Friday, June 29, 2007
Digging up the roots of the IPCC
...From very early on, the relationship between science and politics around the climate change issue has been an unhealthy one, and this has had a negative impact on both the scientific and political spheres. With regard to science, it seems obvious that its objectivity is open to question once science becomes allied with advocating what should be done rather than telling us what is currently known and what the complexities and uncertainties involved with that knowledge are. Yet today, in pursuit of achieving the action on climate change that they think is right, it is striking how many in the scientific community have become extremely intolerant of dissent.
For example, the UK’s premier scientific academy, the Royal Society, has been at the forefront of policing what it regards as the scientific consensus on climate change. In September 2006, the Royal Society wrote an open letter to ExxonMobil demanding that the oil giant cut off its funding to groups that have ‘misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence’ (27). Explaining this action by the Society to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Bob Ward, author of the letter, said: ‘It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can’t have people trying to undermine it.’ (28) This rather sinister notion of science giving people ‘the final push they need to take action’ shares the same assumptions that informed the activities of Hansen and others in the 1980s – that politicians and the public are not to be trusted to hear all views about the complexities and uncertainties of climate science because it will only lead them, selfishly and short-sightedly, to choose not to act in the way ‘they should’.
Hans von Storch, director of the Institute for Coastal Research of the GKSS Research Centre in Germany and professor at the Meteorological Institute of the University of Hamburg, has written persuasively about his concern that science is being misused in the public debate about climate change to the detriment of science itself. Writing in Der Spiegel in January 2005, von Storch argued that while ‘climate change caused by human activity is an important issue’ we have arrived at a situation where ‘each new claim about the future of our climate and of the planet must be just a little more dramatic than the last’. According to von Storch, public expression of reservations by scientists about ‘climate catastrophe’ are ‘viewed as unfortunate within the scientific community, since they harm the “worthy cause"’. This, he argues, threatens to undermine science in an important way:
‘This self-censorship in the minds of scientists ultimately leads to a sort of deafness toward new, surprising insights that compete with or even contradict the conventional explanatory models. Science is deteriorating into a repair shop for conventional, politically opportune scientific claims. Not only does science become impotent; it also loses its ability to objectively inform the public.’
The IPCC is keen to disassociate itself from the idea that it is telling us what to do, emphasising that its work is ‘policy relevant’ not ‘policy prescriptive’ (30). However, its infamous consensus-based approach seems geared towards narrowing the terrain for political and public debate. Once the scientists have drafted their reports, they are circulated to government officials of all the countries involved. The scientists and officials come together to agree, line-by-line, the wording of each summary report for policymakers. Rajendra K Pachauri, the current chair of the IPCC, described the significance of this process at the press launch of the Working Group I Report The Physical Science Basis in February 2007:
‘It is essentially the scientists and the experts who are the ones who assess and provide the knowledge but this is something that is discussed and debated by the governments and since we accept everything by consensus this has the implication that whatever is accepted here has the stamp of acceptance of all the governments of the world.’ (31)
Once the IPCC has spoken it clearly expects there to be little scope for further debate. That such a constraining and technical ‘line-by-line’ process is accepted by so many as a useful or necessary approach speaks volumes about how neutered politics has become – apparently everyone must sign up to an agreed version of the latest ‘science’ before any debate or discussion can begin.
One historical account of the setting-up of the IPCC refers to it as a scientific issue ‘born in politics’. But the history of climate change might be more usefully understood as a reaction to politics, and shaped as much by a distrust of politics than it has been by science. Ostensibly, the establishment of the IPCC, in which the USA clearly played a key role, accepted the issue of climate change as primarily a scientific one. At a time when the Western world had become increasingly pessimistic about man’s impact on the world, when politicians had little to offer and technocratic management of issues was in the ascendancy, the framing of the issue of climate change as essentially one of science decoding ‘nature’s message’ about humanity’s destructive actions was widely accepted.
What should have been an issue to be debated and discussed politically, informed but not dictated by the best available science, has become framed as primarily a scientific issue about learning to appreciate the limits that nature has set for human activity. As events have unfolded since the formation of the IPCC, the issue of climate change has been transformed into a moral crisis for society and turned into an illiberal campaign that constantly berates individuals about the need to modify their behaviour and reduce their ‘carbon footprint’. This moral agenda is something that the IPCC – a body that prides itself on its scientific credentials – has proved ever more willing to promote. For example, speaking at the press launch of the Working Group III Report Mitigation of Climate Change in May 2007, Pachauri stated boldly:
‘It is of great satisfaction that this report for the first time has dealt with lifestyle and consumption patterns as an important means by which we can bring about mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. So of course you can look at technologies, you can look at policies, but what is an extremely powerful message in this report is the need for human society as a whole to start looking at changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns.’ (32)
An overtly moralistic message, that emphasises behaviour change over technological innovation, is delivered without criticism from any quarter, by a body whose authority is ultimately rooted in the collapse of politics.
From the moment the IPCC was born, the scope for an overtly political approach to dealing with any questions raised or problems thrown up by climate change was compromised by politicians with little vision for society, who became increasingly attracted to the notion of ‘natural limits’ as a justification for political and economic stasis. As political convictions have withered, politicians and activists of all persuasions have come to present their arguments in terms of what ‘the science’ is telling us to do. Even Al Gore, who is seen as almost evangelical about what he describes as a ‘climate crisis’, presents his argument in morally weak terms as an ‘inconvenient truth’ brought to us by the work of scientists.
The way in which politicians, the media and civil society have come to hang on the latest pronouncements of the IPCC demonstrates how this political failure has allowed a scientific conceptualisation of a political problem to become institutionalised across the globe, to the point where conceiving of it differently has become almost unimaginable. But imagine it we must, if we are to open a genuine debate about the politics, and science, of global warming.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
One problem he had in politics, he says, was identifying an issue too early--"'predawn' is the term I use"--to be able to act on it. But "in the business world, particularly at a time when things are moving so swiftly, if you can see it early, you can make a business opportunity out of it." He pauses. "For whatever reason, the business world rewards a long-term perspective more than the political world does."
-- Al Gore
NHS rationing is 'necessary evil', say doctors
THE government and NHS must be more open with patients about the need to ration treatments and services in a system with a limited pot of cash, doctors said yesterday.
The British Medical Association conference heard that rationing was inevitable and a "necessary evil" in today's health service.
Scottish doctors also warned that targets which did not improve patients' care were being given preference to funding treatments which would make a difference.
It comes after growing discontent over decisions made by NHS rationing bodies in the UK, including the Scottish Medicines Consortium.
Patients have voiced anger that new, but expensive, treatments are denied them on the NHS.
In some cases they are available in Scotland, while patients in England go without.
Alex Smallwood, from the BMA's junior doctors' committee, told the meeting in Torquay it needed to be accepted that rationing must take place in the NHS, but this had to be done much more openly.
"It is no longer possible to provide all the latest to absolutely everybody without notable detriment to others," he said.
"Rationing is reduction in choice. Rationing has become a necessary evil. We need to formalise rationing to prevent an unregulated, widening, postcode-lottery of care. Government no longer has a choice." ...
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Judge can't fix government's $100 million boo-boo
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It was a $100 million mistake, and a federal judge said Friday he does not have the power to fix it.
The U.S. Justice Department erred last year and cited the wrong law in a binding plea agreement with telecommunication entrepreneur Walter Anderson, the largest known tax evader in U.S. history. That mistake made it impossible for the government to recover between $100 million and $175 million, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said in March.
Prosecutors urged him to reconsider, but Friedman reluctantly said Friday that his hands were tied.
"The court is not free to read something into a contract that is not there or to interpret uncertain language in the government's favor," Friedman said.
Although prosecutors described the error as "a typo" -- typographical error -- and not "something that the court should be getting wrapped up about," Friedman said he could do nothing else.
He said he would have worked around the problem by ordering Anderson to repay the money as part of his probation. But prosecutors omitted any discussion of probation, a common element of plea deals, from Anderson's paperwork....
Saturday, June 16, 2007
The British government recently unveiled plans for a massive crackdown on “excessive drinking,” particularly among the middle class. It will include all of the familiar tactics of public health officials: dire new warnings on wine bottles, public-awareness campaigns, scolding from men and women in lab coats....
...Britain still subscribes to a system where health care is for the most part socialized. When the bureaucrat-priesthood of the National Health Service decides that a certain behavior is unacceptable, the consequences potentially involve more than scolding. For example, in 2005, Britain’s health service started refusing certain surgeries for fat people. An official behind the decision conceded that one of the considerations was cost. Fat people would benefit from the surgery less, and so they deserved it less. As Tony Harrison, a British health-care expert, explained to the Toronto Sun at the time, “Rationing is a reality when funding is limited.”
But it’s impossible to distinguish such cost-cutting judgments from moral ones. The reasoning is obvious: Fat people, smokers and — soon — drinkers deserve less health care because they bring their problems on themselves. In short, they deserve it. This is a perfectly logical perspective, and if I were in charge of everybody’s health care, I would probably resort to similar logic.
But I’m not in charge of everybody’s health care. Nor should anyone else be. In a free-market system, bad behavior will still have high costs personally and financially, but those costs are more likely to borne by you and you alone. The more you socialize the costs of personal liberty, the more license you give others to regulate it. ...
Dissidents Against Dogma
We should never be more vigilant than at the moment a new dogma is being installed. The claque endorsing what is now dignified as "the mainstream theory" of global warming stretches all the way from radical greens through Al Gore to George W. Bush, who signed on at the end of May. The left has been swept along, entranced by the allure of weather as revolutionary agent, naïvely conceiving of global warming as a crisis that will force radical social changes on capitalism by the weight of the global emergency. Amid the collapse of genuinely radical politics, they have seen it as the alarm clock prompting a new Great New Spiritual Awakening.
Alas for their illusions. Capitalism is ingesting global warming as happily as a python swallowing a piglet. The press, which thrives on fearmongering, promotes the nonexistent threat as vigorously as it did the imminence of Soviet attack during the cold war, in concert with the arms industry. There's money to be made, and so, as Talleyrand said, "Enrich yourselves!" I just bought two roundtrip British Airways ticket to Spain from Seattle and a BA online passenger advisory promptly instructed me that the CO2 "offset" cost would be $7.90 on each ticket, which I might care to contribute to Climate Care. ...
...The marquee slogan in the new cold war on global warming is that the scientific consensus is virtually unanimous. This is utterly false. The overwhelming majority of climate computer modelers, the beneficiaries of the $2 billion-a-year global warming grant industry, certainly believe in it but not necessarily most real climate scientists-people qualified in atmospheric physics, climatology and meteorology.
Geologists are particularly skeptical. Peter Sciaky, a retired geologist, writes to me thus:
"A geologist has a much longer perspective. There are several salient points about our earth that the greenhouse theorists overlook (or are not aware). The first of these is that the planet has never been this cool. There is abundant fossil evidence to support this--from plants of the monocot order (such as palm trees) in the rocks of Cretaceous Age in Greenland and warm water fossil in sedimentary rocks of the far north. this is hardly the first warming period in the earth's history. The present global warming is hardly unique. It is arriving pretty much "on schedule." One thing, for sure, is that the environmental community has always spurned any input from geologists (many of whom are employed by the petroleum industry). No environmental conference, such as Kyoto, has ever invited a geologist, a paleontologist, a paleoclimatologist. It would seem beneficial for any scientific investigatory to include such scientific disciplines.
...Take Warsaw-based Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, famous for his critiques of ice-core data. He's devastating on the IPCC rallying cry that CO2 is higher now than it has ever been over the past 650,000 years. In his 1997 paper in the Spring 21st Century Science and Technology, he demolishes this proposition. In particular, he's very good on pointing out the enormous inaccuracies in the ice-core data and the ease with which a CO2 reading from any given year is contaminated by the CO2 from entirely different eras. He also points out that from 1985 on there's been some highly suspect editing of the CO2 data, presumably to reinforce the case for the "unprecedented levels" of modern CO2. In fact, in numerous papers prior to 1985, there were plenty of instances of CO2 levels much higher than current CO2 measurements, some even six times higher. He also points out that it is highly unscientific to merge ice-core temperature measurements with modern temperature measurements....
...Move to that bane of the fearmongers, Dr. Patrick Michaels, on sabbatical from the University of Virginia, now at the Cato Institute, who has presented in papers and recently, in his book Meltdown, demolitions of almost every nightmare scenario invented by the greenhousers, particularly regarding hurricanes, tornadoes, sea rise, disappearing ice caps, drought and floods. A qualified climatologist, he analyses the data invoked to buttress each of these scenarios and shows the actual climate history not only fails to support the claims but also that in the majority of cases the opposite is true. Hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods and other weather extremes are currently decreasing, contrary to Hansen, Mann and the other sensationalists. Michaels is particularly good on the ludicrous claims regarding catastrophic sea rise as well as the by now universally trumpeted melting icecaps and supposed impending disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet. Michaels is sometimes slammed as a hired gun for the fossil fuel industry, but I haven't seen any significant dents or quantitative ripostes to his meticulous scientific critiques....
...Besides the inability to deal with water, the other huge embarrassment facing the modelers is the well-researched and well-established fact published in many papers that temperature changes first and CO2 levels change 600 to 1,000 years later. Any rational person would immediately conclude that CO2 could not possibly cause temperature if the rise in CO2 in comes centuries after the rise in temperature.
Freedom, not climate, is at riskWe are living in strange times. One exceptionally warm winter is enough – irrespective of the fact that in the course of the 20th century the global temperature increased only by 0.6 per cent – for the environmentalists and their followers to suggest radical measures to do something about the weather, and to do it right now.
In the past year, Al Gore’s so-called “documentary” film was shown in cinemas worldwide, Britain’s – more or less Tony Blair’s – Stern report was published, the fourth report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was put together and the Group of Eight summit announced ambitions to do something about the weather. Rational and freedom-loving people have to respond. The dictates of political correctness are strict and only one permitted truth, not for the first time in human history, is imposed on us. Everything else is denounced.
The author Michael Crichton stated it clearly: “the greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda”. I feel the same way, because global warming hysteria has become a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem. It requires courage to oppose the “established” truth, although a lot of people – including top-class scientists – see the issue of climate change entirely differently. They protest against the arrogance of those who advocate the global warming hypothesis and relate it to human activities.
As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.
The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment. They are Malthusian pessimists....
...I agree with Professor Richard Lindzen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who said: “future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early 21st century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree, and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly uncertain computer projections combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a roll-back of the industrial age”....