Think again on British Antarctic Survey merger say Science and Technology Committee

Parochial stuff: I reported before that Axing the British Antarctic Survey would mean the end of Scott’s legacy?, but it looks like MPs say No:

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Andrew Miller MP, said:

My Committee has considered the process undertaken to merge British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre. What we have concluded is that NERC have not made a proper case for it nor demonstrated political nous on the strong non-science related issues surrounding BAS.

Which is either Hooray for BAS! or Boo for political interference in science! depending on your viewpoint.

I’m not sure whether the committee has a veto or not. But it would be a brave head of NERC who proceeded after this.

[Update: Its all off. Quietly, NERC are now even more pissed off with BAS than they were before.]


* British Antarctic Survey to Keep Its Identity – Science.

Didn’t Cameron just appoint a sceptic to DEFRA?

…inquires a commenter in the Obama and Romney on GW post. Well, its a reasonable question. This would be Owen Paterson who the FT calls a “known climate change sceptic”, although it isn’t clear to me quite why. The Graun doesn’t like OP. The first piece of evidence is Paterson is on the record as describing wind farms as “clearly a massive waste of consumers’ money”. Now allow me to point out the obvious: deciding that you don’t believe in GW because it implies govt action, and you don’t like govt action, is illogical, captain. Deciding that GW is wrong because you don’t like windfarms is nonsense. But the converse is also true: deciding that someone is a sceptic because they don’t like windfarms is also nonsense. If ending energy subsidies makes you a sceptic, why then so am I – I want a carbon tax instead.

Case unproven so far.

OTOH, according to Aunty, he is the brother-in-law of Matt Ridley – who, I’m astonished to discover, I haven’t slagged off. Weird. But anyway, blood will out.

Obama and Romney on GW

From The Top American Science Questions: 2012. Which starts with:

“Whenever the people are well-informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.”

Well, that’s you yanks totally f*ck*d then, ha ha. Not that we’re any better off. still, at least we manage to believe in evolution and we’re not a pile of religious fanatics :-).

So anyway, enough random insults, what do Da Man and Dah Challenger haz to say?

First off, lets look at the question

Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

Hmm, its a so-so question. You can read it as accepting the – it doesn’t explicitly ask them to comment on the actual science, and the last bit pretty well only makes sense once you accept it as real. It gives the candidates a chance to accept the science and focus on policy, which is good.


Climate change is the one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Since taking office I have established historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history. My administration has made unprecedented investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants and reduced carbon emissions within the Federal Government. Since I took office, the U.S. is importing an average of 3 million fewer barrels of oil every day, and our dependence on foreign oil is at a 20-year low. We are also showing international leadership on climate change, reaching historic agreements to set emission limits in unison with all major developed and developing nations. There is still more to be done to address this global problem. I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last.

Obama’s statement is shor, so I quoted it in full.

Doesn’t discuss the science at all, which in the context of what he says counts as acceptance, good. Has done something and intends to do more, good. Is fiddling around with various things instead of going for a carbon tax, bad. I’m dubious about the oil claim – that’s probably more about recession and substitution, neutral. Pushes international leadership, hmm, nice intent, hasn’t really played out, and is the wrong way to go (should be a carbon tax), neutral.


I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.

Sentence one is almost “fair enough” but notice the equivocation: hasn’t said how much warmer, hasn’t said what human’s contribution is, hasn’t said that he accepts the Indeed, he has implicitly rejected taking, say, the IPCC view on board by saying that “my best assessment of the data is…” (my bold). Romney isn’t competent to assess the data – this is fairly close to the dumb America fallacy. I think this has been carefully crafted to avoid offending the wackos too much, neutral.

Then he continues there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue – this is just std.denialist tripe, bad. Support continued investigation – could be taken as a sop to the scientists (“shut up a bit and we’ll give you more grants”) but I doubt that will actually show up in the real budget numbers, neutral.

[P]olicymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences – good, in itself, though vague. Lets read on. “Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response” – fair enough, and worth saying.

President Obama has taken the view that if global warming is occurring, the American response must be to slash carbon dioxide emissions by imposing enormous costs on the U.S. economy.

No, again, he’s slipped back into std.bollocks. Furthermore he’s doing the tedious political trick of attacking his opponents views, not putting forward his own, bad.

We’ll skip a bit now, as his statement is long and repetitive.

I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away.

I disagree with this. Its good he’s prepared to put his viewws on the line, but they are unreasoned and unreasonable, bad. I think I ought to note “a new wave of investment in nuclear power” – I’m ambivalent about that, but potentially good.

The verdict

No surprises I’m sure: Obama is the clear winner. But his policy is weak, so its not a ringing endorsement.


* mt on Pierrehumbert on Paul Ryan on global warming
* Didn’t Cameron just appoint a sceptic to DEFRA?
* Obama, Romney “Playing Games” with Environmental Disaster – via John at Eli’s
* mt thinks I’m being too literal

Porkies from Paul Ryan

At last, playing to the crowd: an attack on Paul Ryan. Via CIP comes the news that Ryan has been lying about his marathon times: he claimed sub-three, but never ran sub-four. The folk at runners world weren’t impressed. I too find it implausible that anyone could possibly get their PB that wrong if they care about running at all. Mine is 3:54, from memory. Was I correct? Yes, though that was only back in April.

But it looks like I still have a way to go before I work my way up the celeb lists. Bush Jr has 3:44 which is quite respectable. Matthew Parris has an astonishing 2:32 according to wiki (and the beeb, who also note that a Stoate ran it. From which I see that there are 13 MPs who, in 2009, had better PB’s than me. Including, to my surprise, Rhodri Morgan. Who I could stuff now); I see that Paul “mendacious” Ryan has just been added, ha ha.

mt on Pierrehumbert on Paul Ryan on global warming

mt quotes Ray Pierrehumbert: “The most explicit statement of Ryan’s climate change views appears in this 2009 op-ed, and since he still features it on his official website, we can take it as an indication of his beliefs…” writing in Slate. Some of what Ryan writes is indeed std.denialist_lies:

The CRU e-mail scandal reveals a perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion. The e-mail scandal has not only forced the resignation of a number of discredited scientists… rant, rant, rant…

which self-condemns Ryan as a fool. But… without trying to defend Ryan’s views, I’ll point out that he really has little or nothing to say about the actual science. Yes I know what slant you get from reading it; what I’m trying to point out is that he isn’t really addressing the science, because that isn’t what interests him. What does Ryan say? Things like “leaders in Washington have failed to provide the American people a serious policy debate” which seems fair enough. Unfortunately Ryan isn’t exactly contributing either, indeed he is damaging the debate, because to have a meaningful debate on the policy consequences you have to start from accepting the science as presented, say, by the IPCC. And to be able to talk about Carbon Taxes without having teabaggers ejaculating over you (note: I said “talk about” not advocate).

Also, I think RayP’s bizniz-sense is weak:

Most of what Paul Ryan has written specifically about climate change is a corollary to his basic tenet of faith that everything done by the government is necessarily bad, and everything done by the private sector is necessarily good… He consistently ignores the manifold and arguably greater flubs of private investment. To pick one of the sillier examples, Google paid Paypal co-founder Max Levchin $200 million for a company that made things like electronic-pet apps for Facebook, but wrote off most of its investment a few years later.

This is about as sensible as saying “its snowing; GW can’t be true”. Which is precisely what he starts off criticising Ryan for saying. Motto: the tailor should stick to his last. I do, obviously.

Other stuff

* Climate Moving at One Foot Per Hour – QS

What would Hobbes do?

569px-Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait) Continuing with your alas-all-too-regular diet of not-science here. But there is so little real going on. Anyway, Eli is pushing Machiavelli, and a while ago PK asked “How would Hobbes organize society to avert climate change?”. I had no answer, so I ignored the question, but now return to it.

Hobbes has little to say directly about policy: his focus is on the justification and structure of government. Read Leviathan. He is a great believer in a strong central authority, and the meaningless of contracts made without a power to enforce them. So stuff like Kyoto would be out. Hobbes view is that the primary responsibility of government is Peace; or in other words the security of the population; the sovereign can and should do anything necessary to achieve that (see part II for details). Implicit in this is a long-term view; combining that with prevention of disorder, you could plausibly argue for a Hobbesian sovereign to take preventative action on climate change.

Given that, I can see no reason why said sovereign wouldn’t like a carbon tax. All the usual arguments against it – basically, the PR-campaign junk that its hard to get past the legislature or voters – collapse in the face of strong long-term centralised government. Hobbes is also keen to stress that it is in our reasoning that we agree, and it is thus conducive to peace; whereas in our passions we disagree, and it is therefore conducive to discord. He would not be impressed by the level of debate at many a blog [*]. Hobbes is strongly opposed to corruption, and argues for monarchy against democracy on the grounds that there are fewer people at the top to corrupt (not that they, individually, would be any better). And carbon-trading stuff is full of opportunities for corruption, so I shall claim Hobbes for my side.

As far as I can tell, nothing else but this is required, for an individual country. He can’t help you get an international agreement, though1.

I should also add that the Hobbesian sovereign has a duty to “judge what opinions and doctrines are averse, who shall be allowed to speak to multitudes, and who shall examine the doctrines of all books before they are published”. If the said sovereign decided that denialists were deliberately spreading falsehoods conducive to discord, he would make short work of them. [Note to the obtuse: this post attempts to say what Hobbes would say. It does not necessarily reflect my own views.]

[*] “that they that exhort and dehort, where they are required to give counsel, are corrupt counsellors, and as it were bribed by their own interest” (L 25, “Of Counsel”) is a nice quote, found via this.


1. A quasi-interesting point arises here. Jasay’s “The State” says Nation states are in a state of nature and show no inclination to pool sovereignty in a superstate. Yet contrary to what Hobbes is usually taken to have implied, most of them manage to avoid war a good deal of the time. Which is true. But the crux – ignoring the non-historicity of the State-of-Nature – is that while for individuals even the strongest must fear the weakest while they sleep, for states it is somewhat the other way round: that even the strong can’t defeat the weak without a fair degree of effort. And so while the argument – that without an overall Sword there is no real Law and agreements are not binding – remains true, the consequences change: states relate to each other differently to how individuals relate.

Lack of caution

I finally decided to write this after reading Oregon County Decides to Go Native by DA. My thesis is: we’re too confident of our ability to survive changes, and are too inclined to make risky changes, or fail to invest is safety.

This might surprise some of you who misread Economics and Climatology? or On getting out more. In some senses, “economics” is the full-throttle never-mind-the-dangers end of the spectrum, though you could argue that, at least in theory, it builds in some caution. But, as usual, it isn’t the economics, its the politics that is the problem. Which inevitably comes round to “its the electorate that is the problem” as DA’s story nicely shows.

What I was thinking was that in the “Goode Olde Dayes” of grinding rural poverty on the land for 80% of the population, anyone or any region who got too carried away trying out exciting new ideas without a decent backstop stood a fair chance of starving to death when their new crop failed. We’ve pretty well lost that caution: few people think we’re in any danger of starving to death, and those who do are generally treated as wild-eyed wackos. I don’t think its particularly likely myself, at least not any time in the near future. The danger is more that we have an apparently resilient society, but perhaps it isn’t as resilient as we think. There is a finance analogue to this too, in that people have somehow come to believe that the Euro mess will have a happy ending, possibly if everyone keeps insisting that All Will Be Well. But it might not be.

But there is safety in diversity. The residents of Josephine County (pop: 83,000), in southwestern Oregon are safe (in the long term, as a bloc; possibly not in the short term as individuals). If their experiment goes horribly wrong they can leave, or the Feds will step in. And it will be an interesting experiment, for good or ill.