Opinion | Opinie 29/03/2010

I SOOO agree with what James Lovelock has to say, it’s remarkable:

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change

Read it! It’s true, and I’ve been thinking and saying this for a while (as like, HERE, if you think I’m boasting). I don’t often quote myself but I said it that (lengthy) post:

[I]t is becoming clear that we, as a species, will not be able to stop climate change. So I’m seriously considering becoming a cynic and put my money where my mouth is: into companies and government agencies that don’t try to stop climate change, but with coping with the effects.

Also funny to see him say something about democracy – because one of a few things I do quote of myself fairly often (OK OK I’m vain, so what :P?) is

Given the average intelligence of voters, it is questionable that democracy is the best regime.

(‘Gezien de intelligentie en de kennis van de gemiddelde mens is het maar zeer de vraag
of een totale democratie de beste staatsvorm is.’)

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Opinion | Opinie 09/03/2010

Opinion writer’s block!

Lots to think about, but little of anyone else’s interest to write about. Hmm.

Well there is this (don’t watch it, read my opinion first, it may save you twenty minutes :p).

A so-called TED talk, about what problems we, as humanity, should be focussing on to solve (that’s a rough summary, see the talk if you want the details).

Climate change, surely!? Or…

In sum, the main argument put forward in this talk is that we should be spending money on fighting malaria and HIV/AIDS, because there the “return of investment” would be greatest.

An additional (weaker, IMO) argument runs along the lines of, in 100 years time, when climate change will become a real problem, people everywhere will be so much richer that it will be easier to fight global warming.

…malaria and HIV/AIDS? Really?

To tackle the first argument, it is far from self-evident that we “should” spend money where it is the most cost-effective. The costs for fighting malaria and AIDS are fairly low, resulting in good-looking cost/effectiveness (or ROI) figures; but the number of people affected by it are also relatively low.

I’ve made comparisons with the Titanic before, so i’ll stick to that. IMO it compares (I do know I am exaggerating) to saving all of the passengers from drowning by fitting enough lifeboats for all, at the cost of say, $1M, or saving half of them, which would cost only $250k, or saving only one in ten, which would cost even less, say $10k. See? Would you really choose the latter option because it is most cost-effective? (Well, you would, if you were the shipping company that fitted the titanic :p)

IMO (again) tackling climate change is precisely so expensive for two reasons. First, it does affect a lot of people, and fundamentally – it requires changes in our lifestyle as a whole, as opposed to simply taking a pill or using a condom. Secondly, it has become so expensive because so far, we have done next to nothing about it. This is where it links to the second argument, that of increased welfare in developing countries in the future making it easier to fight climate change then, not now.

Development in the developing world

One of the greatest risks we are taking in fighting climate change is that a), the costs to change it will grow exponentially – and faster than a (global) increase in welfare, or b) even worse, the climate will reach a tipping point, from which there simply will be no turning back, no matter the cost and no matter our efforts. I don’t think we should be taking that risk. The obvious Titanic comparison to make here is that now, we can see a vague iceberg in the fog dead ahead, but we postpone steering left or right until we have got a better view of it – by which time we may be too close to avoid hitting it at all.

Another counter-argument to the “increased welfare” argument is that this increase in welfare (in the talk Lomborg reckons with a hundred years) is based on the assumption that, in developing countries such as Bangladesh, the welfare will keep increasing. However, if climate change proceeds, this is far from certain.

From the top of my head I know that several predictions say that crop harvests are most likely to suffer in developing countries – they are warmer already, so crops are “stretched thinner” as well. In any case I think crop yields are generally lower in developing countries as we speak. This may mean that, rather than every country getting richer proportionally, the rich get relatively richer (as usual).

So?

To summarise, I don’t think Lomborg is a climate change denialist – he flat-out accepts climate change throughout his talk, and acknowledges it as a big problem. He clearly is honest in his opinion and believes in it. His few jabs at climate change having the “pretty pictures” (like Al Gore is such a hunk, aye?) and the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” are baseless and he should refrain from them. If anything, global warming is too abstract to grasp; malaria and AIDS, with suffering children and suchlike, are the causes that have the potent imagery on their side. Without further referencing I don’t know what to make of the youth of the world agreeing with “his” order of problems; in my surroundings (many university-trained people) I’m pretty sure most people would put climate change high on the agenda, not low.

The bottom line – I disagree with his views, because he looks at it too much from an economical point of view, overlooking a few moral and scientific aspects of the whole problem.

(so far for writer’s block :p)

Opinion| Opinie 11/02/2010

I don’t often copy my opinion, but I wanted to write a long piece on climate change, and I don’t find I have the time. Instead, this is a well-balanced Op-Ed in the Guardian that sums up my feelings very well.

“The case for climate action must be remade from the ground upwards” – Ian Katz

Some of my personal ideas added, or some from the article stressed:

Of course AGW is real, duh.

As the recent “email hack” showed, or more accurately, FAILED to show, there simply is no evidence that data has been manipulated to make up global warming. The reason for this is simple:the data is real, global warming is happening, and it is the human produced CO2 that’s predominantly the cause.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about science; the only scandals in science that lead to retractions of results are perpetrated by individuals or at most single labs. It’s unthinkable that many scientists from all over the world would all be co-operating to make up something, and even more unthinkable that this would remain unnoticed. Like no-one from any of these labs ever walks out with a dispute with their bosses and a resulting axe to grind.

and that book on the left is an exagerration!

The small issues are distracting from the main issue

In the Netherlands, the Minister of Environment has said to “accept no more mistakes” from the IPCC. My first reaction is: yeah right – so what are you going to do? Ignore them? That will teach the IPCC a lesson, surely. “We, the Netherlands, refuse to improve our dykes because we don’t believe the IPCC anymore”. I’m sure the next generation of Dutch, living in Amersfoort aan Zee, will feel proud that she has stood up against the IPCC.

But back to the mistake in the IPCC report that made her react the way she did: an error in the percentage of the Netherlands that lies below sea level. A simple error in adding two numbers that were provided to the IPCC.

I mean, WTF?! Seriously. We are still talking about a 3000-page report that is choke full of positive evidence for AGW; the few mistakes that are found are not about global warming, nor about the question whether it is “man-made”. The are “behind the comma” issues about whether the consequences will be not-so-bad, bad, really bad, or catastrophic. To question the IPCC report because of a minor – human, and not even unlikely – error like that shows real ignorance.

Titanic

To me it’s like being on the Titanic and getting the very strong impression that we are sinking. At least, 90% of the crew say we are sinking …and they are the experts after all. They also say it’s because we hit an iceberg. The remaining 10% of the crew say this is not so; some say that yes, we are sinking, but not because of an iceberg; others deny we are sinking at all. Nevertheless, there does seem to be water in some compartments down below. The sink-deniers say “Yes, but the stern has even come up. How is that sinking?”.

There is also dispute between the 90% of the crew who do say that we are sinking. Some say that half of all people will perish; others say that will only be 25%. Some say it will take a couple of hours to sink; others say it may take more than a day. It is rumoured that the crew members who think we are sinking are trying to silence the others, calling them liars and preventing them from talking to the passengers.

The result of all this uncertainty on the passengers is that the passengers are starting to doubt that they are in any danger at all. They decide to keep on dancing, and eating. And the band will keep playing until the water floods their instruments.

Communication breakdown

As usual, scientists are very bad at dealing with 1) the public at large (in other words, huge masses of stupid) and 2) with cynical, calculated, malicious attacks designed to discredit them. Note that point 2 works because there is point 1.

There is no easy way out of this. In the US, attacks on evolution work for precisely the same reason, as do attacks on vaccination schemes. Scientists are simply looking for the truth and assume that, faced with the evidence, people will see the truth and say “Well, thank you so much, I did not know that. How very clever of you!” Wrong.

Scientists don’t like to spend time explaining too much to the general public. A little explanation is good, but then they want to get back to work. Their opposition has the luxury of not having to do that work; they can spend all their time writing and lobbying against science (and scientists). You can see the examples everywhere; opposition to evolution, climate change, etc, does not come from bona fide scientific work showing contrary evidence; instead it comes from people hacking email accounts, digging through scientific literature trying to find the tiniest of contradictions, reading the bible, and general rhetorical bullshit based on equal parts ignorance and malice (“Global warming? Then why is it snowing?”).

On the other hand, the general public is more interested in quick, easy explanations. These usually don’t include science, because science requires thinking – time, effort, work. I do believe 90% of the people could understand science if they – and scientists! – made an effort; it’s just easier for everyone not to make that effort. (I plan to write more on this in the future) All this isn’t helped by the cynical and calculated efforts from people who have vested interests in keeping the status quo (in various forms).

Gonna buy me this

Cynical

I’ve said this before I think – or else I should have – but it is becoming clear that we, as a species, will not be able to stop  climate change. So I’m seriously considering becoming a cynic and put my money where my mouth is: into companies and government agencies that don’t try to stop climate change, but with coping with the effects.

That is where we are headed. I plan to be prepared.

Balance

With regards to the recent “email scandal” surrounding the climate change research…

I think it is only fair that the climate skeptics in return publish their complete email correspondence of the last decade, to show that they themselves are far removed from all the things they accuse the climate scientists of.

I’m not holding my breath for that though.