! Our feckless military adventures - that we are not even willing to tax ourselves to pay for - have sown more chaos than they have solved.

    And, perhaps the worst of all, we have fostered, or allowed, our national government to become a parliament of whores, sold to the highest bidders, as oligarchic and incestuous as any in history. They - and let's be honest and put most ofthe blame on the GOP, who simply choses not to govern while making the discourse so toxic that no one else can, either - cannot or will not address any of this, preferring to prattle about homosexual marriage and a nonsensical manufactured "controvery" about scientific e-mail ginned up by Fox News.

    I despair. I truly do.

  29. Chief:

    You mistake conditons in 50 years time for the conditions of today.

    Iran put up a satellite not too long ago and Richard Branson just unveiled his commercial spaceship. Rocket science is moving out of superpower monopoly status.

    Nuclear power is undergoing a resurgance. A case can be made that it has a smaller carbon footprint than coal plants. Iran isn't the only developing nation taking a serious look at nuclear power.

    I can see a *lot* of countries in 2060 having both rocket and nuclear technology. It makes them players. The differences in treatment between Iraq and North Korea are not lost on people.

    Finally, hungry people are desparate people.
    Look at where Syria and Iraq get their water from? Likewise Egypt, Pakistan. Bangladesh. Vietnam and Burma. And that assumes that China and India don't come apart at the seams, as the elites in one part of the country leave the peasants in another part to starve.

  30. Gosh darn you, AEL, you've stole my doom and gloom message. So all I can do is offer hope.

    In spite of the fact that alternative energy funding has dropped roughly 80% after indexing for inflation, I think we may well be okay in the long run. My favorite hope is Polywell Fusion (some links for you to look at:

    The fusion reaction they describe only produces electricity and easily contained, non-radioactive material. No gamma radiation that requires a 10 foot thick lead wall just to slow it down, no wastes that are radioactive for 250,000 years.

    This project has been going on since the 1920's but it wasn't until Robert Bussard attracted the attention of the US Navy (for submarines, I'd guess) that work really started taking off. They've built 7 experimental (and very small) reactors and have had their work peer-reviewed multiple times (no cold fusion here).

    Now there are two much larger plants scheduled to be completed by the Obama administration in March 2010 and March 2012.

    But even if this doesn't pan out, there are plenty of other options out there once we get our head out of the sand. Most of them aren't currently viable but you never know what will happen in, say, 50 years.

    In the late 1800's there was a similar scare because the world had become dependant on whale oil and we were running out of whales. That story has a much happyier ending with the whales still recovering.

    Yes, we're in a pickle right now. There's lots of naysayers who are preventing others from finding solutions. But time has a way of solving these problems and we still have some time.

    If you're still feeling glum then rent the "Back to the Future" series of movies. Hopefully they can make you smile where I haven't.

  31. Pluto, ael: It's well not to mistake coincidence for destiny - correlation is not causation, remember?

    The whole "whale oil" farrago is just that, nonsense. Petroleum was available well inside the 1850's, as was natural gas and kerosene. There was never a point where the "whatle oil" crisis happened. You are repeating something that Tom Delay told you to make you think that peak oil and climate worriers were fools. You're smarter than that.

    There were similar dire assessments of the horse manure problem in cities at the turn of the last century - and of course within 20 years the internal combustion engine solved both the manure and the buggy whip shortage issues.

    The difference between now and then was the invention of the ICE. As far as I can tell there is no similar "Mr. Fusion" (see, I know my Back to the Future, too) on the horizon. The combination of portable [potential energy (petroleum products) and compact conversion of potential to kinetic energy (the ICE) may well have been a one-off, freakish occurrance. Certainly to blithely assume that a similar technological leap will "save us" - as en excuse for doing no more than handwaving at our possible upcoming energy crunch - seems to me wishful thinking at best and criminal negligence at worst.

    And I'm sure you know the standard issues with nuclear power so I won't have to rehash why nukes won't "save us", at least not without creating some pretty massive problems of their own.

    And once and for all, having a handful of nuclear weapons doesn't make you a "player". It makes you a nuisance. Having nineteen suicide jihadis didn't make bin Laden a "player", either, and treating him like one has made us poorer and look a fool. I hope this is just us bantering back and forth. If U.S. policy is really being made based on the worry that someday Syria will sling a nuke at us we're in worse shape than I thought.

  32. FDC: As far as I can tell there is no similar "Mr. Fusion" (see, I know my Back to the Future, too) on the horizon. The combination of portable [potential energy (petroleum products) and compact conversion of potential to kinetic energy (the ICE) may well have been a one-off, freakish occurrance. Certainly to blithely assume that a similar technological leap will "save us" - as en excuse for doing no more than handwaving at our possible upcoming energy crunch - seems to me wishful thinking at best and criminal negligence at worst.

    If you follow the links included in my first message, you'll find that a reasonable facsimile of Mr. Fusion might not be all that far away after all. I've been following this story since 1998 when I stumbled across an Analog news article entitled "The World's Simplest Fusion Reactor." ( I'll admit that the math and physics are just a little bit beyond me but what I've been able to confirm seems promising.

    It seems that the guys who were first establishing the ground rules for Quantum Mechanics ignored some odd test results that their descendents might consider valuable some day (makes you wonder what else they might have missed that we might find useful). Fortunately the PT Farnsworth (one of several people who invented the TV) picked up their line of research and started playing with it in the 1950's.

    I'll admit that we aren't looking at an overnight replacement of all hydrocarbon power generators but just replacing the major electrical power generators with much cleaner and cheaper fusion reactors that don't generate radioactive waste would be a huge step forward and would probably lead us look for ways to replace other hydrocarbon motors (such as cars) with electric motors.

    If things go according to plan (and the last message from the scientific team and the DOD indicated that things were going better than expected for a change), the first fusion powerplant should be online by 2018 or so.

    Undoubtedly there are going to be setbacks and unexpected events that will make the road a bumpy one but I'm relatively hopeful that we will be able to reduce our oil consumption by 2025, which is a good thing because we are beginning to run out of easily drilled oil.

  33. Pluto: I hope you're right. Controlled fusion would be a terrific leap. However, my understanding is that the best we've been able to do so far - and this is after 50 years, mind you, since Farnsworth started playing with the idea in the 50's - is about 1.5MW of output power over about 1/2 minute.

    And don't forget that as of now the whole fusion process is dependent on fissionables - as far as we know self-sustaining hydrogen fusion isn't possible at sub-solar levels - which are themselves a limiting factor. Even the Wiki entry (and we all know about the limits of Wiki) brings this up: "Developing materials for fusion reactors has long been recognized as a problem nearly as difficult and important as that of plasma confinement, but it has received only a fraction of the attention."

    And this STILL doesn't address the real problem we're going to have sustaining our technic civilization. We're dependant on internal combustion for transport. The beauty of "Mr. Fusion" was that it could use banana peels and Budweiser to run a DeLorean (best use for Spud, IMO). We're still looking for the "next wave" in portable power technology. Like I said - there's no proof that the ICE/petroleum distillate leap wasn't a one-off. Useable solar batteries or micro-reactors MAY be 50 years off...or 500...or never.

    We don't know.

    But right now we are ACTING like the technological changes we need to sustain the Industrial Revolution are right around the corner.

    Here's the thing: I DON'T want to make this sound like Doom and Gloom and the End of the World. Humans are pretty tough and adaptable critters. I have some confidence that we can figure out ways around some, or even all, of these problems. My concern is that, frankly, I LIKE peace and security. I like our First World lifestyle. I'd like my kids, and their kids, to enjoy something similar.

    But at the moment we seem to be mesmerized, like the charmer's snake, by the waving flute-mouth of the "drill, baby, drill" and the "technology will save us!" school of thought. Despite the fairly obvious flaws in their thinking, we're not willing to make anything like a serious investment - let alone a serious attitude adjustment - in the idea that preparing now for a post-petroleum world or a PETM world might make those transitions less wrenching and horrible for the people involved in them.

    The way I see it, we can agree now to fund, promote, and try and figure out multiple ways around these potential problems. And ISTM that two good first steps would be:

    1. "Take our foot off the gas" by significant energy conservation measures, and

    2. Diverting some of those research dollars into SERIOUS alternative energy (especially portable-alt-energy) it the "Auto Engine Manhattan Project" if you will.

    Or we can sit back and let Malthus do it for us.

    I pick Door #1, and for the life of me can't see any humongeous reasons why not, other than it'd skinny up a few corporate pocketbooks and cause me a little inconvience.

  34. Chief-

    I think that for Yanks, there is a great fear that "Life as we know it will be altered" if we address the needs of the future today. We are talking about a society that doesn't blink at people with a life expectancy of 78 years taking out 35 year mortgages at age 60. "Buy now, Pay later" is not consistent with conserving today for a possible tomorrow. We are talking about a huge culture shift.

  35. Al: as we know it WILL be altered, whether we "do something" today or not. The amount of petroleum and fissionables is finite in human terms (this is, we can extract and expend them one to several orders of magnitude faster than they can be formed). The altertion is coming, the the only real questions are how soon, how great and how lasting.

    If the difference might be between having some degree of expectation of and control over that alteration or having the thing drop on us in ways we least like and can least adapt to it would seem that someone with a functioning hindbrain would prefer the former.

    Maybe I'm just not don't get it.

  36. Although upon reflection, Al, you're right in that people and societies in general are not well equipped for making short term sacrifices in return for long-term returns. After all, "in the long run we're all dead". What could be more irritating than making all those sacrifices and then the comet strikes the day after and it was all a waste?

    To me the most frustrating thing is just that we as a group (that is, those of us with the ability to make real changes in our societies) seem unwilling to even THINK hard about other possibilities than full speed ahead.

  37. Interesting. Here's Paul Krugman's take ( on why this is such a nuclear (pardon the term) issue for the Right:

    "First, environmentalism is the ultimate “Mommy party” issue. Real men punish evildoers; they don’t adjust their lifestyles to protect the planet.

    Second, climate change runs up against the anti-intellectual streak in America. Remember, just a few years ago conservatives were triumphantly proclaiming that Bush was a great president because he didn’t think too much. So they’re outraged, furious, at the notion that they have to listen to guys who talk in big words rather than sports metaphors."


  38. @FDChief:

    "I'm going to come up with some sort of "Let's Talk" post about this. We are in less danger, we have fewer existential threats - in the military sense - than any, ANY time in our nation's history. And yet, any time someone suggests this about 60% of the public wets the collective bed."

    Look at my Dec 6th blog post, it's related.

  39. Sven: Mmph. Saw that, and, yes, there's something pretty dysfunctional about our military policy discourse, and I will be the first to throw stones and say that the people who drove the discussion on the rocks were largely the people who wanted to fight land wars in Asia and had to scare the hell out of the rest of the groundlings to do it.

    That said, the Dems take stick because they haven't had the balls to call bullshit on this fear-mongering.

    In a related note, the House R's are sending a handful of their denialist goobers over to Copenhagen to try and swiftboat Obama. Jesus fucking wept.

  40. I’m going to gingerly comment here because I’ve found that debating climate change is kind of like debating abortion – it is usually a pointless and needlessly hostile exercise. But I will make a few general points.

    Most important, in my mind, is that there is a world of difference between anthropogenic global warming (AGW) “skeptics” and AGW “deniers.” Skepticism is a necessary part of science and it’s immensely frustrating to me to see many AGW proponents lump skeptics and deniers together and this isn’t just from people like Al Gore.

    Secondly, the many of the leading AGW scientists have shot themselves in the foot in their fight against skeptics and deniers through a lack of transparency. Specifically - and this is, in my mind, the real revelation from the so-called “Climate-gate” emails - they have purposely tried to keep data and the specifics on methodology hidden from all but like-minded scientists. Hiding data and methodologies from skeptical scientists is both counterproductive and unethical and the lengths the Anglia scientists went through to prevent releasing their data is pretty shocking. Good science depends on reproducibility, which is impossible without full transparency. Here’s a good piece by a respected climate scientist and a followup piece, and I agree completely with both. For me the policy implications demand complete transparency for all climate research. This is too important since trillions of dollars and the lives of billions are potentially on the line.

    Third, I see this as really a battle about policy and policy is where I am a big, big skeptic. Specifically, I’m skeptical of the direct linear assertion that policy to combat AGW is to control and curtain Greenhouse gases (GHG). The latest IPCC estimates, for example, indicate:

    The IPCC shows that to meet the maximum warming target of two degrees above the pre-industrial level with a reasonable degree of confidence, global emissions must peak no later than 2015 and be 50–85 per cent below the 1990 level by the year 2050.

    Well, there is no way in hell that is going to happen. That would be hard to meet even if every country was politically committed. I agree, and have said many times over the years, that we need to wean ourselves off oil, but that is going to take a long time and significant investment. Chief, I understand your point on “taking the foot off the gas” but I think the world energy economy is more like the Titanic than a car or even a truck. There’s a ton of momentum and inertia there. The point being is that if what the AGW folks are claiming is true to the degree they say it is, then it is already too late and our time, money and energy would be better spent readying the lifeboats and bracing for impact.

  41. Andy is right that Climate Change discussion is frequently (usually?) a screaming argument between true believers on both sides. This is not conducive to persuading anybody to believe anything.

    I once did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that showed that a 0.75% increase in the sun's output would explain everything we've seen so far. FM posted an article a while back from some solar scientists saying that they are seeing an unexpected 0.5% increase in solar output. Unfortunately, their science (as is the case with much of the science presented both for and against climate change) could not be verified.

    Andy is right that this really is a policy debate rather than a science debate. As FM points out, we've got about 120 years of decent, but incomplete, weather data. Compared with the geological time scales the world has experienced before we showed up, this is nothing. We really don't know what the true normal temperatures should look like, we'd need somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 years of data to establish a baseline.

    On the other hand, the people in favor of CC have an excellent point that if they are right, we've got to start doing something NOW.

    While Andy's analogy of the world energy economy is accurate, most of the AGW models indicate that the worst problems of Global WhateverItIs can still be mitigated by reasonably prompt action. To continue Andy's analogy, the Titanic doesn't have to hit the iceberg so hard and perhaps its waterproof compartments will be up to the task if we don't go full speed ahead.

    One big reason to adapt this strategy is that like the Titanic, we don't have near enough lifeboats for more than a small fraction of the people involved and I'm NOT going to willingly take part in an event that risks the more severe potential impacts of AGW.

  42. Couple of points here:

    1. The East Anglia "controversy" is a ginned-up bit of foolishness. The bottom line is that no one's data was concealed, no one didn't get heard. The contrary "evidence" was published and debated (and pretty thoroughly debunked).

    2. The problem with parsing "skeptics" and "deniers" finely is that the latter use the former. We've seen what happens when you let policy drive intelligence - this is much the same thing.

    3. Let's act like intelligent people and not Republicans. We have 120 years of "weather" data. But we're not talking about "weather" - we're talking about CLIMATE. We have direct climate data (pollen and oxygen/carbon ration data) in excess of 100Kya from the VOSTOK cores, and the fossil and palynological stratigraphic record goew back even further. We have some pretty damn good CLIMATE data back to the early Paleozoic. The whole "weather" argument is one of those Palin talking points, like the "whale oil crisis" stuff.

    4. To continue your analogy, Andy, you make my point for me. If the naval architect had crafted more watertight compartments, if yard had used better rivets, if the helmsman had given the wheel a tiny left-turn flick somewhere east of Iceland then when we even remembered it we'd be talking about the triumphant maiden voyage of the White Star's greatest liner.

    But by the time the lookout saw that lump of white stuff off the starboard bow no degree of emergency action was going to save those people. As Pluto points out - ain't no lifeboats for a planet.

    Again, my personal take is:

    a. We've already screwed this pooch, and we don't have the moral or political guts to try and unfuck it.

    b. The human race, resilient little monkeys that we are, still survives in the long run, but

    c. The process will be horrible for billions of those involved, and I can only hope that I and my children will be safe in our dirt homes before the worst of it.

  43. Pluto: Your note about solar energy is well taken - like I discussed above (and in my version of this post) - we KNOW that the Earth's climate has varied considerably more than it is right now. We think we approached a "slushball" or "snowball" Earth in the Proterozoic, and we've had several periods (most of the Mesozoic, for one) warmer and drier than today. So the notion that orbital eccentricity or solar radiation may be a factor here isn't out of the question.

    My point is this:

    1. We KNOW that CO2 is one of many gases that has an impact on insolation.

    2. We KNOW that since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution we've been pumping tons of these gases - the equivalent of a Krakatoa a month or so - into the atmosphere, so

    3. We'd be fools, or knaves, to try and pretend that this has had NO impact. The only question really is WHAT is the impact.

    4. The temperature gradient we're seeing over the past 100 years is as steep as that at the beginning of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. That even made some pretty big lifestyle changes on Earth, and that was before we had people whose lives depended on things like reliable crops and livestock. So the question we need to answer - NOW - is; "Are WE doing something to make this gradient so steep, and if we don't do anything what will happen, and CAN we do anything?"

    QED, thinks I. But clearly based on Andy's comment, YMMV. And Andy is the farthest, furthest, teeny tippy-toe of the "skeptic" element that ends with "drill, baby, drill" and the political erection of the Priapic Right.

  44. The bottom line is that no one's data was concealed, no one didn't get heard

    That is unequivocally false, Chief. Several scientists have been trying to get the raw data used by the Anglia scientists as well as the algorithms used to adjust the data for almost a decade and it's still not public. Without that data their work cannot be replicated and tested. The stolen emails show that the East Anglia scientists sought to thwart the FOIA process as much as possible to include deleting emails and other data to prevent release.

    It isn't "science" unless your work can be replicated and tested for soundness. Simple peer review of articles based on the research is not enough. Here's what Dr. Curry, the climate scientist I linked to above, says about this:

    Climate data needs to be publicly available and well documented. This includes metadata that explains how the data were treated and manipulated, what assumptions were made in assembling the data sets, and what data was omitted and why. This would seem to be an obvious and simple requirement, but the need for such transparency has only been voiced recently as the policy relevance of climate data has increased. The HADCRU surface climate dataset and the paleoclimate dataset that has gone into the various “hockeystick” analyses stand out as lacking such transparency. Much of the paleoclimate data and metadata has become available only because of continued public pressure from Steve McIntyre. Datasets that were processed and developed decades ago and that are now regarded as essential elements of the climate data record often contain elements whose raw data or metadata were not preserved (this appears to be the case with HADCRUT). The HADCRU surface climate dataset needs public documentation that details the time period and location of individual station measurements used in the data set, statistical adjustments to the data, how the data were analyzed to produce the climatology, and what measurements were omitted and why. If these data and metadata are unavailable, I would argue that the data set needs to be reprocessed (presumably the original raw data is available from the original sources). Climate data sets should be regularly reprocessed as new data becomes available and analysis methods improve.

    That sounds completely reasonable to me and it's important because the amount of AGW is completely dependent on data ajustment. Why? Because the raw data for the US, for example, shows a 0.1C rise in temperature over 100 years. After adjustments, the rise is 0.6C. The difference between the raw and adjusted data is similar for the rest of the world. So, how the data was adjusted becomes critically important to determining just how big the AGW problem is. Maybe they adjusted too much or maybe they didn't adjust enough - we don't know because the East Anglia people, among others, continue to refuse to release the data and statistical models used.

  45. I could refer you to the articles I linked to above and in my post on the subject. The East Anglia people were stupidly tricky, but they did not conceal or ratfuck any of the skeptic "research". The skeptics were presented at IPCC. Your scientist pretty much makes that point; the EA people were stupid, but a lot of that stupidity is what happens when politically loaded questions get thrown at science; the scientists get political.

    But Andy, you're straining at gnats and swallowing camels. The East Anglia people were stupid; everyone in the scientific community agrees on that.

    But they're not the only people doing climate research, and their work isn't the only one showing the trend they are following.

    And the real question here is, as in any good thriller: qui bono? What does it benefit the climate change community to be waving these red flags? They all depend on modern science, that is, modern industrial society, for their income. To be questioning our present course was almost suicidal when the present lines of research began. It's now being accepted academically, but compared to the money Exxon would pay me for working to prove that fossil fuel combustion DOESN'T affect the climate? Peanuts.

    I'm going to stop now because I simply have nothing more to add to this discussion. Copenhagen will not do anything, we're arguing about our own personal agendas while the rest of the planet goes on doing what is has been doing since 1800...and will continue to do for the forseeable future. It's a little depressing to watch as we find easons to lie on the couch eating pork rinds and watching football but, honestly? I never thought anything different.

  46. Well, Chief, my "own personal agenda" is that science needs to be open and completely transparent, particularly when there are trillions of dollars and the lives of billions on the line. The reluctance to release the data is only "feeding the trolls" and giving deniers traction.

    "Presenting the skeptics" at IPCC is meaningless when the public and the skeptics are denied the data and models needed to evaluate research.

    My personal opinion is that AGW is a real phenomenon and I do agree that the scientific evidence for its existence is very strong. What I think is much less certain is how much AGW there actually is since that is determined through data manipulation and statistical modeling. In some cases, judgments made by these models have incorrectly adjusted temperatures. Those issues, IMO, need to be resolved and resolved quickly, which shouldn't be hard to do with adequate transparency.

  47. Andy: you're right, and the scientists at East Anglia were wrong and stupid to do what they did, and I was wrong to use the term "personal agenda". I could make the excuse that my kids were combat-assulting my chair, but that'd be sleazy. I was wrong to descend to the personal and I apologize.

    I think that a bit part of the problem is how poor the proponents of the anthropogenic models have been at making their data and analytical methods explicable at the public level. I have a master's in Geology and I have a hard time understanding a lot of the assumptions they use in their modelling and the conclusions they draw from them.

    And as a "wet", I need to man up and join in the push to get people like the EA researchers to stop playing tiddlywinks and get their basic data out, warts and all. If nothing else, I owe it to my profession.

    At the same time, I would be less tetchy about this if the "drys" - the skeptics - would sit on the denialists harder. It's one thing to smoke-test a scientific hypothesis - it's another to find a piece of discrepant data and extrapolate it into a refutation of the entire hypothesis.

    I don't know who here is old enough to remember the scientific controversy surrounding plate tectonics. I was an undergrad right after Tanya Atwater published her "Implications of plate tectonics for the Cenozoic tectonic evolution of western North America" and got a whole bunch of geologic panties in a twist. We forget now, that PT is pretty much accepted as the primary theory of the driving force behind planetary geology that there were a LOT of people in geology who had developed beautiful ideas explaining mountain building, sedimentary basins (anyone else remember "geosynclinal theory" and "peneplanation"?), folding and faulting...and a lot of these guys never did accept tectonics except grudgingly. Atwater was lucky, in that a lot of other people were doing good work in the field that supported her conclusions AND there was no real political opposition to her ideas. Otherwise she would probably have met the same fate as Harlan Bretz, ostracized by the "uniformitarian" orthodoxy for thirty years. Tectonic theory never did win over some of the denialists; geology just changed one death at a time.

    But Bretz is a pretty good poster boy for NOT accepting AGW as "fact". We all (geologists, that is) were convinced that because the bible-belters fought us for six generations over The Flood that to accept that there WERE Floods (not The Flood, but giant floods nonetheless) was to open the floodgates for Catastrophism.

    But Bretz was right, and we now understand that geologic process have their "punctuated evolution" moments, too, and we can still defend our ideas against the Fred Flintstone (caveman DID TOO live alongside dinosaurs 'cause God made 'em that way!) denialists.

    The point here is to figure this thing out. Again, it makes fundamental sense that we're doing something to our atmosphere. Certainly we're doing it to the rest of the Earth - strip-mining the oceans for fish, changing plant and animal communities wholesale...our industrial emissions almost HAVE to be having some effect on the planet.

    But we need to understand how much and in what ways before we can figure out if we can change things without dislocating the global economy and precipitating worse short-term problems than the long-term ones we solve.

    If reducing emissions brings on a catastrophic world economic slowdown, political fragmentation, war and rebellion we'll be in no better position to appreciate the cooler world we mean to create.

  48. Thanks Chief, but no apology necessary - I didn't take that as an offensive comment at all.

    At the same time, I would be less tetchy about this if the "drys" - the skeptics - would sit on the denialists harder. It's one thing to smoke-test a scientific hypothesis - it's another to find a piece of discrepant data and extrapolate it into a refutation of the entire hypothesis.

    That's all true and it was really the oil companies and their rabble-rousers that got the ball rolling on politicizing this whole mess.

    That's a really good and interesting comparison with plate tectonics. I vaguely remember some controversy about that - thanks for all the details.

    On climate change, one thing that bothers me is that our country isn't doing more to get good, accurate temperature data. Although temperature sensors have been upgraded, they are still manually read, entered into a paper logbook, which is sent to NOAA monthly. Many of them are located in horrible locations simply because the station requires a caretaker who can monitor and log everyday. We've have the technology to deploy many more sensors than we currently have and automate them so the data is sent directly to NOAA electronically. We could put them all over the place to get a much better idea of what's going on in North America for relatively little cost. That seems like a no-brainer to me.

  49. Good discussion, all, although I'll be the first to admit that I have a hard time following you smart fellows. You all—particularly the Chief—should perhaps consider that when you're wondering about the inability of the overwhelming majority of folks to "get it."

    This is why I think folks such as the Chief, the ones who "get it," are making a huge mistake when they shrug off the controversy surrounding the Anglia emails. Various smart folk can try to mitigate those guys' actions until the cows come home, but the reality is they got caught with their pants down. They done fucked up and mankind may suffer as a result. Shame on them, and shame on all of the rest of the smug, smart scientists who serve up hanging curveballs to the Limbaughs and Palins. And that goes for Al Gore, too. I wonder if he knows how many times guys like me have gotten emails from people who (1) just don't like him (and he is unlikable) and (2) enclose photos of his 42K square foot house in Tennessee. These emailers are good: they even know how many lights burn at the Gore residence. Bottom line message: Gore wants you and me to sacrifice, but he doesn't intend to himself.

    How long have humans had serious civilizations? 7K, 8K years? How many years has it been since climatologists and others have been sounding the alarm about climate change caused by humans? The first I recall hearing about it was when aerosol sprays were singled out as bad something like 30 years ago. So maybe its 50 years. ISTM we have a situation now where mankind, which has spent thousands of years building civilizations, making technological advances and generally improving things while also killing one another, is told beginning just a blink of an eye ago that everything we ever did was bad.

    Yeah, right. And you guys wonder why people are skeptical. Haven't you learned yet that the American people distrust and immensely dislike many of the various elite groupings in the nation? And that the Jane Fonda "China Syndrome" grouping is one of them?

    Don't get me wrong. I'm convinced about AGW. Plus I'm upset that we Americans can't seem to make any headway in weaning ourselves off petroleum products. These are really no-brainers to me. However, because I understand politics, economics, sociology and psychology, I know why we don't get anywhere. I may be a scientific dumb-ass, but I know my American people and my American politicians. And I know that so long as these issues are viewed as "elite" issues, they won't get any traction.

    People in the rest of the world respect elites. They don't here, unless they're sports stars, rock stars or movie stars. Sleazy rich guys are OK, because everybody with money is an "elite" in the US. Technology guys who make big bucks are elite, too. But scientists? Shit, Watt, Curie, Pasteur, Salk, Edison and Bell wouldn't even make it onto the Late Show. Maybe Einstein.

  50. Publius: However, because I understand politics, economics, sociology and psychology, I know why we don't get anywhere.

    Absolutely, but I would offer that the sociology of American culture drives the train of the other three. Politics is a manifestation of our culture, not a shaper of it. I was reading an article about the "Tea Party" movement and the fragmentation it suffers by the very nature of it's populism. It came to me that it is almost as if they want all the "benefits" of anarchy, but don't have the courage to live without someone in charge to run the show as they want it run, lest their fellow anarchists implement something counter to their will. It is this sociological schizophrenia that makes our culture so dysfunctional. An egocentric culture cannot accomplish sociocentric goals.

    It would be interesting to delve into why the "elites" that charm the masses in America are so different in nature than most of the world. Because they are not a "threat"?

  51. Al,

    Interesting comment about the tea party movement. It kind of reminds me of the abortive "reform party" that began under Ross Perot which, like a bright shining light or a piece of shit (depending on perspective), attracted all sorts of little bugs. IIRC, it was Pat Buchanan that finally wrested leadership which, of course, doomed the party.

    As for our elites, my perception is that we are much more factional here than elsewhere (particularly Europe) and I suspect that parliamentary systems are better able to handle factionalism than our system which prevents more than two parties from forming.

    There's also the economy. I don't think average Joes and Janes are worried about AGW when they are unemployed or lack job security.

    Like many topics with regard to our government I'm cynical that anything will get done until we are at or over the precipice. Our elites don't seem to care one whit about our nation's fiscal sustainability unless it can be used as a politically expedient hammer to beat the other faction. Hell, maybe that's the "solution" to AGW - the implosion of the federal government and the collapse of the world economy.

  52. Publius: Me, too! (see above) "I think that a bit part of the problem is how poor the proponents of the anthropogenic models have been at making their data and analytical methods explicable at the public level. I have a master's in Geology and I have a hard time understanding a lot of the assumptions they use in their modelling and the conclusions they draw from them."

    And as for your conclusions about scientists and their disconnect with the public, ever since the 60's the American public has been running away from "intellectualism" like it was the clap. The days when NASA was the ideal and every kid wanted to be a rocket scientist are looooong gone.

  53. The days when NASA was the ideal and every kid wanted to be a rocket scientist are looooong gone.

    Was watching CNN this AM while getting dressed for church. They had a piece on the transportation industry and environmental stewardship. Seattle-Tacoma Airports recycling program was spotlighted. Pretty thorough approach, including using the used oil from the various food operations to make bio-fuel. They airport spokesperson said, "And we save a few hundred thousand dollar a year by doing all of this".

    WOW - SEATAC can save almost half of what's paid as a bonus to one of the lowest earning Wall Street brokers. You know, the bonus that's awarded for taking risks that ultimately failed and tanked the economy!! Perhaps that's an insight to how f*%ked up our national priorities have become?

  54. Just found that 120% of Americans have an opinion about whether scientists falsify research to support their own theories on global warming.

    Truth is stranger than fiction.