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Interesting Arguement About Global Warming
June 15, 2007 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Personally, I always thought the whole global warming thing was a little bit overblown. Got to admit this guy makes a very compelling argument without debating any details. (via)
posted by Industrial PhD (76 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Question: In that lower left-hand box, the one for if global warming's true but we do take action...why doesn't that also cause a global depression, if taking action when global warming's false did?
posted by pax digita at 8:04 AM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Because we've invested in lots of new technologies to move us away from an oil economy?
posted by markdj at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2007


The same argument would appear to apply to the oncoming ravenous horde of man-eating aliens, which we can deal with now by building big space missiles. We need to build big space missiles now!

I think climate change is happening and we should do more about it, but I think this argument is too simplistic.
posted by edd at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2007


Um, no offense, but you're a PhD and you can't spell "argument"?
posted by nasreddin at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2007


His argument is silly. (The same argument can be used to justify martial law in the United States - if we don't act, and terrorists DO nuke the U.S., the consequences will be REALLY BAD. If we do act, and terrorists don't nuke the U.S., the consequences will be bad but not that bad - what's a little freedom lost?) This allows any action to be justified just by stating that the consequences will be unimaginably bad if the action isn't taken. This is an appeal to fear. Fuck that.

It doesn't matter whether humans are responsible or not. Global temperatures are rising, period, end of sentence, and there is a lot of reason to believe they will continue to rise, with many associated side-effects.

As it so happens, humans are also doing things which scientists very strongly believe are associated with exacerbating those effects.

IF - and I say IF - what humans have done is NOT causing global warming so far, than the situation is even worse - the world is getting lots warmer WITHOUT our help, and our help - when it does kick in - is going to totally, utterly screw us. The whole "humans didn't do it" argument means we have twice the reason to act, not half the reason!
posted by jellicle at 8:09 AM on June 15, 2007 [6 favorites]


We need a flag category for "absolute crap".
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:11 AM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


I can't STAND that Zefrank-wannabe style. So annoying.
posted by reklaw at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2007


Isn't this Pascal's Wager?
posted by ALongDecember at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2007 [9 favorites]


Because we've invested in lots of new technologies to move us away from an oil economy?

Assuming you were answering my question...then if global warming's false, how does that investment, even if unnecessary, cause a global depression? I'm OK with this Pascal's-wager approach other than that I'm missing out on some underlying assumptions.
posted by pax digita at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2007


We need a flag category for "absolute crap".

Not everyone hits one out of the park with their first FPP, but I thought it was mildly entertaining and at the very least would strike up some interesting comments.
posted by Industrial PhD at 8:17 AM on June 15, 2007


There are a couple of holes in his logic.

First, he simplifies the "is GCC real" debate into yes-and-no, but there's a critical third option: "yes, but nothing we do can stop it". If that's the case, then the confluence of that row with the "yes we took action" column results in the worst effects of his original four boxes: we get all the collapses and we have fewer resources with which to recover.

Moreover, his entire proposal assumes that the "row question" (is GCC real) is unanswerable. That may be true, if only insofar as we seem to be arguing in circles in the current political environment. But if there's a reasonably conclusive answer that can attain popular support, then our best course of action is to try and figure it out before we reach the point of no return.

Beyond these, there are the obvious logical issues of reducing such complex behavior into a simple diagram with smiley faces. But he admits as much, so I'm willing to entertain the idea that his model is a workable facsimile of the problem... if only for the sake of argument.
posted by Riki tiki at 8:18 AM on June 15, 2007


We already know we're in his "true" row.
posted by imperium at 8:24 AM on June 15, 2007


Beat me to it.
posted by empath at 8:25 AM on June 15, 2007


I used to wonder if the pollution from our electrical generation plants and SUVs is staving off the onset of another Ice Age. These SF authors posit a future where trying to corral the Greenhouse effect triggers its onset.
posted by pax digita at 8:25 AM on June 15, 2007


Simplistic and preaching as it may be, it is far more thoughtful and coherent than a lot of "GCC is not real" and "lets not do anything" arguments from the other side.
posted by carmina at 8:31 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not quite Pascal's Wager in some rather important ways. The most important I think is that in PW the presence of infinite punishment or reward, in the form of eternity in heaven or hell, overwhelms almost any probabilities you might assign to the existence or non-existence of God, except that where you put a probability of zero on his existence (note that despite this there are other reasons why the wager is not valid).

In this case there is not an infinite punishment for making the wrong choice, merely a very sizeable punishment. This renders it more similar to more conventional decision problems.
posted by edd at 8:37 AM on June 15, 2007


Pax, that link was priceless. Larry Niven? Classic.

But who would have thought that the cost of ending pollution would include not only total government control of day-to-day life, but the onset of a new Ice Age?

I thought that was as good as it gets, but then,

Stranded in the anti-technological heartland of America, paralyzed by Earth's gravity, the "Angels" had no way back to the Space Habs, the last bastions of high technology and intellectual freedom on or over the Earth. But help was on its way, help from the most unlikely sources ....

Jesus?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:42 AM on June 15, 2007


wanting to punch
posted by Grizzlepaws at 8:43 AM on June 15, 2007


For those of us at work who can't really sit and watch videos, what is his argument?
posted by caddis at 8:46 AM on June 15, 2007


Pope Guilty: "We need a flag category for 'absolute crap'."

Have you ever been to the Internet?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:49 AM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


For those of us at work who can't really sit and watch videos, what is his argument?

Basically that the known risk associated with inaction on climate change (widespread catastrophe) not only outweighs the risk associated with dramatic action (economic hardship) but actually subsumes it. Thus even from an apolitical, amoral, save-your-own-ass risk-management point of view, action is the only rational choice.

(In either worst-case scenario, that is, the economy is a mess, but inaction in the face of the worst case where climate change is everything we think it might be and more would lead to collapses not just in the economic sphere but in every sphere of human existence.)
posted by gompa at 8:56 AM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


This is a fairly obvious argument, and I feel a little embarrassed for this guy explaining it so earnestly.

He also makes a big mistake. In his example, when we act without need it causes a "global depression". But, even if we do need to act, you still get a global depression. The results are supposed to be the same, in terms of economics. He kind of sugar coats it. In his example we are all choosing economic catastrophe to avoid potential (worse) economic catastrophe.

Now in the real world I think we will be able to tackle climate change without any kind of global depression and madness. We could reduce climate carbon emissions greatly by switching to wind, solar, and (yes) nuclear power for our homes, and increasing fuel efficiency and using ethanol and biodeisel (where carbon dioxide is pulled from the air, and then released, rather then releasing Carbon that had been buried for millions of years with fossil fuels).

finally, I do think technology like cellulistic ethanol and stuff will probably work out.

Another missing component is time. I think once the oceans really do start rising, people will notice and finally do something. Obviously action will be taken at that point. Now some people say that once we get to a certain point, all hell breaks loose because of frozen methane and other things, so obviously I think we should start reducing CO2 emission sooner rather then later. But my point is that they will stop because humans aren't that stupid.

Finally. This guy's lecture, and especially the ending is gratingly cheesy.
posted by delmoi at 8:57 AM on June 15, 2007


First, he simplifies the "is GCC real" debate into yes-and-no, but there's a critical third option: "yes, but nothing we do can stop it".

How realistic is that option? As far as I can tell, it's mostly been promoted by the same hacks who spent decades trying to deny global warming. Now, this argument takes the denialist as credible, so I suppose you might want to take their new bullshit as credible as well, but I don't think that's a very useful way to make decisions.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Finally. This guy's lecture, and especially the ending is gratingly cheesy.

That cheesiness is what's going to get this link forwarded into my inbox dozens of times. The closing pitch is a perfectly engineered plea for spamming this to everyone you know if you don't think about it critically.
posted by peeedro at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2007


Pascal's Wager.
posted by RavinDave at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2007


[expletive deleted], if it's the novel I'm thinking of, I've read about half of it online, and the "anti-technological heartland of America" isn't Jesusland so much as it's p.c.-ishness and New Age fuzzy thinking run amok. Niven et al. had other axes to grind than mere contemporary fundamentalist Christianity. The heroes in the story are science-fiction convention devotees, if I remember correctly.
posted by pax digita at 9:07 AM on June 15, 2007


Not everyone hits one out of the park with their first FPP

Posted to Digg 2 days ago with the exact same text, so I'm not surprised you didn't clear the wall with this one.
PhD, you're not rdsxminion on Digg by any chance?
posted by JaredSeth at 9:08 AM on June 15, 2007


I liked it. It's too easy to be critical, he's obviously sincere and wants to make a difference. His argument is basically accurate and it's at the core of what scientists have been saying for 20+ years.
posted by stbalbach at 9:13 AM on June 15, 2007


isn't this also the failure of game theory?

Essentially he's eliminating the idea of variable risk. Under his logic I would never leave the house because of the chance I could get the ebola virus and have my insides turn to liquid. That's the worst that could happen and it outweighs the other columns and rows.
posted by destro at 9:18 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Posted to Digg 2 days ago with the exact same text, so I'm not surprised you didn't clear the wall with this one.

I didn't see it on Digg, although I do visit the site every now and then (no i'm not rdsxminion). Digg sometimes has decent headlines, but the discussion within is often...lacking.

People trying to say the funniest thing to get the most thumbs up. Not a lot of real intelligent conversation.

I'm sure it's been said before, but a measly $5 does seem to keep the riff-raff out here.
posted by Industrial PhD at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2007


I thought he was going to go for column B, because it involves zero cost. Both columns involve pretty bad things. One column doesn't cost us anything.

Note the Ze Frank merchandising he was wearing, by the way. Old Ze probably has the biggest erection of all time right now.
posted by humblepigeon at 9:37 AM on June 15, 2007


Of course, the problem with Pascal's Wager is that the far Right is confident that the Lord won't allow the worst case scenario to occur.
posted by RavinDave at 9:43 AM on June 15, 2007


excellent presentation, but terrible argument (as it stands). As others have alluded to in this thread, it only makes sense if we didn't have any probabilities to work with, and we were truly in the dark with respect to whether or not GCC is real.

There's a very real possibility that there is an invisible, hyper intelligent aardvark following my ever move, and that if I don't amputate my left middle toe tomorrow, this aardvark will send out a signal to the rest of her invisible, hyper intelligent, aarvark community, and billions of these creatures will simulateously defacate in our water supply, resulting in mass human infection.

According to this guy's logic, as it stands, the inescapable conclusion is that I should amputate my left toe right the fuck now.
posted by spacediver at 10:05 AM on June 15, 2007


the far Right is confident that the Lord won't allow the worst case scenario to occur.

...or they're sure that he'll allow it to occur, because it's what they've been expecting to happen all along.
posted by thanotopsis at 10:21 AM on June 15, 2007


delmoi: yes, definitely a logical failure rather than a practical one. But the entire basis of his argument is to dismiss relative "row" probabilities in order to avoid the worst-case scenario.

I'm saying that the real worst case scenario is in the "we take action" column, not the "we do nothing" column, so you have to either dismiss his conclusion or start including relative probabilities (in which case the issue eventually balloons into its current real-world state).
posted by Riki tiki at 10:22 AM on June 15, 2007


That video was not worth the carbon I emitted while watching it.
posted by ericbop at 10:30 AM on June 15, 2007


There are a couple of follow ups. In the second one it kind of ends up being an appeal to scientific authority which is a bit disappointing.
posted by teleskiving at 10:40 AM on June 15, 2007


And by his own tortured logic shouldn't he be acting to stop global warming?
posted by destro at 10:59 AM on June 15, 2007


there's a critical third option: "yes, but nothing we do can stop it".

It's an interesting point, but not, I suspect, for the reasons most people think.

In this case we were doomed anyway, but neither action nor inaction can be defended in the face of that, since there is no effect on which to make a moral calculus on.

In the end, we cannot determine with absolute certainty the outcomes from an uncertain future, but we can determine our actions in the face of uncertainty.

If there is a non-zero probability that we're doomed to extinction — the so-called "third row" — at least we covered our bets and acted on outcomes where our probability distribution allows us to survive, or even thrive.

In the end, in simple probabilistic terms, the "there's nothing you can do" row works in his mathematical favor up until the point where the last human being gives up hope and dies.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:12 AM on June 15, 2007


My argument would be that humanity as a whole may think of itself as powerful enough to cause these problems and then fix them, but it's more probable that they are happening despite our egocentric and brazenly ignorant actions rather than because of them.

OR maybe the handful of nuclear explosions that have happened underground over the past several decades have caused a very slight shift in this planet's trajectory around the sun, and I mean VERY slight - but significant enough to make our orbit just a bit less geosynchronous than it was before. If we want to believe we're actually capable of affecting this universe, that few dozen nukes in the past century seems the more likely culprit than the accumulation of various forms of pollution since the industrial age.

Has anybody done the math on this planet's orbit around the sun? What if all this hubbub about global warming is actually answered by a minute shift in the trajectory around the sun? Would we even be able to notice if somehow we're just a little closer to the sun or a little further away than we were say a hundred or even a thousand years ago, and that is causing the gradual changes? It'd be like asking a squirrel to know the life expectancy of the tree he's living in. How would we know?
posted by ZachsMind at 11:15 AM on June 15, 2007


Ultimately, this is basic risk analysis 101 plus a decision tree, ranking choices: If the overall cost of doing nothing is greater than the overall cost of doing something, generally you do something, even if any specific future outcome is uncertain.

What could be criticized are the "scores" along the decision tree, but while they are simplistic, it's hard to see where he's being unreasonable. I'd take a recession over extinction any day of the week.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:24 AM on June 15, 2007


Oh, and Industrial PhD, thanks for posting this. Fun link.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:25 AM on June 15, 2007


ok he addressed the point in his second followup, but ended up requiring to delve into specifics
posted by spacediver at 11:34 AM on June 15, 2007


This is essentially the same type of argument used by the Y2K doomer crowd, namely:

"We have to spend billions of dollars fixing software problems otherwise society might collapse. Oh sure, no-one knows if society will actually collapse. But it might. So we have to spend the $"

It's sad the guy in the video can't figure out the logical fallacy in his argument. The key problem in the climate change debate isn't logic; it's that we don't know enough about climate change.

We know that the Earth is warming. The warming seems to be correlated with emissions. But that's all we know. We don't know whether there's causation.

We also know the Earth has had warm periods where the polar ice caps melted as well as super-cold Ice Ages when icesheets covered most of Canada. Both happened before humans had the power (and the gall) to pump peta-tons of CO2 into the environment.

In the end we're left with a big ? You could just as well argue as above that we should spew more CO2 in order to stave off a catastrophic ice age.....
posted by storybored at 11:42 AM on June 15, 2007


ZachsMind: geosynchronous

I do not think that word means what you think it means.
posted by vernondalhart at 12:30 PM on June 15, 2007


Not to continue to beat this dead horse, but wouldn't a new era of technological innovation be beneficial to the economy?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:32 PM on June 15, 2007


That video was not worth the carbon I emitted while watching it.

I emitted something other than carbon.
posted by davejay at 12:56 PM on June 15, 2007


Do you mind if I bet on...door number three?

BTW, very enjoyable post. I watched the whole thing. I even enjoyed the "cheesy" end. Thanks.
posted by humannaire at 1:45 PM on June 15, 2007


storybored, we also know that CO2 absorbs infrared light fairly well, better than nitrogen and oxygen and most of the rest of the gasses that make up our atmosphere (methane and other greenhouse gasses not included).

Since we're pumping incredibly large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, it would make sense that this would increase the infrared absorption potential of the atmosphere, warming the earth.

If one cared to, they could analyze the difference in atmospheric infrared absorption with respect to CO2 levels a hundred years ago and today, figure out how much sunlight hits the earth, and then make a rough guess how much more energy is staying within our atmosphere because of the CO2. If CO2 isn't causing global warming, then the difference will be negligible.

Not that anyone else has thought of that.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 1:59 PM on June 15, 2007


Besides the misuse of "geosynchronous," there's another thing about ZachsMind's conjecture I have a problem with: If you added up the energy released in all the subterranean nukes ever detonated, how much energy is it? Is it enough to affect the Earth's orbital trajectory measurably? I read someplace a long time ago that the average hurricane or typhoon has more energy in it, albeit distributed and manifested quite differently, than a thermonuclear weapon, so I'm skeptical at this notion.

There was a SF novel about over 25 years ago which conjectured that the pumping of billions of barrels of crude oil and their subsequent redistribution around the planet winds up affecting Earth's rotation pretty adversely. Even then I pondered how much redistributed mass the novel was positing as compared with the total mass of the Earth, shrugged, and put the book back on the library shelf.
posted by pax digita at 2:11 PM on June 15, 2007


it would make sense that this would increase the infrared absorption potential of the atmosphere, warming the earth.

That does make sense. The tricky bit is that this is just one variable in a gargantuan system.

they could analyze the difference in atmospheric infrared absorption with respect to CO2 levels a hundred years ago and today, figure out how much sunlight hits the earth, and then make a rough guess how much more energy is staying within our atmosphere because of the CO2.

That would be a great thing to do. The problem is how do you do it? How good is our data from 100 years ago? Even our data today is probably not comprehensive enough to come up with an accurate number. But even more boggling is that we can't hold the other important climate-affecting variables constant. E.g. solar output (isn't this cyclical?), earth orbit (also cyclically perturbed?), even fluctuations in earth's magnetic field would have to be somehow factored out to isolate the impact of CO2.
posted by storybored at 2:53 PM on June 15, 2007


While the IPCC has generated some highly educated guesses, the ultimate scale of the climate change problem remains unknown. On account of the singular nature of the earth, it is also somewhat unknowable. Even with improvements to science, the full character of alternative historical progressions remains outside the possible boundaries of knowledge. As such, in a century or so humanity will find itself in one of the following situations:

1. Knowing that climate change was a severe problem, about which we have done too little

2. Believing that climate change was a potentially severe problem, about which we seem to have done enough

3. Believing that climate change was a fairly modest problem, to which we probably responded overly aggressively

4. Observing that, having done very little about climate change, we have nonetheless suffered no serious consequences.

Without assigning probabilities to these outcomes, we can nonetheless rank them by desirability. A plausible sequence would be 4 (gamble and win), 2 (caution rewarded), and then 1 and 3 (each a variety of gamble and lose). Naturally, given the probable variation in experiences with climate change in different states, differing conclusions may well be reached by different groups.
posted by sindark at 3:17 PM on June 15, 2007


Here are some other factors that makes forecasting climate change incredibly difficult:

1. CO2 isn't the only substance we're dumping into the environment. What about the massive amounts of other pollutants (nitrous oxides, sulphur oxides) and how do they affect climate? What about good old soot? Does it add to warming because it's black, or does it add to cooling because it blocks solar radiation?

2. Melting ice caps means less reflective polar regions, but at the same time that water has to go somewhere. Does more water mean more evaporative cooling? Does a wetter climate lead to more plant life which would mean a reduction in CO2?

3. What about weird factors that we don't even know about? What about the impact of interstellar dust and cosmic radiation? If the solar system moves through a dusty part of the Milky Way, what happens?

4. What about seismic and volcanic activity. What's the impact of a Krakatoa event? There's probably a causative link between volcanism and climate, but is there one going in the other direction? Could climate change have an impact on seismic activity?

5. This one's a bit of stretch but what the heck. We're saturating the atmosphere with electromagnetic energy through radio, tv, cellular transmission, radar, microwave transmission and so on. What's the cumulative heat effect of that? Or is it a cooling effect?

6. This one is obvious but you would think that if the topic is global *warming* then we would discuss the plain in your face fact that our societies generate a lot of heat . Power plants, cars and planes, wood and gas fires - they all produce heat. And you can have all the green energy sources you like, wind and solar, but if you use that energy to grill burgers, you end up with: more heat.
posted by storybored at 3:22 PM on June 15, 2007


Orange Pamplemousse,

people in climate science (I am one of them) do exactly that. The term that describes what you are alluding to is "radiative forcing" and which:
The Earth's climate system is powered by the sun. Our planet intercepts 340 W m-2 of solar radiation averaged over the surface of the globe. About 100 W m-2 is reflected to space, and the remainder-about 240 W m-2-heats the planet. On a global average, the Earth maintains a radiative balance between this solar heating and the cooling from terrestrial infrared radiation that escapes to space. When a particular human activity alters greenhouse gases, particles, or land albedo, such activity results in radiative imbalance. Such an imbalance cannot be maintained for long, and the climate system-primarily the temperature and clouds of the lower atmosphere-adjusts to restore radiative balance. We calculate the global, annual average of radiative imbalance (W m-2) to the atmosphere-land-ocean system caused by anthropogenic perturbations and designate that change radiative forcing.
We know quite well what the concentrations of greenhouse gases (not just CO2) were 100 years ago. We even have an idea about 1000 years ago and futher back from ice core studies. So people do compute routinely the radiative forcing and find that it has increased.

storybored mentioned some of the culprits. However, numerical model studies where we vary solar radiation or orbit parameters (which I should add that we know at very high precision) as well as measurements of solar radiation from satellites show no substantial change of the solar factor or the geoparameter factor. I am unaware of studies that relate earth's magnetic field with GW, although there are some that relate the sun's magnetic field with it. However, again this idea has been probably laid to rest.
posted by carmina at 3:30 PM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


At the very least, anyone interested in climate change should read the Summary for Policy-Makers for the 4th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I have some more important sources listed on my wiki.
posted by sindark at 4:15 PM on June 15, 2007


carmina,

I figured that was a tactic already in use. I was trying to counter storybored's correlation /= causation argument. I picked CO2 simply because it was the compound I was most familiar with (though I'm not an expert by any means).

storybored,

analyzing the difference in shielding would not require eliminating any other factors, unless they reduced the amount of sunlight hitting the earth. carmina's link rules out activity from the sun itself, we have the length of a year calculated down ridiculously small (to less than a second), and volcanic activity has a largely cooling effect (ash = umbrella). The other options, like nukes or simply lighting things on fire don't alter the amount of light that hits us, and therefore won't change these results towards emissions. (infrared produced by flames or reflection off the earth's surface would still be trapped by the gasses, but this additional warming would lead to a false negative conclusion)

In the end, if the difference in radiative forcing works out to 0.00001% more sunlight being held, then we can positively rule out CO2 (or any other greenhouse gasses we consider in this way) as a cause of global warming. If we do the math and the increase in energy works out to some huge value, then scaling back on CO2 production probably won't be wasted effort.


I don't mean to say that we can calculate the extent of our climate change, only that we can be pretty certain that greenhouse gasses are having a warming effect, one that certainly explains much of what is going on.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2007


Thanks for that carmina. Nice to hear from someone who works in the field.

numerical model studies where we vary solar radiation or orbit parameters (which I should add that we know at very high precision) as well as measurements of solar radiation from satellites show no substantial change of the solar factor or the geoparameter factor

Unfortunately if this is a numerical model study can it tell us much about the real world?

But at the website you linked there is this interesting quote:

During the 1990s ice core measurements indicated that during past glacial periods, temperature changes had preceded CO2 changes by a few centuries... It seemed that rises or falls in carbon dioxide levels had not initiated the glacial cycles....In the 1960s, painstaking studies had shown that subtle shifts in our planet's orbit around the Sun (called "Milankovitch cycles") set the timing of ice ages.

...which suggests that orbital parameters are critical.
posted by storybored at 5:22 PM on June 15, 2007


sorry for the late response, stupid Internet outage.

Modeling studies and real world. The models used these days are quite sophisticated and with an increased degree of complexity that covers a lot of the observed relationships. I would not even dare say that models describe the real world in every detail, but, yes, large scale (global) changes they do, very well.

For example model results from simulations of the 20th century agree very well with observations of air temperature at the surface. Air temperature is very well measured quantity, with small uncertainties compared to the overall trends. Same goes for radiation, global precipitation rates, heat transports and other global scale quantities.

Local scales not so much. One major reason is model resolution at scales (about 200km) which cannot capture non-linear physics such as clouds, boundary layer phenomena, hurricanes, storms, extreme events that have scales that range from 1-100km. Another reason is lack of knowledge, e.g. ice sheet development and collapse. There is not yet enough confidence on how, how quickly and when the vast ice sheets of Antarctica will respond to increased temperatures. If we do not understand the mechanism we cannot model it. Hence the uncertainty range in the recent IPCC report. Some scientists believe that IPCC-AR4 is wishful thinking and that the collapse of the ice sheets will happen very quickly. Another source of uncertainty is the ocean. Etc.

However, this does not change the fact that despite missing pieces the puzzle already shows the pattern. So I believe what the models predict for global scales, I would bet on the projections if I had money, but I do not believe the local impacts. This is why we need to refine the models!!!

A nice article that describes all this (and more) from a scientist who is not a modeler is this (I remember user stbalbach posted it here a while ago in another global warming thread).

Regarding the Milankovitch cycles, I will only point out that they are "periodicities" that span tens of thousand of years. The are very low frequency phenomena which represent very slow changes-- attributed exactly as you say to orbital parameters. Global Warming - the increased temperatures we've been experiencing - are a an abrupt event (geologically speaking) since they occurred over 50-100 years. There is very small change of orbital characteristics in such a short period. Besides, the Milankovitch cycle we are riding on right now should point downwards - we should be headed towards colder temperatures not warmer. For more details I defer you to UCAR pages.
posted by carmina at 8:39 PM on June 15, 2007


I messed up that one, didn't I? Here are the UCAR pages.
posted by carmina at 8:41 PM on June 15, 2007


False Dilemma
posted by extrabox at 8:43 PM on June 15, 2007


I beg you to elaborate.
posted by carmina at 8:46 PM on June 15, 2007


False dilemma indeed. Thanks exrabox!
posted by destro at 9:23 PM on June 15, 2007


The thing is that while appeal to authority can be a falacy, it isn't always. In some areas all opinions have equal value ("what band is the best?"), in others the opinions of non-experts are, at best, educated guesses and at worst bloviating by people who want to pretend they possess an expertise they don't have.

What is the best alloy for the construction of cymbals? I haven't got the faintest idea, its a question which requires not just a knowledge of metalurgy (which I don't have), not just a knowledge of the mechanics of building musical insturments (which I don't have), but rather a knowledge of both as they specifically relate to cymbals. An expert in the construction of pianos would have a better guess than I would I'm sure, but they wouldn't really know either.

If there was some huge controversy about the best alloy for cymbals, and well over 90% of the experts on the subject said that alloy A was best, while a minority (mostly funded by the manufacturers of alloy B) said that alloy B was the best, I think that most people would be perfectly willing to go along with the conclusion that the overwhelming majority of experts on cymbals held.

But on issues that have religious impact people abandon the (perfectly rational) decision to go along with the consensus of the majority of experts. Like evolution, global warming brings out the non-expert who wants to bloviate. And like evolution the reason they want to bloviate is primarially religious.

The simple fact is that unless you are actually a climatologist (or a biologist) your opinion doesn't mean squat, and your speculations on the subject are utterly and completely without value. You don't know enough to be worth listening to, and I'm both amused and annoyed to see so many people wasting bits "debating" a subject they know nothing about.

All that really matters is that well over 90% of the people who *do* know what they're talking about are in agreement, and the dissenting minority is mostly funded by the fossil fuel industry. To me, as person willing to admit that I am not a climatologist, this strongly implies that the only real choice I have is to go along with the majority of experts. The experts say its a problem, and that human activity (especially CO2) is a contributor, therefore I'll go along.

You want to argue about what band is the best, or which flavor of ice cream is the best, I'll go along. You want to argue cymbal alloys (or the equivilant), I'll ask if you are an expert, and if you aren't I'll invite you to reflect on the idiocy of trying to argue about something that requires expertise to understand.
posted by sotonohito at 5:06 AM on June 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ok, I think someone mentioned this, but here's the biggest flaw in his argument I see. Suppose we try to do something about global warming and assess the worst-case scenarios:

If global warming is false, then there's no climate change and we have a global economic depression.

If global warming is true, and actions work to prevent climate change, then there's no climate change and we have a global economic depression.

In either case, there's a global depression and no climate change. Not knowing anything about the probabilites of whether climate change is real or not, alot of people might pick column B. Why choose a known loss when there's a possibility of maintaining the status quo?

From a game theory standpoint, maybe this saves his argument. What's the additional cost of adding climate change to a global depression? Maybe things are twice as bad? If the probability of global warming is greater than 1/2 or 50%, the expected loss is minimized by trying to do something about global warming. Maybe four times as bad? Then trying to do something about global warming becomes the best option if the probability of global warming is greater than 1/4 or 25%.

Adding another row for the possibility that global warming is real, but not man-made, does nothing to this argument. If it's not man-made, and we try to prevent climate change, then the worst case scenario is global depression and environmental collapse. If it's not man-made, and we don't try anything, the worst case scenario is global depression and environmental collapse.
posted by Nquire at 12:38 PM on June 16, 2007


The video itself may have been luke warm at best, but I choose to judge my first FPP by the quality of it's comments.

I'm going to go out on a limb and rate this thread a 7.
posted by Industrial PhD at 1:55 PM on June 16, 2007


False Dilemma

This counterpoint is addressed by the person in the video, at the end.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:36 PM on June 16, 2007


Where is everyone? Enjoying summer, eh? Am I the only one left to defend the cause, an unwilling hijacker of this thread, then?

Anyway,

In either case, there's a global depression and no climate change.

I do not understand your argument. The whole point of chosing to work to prevent global warming is exactly that there is no economic depression. Indeedo, we have to act such that our measures are socially justifiable and we might have to expect slower growth, but who really knows, who's studied the magnitude of economic recession/growth under different mitigation scenarios? Nobody. Lazy asses. The sooner we act, the fewer the negative effects in our economy, the easier the transition, the better the adaptation.

It seems to me like a "duh".
posted by carmina at 3:38 PM on June 16, 2007


carmina: The whole point of chosing to work to prevent global warming is exactly that there is no economic depression.

Maybe I'm missing something here, because this is the part of his argument I didn't understand. He makes a point of stressing "worst-case scenarios". Suppose we're in column A on his table and do something about climate change. Why is a global economic depression a worst-case scenario if global warming is false (column A row1), but not a worst-case scenario if it's real (column A row 2)? Presumably, in both of these cases, the same regulations are in place and CO2 emmisions are reduced.

If this is considered, then the cost associated with acting is D*(GW) + D*(1-GW), where D is the cost associated with a global economic depression, and GW is the probablity that global warming is real. Simplifying, this reduces to C*(GW + 1 - GW), or C. The cost of not acting is (C + CC)*(GW) + 0*(1 - GW), where CC is the cost associated with global climate change. So, the question is whether C < (C + CC)*(GW). In other words, a “player” of this “game” would have to know the probability of global warming (GW) and the cost of climate change (CC) before making a decision as to whether or not to regulate CO2 emmisions.

Personally, I agree completely that the potential benefits of acting far outweigh the potential downsides, even if 1000s of climate scientists happen to be wrong. But within the narrow context of argument presented in the video, if we regulate CO2 and global warming is real, I don't know why the worst-case scenario of economic depression isn't considered.
posted by Nquire at 8:26 PM on June 16, 2007


Because the "OMG taking responsibility for our industrial byproducts will ruin the economy!!!!" line is just the latest iteration in the standard panic-mongering that business always engages in when they're forced to behave responsibly, or when they see their market vanishing because of technological advance.

Look, for example, at the meat packing industry. At one point in history it was completely unregulated and revolting to a degree that is pretty hard to exagerate. Then Sinclair wrote "The Jungle" and brought the not only gross but also massively unsanitary practices of the meat industry to the attention of the public and there was a cry for regulation. The meat industry said "OMG, if you make us use sanitary practices we'll go out of business, the price of meat will skyrocket, and we'll be forced to lay off thousands!!!!!!!" And yet, the price of meat didn't skyrocket, etc.

When unions fought (literally, and usually lost) for an eight hour working day business said "OMG, if the eight hour working day passes the economy will collapse and it'll be horrible!!!!!!" And yet the economy didn't collapse.

Same for outlawing child labor, requiring safe working conditions, mandating an end to payment in company scrip, etc.

I'm not an economist, but I am a historian. And history shows that business (big, small, or medium sized) cannot be trusted when it starts on its "OMG, this new action designed to make life better will *RUIN*BUSINESS*!!!!!" line of crap. They've shouted that at every single point of progress, and they've been wrong every single time.

WRT global warming, the corporate alarmists always ignore the fact that a) peak oil is going to end our burning of petrolium *regardless* of action taken on global warming and b) the demand for electricity, consumer goods, etc will result in a surge of business opportunities in the field of replacing fossil fuels. So, yeah, all the petro and coal companies will probably be wiped out, BFD. The buggy whip companies were wiped out by cars. The oil lantern industry was destroyed by the electric light. The traveling vaudeville show was wiped out by movies. That kind of thing happens. You don't have to be either a climatologist or an economist to see that.
posted by sotonohito at 4:46 AM on June 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


If there was some huge controversy about the best alloy for cymbals, and well over 90% of the experts on the subject said that alloy A was best, while a minority (mostly funded by the manufacturers of alloy B) said that alloy B was the best, I think that most people would be perfectly willing to go along with the conclusion that the overwhelming majority of experts on cymbals held.

At some point of the argument, Group A should be able to explain the fallacies of Group B (or better yet, demonstrate it), or their conclusions carry as much weight of which ice cream do you like best. Their expertise really doesn't amount to much.

Even then, there is a possibility of a Group C, which has a better means for producing cymbals that hasn't caught on yet.

I would prefer not to defer to the opinion of experts to do my thinking for me. The fallacy of appeal to authority seems to weigh more on the presumption that issues should not be further explored because someone knowledgeable in the field decides it is an open and shut case. Experts make mistakes. Erroneous conclusions abound. Certainly an expert opinion should be able to withstand the probing of other experts and non-experts alike.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 1:14 PM on June 17, 2007


quintessencesludglord Of course experts can be wrong, and naturally their conclusions should withstand criticism. I don't think anything I wrote earlier implied otherwise.

The thing is that when experts disagree their arguments are going to, pretty much inevitably, involve subjects, examples, and so forth that the layman simply can't grasp. Thus you can't really tell whether group A or group B has a better argument. You can tell which group has an argument you *want* to be right, but can you understand a detailed technical argument over the merits of cymbal alloys? I can't.

Which brings us back to the "majority opinion" option. If expert opinion is relatively evenly split and has been that way for a while, its safe to assume that there's a genuine controversy. New ideas can't have a majority at first, that's a given. But if a new idea can't attract a majority of experts after a while, you've got to begin suspecting that the advocates of that idea are just being stubborn for various reasons.

The "global warming isn't real, and even if it is humans can't possibly have anything to do with it" idea has been around long enough for the experts to make up their minds, and the vast majority reject it. I'm sure that they have perfectly good reasons to do so, and I'm equally sure that as a non-climatologist they aren't going to be reasons I can easily understand.

I'm not asking you to let experts do your thining for you, but I am asking you to admit that when it comes to complex or technical matters the thinking of non-experts is meaningless. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have an expert oncologist treat my cancer rather than just asking some guy off the street what treatment he thinks is best.

The "I don't want experts to do my thinking for me" line only comes up when people have an emotional involvement in a position that the experts think is wrong. In areas where people have no emotional investment they have no problem at all going along with expert opinion.

Of course issues should be explored, and if you want to shoot the shit with people about a complex or technical topic you might as well. But when "shooting the shit about a complex or technical topic" becomes "claiming that the virtually unanimous opinion of people who actually know what they're talking about is wrong" you've jumped into the realm of stupidity.
posted by sotonohito at 1:53 PM on June 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sorry, hit post instead of preview. Meant to conclude:

My point is that as a non-expert talking to other non-experts on the subject of global warming, why should I waste my time and yours arguing about matters of technical substance about which I have (at best) a layman's knowledge?

All we'd be doing is quoting talking points at each other. Non-experts can, of course, get a rough idea of how stuff works and most people have a good layman's grasp of a great many topics (internal combustion, metalurgy, climateology, evolution, etc). But that doesn't mean the non-experts have enough of a grasp of the topic to meaningfully discuss it.

So I say, go along with the majority of experts. They might be wrong, but they're more likely to be right than I am.
posted by sotonohito at 1:57 PM on June 17, 2007


...but can you understand a detailed technical argument over the merits of cymbal alloys?

Yeah, actually. I can grasp the concepts, listen the explanations why one mixture has better properties than another, and (even better) I can certainly witness demonstrations of one mixture over another. Could be Group A simply chose their mix based upon economic factors that have no bearing on this elusive concept of "best".


The "I don't want experts to do my thinking for me" line only comes up when people have an emotional involvement in a position that the experts think is wrong.

This is highly presumptive.

Further, by your own criteria, do you have any formal training in logic or philosophy? If not, why should I trust any thing you have to say as to what constitutes a valid argument in an area where you have no expertise? Doesn't your whole argument amount to "shooting the shit"?
posted by quintessencesluglord at 2:48 PM on June 17, 2007


This argument is just a restatement of the precautionary principle.
posted by biffa at 3:22 AM on June 20, 2007


I think that global warming is really a big problem, but i can show you some other theory in witch they tell that global warming isn't true...

You can find this theory written in italian language here :
Previsioni Meteo
posted by isidoro81 at 3:51 AM on June 20, 2007




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