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New at Reason: All this week, Ron Bailey takes the temperature at the COP9 Conference on global warming.

NEXT: "Trial By Ambush"

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  1. “Even the alarmist report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change concluded that the world can tolerate a rise of up to 2 degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels.”

    Not that I agree or disagree with any of the findings mentioned (that is the IPPC report or its sunmmary, etc.), but this is a fairly slimy way to make an argument.

    I do find it interesting that one of the main tools of the anti-global warming crowd is their willingness to use such words as “alarmist,” “doomster” (Julian Simon used this term to paint Meyers in their debate), etc., without actually demonstrating that these people really display said qualities. Its a cheap debate tactic that allows you to avoid demonstrating your claim by taking the focus off the argument and debating the qualities of the person/group. In this way its a bit like the term we discussed in an earlier post – that is “self-hating Jew.”

  2. BTW, the heart of the uncertainty in the global warming debate is directly due to uncertainty about feedback loops (e.g., clouds). And the models – despite Bailey’s attempt to skew the argument to his corner – are as uncertain on the positive feedback loop side as the negative feedback loop side (positive and negative referring to radiative forcing).

  3. More evidence that solar activity is the cause of observed global warming:
    http://www.newscientist.com/hottopics/climate/climate.jsp?id=ns99994321

    It was baffling before, since a more active sun shows more sun spots, which are cooler. But as it turns out, the energy total from the whole sun during these solar active periods is increased and the energy increase in the non-sun spot areas more than make up for the greater number of sun spots.

    You can bet this science won’t give pause to the pro-Kyoto crowd. If we did consent to restrictive controls on humanity, you can imagine a writer, a thousand years from now:

    How sad. Those primitive people of the 21st century adapted government regulations which resulted in lowered living standards in the affluent parts of their world and significantly shortened life spans in the poorer regions, all because they misread solar phenomena and acted on that misreading.

  4. Is there an anthropogenic effect on climate? Of course there is.

    Is it the the primary (or even substantial) proportion of the effect on climate? At this point, we really don’t know.

    Given the above, what should be our course of action? The Kyoto treaty is certainly not the correct answer (kyoto is *not* about the environment in any real sense, it is really only about politics, mostly concerning jealousy of the developed nations). Firstly, any solution that does not require equitability from all parties is already fundamentally flawed. If (and this is a *big* if) anthropogenic CO2 is the proximate cause of climate difficulties, then all parties must reduce that emission, *no* exceptions, period. Additionally, *all* methods of CO2 reduction should be included in the agreement.

    Secondly, if all the costs of attempting to address the issue are greater than all the costs of doing nothing, then we should do nothing, no matter how good it may feel to do something. Right now, there is no consensus (in either camp) for what the costs of either action may be.

    If there is a meaningful solution to human caused environmental issues, that solution *must* incorporate improved technology, increased freedom of trade across all borders, and meaningful short and long term goals (in terms of reductions, transtions to cleaner methods, etc.) that apply equally to *all* parties.

  5. Whether or not we agree that climate change is a problem, there is a very large and growing movement worldwide that is committed to addressing the issue in a very big way. As Ron points out, the governments of 100 countries have signed on to Kyoto.

    The real concern is that the only policy solutions being discussed could create worse problems than any problems they are intended to address. Rather than debating whether or not climate change is happening, or to what degree it is happening, the real debate should be about the effects of the proposed solutions like Kyoto.

    One thing that is certain is that nobody can be certain about what the future climate of the world will be. But because the momentum to address this issue politically is so strong, the challenge is to create momentum around alternative policy solutions to Kyoto that can both address potential climate change challenges and promote economic prosperity, technological progress, freedom, and other positive goals.

    It would be great to see folks that view the world from a perspective of Reason help advance a positive agenda that can address climate change concerns without destroying economies and thwarting progress.

  6. I really don’t give a crap whether its fair or not to characterize a report and its authors as “alarmist” or whatever. I only care if its accurate. If the shoe fits. . . .

    Because increasing CO2 levels will work as part of a positive feedback loop that adds to that increase in avg. temperature; that would be my counter-argument if I were representing their side.

    The response is, of course, what feedback loop, if all the warming can be accounted for by solar activity?

    As Ron points out, the governments of 100 countries have signed on to Kyoto.

    I wouldn’t confuse the action of governemnts who will either be unaffected by Kyoto or who will profit from it as evidence of a worldwide movement to do something about climate change. I see it as evidence that many governments (not to be confused with the citizenry, of course) are willing to give lip service to any proposal that serves their self-interest.

  7. R.C. Dean,

    “I really don’t give a crap whether its fair or not to characterize a report and its authors as ‘alarmist’ or whatever. I only care if its accurate. If the shoe fits. . . .”

    Which would of course require that Bailey would give us some reasons for calling it alarmist; as I recall, he did not. Where a metric for judgment is not presented, I will judge against the “name caller.”

    The response is, of course, what feedback loop, if all the warming can be accounted for by solar activity?

    Because it is known that increasing C02 in the atmosphere will likely lead to positive radiative forcing sooner or later; so even if all the warming is due to the sun (a claim which I am highly skepitical of) positive feedback loops can arise from such, and rising C02 concentrations could potentially only exacerbate this problem by increasing the temperature on their, and also creating their own positive feedback loops. Of course its also just a good damn idea to decrease air pollution because such will bring about a lot of non-climate benefits; more effecient technology will do this, as long as its creation is not discouraged (and I do think that governments discourage its creation, sometimes wilfully and sometimes not).

    Re: Kyoto – as I wrote earlier, even as one believes that we are in a human induced warming trend (60%-70% likelihood), I view Kyoto as a mistake and a dead-end and a wrong answer. And I am glad Russia is not signing on to the agreement

  8. Venus is covered by clouds that obscure its surface so much that it had to be mapped by radar. Its surface temperature is hotter than Mercury even though its clouds reflect most of the incident sunlight. This is due to the greenhouse effect of its 90 atmospheres of CO2. Also, recent studies indicate that during the Cretaceous Period, the CO2 content of the Earth’s atmosphere was something like 2000 ppm and oxygen comprised ~30% of the air (compared to ~20% today). Also, the atmospheric pressure was higher. Also, there is evidence that in the distant past, the Earth may have been completely encased in ice and a greenhouse effect was what eventually thawed it out. Point is, the Earth does crazy stuff all by itself, without human intervention. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

    Mr. Dean, I think it’s somewhat disingenous to say that solar activity is responsible for almost all global heating (except for a small percentage that arises from A) the Earth’s natural radioactivity, B) heating from meteoric material that is constantly striking the Earth, and C) frictional heat dissipation as the crust, mantle and core experience somewhat differential rotation). Of course it is, who can deny that? What we as a species alter is the global heat capacity, i.e., the ability of the planet to retain its heat. That is to say, it doesn’t really matter if the sun is 5% hotter or 5% cooler; what matters is whether the Earth re-radiates heat at the same rate it receives/ generates it, and what the overall “average equilibrium temperature” is, i.e., the heat balance.

    I put “average equilibrium temperature” in quotes because, while it is a convenient way to encapsulate a concept, it is fairly inaccurate in terms of thermodynamics and the physics of heat transfer. For example, radiative heat transfer is proportional to the fourth power of the temperature difference between the radiating object and its environment. Nevertheless, this concept is apparently the one being utilized in these reports.

    I would also like to point out that economic forecast models are probably at least as erroneous as meteorological ones! Who can predict how robust the carbon-free energy industry would be if Kyoto were enacted? Economists, by and large, are not engineers or (physical) scientists and really have no idea what may be technologically possible. Simple trend extrapolation is a useful tool only for evolutionary changes. It is utterly useless for predicting revolutionary changes (not that there are any useful tools for this).

    Not that I think that any of this means we have to do the Chicken Little routine and jump into Kyoto. Personally, however, I find any increase in temperature disheartening. I like it cool (North, to Alaska!)…

  9. The reductions called for under Kyoto are not enough to eliminate the problem we’re faced with. However, they are significant enough to require major advancements in technology, industrial processes, regulation, etc., that will lay the groundwork for much greater reductions in the future. As with drug research, the first pill costs $200 million, the second costs 8 cents.

    The linear extrapolation of temperature increases that Bailey clings to like a life preserver is an attempt to impose a static model on a very dynamic phenomenon. You don’t think the coming industrialization of China and India is going to change the variables we’re dealing with? Or maybe the increases that have happened over the last century might change the physical and chemical nature of the atmosphere? Nah.

    The German report says that humanity can endure a 2 degree increase. What does this mean? Without economic harm? Before our species goes extinct? Something in between? Don’t expect Bailey to tell you. The knots you’re tying yourself in to hold your indefensible position are fraying badly, and it’s really starting to show.

    Oh, and Rick? “lowered living standards in the affluent parts of their world and significantly shortened life spans in the poorer regions” Not to mention, if we require catalytic converters on automobiles, there will be no automobile manufacturing in America by 1975. You anti-environment chicken littles need to have a little more faith in the ability of American industry to adapt.

  10. The Merovingian:
    Characterizing the report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change as “alarmist” is NOT the same as calling the German Advisory council on Global Change “alarmists” or “anti-Semites” or any other name.

    Baily is not committing the fallacy of the Ad Hominem attack here and taking the focus off the argument because the report is part of the augment.

  11. Rick Barton,

    Actually many models that I’ve seen try to account for a more active sun; and your arguments could actually bolster the arguments of those you oppose.

    Re: potential future costs of global warming (if such is actually occurring) – I’ve seen estimates of potential costs of around 1%-1.5% of yearly GDP in the developed world and 6%-9% in the developing world (small island states being the most potentially fucked places). That’s with a rise of ~2.5 degrees, BTW.

  12. make that”…is part of the argument”

    Excuse me please.

  13. Rick Barton,

    I see, so the report created by a group is alarmist; that still paints the group as alarmist, or at least a group which creates alarmist documents all the same. Your counter-argument boils down to semantics in other words.

  14. But,if solar activity is the cause of global warming then there is no utility in restricting human activity. So, how can this play into the pro-Kyoto crowd’s hands?

  15. Conversely I have seen reports of the costs of holding CO2 at 1990 levels over the long run to be around 1%-2% of GDP. If this is the case, and there really is only a 2.5 degree increase, then maybe doing nothing is the best option. 🙂

  16. Rick Barton,

    Because increasing CO2 levels will work as part of a positive feedback loop that adds to that increase in avg. temperature; that would be my counter-argument if I were representing their side.

  17. Rick Barton,

    That’s the problem with climate modelling; its so incredibly complex that any number of scenarios is possible, even with the best that science has to offer.

  18. Yeah really; research into even faster super computers was spurred by the needs of climate modelling.

  19. Rick Barton,

    I see that as one of the main benefits of the concern over global warming actually; it has spurred the development of ever faster and robust comuting systems.

    My position is that global warming is likely occurring (that is my best guess as it were), but that the Kyoto treaty is attacking the problem in the wrong way. They are taking the most painful, difficult approach first – outright banning – when they should be adopting much less painful (even painless) measures. Technology and cultural changes are the things that will beat this, not Ludditism, and its technology and cultural changes that need to be sought. Neither requires coercion.

  20. joe,
    Since Kyoto is a real threat to liberty and prosperity and the difference between it and a requirement for catalytic converters (did people really say that about the auto industry?) is not comparable…so I don’t think your “anti-environment chicken littles” label is empowered by the contrast.

  21. I see, Rick. “We were wrong about the economy being wrecked by the ESA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Wetlands Act, OSHA, etc etc etc. But Greenhouse Gas reductions will REALLY wreck the ecnonomy. We know we’re right this time.”

    BTW, I oppose Kyoto as is because it lets China and the developing world off too easily.

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