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Miscellany

Two of my favorite talking points are touched upon in this New York Times story on global warming:

  1. Media bias:
    As a developing country, China is exempt from the Kyoto Protocol, the pending international agreement to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. When President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol two years ago, he portrayed China's exemption as a serious flaw. The protocol has been embraced by most other big nations, however, and only requires ratification by Russia to take effect.
    Of course, saying that it "only requires ratification by Russia" is like saying that the liberation of Iraq "only required a UN resolution in its favor." Putin has said Russia isn't going to join Kyoto. But the bigger problem is that, once again, the Times is rewriting history to pretend that George Bush rejected Kyoto. Kyoto was DOA when Bill Clinton signed it. The Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto in 1997, when Clinton was in office. So why does the Times keep trying to pretend that the Bush administration changed US policy in this area?
  2. Reliability:
    Official Chinese statistics had shown a decline in coal production and consumption in the late 1990's, even as the economy was growing 8 percent a year. But many Western and Chinese researchers have become suspicious of that drop over the last several years.

    They point out that the decline assumed that local governments had followed Beijing's instructions to close 47,000 small, unsafe mines producing low-grade coal and many heavily polluting small power plants. Yet researchers who visited mines and power plants found that they often remained open, with the output not being reported to Beijing because local administrators feared an outcry if they shut down important employers.

    How much of the public policy debate is based upon the assumption that "official" statistics reflect reality? How accurate is that assumption? How accurate can global warming models be when the inputs consist of faulty data?

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Comments (6)

David,

Re: Your media bias point.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

First, the Senate most certainly did not vote unanimously against Kyoto. They passed a resolution about Kyoto, yes, but it was not the treaty. An important point for someone railing against bias and for accuracy. The Senate was signalling their disapproval, but you and I both know the treaty itself was never debated and would likely have recieved at least dozens of votes from Senators had it been put forward. I'm not claiming it would have passed, just that it's quite misleading to pretend that even guys like Kerry, Wellstone and Kennedy were going to be opposed.

Second, Bush's policy on Kyoto is, in fact, quite different from Clinton's. Bush withdrew the US from the Kyoto process entirely, meaning the US has no voice even in the ongoing negotiations. Clinton negotiators were often at loggerheads with the Europeans, but they were trying to achieve a Kyoto they could push in the Senate. They wanted tradeable permits/credits, the Clean Development Mechanism and other market-based solutions to the developing country problem (the very same problem that led to the Senate vote you mention).

Third, Putin has most certainly not said he has rejected Kyoto. Just a couple of weeks ago, he was playing hard-to-get at a conference hosted by Russia. Still, he has frequently sent signals suggesting that Russia might still ratify. The interesting thing, of course, is that Russia is already in compliance because of factories closed from the old Soviet state. Putin can join cost-free and make Europeans happy. Or, he can stall and hope for a big bribe.

Under its own terms, the treaty cannot come to fruition without either the US or Russia on board. So long as the US stays out, Putin has incredible leverage on this issue.

I blogged about this recently:

http://rpayne.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_rpayne_archive.html#106523555612037907

Richard:

Politics aside, Kyoto is based on bad science, or more correctly no science. The models that are used as the basis for the global warming scare are flawed. There are a number of models that are currently being used to predict future global temperatures. Each of these models produces results that are significantly different form the rest of the models. This fact alone should worry anyone who is trying to make political decisions based on these models. More importantly, we do not currently understand the basic physics underlying global temperature changes. Without this understanding, we cannot build models that are capable of making accurate predictions.

Re: Bad science?

Unfortunately, it is very difficult for those of us who are not experts in atmospheric science to evaluate the scientific claims.

Personally, I tend to look for evidence of large scientific consensus.

To my mind, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reflects scientific consensus. If you read some of their reports, they are not wild-eyed projections of doom. The scientists typically project multiple futures, ranging from best- to worst-case. And they study not only the atmospheric science, but the effects on agriculture, migration, and lots of other areas of likely concern.

Yet, even with these caveats, there's pretty good evidence that human activity is increasing carbon in the atmosphere and that carbon is linked to warming...and that warming has lots of negative possible consequences.

Sure, there are some dissident scientists, but they clearly reflect a small minority position.

Do we embrace the precautionary principle?

Not to mention the fact that it would be good politics and science to reduce reliance upon fossil fuels regardless of climate change.

We *know* that burning coal produces lots of SOx and NOx that are very bad for human health. Asthma rates continue to soar, for example.

Even the Bush OMB study found that recent clean air regulations have paid off big-time. Again, I cited this recently on my blog. See this news story: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/09/27/MN114910.DTL

Plus, a substantial portion of the world's remaining oil is located in states with horrific human rights records that may well sponsor terror and fund illicit WMD projects.

It's win-win to want alternative energy and conservation.

Richard:

Roger,

Yes it is difficult for a non-scientist, or even a scientist whose expertise is in a different field, to be able to validate scientific claims. However, if you have any understanding of science, then you would know that "consensus" is not the way that one ascertains the accuracy of science. If all if took was consensus, they we would still believe that the earth was the center of the universe. For 1400 years that idea was accepted as being true. You canít have much more consensus than that. Why did science finally reject that "scientific "fact"? Because new measurements were made that were inconsistent with that interpretation. I could cite additional examples with respect to relativity and quantum mechanics. The point is, if you have a new theory, you must be able to make predictions based on that theory that can be validated.

When it comes to global warming we donít have such a theory. All we know is that we have identified a large number of processes that may have an affect on the long-term temperature of the earth. We donít have a complete theory of atmospheric physics. That is the very reason why models are being used. The models have a large number of variables that the researchers attempt to fit to the existing data. Without understanding the physics, merely attempting to fit data will not give us results that are meaningful. Moreover, the processes themselves are chaotic, so data fitting is useless.

I also find it quite interesting that the predictions we get are for 100 years in the future. How convenient. Trust us, the models work. It you don't follow our advice you are all going to die. Well, I have to admit they are right about one thing. In 100 years we will be dead!

Richard,

I wasn't arguing that scientists should merely accept consensus and consider a matter finished.

However, non-experts probably do not get much from specific scientific debates far outside their field. Especially if the debates are quite technical and involve a huge range of fields.

That is why I said the existence of a genuine consensus is a decent screen -- for non-specialists to use to get a feel for the state of the science.

Granted, the consensus could be wrong, and it could be based on significantly flawed models, but it is the best information we have.

Moreover, if dissenting scientists disprove assumptions or conclusions, then the IPCC can change their models and forecasts. In fact, they have been doing this.

Of course, many, many of their changes involve mere corrections to prior models. The basic underlying ideas of global warming (I mentioned several before) remain the consensus view.

I would note that the IPCC isn't merely making projections 100 years in the future. Again, they make lots of different predictions based on best- and worst-case assumptions. Have you read any of their summary documents?

Check out http://www.ipcc.ch/

P.S. Rodger has a "d," like Dodger.

Paul:

First, there is no "scientific consensus" regarding the short or long term effects of so-called "global warming," much less whether they will be good, bad, indifferent.

There is a consensus that, depending upon what years you measure, some sets of "average" global temperatures have been increasing. This trend is then siezed upon by some to assert that global warming is accellerating, and that is "bad." The vast majority of "scientists" refuse to commit to definitive assertions regarding global warming because there is, simply put, no way to state with any degree of certainty (no pun intended) just what, precisely, the global, regional or even local temperature trends will be over the next five, 10, 20-year --you name it-- horizon.

As for the "precautionary principle," anyone embracing that is an idiot.

Face it, the idea of forcing the industrialized world to bear the costs of "preventing" global warming is nothing more than a Marxist attempt to redistribute wealth from the "rich" to the "poor."

It is all about the money, and nothing else. Or, perhaps you are not old enough to remember when the "consensus" was that the globe was cooling and we were headed into an ice age. What's more, how can you take seriously climate doomsayers who insist that global warming will either roast us, or freeze us to death.

Be adult. Grow up. See The Day After Tomorrow and have a good laugh. Keep science fiction in the movies, and out of public policy.

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