Friday, February 29, 2008

The greening of capitalism

Frank Furedi has this excellent review of the newly published Green Capitalism by James Heartfield.

Noting that environmentalism has emerged over the past 50 years to become the pre-dominant Western sensibility, Furedi notes that:

  • ...environmentalism dominates the cultural imagination, directly shapes contemporary lifestyle, and has emerged as a powerful moralising project. To be green is to be virtuous, responsible, if not yet holy. Public discourse is underpinned by green values, and for politicians ‘helping to save the planet’ has become a point-scoring apple-pie issue.
Most importantly, the environmental imperative has transfused capitalism, restructuring and redefining its central ethos that Heartfield characterizes as the manufacturing of scarcity but that Furedi suggests has more to do with a more pervasive morality of consumption:
  • protest against consumerism doesn’t represent the rejection of consumption, but rather its moralisation. From a sociological perspective, green consumption can be seen as a new form of conspicuous consumption. This is consumption for effect.
  • shopping habits are acts of social demarcation. Through adopting the identity of an ethical shopper, someone who cares and who reflects on what they purchase, green consumers are self-consciously marking themselves off from their moral, and incidentally their social, inferiors.
  • Under the banner of green capitalism, more and more features of economic life are being reorganised and restructured. Everything from the emission of carbon to the air we breathe to the water we drink has been transformed into a commodity.
The effect is the opposite from what Heartfield suggests: environmentalism is acting to commodify the environment and capitalism as an efficient economic system has responded to that new market delineation.

I like Furedi's writing as it always causes me to reflect and consider meanings. In this instance, he has Heartfield's thesis to work with and the result is an article that adds both insight and an alternative interpretation to the material Heartfield discusses.

All things are not simple and transparent. Even studies that seek to provide clarity may instead provide insight that complicates, rather than simplifies, our understanding.

Real life is nuanced, full of subtlety and contradictions. Perhaps that is the source of its vibrancy and resiliency: dare I say, its sustainability.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Validating AGW skepticism

An update to my earlier post on all the cold weather being experienced around the world: it seems the cooling
recorded this year exceeds all the climate warming measured for the past 100 years. Total cooling this year ranges from 0.6C to 0.75C: all in one year, the fastest temperature change ever recorded and it was cooling.

As noted by commentators on the original post:
  • This drop in temperature is certainly very unusual. The fall of 0.595 degrees since Jan 2007 is the largest January-to-January drop in HAD CRU3 since 1875, and the biggest drop for any 12-month interval since -0.681 degrees in February 1974.
  • The January temperature is the lowest for any month since 1994, and the lowest for a month unaffected by volcanic eruptions in 20 years.
  • January 2008 was cooler than January 1932, even after all the downwards adjustments they have applied to the old data.
  • Drop about another .5C, and we’re basically back to where we were in the mid-late 1800s when the Little Ice Age ended.
  • I’m amazed that no one else is commenting on the NH land (where 90% of people live) average temp falling 2.4C (jan 2007 to jan 2008) in 12 months.
  • The IPCC is saying we will get that amount of warming in 50 years and it will be a catastrophe. Yet, we get that amount of cooling in a year and no one bats an eyelid.
Climate change. Dynamic, natural and larger in magnitude than any human modification.

Its just
a hypothesis, as this one year of data are not a trend. But it is a hypothesis that does fit all the facts, historical trends and present observations. And it does so without caveats, proscribed constants as explanatory variables or any consensus on what politically approved activities should and should not be counted as relevant.

Who knows, maybe it will even cause us to pause and re-consider just what we know about:

As a minimum, it would suggest the science is still far from settled and certainly remains insufficient for the type of social engineering AGW advocates would seek to justify through its co-optation .

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Global Warming: Not So Fast

It is always interesting when mainstream science is published that runs counter to the prevailing axiomatic construct.

In this instance, it
is a climate study that predicts climate sensitivity is much lower than advocates of global warming contend. The study concludes that even if atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide do double, it will likely only result in an increased global temperature of 1.5 to 2.0ÂșC by the end of the century.

In other words, predicted changes in climate are well within scope of simple adaptive strategies and the angst over how to reduce carbon emissions without destroying global economic prosperity is a non-issue. We simply do not have to fear massive climate change this century and rather than decimate the present carbon-centric economy in the name of the environment, we can proceed to replace our carbon dependency with a new era of fuels in an economically sustainable fashion, as and when that technology becomes available and as market conditions allow.

Interesting to see how the climate magisterium handles this latest science.

Samizdata quote of the day

Here from Samizdata is a quote that gets more profound the more you consider its implications:
  • Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.
  • Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine, 1943.
Environmental issues today are not a function of a lack of information, knowledge nor technique. Generally, they are not a function of neglect. Rather they are the result of well intentioned interventions wherein the people advocating the particular course of action are precluded by their ideological perspective from altering the path they have set out for themselves. This is the case with climate change, waste management, energy policy, habitat preservation and water management.

Resource management is not constrained by lack of information, by its foundational science: it is bounded by the rationality of the people making political decisions about the management of human activities and the agendas individuals bring to the policy arena.

Some examples from recent posts relate to climate change, poverty reduction, carbon emissions and energy policy.

O.K., so why does this situation persist? Good question. Phillip Stott has this answer:
  • To me, that is one of the most maddening things about the environmentalists’ pre-occupation with the issue of global warming: it is driving out virtually every other environmental issue and is eviscerating the concept of individual responsibility for dealing with environmental problems on a local basis.
  • Highlighting global warming as a priority makes every other environmental concern secondary. The political and scientific zealotry with regard to global warming has taken public attention away from a host of legitimate environmental issues.
  • Concentrating public attention and efforts on combating global warming has swept these genuine environmental issues under the rug and has made dealing with the environment a governmental issue instead of one in which all of us can play a constructive role.
Problems persist because they are subsumed within the larger political agenda of well-intentioned people who believe that their ends justify whatever means are necessary for them to be achieved.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Climate news from Greenie Watch

Two posts today from the blog Greenie Watch on the realities and insanities of climate change. First, the reality part. This year, many areas of the planet are experiencing severe cold spells and extremes of winter weather, with dramatic and severe consequences. However:
  • really is remarkable how little attention has been paid to the extraordinary weather events which in recent weeks have been affecting other parts of the world.
Simply put, the media's past commitment to building hype around global warming is now acting to preclude widespread focus on the unusual cold being experienced in countries as diverse as China, Afghanistan and Greece.
Conversely, the climate magisterium continues to grow in such eco-whipped jurisdictions as San Francisco. However, the mayor's latest appointment of a director for climate change initiatives has caused even green party politicians to express concern:
  • ...critics in City Hall have pounced on the amorphous "climate protection" title and have blasted the mayor for creating the new role - as well as for creating new jobs for other members of his senior circle and doling out hefty pay raises - while the city braces for a projected $233 million deficit next fiscal year and lawmakers contemplate reducing hospital operating room hours and delaying playground improvement projects to balance the budget.
Perhaps the real choking point is the base salary of $160,000 that goes with the position: you don't need advanced math to calculate the trade-off between this one fluff position and potential playground improvements or the number of nursing positions that same revenue could have been used to create.

Or maybe its the fact that the position really doesn't do anything in applied, practical terms. Its just another body to attend meetings, host meetings and generate more paper on what needs to be done to change San Francisco into an eco-haven. Doubtless someone, somewhere has published a paper on the link between global warming and increased earthquake risk that directly pertains to the need for San Francisco to have still yet another high paid flunky for climate protection.

Words fail me. But not others thankfully.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What use is math?

Its always interesting to see the response when someone poses a question challenging an axiomatic construct. What is the purpose of mathematics as a high school subject? Brian Micklethwait asks this most basic of questions.

It is interesting to see the knee-jerk response of all those whose careers depend upon higher-level mathematics rather than the basic arithmetic taught at an elementary level.

But what of the vast majority for whom their mathematics instruction is both a torture and a general waste of energy? For example, my daughters both faced enormous encouragement (pressure?) from both teachers and peers to take calculus. But who needs calculus? Who uses it? Hand up everyone who has calculated the area under the curve in the past year.

Clearly, certain professions and certain skills might require calculus and/or algebra and/or vectors or whatever else comprises the high school math curricula in your jurisdiction. But isn't what most people need today some basic accounting and financial literacy, which most schools don't teach (and which many teachers could also use!) and the basics of data management, enough to assess statistics, lies and damned lies? No one is suggesting math be eliminated from the curriculum, but perhaps its primacy as a (perceived) required subject might be revisited and revised.

Micklethwait has started a new blog focusing on education and here's hoping he keeps posting some of the same basic questions such as this one on the value of math, the merits of home schooling and why so many academics are biased toward the political left.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

To DVD or not to DVD

Two posts today which illustrate the 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation critics of climate change find themselves consigned to.

The first is a review and some comments on the Christopher Monkton DVD produced to counter Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. Monkton's DVD was produced in a manner that parodied the format and style of Gore but presents alternative data, ways of viewing data and reaches the opposite conclusion, that climate change is not a crisis. So far so good. But AGW zealots commenting on the DVD (or rather, reviews of the DVD) suggest that climate discussions should be left to experts and that anyone who wants to disagree with the assumed consensus should do so in an academic forum, not alternative media.

O.K. so now lets look at today's second post, which discusses Steve McIntyre's visit and presentation to an academic audience at Georgia Tech. Apparently, the professor who invited McIntyre to speak faced extensive criticism for extending an invite to a renowned climate skeptic to present at her institution. At the same time, McIntyre received few questions on the substantive aspects of his presentation and areas of expertise.

Skeptics who use the media to present their case are vilified. Skeptics wishing to present in an academic forum are vilified. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Now let's be clear: most of the invective comes from the chattering zealots of the blogosphere on these issues. But if enlightened, secure academics welcome discussion and debate, why won't those who follow the wider implications of the policy debate? Perhaps because the academics are focused on the science and value discussion, while the activists (including the many global warming activist scientists) are operating in the political arena where spin and image count far more than substance.

Here is McIntyre's own conclusion:

  • On a number of occasions, I was asked (in different ways) whether I endorsed IPCC findings. I’ve said on many occasions (including the preamble to my talk at Georgia Tech), that, if I had a senior policy making job, I would be guided by the views of major scientific institutions like IPCC and that, in such a capacity, I would not be influenced by any personal views that I might hold on any scientific issue. Many people seemed to want me to make a stronger statement, but I’m unwilling to do so. In the area that I know best - millennial climate reconstructions - I do not believe that IPCC AR4 represents a balanced or even correct exposition of the present state of knowledge. I don’t extrapolate from this to the conclusion that other areas are plagued by similar problems.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The bottled water myth

Water. It is the mainstay of human existence and essential for life. Wouldn't think it would generate environmental controversy, as all should recognize water as an environmental good. By that I don't mean I don't recognize that issues of water supply and demand and management are non-controversial (I spend a lot of time in my career as an academic and consultant working on water management) -- but I never would have expected water to be used as an icon for environmental morality.

Sadly, not even water is exempt from eco-ideology. Just this week a good friend sent me an email missive reporting on how bottled water supposedly causes cancer. Now as principal water supplier for my girls basketball teams, I would be concerned, except that it is a myth. But as usual, there are enough idiots in politics to seize on any issue and attempt to translate it into environmental dogma.

Bottled water may be expensive. It may be unnecessary. It may be a consumer fad. I can handle discussion on any of these themes. But to cast bottled water as an agent of destruction, to invoke gender politics and issues of health safety is environmental moralism at its most exploitative. It also is emblematic of how ecomyths are created, propagated and translated into policy dogma.

All in the name of someone's agenda for the "greater good".

But no government would ever use an ecomyth as a basis for societal control, would they?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Consensus in science

A thoughtful post here from William Briggs, with an interesting series of comments, on the appearance and substance of consensus in science.

Ecomyths mix dubious claims of consensus with a smattering of hypocrisy and spin them into policy dogma. Add some false images for marketing, and let the media run away with things and never mind the facts. The end result is groupthink, which may look like a consensus but doesn't validate its assertions. Rather, it lends a sheen of green justification for ill-conceived populist policies: see my post below.

Good news is that a blog like ecomyths is not in any danger of becoming redundant.

Obama, Exxon Mobil, economics and populism

It is a common fallacy to assume that more information, or even better information, will result in better decision making. What is overlooked is that decision-making is a political activity and politics is as much about the perception of reality as it is facts about reality: any piece of information can be spun to appear to justify or compel a course of action or inaction deemed politically expedient.

This post from QandO gives an excellent illustration.

Oil companies are easy targets for populist politicians. As Edmund Burke noted some time ago, the problem with equality is that we all want to be equal with somebody who has more than us. Equality is antithetical to liberty. Politics is about power and those... who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to anything but power for their relief.

So, despite the fact that we know liberty and individual freedom are necessary precursors to economic development, material well-being and prosperity, ideologues and populist politicians still like to refer to omnivorous corporations as the bad guys, as if the world could be fixed tomorrow by merely stealing their wealth and re-allocating it equally amongst the citizenry. (Populists dismiss this theft as a necessary and justifiable act, because in populist ideology, the ends are always used to justify the means). Not only does massive re-allocation of private wealth rely upon the imposition of state rule (and hence the creation of unfettered state power) it also assumes that re-allocation will be both even and effective. Numerous socialist schemes have attempted such reform throughout history. Not one has successfully achieved equality: even where mass poverty was the eventual outcome, the result was not even, for state officials, the party and those exercising re-allocative power always net out ahead, while everyone else suffers greater misery. Even when the results are less dramatic, those who exercise power are advantaged economically at the expense of the masses.

Simply put, populist politics is a lie. Equality does not exist and equality of outcome is a dangerous myth. Politics should be about the provision of equity, social justice and the opportunity for growth. What individuals do with that opportunity, rests with them. The job of the state is to facilitate the individual and the role of politics should be about preventing the mechanisms of the state from inhibiting the individual from achieving prosperity.

Clearly, not everyone will agree with this political ideology. That's o.k.: but at least it stands on its own merits and not the unrealisable lies of populist rhetoric.

Or to use another metaphor, we can seek the politician who is authentic, or settle for one who is just lip-synching old standards.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Climate Models and the Scientific Method

Some of the best analysis on science and its use (and misuse) in public policy is that offered by Roger Pielke, Jr.

His latest
post draws a comparison between the tactics of some climate skeptics and those of activist scientists, indicating that persistent belief in a proposition not open to falsification is not an act of science but of social construction: an act of politics.

What prompts his discussion is the latest in a series of dismissals by AGW advocates of recent weather events that would seem contrary to the predictions of global warming models. The fact that these are weather events notwithstanding, defenders of the AGW faith have moved to dismiss queries about contrary weather extremes with the defence that they are "not inconsistent" with modelled projections for climate change.

Pielke's point is that it appears just about any abnormal weather event is consistent with some aspect of modelled climate change. If all change is deemed to be "not inconsistent" how are the projections ever to be tested for their veracity and validity?

Some time ago, Michael Crichton gave a speech in which he referred to ideological environmentalism as a religion. In contrast, many people still subscribe to the notion of environmentalism as being scientifically valid.

The problem comes when the science of environmentalism is scrutinized and it is defended as a religious belief, but when environmentalism is deconstructed as a religion and it is then defended by appeals to scientific authority. Either this is having your cake and eating it too, or it is non-paradoxical by fiat: it is the truth and the way and no questions can be asked of the truth. Both constructs lead to totalitarianism, the imposition of dogma and the creation of the scientist as dictator (maybe that's what these guys mean?).

Adaptation is the only answer

Robert Bryce has posted this thoughtful essay on the next step in the debate over climate.  Irregardless of the perspective of skeptics, Bryce suggests that the public relations war is done and dusted:
  • ...the science no longer matters, because it has become so rancorous and so politicized.
  • Anyone who dares to question the group think about global warming is immediately branded as a heretic/sellout/ignoramus or worse. Questioning the IPCC's conclusions can be a bad career move for scientists who study climate.
  • To me, the central question, and the one that few are willing to discuss in depth, is: Then what? That is, if political leaders agree with Gore and others who believe too much carbon dioxide is bad, then what are we going to do?
  • ...when it comes to global warming and energy consumption, there are three main issues to be addressed: technology, morality, and the scale of global energy use.
In so doing, Bryce forces the issue beyond the typical media hysteria and focuses his discussion on the implications that arise from any changes to climate:
  • even if we desire to, do we have the technology to control climate?
  • do we have alternative energy options that are economically viable?  Are they viable options for the poorer parts of the globe, those parts still embarking on the basics of economic development?
  • what are the moral implications of the developed world enforcing its world view on the majority of the planet still aspiring to achieve the levels of progress we now seem to take for granted and that some zealots want to demonize as cancerous?
Bryce succinctly points out that energy consumption will continue to increase throughout the near future.  For exponents of AGW the reality is that they must begin thinking in terms of adaptation strategies and not just expunging their perceived nemesis: oil.
In many ways climate change is a non-issue.  Increased levels of energy demand from developing countries will act as an added economic stimulus for energy efficiency and the innovation of technologically derived alternatives.  The distinction is whether we allow the market place to develop alternatives to lowering our carbon footprint through the creation of sustainable adaptative strategies, or if we persist in seeking to impose dogmatically sound but uneconomic, unrealistic and ultimately non-sustainable policy options that appease green sentiment but entail widespread suffering and economic hardship.
Sustainability is a response to change that is creative and empowering.  Too often it is mis-construed as conservation that mistakes piety for effectiveness.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Case Against Climate Alarmism

The mantra to act on climate and reduce carbon dioxide emissions has become the axiomatic construct of contemporary environmentalism. In this ideology, "science" has become the trump card that drowns out reason and compels compliance with the dogma.

Both this essay and its introduction are timely and succinct counter-points to AGW dogma.

See also the arguments advanced here in a number of different formats.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

For those who want to see the science

There are those who will persist in subscribing to the theory of AGW even when the data exist to refute it. Others merely want to see some scientific studies that clearly counter the AGW claims with alternate data and not just analysis that suggests flaws and weaknesses in the argument.

For those who want to see a study that clearly refutes the claims of global warming, this study from Sweden to appear in the refereed journal, Climate Dynamics, will certainly fit the bill. The study finds confirms that:
  • the late-twentieth century is not exceptionally warm
  • the Medieval Warm Period is clearly evidenced: indeed, it was much warmer than previously recognized, and
  • the temperature reconstruction shows a trend of -0.3C over the past 1,500 years.
What the Swedish study shows is that temperatures have a slight cooling trend for the past 1,500 years. As illustrated in the graphs below, despite the recent warming of the last 200 years, present temperatures are neither unprecedented nor alarming, as past temperatures in AD 750, 1000, 1400 and 1750 were all as warm or warmer than today.

So what we have is a study from Scandinavia and another from California both confirming the Medieval Warm Period, evidence that the MWP may have even been warmer than previously supposed, additional support for a natural cycling of temperatures, and no evidence of any elevated carbon dioxide connected to any changes.

O.K., so what else is necessary to refute the theory if it is all about the science?

  • if you have a proxy with no correlation with temperature and do a reconstruction and then add the instrumental record at the end, you get a hockey stick, because the recon will just be white noise (or red noise) with a mean of 0. Craig Loehle

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A primer on ideology

As a professor constantly surprised by the lack of ideological literacy demonstrated by students, I appreciate this post by Steve Boriss that seeks to explain both political ideology and its various manifestations. The key here is in the basic constructs: right and left, not right vs. wrong, or Democrat vs. Republican, Liberal vs. Conservative. Then you can progress to dynamist and stasis.

Now beyond the obvious benefits to citizenship, civic responsibility and informed democracy, why is ideological literacy important? Well, it helps people see through the ridiculousness of mainstream media simplifications about such things as corporations, oil and the environment, let alone the more obscure conspiracy theories that abound.

An awareness of ideology can assist in understanding news items such as this report on the non-disclosure, disclosure by UN officials on finances, which allows a better understanding of what is and is not going on around the world in certain hot spots (such as Iraq, Dafur, Chad etc.).

Literacy also gets you beyond the perfunctory labelling of sides in the mainstream media that does little to inform as to the intent of the differing factions, let alone which are the "good" guys and who are the "bad" ones.

In the case of the UN, "rebel" forces means people who haven't paid anyone anything yet, while "government" forces usually refers to the regime we are propping up as they do pay us.

In a revolution, rebels can be right wing, left wing, popular, unpopular, represent the poor and oppressed, or represent vested corporate interests -- without any reference to an ideological construct what designates those who oppose repression and/or those fighting for individual empowerment?

And without transparency in ideology, how do we ever hope to make the UN accountable as an agency for democratic reform and justice?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Plastic bags: recycling in practice

The latest eco-fad is the movement to eliminate the use of plastic grocery bags. Suddenly, the planet can be saved if only we eliminate plastic bags. This post by Rob Lyons explains the small origins of the movement to moralize the use of plastic bags. On the good side, it does show that one individual can make a difference. On the bad side, it shows (again) that emotion and personal morality usually outweigh science in the creation of an ecomyth.

As Lyons points out:
  • The cost-benefit ratio of the modern plastic bag is extremely high – they cost little financially or environmentally, and they are extremely useful.
  • If anything, the plastic bag is a victim of its own success. These wafer-thin carriers are durable, ridiculously cheap to mass produce and have all sorts of wonderful ancillary uses, from bin liners to bicycle seat covers.
  • They do not contribute very much to overall waste levels. The bags handed out for free by supermarkets weigh about eight grams. We use absolutely loads of them each year: about 10billion in the UK, which amounts to 80,000 tonnes of waste. It sounds like a lot, but in fact it represents only 0.27 per cent of all municipal waste produced annually in the UK. Moreover, the bags are produced using a part of crude oil – naphtha – that generally can't be used for anything else. If naphtha wasn't used to produce bags, it would mostly be burned off.
O.K. let's recap: plastic bags use part of a resource that is otherwise waste by-product and burnt. They have minimal volume and are mostly re-used, recycled, thereby negating the use of another product. In our household of 5 cats, plastic bags are used to remove scooped, used litter, rather than a purchased garbage bag. Most people use them as garbage bags, as re-usable carry bags and for a host of different functions: maybe that's why they are so popular -- they are versatile. In one Adidas ad a young soccer fan collects enough bags to fashion his own soccer ball.

So, plastic bags fit most everyone's definition of a sustainable product: so why are they being vilified?

Plastic bags will not degrade in landfills for several thousand years. So? In many situations we should be burning our garbage anyways as fuel and if they are landfilled for several thousand years before degrading so what? How many years did it take to create the oil they are derived from in the first place? Nature has a quite different timescale that transcends the human lifespan.

Here is George Carlin's take on the situation.

CO2 Signals From The Past

Earlier this week, I posted a discussion that disputed the basis for anthropogenic global warming, primarily on the basis that the correlation between temperature changes and atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide is so tenuous. Today I want to highlight two papers that further challenge that correlation, both in the immediate, short term and throughout the geological time period of the past 500 million years.

In many ways, the short term is insufficient for a meaningful trend and the tectonic scale reflects planetary conditions no longer present or relevant. So what of the interim scale of the past 2,000 years or so? Most would agree pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels were in the order of 200-280ppm and current levels are in the 360-380ppm range. When I ask people why this relatively minor increase is a concern, the answer I am always given is because of the supposed link to temperature and global warming. But are levels of carbon dioxide of any concern if there is no link to present temperature levels as AGW suggests?

Co2science has made this review available of a paper by Loehle that produced a useful graph for temperature changes for the past 2,000 yrs.:

Loehle's temperature reconstruction clearly shows the marked medieval warm period and the Little ice Age and the fact that today's temperatures are not unusual in the context of natural temperature variation over the past two millenia. His graph does show the increase in temperature for the past 200 years but does so in a context that is not alarming.

Neither the temperature, nor the rate at which it is changing, are unprecedented or a cause for alarm.

Follow Up:
Moreover, the data indicate that there has been no global warming since 1998 despite the continued increase in carbon dioxide levels.