Economics and Climatology?

Reading P3 and mt I got stuck at

…economics makes grandiose claims to be the science of collective behavior, or even the science of collective happiness. Yet it dismisses any philosophically interesting aspects of these questions in favor of counting dollar-denominated transactions. Nevertheless, it claims for itself a unique position among the sciences, as the crux, the central weighing mechanism, for all public decision-making.

Leaving to the side, if I can for the moment, the “philosophically interesting” aspects I’m interested in the “central weighing mechanism” point.

It isn’t clear to me if mt is rejecting (a) the idea of having a weighing mechanism, or (b) the idea that economics is it?

I don’t think (b) is plausible – economics is, pretty well by definition, the weighing mechanism. Assuming you believe in one.

That leaves (a) (I think. Are there other options?). I think that’s a bad choice – the only alternative to a central mechanism is a decentralised mechanism, where everyone uses their own prejudices. Which is the bad bits of the current political mess (if you want an example of decision-making not based on economics, then try this or more generally). I think you want more economics, not less, but done properly.

Once upon a time I think I would have rejected (a), or perhaps I would have not got past my reservations over it. There are still immense problems with reducing everything to a common monetary unit (e.g. Stern is broken). But I now think that to refuse to accept (a) is just to stick your head under a blanket. These decisions and trade-offs will be made anyway; its impossible not to make them. So they should be made in the best way.

[Update: if you want an example of why doing things non-economically is a bad idea, try this].


* Carlyle and the Racist Origins of the Idea that Economics was “the Dismal Science”
* The crash wasn’t derivatives and it wasn’t big banks: as Spain shows
* Covered in Bees finds mt a bit hand-wavy too.

A study of climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems

a-study-of-climatological-research I first saw this a while back: maybe 2 years ago, but CR reminded me of it recently. As far as I can tell it is genuine; the CIA offer to sell you it, though if you try to buy you get a 404. Why you’d buy it when others have it for free I don’t know. I don’t seem to have blogged it then; others did but just to push their own tedious ends (yes, its global cooling come again, don’t all switch off at once).

There are a couple of things to look at in a report like this. The most interesting is, presumably, what did the CIA think about climate change then. Slightly less interesting, but revealing, is to ask “did the author have a clue?” The answer is no, as the following snippet reveals all by itself:
Continue reading “A study of climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems”

Explaining too much

A couple of people have recently complained about the rash of stories explaining how snow-in-December (or, your pet weather event at whatever time of year) is compatible with Global Warming. For example: Cold Spells From Climate Change? (DA) or Yes, they have now said it (TW; I’m sure those two will love being associated).

What I think is correct is to explain that Yes, X has occurred, which perhaps you might not expect given GW, but then showing that it is entirely compatible with GW. Not that it is a particularly exciting game to play, because pretty well any form of weather will be; the variation in weather is so large, compared to the slow changes under GW, that it will be a long time before any given weather event we’re used to could possibly be ruled out.

What I think rather less correct is attempting to say Y has occurred because of GW; and that is so for pretty well the same reasons. And of course it doesn’t play terribly well either: “ha, they are saying that both heatwaves and freezes are caused by GW, hence it must all be nonsense”. Of course that isn’t what the science is saying, only that both are compatible.

So before explaining such-and-such an event, the first thing you need to do is to show that there is something in need of an explanation. A cold December in Europe doesn’t fall into that category. So when the NYT (ref’d by DA) says

Over the past few weeks, subzero temperatures in Poland claimed 66 lives; snow arrived in Seattle well before the winter solstice, and fell heavily enough in Minneapolis to make the roof of the Metrodome collapse; and last week blizzards closed Europe’s busiest airports in London and Frankfurt for days, stranding holiday travelers. The snow and record cold have invaded the Eastern United States, with more bad weather predicted. All of this cold was met with perfect comic timing by the release of a World Meteorological Organization report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record, and 2001 through 2010 the warmest decade on record.

How can we reconcile this?

The obvious answer is: Der, this is global warming, not local, and 2010 is more than just a few weeks. Annual cycles like El Niño/Southern Oscillation, solar variability and global ocean currents cannot account for recent winter cooling is probably true, but deliberately leaving out natural variability as an explanation is at worst ignorant. But all this is just a peg to hang some bloke’s forecasts off: Model accuracy demonstrated says “Judah Cohen, AER, Inc.” who looks to have consultancy to sell. Cohen issued a real-time winter forecast for Europe for 2010, which was significantly more accurate than those issued by the European forecast centers it says, but conspicuously fails to link to the forecast. Remind you of anyone called Piers? (that’s unfair, I know). FWIW the overall idea (less sea ice => more moisture => more seasonal snow => changes to the jet stream => pick your own favourite result, it could do anything) is at least plausible; I’ve no idea if it is also true.

Meanwhile, George Monbiot has another explanation which made Timmy sad, also keyed off the sea ice, but using a different mechanism (warmer Arctic => reduced pressure gradient between Iceland and Azores => pick your own favourite result, again, possibly mediated by the jet stream if it pleases you).

Or possibly the two mechanisms are, cunningly, the same thing in disguise. But at the moment, such things are subjects for research papers, not settled science. The correct (but boring) response is to go back to the beginning, which should always be, Is there actually anything in need of explanation?


* Environmental reporters ought to be more responsible too (Eric at RC)
* Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
* Cold winter in a world of warming? – Rasmus at RC
* Joe Romm reports Munich Re talking out of its arse but unfortunately he doesn’t realise they are doing so.
* Ben Santer on the attribution of extreme weather events to climate change – ht: CP
* NCAR’s Trenberth on the link between global warming and extreme deluges at CP
* Are recent snows from global warming? – DA


carbon-tax-now I largely ignored Copenhagen (the conference, not the city, I hasten to add: very nice place I’m sure and I mean no disrespect) and chose instead to push for Carbon Tax Now, though I felt obliged to read a little bit of what they had to say. But now we have Cancun. What to say about that, other than rather unoriginal puns?

Nothing but the obvious really: it was a total failure and it would have been better if it had never occurred. Cancun was the triumph of the negotiator-class: the parasites encouraged by all the process: yet another waste-of-time conference designed purely to generate paper (you can get a feel for this by reading some of the stuff that the otherwise sane Ben Hale blogged. The aura of “why did I bother turn up” is palpable. Probably, someone gave him a grant). HT has quite a nice article which attempts to smile through the gloom:

Although it’s not everything we need, the agreement on the table puts the UN negotiations back on track after the shambles of Copenhagen last year. Expectations were lowered in the run-up to Cancun and completing the final agreement was never a possibility… when it became obvious that a deal had been crafted, there was such a palpable feeling of relief… the Bolivian Climate Change Ambassador complained that governments had not gone far enough in agreeing emissions cuts. He is right, but for almost all the governments, the deal on the table is a good step forward, and all that could be achieved…. The emissions reduction pledges in the Copenhagen Accord were merely noted in this Cancun agreement. They fall woefully short of the level of ambition required to avoid dangerous climate change… the good news is that, for the first time in the agreement, there is recognition of the inadequacy of the pledges…

The main touted success appears to be the establishment of a $100 bn Green Climate Fund, which has a lot of people licking their lips over a nice big barrel of pork. Lots of well-paid Western Negotiating Types are going to get a pile of very well paid jobs out of it, and if there is any money left over a number of Developing Country types may get some Pork (for some odd reason Turkey gets its very own special Pork: para 142). But given the real amounts in play, and the rather slim chances that the $100 bn will ever materialise (This headline-grabbing promise, however, is not part of the UN process and is merely an aspiration of rich countries), the West gets off cheaply and is happy.

You can read Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, though I’d bet you probably won’t. But who could fail to agree when they affirm that enhanced action on adaptation should be undertaken in accordance with the Convention; follow a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems; and be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional and indigenous knowledge; with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate?

Around para 50 I started skipping heavily. Around paras 80-100 I thought I was losing the will to live, but then up came para 102:

Decides that the Green Climate Fund shall be designed by a Transitional Committee… shall have 40 members, with 15 members from developed country Parties and 25 members from developing country Parties, with: (a) Seven members from Africa;
(b) Seven members from Asia; (c) Seven members from Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; (d) Two members from small island developing States; (e) Two members from least developed countries;

No pretence that membership will be decided on merit then. Incidentally, the $100 bn is written in, as

98. Recognizes that developed country Parties commit, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries

But that certainly doesn’t sound very binding. After that the text seemed to rather fizzle out and I found nothing worth quoting or mocking. If you find any good stuff in there, please leave a comment.

So I think it has now become perfectly clear that the entire giant international process has stopped being a way to negotiate meaningful cuts in CO2 emissions and has become – well, has been for years, I’m not sure when this first happened, it was a gradual process I suppose – subject to capture by the negotiators, as these things so often are. Far too many people now have far too much of their energy wrapped up and invested in lobbying this bloated zombie process. It needs to die.

Where to go from here?

First off, recognise that it (the current process) has failed and needs to be thrown away. It was a nice try, but gets no cigar. Saying “but it is the only game in town” won’t work. The reason all these long years of negotiations have failed to produce anything meaningful is because there is no real heart available from the politicians to do so – which in turn means lack of heart from the public, since politicians on the whole aren’t the sort who stand up for Principle above Votes, and those who do tend to become Ex Politicians and Lessons. Trying to negotiate a global deal is just too difficult, the only way forward is more local agreement. And as far as I can see the best option is revenue-neutral carbon taxes, honestly applied (which means stuff like no dumping on nukes just cos you don’t like them – or if you must, don’t do it under the guise of a carbon tax. Of course, stopping subsidising the coal mining industry would be a thing to do first, if at all possible). As far as I know, this isn’t a change of heart by me. If you can find me an earlier quote from me contradicting any of this, I’d be interested and you might well win a Valuable Prize of up to $100 bn.

So I shall start my Carbon Tax Now! campaign (in a token attempt to do some research I found this but didn’t of course read the associated pdf). I’ve done the first essential step – I’ve made a logo. I hope you like it. Feel free to “join” me. yes, I know there are Vast Insurmountable Policital Hurdles to overcome. Fear not – I have no interest in them. I’m not a practical politician, you may have noticed. Anyway, this is but the post about Cancun – the post about Carbon Taxes vs Cap-n-Trade is still to come.

This is all The Politics, of course. It doesn’t affect The Science in the least.


* France unveils carbon tax?
* mt – “You don’t run a ship with six big captains, a dozen less influential captains, and a hundred and forty minor captains”
* Yes, agreed, carbon tax now!
* Nature, unable to admit the truth
* Cancun: A reason for optimism? – no, but worth reading anyway.

Climate and Cancer

Ha ha, there you go, yet another provocative headline that won’t really deliver.

From the comments elsewhere (thanks F):

At the rate newspapers keep pushing the boundaries of what nonsense
they will publish, then Einstein’s theories will be up for grabs in a
few years. And there is worse than the reporting done on climate science: try
nutrition, or cancer.

which set me to wondering, hence this post. I would agree that the reporting on nutrition or health etc is utterly appalling; Ben Goldacre has made a good career noticing this. My immeadiate reaction to that is: but everyone *knows* it is so appalling that no-one of any sense takes it seriously: Oh yes, yet another study on red wine being good / bad for you, yawn. All this stuff just washes over you. Everyone knows in their heart that they should eat a varied diet, more veg, less butter, etc etc all the obvious things.

But I think climate reporting is at the same level. Everyone really knows the world is getting warmer and it is our fault. The endless slew of press stories to and fro makes little difference to this. Goverment policy continues onwards like a juggernaut and isn’t touched by gossip. Witness the tiny impact the CRU email hacking had, in the end. It all seemed so exciting for a day or two. The obvious fact that people are reluctant to cut their CO2 consumption by not flying off on holiday is just the same as people still putting lots of butter on their toast and salt on their chips.

As the wise James Annan said “the internet is not a write-only medium you know” but I’m afraid I didn’t bother glance around to see if anyone else has written this perceptive thought before. Or even if I have 🙂