Monday, December 02, 2019

Ron Bailey and Jonathan Adler on Climate Change

Reason magazine has been among the mild climate skeptics for decades, but Ron Bailey is now more convinced there could be a serious problem. He has been trending that way for a while. Jonathan Adler's article sounds even more dire, but his tone in the headline and at the beginning is a bit of an oversell.  Adler's conclusion is more measured than that.  My own position has long been that I am convinced there has been slight warming, and I think the scientific consensus for that opinion is considerable.  Serious researchers, though they are generally more concerned than I am, are less willing to commit to statements that human-created changes are most of or even a large part of the problem.  They are even less willing to commit to the idea of imminent catastrophe.

I am not any kind of expert, and in such matters rely on something I am more skilled at: who is fighting fair, who is overselling what their own data says, who is acknowledging appropriate doubt and caution. I don't listen to people who reflexively say it's all a scam, and I don't listen to people who insist that imminent catastrophe is beyond question.  In the current milieu, anyone who isn't disavowing Greta Thunberg loses credibility points with me quickly.  We all like to have everyone we can on our side and don't like to kick even allies, but some things are beyond the pale. She is a frightened, sick girl who does not understand that her feelings of dread are not evidence of anything but her own state of mind - and perhaps the state of mind of those around her.

Adler doesn't come near that.  He spends a lot of time explaining the controversies among the researchers and why some are more concerned than others. A major problem in the past is that the models predicting catastrophic change in the past have not had a good record when they fed the data from 1990 or 2000 into their models and compared it to what actually did happen later.  Those hindsight models are slowly getting better. A few of the researchers leak out a WE HAVE TO ACT NOW AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT YOU FOOL panic in spite of themselves, but there is very little of that in a longish article. Nothing like we see in the corporate press. I don't know if it is actually a fair summary, as it's not my field, but it looks like what a reasonable argument should look like. No name calling or secret sneers, respectful language for all sides.

He now believes there is a small but greater chance of catastrophe than he did before, catastrophe being defined as longer droughts, more hurricanes, more extreme weather in general.

It  moved the dial for me slightly.

4 comments:

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: Serious researchers, though they are generally more concerned than I am, are less willing to commit to statements that human-created changes are most of or even a large part of the problem.

Actually, the available science indicates that humans are likely the cause for all or nearly all of the current warming trend. See Meehl et al., Combinations of Natural and Anthropogenic Forcings in Twentieth-Century Climate, American Meteorological Society 2004.

Assistant Village Idiot: I don't listen to people who reflexively say it's all a scam, and I don't listen to people who insist that imminent catastrophe is beyond question.

You might want to listen, even if you assign a high discount value. When people are ignored about impending problems, they tend to hyperventilate or even exaggerate. That doesn't mean their underlying point is wrong, which should be evaluated on the merits. On the other hand, some people try to minimize the problem.

"Quick! There's a fire! Ring the alarm or the whole town will burn down!"
"The town never burned down before."
"That's because we always ring the alarm and put out the fire before it does!"
"What's the hurry? We can put it out tomorrow."
"Aieee!"

Assistant Village Idiot: A major problem in the past is that the models predicting catastrophic change in the past have not had a good record when they fed the data from 1990 or 2000 into their models and compared it to what actually did happen later.

Model projections have been generally within their margins of error.

Assistant Village Idiot: A few of the researchers leak out a WE HAVE TO ACT NOW AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT YOU FOOL panic in spite of themselves

Sure. Early action is important.

The fact is that humans are highly adaptable, and will continue to adapt regardless of global warming, even prosper. However, there will be social, economic, and ecological damage due to global warming. To minimize the damage, and reduce the cost, requires action sooner rather than later.

Bailey is correct that it is a problem of the commons, and that pro-market people need to be part of the solution.

Keep in mind that this is just one of many challenges humanity is facing, and will face in the future; the breakdown of the global political order, growth of social control, genetic modification, etc. Resolving the easier problem now will free humanity to address the more difficult problems later.

Unknown said...

I like Adler's article for the focus on doing sensible things in response. So many supposedly green mandates, programs, and regulations are actually counterproductive.

The Ethanol motor-fuel mandate is one thing that might have seemed sensible at one time, but that's unsupportable now. A cellulosic-ethanol breakthrough would have been great, but I don't expect it any time soon.

I've had scientists who were highly competent (in their own field) aghast when I countered eco-energy MW claims they believed from green-activist press with simple concepts like "Capacity Factor". Ontario is just about at the point where any additional solar or wind would lead to an inevitable increase in CO^2 output -- something has to be ready to come online at night and when the wind isn't strong enough keep the turbines spinning. Sensibly sited wind and solar are great, and when widely distributed have other advantages WRT grid capacity compared to large single-point generators. Supplying the grid without nuclear and/or fossil fuels is in the near-term a pipe-dream, and the EPA "new source review" has in practice blocked more efficiency-increases than it has fostered.

DirtyJobsGuy said...

Recall that very recently within human history New England was under a mile of ice. The timing and detailed causes of ice ages is still not well understood (my daughter is a geologist who did some research in this area so I’ve kept abreast). An ice age in todays world would be catastrophic in ways that are not comparable to warming scenarios. So if humans can really affect huge climate changes then why not direct them? After all who asked us to vote on the climate we want? Sometime around 1952 was picked by greens since that was about the time human CO2 emissions started to rise rapidly. The criteria seems to be something we do is bad while emissions from volcanos and other natural causes are bad. Research is a good thing but pursuing a pre-determined result is not science and bad public policy.

Grim said...

I'm willing to believe that it could be a problem, but I also believe that there's a relatively easy solution: injecting ablative material into the upper atmosphere via weather balloons and hoses. We can keep as much of the solar energy out as we want, if it becomes important to do so. It's basically an artificial volcano, which have been shown to result in temporary global cooling; and the stuff will fall out of the upper atmosphere in a few years, so if we put up too much by accident it's not a huge deal.