Tuesday, 1 December 2009

How to ascend the Graded Typology of Climate Changery

What do you need to believe in order to ascend my Graded Typology of Climate Changery? It's obviously desirable to do so. It can be socially embarrassing not to evince belief in this sort of thing - you might get labelled with the ugly word 'denier', someone whose ignorance and prejudice is destroying the future of our children and grandchildren. Worse, you might even get called a bone-head at a dinner party.

Here is the Graded Typology with added hurdles of belief - clear these and you'll feel initially doom-laden but before long you'll enjoy the satisfaction of being environmentally justified, one of the green elect:

[0] Believe nothing is going on whatsoever, everything's fine, really it is;

HURDLE A: Notice it's getting warmer (cutting grass in winter, wasps around at Christmas, etc.) and place credence in the various temperature measurers around the world, such as NASA.

you now [1] believe in global warming;

HURDLE B: You need to believe in the 'hockey-stick graph' which seeks to demonstrate that there's a strong correlation between carbon particles in the atmosphere (put up there by industrialisation) and global temperatures. As the name suggests it kicks up over the last century or so.

and you now [2] believe it's man-made;

HURDLE C: You need to believe in the output of climate models put together and run by scientists. These extrapolate the 'hockey stick' into the future and speculate what might happen - they all think it will be some form of catastrophe.

and you now [3] believe it may be catastrophic;

HURDLE D: You need to disregard the advice of sceptics such as Bjorn Lomberg and Nigel Lawson who argue that giving up carbon could be worse than continuing to use it but applying ourselves to the management of its consequences.

and you now [4] believe it requires us to give up carbon;

HURDLE E: You believe our ultimately unhappy experience with carbon is telling us something about modernity as a project. We need to abandon technology and depopulate the planet to restore the natural order.

and you now [5] believe it requires us to return to live in caves, eat nuts and berries and kill our firstborn.

As I related in my previous post, I'm a 2.65 right now. Here's why. Despite the recent cool spell, it does seem to have got warmer - there are lots of natural indications that this is so. There has undoubtedly been a significant increase in atmospheric carbon (I don't think anyone denies this). And I can credit there's a link between industrialisation, increases in atmospheric carbon and global warming.

There are problems with the 'hockey-stick graph': the medieval warming period may have been restricted to Europe, with the earth cooling as a whole, or it may not. The evidence doesn't seem massively convincing either way. However, I'm not sure it's that important: just because the Earth warmed for non-anthropogenic reasons before, doesn't mean that this time it's also not man-made. Perhaps we don't need the full stick?

Where I really struggle, however, is the extrapolation of what's happened to date - a mild, barely noticeable warming - into a catastrophic future. This prediction is supported through computer modeling. Extremely complex and huge models need to be used as you're modeling the multi-directional and dynamic relationships between industrialisation, atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric physics, the weather, clouds, vegetation, oceans, glaciers. Fantastically, quite incomprehensibly, complex.

I've written a few financial models in my time, which are simpler by many orders of magnitude. But they nevertheless usually turn out to be wrong - as the recent financial crisis amply illustrates. As Keynes pointed out in the arena of economics, but it surely applies in spades here: there are risks, for which you can estimate probabilities; then there are uncertainties which are simply not susceptible to probabilistic analysis. In his words: 'We simply do not know!'

However, despite all this, I'm beginning to lean towards doing something. Can we take the risk - or rather live with the uncertainty - that AGW could result in catastrophe? And anyway, wouldn't it be a good thing to reduce our reliance on carbon fuel producers, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia? In the course of writing this, I may well have persuaded myself up into the 3s.

I suppose if I truly believe this - if I could be sure to resolve the doubts outlined above - I should campaign about it. After all, it's global catastrophe we could be looking at. If I had to choose a cause it would be securing our food supply. We tend not to give this much thought any more but it's one of the fundamental duties of government and would be the main reason we'd get finished off by dramatic climate change.

However, the Government seems to be doing very little about it. The latest report I can find on the DEFRA website, 'Food Security and the UK', dates from 2006 and it concludes:
10.5 Although the broad conclusion is that the current policy framework is appropriate, the multi-faceted nature of food security suggests there remain areas in which further investigation could be informative:
  • The potential impacts of climate change on global food potential, and the prospects for global food supply generally, remain important.

Three years later, the Department is calling for a debate and sponsoring a conference on the issue. It just all seems a bit half-hearted and lacking in urgency, particularly as we learn that climate may have changed over very short periods in the past. If the politicians truly believed in the dangers of climate change wouldn't we be deciding on action by now (and even that might be a bit late with a general election next year)? (Some suggested actions: establish well-reasoned and detailed contingency plans for food production and processing; build appropriate core seed banks and animal stocks; increase self-sufficiency; develop marine and lacustrine food sources; increase urban and suburban market gardening).

It's all most peculiar. Why would you drag your feet on an issue that's this important? Either they aren't as convinced as they say, or they are, but for some reason can't be bothered to do the work or are inhibited for some reason that's beyond me. It really is puzzling.


worm said...

I haven't even totally got past hurdle A!

Gadjo Dilo said...

As I said before I really am rather "out of the loop" with all this, so your blog is actaully helping me get up to speed. It seems to me madness to take the risk when some safeguards could be applied fairly cheaply, e.g. taxing cars generally (and planes too, I guess) and subsidising buses and trains, sponsoring windfarms etc (like they do in Denmark, where rather than complaining they are generally proud of their waving, energy producing triffids), and yes, growing food locally, an EU-wide tax on inporting foodstuffs. Sorted.

Brit said...

I wonder if this debate is so rancorous rather than rational because the righties start at 1 and work forwards, but the lefties start at 5 and work backwards, so when then all meet at 3 they do so fighting.

Gaw said...

Worm: I've cleared a couple of hurdles imperceptibly. Just woke up on a couple of mornings and decided they seemed reasonable.

Gadjo: Glad to be of service. Taxes, I think, are unavoidable. Windfarms fairly ineffective. Food is a thorny issue that needs a huge amount of thought as our imports from Africa, for instance, provide a significant lump of their foreign earnings.

Brit: An elegant explanation!

What's begun to worry me about this issue is that if the climate change lobby are justified to even quite a small degree (a succession of baking summers) then the credibility of the sceptics might be so damaged that they're unable to resist the whole environmentalist package.

I think someone needs to work out a sensible conservative response to climate change (perhaps the Tories are already there). This is, of course, what Lawson set out to do but he's been a bit too iffy about the science to retain any credibility if it's proved correct.

Hey Skipper said...

Put me down for, advisedly, a 1.6. The problem is your [1] is so old school: the newly approved belief is in Anthropogenic Climate Change

Unfortunately, first hand information makes it real hard to hurdle a full fledged [2].

dearieme said...

The medieval warm period brought the Normans. The classical one brought the Romans. The bronze age one brought (let us suppose) the Celts. Now we have the Somalis, so this must be another warm period.

And that's about as scientific as much "Climate Science".

Gaw said...

Hey Skipper: That's a good bit of data. My problem is that I'll come across another bit which will seem just as good supporting the other side of the argument.

There was a good piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Richard Lindzen here arguing that the science isn't settled. I guess my question now is: what can we do at relatively low cost (or net cost) that will mitigate our risks and have corollary benefits?

Dearieme: Can we soon look forward to a Somali King of England then? Or perhaps another Ravaging of the North is more likely (poor old North, they always seem to get it)?