Sometimes, a blogger has nothing better to do. Since Tim Lambert and RP Sr. both bring up the subject, the Old man took a look at that ‘open letter’ to Mr Moon. Below are some observations and comments about its construction and content.

What does the statement by these 100-odd signatories amount to? From my reading, it seems to be saying the following, in paraphrase:

‘We aren’t sure that human-caused climate change is really happening; we don’t think it’s a good idea to reduce CO2 emissions; this is because it wouldn’t make any difference, and because it would make us poorer. The best way to prepare for the future is to carry on doing what we have been doing for the past few hundred years, i.e., making ourselves richer. We think adaptation is better than mitigation. CO2 regulation is pointless.’

Nothing new there, then. Since there are going to be few people who would argue that protecting the interests of citizens through good adaptive strategies is a bad idea, all this really boils down to is the issue of whether or not CO2/emissions regulation is a good idea or a bad one. The authors are claiming its a bad idea, principally for economic reasons, but with the underlying assumption/argument that future human-caused global warming is uncertain. I suppose one could argue that, if it were true that future climate change was uncertain in this way, then spending money to prevent future damage or risk would be potentially wasteful. This, however, does not look like a very strong argument in itself to support the proposed policy of inaction.

This does not, though, take us away entirely from the central issue which seems to pervade this particular point-of-view, in comparison to what is being pushed at Bali. The risk which appears to be at the centre of the USA’s resistance to commitment is that of (possible) economic harm in the near future, against all sorts of other (likely) harm in a more distant future. In the end then, is this simply an argument about whether or not we should take out an insurance policy? It is more complex than that, because the other question is who gets to pay for the premium. It is hard, though, to avoid the conclusion that all of the words are really about horse-trading.

 

Here’s my take on the letter:

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

Re: UN climate conference taking the World in entirely the wrong direction

This is merely a statement of the authors’ opinions.

It is not possible to stop climate change, a natural phenomenon that has affected humanity through the ages. Geological, archaeological, oral and written histories all attest to the dramatic challenges posed to past societies from unanticipated changes in temperature, precipitation, winds and other climatic variables…

‘The climate changes naturally, anyway’. This misses the main message of the IPCC reports; recently, the climate has changed unnaturally, and is expected to continue to do so for many decades at least.

We therefore need to equip nations to become resilient to the full range of these natural phenomena by promoting economic growth and wealth generation.

An interestingly ambiguous conclusion. That ‘therefore’ implies that this follows from the previous statement, but it is surely not necessary. ‘Equipping nations to become resilient to change’ is a desirable goal in itself. But then this is qualified by the second part – ‘by promoting economic growth and wealth generation’. In other words, the solution to any future problems which societies might face is within the bounds of adaptation to manage, if these societies have the money to spend to implement adaptive strategies. Since it is hard to imagine a modern society which does not ‘promote economic growth…’ anyway, what this amounts to is a call to continue doing what we have been doing, on the basis that this is a sufficient response to potential future changes in climate.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued increasingly alarming conclusions about the climatic influences of human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2), a non-polluting gas that is essential to plant photosynthesis.

Disregarding the implied criticisms, this is on the surface of it intended to be a statement of fact(s).

While we understand the evidence that has led them to view CO2 emissions as harmful, the IPCC’s conclusions are quite inadequate as justification for implementing policies that will markedly diminish future prosperity.

Another interesting juxtaposition of statement and opinion. Having described CO2 as a ‘non-polluting gas’ [need I mention Mass. Vs EPA?], the implication is that their conclusion, that it is ‘harmful’, is irrational. It entirely ignores the matter of why the IPCC views such emissions as ‘harmful’, whilst avoiding the need to admit that CO2 is a primary forcer of climate warming and simultaneously avoiding admitting or denying that pesky ‘evidence’, by use of the word ‘understand’. The second part of the paragraph is very interesting. Given that the authors have already expressed the view that sound economics is the benchmark goal, here they both assume that policies derived from the IPCC’s conclusions must, necessarily, ‘markedly diminish future prosperity’, and make the claim that these conclusions are ‘inadequate as justification’. Clearly, then, they know what policies are going to be implemented, otherwise they cannot know whether or not these are justified by the IPCC’s conclusions.

In particular, it is not established that it is possible to significantly alter global climate through cuts in human greenhouse gas emissions.

This appears to be false. If it is possible to alter climate through emissions, then it is also possible to alter it through cessation of emissions. Unless the authors are making the claim that CO2 is not a climate forcing, which they have avoided doing, they cannot back up this claim.

On top of which, because attempts to cut emissions will slow development, the current UN approach of CO2 reduction is likely to increase human suffering from future climate change rather than to decrease it.

First, there is the assumption that ‘attempts to cut emissions will slow development’. I think this needs an explanation of why this must be so, at the least. Historically, challenges to society have tended to lead to positive and productive long-term consequences, with human ingenuity finding original solutions which advance social efficiency and hence wealth (otherwise, we’d still all be subsistence farming). Then there is the assumption that CO2 reduction will likely increase human suffering (by causing recession). Given the present social conditions of those most vulnerable to changes in climate, and their existing prospects of development and wealth, it is hard to see how their condition will be worsened by policies which have no effect on their situation. The only circumstance under which their marginal existence can be worsened is by changes to the environment, which make survival or subsistence less likely. This cannot be altered by anything but CO2 reduction.

The IPCC Summaries for Policy Makers are the most widely read IPCC reports amongst politicians and non-scientists and are the basis for most climate change policy formulation. Yet these Summaries are prepared by a relatively small core writing team with the final drafts approved line-by-line by ­government ­representatives. The great ­majority of IPCC contributors and ­reviewers, and the tens of thousands of other scientists who are qualified to comment on these matters, are not involved in the preparation of these documents. The summaries therefore cannot properly be represented as a consensus view among experts.

There’s that ‘consensus’ word again. Disregarding the question of what methodology might substitute for the complex process of synthesis, the argument is that the Summaries are not representative of the views of experts. This is not the same as claiming that they are not representative of the views of ‘all’ experts. It is possible to show that the balance of expert opinion is in sufficient support of a sufficient majority of the Summaries’ contents to justify calling their agreement ‘consensus’.

Contrary to the impression left by the IPCC Summary reports:

z Recent observations of phenomena such as glacial retreats, sea-level rise and the migration of temperature-sensitive species are not evidence for abnormal climate change, for none of these changes has been shown to lie outside the bounds of known natural variability.

Effectively, this is claiming that all of the evidence which suggests that the climate is changing beyond the bounds of recent historical experience (including those parts which have carefully not been mentioned) is circumstantial. It ignores the notion that the combined effect of all of these individual pieces of evidence is in itself abnormal, and points clearly in one direction only. It also ignores the apparent absence of evidence which would contradict the conclusion that recent and near-future warming is abnormal. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how any rational person could read through the many pieces of evidence documenting changes and not conclude that our current situation is abnormal.

z The average rate of warming of 0.1 to 0. 2 degrees Celsius per decade recorded by satellites during the late 20th century falls within known natural rates of warming and cooling over the last 10,000 years.

Which conveniently ignores the point that known natural warming has occurred previously through known natural forcings which are, however, not present in the late 20th century. As such, it is no more than a repetition of the claim that recent warming is natural.

z Leading scientists, including some senior IPCC representatives, acknowledge that today’s computer models cannot predict climate. Consistent with this, and despite computer projections of temperature rises, there has been no net global warming since 1998. That the current temperature plateau follows a late 20th-century period of warming is consistent with the continuation today of natural multi-decadal or millennial climate cycling.

Tim Lambert and Tamino have dealt with this claim. It is false.

In stark contrast to the often repeated assertion that the science of climate change is “settled,” significant new peer-reviewed research has cast even more doubt on the hypothesis of dangerous human-caused global warming. But because IPCC working groups were generally instructed (see http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/docs/wg1_timetable_2006-08-14.pdf) to consider work published only through May, 2005, these important findings are not included in their reports; i.e., the IPCC assessment reports are already materially outdated.

Firstly, I do not think that the IPCC makes any claim that the science is ‘settled’, and secondly, it is not clear what ‘significant research’ is being referred to. That there are some people (including scientists) who do not subscribe to the view that dangerous human-caused global warming is happening is a given. It is difficult to make this into a case for arguing, therefore, that there is either a significant body of evidence which ‘casts doubt’ (note, the absence of ‘refutation’), or that there are a significant number of experts who have such doubts.

The UN climate conference in Bali has been planned to take the world along a path of severe CO2 restrictions, ignoring the lessons apparent from the failure of the Kyoto Protocol, the chaotic nature of the European CO2 trading market, and the ineffectiveness of other costly initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Balanced cost/benefit analyses provide no support for the introduction of global measures to cap and reduce energy consumption for the purpose of restricting CO2 emissions.

This appears to be a statement that, so far, attempts to manage emissions reductions have not been successful, followed by a claim that, by economic measures, the introduction of restrictive emissions policies is not justifiable. Avoiding arguments about the nature of previous efforts to control emissions, it leaves us with the claim that economic cost/benefit analysis demonstrates that regulation of emissions is not beneficial.

Furthermore, it is irrational to apply the “precautionary principle” because many scientists recognize that both climatic coolings and warmings are realistic possibilities over the medium-term future.

Taking aside the ambiguity of the ‘medium-term future’ phrase, this is tantamount to claiming that, since the climate will continue to vary, taking precautions against future warming is irrational. This, by implication, suggests that future warming is uncertain. Unless the authors can provide some physical mechanisms by which future cooling is shown to be as likely as future warming, this amounts to no more than a claim that there is too much uncertainty to justify planning ahead for warming.

The current UN focus on “fighting climate change,” as illustrated in the Nov. 27 UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report, is distracting governments from adapting to the threat of inevitable natural climate changes, whatever forms they may take. National and international planning for such changes is needed, with a focus on helping our most vulnerable citizens adapt to conditions that lie ahead.

One might imagine that good government would already be engaged in planning for adaptive changes to prevent unwanted consequences from ‘inevitable changes’. Such planning need not be overlooked because governments also need to plan for avoiding ‘non-inevitable’ changes in the further future. One would hope that governments were sufficiently competent to manage their duties to their current citizens whilst taking suitable measures to protect their future interests.

Attempts to prevent global climate change from occurring are ultimately futile, and constitute a tragic misallocation of resources that would be better spent on humanity’s real and pressing problems.

The first statement here is both beside the point and, since it appears to express a truism, irrelevant. The authors need to establish that attempts to prevent avoidable and dangerous climate change from occurring, is futile. Since such attempts would not represent a ‘tragic misallocation of resources’, and would be addressing humanity’s ‘real and pressing problems’, they cannot do so.

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