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Global warming skeptic changes his mind
January 16, 2007 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Global warming skeptic Ronald Bailey--Reason's science correspondent, adjunct scholar at CATO and CEI, and editor of the 2002 book Global Warming and Other Myths: How the Environmental Movement Uses False Science to Scare Us to Death--has changed his mind.
posted by russilwvong (92 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank Gad John Stossel remains a voice of reason. That dude's totally a thorn in the side of the liberal media.
posted by hank_14 at 10:49 AM on January 16, 2007


That's nice.
posted by keswick at 10:49 AM on January 16, 2007


Hm. An actual, detailed, thorough mea culpa. Wonders never cease.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:52 AM on January 16, 2007


Yeah, well if all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? (Okay, perhaps not the best analogy...)
posted by Roger Dodger at 10:55 AM on January 16, 2007


In all seriousness, as more of the deniers make the choice between looking insane and admitting being wrong (and I think Bailey does a nice job of negotiating this choice in the piece), can the mainstream media start having a serious debate about what we should do about it rather than the absurd and idiotic debate over whether or not it's real? With the rumor flying that Bush is going to "get religion" on global warming (doubtful, but hope springs eternal), maybe this would be a stellar time for, say, a newly mobilized party to make the environment a massive point of their legislative agenda, if and when they ever get back into power. Oh wait...
posted by hank_14 at 10:57 AM on January 16, 2007


Same time as Exxon Mobile, what a surprise...
posted by delmoi at 10:59 AM on January 16, 2007


Interesting timing with the IPCC report coming out in February.
posted by stbalbach at 11:05 AM on January 16, 2007


Same time as Exxon Mobile, what a surprise...

Look at the date on the article, and read the last paragraph again...
posted by Slothrup at 11:05 AM on January 16, 2007


Ron's a smart guy. It was only a matter of time until he came around.
posted by waldo at 11:08 AM on January 16, 2007


ExxonMobil has been a supporter of the Reason Foundation. Folks at the foundation confirmed when I called yesterday that the company has donated a little over $250,000 since 2000. The company's latest contributions were $10,000 in 2003 and $20,000 this past January. The last contribution poses a possible conundrum for hard-line corporate conspiracy theorists because it arrived about five months after I declared, "We're All Global Warmers Now." I would suggest that ExxonMobil supports the Reason Foundation because my colleagues robustly defend the free enterprise system.

That remains to be seen, doesn't it? Wouldn't the more Reason-able thing be to track how Exxon's investments in foundations shift if at all as less of them become willing to deny global warming? I.e., how many more articles like this does he think Reason can publish before that number drops to zero and stays there, despite the fact that they continue to "robustly defend the free enterprise system" in other ways?
posted by The Straightener at 11:09 AM on January 16, 2007


ayeh.. now only about 5 - 10 years before the US actually does anything about it... maybe.
posted by edgeways at 11:10 AM on January 16, 2007


News for Ron Bailey: Not all whores are paid.
posted by nofundy at 11:15 AM on January 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


Someone must have stopped paying him.
posted by interrobang at 11:18 AM on January 16, 2007


Whoring is really more of a barter system.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:22 AM on January 16, 2007


"Follow the money" is often pretty good advice when evaluating the source of information, but in the think tank and public policy magazine realm money tends follow opinion, rather than the other way around.
Chicken, meet egg... egg... chicken.

So, he is admitting that as long as they spew what ExxonMobil wants to hear they'll keep paying them? In other words, the cause is not Exxons money, but what they print and effect is vice-versa?

Of course, it's obvious this is the way it works, but it just goes to show that, in the long term, they're still shilling for Exxon's corporate agenda, and that it's not hurting Exxon, even though his few articles may deny the central thesis of Exxon's platform of denial?
posted by symbioid at 11:26 AM on January 16, 2007


News for Ron Bailey: Not all whores are paid.

Actually, it strikes me that what he's saying is that he was never specifically ExxonMobil's whore. He was and remains ready and willing to serve "free enterprise" in any capacity its little heart desires. If that meant relentless beatdowns on those climatologist tramps, he was there for you long time, sexy oil industry boy. But now it's a different scene on these mean streets, and he doesn't want to lose his prized corner, you know?

I should stop before I stretch the metaphor to the point that it snaps like a threadbare thong, but I can't resist noting that he was "virtuously wrong" the way streetwalkers might be once they realize the cops were no longer being paid off by their pimp to look the other way.
posted by gompa at 11:29 AM on January 16, 2007


Flip-flopper.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:29 AM on January 16, 2007


I found this interesting:

people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them. One can solve environmental problems caused by open access situations by either privatizing the commons or regulating it. It will not surprise anyone that I generally favor privatization.

So, the best way to protect a wildlife refuge would be to offer it up on the market, where people interested in preserving it could bid against people who could make a ton of money from it by using its resources and then turning it into housing/vacation/commercial/industrial developments.

Is Reason a lot like this most of the time?
posted by weston at 11:33 AM on January 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


I have been sent some free extreme weather. This may bias me. That said I am quite impressed with the new features and I am sure it will be more robust after a couple of service packs.
posted by srboisvert at 11:36 AM on January 16, 2007


This part's the best:

I have long argued that the evidence shows that most environmental problems occur in open access commons-that is, people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them.

"People" pollute open access commons? Which people? Who's that one dude that keeps spilling all that oil and chemicals and shit? Pony up, Captain Evidence. You disingenous cockhole.
posted by The Straightener at 11:37 AM on January 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


Great article.
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:39 AM on January 16, 2007


Is Reason a lot like this most of the time?
posted by weston

Yes.
Look at the founders, the board, and the funders and you'll see why. Just think John Birch without some of the crazier elements?
posted by nofundy at 11:40 AM on January 16, 2007


One thing I've never understood about this 'debate' is what the 'Fox News'-type crowd think is the motive of a consensus of climate scientists to say that global warming is largely influenced by man. I guess they could argue Al Gore's motive is to further presidential aspirations (though that remains to be seen). And the other side could of course argue that the motive of corporations and their 'scientists' is the same as those in the past claiming their 'research' showed no link between smoking and lung cancer. But why would a climate scientist passionately argue for immediate action on climate change? What would be the motive be if s/he were lying? I'm seriously curious about this if anyone can fill me in ... (I'm not arguing the issue, just trying to understand the frame of mind of the nay-sayers)
posted by General Zubon at 11:40 AM on January 16, 2007


"The tragedy of the commons" is a valid arguments in many cases.
The environment is not one of those.
Finite resources or monopolies dictate that the so-called "free enterprise" system will not work.
posted by nofundy at 11:42 AM on January 16, 2007


So, the best way to protect a wildlife refuge would be to offer it up on the market, where people interested in preserving it could bid against people who could make a ton of money from it by using its resources and then turning it into housing/vacation/commercial/industrial developments.

Is Reason a lot like this most of the time?


This is a standard libertarian position, yes. I think it's not an unreasonable approach from a philosophical perspective, but it doesn't strike me as particularly practical.

See also the tragedy of the commons.
posted by Slothrup at 11:44 AM on January 16, 2007


Yes, Reason is usually self-serving. That's why it's better to trust your Gut.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:44 AM on January 16, 2007


So then not a whore, just virtuously wrong.

Nope-- intentionally wrong.

Driven by ideology to track down anything, any study, by any adjunct professor he could find, to validate his spite for the environmental movement and his jealousy at rationalists' ability to comprehend the collective action problem.

Who cares whether there was any explicit quid pro quo.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:45 AM on January 16, 2007


So then not a whore, just virtuously wrong.

I suspect that many of the global warming skeptics fall into this catagory. They don't want to believe in it, find anything they can to refute it and then a disdain for liberals and eco-activists is added in to keep them from believing the overwhelming evidence of global warming. Now the likes of the oil companies themselves, they are just self serving liars.
posted by caddis at 11:47 AM on January 16, 2007


One thing I've never understood about this 'debate' is what the 'Fox News'-type crowd think is the motive of a consensus of climate scientists to say that global warming is largely influenced by man.

The motive of these communists and America-haters is obvious: they want to increase the power of the state and ultimately subordinate the power of the US to a one-world government in the form of the United Nations. Duh!
posted by Slothrup at 11:48 AM on January 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Bush is going to "get religion" on global warming

Considering what religion Bush espouses, this might not be a good thing.
posted by lodurr at 11:51 AM on January 16, 2007


zubon: Don't you know that those climate scientists just want to get their hands on those juicy government grants for studying climate change? I mean, I don't know exactly where these grants come from or if they even exist... but if conservative pundits say they exist, it must be so.

The really aggravating thing about it is that there really is money to be made from accepting climate change as reality. Finding new sources of power, upgrading power plants, creating cleaner cities and industry... this is all places where people could make money and create jobs and actually do positive things for the economy.
posted by fungible at 11:52 AM on January 16, 2007


Reason is staffed by a bunch of jokers.

I don't think they're dishonest, but I think they are horribly confused about this thing called "reality."

I have a hard time believing anyone that wrote a book entitled Global Warming and Other Myths: How the Environmental Movement Uses False Science to Scare Us to Death could really be called "smart."

That's fucking retarded, and displays a level of idiocy and paranoia that wouldn't survive in the head of "smart" person. Assuming the title is at all indicative of the content of the book.

But hey, if he came around on that issue, maybe we can get him to come around on the complete fucking lunacy that makes up his libertarian world view.

People that worship free enterprise or free markets, and the Reason troop does, live in a world of so many logical contradictions that I don't know if they even recognize reality any more.
posted by teece at 11:53 AM on January 16, 2007


If you privatize the commons, uh, it's not the commons any more.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:55 AM on January 16, 2007


people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them.

At least within the US, we all own the common areas. It's time for a global treaty to allow for this recognition to be extended to the common areas of all signees. No one loves big government, but someone has to administer our green spaces, and protect them from free market forces, at least until we get some other planets under our belt and can afford to get all Coruscant up in here.

As for climate change, see here.
posted by joecacti at 11:57 AM on January 16, 2007


>>but I think they are horribly confused about this thing called "reality."
I agree. About 2 years ago, I read 2 issues, cover-to-cover, only to discover that they no more or less reasonable/objective/logical than any one else.
posted by allelopath at 12:00 PM on January 16, 2007


General Zubon: One thing I've never understood about this 'debate' is what the 'Fox News'-type crowd think is the motive of a consensus of climate scientists to say that global warming is largely influenced by man.

Skeptics tend to dismiss climate scientists as being unreasonably pessimistic and alarmist. They point to past examples of predictions of doom which didn't come true. Here's a good example from the Economist, December 1997: Plenty of gloom.

When I first read this article, I found it convincing. It wasn't until I started reading some biology that I started getting worried. There's a big divide between economists and biologists on the environmental issue: economists tend to be optimistic, biologists are extremely worried. (See the chapter on species extinction in Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee, for example.) From a biologist's point of view, ecological systems are easily destroyed or degraded, and we're already doing a lot of irreversible damage.
posted by russilwvong at 12:03 PM on January 16, 2007


One thing I've never understood about this 'debate' is what the 'Fox News'-type crowd think is the motive of a consensus of climate scientists to say that global warming is largely influenced by man. . . . why would a climate scientist passionately argue for immediate action on climate change? What would be the motive be if s/he were lying? I'm seriously curious about this if anyone can fill me in ...

Insofar as there's a coherent logic behind this accusation - and if there is, it's just barely there - the argument seems to be that climate scientists, green activists and environmental-agency bureaucrats owe their jobs to climate change. The more afraid of it we are, the more they get paid, the fatter their grants, the more towering their prestige.

This is, of course, almost 100-percent pure horseshit.

Sure, you'll find environmental groups willing to amplify worst-case scenarios in order to encourage action on the issue, and the public's demand for such action likely does assist their fund-raising, but the idea that anyone's in it for all that fat environmentalist cash is beyond ridiculous. It presumes that there's more money in arguing for dramatic changes to the fossil-fuelled status quo than there would be in using one's hard-won credentials to support the wealthiest and most powerful industry on the planet.

It presumes, just to use one example of someone I've met personally and whose motives I can thus sort of vouch for, that Jeremy Leggett left a ridiculously cushy job as a consulting geologist to the oil business, spent a decade as Greenpeace International's chief scientist, and then founded a small PV-installer start-up - all because it was just so much more lucrative.
posted by gompa at 12:06 PM on January 16, 2007


Why the fuck should I give a damn about this guy's uniformed opinion on global warming? The last line of that bio link says it all.

BA in economics and philosophy at University of Virginia.

So, wait, a BA -- translation, I'm too afraid of calculus -- in economics and philosophy? Credibility on evaluation the works of dozens of climate scientists who've earned Ph.D. and can do math?

Exactly zero. I don't care what the fuck this shag-ass thinks about global warming, because he simply doesn't have the knowledge to challenge them. I don't care if he thinks global warming is real or fake -- or at least, I care just about as much as I care about a random housecat's opinion on the research.

The fact that this guy was cited as an expert shows just how fucking desperate global warming opponents are -- and the fact that citing him carried any weight shows just how miserable this country is.

It's just a damn shame that between the US and China, none of the rest of the world even gets a vote. Otherwise, I'm all for letting this crapheap of a country burn in the heat.
posted by eriko at 12:07 PM on January 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wonder if Penn Jillette will pull his head out of his ass on this one.
posted by Telf at 12:09 PM on January 16, 2007


Evangelicals are getting in on the act too.
posted by The Deej at 12:25 PM on January 16, 2007


I agree. About 2 years ago, I read 2 issues, cover-to-cover, only to discover that they no more or less reasonable/objective/logical than any one else.

You are correct that I'm picking on Reason in a rather harsh fashion. I find their core philosophy to be dressed up anti-socialism, which is dangerous.

But being truly tied into reality and reason is fundamentally hard. No one ever does it completely. But for a magazine purporting to be reasonable right in the title, Reason sure is full of horse shit a whole lot of the time.
posted by teece at 12:49 PM on January 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


Spock did it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:50 PM on January 16, 2007


His problem was not being virtuously wrong, it was being scientifically dishonest.

Here's his real problem:

As a skeptic of government action, I had hoped that the scientific evidence would lead to the conclusion that global warming would not be much of a problem, so that humanity could avoid the messy and highly politicized process of deciding what to do about it.

(bolding mine)

Bad science through and through.

Never trust someone that finds evidence for something they want to "prove".
posted by ozomatli at 12:58 PM on January 16, 2007


teece: People that worship free enterprise or free markets, and the Reason troop does, live in a world of so many logical contradictions that I don't know if they even recognize reality any more.

And doesn't this hold for philosophy of every stripe, when taken to its limits? One could say the same about the writings of Marx, or Mill, or, frankly, of every human venture outside of pure mathematics.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2007


I don't care if this guy is right or wrong, what terrifies me is what's going to happen (and what could have been done to start some preventive measures like 10 years ago)
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2007


One could say the same about the writings of Marx, or Mill, or, frankly, of every human venture outside of pure mathematics.

Step off, dude: this is a Marxist blog.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:11 PM on January 16, 2007


acid f*cking oceans people....
posted by specialk420 at 1:21 PM on January 16, 2007


Big Carbon Fights Back
posted by homunculus at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2007


the absurd and idiotic debate over whether or not it's real?

I don't hear anyone insisting that global warming is "fake." I do see significant disagreement about whether sufficient evidence exists to conclude that we caused it — but I don't see any debate about whether it's "real."

You're right, though: That would be absurd and idiotic.

One thing I've never understood about this 'debate' is what the 'Fox News'-type crowd think is the motive of a consensus of climate scientists to say that global warming is largely influenced by man. ... I'm seriously curious about this if anyone can fill me in ...

Like the fellow above, you're misstating the assertion. Nobody is claiming that the scientific consensus has sinister motives. They're simply claiming that it's grossly overstated, and in fact doesn't exist as a "consensus" at all.

Now, if we redirect your "Why?" question to that point, it becomes mildly ironic. Part of the reason people doubt the consensus is that they're exposed to scientists who point out its contradictions and unresolved questions — to which the consensus's proponents usually reply, "But those scientists have sinister motives!"

Now, what I don't understand is why anybody cares. Step back a minute and concede the point: Yes, it's possible that what global warming we've observed hasn't been caused by our pollution. So what? I've never heard anybody refute the common-sense assertion that we probably shouldn't pump tons of noxious chemicals into our atmosphere — so why conflate the issues?

Don't get suckered. ExxonMobil wants you to talk about global warming. It's a red herring; instead of talking about fuel alternatives, you end up arguing about sunlight and greenhouse gases. The proper response, when somebody asks "why" we need to develop new technologies, is to roll your eyes. Don't feed the troll.
posted by cribcage at 1:35 PM on January 16, 2007


And doesn't this hold for philosophy of every stripe, when taken to its limits?

Yes. Yes it does. But the issue under discussion in this present thread is libertarian nutcases who crawl over the piles of empty soda cans and twinkie packets, to emerge from their parent's basement and push an agenda that could cost humans dearly.

But hey, we'll probably be discussing the brave thoughts of Kim Jong Ill in a few threads time, hang around.
posted by Jimbob at 1:44 PM on January 16, 2007


of every human venture outside of pure mathematics.

I think it's true including pure mathematics. It (unreasonably) often turns out to be exceptionally useful in the real world, but the discovery of where it corresponds can be tricky.

This is why I think eriko's criticism (translation, I'm too afraid of calculus ) might be true but not apt. Some of the students of Math I've known (and I met a few going through a Math Major) are exceptionally bright and very cautious about conclusions. Some get so excited about the impressive analytical/quantitative toolbox they're building up that they start thinking of their models as logically unassailable as applied to real-world contexts as they are provable in the axiomatic context in which they were derived, and it's obvious this can lead to a sea of troubles. I've been caught in that trap a few times on a small-scale level.

Indeed, it's this kind of error I see when trying to apply the tradgedy of the commons to conservation. One might as well assume that the prisoner's dilemma teaches you everything you need to know about negotiation.
posted by weston at 1:45 PM on January 16, 2007


I don't hear anyone insisting that global warming is "fake."
Nobody is claiming that the scientific consensus has sinister motives.


I think you must be reading and hearing different things than the rest of us, because I find it's quite common to read "pundits" with masters degree in tenderly jerking off claiming that the climate change debate is the work of shrill environazis who want to destroy our way of life, conspiring with grant-hungry climate scientists who seek to silence dissenting opinion. It's nothing unusual to read this stuff, or it has been in the past, in the last few months this crowd has been a bit quiet.
posted by Jimbob at 1:50 PM on January 16, 2007


(By the way, there are decent ways in which economic principles and analysis can be applied to conservation, but selling the land to the highest bidder isn't one of them.)
posted by Jimbob at 1:53 PM on January 16, 2007


nothing is going to change, if we let our environmental policies , and foreign policie decisions continue to be made by impulse buying paterns.

we don't even seem to have leaders anymore (US or otherwise) just a bunch of facilitators to capital.

what Ronald Bailey can't even see is how his desicions all along have been flavored by the money and power he respects and needs. he has not been objective, few people close to power can be, or have been. the government is just a series of tubes. we have no leaders.
posted by nola at 2:44 PM on January 16, 2007


Supporters of markets are often derided as "out of touch with reality", but it seems strange to describe it that way when they are the ones in control of most of the world's wealth and power.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:02 PM on January 16, 2007


Supporters of markets are often derided as "out of touch with reality", but it seems strange to describe it that way when they are the ones in control of most of the world's wealth and power.

No no no. Most of the "supporters of markets" (the kind who subscribe to Reason magazine) are just guys who wish they could control most of the wealth and power, and are so sure it could happen if The Gubmint would just get off their backs and stop taxing them. Just like they're so sure that the gun they own is going to be so useful during a home invasion, and they're so sure the seatbelt the Gubmint is forcing them to wear will never save their life, and they're so sure the fluorine in the water supply is a Communist plot...
posted by Jimbob at 3:35 PM on January 16, 2007


Before you all jump on my back, I should preface this by saying that I believe that global warming and negative environmental change in general are serious issues requiring governmental intervention. But to characterize the opposition as "nutcases" isn't especially useful; the amount of governmental intervention that will be required to make the difference would be unprecedented in scope, so it's natural to be skeptical about whether the government can make it happen, or whether the government should try.

Now, what I don't understand is why anybody cares. Step back a minute and concede the point: Yes, it's possible that what global warming we've observed hasn't been caused by our pollution. So what? I've never heard anybody refute the common-sense assertion that we probably shouldn't pump tons of noxious chemicals into our atmosphere — so why conflate the issues?

Because there are real, significant costs to not pumping tons of noxious chemicals into our atmosphere. Everyone wants the wealth that comes with an industrialized society. Very few people are willing to make significant sacrifices for the good of humanity. So, if global warming was in fact unrelated to pollution and human activity in general, there's no reason to stop. How many of you are willing to give up your cars today? How many of you are willing to significantly lower your standard of living (arguably) by moving from suburbs into cities?

But the issue under discussion in this present thread is libertarian nutcases who crawl over the piles of empty soda cans and twinkie packets, to emerge from their parent's basement and push an agenda that could cost humans dearly.

Do you honestly think there won't be a dear cost in reducing environmental harm? There simply aren't many historical examples of government doing good on this scale, are there?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:42 PM on January 16, 2007


That's the old model Jimbob. Now you just say "natural cycles" and hope no one looks too closely at what you were saying 10 - 20 years ago.

I'd like to offer these people a chance to get more in touch with these "natural cycles" that they are so fond of, but I really don't have any place big enough to keep a polar bear.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:47 PM on January 16, 2007


Um, hbdwow, have you seen what those guys have done in Iraq?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:51 PM on January 16, 2007


m&mm

Geez, I already lowered my standard of living by never moving to the suburbs. I had sort of forgotten, but now I'm all depressed.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:53 PM on January 16, 2007


If envirowackos are just trying to scare me into giving them more research dollars they couldn't do any better than that acid ocean article. Where do I send the check?
posted by wobh at 3:54 PM on January 16, 2007


Do you honestly think there won't be a dear cost in reducing environmental harm?

You should have a read of the journal article I linked to above. It prevents a useful way of assessing conservation and research spending in relation to uncertainty about the destructive process you're dealing with.

- What is the cost if this threat is real?
- What is the risk of this threat occurring?
- What is the cost of doing more research into the threat to be sure it's real?
- What is the cost of preventing the threat from happening?

The paper prevents an example; Koalas. It concludes that Koalas are worth so much to the economy that there's no point even spending money studying them anymore; the risk of not statistically finding a decline when there is a decline is too great, and we might as well just go straight into recovery mode and prevent the decline.

I've been thinking about how a similar approach can be applied to climate change; I'm still trying to dig up the numbers, but my hunch is that it will be similar; the cost of climate change is so great that it's a no brainer, and calls for "further research" are costing more money than they will save.

There simply aren't many historical examples of government doing good on this scale, are there?

I can't think of many threats that we've even tried to tackle on a global scale. There is no precedent for global climate change.
posted by Jimbob at 3:57 PM on January 16, 2007


Do you honestly think there won't be a dear cost in reducing environmental harm?

Compared to where we are heading? It'll be cheap. But the free market doesn't price people dying1, so on the bottom line, it will cost too much.

So, everyone dies, but look at the revenue numbers!

1) The Government, by support a tort system, prices people dying. Why do think the corporations are doing so much to limit access to the courts, and limit what damages the courts may grant? Because if you don't have to worry about killing people, you can cut bunches of costs, and that is profit!
posted by eriko at 3:59 PM on January 16, 2007


Monkey, consider the Freon / ozone issue of a decade or two ago. We were told (mostly by the same conservative and libertarian types) that we couldn't possibly do away with Freon. That it would mean going back to ammonia based refrigeration. Home refrigerators would be impossible. Modern cities could not sustain their populations. Mayhem. Carnage. Cannibalism. Really bad science fiction films staring Charleton Hesston.

I wisely ran down to 7-11 for a big gulp and missed all of that, but I’m sure many people here can tell you bone chilling stories of the dark ages where brother was pitted against brother for the last slice of individually wrapped cheese, where….. OK, enough of the BS. Suffice to say, that line of reasoning has been trotted out before also. And when push came to shove somebody somewhere dumped a little bit of ingenuity on the problem and instead of the collapse of civilization I had to pay a $15 service charge for my old Freon to be disposed of.

Given that even oil executives are using the phrase “peak oil” these days, we might as well start trying to wean ourselves off of the stuff now rather than quitting cold turkey.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:03 PM on January 16, 2007


Oh I'm wrong, Kid Charlemagne provides an example! The ozone layer! That one worked out quite well, really, didn't it?
posted by Jimbob at 4:06 PM on January 16, 2007


me & my monkey: Do you honestly think there won't be a dear cost in reducing environmental harm?

Paul Krugman discusses this in a 1997 article:
But won't protecting the environment reduce the gross domestic product? Not necessarily--and anyway, so what?

At first sight, it might seem obvious that pollution taxes will reduce GDP. After all, any tax reduces the incentives to work, save, and invest. Thus a tax on exhaust emissions from cars will induce people to drive cleaner cars or avoid driving altogether. But since it will also in effect lower the payoff to earning extra money (since you wouldn't end up driving the second car you could buy with that money anyway), people will not work as hard as they would have without the tax. The result is that taxes on pollution (or anything else) will, other things being equal, tend to reduce overall monetary output in the economy--which is to say, GDP.

But things need not be equal, because there is already a whole lot of taxing and spending going on. Even in the United States, where the government is smaller than in any other advanced country, about a third of GDP passes through its hands. So existing taxes already discourage people from engaging in taxable activities like working or investing.

What this means is that the revenue from any new taxes on pollution could be used to reduce other taxes, such as Social Security contributions or the income tax (but not, of course, the capital-gains tax). While the pollution taxes would discourage some activities that are counted in the GDP, the reduction in other taxes would encourage other such activities. So measured GDP might well fall very little, or even rise.

Does this constitute an independent argument for taxing pollution, quite aside from its environmental payoff? Would we want to have, say, a carbon tax even if we weren't worried about global warming? Well, there has been an excruciatingly technical argument about this, mysteriously known as the "double dividend" debate; the general consensus seems to be no, and that on balance pollution taxes would be more likely to reduce GDP slightly than to increase it.

But so what? "Gross domestic product is not a measure of the nation's economic well-being"--so declares the textbook as soon as it introduces the concept. If getting the price of the environment right means a rise in consumption of nonmarket goods like clean air and leisure time at the expense of marketed consumption, so be it.
posted by russilwvong at 4:21 PM on January 16, 2007


The cost of climate change is so great that it's a no brainer, and calls for "further research" are costing more money than they will save.

In shades of that same reasoning, Pascal thought you should pray, and Bush thought you should invade Iraq.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:24 PM on January 16, 2007


So at what point do you give up demanding the research and act then, kid ichorous? 50% confidence of a global catastrophy occuring? 70%? 90%? 99%? The method I linked to relates this confidence mathematically to the costs involved, through optimization. The "threshold" of certainty is related to the costs of being wrong. In this case, the costs are likely so high that the threshold of uncertainty is low.

Your Bush example doesn't really work - because to anyone not constrained by ideology it was glaringly obvious that the odds were against the Iraqi regime having weapons of mass destruction, rather than for.
posted by Jimbob at 4:33 PM on January 16, 2007


Also what's with all these damn kids in here?
posted by Jimbob at 4:34 PM on January 16, 2007


In all fairness, moving away from oil is going to be a lot more work that replacing Freon with something that doesn't react with ozone.

But like Freon, most of our fossil fuel technologies are about a century old. I would be stunned if 100 years from now they don't look at the 20th century and wonder why the hell we settled for internal combustion engines instead of all the cool stuff they discovered in the 21st century.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:38 PM on January 16, 2007


Geez, I already lowered my standard of living by never moving to the suburbs. I had sort of forgotten, but now I'm all depressed.

I personally like living in the city, being able to walk to work, and not needing a car. But I'm a childless gay man in my 40s, so I'm probably not representative of most people. Most middle-class peoples' vision of the "American Dream" involves kids, lawns, etc.

I can't think of many threats that we've even tried to tackle on a global scale. There is no precedent for global climate change.

Exactly. I'm not especially optimistic that the government is up to that. Are you? What luxuries are you willing to sacrifice to get there?

Compared to where we are heading? It'll be cheap. But the free market doesn't price people dying, so on the bottom line, it will cost too much.

We price people dying all the time. We pay a statistically measurable cost for having a 55 mph speed limit instead of, say, a 45 mph speed limit.

And when push came to shove somebody somewhere dumped a little bit of ingenuity on the problem and instead of the collapse of civilization I had to pay a $15 service charge for my old Freon to be disposed of.

I think comparing the Freon problem to global warming is like comparing a skinned knee to a severed leg. And I think that looking for a "little bit of ingenuity" in the government to solve this problem is a big mistake.

If getting the price of the environment right means a rise in consumption of nonmarket goods like clean air and leisure time at the expense of marketed consumption, so be it.

Paul Krugman discusses this in a 1997 article ...

The word "might" appears a whole lot in that article, doesn't it? I think it's as specious to claim that negative economic (and other) consequences wouldn't arise from a government attempt to significantly reduce damage to the environment, as it is to claim that the damage is negligible in the first place.

If getting the price of the environment right means a rise in consumption of nonmarket goods like clean air and leisure time at the expense of marketed consumption, so be it.

If it were only at the expense of "marketed consumption," I don't think many people would disagree. But where does marketed consumption end and standard of living begin?
posted by me & my monkey at 4:42 PM on January 16, 2007


And doesn't this hold for philosophy of every stripe, when taken to its limits? One could say the same about the writings of Marx, or Mill, or, frankly, of every human venture outside of pure mathematics.

kid ichorous:

No. It's fundamentally difficult to be always rational, and to make very little use of unsupported axiom.

That does not mean that every possible world view is completely out of touch with reality. The libertarian world view certainly is. Others aren't.

The 1/10 of of 1/100 of 1/000 of a 1% that controls most of the world's resources has a world view that is very much in tune with reality. That's how they got and maintained such wealth. Contrary to what hoverboards don't work on water seems to be implying, the world view of those people is nothing like the world view of the libertarian sophists at Reason.

The folks at Reason would be the useful idiots for those people.

Hell, even the world view espoused in the Bible has less logical contradiction than the libertarian one.

Is it less contradictory than Marx, or Mill? I dunno, nor do I care.
posted by teece at 4:59 PM on January 16, 2007


"Oh, I made the unwarranted assertion that moving from the suburbs means a lower of standard of living. Doesn't even apply to me, it turns out. Sorry."

Most people live in the suburbs because it's cheaper (i.e., more square-feet per dollar), not because the standard of living is higher. If space were priced equally, I don't think we'd see the urban flight. Those commutes can be hell.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:01 PM on January 16, 2007


Supporters of markets are often derided as "out of touch with reality", but it seems strange to describe it that way when they are the ones in control of most of the world's wealth and power.

I'm not sure how many supporters of broad market liberalism who also oppose action from other social institutions reflexively, as a matter of principle, are in fact in that position, and among those who are, the idea that their wealth demonstrates superior rational understanding of the world is somewhat tenuous. The argument that Malcolm Gladwell presents (apparently from Nassim Taleb) in Blowing Up seems reasonable to me:
Suppose that there were ten thousand investment managers out there, which is not an outlandish number, and that every year half of them, entirely by chance, made money and half of them, entirely by chance, lost money. And suppose that every year the losers were tossed out, and the game replayed with those who remained. At the end of five years, there would be three hundred and thirteen people who had made money in every one of those years, and after ten years there would be nine people who had made money every single year in a row, all out of pure luck.
I wouldn't say that one should attribute every succesful person's position to luck alone (nor do I think Gladwell or Taleb would make that assertion). I think that in particular, it's likely there are people who have the understanding necessary to avoid steps into certain misfortune, and to better use the breaks and opportunities fortune throws their way, while others mistep and squander based on sounder understanding. However, it's hard to fault Taleb's reasoning that probability alone can produce some number of successes, and a weaker version of this might imply that even a marginal intelligence gain or advantage limited to perhaps a single business sector (rather than broad superior understanding of the world) combined with good fortune would produce successes as well.

Indeed, there are those who readily attribute their successes to those factors, and there are also a number of smart and succesful people who recognize that while markets are useful tools, they aren't magic, and like other tools, fit some problems better than others, and require some knowledge to apply correctly.
posted by weston at 5:03 PM on January 16, 2007


me & my monkey: I think it's as specious to claim that negative economic (and other) consequences wouldn't arise from a government attempt to significantly reduce damage to the environment, as it is to claim that the damage is negligible in the first place.

My point is that economists have studied this technical issue--the economic costs of stabilizing atmospheric CO2--for a long time, and from what they can tell, the costs wouldn't be that big. We're talking about 1% of GDP, not a "severed leg."
posted by russilwvong at 5:18 PM on January 16, 2007


jimbob: So at what point do you give up demanding the research and act then, kid ichorous? 50% confidence of a global catastrophy occuring? 70%? 90%? 99%?

Speaking for myself, I think climatology has already met the burden of proof. But this is no reason to stop studying the problem, or scrutinizing the studies and methods used, or the solutions proffered. It's time to act, but there's absolutely no reason to go forward with our eyes shut and wallets open. What if the government's solution were an increased corn ethanol subsidy - corn that gets its carbon, in part, from petroleum-based fertilizer? Sound familiar? In the US it is.

It's unfortunate that politics are best sold in a climate of fear, hyperbole, and alarm. To all but the most television-enthralled, the odds were clearly against Iraq having a live nuclear program. But when you overstate and sensationalize the consequences, you're scaling that trim probability with a very, unreasonably large number. Doomsday forecasts break the model of pragmatic arguments, enabling us to act, spend, and risk completely out of proportion to the problems we face. It's a something I think has more to do with the logic of Doctor Strangelove than with any school of economics.

Look, I think we agree, for the most part, on greenhouse gases. There's too much credible evidence out there, and in deference to our common property (our environment), we should all do our part. But I do think it can be a little noxious, and self-defeating, to bludgeon the other side with overstatement.
Also, I consider myself a Libertarian, and I think some of the churlishness in this thread serves nobody at all, and will only alienate people who could sincerely benefit from seeing this issue in a different light. It sets up obstacles to anyone who, like the author of the Reason article, might be on the verge of conceding error.

weston: I think it's true including pure mathematics. It (unreasonably) often turns out to be exceptionally useful in the real world, but the discovery of where it corresponds can be tricky. [...] Indeed, it's this kind of error I see when trying to apply the tradgedy of the commons to conservation. One might as well assume that the prisoner's dilemma teaches you everything you need to know about negotiation.

As a fellow math major, this is exactly why I never ventured too far into applied math. My notion of pure mathematics, like pure poetry, is that it seldom leaves the page.

In math, we are forced to acknowledge contradictions. It's not even such a burden, since they are useful, and can be the keystone of a proof. Likewise, in the arts and in poetry, contradiction is a common rhetorical device, something that can be flaunted and used constructively.

In my experience, it's mainly in philosophy and in politics that contradictions seem to be tucked away and studiously ignored.

Is "studiously ignored" a contradiction? Case in point.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:44 PM on January 16, 2007


Teece, no offense, but what familiarity with the subject matter are you basing these opinions on? Do you consider wide-tent Libertarianism, Anarchism, and Anarcho-Capitalism distinct things? Do you call Democrats "Marxists?" And Republicans "Blackshirts?"
posted by kid ichorous at 7:03 PM on January 16, 2007


My point is that economists have studied this technical issue--the economic costs of stabilizing atmospheric CO2--for a long time, and from what they can tell, the costs wouldn't be that big. We're talking about 1% of GDP, not a "severed leg."

Is this the consensus of the community of economists? I suspect, based on my own admittedly limited reading, that there is less of a consensus here than within the scientific community on global warming itself. According to this 1998 document from Resources for the Future, current environmental regulation costs account for 2% of GDP already.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:27 PM on January 16, 2007


can the mainstream media start having a serious debate about what we should do about it rather than the absurd and idiotic debate over whether or not it's real?

hank_14,

that is exactly the point. But not just the media, the scientists (not only physicists and mathematicians, climatologists and ecologists) but also sociologists, economists, political scientists etc can hopefully start thinking about the impacts of climate change. We don't know very well what the effects are going to be on a regional (as opposed to global) scale. For example we know that the global temperature is going to rise but we do not know equally well how this temperature change will affect different regions with their own micro-climate balances. Some impacts are already taking place: the acidification of the oceans, the desertification of the Mediterranean, the navigability of the Arctic Ocean, the rising sea levels, the different modifications in the water cycle from place to place.

We do not also know how these impacts are going to affect people's lives. We assume but we cannot make projections and therefore cannot suggest viable policy changes -again on a regional/national level. One thing is to cut down on emissions, a good thing. But it is the start only.

The understanding and handling the "impacts" or in your words "what we should do about [global warming]" is the new big battle to fight. Too many questions, too little knowledge, too little awareness. Denial of the existence of global warming had this major effect: that kept a large part of the scholar and entrepreneurial circles from addressing the problem in depth.

on preview,
that there is less of a consensus here than within the scientific community on global warming itself
because there has been far less brain power devoted to it.
posted by carmina at 7:39 PM on January 16, 2007


Teece, no offense, but what familiarity with the subject matter are you basing these opinions on? Do you consider wide-tent Libertarianism, Anarchism, and Anarcho-Capitalism distinct things? Do you call Democrats "Marxists?" And Republicans "Blackshirts?"

kid ichorous: I'm not big on the taxonomy of political views, so I don't really know (or care) what "flavor" of libertarianism Reason purports to represent, but whatever you want to call it, it's infantile. It's the libertarianism of economic sophistry, bad math, anti-social behavior (that is: selfish individualism is what causes a greater social good), and general Ayn Randian nonsense and horse shit.

It has a kernel of truth, but beyond that it only could exist in an environment created by a distinctly non-libertarian sensibility.
posted by teece at 8:43 PM on January 16, 2007


Also, many thanks to everyone for the very informative links. Interesting reads.
posted by carmina at 9:43 PM on January 16, 2007


Don't privatize the commons, make pollution a commodity.
posted by Nquire at 9:47 PM on January 16, 2007


me & my monkey: Is this the consensus of the community of economists?

Going by Krugman's 1997 article (he cites Robert Solow, Kenneth Arrow, Dale Jorgenson, William Nordhaus), I'd say yes.

Which isn't to say that there aren't controversies. Here's Nordhaus's critique of the Stern report, for example.
posted by russilwvong at 10:36 PM on January 16, 2007


russilwvong, that's an interesting read. I'm not sure I buy his argument about the social discount rate. I haven't read the Stern report, but based on Nordhaus's gloss, it seems to me that there's a simple argument that's not being made in either it or Nordhaus's critque: That a near-zero social discount rate is justified because the results are potentially catastrophic, not just costly.

Put another way: When future costs get past a certain threshold, social discount rates stop making sense. "Exteninction" would be an obvious point beyond that threshold; "elimination of our current way of life" might well be another.

(This is based on my cursory understanding of Social Discount Rate, which is based entirely on Nordhaus's explanation in the note you linked.)
posted by lodurr at 7:50 AM on January 17, 2007


There has been a lot of talk about predictions of cooling and a new ice age, back in the early 70s. I remember this from my science classes in school.

However, there's something else that has me curious as well. I will keep trying to find something on the web, but here is my memory of it:

In the late 70s, early 80s, the Evangelicals / Fundies were very taken with "end-times" prophecy, and the imminent destruction of the earth, and return of Christ. (I was one of them.) It seemed to have mostly been spawned by Hal Lindsey's book and movie The Late Great Planet Earth. When reports of global warming started making news, the Evangelicals / Fundies would use this to bolster their position. "See? It's starting already!"

Fast forward to the late 80s until present. That same demographic seems to be much more political, probably due to people like Robertson, Dobson, and Rush Limbaugh. Now that demographic by and large rejects the idea of global warming.

Am I right on this? Anyone else see it this way?
posted by The Deej at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2007


I'm hoping global warming will make my Boundary Waters cabin into a tropical paradise. Then people from Juneau will come there for winter vacation.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:16 PM on January 17, 2007


The Deej: "There has been a lot of talk about predictions of cooling and a new ice age, back in the early 70s."

William Connolley has put together a roundup of such predictions (there were quite a lot). He notes that none of the predictions of imminent cooling were in scientific journals.
posted by russilwvong at 4:18 PM on January 17, 2007


US satellites tracking climate change are threatened by poor funding.
posted by homunculus at 7:13 PM on January 17, 2007


The good news just keeps on coming!

The Warming of Greenland

Parts of Greenland thought to be peninsulas are turning out to be islands.
The abrupt acceleration of melting in Greenland has taken climate scientists by surprise. Tidewater glaciers, which discharge ice into the oceans as they break up in the process called calving, have doubled and tripled in speed all over Greenland. Ice shelves are breaking up, and summertime “glacial earthquakes” have been detected within the ice sheet.

“The general thinking until very recently was that ice sheets don’t react very quickly to climate,” said Martin Truffer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “But that thinking is changing right now, because we’re seeing things that people have thought are impossible.”
posted by russilwvong at 11:54 PM on January 17, 2007


carmina: The understanding and handling the "impacts" or in your words "what we should do about [global warming]" is the new big battle to fight.

Along these lines, here's an article, again by Nordhaus, which argues that a tax on carbon emissions (PDF) would be more effective than a cap-and-trade system.
posted by russilwvong at 10:52 AM on January 18, 2007


John Quiggin: Exxon reverses its position on global warming; response by Nicholas Stern to criticisms (postscript and technical annex).
posted by russilwvong at 11:00 AM on January 19, 2007


The Economist: Waking up and catching up. The Democrats have always been the greener party, but environmentalism is budding among Republicans too. Take Saxby Chambliss, a moderate senator. He voted against the McCain-Lieberman [cap-and-trade] bill in 2005, but changed his mind after visiting Greenland to view the melting ice cap. “There really is something to it,” he now says.
posted by russilwvong at 11:26 AM on January 25, 2007


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