First things first :: prioritizing the world's problems
June 3, 2004 1:53 AM   Subscribe

The Copenhagen Consensus is Bjørn Lomborg’s latest agenda-setting enterprise. Eight top economists (of which three are Nobel laureates) were asked to rank 32 of the world’s challenges using cost-benefit analysis and estimation of importance. The resulting ranking suggested that the HIV/AIDS epidemic be prioritized first.

As always with Mr. Lomborg (previously discussed here, here and here), the whole enterprise was surrounded by controversy, and triggered a counter conference, The Copenhagen Conscience, and earned him the privilege of getting likened to Hitler by a high-ranking UN official
posted by AwkwardPause (25 comments total)

 
I'm confused. The challenge link indicates that there are 32 issues up for ranking. The results and main site mention 10 challenges and 17 projects.
posted by Gyan at 2:26 AM on June 3, 2004


"For some of the proposals, the panel found that information was too sparse to allow a
judgement to be made. These proposals, some of which may prove after further
study to be valuable, were therefore excluded from the ranking."

posted by AwkwardPause at 2:32 AM on June 3, 2004


Ah. Thanks.
posted by Gyan at 2:35 AM on June 3, 2004


Despite my loathing of Bjorn Lomborg, I have to admit that is an interesting list. The clear focus is on direct, short-term human issues, which is commendable.

The interesting thing to think about, however, is whether you value short-term human needs, or long-term planetary stability. Processes like accelerated species extinction rates and vegetation destruction are, at the very least on a local scale, undeniable and unavoidable. And although the phrase "we needs more research" is repeated like a mantra, the odds are stacked against humans being unable to influence the climate. It is clear, however, that these sorts of issues won't appear on an economist's report that focuses on short-term human needs (and easily quantifiable needs only - not emotions, beliefs, history). It is legitimate to ask why should we care if a species of parrot goes extinct, when people are dying of AIDS? But some people, myself included, believe these issues are important for the future. Despite being a scientist, I can't avoid personal feelings that it wouldn't be worth being free, healthy and well-fed on a sick planet.
posted by Jimbob at 3:00 AM on June 3, 2004


"Despite being a scientist, I can't avoid personal feelings that it wouldn't be worth being free, healthy and well-fed on a sick planet."

I'd take that over being enslaved, sick and starving on a healthy planet any day - despite being a scientist.

Snark aside, Jimbob, I kind of agree with you.
posted by spazzm at 3:12 AM on June 3, 2004


I can't help but being fascinated by the fact that the summaries are sponsored by Denmark's two biggest breweries.
posted by spazzm at 3:18 AM on June 3, 2004


Having a quick look at the climate change report I can't help but notice that they can't economically account for reductions in biodiversity, cultural losses (e.g. cultures being wiped out by flooding, submersion, etc), social impacts, and more pointedly even the economic benefits of stimulating new technology through the huge investments that would be made in same, plus the positive feedback this would have on the costs of emission reduction. There's no way to account for comparative human suffering across the scenarios. Essentially they are all about trying to put a cash value on everything and disregarding stuff that they can't easily assign a value to, rendering the conclusions largely meaningless.
posted by biffa at 3:33 AM on June 3, 2004


For all the shit he gets, I really like Bjorn Lomborg. His views are definitely going too far in one direction -- that of underestimating social and aesthetic values of environmental quality. Right now, however, much of environmentalism is of the religious "let's save the cute fluffy bunnies of we'll all DIE!" variety, and it't be nice to have it more more toward the middle.

I the fuzzy bunnies and pretty trees, but I also like healthy economies and saving human lives first.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 5:06 AM on June 3, 2004


The funny part is that by likening Lomborg to Hitler for "[thinking] of people like numbers" you're kind of casting a wide net. By that criteria, economists, statisticians and politicians are all "like Hitler." When dealing with large quantities of people you do need to assume that they're approximately equal in order to make any sort of calculation.

In fact, it seems to me that it would be far worse for the economists in question to make value judgements ranking one group of humans above another. By it's nature, quantitative analysis will prefer "the many" over "the few."

Some people in this thread are commenting on the lack of priority assigned to environment effects (externalities in the jargon) but the position in the paper is correct; the costs are (unfortunately) pretty high compared to the benefits.

As for a "cash value" it doesn't have to be cash value, I would imagine they've stuck to analyzing the benefits in terms of declining utility. The good thing about that is that declining utility will lean towards helping people in poorer countries, since they will see a higher marginal benefit, initially.

(Put another way, one extra dollar means less to someone in the United States than to someone in the Congo, but eventually, the last extra dollar will mean about the same.)
posted by aubin at 5:07 AM on June 3, 2004


Lomborg challenged, in an article in the Times, George Monbiot to respond to his assertion that the cost of cutting carbon emissions is larger than the cost of global warming. This is Monbiot's response in the Times (in full):
Dear Sir,

Bjorn Lomborg challenges me to respond to his contention that the cost of curbing carbon emissions is comparable to the cost of global warming itself, and that the money would be better spent elsewhere. He hardly makes it difficult. His methodology and his presentation of the figures are both profoundly flawed.

Lomborg begins by deliberately choosing the most optimistic assessment of the likely damage caused by climate change, and the most pessimistic estimate of the expense of minimising it. This latter figure appears to count the costs but not the economic benefits of investment in new energy sources and energy-efficient technology. Some estimates suggest that the transition to energy efficiency could result in a net gain rather than a net loss to the global economy.

But Lomborg’s more important mistake is to assume that we can attach a single, meaningful figure to the costs incurred by global warming. If there is one thing we know about climate change, it’s that it is a non-linear process, whose likely impacts simply cannot be totted up like the expenses for a works outing to the seaside. Even those outcomes we can predict are almost impossible to cost. We now know, for example, that the Himalayan glaciers which feed the Ganges, the Bramaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the other great Asian rivers are likely to disappear within 30 or 40 years. If these rivers dry up during the irrigation season, then the rice production which currently feeds over one third of humanity ceases to be viable, and the world goes into net food deficit. If Lomborg believes he can put a price on that, he has plainly spent too much of his life with his calculator, and not enough with human beings.

Reading Lomborg’s work, it is hard to reach any conclusion other than that he is telling the powerful what they want to hear, irrespective of the real costs to everyone else.

Yours Sincerely,

George Monbiot
posted by talos at 5:27 AM on June 3, 2004


Lomborg's apparently well-funded effort is designed to seem quite reasonable and humanitarian.

But - as far as I can see - he solicited the opinions of a small number of professional economists about questions outside of their professional purview.

So - I hate to be blunt - this project is a PR stunt and a crock of shit.

That doesn't mean that all of it's recommendations are invalid.

What it does mean is that Lomborg - acting absurdly outside of HIS professional purview as a statistician - presented these 8 economists with HIS assumptions about the state of the World as well as likely trends in the natural world (Climate Change, Biological Diversity, deforestation, resource depletion, and so on.) and then asked those economists to make recommendations (based on Lomborg's assumptions).

There's a slight problem here - Lomborg has been roundly condemned by most of the leading researchers in every single field that he presumes to speak for.

If Lomborg were making an HONEST attempt, he would have invited a wide spectrum of input - from leading researchers in their respective fields - for the generation of those assumptions which were then fed to the professional economists.

So his enterprise is fundamental flawed (and corrupted, in my opinion, at the onset)

But there is another, fundamental absurdity here :

Orthodox economic theory has net yet widely acknowledged the fact that the human economy operates within a larger economy, that of the natural world.

Without the atmosphere's warming effect, the Earth would be about 60 degrees Fahrenheit colder at sea level - and that atmosphere is generated by plants, which produce oxygen and also pull down CO2 from the atmosphere and so prevent planetary overheating. The major constituents comprising our atmosphere are all mediated and cycled by planetary life - Oxygen, H2O, CO2, Nitrogen. [ That is just the crudest outline - the picture emerging from studies of such cycling is vastly complex. ]

Those are the greatest of the biological services - the sine qua non of all human life even - that humans and their "economies" rely on.

Further, biological life is increasingly believed to have a moderating effect on weather and climate. This is "weak" Gaia Theory - in which the coevolution of species supports overall conditions which are beneficial life.

This picture - which has been gaining currency among biologists, ecologists, climatologists, and in related fields - is currently largely foreign to orthodox economists.

This will continue to be the case until "economics" acknowledges the fundamental dependence of human life on the services of planetary biological life overall.
______________________________________________

That, in long, is a wider reason why Lomborg's stunt amounts to propaganda.

Thought Experiment :

Supply Lomborg and his eight economists with a limited stock of food, water, and air and - also an unlimited light source and a stock of plants which will supply them with food and replenish their air stock. This is a very, very crude "biosphere". That original stock, plus the "farm" will compromise their "economy" over which they will have to make recommendations as to the allocation of priorities - who gets to consume how of that limited stock, how to manage the "farm", and so on.

Those eight economists, along with Lomborg, will be placed in a very large Bell Jar and lowered to the bottom of the sea.

: One economist among them argues that - according to his theoretical models - economic optimization demands utilization of the farm plants, for their cellulose and fiber, to make comfy mattresses for the group to sleep on at night.

Do the other eight follow the recommendation ?

Or do they eat that economist and so widen the margins of survival for the rest of the group ?

posted by troutfishing at 6:01 AM on June 3, 2004


I don't get why malnutrition isn't #1--it shows up as #2,5,11 and 12, and is very cheap to fix, no? (expecially compared to the expensive drugs needed for control of HIV/AIDS--which is an odd choice of words--control--given that prevention is much much cheaper)
posted by amberglow at 6:10 AM on June 3, 2004


Recent Wired interview.
posted by shoepal at 6:32 AM on June 3, 2004


HIS professional purview as a statistician

Actually Lomborg is a political scientist, but he did teach statistics to aspiring young pol.sci.'ers (me among others) before the environment thing started off.

It's funny how many titles are attributed to him (mathematician, statistician etc etc, and I note that he even calls himself an associate professor of statistics), but as far as I know, he's a political scientist, earning both his M.Sc. and Ph.D. in pol.sci., albeit with a focus on rational choice theory, economics and statistics.
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:34 AM on June 3, 2004


Lots of ad-hominems and touchy-feely arguments here that fail to refute the basic human point: people are dying now, and they can be saved, if priority was given to immediate crises with short-term solutions, rather than insanely expensive proposals to counter hypothetical disasters far in the future.

As environmentalists constantly point out, we live in a world of limited resources. Why is it controversial to try to set some priorities for how we spend our resources, and focus on the things that can make a real difference in people's lives? Economists rightly insist on trying to measure the costs and focus on the practical consequences.

The only substantive point made in this thread about global warming is Monbiot's argument that "If there is one thing we know about climate change, it’s that it is a non-linear process, whose likely impacts simply cannot be totted up like the expenses for a works outing to the seaside. Even those outcomes we can predict are almost impossible to cost." In other words, we can't predict what's going to happen with the climate, but it's certain to happen. This makes no sense.

If you can't quantify it, it's not science yet. Climate theory is currently in a pre-scientific state that cannot make falsifiable predictions, but people are using the current theoretical models for political purposes. I've already asked several times on MeFi for someone to link to a scientific paper on global warming that does not include the words "potential", "possible", or other non-scientific weasel terms that highlight the fact that we simply can't make any predictions about climate change with our current state of knowledge. No one has ever responded. Global warming is a theoretical model, while people dying of AIDS and malnutrition is a quantifiable fact.

The history of environmentalism includes a lot of very successful practical initiatives, such as the Clean Air Act, the introduction of catalytic converters, and the cleaning up of the Great Lakes. It also includes an ongoing strain of hysterical doomsday scenarios designed to spark media controversies. I believe that the latter actually prevent us from focusing on the former.
posted by fuzz at 7:07 AM on June 3, 2004


AwkwardPause - Thanks for that correction. Pretty soon, Lomborg will morph into a noted expert on many issues, I predict, and will be granted a slew of honorary degrees to chain to his wagon as he blazes his trail of glory.

Any observations on Bjorn, the man? What makes him tick?

amberglow - good point. I suspect those famed economists are a bit disconnected. Just a guess, that's all.

I wonder about the underlying politics of the funders, although I think Lomborg has become widely known enough to perhaps attract non-partisan funding.

But this still seems to me to be a dog-and-pony show.

On another note :

The case for prioritization of a world transition to post-fossil fuel energy sources (mentioned in Talos' post a few comments up) can be made quite irrespective of the dangers of Climate Change and the now widely recognized potential threat of Sudden Climate Change (which would be catastrophic) :

World reliance on declining fossil fuel stocks represents a major onrushing flash-point for the conflicts of the 21st century.

It is rather unlikely that the US would have spent 120 billion dollars to invade and occupy Iraq without the incentive of Iraq's enormous oil resources. US troops have not invaded and occupied the Sudan or the Congo to prevent human rights abuses and instill democracy. Iraq must be special, eh?

Is is sobering to think of how far that 120 billion dollars would have gone in addressing many of the very deserving priorities outlined in Lomborg's list - and a number of priorities ignored and slighted by the list as well.

Another point about the "economic viability" of addressing Climate Change : the argument that it's "diseconomic" to promote a shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources seems bizarre to me for the facts that

1) the apparently fast approaching world oil supply crunch - that point when we hit the world Hubbert's Peak for oil and then world oil production starts to decline and countries (including the booming Chinese economy) vie for diminishing oil stocks.

2) The considerable sums allocated by the US and other governments to subsidize the oil, coal, and nuclear industries. (tens of billions US$ in the US per year, for example - leaving the vastly expensive Iraq gambit out of the picture)

3) The fact that many types of energy - some of the most benign forms such as wind power, even - are within a hair of the kilowatt hour cost of the dirtiest power source - coal.

4) In the year 1998, about 300 million people worldwide were driven from their homes by climate disasters. Much of Bangladesh was under 3 feet of water.

The human and economic costs of climate destabilization have grown steadily in the past several decades. Between the decade of the 80's and that of the 90's, insurance payouts from climate disasters in the US grew tenfold, and the world's major re-insurance companies (who insure the insurers) have grown increasingly concerned and outspoken.

Further, disturbing feedbacks between local environmental degradation and overall climate destabilization can amplify the effect of storms and droughts - as the growing toll from flooding and mudslides in Central America and South American and the Carribean illustrates. In Haiti, very recently, the combination of deforested, denuded hillsides and heavy rains combined with deadly results.
posted by troutfishing at 7:09 AM on June 3, 2004


(My dear Fuzz)

"If you can't quantify it, it's not science yet." - well I guess that de-legitimizes the countless scientific fields which rely on calculations and experiments involving probability....like a lot of modern physics or even - for that matter - many now routine industrial processes such as the manufacture of hard disk drives (which now employ effects derived from the principles of Quantum Physics).

Are you serious ?

Your argument is specious for the fact that the only difference between climate modelling and countless other scientific experiments involving probabilities is that we can't actually run numerous parallel world experiments. We don't have countless, identical worlds to toy with.

Just this one, and we're in it.

__________________________

"Climate theory is currently in a pre-scientific state that cannot make falsifiable predictions" - Popper's "Falsification" principle has been recognized to have some major inadequacies, but if you go back and re-read what Popper actually wrote (rather than continually trundling out "Falsification" as a talking point, you'll find that Popper makes some exceptions for cases in which the running of actual experiments is inherently impossible.

Popper was no fool - he would not have limited science in the way you want to.

______________________________


"Lots of ad-hominems and touchy-feely arguments here that fail to refute the basic human point: people are dying now"

talking point #1 : assert ad-hominen attacks and "touchy-feely" arguments (please do define that one - in logical terms) and insinuate that those who differ from your position are opposed to basic human wellbeing.

"if priority was given to immediate crises with short-term solutions, rather than insanely expensive proposals" ( insanely expensive ? - fossil fuels are insanely expensive now even leaving Climate Change completely out of the equation, and wind power, per kilowatt hour, is now close to the cost of coal - and adding in the substantial health and environmental costs of coal shifts the balance in favor of many renewables, I'd assert. Are you an apologist for the government subsidy of fossil fuels ? Do you believe in the Free Market ? ) "to counter hypothetical disasters far in the future." - So, I guess you'll be dumping that insurance policy on your home, eh? It's crazy to plan for the future based on risk assessment, right ? For that matter, why the hell do we need auto or health insurance ? Live in the moment :

Eat ! Drink ! Be merry !

________________________

".....hysterical doomsday scenarios designed to spark media controversies" - Like the Ozone Hole ?

Care to go and hang out on the tip of Tierra Del Fuego for a month of clear, sunny days without sunblock, or a hat ?

[ Don't forget to take out a catastrophic health care insurance policy, though, which covers the removal of malignant melanomas.

You might just need it. ]

You can watch the waves roll in and also study all the animals who've been blinded by the high UV levels as they stumble about and bash into things.

_______________________

"In other words, we can't predict what's going to happen with the climate, but it's certain to happen. This makes no sense. " -

Let me, then, clarify the issue.

Hop in your car (if you have one), get on the highway on a flat straight grade, and - assuming the motor is powerful enough - press the accelerator pedal to the floor and hold it their to see how fast your car will go.

You may be lucky - your tires may be up to your terminal speed , somewhere between 100 and 140 miles per hour.

But, maybe not. So - if one or more of your tires (or all four, like James Dean) blow out, will you car then :

1) Flip end over end.

or

2) Roll over and over ?

And, further, will your car fly off the highway to the left, or to the right ?

When it does, will it burst into flames ? Or not ?
posted by troutfishing at 7:53 AM on June 3, 2004


Since it is easy to make mistakes in the long run, the society should emphasize creating strong feedback loops, so that we can learn from the past. The simplest solution is education. Also, the kind of projects evaluated here are difficult to analyze because we do not have enough data, knowledge and scientists. Thus, another reason to consider education.

What do they have for education [pdf]:

"The panel considered proposals to improve the provision of education in developing countries. It agreed that in countries where spending on education is at present very low the potential exists for large benefits in return for modestly increased spending. However, the institutional preconditions for success are demanding and vary from case to case. Experience suggests that it is easy to waste large sums on education initiatives. Given this variety of circumstances and constraints, the panel chose not to rank any proposals in this area."

I could argue that money get wasted on all big projects, for example AIDS/HIV research is not focused on finding the cure, but to understand the process. Anyway, it seems that institutional preconditions are important. Let's see what they have there:

"The experts considered five proposals for improving governance in developing countries. While agreeing, as already noted, that better governance is very often a precondition for progress of any kind, the panel thought it inappropriate to include four of these proposals in their ranking. This is because these reforms involve costs of implementation that will differ greatly according to each country’s particular institutional circumstances. The experts felt they had too little specific information to make a judgement about what those costs might be. The panel did however express its support for the proposal to reduce the state-imposed costs of starting a new business, on the grounds that this policy would be not only enormously beneficial but also relatively straightforward to introduce. This proposal was placed ninth in the ranking."

Governance, which is very close related to "institutional preconditions", still depends on "institutional circumstances". At least they could have done a better job summarizing their findings.

Trying is the first step toward failure! So, do not even try! [/Homer]
posted by MzB at 8:18 AM on June 3, 2004


trout, you and I agree on a lot of things. Subsidies to the oil industry need to be phased out, and more priority given to alternative energy. You're also right that control of the worlwide oil economy is still likely to cause a lot of ugly conflict. And I would put the Ozone Hole in the category of a model that proved it had successful predictive power, which justified the cost of banning CFCs. It was a pragmatic success based on economic arguments, not a doomsday scenario.

On the other hand, it's more fun to disagree:

I think it's a bit funny that you agressively question the funding and biases of a study that concludes that the world shoud spend more money on fighting AIDS and malnutrition. Lomborg did deliberately provoke a lot of the controversy surrounding him, but the ad hominems of his opponents (who don't seem to spend much energy actually refuting the substance of his conclusions) very quickly reached a point where no one can reasonable discuss what he is actually saying. And the fact is that everything that you read that talks about global warming is propaganda for one set of interests in the debate.

As for current weather patterns, that kind of argument is why I'm so sceptical of the global warming hypothesis. We simply don't know whether the current temperatures are within the natural range of fluctuation of Earth's climate, especially in the short time periods we can actually measure. Bangladesh has always had catastrophic floods, and mudslides have always killed people living in poor, densely populated villages built on hillsides. Statistically, for any particular place, almost every year there's a week that is the coldest/warmest/rainiest in several decades.

You just can't use every freak weather incident or unexplained trend as evidence that something special and unprecendented is happening. The entire climate change argument is based on the idea that current trends, if they continue for several decades, can be extrapolated via untested theory into a catastrophe scenario. But for that theory to be valid, it needs to at least correctly explain past climate fluctuations. No one can explain why there was global cooling in the 60s and 70s, or why sunlight levels reaching the Earth have been declining recently, so why do people put so much faith in our current models' predictions for the long-term future? It was only this year that a computer climate model was first able to reproduce the behavior of a hurricane. And none of them have made any testable predictions about the past or the future that can be checked to see if the model works correctly beyond a few years.

Probabilities are quantifiable predictions, they just need more cases to test them. That's why medicine is science that predicts behavior about a complex system, with quantifiable and testable rates of error.

In your car story, we may not be able to predict whether the car will burst into flames. But if we advocate spending several trillion dollars on a flame-proof car, we might first want to figure out how often a tire blows out -- quantify the risk. You say you can't measure that, because the car hasn't run the course yet? Go get the past runs and see if the frequency of blowouts can be predicted based on your theory.

You say you can't do that, because you're predicting an unprecedented kind of blowout? Your argument could just as easily be used to justify paying several trillion dollars for a car that has protection against a meteor strike. You've just lost your ability to say that you're certain there's a terrible risk.

A key part of Popper's theory that you're ignoring is that theories stay for a while at the status of theory, until someone finds a way to provide evidence that the theory has predictive power. If you can't find a way to do that yet, because you don't have enough observations, that doesn't mean that your theory is false, it just stays a theory, alongside "intelligent design" and string theory.

Get rid of Popper's cycle of theory-prediction-testing, and the only way that science has to justify its claims is to say that the theory sounds elegant or that "scientists agree". That either gives you "creation science" or Lysenkoism. Your argument that "climate change is a scientific fact, those who disagree like Lomborg have suspect motives, we can't actually predict anything from our models but we don't have to in order to know they're true" is exactly what provokes my skepticism. Show me a climate model that can explain the last 50 years of data, and I'll change my mind.
posted by fuzz at 9:43 AM on June 3, 2004


fuzz - That's an honest response - I'll get back to your comment later on (I'm pressed for time at the moment)

One quick comment though, re - "But if we advocate spending several trillion dollars on a flame-proof car....."

Well, I'm not advocating that but - rather - shifting government subsidies away from the fossil fuel industry, to level the competitive playing field. That's the first, logical step that Free-Marketers and environmentalists should be able to agree on.

Hard-headed US nationalists might go further yet and argue for positive subsidies to the alternative energy industry, to foster US energy self reliance.

Much of the entire "Climate Debate" itself can even be construed as one big, fat red herring for the fact that most CO2 emissions represent, really, monetary waste which can be profitably wrung out of the system.

In other words, carbon reduction is likely (even at this stage) good capitalist practice - and it will be increasingly so in the future.

Less fuel : more work : less C02 per economic unit produced.
posted by troutfishing at 12:13 PM on June 3, 2004


Yeah, carbon reduction is good capitalist practice and good foreign policy, but it can't happen overnight. The "trillion-dollar flameproof car" is Kyoto, which set unrealistic targets, left out the countries that are going to generate the greatest growth in carbon emissions, and was based on unscientific scare-mongering. Even so, Bush was politically incompetent for repudiating it in the way he did, especially since there were escape clauses built in that made the accord toothless.

The real solution is going to take a lot more time. Ending subsidies to the oil industry is going to hurt a lot of people in the US as gas and heating oil prices rise towards European levels. And political battles against entrenched interests generally take a generation to sort out.

Worse than that is the problem of producing, distributing, and using alternative energy on a large enough scale to make a difference. It took 100 years to build the current network of power generators and oil refineries, gas stations and oil heater repairmen. Alternative energy may look attractive in small pilot projects, but we haven't even begun to understand how to build a national energy system around something other than fossil fuels. Until something else has proved its ability to work economically in some niche applications, there's no way to even design a project to significantly reduce our dependency on oil.

On the other hand, there's a lot of waste in the current system, and high oil prices will help drive it out and make alternatives more attractive. Already, sales of SUVs are dropping this year, and high oil prices generate political pressure on OPEC to increase production.

So I think the sorry truth is that we can't just decree an end to the fossil fuel era as Kyoto tried to do. We have to work on creating the incentives and testing real projects for alternative energy over the next few decades. The climate change red herring distracts from the real work that needs to be done.
posted by fuzz at 4:03 AM on June 4, 2004


.. "Show me a climate model that can explain the last 50 years of data, and I'll change my mind.

Someone can probably produce such a model, but only because the last 50 years of data are known and thus the model's parameters can be tweaked. This report on clouds shows how far away we are from a model that really works.

"Enric Palle, of NJIT, added: "Our most likely contribution to the global warming debate is to emphasise the role of clouds in climate change must be accounted for, illustrating that we still lack the detailed understanding of our present and past climate system to confidently model future changes."

That sort of humility and common sense is refreshing.

As a European can I tip my hat to the diplomatic triumph that Koyoto represents for the US. You never intended to adopt it and yet you have cunningly saddled your major competitor with horrifying additional cost and administration which will significantly reduce our economic power whilst yourselves escaping scot-free. Nice one.
posted by grahamwell at 6:00 AM on June 4, 2004


A model that can explain the last 50 years of data, from the environmental radicals at NASA.
Another study over the same time frame, this time about changes in sea temperature, by the eco-crazies over at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
posted by talos at 9:09 AM on June 4, 2004


The Economist has an article about this. It answers some of the questions above.
posted by MzB at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2004


Thanks talos, those look very interesting. Unfortunately, from the way the press releases are worded, I can't tell whether they have actually modelled the fluctuations over the last 50 years (some of which involve cooling periods) or just the overall long-term warming trend. It's worth noting that the magnitude of changes predicted over the next 50 years by the first model doesn't justify a doomsday scenario.
posted by fuzz at 4:24 AM on June 7, 2004


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