Friday, February 09, 2007

Trying to stay away from big red buttons

This is just to expand my comment on Marco’s blog to make it, with any luck, a bit more obvious what I was trying to point out in my ham-fisted way.

Let us consider a series of questions, corresponding to different degree of ‘skepticism’ between ‘contrarian’ and ‘fanatic’. As you answer ‘yes’ to each question, you move closer to the position of the High Priesthood. It is their goal to sweep you onward from the question to which all sensible people would answer ‘yes’ to the question to which no sensible person would answer ‘yes’ on a wave of emotion, without stopping to think.

Q.1: Is the average surface temperature of the world increasing?

Those who would answer ‘no’ to this question might rightly be called ‘contrarians’ in a pejorative sense.

Q.2: Is this rise in temperature caused by human activity?

Those who would answer ‘no’ to this question are what you or I or Joe Q. Public would reasonably call ‘Greenhouse skeptics’. They are almost certainly wrong.

Q3: Is this rise in temperature a bad thing?
I don’t think anyone has seriously attempted to address this question. The answer ‘no’ is assumed by the High Priesthod and attempts to introduce the question are ridiculed on RealClimate. Most industrialised nations spend more energy on heating than cooling; most of the world has greater death rates in winter than summer; longer growing seasons and ice-free waters are clear bonuses for regions far from the tropics. Closer to the equator, common sense, extrapolation from ice age pollen data, and what tenuous experimental evidence exists suggests that the mid-latitude desert belts will shift towards Los Angeles, Santiago, Cape Town, Madrid, and Melbourne- which are well-off enough to cope with a bit of desertification- and away from Ciudad Obregon, Asuncion, Lusaka, N’djamena, and Tennant Creek- where more arable land would be welcome.

Q4: Should we try and stop this rise in temperature?
Or, would it make more sense to adapt to it? A degree of adaptation will be absolutely inevitable in any case, as we have absolutely no means whatsoever of stabilising the temperature at the status quo short of a nuclear winter. We could do our best to predict what climate would be like in the extreme scenario where the carbon dioxide bands are completely saturated, and plan for that. I have previously argued this at some length and pointed out that regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate change are regions that are particularly vulnerable to unchanged climate, anyway. Let’s get people off those marginal rangelands and marshy coasts: they are not good places to live.

Q5: Should we marginalise technical solutions to stopping this rise in temperature?
There seems to be a kneejerk response by the High Priesthood and their followers to sneer at technical solutions. You can see the lips curling when you read what they write. Whatever tinkering around the edges might be achievable by technical advance X, Y, or Z, we have a moral duty to change our lifestyles and adopt proscriptive social-engineering solutions. Even that guy I heard from the Wentworth Group, which is supposed to be a group of scientists, when he came to speak to a graduating class of scientists at Devil Bunny City University, only talked about political, social-engineering, Neo-Stalinist solutions.

8 comments:

Jenny said...

If I answer no to the first question, do I have to answer any of the others?...or have I died and have to start over?

(I ask because I'm one of those people that tries every combination in a choose your own adventure story)

Marco said...

I want to argue about number 5. You tend to use too broad a brush on what you perceive to be Social-engineering solutions. Carbon-trading (like water allocation trading etc.) to you are ways to manipulate society through market mechanisms to get a result. I see them mainly as enablers and funders of technical solutions to the perceived problems. It is hard to fund research on a water saving device if water is considered free.

Dr. Clam said...

Yes Jenny, you don't have to answer any of the other questions if you answer 'no' to the first one. Though this does mean we will pester you with data :)

And I guess, Marco, I could add another one, before or after Q5, to address the High Priesthood's antipathy even to carbon trading: 'Should we eschew market-driven mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions?'

Jeff R. said...

Shouldn't 2 be more likely "How much of this rise in temperature is due to human activity?" Because there's a lot of space between "none" and "all" on the map...

Also, how about 3.5: Can we do anything to stop this rise in temperature at this point if we tried?

Marco said...

I am starting to think you should really get in and start that science blog you were talking about. Realclimate advertises itself as a science blog, but it doesn't distinguish between statements of science and statements of opinion (or evangelism for that matter). And you can say this is how a science blog should be!

Dr. Clam said...

I guess I must have been showing my own biases in leaving out 3.5, since I take it for granted that under the guidance of sufficiently clever scientists, our species can do anything! But it is a good idea. There isn't any hint of ambiguity in the questions since I wanted to frame them all as 'yes/no' questions that had to be answered 'yes' to arrive in a particular place.

Dr. Clam said...

I guess I must have been showing my own biases in leaving out 3.5, since I take it for granted that under the guidance of sufficiently clever scientists, our species can do anything! But it is a good idea. There isn't any hint of ambiguity in the questions since I wanted to frame them all as 'yes/no' questions that had to be answered 'yes' to arrive in a particular place.

Dr. Clam said...

I was just thinking, this post really should be expanded into a book.
A coffee table book, with lots of glossy photographs of thirsty sheep and icebergs and suave scientists with their sports cars and stuff.

Hmm, the best funding mechanism I can think of to self-publish is a pyramid scheme- who wants to buy in at the top?